true nature

Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada

During the first few weeks after my husband and I moved from our gritty city apartment in Vancouver, whenever I went for a walk here on Gabriola Island, I cried. My tears were like sap rising. I cried because the parts of myself I’d boxed away for eight urban years finally opened back up. When we lived in the city, we’d gone on hikes in the woods from time to time, but this was different and it took me a while to understand why.

The deer like our front yard, right outside the window in front of my husband’s desk. In the fall, he works and watches the deer that come to eat the tiny, bright yellow leaves underneath the cherry tree. As they eat, they leave blank spaces on the lawn. It’s a delicate business, hoovering up fallen cherry tree leaves. The deer are patient. They don’t rush. They taste one little leaf at a time.

When the weather turns damp again after summer, newts gravitate to the paved road that leads to our house, where it winds through a hollow over an old beaver-dammed stream. A little ways off, the slow stream flows over a ledge into the seawater of Degnen Bay. The newts are the colour of asphalt on top, but bright orange-red underneath – nature’s poison warning to birds. We walk that stretch of road with sticks in our hands, very gently flipping the newts back into the wilds of the skunk cabbage and blackberry brambles.

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We’re so outnumbered here. And a house is a thin and permeable barrier. Some baths require removal of three spiders from the bathtub, carefully transported outside via glass jar. And I’ve learned to inspect the logs for spiders before loading up the woodstove to start a fire. If I’ve missed one, as soon as the flames start up, they’ll scamper around, looking for a way to safety. I oblige by giving them a newspaper bridge to safety and whisking them out the back door.

This is in-your-face lush land. Where we live, at the end of the road, on the least-populated side of the island, at the edge of the sea, is deep inside the lushness. When I took those early walks, I cried because, for the first time in too long, I felt embedded in the landscape, woven right into its dense fabric. I cried because, at such close quarters, nature’s pervasiveness and grandness startled me. I experienced ecosystem shock, like a fish put back into water after trying to breath air through gills. I’d been drowning for so long I’d forgotten how to breathe. Nature lifted me into the world again. I think my tears were passing memories of drowning. They were gratitude for the reprieve. They were juice flowing again.

This fall, my husband saw a deer on the stone patio at the side of our house. The deer stood there quietly for a long time, staring out past the red-barked arbutus trees at the edge of the patio, out over our little bay and its curving sandy beach. Or maybe further, across the blue water to De Courcy Island’s long darkness against the blue water. Or even beyond, to the mountains on Vancouver Island, hulking in the distance. There’s a lot to see. It takes a while.

I know now, from experience, that stopping and staring is a good way to remember who I am and where I belong. For now, I belong here, with the other animals. Admiring the view. Letting the tears fall. At peace with my true nature.

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