“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
-John Muir, Founder of The Sierra Club
There are many vantage points from Stanley Park’s Bridle Trail where the city of Vancouver seems almost emptied. Outside of the rhythmic crack of gravel and twigs under my shoes, there are only oversized leaves catching dapples of sunlight and tree limbs that seem to stretch out in an attempt to block out the urban noise. Oftentimes, I’ve spotted a few slugs making their imperilled way across the wide path, even a chipmunk bouncing swiftly up ahead, but mostly the trail is entirely peaceful, a far cry from the city only five minutes away.
For me, for a long time, Stanley Park was little more than a skyline of trees surrounded by the city, however much of a mecca it was. I spent a lot of time running along the seawall after I came to Vancouver in 2006, but it was there my interest stopped. I was the quintessential city girl – all heel and purse, intractable face – and I likely represented the most familiar of archetypes. Though I had little to no interest in the corporate ladder climb or the material things that go along with it, I romanticized city life and had an affinity for the skyscrapers; the flashing lights that scale the sky have long been a sight that has entranced me. It’s in the time since that I have come to realize that most of the things that go on within those towers are not aligned with dreams and their actualization, but rather the persistence of many well-guarded illusions.
Back then, I was too afraid to go within the network of Stanley Park’s trails; I didn’t even possess the curiosity to wonder what lay beyond its periphery. I’m a paranoid person with an overactive imagination, and it was much too easy for me to imagine the park’s dark heart containing all of my worst imaginings: staircases that went nowhere, teleporters to another world, cheetahs and otherworldly beasts and vampires that sparkle; in essence, all things whose existence could only be maintained through ignorance. With my navigational sense and lack of trail knowledge, I would be among the most vulnerable of prey if I dared to go in deeper.
It was last September that I finally decided to venture into the park’s trails on my own. It was a short jaunt of less than ten minutes among the trees and the birds and the slugs, but it nurtured a new curiosity in me for the other trails that had long remained hidden. Those were not the most beautiful of autumn days, but I still walked the path that surrounded Beaver Lake a couple days later in the pouring rain and then along the tranquil, effervescently green stretch of Lee’s Trail. It was soon after that I discovered the winding, uphill stretch of Bridle Trail that leads to a stunning lookout of the Burrard Inlet, West and North Vancouver and the iconic Lions Gate Bridge. From that vantage point to the deep-forest feel of Meadow Trail, the trails of Stanley Park are among the most stunning – and solitary – of places in a densely populated city.
For a long time, I was frightened of what lurked within the network of trails, but now they are my greatest refuge. Even as a directionless person, I have learned to navigate them, looking for Salmonberries and Sword Ferns or a stately fallen tree whose location is now entirely familiar. Many of the illusions of city life that once held me in their thrall have died off, but in their wake a love of nature has appeared that casts a much wider net.