Every day I travel back in time to the mid nineteenth century. Currently the span is 148 years, five months. Of course I could go back several thousand years or just a dozen or so, but this particular distance has special relevance.
The Precipice is the junction of at least five very old trails connecting the interior plateau to the Bella Coola Valley on the coast. One route in particular interests me because it crosses over the ridge just above our home. This path goes by various names, but the usual one today is the Lunos Trail, after the Lunos Brothers who used it as a trade track in the 1890s.
But that is not the reason I time travel. Each day I visit Lt. H. S. Palmer R.E, F.R.A.S, who walked this very trail in August of 1863. He was surveying a possible route for the Canadian Pacific Railway to Fort Alexandria on the Fraser River just below Quesnel, from the head of North Bentick Arm at Bella Coola.
Lt. Palmer and his party walked, packing their supplies and equipment on their backs, from the lower sections of the trail to the Fraser River. It was just another survey to him, but when I look back on it from this perspective it seems like a gigantic effort.
When I read his journal, the matter-of-fact presentation belies the difficulties he must have encountered during his journey through the dense coastal rainforest, a steep climb up the river to the valley and then another rugged climb up and over the Precipice. At this point he does allow himself some emotion as he describes the “dizzying path” climbing the last hundred yards in elevation to summit the vertical basalt cliffs of the Precipice itself. From there it was a slog across the plateau, traversing bogs and swamps to the point that “never did we make camp with dry feet.”
So each day, as I walk the short section of the old trail on the ridge, I visit Lt. Palmer, usually making a comment or two, reaching back in time.
This is not so odd as it may seem. When I view the old fir trees, the fire blackened stumps, the wind torn tops, the leaning moss covered trunks supporting contorted branches clawing at the sky, I know that the Lieutenant saw the same trees, walked under and beside them the same as I do now.
The same old firs, that were already two or three hundred years old when he saw them, the same trail, the same view of the coastal mountains and the Precipice Valley. Nothing has changed in any substantial way.
That is how short a span of 148 years is. In just a flick in time I can be connected to the Lt. by the firs, the bed of the trail, the sense that time is porous, full of tunnels and passages for the mind and the spirit to wander into.
Good afternoon, Lieutenant!