Behind, the beach at Ambleside/
Its logs and shingled strand/
Ahead, the heights of Hollyburn/
Where pathways twine through timberland.
Beneath the searing summer sun, we trudged up streets where brambles verged on ditches choked with parched and withered grass. Mingled with the stifling air, a trace of dust and oozing tar wreathed the pebbled road. A lonely mountain lake was in our minds as by streams and shadows trails would take us there.
Beyond a checkerboard of neighbourhoods, we rested in a cool glade beside the bouldered banks of Lawson Creek. Here, it pooled behind the brink of what was once a weir, leaving shallow minds to fathom how it came to be just there. Ahead of us, a narrow path ascended through bushes bearing salmonberries, picked with alacrity to slake a growing thirst. Once we quit this sweet respite, legs strained and backs bent to a steepening of the trail, where loose gravel slipped and brattled rudely underfoot. Close by the Ridge, a glimpse of blue near sky-line gave us tired hikers cause for slight relief, since hard slogging would soon ease to a less demanding stride.
* * * * *
Where heavy timber still endures, diaphanous beams of sunlight stream through canopies of hemlock, cedar and fir; their earthly tethers intertwined with the remnants of an ancient wood. Within this primal timberland, flora thrives midst untamed bush and brash. Upon the forest floor, mossy mounds of rotting logs and crumbling stumps nourish fungi, ferns, vines and roots. Scant distance from the trail, concealed in that tangled tract of trees and undergrowth, a host of whiskered, whistling, ruffed and tufted creatures bide, attuned to every human tramping through the woods.
On level ground where hikers tread, fallen needles cluster ‘round the edge of muddy puddles, or lie beaten down upon a wettish path. Along the trail, seedy coils of fresh scat tell of bruins hereabouts, but nagging thoughts of tetchy bears are soon allayed by the presence of a friendly jay come to seek a snack. Scraps of food when proffered are promptly flown away to secret hoards up among the drooping boughs and scaly bark. A most discerning bird, the whiskey jack always acts as though frugal days of fallow fare are never far away.
Now, if hikers start rejoicing as they near their alpine realm, it’s because a welcome ease awaits them in a hut at trails’ end. For not so far ahead are havens where a footloose few who carry packs and make the grade find solace midst concealed lakes and quiet forest glades. Yet, all too soon, summer warmth dissolves in dull, drizzling rain, and night’s encroaching dusk portends a dismal chill to come…
When leaves change hue and wild geese fly/
While honking overhead/
Pastel skies of smoky quartz/
Tell that summertime has fled.
Then fore-shortened days beget the fall/
Of dewy autumn nights/
A time when folks are keen for snow/
And their cabins’ warm delights.
To wander alone along a trail at night beset by the eerie whoosh and screech of tortured limbs tossed and bent by a windstorm roaring overhead, is to be assailed by an early blast of northern air and sudden bursts of bone-chilling sleet. For a time the Ridge is veiled, swathed in boding cloud or murky brume. Then, on some clear, frosty morn, a tracery of white defines the margin of First Lake, its inky waters sheeted with a mottled, icy glaze. Though encircled by woods and shaped by schemes of those who’ve ventured here, these environs remain the focal point of Hollyburn: common ground where trails and lives converge. Upon this placid reservoir are recorded all the fleeting images of a mountain and its people. For those who’ve known this place, simply passing by revives a flood of memories – recollected moments and happy times recalled.
As with years gone by, when cold asserts its grip, early squalls paint the mountain’s earthen canvas, smattering First Lake and its long-standing lodge with a nascent quilt of white. As arctic fronts invade, crisp dawns give rise to the crackle of thrusting frost and the brittle crunch of corn snow’s icy granules. Sodden ground is thus prepared for the mark of winter boots, the kind that gather clumps of oozing mud while plodding through a weedy marsh not yet frozen firm. As proof of winter’s imminence alights on grizzled stumps, lop-sided snow-caps add whimsy to a melancholy scene.
Such events precede sporadic storms cloaking coastal mountains in hibernal shrouds of white. Thus, a sombre mount of evergreens magically evolves into a realm of ice and snow, bringing welcome change for folks who favour winter. Now the time has come when ski tracks crisscross traces left by someone tramping ‘round on snowshoes. Then in the fading light of another dying day, footprints fade to mere impressions on the trail, as muffled figures vanish midst a blur of swirling snow …
So when leaden clouds hang low/
And tracks turn hard with cold/
Snowflakes fly and fires roar/
Like mountain days of old.
Thus, to seek the Ridge when snow arrives/
Is to find near every trail/
Deep, white mounds that constitute/
Each cabin’s wintry veil.
Beyond the lodge, neighbours trudge past tumbled down remains of old retreats, now hidden and reposing deep within the woods off long-abandoned trails. Yet, from cabins left unscathed, lantern light casts shadows bent surreal over snow banks: their scintillating outlines scarcely seen in the hushed, haunting peace of a moonless mountain night. At times like these, traditions are by ritual or affection readily recalled. For to be on the Ridge in wintertime is to embrace the essence of this mountain, its spirit long ingrained in the core of every cabin whose ribs were hewn from the forest’s very heart.
In spite of forces set against them, an assemblage of these snug abodes have survived the test of time – built to last, tempered tough and as tight as a timber-hitch. Often, just a glimpse of someone’s homey habitation is enough to comfort and console like the knowing smile of an old friend. Cabins and those who keep them sound truly are the mien of all that’s Hollyburn.
Whether dismal or sublime, Hollyburn always feels like home. Thus, to trade the city’s clamour for a breath of solitude is to cinch the knot of urban strife. Linger for a while, and one will find the Ridge serene, for increments of time are reckoned by the mountain’s measured pace of life. By acceding to the forest’s many moods, one gains the sense that existence here is deftly hewn and whittled to a nub.
Just the same, when inhabitants are all alone and snow-bound in their cabins, disquietude may creep into the mind. So, on gloomy nights when heavy snow has fallen deep outside, a hot mug of tea will hand the spirits quite a lift. Luckily, certain cures rely on tea. Just brew some, drink it down, then pour over proof in the dregs, and anxiety will fade away like figures in a fog. Could there be a better circumstance than winter in the woods to put away the hard stuff of life?
Freed from workaday routines, stalwarts of Hollyburn truly prize the laid-back milieu of their homey log retreats. When arrayed in winter’s finery of snow-crowned roofs and ice-trimmed eaves, an aura of enchantment alights on each and every one. With their diverse log-building styles and eclectic facades, cabins tend to exhibit a quirky, one-of-a-kind character. Even though some aren’t much more than rough-hewn piles of worn and weathered wood, their unique conformations constitute authentic artifacts of coastal mountain lore.
Indeed, timeless technique and adherence to a craft is evident in the details of all heritage cabins. For each bears the deft impressions of skills plied by individuals destined to endow this ridge with a lasting legacy. Their handiwork of years ago remains as tangible now as the day those logs were shaped and joined one by one together. These cabins - given strong roofs, seasoned walls, solid footings and a touch of luck – are capable of withstanding the weather’s foulest depredations.
By all accounts, when the whiff of wood smoke drifting from a cabin’s chimney cap combines with forest air, passers-by are wont to find its source and dwell awhile beside a roaring fire. Inside, homespun heat rises ‘round the tarnished sheen of stove pipes, while blazing fuel-wood’s spit and crackle permeates the room with a flush of fuggy warmth. On a wall hangs an old .22 once used for hunting grouse. Faded curtains hang beside partitioned window panes. On the floor lies a scatter rug, beaten flat by the tread of hiking boots. In an alcove near the stove, a folding table and wobbly chairs offer simple comfort. An old couch with sagging springs and threadbare throw remains a comfy resting place. Here and there sits homemade stuff and bric-a-brac, treasured keepsakes of a rustic mountain hut. Upon shelves carved from yellow cedar sit fading photos of a youthful crowd posing by an entrance to the old ski camp…
People came from near and far/
To heed the mountain’s call/
Building cabins in the bush/
With humble wherewithal.
Now, it wouldn’t have been Hollyburn/
Without the more-than-merry/
Since there were bound to be a few/
Who craved the wine of loganberry.
Hollyburn always humoured a brood of carefree souls who headed for the Ridge on weekends to rendezvous in cabins where they’d party loud and strong. An unpretentious bunch with a penchant for carousing, these folks would gather ‘round an open hearth or red-hot stove for jokes and drinking songs. Naturally, those high times saw a rollicking bunch of red-faced revelers half-cut on warm beer, cheap rye or a snoot full of homemade hooch. When the fire finally died and broke the spell impressing thoughts of rest, a mirthful mob would clamber thence to a cramped and stuffy loft.
With bodies tucked in sleeping bags, an ear or two was surely cocked, waiting for a faintly hissing lantern to sputter and expire. In the stifling stillness came the huff of heavy breathing and the groan of creaking logs, thus signalling wee beasties it was time to venture out. From dusty, darkened quarters, quietly they came, scampering about with nary a thought to human forms dozing in their midst…
Sometimes, on cloudless crackling nights/
The northern sky’s adorned with lights/
Then in the forest’s silent hold/
Welcome zephyrs chase the cold.
When winter’s grip relents, slush-holes form in dismal draws as frazil ice slithers free: swirling through a maze of frigid rocks midst slumping heaps of melting snow. Countless bended boughs of stooped and glowering evergreens, long strained by wintry weight, now loose their frozen store. The sibilance of melt-water echoing up from gushing creeks resounds through timberlands drenched and drooped by cold, torrential rains. Revived once more, the woods emerge from their torpid state, as deliquescing drifts subside around denuded rocks and roots, ushering in the heightened light of spring.
When snowline shrinks to higher ground, the murmurings of new-borne life are waft aloft on warm, whispering winds, as green waves of spring herald spittlebugs, spider webs and the trickling tones of tiny rivulets. Still mired midst dank bogs and bosky hollows, skunky yellow cabbages arise once again to scent the budding woods with their piquant emanations…
When warmth pervades and snow recedes/
Cabin folk begin to stir/
Then it’s time to go with axe or saw/
And buck some rounds of fallen fir.
On dreary days, a woodland breed pokes about on mothy ground now sluffing off its winter garb. Still, thoughts are bound to stray to a tangled scheme of trails enticing folks to seek out quiet glades, tranquil lakes or the nearby crest of Hollyburn. For a little while longer, the clan of packs and hiking boots must wait for summer’s verdant hues when those who love to ramble, set their sights on distant heights of land. For beyond this summit’s stony parapet, a backland of beauty beckons from afar. And ‘neath summer’s blazing orb, there soon will be exposed a vast domain of meadows strewn with flowers and high, hanging valleys wherein nestle clear, turquoise tarns.
From Hollyburn’s aqueous plateau, a maze of meandering waters stream from shrinking drifts regressed to grim clefts and dank depressions. Around its stony crown, evergreens no longer bear their callous garb of ice and snow. For months they stood their ground, guardians massed near timberline, besieged by bitter winds and numbing cold, arrayed like ghostly sentinels on dreary, storm-bound heights. Now, winter’s cramping cold is gone. All around the Ridge is heard the skirr and zizz of insects buzzing to and fro ‘neath airy spires of cloud adrift in skies of vibrant blue. While summer lasts, warm beams of light will brighten tranquil lakes, dusty woods and foaming falls, as all of nature pulses to the cadence of cavorting creeks coursing t’wards the ocean. Upon this blessed mount, cares soar like thistledown, fetched and gone on a vagrant breeze…
Just as expectations rise/
When time for skiing starts/
The meadows’ nodding wildflowers/
Gladden countless hikers’ hearts.
For, when paradise pronounces/
Creation flaunts its young/
Of gaily-coloured vanities/
Joyful melodies are sung.
Comes a blissful summer’s eve, sunset’s splendour dissipates as star-touched treetops lade with cones delineate the sky. On nights such as this, each cabin porch provides a place for thoughts to drift as far as they can go. A few may delve into the mists of time, seeking to discern what reckoning awaits this gentle height of land. Such musing midst the woods’ pervasive hush gives rise to reveries rarely sensed elsewhere. Yet, with cruel dispatch comes time to cede those meditative moments, for that unbidden hour infallibly arrives when a debt of sleep is due. While mortals roam capriciously in dreamscapes conjured by the mind, nature’s lulled by night’s device of soft, celestial light. And as foreshadowed by the summiting of countless shining moons, an early morning chill commences creeping o’er a tranquil ridge known as Hollyburn…
Shrouded in nocturnal gloom/
Forests fade as dusk departs/
Then wandering eyes consider space/
As musing minds the darkness charts.
For the sky’s eternal splendour/
Is a most beguiling sight/
It fascinates with radiance/
Like Vincent’s Starry Night.
A. G. M. F.