Leave it Wild: My latest trip to Haida Gwaii

After a summer of cooling my heels in Victoria and working 9-5, I finally got out on a longer trip. We drove up Vancouver Island, through Campbell River, to Port Hardy. Then the sixteen hour ferry trip to Prince Rupert. A short (eight hour) ferry overnight to Skidegate, and the last leg driving up to the top of Graham Island to arrive in Masset.

I’ve never taken the ferry route before, and much as it was time consuming I think it was a valuable experience. Sometimes with air travel we take the process of journey for granted because it only takes a moment to be anywhere else. It was good for me to take the slower path, it allowed my mind to arrive in Haida Gwaii along with my body. I avoided the dislocation of stepping off the plane into a wholly new place with no time to sit with the journey or be grateful.

The first time I saw Haida Gwaii I was fifteen. Masset could not be more different than Calgary where I had been living and yet it felt more like home than anywhere I had ever been. It’s where I discovered that my veins are filled with salt water and I will never be a big city girl. My experiences there eventually lead me to transfer to UVic and move to Victoria. I will never be landlocked again.

The landscape between Victoria and Masset is not greatly changing. The islands of the west and northwest coast look remarkably similar. The real difference is the air.

From the first breath there is no mistaking it, Haida Gwaii is like nowhere else in the world. It tastes like ancient trees and moss, a depth of life that can’t be fathomed.

The islands are old. The Haida have oral histories dating back 14,000 years or more. I didn’t know anything about the history there until I started university, but even at fifteen I was fascinated by the sense of aliveness that whispers through those forests. There is a tangible force, a presence, and my imagination has never been richer than when I lose myself there.

The scenery is beautiful, iconic. It has drawn artists from all over the world, and writers describe a land shrouded in mist and memory. They aren’t wrong, just as the most dramatic wilderness paintings and wild skies portray what really can be seen there, but there’s much more than that. It is not untouched. Haida Gwaii is a constant tension between the tourist industry that supports it and the wilderness that holds its ‘value.’  

I have never been more than a visitor, and I make it my goal to visit gently.

I don’t want to leave any mark on the paths that I walk. In BC especially, I would like to see environmental consciousness marketed along with the tourist industry. Travelling lightly and with respect should be the norm. From an economic point of view we safeguard our most lucrative industry by protecting our wild spaces. From a spiritual and moral standpoint it is our responsibility to care for the life-giving land.

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