Ordinarily when I depart Cape Breton I leave a piece of my heart at Big Bras d’Or. For reasons unknown this year is different: despite having had one of our best summers there I managed to let it go. I spent ten happy days with kin and kith in Halifax without pining for paradise lost and now, a week after returning to the left coast, I am fully here in Victoria enjoying the south Island’s grey, wet November charms.
Occasionally people say Jan and I are spoiled rotten in our three lives -– the Cape Breton summer idyll, the exotic travels in Leo and the Taj, the winter hiatus in Canada’s banana belt. Maybe we are.
Last weekend rain foiled plans to make our first ’09 fall foray into the Sooke Hills wilderness with stalwart pals Mike and Mary. Yesterday provided a second chance. For me, Remembrance Day is the only holiday that retains all its intended significance. Only two options are worthy of the occasion: either stand at the cenotaph for an hour with hundreds of other rememberers or go for a long hike with Mary & Mike. Either way I wind up contemplating casualties of war.
Yesterday we paused at the eleventh hour for the prescribed two minutes to remember. Our trips to the Western Front amplify the capacity to conjure the scale of loss generated by the Great War: from the innumerable Flanders cemeteries with their acres of gravestones, to the monuments -– Menin, Vimy, Thiepval -– honouring the tens of thousands without a known grave, to the faces in sepia photographs of young great-uncles and cousins once or twice-removed, dead long before I was born, but nonetheless vivid in the mind’s eye.
Mike and Mary deliver good influence. With them we go places I’m not certain we would know if left to our own devices. Not for them the well-beaten path. The Sooke Hills comprise a vast park reserve. In theory, a dozen years or so after the reserve was established, the park is still off-limits to hikers. We go anyway, sometimes over familiar ground, sometimes into undiscovered territory. Yesterday we had both. Sugarloaf Mountain is one of our favourite destinations. We hiked there, then scrambled into new terrain through the tangled understory of towering red-cedars, hemlocks and Douglas-fir to behold the mountain from a new perspective. Along the way there were plenty of distractions to justify a pause for the catching of breath: diverse mushrooms, strange lichens, noisy flocks of red crossbills.
Life at the winter base camp is good. I have old friends to see and projects to start. Eager to follow Mike and Mary into less-travelled corners of the Sooke Hills, I have a new pair of hiking boots and I’m keen to get started on wearing them out.