I used to do a lot of geocaching around Vancouver Island. We’ve done less in the last few years, but still enjoy the pastime on occasion.
But this post isn’t specifically about geocaching. Instead, I thought I’d tell you about the strangest thing I ever saw while geocaching. Now, when you head into the wood along long-forgotten paths on Vancouver Island, you’ll sometimes come across a few anomalies — the mossy rusted hulk of a 1930s car, perhaps, or concrete ruins of a coal mine, or a stash of marijuana. Such are the adventures of tromping about in the BC woods.
But one day, we headed up a dusty logging road, travelling by car many kilometres into the bush. It was the highest point of summer, hot days and high sun, with short shadows cast by big conifers. We followed the GPS, parked at the closest point, and found a trail head. We started walking through the twisting trees to the spot where a cache had been hidden. We were far, far from civilization.
A particular stench hit our nostrils at the same time. We both curled our lips, made gagging noises.
The curve in the trail brought us to the source of the smell: a massive, MASSIVE pile of rotting flesh, fully blocking our path. There was no way past, unless we were willing to scramble over the hundreds of pounds of dead creatures. The limbs and arms and bodies, all purple and orange and studded with white, entwined in a frozen dance, reached up to the merciless sky as if trying to find a grip, something to set their suckers on, to pull themselves up from this sun-baked, waterless hell.
I don’t know how many starfish were in that pile. I couldn’t count. Scores, maybe a hundred, I don’t know. I didn’t want to stay and take inventory: the smell brought tears to the eyes. Or maybe that was the sensible reaction to seeing something so horribly out of its element, so far from its home, dumped callously in a place where the murderers thought no one would find them.
Who would ever think to travel so far into the forest to find a starfish?
When we used to dive in Whitecliff Bay, when you got down really deep, the light became such a luscious shade of green that your skin turned to jade and the distant sunlight struggled to slant through the kelp forest. At those perfectly silent depths, you could watch the seastars creep across the ocean floor with graceful, curious arms. The smallest among them measured wider than I am tall. I was accustomed to the starfish in tide pools — little delicate surface works of art — but the ones at the bottom of Whitecliff were slow-moving, silent monsters, 6 feet across or more. They went about their business, ignoring us, yet still able to take my landlubber’s breath away.
I thought of those seastars when I beheld the pile of corpses.
I don’t know where the pile came from, and I only wanted to leave as fast as possible, unsure what to do about these sad remains of misplaced creatures. But now I see a news article that the starfish of BC’s coast are disappearing at a rapid rate, and I’m wondering where people are looking for them.
And I cast my eyes to the woods, wondering where other people might be hiding them.