Finding Stillness

June 20, 2017

Yesterday I found myself wandering all over the University of British Columbia. I am here on research, and to visit another scholar from Haudenosaunee communities who lives out here; I am also going to attend NAISA at UBC. But I had some time to wander about UBC, and in particular the beach near campus.

Searching for Stillness

I began my wandering by visiting the Nitobe Memorial Garden—a Japanese garden. Even in the midst of the campus, the Nitobe garden presented a stillness, a silence that was profound to me. I paused on a number of the benches set up along the path to do just that–pause. So, did others, we collectively enjoyed the silence individually. Yet, in some ways it was too crowded for me.

I knew I was heading towards the beach anyways. The roadway was busy with both cars and bicyclists, who zoomed by without much warning. I kept thinking my head best be on a swivel to avoid an accidental collision. I wanted to get away from the noise.

Thus, began my trek down the steps of Trail 6, towards Wreck Beach.  Clearly, there were people there going up and down the steps—I saw one set of women visiting and chatting while they climbed up and down the stairs I think two round trips. I paused on some of the benches searching for my stillness and silence. I love to still myself surrounded by the woods—it centers me somehow. Alas, the benches along the stairs of trail six were not fully what I was looking for at that moment—too many people still.

After a bit, I made it to the beach. It was a large beach—with huge cedar trees strewn about. It kind looked like a shipwrecked beach—though I don’t know the history of the name Wreck Beach.  There was a smattering of people here and there—all apparently looking for their stillness or silence too. This was a bit better, but not quite the quiet I was now on a mission to find in my meanderings.

I saw on the map there was a trail from trail/stairs 6, to trail/stairs 7.  Those steps according to the map would bring me up, just outside the UBC Botanical Gardens.  Nitobe was part of this system—so I was imagining what these gardens would look like, after Nitobe. But first I had to traverse the beach trail.

Difficulties lay ahead

The signs warned that this trail was difficult in places, and gave estimates of the time between trail 6 and trail 7. It was approximately an hour of walking. Only a little way into the trail, I realized the sign were not joking. And my second thought was, wow, I wonder how many people they use to clear the trail.

When I worked at Ganondagan State park a lifetime ago—I would every so often be tasked to clear the trail—trim back the brush, clear the path of obstacles. It was long and tiring work—but rewarding for that sense of stillness I found on Ganondagan’s trails. These individuals who do the path from trail six to trail seven worked a lot harder than I did on Ganondagan’s trails—they had to carry chainsaws, and I am certain other gear.

A bit of the way into the trail on the beaches of UBC, the world and its noises faded away. Occasionally, as I drew closer to trail/stairs 7—I could hear the airplanes taking off from Vancouver Island Airport.

Other than those few noises outside the woods, it was just stillness, quiet, and solitude with my thoughts I had been searching for on the walk. I heard brooks running, really just trickles—but it was soothing. I heard and saw the occasional song bird.  I saw some Herons fishing in a shallow marsh. I saw plenty of geese swimming by, and in one case eating near the shore.

I came to another beach between trail six and seven. It was apparently ok to smoke at this one spot. The maps recommended heading back to trail six—a thirty minute or so walk.  The sign clearly said that trail seven became a bit more intense—and that it was forty minutes to the stairs up. The signage also said it was the end of the trail system on that end of the beach.

Stillness among the Geese in Vancouver

But it was with the geese that I found my stillness in on my meandering walk. I think it might have been a mother and her young brood. The young ones still seemed to have their downy feathers on them. The kept steadily advancing on where I was taking a break—munching away on the shoreline.

The mother kept stopping and watching me. (The photo attached this entry is the mother—it’s hard to discern her young brood from the rocks—but they are all around her). She’d let the young brood feed all around her—and she kept an eye on me. She’d stop and eat a blade of grass, or nibble on something in the muck, but whereas the brood completely ignored me—she kept her eye on me.

I am familiar with Canadian geese from Oswego campus. There, and even here, geese have two reactions to human interference in their world. One, walk or swim away from humans. Or sometimes rear up and try to intimidate humans nearby they view as a threat.
This mother was just watching cautiously, and eating far less than her brood. But we reached a level of coexistence. For after all, she and her brood came within about ten feet of where I was sitting. I was awed, and she was watchful—but we coexisted in that moment and space.

It was that moment I had been searching all day for; in many cases I think I spend my life looking for those moments—because the feel so rare. I cherish them, they center me, and show me that I am centered in my life and thinking. But as always, they are too infrequent no matter how much I long for them—but on the other side of these moments I am always grateful for the experience and that moment of stillness.

What/where do you find your stillness?


Kevin J. White
Toronto, CA