What is the soul of this place we call Whistler? What is its spirit of summer, the months when the sun burns warm, and we spend time swimming in lakes, amongst the shade of trees, watching clouds waft pass?
Sitting with Debray Lee Hillary, a healing shaman with Triangle Health and Wellness, I pose these questions. Hillary, better known as Rainbow, glances up at me. Trained in traditional ways by her Métis and Indigenous grandmothers, Hillary sees a strong connection between land and spirit in Whistler.
"There's a lot of undertones here," she says. "It's the land that heals us. As soon as people clue into that, they understand it. You have to be a special person to live here. This is a place that was never meant to be lived in. It's high energy, built on quartz. It's very intense . . . The spirit of this place is magical. It's going to be a mecca for people to come to for spiritual healing."
These thoughts resonate deeply as I think over what she goes on to say: that this place heals just by looking at it, just by being in it. People from all over the world give up careers, lives, and family to start anew in Whistler. What is it about this place that draws us in so close to its spirit, and allows us to redress the troubles of our souls? Summer holds a special place on Whistler's calendar. Once an off-season, even a carefully guarded secret of the small, local populace, it is now Whistler's busiest period, with activities and visitors galore. But there is much to this valley that lies under the surface: those undertones of connecting to land and spirit that heal the soul. With these metaphysical ruminations in mind, this piece presents a series of vignettes: snapshots exploring the spirit and soul of Whistler's summer.
What Remains of Winter
Summer begins with snow: the giant snowbanks atop Whistler Mountain attest to a worthy season, with some 1,273 centimetres falling from November through May. While close to three metres short of the banner year of 2010-11 — which blew all minds and knee joints at 1,579 cm — this past season was memorable for its duration, coldness, and quality. Quite simply, the snow remained, and now here it sits, guarding the advance of summer like a sentinel from frozen times past. Its stratified layers are symbolic of the spiritual past: all those layers of snow-laden memory, frozen in time. The snow will take many months to melt, and it is now but a shadow, with the full set of alpine trails finally opening in August.
Signs of Summer To Come: Spring Baseball
Out on the baseball diamonds of Spruce Grove Park, early-season batting practice has begun. The fields are finally dry, and teams begin to warm up. Soon the games begin, some teams more serious than others. Costumes appear, and the tantalizing smell of the barbecue wafts from the roof of the clubhouse. The spirit of the place begins to loosen up, shoulders sore, arms needing a stretch.
If Life Gives You Lemonade
As I whip down Lorimer Road, my cross-bike eating up pavement at a quickening clip, a classic sign of summer appears on the corner: a lemonade stand. Jake Dean, Josh Udow, and Tyler Foster are making quick work out of their microcapitalist venture, having raked in some $23 in five hours. But it's not just about the cash: the spirit of kiddie capitalism is infectious beyond its earnings. Before I leave, a panda pyjama suit is procured, and the traffic increases along with the levels of cute. Soon enough, parents arrive, playtime is set, and the table is packed for another day of child(ish) labour.
Appearing in the ever-warming air are the climbers. Once the rock is free of soaking run-off, the sharp edges of Whistler's Nordic Rock are once again put to the test. Climber Alex Fernandez has been scaling all things vertical since 1991, when he first went on a school trip to Rockhead's Gym in Toronto. "Climbing has been a big part of my life since," says Fernandez, "dictating where I live and travel."
Though Fernandez spent years "projecting hard routes," over the past decade his climbing style has become more about exploring the alpine, as well as passing along "extreme stoke" to beginners.
"It's about testing not only your physical, but also mental state," he says, "and sharing those moments of fear, glorious happiness, and sadness in defeat." As the sun cascades through the salty air of this classic roadside crag, it certainly sounds like the spirit has taken up in Fernandez.
Capturing the Flow
Summer begins to shift into high gear as Rainbow Lake fills with tourists, portable Hibachi grills, and secret stashes of bubbling beer. I am here for a workshop led by renowned local photographer Guy Fattal, who has made Whistler his home since departing Israel.
Fattal garnered some attention when he was crowned the King of Storms as the winner of this year's Deep Winter Photo Challenge with a photo shoot that managed to capture the fleeting essence of powder. Now he gathers together some two-dozen local and visiting shutterbugs to capture the flow of local acro yogis Edward Dangerfield, Julie-Anne Roy, Emma Wishaw, and Joy Pringle. The yogis know their game, as they carefully balance that fine line between spirit and matter with gravity's downwards pull, and the aspiring as well as experienced photographers try to imprint the ineffable play of light upon their digital devices.
Dangerfield lies across the railway tracks, his body a perfect arch. He is one of two co-founders of Bear Paw Yoga and Triangle Health & Wellness. Along with Hillary, Dangerfield has gathered together yogi instructors, massage therapists, and healers working in naturopathy, nervous-system regulation, therapeutic touch, brain health, and life coaching into a single centre. Dangerfield is open about his own struggles in life that led him through darkness before he dedicated himself to the light of his qi'gong and therapeutic practices. His centre will host men's healing circles on Tuesday nights to provide a place to address such troubles of the spirit.
Cult of the Inflatables
Whistler has always embraced the spirit of play, and it seems that in summer it takes on a degree of prankster hilarity. All along Whistler's pathways you spot them: entire herds of inflatables, from pizza shapes and pineapples to the ubiquitous Orange Floaty. Pounds of plastic that will, for the most part, become ripped, shredded and popped by summer's end. Yet the crowds persist in floating about, whether on the River of Golden Dreams, or across Whistler's various lakes. Many, however, never seem to get either to the lake or far from it: the spirit of things takes over, and the Valley Trail suffices for a dive into the drink.
Water to the People
Lost Lake is the warmest of Whistler's watery bodies, and perhaps the most sweet. Once a hippie hangout of nudity and psychedelics, it is now rife with loving riff-raff of other sorts: children and visitors vie for the showers and diving platforms alike, and on some days it feels like the entire United Nations Assembly has taken a weekend break on Lost Lake's small beach.
But most incredible is Lost Lake's sense of serenity, of feeling enclosed by water and mountains. As the sun takes its setting, the golden light flickers across the liquid calm, as laughter and music drifts upon the evening air.
Pavement, Speed, and Power
While mountain biking gets most of the print and image trade, a few other wheeled sports stalk Whistler's streets: longboarding and skating.
Longboarding in its fullest glory is especially rare. Thomas Bunbury began hauling out the bigger boards when he was just 14, and he says it's only a small group in Whistler that don the full-face helmets, skidding and sliding with hands protected by plastic-reinforced gloves reminiscent of hockey pucks.
Stonebridge is one of their usual haunts — "I love the speed," Bunbury says, "and bombing down hills." Exercising masterful control, he slides his board to a full-blown stop, his body low to the pavement. It takes a calm spirit to approach such speed.
Whistler's skaters have long held court by the Day Lots, now with a newly renovated park that puts the town on the map for international as well as local skaters. On this warm night, spliff smoke and the sounds of summer float across the pavement.
The surprising rider of this electric-lit evening is on a Razor, flipping high out of the bowl and swinging the scooter out with elegant kicks. The spirit is elevated amongst the assembled skaters, where that beautiful sense of speed and respect maintains the high court of the concrete.
Marc Tlz stands atop a moss-covered boulder. We have just completed 10 minutes of meditation in the forest behind Nita Lake Lodge, and we are now announcing our intentions before commencing an "honourable harvest" of flowers, pine cones, moss, and branches. The natural bounty is for the collective creation of a mandala, guided by Loka Yoga teacher Libby Attard. A mandala is a circular pattern designed for meditation, often known in the Buddhist tradition as a yantra. Our mandala will be collectively created, piece-by-piece, in a process that slows down time into a peaceful coming together of shared intentions.
Before we begin, Attard talks about "taking care of the Earth, as it takes care of us," and we offer tobacco in place of what we take. During Attard's Sacred Earth workshop, we learn how to "take only what we need." I take out a bag of garbage: I feel the need to take back what has been shamelessly dumped. Donations from the workshop support rights to the Ullulisc traditional territory of the Stl'atl'imx Nation.
But Marc's passion returns us to the here and now.
"All this fire, this burning," says Tlz, "is a time of purging, of purification." Tlz's passion captures something in the air — air that for many weeks turned into a post-apocalyptic haze, choking the valley with particles of smoke from fires burning hundreds of kilometres away in the province's tinderbox Interior. At the time of this writing, fires continue to burn, most of them started by the negligence of unthinking humans with too many tools and toys.
The long, hot, dry summer of 2017 will go down in the settler history of this province as the worst on record for wildfires since 1958. Smoke and fire are signs of spirit; wafted smoke is used to cleanse a space, and fire to burn away the residues of what can no longer remain.
Lost Alien Looks into What Comes Again
With the close of summer we welcome again the return of snow. Snow returns in the symbolic performance of the Lost Alien. Crash-landed on Earth, the Lost Alien wanders Whistler's frozen forests, curious as to how us humanoids survive in this strange environment of frozen H20. She gazes with wonder at the melting ice, which has no place on her scorching planet. Lost Alien is a character cosplay by Los Angeles-based artist ZiggZaggerZ, whose performances combine her photophobia and blackness to address what it's like to be a stranger soul in these whitest of climates. Whistler is an international destination for photographers, artists, and models who view its unique terrain with a creative eye, seeking to reinterpret this land, and its spirit, in ways that render it fresh and ever new once again.
For this is what Whistler is, in its spirit: a place of renewal and energy, of finding new paths, of starting over, of reconnecting to the seasons, and the spirit of the land. And that's good for your soul.