Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Road More Travelled

I sit at my computer all morning, sluggish and bleary eyed from a night of reading too late and sleeping too little. I am chilled to the bone, having forgotten to turn the heat on when I got up – a frequent failing of mine. (I turn the thermostats for the electric heaters right off at night, and then just don’t think to turn them back up in the morning until my hands are shaking with cold and my muscles tensed from trying not to shiver.)

I look outside and realize there is a clear blue sky and brilliant sunshine – too beautiful a day to stay indoors! But gusty arctic winds catch the edge of the back door and rip it from my hands, having me rethink my plans for a walk on the nearby beach.

I toss the dogs in the car (well, not exactly!Sadie climbed in all by herself. Only Charley needs ‘tossing’ in, as her weak back end can’t make the jump, and it was a very gentle toss), and we head inland for a more protected walk.

I point the car west on Hwy 18, thinking to take the dogs to Skutz Falls in Cowichan River Provincial Park, where I remembered wide trails and unused logging roads on sun-drenched hillsides with tall trees here and there to break the wind. I have not been there since last spring. On a sunny but chilly day like today, I figure there will be enough people around for me to feel safe, but not so many that their presence would detract from the beauty of the area.

I hadn’t counted on the lack of signage. I have a vague idea of where I’m going, and catch the first turn off the highway with no problem – there is the familiar blue BC Provincial Park sign. Same for the second turn. But at the road where I should have made a third turn, there is no sign. So I just keep right on driving. And driving. And driving. Right into the snow. Yes. Snow. Not in the air, where the day was still gorgeous, but on the roads and trees and trails. There's not much, but enough to make be cautious - I've told no one where I'm going and my cell phone doesn't work here. This would not be a good place to slide off the road.

In Crofton, we seem to live in our own little micro-climate. In the past few days, there has been snow in Chemainus and Ladysmith to the north, and Shawnigan Lake to the south, and, apparently, Cowichan River Park to the east. But none in Crofton. Not a single flake. So being a nice sunny day, I hadn’t thought of there being snow on the roads. Still, with my new winter tires that have seen virtually no cold white stuff this winter, I keep driving.

I finally find a sign pointing to Marie Canyon, 66 Mile Trestle and, five kilometers further will be the south entrance to Skutz Falls. I stop at Marie Canyon. There are four or five cars there, but not only is there no sign of a trail, I can’t see or hear a soul, nor spot footprints in the snow. It is as if the inhabitants of the cars had simply levitated and flown over the tree tops to wherever it was they were going.

I drive on and stop at 66 Mile Trestle. Same story – four or five cars, no trail, no signs of life.

And now, added to the snow, I am met with hardpacked ice. And huge potholes. And isolation. And unsigned crossroads. While I customarily identify with Robert Frost’s sentiments in “The Road Not Taken," this was not the time for such a venture. And so I turn back the way I’d come, and at the next intersection, I look at the tire tracks in the snow and I choose the road more travelled. It was a good choice.

I find myself at another area of the park, Stoltz Pool. A dozen cars in the parking lot, several anglers just returning from the river, footprints going in and out along the trails, yet peaceful overall. And so the dogs and I head out.

With the river fast and high, and the dogs slow and hard of hearing, I keep them on leash. No unplanned swims today, thank you. (Both Charley and Sadie have, on separate occasions, toppled right into the river at Swallowfield and had to be fished out, as neither swims). Besides, this is not an offleash park.

For nearly two hours we putter around – sometimes walking, sometimes sitting, sometimes staring into space. The dogs, of course, are busy doing what dogs do best – sniffing every tree and stone and leaf.

We wander through a field and along a trail by moss laden trees. I love the old gnarled trees in this park. They are covered with moss and lichen, and their dark twisted arms reach out like those of the forest in a child’s scary story. Or maybe they beckon for a child to climb up and sit among the leaves come spring.

We meander over to the river where we stop briefly to say hi to two women fishing with their lovely old sheltie-terrier cross. At a shallow beach area, Charley goes for a paddle in the water and Sadie has a quick drink, though quickly backs out when her toes get wet.

At various points, attempts to rehabilitate the bank and prevent further erosion have led to the development of ladder-like access points. We choose not to descend them, or the dogs won't be the only ones tumbling into the cold water.

We continue along the trail, the distinctive sound of a pileated woodpecker following us from tree to tree though I was unable to spot him well enough to catch his picture. While I stop to listen, I notice a tree with moss is so deep that the spores of ferns have taken root and grow downward from the trunk.

Brilliant crimson of Oregon grape adds colour to the walk, though the icy blue of the water is colourful in its own right. Spray and steam from sun on icy water add an eeriness that make me thankful for the sunlight and warmth of the afternoon.

Returning to the car, I lift both tired dogs in and we head home – only to get lost again, as I have no sense of direction, didn’t bring a map, and couldn’t use a GPS if my life depended on it. Eventually I find a familiar road and soon we are back on Hwy 18 heading east to Crofton. When we arrive, the wind has dissipated, the sun is still strong, and the dogs and I are ready for an afternoon nap. It was a very good day.


EvenSong said...

Sounds [and looks] like a lovely day. Glad no one took any unexpected swims. And that you were able to wend your way home in time for that nap.

Funder said...

You live in such a beautiful area. :) thanks for taking us along!

Caroline said...

That was an incredible walk through gorgeous terrain!
Thanks for taking us along!

georgia little pea said...

What a lovely long walk. The drive there sounded like an adventure, all by itself! It's been ages since we've done a wild nature reserve style walk like this. Rufus's legs wouldn't be able to handle them and we feel bad about leaving him home alone. Your post reminds me how much I miss them.

Have a lovely week! xox

P.S. Doesn't your heater have an auto turn-on timer thingy?

Jean said...

Georgia LP - I was surprised how well Charley did, as she has difficulty even getting to the beach and back now which is only a couple of blocks each way. However, we really went very, very slowly and made lots of stops. Even so, I had to give her a Tramadol for pain when we got home as it was clear her joints were bothering her.
As for the heat - I do have a programmable thermostat on the living room ones, but I found it didn't work well for me as I seldom have heat on in my house and my schedule isn't a regular one. I was constantly 'overriding' it so I finally disabled it. The heaters in the other rooms (it's electric baseboard heating) don't have programmable ones.
At least my electricity bill is really low - no heat means no energy consumed! LOL

Hunde Haus said...

Oh I know all too well that feeling of 'should I go further?' on a road I do not know. More times than not my curiosity wins and I do travel further forward. But not much, I'm a scaredy cat. I sweat over my van breaking down and having to hike back miles and miles with 3 dogs...eek!

And the lions and tigers and bears...oh my!

Love the photo essay of your trip, and the great commentary. Thanks Jean!

Dom said...

What a beautiful adventure!