Thursday, January 10, 2013

Elsewhere Part II: Extremes of Beauty

Growing up in Canada, I took a lot of things for granted: peace, education, health, plenty, hope. Included in these Canadian benefits is easily-accessible natural beauty.   As a Montreal-dweller, I could touch it during forays into the Laurentians, or into the Eastern Townships (and, by extension, into Vermont: different country, same glorious mountain range).  Living in Ottawa, a small city perched on the edge of a wild forested river, I experience natural beauty constantly.  There is plenty more of it to be seen just by travelling in Canada; like beaches on Prince Edward Island and gigantic rolling hills in the British Columbia interior.  But my most memorable engagements with extreme beauty were in two of the extremes of the country: Vancouver Island and Newfoundland.

In August 1975, my parents, siblings and I spent two weeks with relatives on their piece of land beside the Strait of Georgia near Courtenay, on Vancouver Island.  There was, of course, natural beauty to be enjoyed daily on our doorstep; but occasionally the whole group of us liked to go farther afield.  We were nine cousins (ages 7-17), four adults, and one Grandma.  To get around, the cousins all piled into the back of Uncle Johnny’s pickup truck; and the adults distributed themselves among the truck cab, the small car, and Grandma’s little red Volkswagen beetle.   Riding around Vancouver Island in the back of a pickup truck is one of my best childhood memories; and one that I would never let my own children do!  I’m very glad I got to do it; I’m also very glad that we all survived.

The longest trip that the group of us took was across the Island to Long Beach; a place of extreme beauty.  I’ve been further south to the more popular California beaches.  They’re too sandy, too crowded, too developed, too ordinary.  This beach was wild and cold.  Even as a restless 13-year-old I loved standing there and watching the gigantic waves roll in.  I loved clambering over gigantic rocks.  In fact, “gigantic” seems to characterize all the beauty of the west coast.

To get to the beach, we drove through an extremely beautiful place:  Cathedral Grove with its gigantic ancient Douglas Firs.  Seen from the back of the pickup, those trees were especially splendid.  It was dark when we drove home from Long Beach; and my cousins, siblings and I all managed to position ourselves like a jigsaw puzzle, lying on the bottom of the pickup covered in blankets.  As we drove through the grove, we saw the trees towering above us, stars twinkling at their tips.  Such extreme beauty makes for extreme memories.

Two years later, my parents, siblings and I were at the other end of the country visiting another set of relatives.  There was plenty of natural-ocean-beauty to see on the ferry to get there; and St. John’s-natural-beauty is accessible by walking.  My most memorable bus trip is the one that took us across Newfoundland to its west coast; a day-long trip full of a variety of rugged beauty. 

Our bussing destination was Gros Morne National park, where one of my cousins worked as a naturalist.  She took us on a hike into the glacier-carved freshwater fjord. This extreme beauty is jaw-dropping.   I had never seen anything like it.  If I never ever get to see fjords in Scandinavia, I’ll still be happy. 

I’ve been to the extreme south of Canada:  Point Pelee in all its natural Great Lakes beauty.  One day, it would be nice to go in the opposite direction to Ellesmere Island.  I hear the north is extremely beautiful.