Every time I have some moment on a seashore, or in the mountains, or sometimes in a quiet forest, I think this is why the environment has to be preserved.
One of the greatest legacies of my childhood is my life-long fascination with mountains. I love to look at them, drive through them, climb them and visit them every chance I get. It takes me ninety minutes to drive to the nearest mountain from my home in Red Deer and it seems like they beckon from the moment I see them. On very clear days, I can see the outline of the Rockies as I drive to school. As a boy, our summer vacations involved either camping or fishing. Often, we were fortunate enough camp and fish in the mountains.
Banff, Jasper, Kananaskis, Nordegg, the Crowsnest Pass, Wells Gray, Kokanee Glacier, Kootenay, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Mount Robson. The list of places I learned to love starts with these places and could go on and on. The more I think about it, the more I realize how lucky I was to spend my youth visiting and learning about our natural and cultural history. At first, we camped in Vanguard camper that perched on the back of dad's enormous Ford crew cab truck. The windshield of this truck bore multiple green and yellow National Parks annual pass stickers - the ones with the beaver on them. Yearly admission was something like $25 for Canadian residents and we often spent all of dad's holidays camping, fishing, and hiking.
As I grew older, we began to backpack. We would leave my mom and sister behind at the truck and spend a night or two in the backcountry. It was then that I really learned what it meant to be a part of the mountains. For brief moments as we trudged down I path, I would allow myself to see the land the way the first explorers like David Thompson and Mary Schaffer must have seen this land. Our guidebook for all of these trips was Patton and Robinson's Canadian Rockies Trails Guide. I read this book voraciously, repeatedly and constantly. I owe a great deal of my appreciation for the mountains to these trips. As an adult, my best friend would join dad and one of his friend for a extended backcountry trip. These trips were an amazing opportunity to learn, push myself and reconnect.
When I was twelve, dad and I took a canoe trip up Maligne Lake in Jasper. There are two campsites on this lake that can be accessed only from the water. We spent five nights at one of the sites, which is approximately half way up the lake and two bays away from one of the most photographed spots in the Canadian Rockies, Spirit Island (the photo at the top of my post). Boatloads of tourists walk on and photograph this island because there are hourly boat tours to this spot. It took us five hours to paddle to our campsite and another 20 minutes to paddle to Spirit Island. I can only laugh and think of how many Japanese, British and German photo albums or slide carousels we must be in. Every time the tour boat would pass us, modern day voyageurs in a green Coleman canoe, the clicks and flashes would begin. The day we paddled to Spirit Island, we beached the canoe and took some photos. Just as we were about to have our snack, the tour boat pulled up. One British lady asked us if we were hired by the Parks to pose for pictures on the island. After three days of 30 degree weather and no shower, I imagine she thought we might be street folk who needed a few pennies.
As I have grown up, my time in the mountains has extended and changed. I still camp, hike and backpack. My wife introduced me to skiing, which gives me another excuse to visit the mountains every chance I get. Ski trips have added a new dimension to the mountain experience - visiting these fantastic places in the winter! Seeing the mountains blanketed in white is truly amazing and I cannot think of a better way to spend a winter day. Being outside, smelling the pines, riding a chairlift and racing down these hills is completely invigorating. Skiing is a nearly perfect family activity. It is expensive, but how can you put a price on spending an entire day visiting, exercising, and spending time with your spouse, children and friends?
I am writing this post from a hotel on Tunnel Mountain in Banff. When we checked in to our hotel, my wife said exactly what I was thinking for the last 15 minutes of our drive. Somehow, it feels different when you are in the mountains. It's better. You are closer to nature. I come to the mountains to be outdoors. I come here to spend time with the people I care about the most. I come here to exercise and challenge myself whether I'm camping, hiking, backpacking, climbing, canoeing, rafting, fishing, skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, tubing, or sledding. The Rockies really are special. They deserve to be protected and appreciated. For years, I really wanted to live a mountain community, and a small part of me still wants to. The more I think about it, though, I'm not sure if they would hold the same sense of wonder and delight if I got to experience them every day. I would never want to take a beautiful place for granted.
I can only hope that my children grow up feeling the same way I do. It could well be one of the greatest gifts I give my children. If we all felt as passionate about our wild places as I do, we wouldn't need laws and parks to protect them.