The Qu’Appelle River runs through the Qu’Appelle Valley in southern Saskatchewan.  So graceful and harmonious is this valley that it reminds the traveler of that visionary homeland where each thing has what it needs to live a beautiful life.  When I first saw the Qu’Appellle Valley, I thought that this place was like the home I might have had if the Great War of 1914-1918 had not cast a violent shadow over the entire twentieth century.

The Qu’Appelle River flows through the Qu’Appelle Valley like a Queen on parade.  Her name, “Qu’Appelle”, is French for “Who calls?”  This is a rough translation of the original Cree words for the river, and there are many stories as to how the river got its name.  One story goes like this:


Long ago a First Nations person was going down the river in his canoe.  One day he heard a voice calling to him.  He stopped paddling, and listened intently.  Again he heard the voice calling, and he called out in his turn.  No one answered him, so he carefully looked around for the tracks of another person.  He couldn’t find any tracks, and from that time the river was known as “Who calls?” (1)

Today we cannot hear the earth speak in the same way as aboriginal people did before the coming of the Europeans.  In the old days the relationship of First Nations people to nature was intense and personal.  Everything in nature had the power to reveal itself as a living presence, should it choose to do so, and should a person be ready to hear or to see.  This relationship went both ways.  Human beings were part of nature as were fish, trees, rocks and grizzly bears.  And because humans were created later than most other creatures, people were often humbly thought of as the younger sisters and brothers.  So did humans see themselves as members of a larger family on a living earth.  Black Elk said, “The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of human beings when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe.”

In our technological, urban world we have lost much of our ability to hear many of the voices in nature.  We long for connection to the beauty we see, and we talk of spirituality rather than formal religion.  Spirituality is about the quality of our relationship to the world.  It is about our ability to see our connection to everything around us, to see the beauty, to hear the voices, to be present to the miracle of that which is simply in front of us.  Chief Seathl, after whom the City of Seattle was named, put it this way:  “Every part of this land is sacred in the view of my people.  Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove….”

We reach out to the people around us with deep caring.  We watch.  We listen.  Rain falls.  The wind is like breathing.  “All real living is meeting,” Martin Buber said.  Life is relationship.  First Nations people close many of their speeches and prayers with the expression, “All my relations.”

In April, 2010, an international conference for the protection of the earth took place in Bolivia.  President Evo Morales of Bolivia invited the peoples of the world to this conference, and more than 30,000 people from over 100 countries came to share their concerns.  President Morales urged the delegates to listen to the voices of indigenous people as they talked about respect for the earth and stewardship.

We can be more aware of the voices around us, and we can start with the people we meet every day.  Can we hear the person who is asking for help?  Eagles fly overhead at many of our ceremonies in the Downtown Eastside.  What are the eagles saying to us?  Waves on the shore of Crab Park have stories to tell. The Oppenheimer Park totem pole speaks to the long history of First Nations on this land, and it also asks us to remember those who have died in the Downtown Eastside, and those who have survived.

The old heritage buidings in our community speak to the early history of Vancouver, and in the streets late at night you can hear the voices of unemployed men during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. They are marching in a snake parade because they are hungry and have no place to sleep.  Chinatown and Japantown have stories to tell of those who fought for dignity and human rights.

So many voices.  So much pain and courage and laughter.  “Who calls?” we ask, and we hear the voice of the other one, reminding us of relationship, or our kinship to the mice in the fields and the stars in the sky.  As Chief Joseph said, “The earth and myself are of one mind.”


(1)               River in a Dry Land, by Trevor Harriot, published by Stoddart, 2000, page 12.



A Mystery at Beaver Lake

A Mystery at Beaver Lake, Illustration by Diane Wood

A Mystery at Beaver Lake, Illustration by Diane Wood

Jean and I often go to Beaver Lake in Stanley Park. We go in the morning to feel the quietness of the lake, and to avoid the crowds that come to the park in the afternoon.

One morning we were standing on the wooden platform at the north end of Beaver Lake, watching the ducks swim among the water lilies. A faint mist covered the south end of the lake, and the trees appeared and disappeared in the mist. Jean, whose eyes are better than mine, said, “There’s something at the south end of the lake that looks strange.”

“I can’t see anything, especially with this mist,” I replied. “Where should I look?”

“Look in the direction of the place where we picked a ripe blueberry on May 25th last year,” Jean said.

“I remember. You gave me the blueberry as a birthday present. I see only mist there now.”

“Be patient,” Jean said. “The mist will move away, and then you have to watch for something that doesn’t belong there.”

The mist curled gracefully among the trees, revealing the place where we had found the ripe blueberry. I saw a grey shape about six feet tall. It was absolutely still.

“Am I looking at an abominable snowman?” I asked.

“No, not here,” Jean replied. “Let’s move closer,” and we walked south on the path on the west side of Beaver Lake. “It seems to have feathers,” Jean whispered as we got closer to this strange apparition.

“It looks like it’s been painted on a piece of wood.”

“It doesn’t seem to have a head, and it’s not six feet tall. The mist made it look bigger,” I whispered back to Jean as though we were in church. From this point on, we would move as quietly as the mist that was disappearing as the sun rose higher in the sky.

We walked slowly, stealthily, and deliberately toward the mystery. We could see that it was between four and five feet tall, blue-grey in colour, and it had magnificent feathers on its back and neck.

“I see its head,” Jean said. “It’s tucked between its shoulders, and its bill is pointing away from us.”
“A heron!” I exclaimed. “A Great Blue Heron! The biggest one I’ve ever seen. He’s standing on his own land as if he has stood there forever.”

“Herons have lived on this earth a lot longer than humans,” Jean said.

“Yes,” I replied, “and the oldest known heron colony in British Columbia is right here in Stanley Park. But today the herons are a species at risk.”

“How beautiful you are,” Jean said to the heron.

Just then the heron moved its head, and we could see its long dagger bill. It spread its enormous wings, and with a  harsh, croaking cry, it lifted itself into the air and circled the lake. With its long neck folded back, its legs trailing behind it, and its powerful wings flapping slowly, it looked like an ancient messenger from long ago when the earth was young. “Your destiny is connected to mine,” it seemed to be telling us. “If you destroy my living space, you will destroy your own.”

We watched the heron disappear in the forest, and we were left with its message and the memory of what we had seen.

“He is our older brother,” I said.

“We have to change the way we live,” Jean said.

~ by Sandy Cameron

The Mother of All Marmots

The Mother of All Marmots, Illustration by Diane Wood

The Mother of All Marmots, Illustration by Diane Wood

We were in an alpine valley 7000 feet high in the mountains near Keremeos, B.C. “Something moved out there,” Jean said. Her eyes were so good she could spot a ripe blackberry at 50 paces.

“Where?” I asked.

“Down the valley. Maybe 200 yards. Looks like a sheep,” Jean said.

I got out the binoculars. Something was out there, alright, but we couldn’t see it clearly because of the rocks.

Grey fur on the front part of it, and brown fur on the back.

“Maybe it’s a grey bear,” I said.

Just then a whistler, or hoary marmot, popped out of a burrow close by. Hoary marmots are rodents, and they are the largest members of the squirrel family. They weigh from 10 to 20 pounds, the females are generally larger than the males, and they warn of danger with a piercing whistle. That’s why they’re called whistlers, and Whistler Mountain is named after them.

The shape and colour of the whistler, and the shape and colour of the creature we could partially see down the valley, were the same. “It’s not possible,” Jean said. “If that creature is a whistler, it must weigh close to 50 pounds.”

“Let’s check it out,” I said. “Wolverines are about that size.”

“Wolverines have darker coloured fur,” Jean said.

Slowly and quietly we walked down the grassy alpine valley which was free of trees, but strewn with boulders. Then we saw the creature nibbling grass with its prominent rodent teeth. It was a hoary marmot for sure – a 50 pound marmot!

It didn’t whistle when we approached within 30 feet of it. It didn’t run for the nearest burrow, but what kind of underground lodge would hold a marmot as big as a sheep? “The mother of all marmots,” Jean said with awe.

I moved a step closer, and the animal, still munching grass, looked at me out of the corner of its eye. Then it ambled off, and disappeared in the trees at the edge of the meadow.

We told a forest ranger about this experience. “We know about her,” he said. “She has no enemies in that valley, and she must be very old. Some hikers swear they’ve seen a bear or a wolverine.”

“Tell us about it,” we said.

~ Sandy Cameron

The Stranger in a Garbage Can

The Stranger in a Garbage Can, Illustration by Diane Wood

The Stranger in a Garbage Can, Illustration by Diane Wood

Jean and I were walking at Spanish Banks one fine morning with the sea sighing softly and the mountains watching us like old friends. Down the path was a garbage can, one of many used to collect the left-overs from numerous picnics.

As we approached the garbage can, a paper plate came flying out of it and rolled on the grass. We stopped in surprise, and saw another paper plate sail into the air, do a graceful loop, and land a few feet from the container.

“Someone is binning this morning,” I said. “He’s looking for a treasure where others see only trash.”

“He’s trying to make some money so he won’t starve,” Jean said, “and he must be very small to fit in that garbage can.”

A styrofoam cup flew out of the container, followed by a small paper bag.

“Maybe he’s a child who got left behind after a picnic,” I said.

“Maybe,” Jean replied. We were about twenty feet from the garbage can, and we stopped to consider the situation.

“A small bear could be in there,” Jean said.

“Bears don’t come to Spanish Banks,” I replied.

“Yes they do,” Jean said. “I heard that a bear tried to register in the Humanities 101 course at the University of British Columbia.”

Another paper plate flew out of the garbage can, along with a plastic fork and half a hamburger.

“Maybe he’s a coyote,” I said. “Coyotes live all over Vancouver.”

“I think coyotes would push the garbage can over,” Jean said.

Another paper cup, a paper towel, and a baby’s toy rattle shot over the edge of the container.

“A raccoon! That’s it. There’s a raccoon in that garbage can,” I exclaimed.

“Good guess,” Jean said. “Let’s be careful because raccoons can be quite fierce.”

We had moved closer to the garbage can, and we could hear something moving around inside it. That noise had our full attention, and we were ready to back off should the creature in the can prove to be dangerous. A slice of pizza erupted out of the garbage can. Then silence. We waited in this ominous silence with a mixture of fear and curiosity.

Slowly a black, feathered head, with black beak and eyes dark as midnight, appeared above the rim of the garbage can. “A crow,” Jean said in surprise.

“The mother of all binners,” I said.

The crow hopped up on the garbage can rim, and eyed us defiantly. “He looks like a general defending his territory,” Jean whispered.

“He sees us as a nuisance, not as a threat,” I said.

The crow dropped to the ground. He strutted among the delicacies he had rescued like a king among his treasures. He took his time. He was completely aware of where he was, and where we were.

“Black-robed priest,” Jean said.

“Or black-robed gangster,” I added.

“They stick together. They support each other,” Jean said.

“They do,” I agreed. “They have much to teach us about survival.”

The crow picked up a chunk of hamburger bun, gave us a dismissive look, and flew away. We were left behind, at Spanish Banks, beside the garbage can.

“If we could see crows as crows really are,” Jean said.

“That could take a lifetime,” I said.

A Bear Story

A Bear Story, Illustration by Diane Wood

A Bear Story, Illustration by Diane Wood

Jean was afraid of bears. She wouldn’t go into the forest without her bear bell. It was a tiny bell which she fastened on to her blue jeans. It made a tinkling sound when she walked, and that metallic noise warned bears that she was in the area. When people asked Jean if her bear bell actually worked, she would reply that she hadn’t seen any bears, so the bell must be working.

Now Jean was not a person who frightened easily. When it came to fighting for higher welfare rates or for a higher minimum wage, she would battle any politician in the country. In political debate she could be as fierce as the mighty grizzly, yet in the forest Jean was afraid of bears. She knew a lot about politics, and that knowledge gave her courage, but she didn’t know much about bears.

One beautiful Sunday morning in autumn Jean and I decided to go for a walk in Cypress Bowl which is located in the mountains of North Vancouver. We walked up an old logging road on Black Mountain, and then we took a winding trail through some old growth forest. Our destination was a tiny lake in the flat country behind Black Mountain. We liked to reach this lake while the morning mist was still on it, and we liked to watch the water lilies, so dignified and calm on the still water. I named this small lake “Jean’s Lake”, and it was so peaceful there that it seemed to us that Vancouver was a thousand miles away.

Jean was wearing her bear bell, but her fear of bears was not as strong as her love of the forest, the mountains, and the beckoning sky. Blueberries grew along the path and around the shores of the lake. We stopped to pick some, but this was not a berry picking trip. Jean had picked her winter supply of blueberries at sea level about a month earlier. The lake was at an elevation of four thousand feet, and berries at that height ripened later in the year.

After spending some time at Jean’s Lake, we decided to walk to the top of Black Mountain. I led the way. Jean meandered along, picking a few blueberries from time to time. She was about fifty or sixty feet away from me when suddenly Jean ran towards me in a great rush. She grabbed my arm and said in an agitated tone of voice, “I want to go home right now.”

“Jean, what’s the matter?” I asked.

“I saw a bear,” she said, and her eyes were wide with fear. “I want to go home.”

“Where did you see the bear?” I asked.

“Back there. It stuck its head out of the bushes. I want to go home.”

“What did the bear do when it saw you?”

“It disappeared.”

“Jean, that bear is probably a mile away by now. It’s more afraid of you than you are of it.”

“I want to go home.”

“The bear was probably looking for blueberries, just like us. Bumping into you would be the last thing the bear wanted. You must have scared it something fierce. We’re safe here.”

“Do you think the bear is far from here?”

“Oh, yes. It might be in Squamish by now. Tell me more about the bear.”

“I was just walking along when I heard a rustling in the bushes above the path. I looked up and saw this little bear face poking out of the bushes.”

“And then it disappeared.”

“Yes. It was just a little face, and it didn’t look very fierce.”

“You want to go home because you saw a little bear face?”

“Well, I don’t know how big the bear was.”

“The bears have been on this earth longer than we have. They are our older brothers and sisters, and they, too, are suffering from the ravages of imperial progress. Shall we walk along the trail a bit further? I’m sure we won’t see any bears.”

“Alright. We’ll go a bit further, one step at a time,” Jean said.

“I’ll drink to that,” I replied.

The Salmon Run at Maple Wood Creek

The Salmon Run at Maple Wood Creek, Illustration by Diane Wood

The Salmon Run at Maple Wood Creek, Illustration by Diane Wood

Jean, Devon, who is Jean’s grandson, and I, went to Maple Wood Creek in North Vancouver to see the Chum salmon return to the place where they were born after about five years in the Pacific Ocean. They came to lay eggs and to fertilize them in the loose gravel of Maple Wood Creek, and they came to die. Their deaths were part of the dance of Life which contains both birth and death. The salmon died, and yet they rise again.

Devon watched the salmon intently. “They’re wild,” he said. “They’re dying, but they go through the water like lightning.”

“Yes,” Jean said. “The intensity of their efforts to create a new generation of salmon is awesome. I don’t know how they can find Maple Wood Creek after spending five years in the ocean. They leave the fresh water creek as very small fry, and they return from the salt water sea as large fish weighing 10 pounds or so. Some people say that the salmon use the sun and stars as a guide, and others say the salmon can smell their home creek. I don’t know how they find their way home, but I’m thankful that they’re here.”

“I see, and smell, many dead salmon on the banks of Maple Wood Creek, and that saddens me,” I said, “but I, too, thank the salmon for their gift of new life. In the spring thousands upon thousands of small fry will make their way through the gravel and head out to sea.”

“Do you remember going to see the salmon when you were very young?” Jean asked Devon.

“I remember,” Devon replied. “I couldn’t say the word “fish”, so when I wanted to visit the salmon, I would make an “O” with my mouth the way the fish do. Then you would take me to Maple Wood Creek. I remember how the salmon would gather in a big bunch at the place where Maple Wood Creek runs into the Seymour River.”

“They were waiting for rain so there would be enough water in the creek for them to swim to their spawning grounds,” Jean said. “They didn’t have to wait for the rain this year.”

“Look there, the stream is so shallow that the salmon are half out of the water, but they just keep going,” Devon said.

“They’re going home,” I said, “and they have something to do so that the next generation might live. That reminds me of something the First Nations’ spiritual teacher, Black Elk, said. He said that we should live our lives so that the people might live.”

“I see a Chum digging a hole in the gravel with her tail. She’s getting ready to lay her eggs,” Jean said.

“Maybe we should move back,” Devon said. “They don’t like it when we get too close.” We moved back out of respect for the salmon, and we gave thanks to the Keepers of the Stream who had built rock fish ladders so that the salmon could swim up Maple Wood Creek more easily. “I thank all the people who understand that the life of the salmon and the life of human beings are connected. If we destroy the salmon, we are on our way to destroying ourselves,” I said.

“I agree,” Jean said. “Both the salmon and poor people are under threat from unrestrained greed. Caring for the salmon, and caring for people, is not simply a question of technology or another quick-fix program. It is a way of being in the world.”

“The salmon can teach us,” I said.

“The salmon dance in the water,” Devon said.

“We share this world together,” Jean said.

“Brother salmon, sister salmon,” I said. “We stand on sacred ground, here in the middle of the city. Life is richer at this place. We thank the salmon.”

Wild Sheep in the Mountains

Wild Sheep in the Mountains, Illustration by Diane Wood

Wild Sheep in the Mountains, Illustration by Diane Wood

We were doing mining exploration at Godlin Lake in the Mackenzie Mountains, and the geologist told Roy and myself to camp out for two nights in a high valley in order to collect certain rocks he needed to finish a geological map he was working on. “The Jet Ranger will take you to that valley,” the geologist said. The Jet Ranger was a helicopter that could skim over the mountain peaks like an enchanted deer.

“Will I need my parka?” Roy asked.

“Yes,” replied the geologist. “Even though tomorrow is July 1 , and we’re getting 24 hours of sunlight every day, the temperature can drop below freezing at night, and I’ve seen snow in these mountains in July.”

Roy was a thoughtful young man from Vancouver who had always lived in the city. When he arrived at our base camp at Godlin Lake, in the Northwest Territories, he gazed in amazement at the lake, the wide valley, and the surrounding mountains. “Nobody told me about this,” he said.

“Nobody told you about what?” I asked.

“About this beauty,” he replied.

The helicopter took us to the high valley in late afternoon. It was above the tree line, and we couldn’t see a single tree. A small stream divided the two sides of the valley, and each side was like a green meadow. With the sun shining, the valley seemed like a mountain paradise, but if a storm arrived we would be in trouble because the valley offered no protection from fierce winds or snow.

We cooked supper on a Coleman stove because there wasn’t any firewood, and then we sat in the sunny evening silence and told stories. Roy said that he had grown up in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, and he liked the people in his community because they cared about each other. He said that this land in the north of Canada opened up a new dimension in his life, and he repeated a phrase that he had said before, “Nobody told me about this.”

I said that the beauty of the land had pointed me in the direction of justice. “How can people live in a cruel, selfish and violent way in the face of such beauty?” I wondered.

“They can’t see,” Roy said. “People like that are blind.”

I woke up at 5am in the morning to the sound of sheep baaing in the valley. At first I thought I was back on a farm we had when I was a child, but then I remembered that Roy and I were in the Mackenzie Mountains. “How can sheep be in this valley?” I asked myself. Quietly I got dressed in our tiny tent, and then I crawled out to greet the coming day.

The Dall sheep were easy to spot. They were travelling on the other side of the valley at a higher altitude than our tent. There must have been about fifteen of them. All ewes with their lambs. All mothers with their children. They moved majestically across the land, calling back and forth to each other. An Elder led them, in the early morning, with the sun shining on them and on the valley.

Roy was out of the tent by now. He heard the sheep. He saw them.

“Where are the rams?” I asked.

Roy looked with the binoculars. “They’re higher up,” he said. “I can see five or six of them.”

Then I saw the rams with the sun flashing on their horns. They were looking down at the ewes and the lambs. They stood so strong, so proud, on their own land.

We watched the sheep until they disappeared into the next valley. Then I heard Roy mutter to himself, “Nobody told me about this.”

The Forest That Disappeared

The Forest That Disappeared, Illustrations by Diane Wood

The Forest That Disappeared, Illustrations by Diane Wood

I wanted to show Jean a beautiful place where I had camped 15 years ago. It was at the entrance of an ancient forest in a distant valley. Majestic trees cast a green shade there, and a stream carried water from a cool spring. Moss lay thick upon the ground, and the silence of the forest was broken from time to time by the singing of birds and the gentle sighing of the wind.

There were more logging roads in that part of the country than there had been 15 years earlier, and I wasn’t sure which one to take.

“Try one road, and if that doesn’t work, try another,” Jean said.

That’s what we did, and we drove for another 10 miles. “The land doesn’t look the way I remember it,” I said.

“It never does,” Jean said.

Then I recognized a group of aspens. We stopped the car and walked towards them. My old campsite had been on the other side of these trees, and as we walked through the aspen grove, I remembered how beautiful the campsite was. Instead of my campsite, however, we found a wasteland.

Where my tent had stood was an abandoned landing for a logging operation. The grass-covered clearing was gone. The trees that had given me shade were gone. The spring that had given me water was a muddy pool, buried under 10 feet of debris.

The ancient forest was gone. Not one tree left.

I rushed this way and that way, looking for a forest that had disappeared. Jean, struggling to keep up with my furious pace, shouted, “Sandy, what’s wrong?”

I turned to her, not answering. An entire forest couldn’t disappear like that. Maybe I was in the wrong place. “If I can find my bearings, everything will be as it was before,” I said to myself.

Rushing up a steep hill, I reached a place where I could see more clearly. Fifteen years ago, I had climbed up here at night with the moon full and the night so bright I could walk through the forest without danger. From the crest of this hill I had seen the moon shining on the valley, the ancient forest, and the snow-peaked mountains. Fifteen years later all I could see was a catastrophe of stumps and broken limbs.

“I wanted to show you a sacred place,” I said to Jean.

“Yes,” Jean replied.

“There’s no restraint here, no respect,” I said, and I thought of the gigantic corporations that will not rest until they have cut down every tree on earth, or sold every cupful of pure water. “Such utter destruction, and for what moral purpose?” I continued. “They don’t know what they’re doing. It is themselves they murder.”

“And us,” Jean said.

Of Mountains and Mice

Of Mountains and Mice, Illustration by Diane Wood

Of Mountains and Mice, Illustration by Diane Wood

In 1989 Jean and I went for a hike on the Singing Pass Trail at Whistler, British Columbia. I knew Whistler Mountain well because I had done some prospecting there in 1965. In those days I used to slide down the glacier on Whistler Mountain on a piece of cardboard because no ski resort existed at that time. In 1965 the village was called Alta Lake, and logging was the main occupation for most residents.

“See how gracefully the light falls on the trees,” Jean said as we walked up the Singing Pass Trail towards Singing Pass itself. “The light sings to us, and I feel like singing.”

“The wind also sings to us,” I said. “This trail has a singing name, and so does the pass up ahead. Melody Creek is below us and Piccolo Summit, Flute Summit and Oboe Summit are above us. The mountain is called “Whistler” after the marmots who whistle to warn of danger. The person who gave these places their English names heard the wind’s music.”

“Yes,” Jean replied, and she hummed to herself until we reached the open space of Singing Pass with its symphony of wild flowers in purple, red, blue, white, orange and yellow, and its fine views of Blackcomb Mountain on one side and Cheakamus Lake and Cheakamus glacier on the other. From Singing Pass we took a steep trail that led to Russet Lake, and I ran out of gas on this trail. “I don’t think I can go any further,” I said as I lay on my back and looked at the pale blue sky. “Russet Lake must be up in the clouds somewhere.”

“We’ll make it,” Jean said. “We’ve come too far to turn back now.”

And we did reach the lake, and the small red cabin for hikers. The cabin was empty, so we picked out a couple of beds and made ourselves to home. Then we walked close to a huge glacier, and gazed apprehensively at fierce mountains with names like “Macbeth” and “Overlord”.

When we returned to the cabin, we found that a group of six people had moved in. They were a friendly, respectful group, and it would have been easy to share the cabin with them. However, Jean and I decided to put up our small, red pup tent. This move would make the cabin more comfortable for the other hikers, and it would bring us closer to the earth and the sky.

“The weather is good. We really don’t need the cabin,” Jean said.

“Let’s go,” I agreed. “We’ll sleep in our pup tent under the stars, and we’ll share with the other hikers the doorless outhouse which overlooks Fitzsimmons Valley and the surrounding mountains.”

“It has the most beautiful view in British Columbia,” Jean said.

“That outhouse is more majestic than the throne of England,” I added.

We set up our tent, cooked supper on our gas stove, watched the stars appear in the clear, night sky, and crawled into bed. In the darkness Jean said, “Something is trying to get into our tent.”

Sure enough, I could hear a rustling on the sides of the tent. “It’s not a bear,” I said quickly.

“The noise is on the roof of the tent,” Jean said. “Something is sliding down the roof.”

“Let’s wait. Our eyes will adjust to the night,” I said.

“There’s more than one of them,” Jean said.

“They’re sliding down the roof of the tent,” I said. “It’s as though they were doing it deliberately.”

“They’re trying to get into the tent, or they’re just having fun,” Jean said. “They slide, and then they climb back up and slide again.”

“I’m having trouble believing this. Are we awake?” I asked.

“We’re awake, and mice are sliding down the roof of our tent as though they were at the P.N.E.,” Jean said.

So we waited in the night as mice played on the roof of our tent. They never got into the tent, and eventually they stopped. In the morning we visited our neighbours in the red cabin. “How did you sleep?” we asked them.

“Terrible,” they replied. “Mice kept us awake all night. They were everywhere, and they were eating everything. We didn’t get any sleep at all.”

I had left my leather camera case hanging on the wall in the cabin. “Here’s your camera case,” one of the hikers said. Half of it had been chewed away.

Jean and I packed up our gear, and prepared to descend to Singing Pass. “Good-bye Russet Lake, and goodbye mountain mice,” we said. “It can’t be an easy world for mice up here. The winters are long and the summers are short. You have given us a story that people will have trouble believing. We thank you for that.”

The Wind and the Stars

The Wind and the Stars, Illustration by Diane Wood

The Wind and the Stars, Illustration by Diane Wood

The dark and threatening afternoon sky matched the somber mood of the campground near Youbou on Vancouver Island where Jean and I had pitched our tent. “These ancient maple trees and thick evergreens create a world of shadows,” Jean said.

“Shadows that move with the wind and the flickering light of Cowichan Lake,” I added.

“The ferns are tall here, and moss hangs from every tree,” Jean said.

“Rain and sunlight,” I said, “and the sound of waves on a pebble beach.”

The sun appeared from behind a bank of clouds, and streams of light entered the dark woods. A small evergreen burst into gold, and shimmered in the warm light. “A golden tree,” Jean said. “Tree of fire,” I said. “Goddess of poetry, goddess of the hearth.”

Then the light faded, and the vision was gone. We had seen it, though. “The first Christmas tree,” Jean said.

In the night the wind blew stronger. It blew the clouds away, and stars appeared. “The stars are beautiful,” Jean said, “but the sound of trees falling in the wind is not beautiful.”

“I agree, but I think we are safe at this campsite” I said.

“I hope so,” Jean replied.

The wind whistled and roared. It sounded like a freight train coming. We could hear some of the old maple trees crashing down. “Maybe we should move away from this campground,” Jean said.

“Where could we go?” I asked.

Jean: “We could find a field somewhere.”

Sandy: “In the middle of the night?”

Jean: “It’s not midnight yet.”

Sandy: “Maybe the wind will die down.”

Jean: “Maybe it will get stronger.”

Sandy: “Some of the other campers are staying here.”

Jean: “And others are leaving.”

Sandy: “A tree could fall across the road.”

Jean: “A good reason to leave now.”

Then there was a huge crash close to our campsite. The falling tree took smaller trees with it, and a thin sapling hit the front of our truck. It didn’t do any damage, but its message was clear: “Get out of here while you still can.” We grabbed our sleeping bags and a tarpaulin to put on the ground, and jumped into the truck. I drove slowly on the narrow campground road, and prayed that all would be well.

We reached the main road, and turned in the direction of Youbou. “Now what?” I asked.

“We’ll find a place,” Jean said.

And we did find a place. We found the Youbou baseball park, and we put our tarpaulin and sleeping bags between first base and second base. The wind, which had died down a little, had blown all the clouds away, and we could see more stars than we could ever see from the city. “We’ll be safe here,” Jean said.

“I hope so,” I replied.

“I see the seven stars of the Big Dipper,” Jean said.

“The seven grandfathers,” I said.

“Say thank you to the grandfathers,” Jean said.

“Yes,” I said.

“There’s a shooting star,” Jean said, “and there’s another.”

“I see them,” I said, and then I added, “We are made of stardust, you know.”

“ I know,” Jean said. “That makes us children of the universe.”

“First Nations people use the expression ‘All my relations’ at the end of some of their ceremonies,” I said.

We watched the stars and listened to the silence of the night. Then the automatic sprinkler system clicked on, and the ball park became a fountain of water glistening in starlight.