Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Magical Places

There are some places that, to me, exude a special magical essence which reduces me to silence, in awe of what I see as their natural sacredness. One of them is Palm Beach, just outside Todos Santos. As you approach it on a dusty, single track road, the sweat drips off your brow, the warm air blowing uselessly through the car in a futile attempt to be cooled. The sides of the road are desiccated, leafless, waiting patiently for the still distant summer rain. Gnarled ancient Cardon cacti reach to the sky, providing the only trace of colour in the landscape.

Suddenly, you drop down into a different world, a world of green and lushness. When you step out of the car, the first thing you note is the gentle susurration of wind in the grove of tall palms, mixed with the sound of cicadas and, barely audible, a gentle roar of the hidden surf. Then, you notice the smell. The warm smell of pregnant greenery, of lushness, tinged with just a slight coolness of salty ocean air.

As you walk toward the water, the balance of smells swings towards salty decay, away from green life. The sound of surf becomes more distinct. Suddenly, you emerge from the confines of the still, shady grove to an open vista of flat grassy meadow, reeds, a clear stream running to join the sea, and clean golden sand between rocky headlands. It takes my breath away. More often than not, the beach is empty of humans. For some reason that I do not comprehend, many more people chose to park themselves at the “Cabo-lite” location of the Cerritos Beach Club, surrounded by others, music, jet skis and ultralight aircraft. Perhaps they fear the idea of being alone with themselves? There is no shortage, however, of animals that forage here, including the green heron, shown in the picture at the head of this entry.

My feelings of awe at Palm Beach are not shared by all people who might otherwise enjoy such surroundings. A friend finds the place dark and oppressive, as if there is an evil energy watching them. I simply feel at peace. It reminds me, perhaps, of succulent summers spent on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, in the Pacific Rim National Park.

Is there a place like this around Comox? My first reaction is that I find it hard to pick one, but that is because, on reflection, there are so many to choose from. There’s the breathtaking experience of walking through the thick dark woods in Seal Bay Park, and coming across a secret sunny pond, buzzing with dragonflies, hummingbirds, frogs and the rampant life of summer. Or maybe Nymph Falls on a bright October day, watching freshly arrived bright salmon valiantly try, again and again, to fight their way upstream against the thundering white rapids, on their final journey. Then there is Helliwell Park, on nearby Hornby Island, where you walk under damp first growth forest, emerging into a small strip of rare Madrona trees, which opens to short grassy meadows, at the top of vertiginous cliffs with a 270 degree view of the Georgia Straights.

One thing all these locations around Comox have in common is that they are preserved from development, held in trust for the public. There is recognition that we are only passing through, and that future generations should be able to enjoy the places, just as we do.

Coming back to Palm Beach, I fear the magic will soon be gone. There are plans to replace the quietness with condos, boutique hotels and restaurants, all to be constructed, I am sure, in a very ecologically sound manner. There are already white marker lines over some parts of the land at one end of the cove. More people will get to experience and enjoy the place, but in making it more accessible and usable, the very thing that makes it so special will, in my opinion at least, evaporate.


Ian Lidster said...

I just took a walk along the river at Nymph Falls a few weeks ago. A wonderful sylvan stroll. But, Palm Beach sounds fabulous. I do tropical well, always.

andrea said...

I'm glad you listed the island locales, too, as Palm Beach is a little out of commuting range! The photo is fantastic.