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Flying over British Columbia

Flying out of Prince George early yesterday morning, I watched the earth as we rose above the hills and pastures and forests and high blue lakes of British Columbia, flying south and west toward Vancouver. The forested land is quiet, sunny, crossed by logging roads, marked by clear cuts and an occasional lumber mill. The untouched lands of forest and high blue lakes are vast.

David wrote about Alexander Mackenzie who explored this part of the world, canoeing up the long rivers and crossing the whole vast breadth of Canada. We can look into his blue distance and though much is changed, much of the wilderness remains untouched. From the plane, the electric lines which carry energy from vast northern reservoirs were invisible, but we were linked to them.

Increasing clouds veiled the view until suddenly all was clear and pure, untrodden snowy peaks appeared below us, giving way to forested , snow-dappled slopes and a vast fijordlike river that cut through the mountains, solitary, dark and shining, unpeopled but for the small glittering speck of one boat. The 'river' became a circle, encircled islands - the river was the sea winding inland. At the very edge of the forested slopes, on a promontory above the sea, stood one town. Beyond, forested islands slept on the vast blue Pacific, and three large ships in a line carried trade.

Centuries earlier, in 1792, George Vancouver had sailed here with two ships, exploring the coasts of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. His orders from the Royal Navy were to survey every inlet and outlet on the west coast of the mainland, all the way north to what is now Alaska. He was thorough. He and his men went out surveying in small boats, and gradually filled in the whole map of the coast below us. In the blue near-emptiness of the Pacific, Vancouver was a little surprised to meet American and Spanish ships bound on nearly the same mission.

Flying parallel to the Pacific, we saw a house on one of the large, wooded islands lying offshore, still reached only by small boat. The blue solitude seemed to expand then slowly more small towns appeared on coastal promontories.

We leave blue wilderness behind, approaching North Vancouver, flying above the homes of 44,000 citizens. We fly parallel with the stony and icy profiles of North Shore mountains. Beyond and below, the city of Vancouver spreads out like a wonderful 3-D map. On what is now Vancouver Island, just west of the city, Vancouver met the Spanish commander. In what is now Stanley Park he met the Salish people. Since the British built Vancouver, people from all over the world have made Vancouver home. The plane flew lower. The sunny tarmac beckoned. I walked into the airport.

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