Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Wrong Trail

Gem and I have a small hoard of sayings which mean something only to us; those funny little bits of lore that make their way into your family vocabulary.

"This is the wrong trail, Earl", he said to me during the course of our phone conversation last evening, and I laughed.

This particular saying relates back to several years ago when we went for a hike in the magnificent, and aptly named, Cathedral Grove. This wondrous display of ancient Douglas Fir, Hemlock, and Red Cedar is found in MacMillan Provincial Park on Vancouver Island. A forest of giants, it extends only a few metres beyond the highway and continues right through the park to the Pacific Rim.

We were awe-stuck by the beauty. Scale is no dilemma if you walk slowly. It requires delicacy, both in steps and in perception. There is a will to walk slowly, to tease intricacy from the lime filigree of shadows. Trees can root themselves in our imagination, stray across the fragile boundary between the known and the unknown, a portal to another reality. Among them is intimate conversation, rebirth. Wherever the trail meandered through a criss-cross of fallen, moss-covered logs, the golden-green filtered sun lit tiny constellations of loose panicles of white stars, the petals of foam-flowers. To behold their minute astral beauty beneath the immensity of the huge trees was to feel the heartbeat of the woods.

The trails were busy and the grove was filled with people mostly doing what we were doing ... exulting, breathing, glorying. Extended families and groups of young friends. Couples. Children. Voices chased among the hushed cathedral in breathy sighs. As we stood inhaling the sacred scent of fragrant cedars, I suddenly heard a woman's voice resounding through the spires. I heard her before I saw her:

"This is the wrong trail, Earl!"

She and a man emerged in the forest, both dressed like giant babies in matching pastel shorts and t-shirts with white running shoes and socks. She was peering down at a brochure. I was dumbfounded. Wrong trail? How could it be wrong when you are surrounded by an urgent, whispery summons to reverence?

Sometimes we simply don’t see the magnificence around us, and our identity is diminished by this discrepancy. Yet, we can laugh at it, too. Gem and I use this expression when we witness one of those comic, incongruous moments either in ourselves or others. I realise, too, that it’s often this paradox that makes me love the world.


  1. Oh, I so agree. I am a great lover of these type of sayings : its a kind of micro folk-lore that has meaning only within the confines of a single family. I don't know about your family, but bits of it are handed down the generations : so I find myself coming out with phrases I remember my father using, the meaning of which is long lost.

  2. hello,
    im stopping by to say thanks for your comment on my sepia saturday post, so thanks!

    i had to scroll down when i saw your post "stop all the clocks"
    you see, with poetry i often feel like i have missed the point but that one? it's one of the most beautiful things.

  3. I could smell the trees and feel the magic of the moment. Lovely!

  4. I've visited Cathedral Grove several times, and it is a holy place. But a little laughter is not out of place, even in a holy place.

    Years ago my husband and I were in a nice steak house when the woman at the next table was trying to impress on the waiter that she wanted her steak well-done. "Burn that sucker," she said. That has become one of my family's little sayings.