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Why Vancouver? Why You?

Thank you to all entrants. Please visit the semifinalist page to view the top ten essays as determined by our panel and the public voting. Click here to view the top ten

A Forest Full of Secrets

By Marla O'Brien

Coasting down the highway the continuous motion held me somewhere between consciousness and sleep. I lie in the front seat of the car with my head in my mother’s lap. She stroked my hair, tucking it behind my ear and hummed Doris Day’s, Que Sera Sera. I focused on her soothing voice “….the future’s not ours to see…” It was Spring 1961. We were moving from Saskatoon to Vancouver. In all of my six years I’d never laid eyes on an ocean, nor a mountain.

Attempting to ward off my anxieties I sat up and asked, “How much longer?” That’s when I saw them. They were enormous, dark, and terrifying, and we were approaching fast. They had the appearance of a family of giant monsters sleeping on their sides. “What is that? I want to go home!” I wailed. Mother held me close, and calmly answered, “They are mountains with forests full of secrets and beautiful wildlife.” “What wildlife, what secrets?” I asked curiously. “You mean lions and tigers and bears?” Mother laughed my comment away and squeezed me a little tighter.

The Canyon Court Motel on Capilano Road became our temporary residence. For the most part, the swimming pool in the centre court kept me distracted from any thoughts of forest secrets, wildlife and mountains. After six long weeks my parents rented a home on Saint James Road in North Vancouver. It was in the backyard I encountered my first bear sighting, and my nightmares began. Trees thundered from their mountain homes making their way to my bedroom. Just before they attempted to snatch me from my bed, I’d awaken screaming. My mother had to lie with me every night until I fell asleep. The following Spring we moved to Moyne Drive in West Vancouver. The house backed onto a vast and ancient forest.

I met a special friend, two years older and full of adventure. One day she asked if I’d like to go exploring in the forest. “I’ll lead and you can follow me. I’ll take you to the secret door,” she added enthusiastically. Curious about the secret door and not wanting to reveal my fears, I agreed, following close behind her.

Our feet moved quickly. As we explored she pointed to tiny critters swimming in small streams, birds nesting in low branches, and to pillars of Douglas firs. “Don’t worry, they’ll protect us!” she said, confidently. “Protect us from what?” I whispered. “Why are you whispering? Come on!” she shouted as she ran ahead.

Not wanting to be left behind I ran to catch up. Suddenly we reached the tallest chain link fence I’d ever seen. There was a gap hidden at its base—the secret door. “Come on! We have to be quick,” she ordered.

Lifting the metal wire with all our might, we pushed our way under with our feet. I felt the thrill of adventure in the pit of my stomach and wanted more. “Where are we?” I asked excitedly. “You’ll see. Quick, follow me,” she answered, as she forced the wire netting back in place.

Along the steep and winding path the forest began to thin. We had reached the edge of a cliff overlooking a canyon. A little way down the path was the entrance to what appeared to be a never-ending bridge. “What is this place?” I asked her. “It’s Capilano Suspension Bridge. Let’s go!” She ran ahead while I stood frozen in time. I watched her approach the bridge with ease, then turn, and wave for me to come.

My curiosity got my feet moving. Once we were both on the bridge she confidently began to lead me across. “You have to say, ‘I made it’, when you get to the other side, okay?” she announced. When we reached the middle I felt panic stricken. The bridge was swaying slightly and we weren’t alone. A man with a large dog the size of a bear headed our way. I closed my eyes and stood close to one side hanging on tight to the steel railing. The next thing I knew my friend was shaking me by the shoulders and laughing. The man and his dog were gone.

I heard, before I saw, the rushing river hundreds of feet below us. The swift breeze played in my hair before shifting to the massive arms of trees below and all around us. Were they waving? From the top of the highest tree we noticed an eagle circling gracefully. I felt as though I could almost touch him. My friend began to run toward the end of the bridge. I followed close behind and as we reached the end we screamed in unison, “I made it!”

I felt awestruck as we meandered along the path, back into the forest to the secret door. That day my fears had been put to rest. I felt as sturdy as that bridge, as tall as those waving trees, and as free as that soaring eagle.

Although my friend and I kept the secret door a secret, hurricane Frieda changed our magical playground. The secret door was impossible to access as massive trees had been uprooted, creating new secrets to explore. Although the bridge had been struck by falling trees it remained strong and in tact.

A couple of years later my parents announced we would once again be moving. Mother drove my friend and me to see our new house and neighborhood just off Capilano road. Afterward, she decided to treat us to ice-cream and a nature walk. As we walked along Capilano road we approached a large sign. My mother read it out to us, “Capilano Suspension Bridge. Would you girls like to go on it?”

Fifty two years later I can still walk across that bridge and feel the wonder of all it brought to the child in me who has long since overcome many fears. I made it!

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