Mushrooms gossip: a huddle of old ladies in wide-brimmed hats; a sodden band of children beneath ribbed umbrellas. It’s easy to discuss their demeanour, less so their voice. For, beneath their caps of gold and bronze, they tell truths inconceivable to you and I. Truths that, if understood, would alter all that we are.
Heading north from Victoria, we soon found ourselves in a landscape dictated by the trees and the ocean. Pacific waves – each infused with an eruption of translucent, turquoise light as they built in height – lurched onto the pebble beach with a crashing of foam, so raucous that I could do little else but marvel at their force.
We were midway along the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, one of several long distance coastal walks on Vancouver Island, stretching for 47 kilometres through ancient, mossy woodland and across storm-scarred beaches.
Without ambition, other than to absorb our surroundings, we pitched our tent beneath a conifer on the water’s shore, before finding the path.
From the curious head of a harbour seal riding the ocean swells, to caves, spilling waterfalls, towering cedars and blankets of oyster mushrooms, we followed the path at a pace no faster than our natural gait. Indeed, with such a stimulating environment encompassing our steps, it took us some three hours to cover just a few kilometres.
We spent the evening perched within the crags of a lone rock, each of us deep in thought as the waves – now blackened, save for the acceptance of moonlight at their crests – jostled below.
Though I have only walked bits of the Juan de Fuca trail here and there, I have little doubt that a journey along its entirety would be an endeavour without regret.
Some walkers like to complete the route in just two or three days, whilst others find the charm of the path so great that it takes them a week to complete. There are basic camping spots all along the trail, and drinking water can be collected and treated from the dozens of courses that cut the path. The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail is a wilderness walk, meaning that all supplies must be taken in, and so too removed. With consistent undulation, slippery rocks and the potential for adverse weather conditions, the path is by no means a predictable plod and those hiking it should have the necessary gear and fitness levels.
Martha Kennedy – writer, painter and ‘intensive’ traveller – wrote to me recently with a succinct, yet highly rewarding note:
I didn’t even know how to see at all until I hiked the same 3/4 mile uphill trail every day for a year in a landscape that people said, “there’s nothing there.” (Southern California chaparral) Fact is, everything was there and while in a certain sense I hiked the same trail every day, I never hiked the same trail twice.
I hiked in, through, around, over, into the same 5800 acre chaparral wilderness park nearly every day for over twenty years, but it started with one short, hard hike, nearly every day, for a year. I learned that even in the serest summer heat new flowers bloom in the chaparral and after just one good rain mushrooms spring up from ground that has gone from red to moss green. I learned that from the top of a mountain you can might look down on a rainbow and see it is a circle.
A few weeks back I went walking in the Sooke Hills on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. It hadn’t rained for a number of days, but midway through the hike I began to feel raindrops tinkering on my sunhat. The smell was magnificent – earthy, organic and raw – but I didn’t know what was causing it.
Keen to determine the answer, I raced back home, slipped on some cosy clothes, made a hot chocolate and got to researching. The exquisite scent, it seemed had a similarly handsome name: petrichor.
- Plant oils – secreted by plants, these oils are released buoyantly into the air during a downpour
- Bacteria chemicals – created by those hard-working bacteria in the planet’s precious soil systems, these chemicals are freed into the atmosphere as the first few raindrops hit the ground
Other aromas that inspire me to strap on my boots
- Baking pine trees in the late summer sun
- Honeysuckle in the spring
- Autumn leaves on a riverbank
- Mushrooms in the undergrowth