Fourteen year old me needs to walk around a lot for recreation because her room – my old room with its gigantic window – is a lightbox. It’s beautiful, but especially on late summer evenings with sunset penetrating its red paint job, my room is unbearably ovenish. Fourteen year old me also walks around a lot because going to the city is an endeavor, but I’m surrounded by plenty of forest I’ve become deeply familiar with. Lots of paths you wouldn’t see through the salal unless you’d rummaged around in it as much as I did, back then. I disappear for fun, into dappling foliage, wearing a t-shirt and three shoelaces tied around my wrists ‘cause fourteen year old me likes the look of shoelaces around my wrists.
I know the smell every plant leaves on my hands, the berrying and blossoming seasons of all the branches I scrabble through, grabbing fistfuls of salmonberry to ease my way down a rock, rubbing sap into my pulsepoints, always finding something I can eat.
What do teenagers do?
They’re developing a lot around my house, and my personal wilderness is starting to patch out into weirdly small clearings that’ll be mansions, shrouded in a utilitarian kind of wood smell and partitioned off into sections I can walk through now but one day will be someone’s private life.
I climb a lot of trees.
When I get older people will state facts about my neighbourhood I never considered while I was there, which, I guess, is privilege. But their word associations don’t ring true. To me, it’s just about endless walking, a lot of sky. The swallows that careened though the air all summer. One flew in through my bedroom window, and another was dead on the pavement with a fat beetle on its iridescent body when I rustled out of bramble back to a serene suburban street. The sky was alive with them, but now I hear their populations are plummeting in the Metro Vancouver area – true headline.
To me, it’s just about
endless walking, a lot of sky.
There aren’t many ways for me to get over the bridge, but there are a lot of vantages to see it from. Especially at night, all strung out like wet spider web. In the dark it looks like seeing mom get ready for a party – elegant, sparkling, hinting at something beyond my reach. I sit on the balcony of my most mountaintop friend, taking pictures and spinning bottles or whatever but mostly emitting pulsating tractor beams that hurtle through the air, out over the Burrard Inlet, pinging off the glinty glass skyscrapers so far below. They look like crystal stalagmites.
In the late August evenings all I have is walking while listening to music via headphones and unconsciously accompanying my every thought with gesticulations and faces. Grandma catches me at it, and says I have a Mona Lisa smile. Mom says, you’ve gotta stop, you look crazy.
But nobody sees me laughing to myself in the underbrush. Fern, huckleberry, I curtain it all back to emerge into glorious panoramas, every time. There’s UBC rising up out of the opposite shore’s greenness, and there’s the paralyzing dazzle of the bay, the oversaturated, paradisiacal sapphire embalmed in spectral yellow light, everything kinetic, refracting gloss, vibrating so intensely I have to lie down. Under the arbutus trees, sunning myself on the rocks like something cold-blooded, I study the seafoam gray of lichen and the weird antennae blossoms of moss.
But nobody sees me laughing
to myself in the underbrush.
Everything is super dialed-up for fourteen year old me. I love the city but I don’t know it well enough – my internal navigation is mostly informed by orientation gleaned from staring sleepily out of the backseat as mom drove me home from some dinner party or play. Something felt reassuring about the city to me when I was little – all those responsible adults being busy, lights on in the buildings downtown (sometimes at home the solitude seemed vulnerable). Fourteen year old me goes downtown looking for combat boots, I want Harley Davidson ones with steel-tipped toes (I find them on Granville and love them and mom says she didn’t throw them out when I went to university but I think that’s a lie).
But fourteen year old me isn’t used to walking around a lot of other people. Replace them with salal, maybe? Cars, handsy panhandlers, so many unfamiliar faces, and what to do with one’s eyes? A man moves down the sidewalk with convulsive velocity and I stare at a fixed point, hearing the ferocious din of his music as he passes. If anyone talks to me I jump. I’m in the city to stay around the park, around the weird palm tree and hotdog cart atmosphere of Third Beach. I’m just there for the different kind of forest, to look back at where I usually look out from. The city feels big, but yeah, I know, it’s such a small city – that’s what people say, it’s a small city, you know, everybody knows everybody.
It’s Sunday, September, and I watch a man fall. Don’t notice him until he does, and then it’s impossible to not notice everything – his mothlike physicality, the shake and spots of his hands, pale eyes, the fast food bag’s contents across the pavement, soda with its skull cracked splashed out, a “hamburger” wrapped in paper that says “hamburger” as if enough of those are ordered to merit their own paper – the weird detail-orientation of massive corporations. This man and his dinner for one all exposed and collapsed in the crosswalk. A tremor before the Big One. He doesn’t want an ambulance called but I do. Who should I phone? Is there anybody at home? Nobody, no.
Stanley Park exodus and arcing back over the bridge, curvaceous swerves of Marine Drive until I’m in the familiar, forested, far off neighbourhood that raised me. I sit on my roof and look out over the memorized skyline of treetops that I’d named – I’d named the trees. On Monday, I don’t go to school.