The Magic of East Sooke Park

Drifting Towards the Elements

By Sandy Carter

We walk with purpose along the dirt trail and come to a large fallen Douglas fir. I adjust the strap on my tripod so it rests securely on my back and position my camera protectively. Placing both hands on the trunk for balance, I raise my leg up onto the tree, steady myself and climb awkwardly up to the top. I carefully stand while readjusting my gear. Then, grabbing hold of my tripod, I leap to the ground on the other side. I feel invigorated. Like jumping on one foot to remove the water from my ears after a shower, this jump begins to release the stress of the city from my body.

Since moving to Vancouver Island almost three years ago I’ve explored only a small part of this region. But during the past couple of months, I’ve discovered the island’s west side. After only an hour’s drive out of downtown Victoria, the noise and speed of the city disappears. Following the drive along the winding Highway 1A out of Colwood, the change becomes dramatic after taking the turnoff onto Becher Bay Road and arriving at the Aylard Farm entrance to East Sooke Park. We could have taken Pike Road or Anderson Cove Road, the two other points to gain entry into the park, but we choose the Aylard Farm Road access, a good starting point for first-time visitors.

We park the truck, gather our cameras, tripods and a thermos of hot coffee, then begin the five-minute stroll to the cliffs above Becher Bay. In the open meadow, robins busy themselves searching for food. Above us, gulls and red-tailed hawks welcome spring; hollow tapping sounds of woodpeckers echo through the salty air. On the bluff a sheltered picnic area invites us to return. With a lunch rendezvous arranged for noon, we separate into pairs.

Stepping down onto the shoreline, we’re greeted by the expansive Juan de Fuca Strait as it extends towards the snowcapped Olympic Mountains. Gently flowing tide washes over smooth ebony surfaces; purple sea stars and other mysterious underwater life lie hidden below surrounded by the goose-neck barnacles. I feel a surge of tranquillity with the golden morning sun breathing warmly on my face. Beneath my bones, the tension from city living slowly begins to fade.

“I can’t believe I’ve never come here before,” I keep telling my friend. “It’s so incredibly beautiful.” He just smiles. He knows; he’s been here before.

We leave the beach and hike further, up and around, over and under. We separate and meet again along the way as the path encourages us to continue. The massive boulders with their bordering arbutus and sitka spruce lead down to the water then back up along the cliffs. Trails amid the Garry oak introduce the cool lush forests with their tender emerald mosses, graceful ferns and fruit-laden salmonberry.

Our purpose for being in the park is photography. Whether down by the water watching ocean otters play along the edge of the tidepools or moving silently within the woods, as photographers we obligingly drift towards the elements that lure us. Time passes without awareness. My friend finds me and tells me it’s almost noon. When we meet the others, I know I’m not ready to leave. Quietly eating, I realize I’m not alone with the effects of the park. With barely a suggestion, we agree to stay longer.

Once again we move along the footpath. Passing aboriginal petroglyphs with barking sea lions below and bald eagles circling above, I realize I belong in the outdoors. It occurs to me that a sedentary indoor lifestyle has engulfed me since leaving my native California. I no longer will be captive to it.

My jump to the other side of the fir clearly demonstrates it’s time for a change. Outdoors by the ocean’s calm, with the sun spilling over the trees and the water and my soul, I surrender to nature. As a photographer, I’ll go back along the Coast Trail and know I will never be without an inspiration. I eagerly await a free day to return or a chance to discover and explore another new place like East Sooke Park.

IF YOU GO

East Sooke Park is a wilderness park. Maps, brochures and more information regarding park regulations, designated trails and tips on ensuring a pleasurable and safe hike are available at regional park offices.

Sandy Carter is a Victoria based writer and photographer.