WHEN A MOUNTAIN COMES TO MIND
Have you ever studied photographs hoping to discern
clues about the character of a place like Hollyburn?
There’s something of a mystery in those treasured exhibitions,
so, what might be intuited from yesteryear’s depictions?
Loggers in bush shirts, their axes swung to clear,
ancestral trees of sprawling girth once embedded here.
But above that crude divestiture lay a tracery of hope,
virgin stands of timberland high upon the slope.
The boundlessness of youth by its nature held in thrall,
responded with devotion to the mountain’s higher call.
To build a hut of cedar logs by their own devices,
meant countering adversity through lofty sacrifices.
With stout hearts, strong backs and calloused hands they toiled,
muscling saws and axes while a blackened tea pail boiled.
Sporting high, laced boots, floppy hats and rumpled woollen togs,
their heavy-laden packs made for bruising uphill slogs.
They were unrelenting woodsmen who ventured on ahead,
blazing well-marked tracks for the rest us to tread.
Trails meeting here are by happenstance convergent;
well known to its inhabitants agreeably divergent.
There are cabins in the woods where people congregate.
Visitations are informal; there’s no such thing as late.
But be sure to pack libations, whatever kind brings cheer,
you'll be obliged to leave some, it’s common practise here.
On this year-end festive eve, friends pledge amity anew;
There’s plentiful refreshments and a pot of homemade stew.
At the stroke of midnight, jubilation time is nigh,
while out among the evergreens, snow is piling high.
So, it’s goodbye to the old year and welcome to the new,
come morning they'll be coffee, and with luck a cure or two.
In the sober aftermath, well thought out intentions
promptly falter and give way to rueful resignations.
Then it’s up along the trail to gleaming snowy bowls,
where crowds of smiling skiers are leaning on their poles.
Oldsters and youngsters with arguable skill
are jockeying for position on a well-compacted hill.
Ill at ease beginners queue in hopes of having fun,
and the iffy expectation of one successful run.
The fretful and the fiddle-footed assume an awkward stance,
contriving to regain control by slithering on their pants.
Given dull metal edges and sloppy, rutted snow-
it’s near pandemonium on the old rope tow.
There’s an easy-going ambiance on such youthful, carefree days,
but a season's snow will soon recede for Spring is on the way.
As cold fog drifts through draping boughs quiescent;
the drip, drip, drip of drizzling rain is annoyingly incessant.
The raucous call of ravens echoes through a misty damp,
while hikers wait for transport to their cozy mountain camp.
Some find comfort in a flask for packing up the trail.
For those who smoke, there’s reassurance in a firm tobacco bale.
A Trapper Nelson full of parts for some ancient iron range
will test the bearer’s fortitude as through the woods he'll strain.
And, what about that chairlift? Well, it had its ups and downs,
the tramway’s steel erections being somewhat less than sound.
Without a doubt - dodgy doesn’t cut it as solid, tried and true;
but of course it was the Fifties, when good enough would do.
So, if ever poets to this structure pen acclamatory sonnets,
then such paeans ought to praise the pluck of those who rode upon it.
Idyll thoughts descend upon a gently sighing breeze,
while sitting on a cabin porch living life at ease.
There’s percolating coffee and cooling berry pie;
the scent of oozing pitch and blue summer sky.
Wood smoke, gingham curtains, dinner in a nook;
a bouquet of wild flowers pressed within a book.
An artist’s scenic panorama painted on a saw;
the pungent smell of mothballs, a skein of mousy faugh.
Sometimes schemes and reveries commence to interplay,
as idle yearnings metamorphose into fanciful forays.
Wandering down a winding trail lost to introspection;
there are sites beside the water’s edge for casual reflection.
Through high, heaping cloud slants a slender, gleaming strake
dazzling as it penetrates a placid mountain lake.....
It’s a “wondrous strange” human trait that most are overawed
by the lure of trails to hinterlands few have ever trod.
When hikers conjure images of distant lakes and falls,
they must yield and be guided by the mountain’s siren calls.
There are trails through wilderness existing to attain;
the hardy as they go in search of undefiled terrain.
Could freedom be more evident than by an azure tarn;
or rising with a rosy glow in the blissful cool of morn?
It’s a time when the moon and stars are altogether done,
as the haze of dawn dissipates and shadows flee the Sun.
There’s thirst to quench at bubbling springs while tramping on the way;
thence to a river's sheltering shade in the dusty heat of day.
There, ringed by granite boulders in some deep canyon well,
lie purling, dark green pools where lurking salmon dwell.
Then striking out on trails to places never been,
or beguiling summit climbs to vistas yet unseen -
where creatures haunt the craggy heights and golden eagles soar
over frantic whistling marmots as they to the sky implore.
Who hasn’t yearned to stroll exuberantly through
a meadowland of wild flowers, their beauty eyed anew;
then opted for a route past jumbled heaps of stone,
making for a snow patch to meditate alone -
or stand in the shadows ‘neath weathered, sun-bright cliffs
where cascades of water plummet from a lofty precipice?
Those endless summer days may all too soon be gone,
but the wanderlust to ramble thus always lingers on.
With Fall’s approach, the ridge assumes a wealth of changing views,
while a fading sun girds the land with bright autumnal hues.
That’s when boot-clad creatures are mindful to be wary
as gruff, snuffling bears seek the tasty high-brush berry.
And, time has come for humankind to finish gathering fuel;
to warm the hearth in wooden dens beyond the coming yule.
‘Tis true that Hollyburn’s tamer now, that no one can deny,
yet, it has its own diversions for those who happen by.
It’s a place where one can feel at home out among the trees
or listening to a windstorm wail with fire by your knees.
In an over-heated cabin, guys are chugalugging beer;
a hallowed rite-of-passage that happens every year.
These droll confabulations often last til morning light;
so, it’s a punky bunch who rouse themselves looking for respite.
Time to clutch a mug of tea or, likely in its stead,
yet another cold one to soothe an aching head.
To fraternize with fervour reflects the days of auld,
and the foreverness of good times faithfully recalled.
People of the ridge reside in protected habitation;
thus they must content themselves with modest dispensation.
Though the imprint of humankind may have come to stay,
the forest in its rawest form is never far away.
Now, locals tend to cultivate a stoic frame of mind,
yet, they’re good-hearted people, the most congenial kind.
Able-bodied ramblers who knock about the land;
self-reliant pilgrims who fancy life first hand.
Not ones to be pretentious or prone to patronize,
slow to be distrustful but incredulously wise.
This community of bush-dwellers welcoming by turn,
are resolute inhabitants of a place called Hollyburn.
Just how hard-bitten are these mountain folk who live with the cabin mouse?
They’re about as tough as stubborn knots ‘neath the seat of an old out-house.
Hiking though woodlands on a dull, cheerless day,
thunder rumbles aimlessly as sunlight fades away.
A dismal, drizzling rain determines which trail to take,
while trudging through the bush beside a solitary lake.
Rising out of nowhere, a squall gives no reprieve,
its surging blasts pummelling bleak and wind-strained trees.
Cloying muck clogs the trail making progress slow,
as sleety showers predicate the immanence of snow.
Autumn rambles beckon when the moon is full in flight,
for burdens borne of daily toil are loosened in the night.
Filtering through totemic groves, light shines cool and pale,
suffusing umber trunks looming ghost-like on the trail.
To be as one with woodlands is to embrace their mystic spell,
where shapes and shadows guide those who in the forest dwell.
While smoke drifts slowly upwards from a tidy mountain camp,
it’s never too soon to be chopping wood even if it’s damp.
When Winter’s harsh encroachments conspire to disperse,
the brief facade of Fall dissolves as weather turns adverse.
And, as sure as frost patterns window panes when the mercury is low,
soon hunched figures, shovels in hand, will ascend
through sifting snow.
Behold hibernal landscapes at the evening end of day
while heading for the warm embrace of a mountain hideaway.
A firmament of frigid stars overarches every trail;
then almost imperceptibly, a leaden shroud prevails.
There’s majesty in falling snow bathed by wintry light,
and the frosty crunch of freeze-up on dark, celestial nights.
White gas and matches; a Coleman lantern too,
incinerated mantles; light that flares anew.
It’s time to cozy by an airtight, hot and heaving strange,
or the majestic, coal-black beauty of a showy Monarch range.
Nearby, you’ll find a child’s toys strewn upon the floor;
a decorated Christmas tree from just outside the door.
Hail the merry sound of neighbours trudging through the woods,
on their way to honour fellowship and earthly brotherhood.
These are just moments on Hollyburn.
Depictions unfettered of strife.
Portraits of fleeting contentment.
Mementoes of past mountain life.
**************** FINIS ****************
Whatever aura is possessed by certain locales that inspire praises to be written in their names, it is only a slight exaggeration to speak of Hollyburn Ridge as being such a place. Though much of its human infrastructure has vanished, this gentle height of land retains a residual charm and a certain earthy mystique that sets it apart. Now protected parkland, Hollyburn has long been a woodland retreat. And despite the inevitable changes, it remains the kind of habitation where appreciable meaning and compelling facets of life reside in the details of its existence. Granted, to the casual observer, much of its history may seem mundane, but the narrative that is Hollyburn represents more than a mere litany of actual facts. From its inception, members of this cabin community have infused their domain with a collective character emblematic of its distinctive past.
Hollyburn Ridge may appear little different from similar alpine areas, but there are enough unique aspects to its creation and continuity to justify seeing it in a different light. Given that, perhaps the impulse to deliberate upon its past with a certain measure of romanticism is not altogether misplaced. When poet Thomas Campbell wrote, “Tis distance lends enchantment...,” he presumably considered the effect he alluded to compelling; even more so when contemplated from somewhere far removed. As for Hollyburn, it may be just another mountain, but for those who tread the trails, who have known the buildings and people and are intimately familiar with the lay of the land, it evokes wistful reminiscence. There may be grander places, but for those to whom it matters, there are few better ways of achieving contentment than to reflect upon and ramble on that restful sylvan ridge.
A. G. M. F.