I stood on Victoria Island, British Columbia, looking south across the Straits of Juan de Fuca toward northwest Washington state. An overcast April day had given way to a stout breeze blowing in off the Pacific and as the sun neared the horizon, a warm, deeply golden light bathed the landscape. The waters of the strait turned deep blue specked with white caps. A freighter sailing the reach toward the American shore cut a white wake through the royal blue of the sound. All day, a bank of white-gray clouds had obscured any view of the American side, but even as I traced the progress of the freighter, the clouds drew back like a curtain, and there, rising up like a scene from “The Lord of the Rings” stood the Olympic mountain range.
I had enjoyed my time in Victoria. The old stores, the bakery I’d visited, the restaurants where I’d dined, the picturesque hotel, the rolling landscape of the island, white sheep grazing in deep green grass, all conspired to charm me into a longing desire to stay, give up my citizenship and become a Canadian. AND, the locals told me, they could not remember the last time it had snowed. I could ride my bike here year round, I’d imagined. I skip here the reality that all the locals DID have memories of seemingly endless days of rain, but when you’re in the middle of a fantasy, facts get in the way. I had been soaked in western Canadian beauty and charm.
Then I saw those mountains, raising their snow-capped peaks into a deepening magenta sky and my imagination shifted to what I knew lay across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The Olympic National Park awaited, and just beyond that, the Hoh Rain Forest, the only temperate rain forest in the United States. Beauty lurked. I knew this. I hadn’t experienced it, but I’d read lots of books and wondered what it would be like. I felt tremendously drawn.
But I’d have to leave Victoria. I’d have to risk the sea sickness I’d experienced crossing the English Channel some years earlier in a vessel very similar to the one I knew I’d use the next day to cross Juan de Fuca. I’d have to admit that I’d probably never return to this island, given all I needed to do, wanted to do, and could afford to do. I didn’t want to do any of that. I didn’t want to leave Victoria. But to arrive, I obviously had to leave. Only by leaving could I arrive. Obviously.
Isn’t life like that, though? It’s obvious, but it’s still tough. A very dear and insightful friend of mine alerted me to this in a recent conversation. Departures and arrivals fill our lives. Leaving one job to take another, letting children go off to school and to subsequent lives of their own (we hope), even long term relationships which end, all require us to set sail, as it were, across uncharted waters. At first, we only recall the seasickness that hit us the last time we set sail, and our fears paralyze us. If we allow timidity to reign, though, we risk getting stuck. And that would mean missing what awaits.
I crossed those straits. I hiked in the Olympics. I came across Marymere Falls deep in a sitka spruce forest. And far off in the Hoh Rain Forest, with towering spruce and hemlock bedecked with thick, hanging moss, I got as far away from the noise of civilization as one can get in the USA, and experienced primeval silence punctuated only by the liquid rattle of a river over ancient rocks and the sighing of the wind in pine boughs. If I hadn’t risked queasiness in the straits, I never would have encountered any of that awesome beauty.
This is the virtue of letting go, the smiling paradox that if we don’t let go, we can’t get a grip.
And you know what? I didn’t even get seasick.