"I found the silence"

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Calm waters near the Great Bear Rainforest in Northern British Columbia Photo by Linda Solomon Wood

I was fortunate to travel three times to the Great Bear Rainforest over the last ten years. I found the silence to be completely restorative and, adventuring off the grid meant I was offline for days. Listening to rain falling on the roof of the boat, the sounds of whales breeching, or birds winging overhead made me remember how vast and powerful nature is, and how small I am.

Closer to home, the most special place for me is a path that follows a river into the mountains in North Vancouver. Knowing how much these places have meant to me, I asked subscribers to tell me about their special places. Here are a few of their stories from a country with big gifts.

– Linda Solomon Wood, editor-in-chief, National Observer

Chapter 1

'This is what Canada has...'

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Quebec's Meech Lake sparkles in the summer sunshine. Photo supplied by Keir Knight

"My friend and I had started meeting at 6 a.m. to drive out to Meech Lake (15 minutes from my home in Hull). We would run the trails for about an hour, and then dip into the lake for what was really a shocking cold bath before heading to our respective jobs," wrote Keir Knight from Hull, Que.

"On Friday the first of June, while prepping to go into the lake, I noticed a loon not too far from the shore. So instead of running and diving in, I decided to walk in slowly and calmly so as not to startle this animal who was here before us. Once I got out to about waist-height depth, the loon dove under the surface and did not reappear for a while. I started to scan around ..."

The sun sets over Meech Lake, Que. Photo by Keir Knight

"I called out to my friend Kevin when something caught my eye and I looked down under the surface of the lake. The loon made a circle around my legs and popped up curiously just to the left of me.

"I looked directly into the red eye of this bird and something happened. I was overcome with excitement and tranquility at the same time. I felt connected to nature and to myself in a way that I either never had, or had long since forgotten. This loon and I proceeded to swim out into the middle of Meech Lake together. My friend watched from shore, and said that we seemed to have had a connection. I would dive under the water and the loon would look back for me before continuing. It was as if the loon was saying, 'Come on, let's go!'

"In the car on the way back to our jobs, we talked about the pipeline buyout which had just been announced. It occurred to me that this is what Canada has, and has always had. People like myself across this beautiful country have a little spot that they can go dip in or fish in or sit next to and appreciate. A place where humans can reconnect with nature and themselves. It also occurred to me that this should be considered the biggest threat to Canadians at the moment.

"No threat of terror, or economic growth models, or military spending we could be living in a world where one day we will have to explain to our grand kids that we used to be able to swim and fish and breathe next to these spots. I don't want to live in a place where kids will think of sharing the lake with animals on a summer morning to be some kind of fairy tale.​ Needless to say, it was a powerful wake-up call for me."

Chapter 2

"It never fails to bring a sense of peace to my heart"

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Trees in the snow in Churchill, Man. November 2017. Photo supplied by MJ Willard

MJ Willard, of Manitoba, shared photos of the icy landscape in the remote northern town of Churchill, Man,. his favourite place in the country. With his images, came a startling message about climate change. "Despite being in full colour, the grey snowy atmosphere leaves the impression that this is almost black and white photography...

"It is the wildness of the area, the loss of the treeline, and the existence of species adapted to this climate. The real concern? The one picture shows water that is not yet frozen in the tire tread tracks. This is an ominous sign of global warming due to the increased blanket of CO2 in the atmosphere, acting to hold the heat in.

"People need to learn that this is really a serious problem for their grandchildren, and is happening now due to burning of fossil fuels...It is imperative to get the word out and education the world. For that reason, locations at the 60th parallel and North are wonderful to enjoy but will disappear if we don’t change our habits now.

A polar bear crosses the street in Churchill, Man. in 2017. Photo by MJ Willard DVM MD

Chapter 3

A "gift from the big land"

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View from sailing on the Sir Robert Bond in Labrador, Newfoundland. Photo by Ted Ostrowski

"I recently found Kodachrome slides show my first sailing aboard the Sir Robert Bond. I believe it was June 1996," wrote Ted Ostrowski, from Medicine Hat, Alberta.

"At that time, I had no idea that I would make Labrador my home and sail serval more times to Goose Bay Labrador from Lewisporte Newfoundland. Times have changed and the Bond no longer sails and Labrador is no longer my home. The road has opened up and Labrador has become a little less remote than it once was. It was a special and magical time for me, I still have friends there and they are life long friends, a gift from the big land."

"We don’t see nearly enough of each other now, but somehow that hasn’t changed the way I feel towards them. Driving on a long long gravel road to get there is one way, but sailing for 36 hours with other travellers, residents, adventurers and spending the time imposed by the crossing of the Labrador Sea with each other made for an experience unmatched by the monotony of driving. The Bond is gone forever. What a shame progress can be."

Chapter 4

Midnight sun and northern lights

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Spring flowers bloom in Kalamalka Lake Park in Vernon, B.C. Photo by Sair Killy

Bob Stewart wrote us about the stunning northern lights he captured in Saskatchewan: "Here's an aurora, captured by an unsuitable travel cam, handheld... One year, I saw both midnight sun glow, and the aurora, with the road further defined by numerous fireflies on either side. I rode without a bike light."

An aurora borealis glimmers near the edge of Highway SK-12 near Marcelin, Sask. Photo by Bob Stewart

Sair Killy, from British Columbia, took photos of the different seasons Kalamalka Lake Park in Vernon, B.C. The water is famous for its emerald hue.

Winter coats Kalamalka Lake Park in Vernon, B.C. in a frosty layer of snow and ice. Photo by Sair Killy

Kalamalka Lake Park in Vernon, B.C. is bright with the oranges, reds and browns. Photo by Sair Killy

Chapter 5

A Volkswagen named Vanita

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The sun sets in Tofino, B.C. Photo by Shawshank61

Katherine Maas writes that the place she loves most in Canada is the Pacific coast of B.C.. "I’ve been going there regularly since the early 80s, when I still lived in Ottawa."

Katherine Maas writes that the place she loves most is the Pacific coast of B.C..

"I’ve been going there regularly since the early 80s, when I still lived in Ottawa."

"Moving to the west coast in 1997 made it much more accessible, and for many years our favourite way of visiting was to take our VW camper Vanita to Green Point campground in the national park, and explore north and south from there over the course of a week or two. We spent many peaceful days at Incinerator Rock, where we could park virtually on the beach — the best view in the park."

Long Beach, Tofino. Photo by Katherine Maas

"As we’ve aged, camping got less comfortable, but we still go back as often as we can, to spend time all along the coast between Tofino and Ucluelet. It never fails to bring a sense of peace to my heart, and strengthen my resolve to protect and preserve this unique and beautiful place for all our descendants to enjoy far into the future."

Chapter 6

Discoveries in the Rocky Mountains

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Wikimedia Commons image of Lake O'Hara view from trail in Yoho National Park, B.C. Photo by Zeljko Kozomara

"To discover 508 million years of life and death on planet Earth with my 11-year-old granddaughter at the top of the Rocky Mountains is one of my life’s richest experiences and the Walcott Quarry is one of my favourite places in the world, not just Canada," wrote John Warren.

"Samantha and I stayed at a hostel in the village of Field, B.C., the night before and next morning we met with a guide from the Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation and the rest of the dozen hikers who had paid to do the hike up to the Walcott Quarry. We car-pooled a few miles along the Yoho Valley Road before parking at Takakkwa Falls, pulling on our hiking boots, shrugging into our backpacks and heading out on the hike that takes eleven hours from car park to quarry to car park. It was a bit of a grunt to climb the 825 metres over 11 kilometres but the rewards were fabulous."

"Our guide, Tony, was a professional palaeontologist, as well as having more than a passing knowledge about geology, glaciation and the local birds and wildlife. ...It’s not a big place, physically, but it’s a place where fossils of long-dead marine animals from half a billion years ago can be found underfoot."

"Sam and I were fascinated by the quarry, the mountain goats, the Canada jays and the spindly trees up in the high country. It was a very special time and place for both of us and remains a fond memory for us both. Canada is such an amazing country!"

Chapter 7

A Texan's take on Canada

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Scenic landscape after a snowstorm in B.C. Photo by Magalie L'Abbé

Mary Zientek Sulaiman, who came to Canada from Texas, explains her love for the country that embraced her.

"My first visit to British Columbia was in 1998. At 48, just engaged to an Iraqi-Canadian citizen. The U.S. war with Iraq happened two weeks after we met. We survived."

"Accompanying him to meet my new other family on Christmas Eve — no direct ticket, so had to dogleg through blizzardy St. Louis,
Missouri to get to Seattle. Snowy sleet greeted me - quite the departure from Houston. Properly greeted by my betrothed, my new
experience driving to Vancouver from Seattle was about to begin - driving snow/sleet. No white knuckle on airplane but definitely in
that car!"

"My first wide-eyed glimpse of Vancouver was a stunning nighttime panoramic view from atop a neighborhood street in Kitsilano - it
was as if God had sprinkled a trillion diamond glints along hillsides for as far as we could see - and the drop of that hillside street
literally took my breath away. A moment forever etched in my mind's history."

"Here, just shy of 20 years later are we. I am a proud new Canadian permanent resident retired from Houston Texas to Surrey, B.C., a
suburb of Vancouver. Much has changed - except the heart and kindness of Canadians."