Something was missing in my life. I was struggling to find meaning and to be happy, and I was a very happy go lucky kind of guy. Nothing much phased me and I usually found happiness in the small things in life, but at this time in my life, about six or seven years ago, I just didn’t feel that any more.
Looking back, it was easy to see why, I was working, watching movies, even volunteering at events, all looking for outside stimuli to play a part in my happiness. At home, alone, I felt powerless to change any aspect of my life, and I was really trying hard, in the areas that I looked, to feel inspired, to follow a passion, or a dream. Nothing was speaking to me.
It was a typical Winter day in February when I decided to walk a park trail. It wasn’t for any personal reason, but rather to understand the interaction between pedestrians and vehicles at conflict points; where trails crossed roads. This would help my understanding in transportation engineering at work; that was my goal. What happened next was an experience that took me from being a ‘bystander’ in my own life, where I looked for experiences that I could latch on to that would take my life somewhere great, to that of the ‘experiencer’ of life, which was a giant shift in how I felt about my life.
Prior to that point I had really lived in a man made environment. I drove my car to work every day and to events or even to shop just a block away. It was easier, and my body was showing signs of the easy life I had bestowed upon it. I was lazy and fat. I couldn’t tell you the last time I has set foot outside and stood close to a tree, even though they grown in abundance all around me in my neighbourhood.
As I stood at the start of the very first trail of a park that was elevated from the shore, I walked up a few steps. I couldn’t see where the trail was going, but I assumed it would carry on to a summit or plateau and carry on to the shore below. As I rose on each step it became clear that there was a viewing platform that I could see the water below from. The rocky, tree laden, terrain below was quite steep, so I walked to the end of the platform and looked out. I guessed this was a far as it would take me.
It was a nice place to see for sure, but nothing earth shattering. I didn’t feel anything spectacular at that point even, it was just a nice view. I stood for a few minutes and took in the sights, then I was done, and started heading back to my car. I was feeling slightly ‘off’ as to why I chose this particular park, as there was no trail crossing to observe. Why did I come here? Maybe just for a view of the land. I had not been out to this remote part of town for several years, and it could have been longer than that in my employment duties. Perhaps I just wanted to see the lay of the land before I really started, I really can’t recall.
Then I spied it. A rough, side shoot of a trail off the platform that paralleled a home and led down to the rocky, brush covered slope. Was this some private path the home owner made to enjoy the back yard? Was I allowed to walk on it? Should I? I glanced around and since nobody was looking, so, I jumped down the couple of feet to the path and started my journey downward.
Some steps, a narrow path, and at once I was passing the house on my right. The wind was catching my jacket and I could smell faint wisps of salt in the air from the shore far below. This was interesting to be sure.
What’s this? A soccer boot strung on a branch? So, a few people do follow this path…I felt better about being down there. A couple different paths to choose from even. I decide to take one that parallels the shore and is gentler to follow down. I spy a bridge that mounts a crevice between two round rock peaks. I picture it in my head as a rounded, quite elaborate bridge, and now when I see it, it looks plain. That just tells you how joyous my brain was at the time; it enhanced my memory to show how much it meant.
Wonder starts to creep in my brain and I feel a slight smile creep across my mouth, unknowingly at first. It broadens as I scout a trail that I think might lead me more directly toward the rocky shore below. I hear the crashing of the waves in grand fashion as I pass a huge Arbutus tree. It seems long, and strong, and proud of what it has achieved this close to the shore. Most trees are diminutive that I have seen this close to a sea shore, perhaps something to do with the salt environment.
Engulfed in ferns around my legs, I finally escape to put boot to stone about ten feet above the frothing sea waters that enjoy whipping their watery frames against two boundaries: the hard stone at the shore’s edge and the air above. The waves would crash against the immovable object and explode in to the more forgiving air above them, only to appeal to gravity to direct all droplets back home once again in one great push and pull motion. Hypnotic.
The exchange entranced me. Feeling the more exposed force of the wind, I assailed atop one of these stony boundaries to look below at the incessant battle between wind, rock, and water. The plant life simply went with the flow, kelp moving to a fro, no matter which direction, it cared not. I tasted the salt more concentrated now, and something was happening to my body. I could feel it. It was as if I had, most gently, slipped my hand in to the grip of an energizing power source that fed directly in to my senses.
In doing so it awoke years, nay, a century or more of old memories of similar locations I had beheld as a boy. I was starting to feel recharged, energized by some unseen power, by some unseen energy, yet I could feel the pulse within me generating sensations that had long been dormant.
Oh, how I stood in wonder as my realisation was expanding! Every taste of salt spray upon my lips was a gift, every call from a seagull enjoying the wind play was a song, and every buffet from the wind brought clarity of mind to what was a foggy, dusty, brain. I was beginning to feel alive!
I cast about for a place to sit and found what can only be described as the perfect seat, a hand built bench made from re-purposed driftwood. I kindly and gently sat upon it and simply observed. I watched the beauty; the forces of Nature playing together like children. I was starting to feel a sense of wonder again.
I started to remember all the times I had explored as a child. That was my existence, out all day until 5pm, then home for a quick dinner, then maybe some more time if the sun was still up. I loved to wander around forests, and up hills until I could see more, and more, land. I loved the high spots, which is where I would imagine what it must have been like to hike as real explorers from one high point to the next, though a network of trails the locals might have used.
I eventually made my way back to the top of the trail, where I had made the decision to jump off the beaten path and explore. I chuckled at that decision, knowing that I was not the one to adhere to the path that so many others walk, I was meant to explore all the other paths and see what they meant to me, and I was so glad I did.
Now smiling, I walked up to my car. As I was rounding to my driver side door, I spied another trail head across the street. I certainly had time. This one led to the top of what was a gentle hill, and I was rewarded with quite a nice view of the surrounding area, though blocked by some trees toward the shore I had just come from.
I loved it. I sat upon a bench there and thought, if there are two parks so close to each other right here, maybe there are even more in this small hilltop community. I went home only after walking through three more parks and came back to discover five more the next day. I had found something that brought back the spirit I had lost, that connection with Nature.
I has spent so much time looking for something man-made that would fulfil my needs that I had completed blocked out what a walk with Nature would do for my soul, my inner spirit. It reconnected me to my youth and all the memories I had suppressed about being so close with trees and bushes, and the views from hilltops that I would wonder about, day after day, as a child.
This one weekend in February launched a desire within me to visit every single park within the jurisdiction that I lived. I had no idea how many parks there were, but if I had just wandered through ten parks in one small area on one weekend, I surely wanted to know what it would be like through the rather large municipality within which I lived. Saanich, where I lived, and still live, is 11, 214 hectares, which is roughly 43 square miles. There were about 167 parks when I started my pet project. It grew to 175, three years later, when I was just finishing. Along with a few regional and provincial parks in the area, I stepped in to and explored all of them.
What did this mean to me? I guess that might be a long introduction in to what this all meant, right? Well, I can tell you, it spawned a desire to take this experience to others, quite literally. I decided to make the experience multi-sensory and try to capture it for those that could never otherwise step on to a hilltop, or beside a creek, or feel the wind lashed spray of sea water. My ‘Hike Every Park” idea was spawned. I have yet to pull all the pieces together, but with about 12,000 photos and over a hundred videos I have a start of what I hope to be a successful bid to take that experience, that reliving of my youth and what currently lay in wait for us to visit, to some of those people that could use an escape, or a stimuli, that can awaken old memories. I hope to attempt a Kickstarter campaign in 2015 to initiate just that.
But, aside from the project, and my hopes and dreams for the future of that attempt, it has given me purchase where I thought none existed: inside. I started to unravel my senses and think about why I had not gone outside, how I could experience nature outside my apartment door, where I could walk and explore, and what else I was missing in my life. I was cracked open that day, and I thank all the unexplained powers and spirits that we may never know, in taking me there to rediscover this missing link to my self.
I started writing, I started exploring, and I was so open to new experiences that I met the most beautiful, wonderful person of my life, and she lived almost next door to me.
My journey was just beginning.