The British Columbian wilderness is a paradise, writes Damien Enright.
I Hope the weather in Ireland, to which we shortly return, is as good as here. It’s been non-stop sunshine for two weeks, and the snow on the high Rockies, especially heavy last winter, is melting. I write this at a picnic table in a campsite in the upper Okanagan Valley, below the mountains, with a small river (30m across, small for Canada) 5m below me — a busy river, brown, uneven and broken with white water, rushing past me to the sea. Tall Douglas firs throw a shadow on my perch, so I can see the screen of my laptop. The only sound is the cascading water. There’s usually a gravel beach and a riverside walk, but they are submerged.
A bear ran through the campsite where we stayed on Saturday night. A grizzled local bounced into the site in his flat bed truck, and he and a few enthusiastic campers in lumberjack shirts and baseball caps, having checked to see that it was gone, stood around awhile, exchanging bear lore. It was a black bear, not on the same threat level as a grizzly, but dangerous if surprised or with cubs, or if freaked out by a large number of campers.
When I told my four-year-old grandson on a Skype call to his home in the Czech Republic that a bear had passed through the campsite with people, dogs, and children everywhere, but didn’t stop, he thought about it for a moment and said: “Well, he just wasn’t hungry, I suppose.”
Our venue for yesterday evening advertised its wildlife as including otter, beavers, grizzlies, cougar, wolves, and big horn sheep; however, we lost our way and, instead, found this very pleasant venue. No dangerous animals. It’s a small glamping site (“glamour camping”, with showers, wi-fi, electrical and TV connections) but very reasonable at $21 (€14) a night.
Provincial wild parks are everywhere in British Columbia. Many have large campgrounds with or without showers, flush or non-flush toilets, picnic tables and fire-bowls on each site. Rent averages $25 (€16.50), with firewood five bucks extra. Canadians are mad on camping. High in the Rockies, where we spent the last four days, the traffic thins out and even the most spectacular glacial lakes, often seen far below as the roads wind through thin forest, have no settlements on their shores or boats on their waters. Lower down, most lakes have hamlets of cabins around lake beaches and wooden jetties for boats or canoes.
For every modest camper, with a tent or a minivan rig like ours, there is a road-going mobile home as big as a bus (even as a double-decker) sometimes with a car, an 8m cabin-cruiser boat, a quad-bike or trail bikes slung on the back.
The roads are wide but, on national holidays, are crowded with such behemoths, cruising along in their grandeur, the owners aiming to savour a few nights within the sound of rushing rivers, and a view of the stars bright as diamonds in the spaces above the massive pines. I’d recommend camping in BC. We met a Dutch couple who paid just €1,400 each for flight and a fine camper for three weeks.
The other morning, on a trail, we met a man carrying a dish like a shallow washing-up basin, and a short-handled spade. He told us he was going gold panning. Yep, there was gold “in them thar’ streams”, and he was inient on finding some.
Later, by a salmon-ladder beside falls throwing spray and mist 50 feet high, we watched a humming bird go back and forth to its nest, small as an egg cup and half the depth. It moved in zigzag dashes so fast the eye couldn’t follow it. Despite our presence, it took short breaks to sit on its nest.
In that forest, rubber boas could be found, members of the boa family but averaging only 50 cm long. They look like a rubber hose with a yellow belly, their eyes so tiny its hard to tell one end from the other. When disturbed, they roll into a ball, their head hidden, but waving their leathery tail around like a head about to strike.
British Columbians certainly enjoy their wilderness. They have a lot of it: BC is 13 times the size of Ireland. They camp, they hike, they boat, they swim. Enjoying the wilderness is their main recreation. And the wilderness goes on and on.
We’re doing a lot of wilderness walking. The other morning, reaching a forest glade with a panoramic view, I said to my wife, “Well, here we are, alone in the wilderness...”
“More wilderness...” she said.
Yes, but didn’t old Khayyam himself say: “Oh, Wilderness were Paradise now!”
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