Synopsis of the Darkening Archipelago

The Darkening Archipelago is the second book in the Cole Blackwater Mystery Series. Set amid the convoluted knot of islands known as the Broughton Archipelago, on British Columbia’s jagged mid-coast, the novel joins the often heated debate over salmon farming and the demise of wild salmon stocks.

Eight months after a harrowing brush with death in Oracle, Alberta in series’ first book The Cardinal Divide, Cole returns to his dark and sometimes violent life in Vancouver. While Cole and newspaper reporter Nancy Webber were able to unravel the primary mystery surrounding the brutal murder of Mike Barnes, the manger of the coal mine destined to destroy the fabulous Cardinal Divide, greater mysteries remain. For Cole, the dark secret that surrounds his father’s untimely death in the family barn while Cole was visiting for the first time in twenty years drives him further and further into his seething rage. For Nancy Webber, who unwillingly finds that long forgotten feelings for Cole rise to the surface again, getting to the bottom of Cole’s family history becomes both a professional and personal obsession.

Now Cole has learned that his good friend and former client Archie Ravenwing has gone missing and is presumed drowned in a storm in the Broughton Archipelago, where he was a salmon fisherman and elder in the tiny First Nations community of Port Lostcoast. Cole flies to Port Lostcoast for a traditional potlatch to celebrate Archie’s life, and soon learns that his friend was unraveling a troubling mystery surrounding an outbreak of a particularly virulent strain of sea lice. These tiny parasites are a direct result of massive salmon farming operations in the Broughton Archipelago, and the strain that Archie had discovered could spell the end of wild salmon along this wild stretch of BC coastline.

Cole and others in the community of Port Lostcoast begin to wonder if Archie really was swept overboard in a spring storm, or if his death may in fact be linked to his troubling discovery. In a community rife with suspects who wanted Archie out of the way of “progress” Cole must face his own dark demons while confronting the mystery of his friend’s untimely demise.

In the end it’s a race against time: to save an innocent whose own knowledge of the mystery of the Broughton Archipelago puts her in mortal danger; to unravel the secrets that Cole holds locked in his heart about the night of this father’s violent death; and to save the wild salmon who are like an electric current bringing life to an entire ecosystem. The Darkening Archipelago is a race to keep both human souls and wild ecosystems from falling into unending darkness.

Already Home

It occurred to me for the first time the other day that I am already home. For more than twenty years I’ve believed that someday I would reach the apex of the spiritual journey – Nirvana, enlightenment – and that I would find myself…well, somewhere, free from worldly suffering. I would arrive at the journey’s end, like a road weary traveler, grateful to be finally home.

Sitting on a rock at sunrise, looking over the tapestry of tea plantations of Munar in southern India, reminded me that I’ve never been seeking enlightenment through all my running and my stillness.

If pressed I would say that what I am seeking is peace.

The view from my sunrise rock: tea plantations, Munnar, India

The view from my sunrise rock: tea plantations, Munnar, India

Just peace; a quiet heart; a moment of freedom from tiresome striving. Freedom from striving for wealth, striving for recognition, striving for health, striving to be loved, striving for well being, for security. From illusion. Freedom from the promise of enlightenment.

And even freedom from striving for peace.

At times throughout my life I’ve worked very hard to find peace. The obstacles have been almost entirely of my creation, but they have proven to be formidable barriers. At times the passage has been arduous, leaving me disenchanted. If only I knew that I could simply end the search and return to the start. If only I could remember that at those times of disquiet I was as close to peace as I had ever been, then I might have simply sat down on the path and realized I was already home.

When we stop seeking enlightenment, when we cease the wearisome quest for peace, we see that it has been ours from the very start. From the moment of creation peace has been the gift from the creator: Tao, God, the quantum field.

We are already home.

I watch Rio and Silas asleep in their beds, arms splayed above their heads, their faces a perfect reflection of quiet serenity. There is no searching here; there is nothing to strive for.

“Seek nothing and find everything you need,” says the Tao te Ching. But we forget. We strive. We hope to wash ourselves clean of life’s anguish through meditation, prayer, stretching before exercise, Brussels sprouts and herbal tea. And it helps. But all striving is a form of suffering, including striving for an end to suffering.

So we return to a clear moment of peace and remember that we have always been enlightened. We have always been pure peace. We are born Buddha and remain Buddha throughout every moment of our life. We’ve just forgotten.

Maybe enlightenment isn’t so crazy a notion, if only I can keep myself from seeking it, and simply experience it, and then let it go.

Father Thomas Keating, of the Christian contemplative movement, says in the movie One: “In the beginning the spiritual journey is the realization, not just the information, but the real interior conviction that there is a higher power, or God. Or, to make it as easy as possible for everybody, that there is an Other. Second step, to try and become the Other. And finally, the realization that there is no Other. That you and Other are one. Always have been. Always will be. You just think that you aren’t.”

This doesn’t mean that the journey is over. Far from it. Its just starting.

But we start knowing that we are already home.

Discovering Dharma, Part Two

I don’t believe in coincidence.

The dictionary definition for coincidence is: “something that happens by chance in a surprising or remarkable way.”

I don’t believe that what we perceive as coincidence is mere chance, and I don’t think we should be surprised by their occurrence.

Case in point: a month ago I lost my part time job at Royal Roads University. As I mentioned in Part One of this treatise, accepting this change wasn’t hard. RRU provided good, meaningful work and with amazing people in service of a noble cause, but it wasn’t a good fit with my life’s other priorities. Hard times forced the University to make changes, and eliminating my position at the Foundation was one of many.

And I saw the change coming, though only at the last moment.

It was no coincidence that only a few weeks previous I’d written a piece called Conduit, in which I said “what I know for certain, however, is that by discovering my Dharma – or what will certainly be a part of my life’s purpose – I have been able to tap into an abundance I had never imaged existed before in the universe.”

Writing is my Dharma. Professionally speaking, it’s what I am on this earth to do. It is my purpose.

That is what Dharma is: it is our purpose in life.

That a piece of writing would emerge from me – after laying dormant for more than a year – just a few weeks before such an important change would occur, is not a coincidence. It’s a sign post.

I recall another such crossroads. In the late 1990’s I was kicking around Alberta’s Bow Valley, making a meagre living as a part time pain-in-the-ass environmental activist and communications consultant, and penning stories for just about anybody who would publish them. Being a freelance writer in Canada, and a chronically underemployed sorta-professional environmental advocate in Alberta, are two of the least lucrative means by which to earn a living. I figured by doing both I might double-down on a hardscrabble effort.

I remember saying on January 13th, 1999 – my 28th birthday – that something would have to change. At the end of every month I had nothing left, and most often paid the rent late thanks to less than punctual payment from my sole employer.

And then I got a call from someone who I went to high school with, and who I had run into at a conference in the fall of 1997, asking what I was doing for work. Within a few months I had a choice I had to make: full-time, gainful, and comparatively well paid employment with an international conservation organization, or to continue trying to scrape together a living as a writer and consultant.

Around the same time, I had a beer with an acquaintance, one of Canada’s truly successful freelance writers, Andrew Nikiforuk. I talked with Andrew about my paradox and he gave me a sage piece of advice: “You can’t make and report the news at the same time.”

I decided to make the news, and so I took a position with Washington, DC based Defenders of Wildlife, and helped them set up shop in Canada, which lead to the creation of Wildcanada.net, an online activism and grassroots mobilization effort I helped pilot for the next six years.

Writing was shuffled to the back burner. I remember that at the time I was penning a by-weekly column for my local newspaper, the Canmore Leader. My work with Wildcanada.net had me flying back and forth between Ottawa and Calgary, working on national parks and endangered species legislation, and later living in Vancouver organizing around the 2000 federal election. I started writing my stories about the Bow Valley from the airplane. I gave that up too.

I continued to write (mostly press releases and action alerts), but it wasn’t until my time with Wildcanada.net was coming to a close that I began to pursue publishing again.

It was the right decision at the time. It was no coincidence that my old school acquaintance called when he did.

Just as today – more than a decade later – it’s no coincidence that one of the barriers to writing has vanished.

Coincidences are an indication of the direction we are supposed to take in life. Put more forcefully, they are a sign from the Universe, from God, from the Tao – the universal energy from which all things emerge and exist — of what we need to do to fulfil our Dharma.

When we want something in our lives, we radiate energy that attracts these things too us. All that exists in the universe is simply energy and information, which when organized a certain way can create matter. Our thoughts are energy and information too, as is the passion of our hearts. When we want something deeply, profoundly, our passion is expressed into the web of energy and information in a way that actually changes the fabric of the universe. The universe, the Tao, God, responds to our desire, to our incantation, to our prayer.

I don’t believe this happens in one trivial way portrayed in the movie The Secret. I don’t think we can sit down in a chair and wish for a fancy new car – going so far as to pretend to be enjoying the thrill of driving it – and low and behold, the car appears in our life, after an appropriate waiting period.

More likely is the story of Jake Canfield, author of the vastly popular Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and success coach, who after spending long years dreaming and striving for his own success, began to notice what some might construe as coincidences, but he rightly identified as signposts.

I do, however, believe that we can will these signposts into existence.

Where the movie The Secret explains just enough about the world of Quantum Physics and eastern philosophy to get people excited, it leaves out two critical components: First, just as luck favours the prepared, so does coincidence. Canfield noticed the signposts, was prepared, and followed them.

To be prepared means to be ready to serve. To be prepared means to know what we can do that creates a sense of bliss, and then dedicate ourselves to it. Some believe that success can only be achieved through hard work, and that to be prepared means to have toiled. I believe that many long hours must be logged in service of our Dharma, but the bliss we feel as a result of connecting with our life’s purpose erases much of the drudgery that may accompany the effort.

Secondly, discovering Dharma is a uniquely spiritual experience about our service to humanity, to the earth and its myriad creatures. For many it will be about our service to a higher power, be it God, Mohammad, Jesus Christ or the Tao. These are all just words for pure love.

If the energy we radiate is greed, or anger, or fear, then we might attract material objects into our lives for a short time, but over the long term, our purpose in life will remain unfulfilled. But if we are serving a higher purpose — if we are serving love – then discovering our Dharma can become a fulcrum with which we leverage our broader spiritual awakening.

Love is the energy that binds the universe together, creates solar systems and single cell amoebas; when we serve with love we have a direct portal to the tapestry of creation.

Serving with love has been central to my discovery of my Dharma. It’s helped me to become prepared to follow the signposts when I see them. Fear and anger have acted like blinders to my ability to clearly see signposts in the past. That’s starting to change.

I don’t purport to have the answer to how we might all become better at creating the signposts, seeing them, and then following them. I can tell you how I have started: meditation.

(Note the emphasis on started…. That’s not a typo.)

Meditation quiets the mind. If our minds are busy, busy, always racing, then it’s hard to notice the often subtle indications of direction the Universe provides. Meditation is a deep breath in my day. It is a prolonged and refreshing pause.

Meditation also helps create clarity around what it is we really want. My process for creating clarity was to write down a page of things that we really important to me: to have my children in my life on a daily basis; to be a conduit for stories with meaning; to do important work helping people make the world a better place; to find a great love and hold that love close to me throughout my life. Before I meditate, I take a moment to recall these priorities, and then I surrender them to the universe, to the Tao, and let them go. Letting go of the outcome is central to this effort. If you have a preconceived notion of how the universe will respond, you’ll likely miss important markers along the journey. You’ll spoil the surprise.

Meditation is a means by which we can directly connect with the energy and information that is the foundation for everything in the universe. Everything that our hearts desire, including peace, love, joy, and all the trinkets that make day to day life interesting – are comprised of that energy and information. When we slip into the empty space between our thoughts, beyond the chatter, we are touching the textured fabric of existence. We can insert our longing there, we can leave behind our prayer, we can weave our supplication into that fabric, and we can colour it with our love.

And then let go.

Meditation and prayer — stillness – is one means of preparation. It is the yin. The yang is action: in my case it’s more than twenty years of writing. It’s running. Its being a loving husband and father. It’s a lifetime of service. It’s what Stephen Covey calls “sharpening the saw:” building our skills, becoming proficient; being ready to act when the signposts appear.

Deepak Chopra says: “Discover your divinity, find your unique talent, serve humanity with it….You will begin to experience your life as a miraculous expression of divinity – not just occasionally, but all the time. And you will know true job and the true meaning of success – the ecstasy and exultation of our own spirit.”

And so, when my signpost appeared, in the form of a pink-slip, I was prepared to act.

It’s worth mentioning here that the path isn’t always straight. In fact, I doubt it ever is. It’s crooked, most often, and a little dangerous. You start inserting your desires into the fabric of the universe and every now and then you’re going to drop a thread. My experience is that the universe doesn’t just put up a neon sign that says “Hey Legault, this way to prosperity and success as a best selling author,” though if wishing made it so.

It’s a journey. And it’s not straight forward. A week after losing my position at RRU I had a call with a man who I had hoped would represent me as a literary agent. I thought that maybe his call was going to be the next signpost pointing to success. This prominent agent and I had become friends, and chatted nearly every week. He read my second book (The Cardinal Divide) and I had hoped that he would agree to representing me. He didn’t say no, but he didn’t agree to take me on as a client. And while that might yet happen, but it’s not turning out how I had envisioned.

No doubt his call was a signpost, but it wasn’t the one that says “this way to literary success!”

It told me I had to dive deeper into my writing; it told me I had to craft stories with more heart, more soul, more love.

And it reminded me that faith is crucial to Dharma. It’s about believing in you. When you discover your Dharma, when you are doing the blissful, but often arduous work to prepare yourself, when you are engaged in the passionate and perilous spiritual journey, you must have faith. You have to believe that you are worthy, and that you deserve to succeed.

I’m writing everyday now. I’ve got a dozen ideas for books in my head, on paper, and in progress. At the same time, I’m re-launching Highwater Mark Strategy and Communications, because serving people who are making the world a better place is an honourable and exciting way of earning a living. Double down again.

And I’m sitting still, trying by not trying to touch the fabric of the universe and insert a handful of little prayers into the vastness of the Tao.

I don’t know what is going to happen next but I believe that it will be extraordinary and I’ll be ready when it does.

One Moment of Wildness

There was a time in my life when I spent every spare moment in wildness.

I was raised with wildness at my back. Beyond the mown expanse of weeds and the thousand square-foot vegetable garden that was our back yard in Porcupine, Ontario, was a field of tangled shrubs and small trees bordered by an old double track road; beyond that a small creek sheltered by willows; beyond that a single paper birch that stood on the edge of Mr. Mackey’s field; and finally, the rough second grown pine forest that defined my childhood and gave birth to my taste for nature.

These woods, and those that rambled away beyond the squared log home that my grandparents lived in for more than forty years on the Palmour Mine property, were the geography of my childhood.

Stephen and Chantal, Porcupine, Ontario

Stephen and Chantal walking on the road behind our home in Porcupine, Ontario

The paper birth and Mr. Mackey's field, with woods beyond

The paper birth and Mr. Mackey's field, with woods beyond

Singular moments: cross country skiing on the trails that Lucien cut through the woods behind his home, and coming to the place where like a miracle, cookies would materialize form the worn pack he always carried; cookies no doubt hastily packed by my whirlwind of a Grand-mare, Evelyn. I remember one particular day as if it were yesterday; it was just he and I — Grandfather and grandson – and a gift of precious time that will never occur again.

Singular moments: hunting for grouse with my father behind our Porcupine home. My father was a good marksman who won trophies for trap-shooting. To watch him stop, swing the Winchester shotgun to his shoulder and fire in one fluid motion was a heart stopping sight for a boy of seven or eight. There would be an explosion of leaves and small branches in the woods and then he would walk into the foliage and return with a partridge, its body perfectly intact but its head astonishingly absent. My father would then field dress the bird and put it in his pack while the acrid scent of gunpowder dispersed in the crisp autumn air.

My grandparents square-log home in Palmour, Ontario

My grandparents square-log home in Palmour, Ontario

After a day's hunting

After a day's hunting

Singular moments: during the summer of 1979, when we lived in Elliot Lake for a short time, building a fort in the well of a tree that had been toppled in a storm in a woodlot behind our house. We hollowed out the well and using scrap lumber and garbage bags built an igloo like structure which we convinced our parents to let us sleep in one night. I was eight; just a little older than my eldest son Rio is today.

I lasted until sometime after midnight. Of all the phantasmal sounds that haunted those woods, it was an ant that finally sent me indoors. We had an old 8-volt battery powered light in our hut with us, and it’s beam was angled upwards toward the ceiling. In the circle of light it cast we watched, horrified, as a giant creature circled our hut again and again, its shadow pressed against the flimsy plastic fabric of our makeshift walls. As the creature roved around the circumference of our abode, we would each in turn cower as it drew close to our backs. It finally dawned on one of us that if we were seeing the shadow inside the hut, then the beast had to be inside too: which is when we noted the ant running in manic circles around the rim of the upturned flashlight.

Skiing with my grandfather, hunting and fishing with my dad, camping with my buddies in a plot of forest spared the saw and the subdivision, fishing, hiking, the annual Christmas-tree hunt in the back-forty, walking with my sister to inspect robin’s eggs in the trees beyond the big garden: these and a hundred other moments of wildness are what shaped me and created who I am today.

Which is why I find it so perplexing that I have moved so far from my connection to wildness. And why, when recently Jenn and I spent a long weekend in the Rockies that a single day in a wild, out-of-the-way place made my heart ache for more singular moments of wildness.

There is a creek that snakes its way between Mount Andromache and an unnamed peak to join with the Bow River just south of Mosquito Creek in Banff National Park, Alberta. The creek’s name is Noseeum: it’s named for an animal the size of a dust mote with teeth like a saber tooth cat’s. This was our destination one hot afternoon over the August long weekend: It’s a place I’ve been twice before, and have wanted to share with Jenn since we became a couple two years ago.

I moved to the Rockies in 1992. After a single season working for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources as a student Park Naturalist at Murphy’s Point Provincial Park, I got a dream job as a natural history interpreter in Lake Louise, in Banff. I knew nothing about the mountains, but over time learned just enough to stay alive and employed, in part thanks to the fact that my lot was thrown in with veteran park staffers Jim Wood and Jack Loustinau. For three or four summers I lived with Jim, Jack and a motley collection of other seasonal park staff in a dark, dank, dismal locale called Charleston Residence. But we were rarely there. We spent our time outside and it was that time that defines my experience in the Mountain Parks. We hiked. We hiked a lot. And in 1993 when Jim and Jack and I met Josh – who is now a Doctor of Physiology but was then a sheet snapper at the Lake Louise Inn – we became a team.

But it was Jim Wood who provided my inaugural experience with the true wildness of Banff National Park. It was Jim who taught me how to pack for a trip, what to wear, how to read a topographic map and use a compass, and how to travel “off-trail.” In short, it was Jim who taught me to take my adventuring in the parks beyond the carefully scripted descriptions in the guide-books (most of which were written by friends, and which are invaluable) and into the vast regions of the Parks seldom seen and rarely visited by people.

It was Jim took me up Noseeum Creek for the first time. It was early June of 1992; I’d been in the Rockies for five or six weeks, and Noseeum Creek and the high mountain passes beyond were to be my first off-trail adventure.

Like the singular moments with my father and grandfather, this one is engrained in my recollection.

Jenn and I shoulder day packs and head up the south side of the creek. The afternoon is warm, and within minutes we’ve feeling the sun boring into us. We find the familiar cadence of walking and talking and inside of an hour we’re at the base of a steep cliff where waterfalls thunder through a deep gorge and trip across ancient stone cast aside in the last ice age. From here we can see where Jim Wood and I made our accent of the limestone steps that lead to Noseeum Creek’s headwaters: a narrow gulf strewn with boulders that provides a steep egress to a table-like plateau nearly two thousand feet above us.

Jenn and I take a more circuitous route, but one with fewer objective hazards (fancy mountaineer talk that rocks that might fall on your head). After plugging up the mouth of the creek with where it surges from its canyon with stepping stones we jump across and scramble up the headwall. Another ten minutes and we’re reaching the top of the first of many deceptive benches that will eventually lead to a sparkling, melt-water lake. But we won’t reach the glistening waters before succumbing to the erroneous relief of numerous false summits.

Near the headwaters of Noseeum Creek, Banff National Park

Near the headwaters of Noseeum Creek, Banff National Park

The day that Jim and I ventured up Noseeum Creek was overcast, the clouds pressed tightly down on the headwaters of the creek, so that when we finally exited the narrow chimney, we were cloaked dank, grey cloud-cover. We didn’t have the spectacular view that Jenn and I enjoy of Mount Andromache and the Molar Glacier to buoy our spirits. It’s probably for the best, because I was already tired, and a little scared, and if I’d seen where we were heading I probably would have protested even more than I already was.

On the hot afternoon in August, my wife and I look back at the long, sensuous ridge of Mount Andromache and I can’t help but retell the story of Josh and my accent of that peak. It was during the feverish summer of 1995 when he and I climbed peaks before work and after work and on the weekends. In one frantic week Josh and I ascended five mountains and got turned back by a sixth. Mount Andromache was one of the five, and it was a lovely scramble on a perfect morning. I later wrote an unfortunately worded account of that climb for the Alpine Club newsletter in which I stated that Josh and I lost our innocence on that peak. That of course could be misconstrued: all I meant to say was that because we thought the peak’s name was Andrew Mackey, and not Andromache, we hadn’t found any climbing bata on the peak, and so our route was of our own making.

That’s all. No harm intended.

I shake my head at the memory of the awkward mistake, and at a time when all I did was wake up at four a.m. and bag peaks with my best friend.

It wasn’t so long ago, really.

Jenn and I weave our way through a steep, forested glade, crossing another creek below a tantalizing waterfall, its spray filling the air with a cool mist scented with the essence of a mountain wilderness: sun warmed pines tinged with seared limestone. I’ve written this so often over the last twenty years that I fear that I’m plagiarizing my own words: it is moving water is what stirs me and awakens me the most in nature. Our bodies are almost entirely composed of water so that when next to a cascading creek or river I find it nearly impossible to ignore my kinship with the blood of the earth.

Of course, Wallace Stegner said it best when he wrote, in The Sound of Mountain Water that “[b]y such a river it is impossible to believe that one will ever be tired or old. Every sense applauds it. Taste it, feel its chill on the teeth: it is purity absolute. Watch is racing current, its steady renewal of force: it is transient and eternal.”

Cascade 2

Headwater: "purity absolute"

Stegner may not have known it (or he very well may have) but at a quantum level water is of course both transient and eternal, as are we. Transient because like all matter, the tiniest components of our water-born bodies are flickering in and out of existence at the speed of light; eternal because these particles that make up this cascade and my own sweat and blood are nothing more than energy and information, born of a star eleven billion years ago, recycled over and over, assembled and reassembled as man and forest and canyon and yes, as mountain water.

Just as the boundaries between ourselves and the world around us are fanciful demarcations, nowhere more so than when seated next to, or standing in, an icy creek high in the mountain wild.

Upwards again, urging our protesting legs to plod along a small rise, we surmount yet another bench of tilted limestone. Jenn lies down in the sun while I scout our route, wondering just where the hell this lake has gotten too since I was last here more than a decade ago. I scramble up another fifty foot high step and spot the reclusive thing and then see Jenn striding along below. Reunited, we make the final approach to the shimmering lake and find a place in the shade to cool off.

All around the landscape is bare and devoid of vegetation. This is raw earth, not so long ago beneath the rapidly receding Molar Glacier or its kin. Unnamed peaks rise up all around, dip and fold and are cut through by rivets of melt water. A few snow patches cling to the mountain sides below the merciless sun. Above, another few kilometers walking, is the saddle that Jim and I crossed into the next watershed on our journey.

I’m not normally one to take the plunge, but being a coastal boy these days, the opportunity to cool my heels (etc…) in a mountain lake is rare, so I strip down and dive in. Jenn complains that she might have missed the event while taking pictures so insists I do a repeat performance. I oblige, shouting and stammering as I cut the frigid waters.

The repeat performance

The repeat performance

When Jim and I reached the lake we kept on walking right by, crossing that high col above the watery shores to reach the headwaters of the Molar Creek and South Molar Pass. From our extraordinary vantage point we could look down on a herd of elk – and no tame town elk these but a wild lot never having munched someone’s front lawn or manicured hedge or roadside verge.

From there Jim and I carried on, dropping down to the Molar meadows, traversing miles of hummocky terrain that taught me my first real lessons in off-trail travel – don’t get frustrated — and finally connecting with the Mosquito Creek Trail. The last dozen kilometers of our walk were on that well worn path. It was my first really big hike in the Rockies; counting couldn’t number all those to follow.

In 1992 I was just discovering what it means to be alive, on this glorious earth, in a wild place untrammeled by people. Today, eighteen years after I first visited the headwaters of Noseeum Creek, I am remembering again all those vital lessons.

Though sore feet and aching legs might have obscured it at the time, my long day in the mountains with Jim Woods was one catalyzing moment of a profound relationship with the earth. What began with my forays into the spruce and pine forests and on the crystal lakes of Northern Ontario became a vocation for me during the summers of 1991 through 1996 when I hiked a thousand kilometers a year, many of them in an Ontario MNR, Parks Canada or US Park Service Volunteer uniform.

But more than that, being amid the wildness of Banff and the other Mountain National Parks became a portal through which my perception of the world changed, and my place in it right along with it.

I didn’t have the language for it at the time, but even then I was aware that through my exploration of the natural world I was delving into my spiritual connection to the universe beyond. Then I spoke of nature and the mountains, and later the canyons of Arizona and Utah, as my temples, my houses of the holy. And of course they still are.

Now, I can add to this. Simply put, when immersed in wild country I know that I am closer to the basic elements of creation than nearly anywhere else. In the canyons of Utah, the folded peaks of the Rocky Mountains, my childhood forests of the North, or on a wild beach at lands end I might touch the raw fabric of existence. That of human making only adds to the barriers which obscure our relationship with the fundamental truth of existence: we are all incontrovertibly one.

Jenn and Mount Andromache: the graceful ridge that rises from right to left was the route Josh and I followed fifteen years before

Jenn and Mount Andromache: the graceful ridge that rises from right to left was the route Josh and I followed fifteen years before

Since childhood I have experienced moments of blissful connection with the earth and the sky and those I love while in wild places. Here the illusionary boundaries between me and the living earth, its myriad creatures the universe beyond are less palpable. Here I can, for brief moments, experience the rock solid earth as part of the quantum soup that we wade through, unseeing, most every day.

These are singular moments: not unlike the feeling of connection that comes from a moment shared between father and son or grandfather and grandson, we are connected to this sacred earth in ways more holy and more profound than we have the senses to perceive.

Jenn and I return to the car. We drive into Lake Louise, and for nostalgia’s sake, drink a cold beer and eat dinner at Bill Peyto’s Café at the Hostel. If we were to slip a Blue Rodeo CD into the stereo it would complete the reminiscence. We’re both dirty and sun burnt and a little tired, but exuberant for having been in the mountains for a day. I love my wife in all ways, but in no way more than when we are together in wild country.

I remember now what propelled me up so many trails, over so many unmarked passes between wild valleys, to the summit of so many craggy peaks: immersion in the world around me. Immersion: It’s what I’ve been missing living apart from wild places. It’s what my decisions over the last five years have cost me. And though I don’t regret the outcome of those decisions, I’m ready to invite more wild moments into my life again.

The moving away from is of course as natural as the desire to reunite. And now, of course, I have so much more to bring back into the wild that might help me see it as I really is. And so much less to get in the way of that view. One moment of wildness can reveal all that there is to know about the real nature of this universe of mysteries. One moment of wildness is a window unto the vast, sparkling nature of the soul.

(Bliss: the rope swing and the man who built it - my grandfather Lucien Legault - and me, around 1976 or so. The swing dates to when my father was a boy. I really wish I had a fringed coat like that now....)

(Bliss: the rope swing and the man who built it - my grandfather Lucien Legault - and me, around 1976 or so. The swing dates to when my father was a boy. I really wish I had a fringed coat like that now....)

Note: My thanks to my father, Bob Legault, for taking such good care of our childhood images, and for scanning them recently for a fabulous slide show at my wedding to Jenn. We are very grateful.