I’ve never seen a grouse before. Neither have the boys. I was expecting them to be bigger but this one is no bigger than an average size chicken. Not a fast bird but gone by the time I get my camera out. Drumming its way through bushes, it gets out of sight as we’re starting our hike to the Savona caves. There are pictographs there and well, there are caves. Boys and caves go very well together, but you know that.
There’s patches of snow here and there and dew, late morning magic water. After a few hundred meters on a thin ribbon of a path through autumn-bitten woods, we bump into steepness. The very definition of it. Let’s agree on a 60 degree incline for the first half of the ascent, to be increased later. I stop for photos and Tony sticks around. Sasha takes off, he’s set on seeing the caves and nothing can slow him down. He gets excited over rocks “Mom, is this jade?… we’re walking on jade!” I foresee pocketfuls of rocks and pebbles. Theirs and mine. We do that, you see. I am known to have dragged twisted dirftwood home, and also big rocks. Back when Sasha was two or so… one sunny day at Tower Beach in Vancouver, the equation looked like this: beautiful rocky beach, one remarkable rock, round and impossible to leave behind, child in sling, and 360 steps or so to the car. Well, the equation was solved… I still have the rock.
We keep going up. The cave is a just a black speck that we see through trees and low clouds. “Do you mean we have to go all the way up there?” Tony sounds worried. Or puzzled. Not sure. It is steep, it seems daunting, but impossible is not the word I want to use today. Sasha keeps hopping uphill and his voice wraps around trees and rocks. It’s just us four, the sun and the mountain with open caves like eyes overlooking the forested valley. If fairies and pixies existed, this would be the place.
The hike becomes a scramble up the mountain. Sasha leads the way, holding on to big boulders and roots and low-lying branches. Undeterred. We’re a few steps behind. I worry about steepness, wrong steps and the mom brain thinks ropes and such. Yes, to tie them onto me, so they don’t slip and fall. But that encourages carelessness, it does. They learn to not calculate steps because they’ll think you’ll always be there to catch them…are you? How then? What if? You hold your breath, they’ll be fine…
We reach the cave after crawling up a slippery slope. Camera on my back, eyes on the boys and wishing that my voice would not give away my worry. There’s exhilaration and fear. There’s a lot of mountain to roll down off should one take the wrong step. Tony looks at me and smiles. “This was worth it, mom.” I know he means it. The pictographs are special. “Who made them, mom? And why? And why here? The cave is not even that big.” A good shelter but so far up. I don’t have all the answers but that’s part of the magic. I feel privileged to be here. It’s easy to feel like an intruder but awe prevents that.
There’s clouds tangled in trees, powdered with midday sunshine. There’s piles of flint and I know the boys won’t leave without a few samples.There’s room in the backpack. Holding onto roots and rock corners, sliding on muddy slopes, the four of us make our way down the mountain. It’s misty and chilly now. Water drops sleeping on leaves and thin blackened twigs. The grouse’s home. We’re guests. Somewhat uninvited. Cold moist air chases us out of the magic woods. Pictographs are left behind, for others to find and wonder.
The boys are tired and quiet. “Mom, I love you for this hike.” Sasha’s voice is hugging me softly and dearly. I guess my two boys will always be nestled in a secret soul sling I’m carrying along. A good load. We take the long drive home through Logan Lake. The mountains around Kamloops are painted in orange sunshine. So uniform it looks like someone was busy painting all afternoon. They look warm. Home. It is. Good to know.