This is part of BootsnAll’s 30 Days of Indie Travel project, a daily blogging challenge with a prompt for every day in November 2011. Check out the prompt at the bottom of this post to find out how you can participate!
Nevermind that I don’t believe in God – I love visiting churches when I travel. In many places, they’re buildings full of as much history and art as religion, and I have immense respect for builders whose devotion to their version of the divine led to such masterpieces. It wasn’t in a church that I have felt the greatest sense of spirituality, however. It wasn’t even in a building.
I was a mere passenger on that trip. It was my mother’s adventure, borne of a desire to go to the native ruins on the Haida Gwaii after seeing pictures in a book more than 25 years earlier, and I was just happy to have been invited. I knew little about our destination, other than the archipelago was off the northern coast of British Columbia and home to some very remote ancient village sites, and neglected to do much in the way of research before we left.
But no amount of research could have prepared me for how the air would feel on the Haida Gwaii.
There is a stillness on the islands, not due to their sparse population or remoteness, although those undoubtedly help. Even at midday in one of the main towns that stillness seeps into everything, with cars driving by and people going about their business. There are familiar sounds, and it is by no means silent, but on the Haida Gwaii it feels like the earth is at rest.
The Haida Gwaii are green. There are more shades of green on the islands than there are words to describe the color. Nearly every surface is covered in moss, and the forest floor is thick with ferns – so many things feed on the near-constant moisture in the air. Even the newer gravestones in the Old Masset cemetery look as if they’ve been there for a hundred years.
The stillness is most profound in the mornings and evenings, when it’s still light enough to see but the mist has already settled in. The air is dense, a cold and damp embrace, and the chill is such that even in mid-August you’re thankful you have something made of fleece or wool in which to wrap yourself. Restaurants are staying open late if they’re still seating diners at 6:30. The roads are all but empty (watch out for deer and bears), and sound is muffled within a few inches. The mist gets thicker, and you feel as if you’re in a padded room.
Visiting a Haida village site after a short seaplane ride was an obvious highlight of the trip, but seeing that haunting ruin bathed in midday sunlight wasn’t as satisfying to my spirit as standing on a rocky beach in Skidegate in the early evening mist.
I inhaled deeply, inviting the fog deep into my lungs. I wanted to breathe in the stillness itself and bring it home with me.
During moments of stress, I sometimes think back to that powerful stillness and try to conjure it. I almost always fail. And yet just knowing there is a place where the simple act of breathing equals calm usually helps just a little bit.
30 Days of Indie Travel Project: How to Participate
We’re inviting bloggers from around the world (that means you, too!) to join us in a daily blogging effort designed to reflect on how our travel experiences over the last year – or whenever – have shaped us and our view of the world. Bloggers can follow the prompts as strictly or loosely as they like, interpreting them in various ways and responding via text, photos or video posted on their own blogs.
We’ll share some of our favorites via Twitter and Facebook throughout November, as well as a round-up article at the end of the month, so if you’re playing along make sure to let us know – use the #indie30 hashtag on Twitter, and link to the 30 Days of Indie Travel page in your post so we’ll be able to find it.
Find out all of the 30 Days of Indie Travel blogging prompts so far – it’s never too late to join in the fun!
Prompt #19: Spirit
Some places have the power to make even the most die-hard agnostic reconsider their position. Have you ever been in a place where you felt more alive or more connected to nature, the universe, or a higher power than anywhere else?
Tools and inspiration: Read about some interesting spiritual destinations.