“Is that your tent near the trail head?” asks one of a pair of women clad in windbreakers hiking towards my wife and I strolled in the calf-muscle tightening slopes of pea gravel that make the surf eroded landscape of Sombrio Beach.
“Yes” I replied, “why?” assuming a pole colapse, the rumoured Juan de Fuca Trail thieves pilfering our belongings or worse, almost inevitable public campground dog crap steaming fresh and warm by the tent.
Not even a half-hour into our romantic weekend stay on the historic Sombrio Beach had I encountered something that cannot be changed by evicting a thriving community of ‘squatters’, surfers and hippies for the sake of logging and the Juan de Fuca Trail installment. The simple fact that wilderness no matter how many human footprints are left, wilderness remains, and the pair of black bears who were indeed long gone by the time we reached our camp had left a calling card. Namely, a rather large trench dug in and under a tangle of kelp. No doubt rummaging for grubs, small crabs and any other snacks. Luckily I had left our food stuffs in the car at the top end of a ten minute hike to the parking lot. Was this a taste of what the individuals who lasted here for some years, living off the land, caring for each other’s needs, wants and hardships, not to mention the surfing had to deal with?
In my years of kayaking I have landed in places such as Sombrio Beach. Places of quiet (other than the constant sounds of waves meeting land), places to tuck in for a night to two surrounded by rainforests, or the remains of them as so nibbled are the hills of Vancouver Island. Places of legend, of human history dating back and beyond European settlers. Places where bears dig on the beach for snacks.
I was not concerned with our potential furry neighbours as just after dusk the group of teens landed with coolers of cheap beer, bad music and boring behaviour. Needless to say, bears were scarce now, as was my ability to sleep. We moved down the beach early the following morning. The clean beer-can and litter free days of the squatters were gone. Hooligans and silliness had moved in, though I am sure this was only an isolated incident. Surfers and trail hikers as with my community of kayakers are for the most part tidy, quiet and respectful.
We explored the beach and found remains of garden plots and cabins, we hiked the unworldly shores of Pacific plate rock pushed up into high cliffs home to bonsai trees, lazed by our campfire and took the requisite number of afternoon naps that weekend. The air-filled with silence, overnight rumblings of high tide tossing pebbles and all the while felt it. That un-named sensation of belonging, tranquility and one on one with the nature from which we so firmly have separated ourselves. Was this too what drew a certain type of person to come and stay and build adaquete shelters and raise families unencumbered by the needs of the outside world? A night here on a cool fall evening, the crack of firewood warming your bare feet and it hard to imagine going home again.
A terrific DVD documentary about the squatter years is available via the link here. Well worth a look and as with Long Beach near Tofino has similar repocussions both human and wilderness.