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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

Irene McGuiness

More Than A City

By Irene McGuinness

Our Beautiful Coast – it’s more than the city. It’s the air. The blue skies. The thick clouds. The rain. And all that nurtures the immense trees and rocky mountains. I love Vancouver. I lived as a ‘granola’ in Victoria on a 5 acre farm for a summer. Flew back east to finish school gazing at the lovely landscape below. “I’ll be back,” I promised.

Came back not long after. I love the coast, Vancouver, the kaleidoscope of people, and all the things that are snuggled inside the frame of what makes this place so special. I’m writing this piece about the frame. Because without it, Vancouver would just be another Dubai or Tokyo or Macau. Vancouver is intensely beautiful because it is a picturesque place on this planet matted by forest, ocean and mountains.

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My love affair with Vancouver’s north shore was at first visual. Living on the edge of the Frazer I’d stand on my patio and look northwest. It was as if the looming mountains crested in white tips were whispering, “Come.” The tall forest trees looked like a collage of oversized green thumbs beckoning me to come and settle. I could almost hear them audibly calling my name.

Ten years ago I made the switch from the river banks of the mighty Fraser to the foothills of the mountains. And the feeling of finally coming home was instantaneous. Like settling into the warm bosom of a gentle lover. My little yard at the base of Grouse fed my urban farming spirit while Chica, my beloved Mexican rescue, welcomed the spirited wildlife flushing out their local haunts with plenty of yipped “Olas!” We were both expats in our new terrain and loving it, behaving like we always belonged.

I worked from home so to live in a welcoming neighbourhood surrounded by the richness of tall luscious trees and babbling brooks was nurturing. If my day became too busy, all I had to do was step out in my yard and breathe in the calming palate of green that surrounded me and I was quietly restored.

Chica, my dog, and I began to explore a few of the local trails during breaks from work. Her nose captured scents far beyond my capabilities. It is said that a dog smells and senses things 6 times greater than humans. I think Chica is more gifted. Likely due to her start. Raised feral in Mexico. Brought to Vancouver and adapting to a society she was unfamiliar with. Disabled from an injury when young in Mexico. A kick? Abuse? Who knows when the injury took root. I’ve only known her with her a limp. A crooked front elbow. Lots of medical appointments when she came here. We do that here in our western society. Look for a cause and solution. But no solution. “Just love and exercise,” they suggested. So we hit the trails and on our walks she would bound ahead of me in her crippled state. Always living beyond her ability. Running with her pain. Never stopping except to learn boundaries when the living shouldn’t be chased. Cats, little dogs, squirrels, birds… bolting at them in feral excitement. And I would call. She would immediately stop and turn to me for direction and approval. Longing to be good. To be loved. To be appreciated.

We’d do our little junkets daily but at a minimum because of my heavy work load. Each day we’d hit the path and I’d gaze up at the tall dense trees. They soothed me with the promise they would be here waiting until I was ready to date them fulltime. “Later,” I would promise as we headed back down the mountain to home. “We’ll do more exploring later,” I promised, reeling the calendar ahead in my thoughts. Later came sooner than expected.

I was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and had to stop work. Lengthy treatment was inevitable. Self-care to handle it was going to be my responsibility. I wondered if the forest had read my spirit and knew what was in store when it summoned me to live at its feet.

Somewhere in my literary travels I read that walking in the forest was a tremendous cure to many ailments. It was called ‘forest bathing’, introduced in Japan in 1982 and touted to strengthen the immune system. “Chica,” I whispered. “It’s time. We’re going to have a nice long bath every day.” She knowingly gazed at me with the clear eyes of her youth.

Together we began walking the local North Vancouver trails every day. We started with an hour and every day a little longer. Each time we would embrace another path, hunt out another trail – Lynn Canyon, Brother’s Creek, Seymour, Mosquito, Grouse, Baden Powell, Goat Mountain, Eagle Bluffs, Capilano Pacific, Whyte Lake, … At times it was too much for me and my pace would slow. Chica would deliberately slow and match my step, stopping with me to rest. We would sit on a moss-coated log breathing in the richness and stillness of the forest.

If the weather appeared too wicked and wild, and I felt too weak to venture out, Chica would nudge and gaze up at me with those clear eyes of her youth. “Walk with me even for a bit,” they pleaded. “The healing forest awaits us.” She didn’t know intellectually how helpful this was to my well-being. Just perceptively. So we’d bundle up and go and brave the forest as it spoke in thunderous tones.

It was a rich time as we became one with the forest never missing a day. We walked in dappled sunshine to the sounds of many birds. We’d brace stormy weather watching trees bend toward us heavy with wind and rain. We saw rivers overflow their banks with salmon flying like birds as they leapt upstream. We saw hummingbirds bringing promises of spring seeking nectar. We spotted eagles circling high in the sky, dancing above wind tunnels. And in our quiet steps when the forest was thick and the sounds of rushing river at a distance, we saw deer tip-toeing their way through dense brush only feet from where we stood. Both Chica and I still. Watching. Revering.

Above all we saw colour… so much colour. The colour of green in a forest is a painter’s dream. Hundreds and hundreds of different hues and reflections of green. Words defy how many variations there are all capturing the flight of birds in contrasting colours, and water and sky and even wind.

Three years have passed and through the seasons I grew stronger gaining strength from the forest. As my health was restoring, sadly Chica’s was waning. I am now strong and still walk. But now I walk alone. As I prepare to leave and visit the healing forest Chica presses into my leg with her hard nose longing to come… mouth slightly ajar showing aging, worn teeth. Her firm body defies her age but her pupils give her away as well as her speckled greying chin and eyebrows and stiffening body. She leans into me seeking affection and permission to come. Her head slightly down. Humbled knowing her limitations. Her tail as thick as a branch moors at half mast, stiffly flicking left and right. It reminds me of a piano metronome. Tick tock. Tick tock. It’s her beacon of light seeking approval… love… pleasure…. happiness. “Love me,” it tick tocks. “Take me along.” And she nudges me hard with her firm nose. A gentle love. She’s such a sweet soul. Her body parts are failing but her hearing is still so acute. “Chica”, I whisper gently. I lean down to tie my laces. To a human ear all one can hear is a crisp cchhh ….But she hears it all … CCCCHHHHEEEEKKKAAA…. at a low, silent whispering level. Head lifts like a shot. Ears perk. Blinded eyes scanning. Remembering our walks together in the forest. Her nose is up like a periscope. Looking to follow a scent.

“When I come back, “ I whisper. “You will smell things. I will take them home from the forest like you are with me.”

Her nose….the divining rod of life for a dog. With the forest she gave me her life in my journey and the scent I bring home keeps feeding hers as she pleasures in the memory.

Together we love North Vancouver.

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