My traveling companion has a camera glued to her eye and every time we round a corner she gasps and I hear another click of the shutter. This is Melissa’s first time on the Sea to Sky highway, a breathtaking strip of road between idyllic Horseshoe Bay and the outdoor recreation mecca of Whistler, BC. Melissa is a small town eastern girl who moved out west a year and a half ago and now confesses this place feels like home to her. As a born and bred west coast girl, I’ve made this trip more times than I can count and yet every time I’m blown away by the views offered by the rugged interface of ocean, mountain and sky. Today is a typical mild west coast winter day; melancholic clouds and a slight mist envelope us as we wind our way north.
We stop in Porteau Cove, a 55 acre provincial park with a panoramic view of Howe Sound. We hop out of the car and immediately immerse ourselves exploring nature’s playground. Melissa points her tripod at a pair of wood ducks frolicking close to shore while I survey the landscape. The parking lot we stand on is not natural, the material has obviously been trucked in from somewhere else and, I wonder how much the large boulders that are placed around the shoreline have altered the landscape. I remember from a marine restoration course I took that this is called armoring. Developers often use it to stop erosion but in ecological terms it effectively halts a natural process called accretion. Certain species of plant and animal marine life need this process to survive and I am curious as to how the development in this lovely little cove has been affected.
Sea shells litter the rocky shore, an indication that many years ago this may have been an ecosystem teeming with bivalves. Could first nations have harvested here? A small creek winds its way under the road by way of two culverts and I wonder what’s at it’s source. Is it natural or man made?
I sit on a rock and ponder these things while Melissa sets up her camera to take photos of herself jumping on the shore with the sea and cliffs as a backdrop. This place does invite the feeling of euphoria and soon I join in with the leaping albeit in a much less graceful manner.
Later, we head to the south side of the parking lot near the camping area. I’m surprised to see so many crows foraging near the waters edge. I point out an orange billed oyster catcher and Melissa pulls out her camera to capture an image. Mussels are everywhere. Some alive and still clinging to rocks that rest on a layer of decaying shells several inches thick and in various stages of decomposition. The rocks we are standing on are slimy and covered with bugs. I wonder if this is normal or healthy and what is causing the slime on the rocks. Could it be from the sanitation system from the nearby campground? What exactly are these foraging seabirds eating?
On our way back to the car we wander up the pier that doubles as a parking lot and spy a pair of bald eagles circling near the cliffs at the other end of the bay. I don’t know why but whenever I see raptors in flight, I get the sense that all is right with the world, a momentary feeling of enlightenment.
There is a cluster of divers warming themselves in the sun peaking out from the parting clouds. They are not the only group of underwater adventure seekers in the park today. Back at the car we strike up a conversation with two other underwater marine life enthusiasts. One in particular has a joie de vivre for diving that is contagious. His excitement is palpable and he gestures animatedly as he tells stories of 5ft long ling cod, inquisitive wolf eels and the various personalities of octopus. The pair frequent this dive spot for the series of reefs and sunken shipwrecks that are now home to nearly 100 different species of ocean dwellers. They also note that because it is a protected marine park, the abundance and diversity of sea creatures is noticeably enhanced. The protected area looks small to me, just a few buoys along the northern part of the cove, but these two insist this has a dramatic effect on what lives here. Neat. I wish I were set up to photograph and interview this man.
At Britannia beach the vibe is different. An unpleasant encounter at a store that sold crystals and a museum unwilling to share it’s facilities. What happened to you, Britannia Beach, to make you become so insular? Outside a raven standing his ground against a small murder of arrogant crows. We jump back in the car and move on. Bye-bye Britannia Beach.
We stop in Squamish for a bite to eat at Locavore, which is basically the best food truck in all the world nestled in the most spectacular small town in all of BC. Yeah, it’s that awesome. They serve dishes with locally grown veggies and meat that is also local and pasture raised. The menu is mostly sandwiches of all sorts but there are also super salads and sides to be had and it’s all very delicious. Every single time I have been to Locavore, there has been a line up and every single time my meal has been worth the wait. Melissa is excited because she feels like she can eat a guilt-free beef burger, which she does and polishes it off marginally faster than I do my chicken Bahn mi.
By now the sun and blue skies have claimed over half the available space between mountain peaks. Melissa and I decide we feel adventurous and ditch the idea of hiking for the promise of snow in Whistler, about 40 minutes further down the road. We figure we’ve done the sea portion of the highway, it’s time to see the sky.
The weather in Whistler is balmy even for the end of February. There is some snow on the ground but it’s pretty slushy. So we go sledding. Obviously. Melissa playfully commandeers a stray plastic saucer and we take turns bombing down a mini mound of slush that is clearly meant for children.
Melissa is still taking photos almost non-stop at the steady stream of snow-suit clad, ski and snowboard toting adventurer seekers. We fight our way against the flow towards the base of the mountain; Melissa in her element climbing on retaining walls and standing in the thick of the masses. She has her very own photographer’s pose; left foot in front with the right leg slightly bent and the camera fixed to her eye held tight by both hands.
I’m looking at the crowds, too… how many people are here and more importantly why are they here? Did any of them take a moment to appreciate the scenery as they made their way here or did they just drive past with nothing but the destination in mind? I start to imagine the impact if every single person here made one tiny change in their lives. What if every single person here today had one less fast food burger in their life? How many cows would be saved? What everyone here used one less plastic bag in their lifetime or purchased one less item with a screw on plastic lid? How much mass would that be?
Have we become so disconnected with our environment; the people, the places and the things that surround us, that the beauty of these pristine, snow-capped mountains can’t inspire at least one tiny gesture?
One less fast food burger. One less plastic bag. One less plastic lid.
One bluebird day with fresh powder.
The sun has already started to set by the time we start the drive back to Vancouver and I’m anxious to get to Tantalus lookout because I think there might be a beautiful view overlooking the valley waiting there for Melissa. A car full of young travelers pulls up while we are there and I overhear one of them say to another that if this were in Britain these hills would be covered in buildings. They converse for a time and eventually agree that this view is amazing, that they are lucky to be standing here in this moment enjoying it. I can’t help but feel a little bit hopeful when I think that these young travelers took even just a small moment to take this all in. I feel inspired and determined to spread this feeling as we pull out and head off into the setting sun.