The Forest Chapel
The massive front door made of Douglas fir planks blocked me from entering. The little sign hanging from a single nail, said, “Closed Today”. I was disappointed because I had made it my habit of coming to this heritage lodge. It had become my rustic forest chapel surrounded by enormous legacy trees that guarded over it like faithful soldiers. Over one hundred species of tree seeds brought back by the owners from countries around the world, had been planted here. Logging had been what helped them build their empire and beautiful home. As a result, cedar and Douglas Fir were used to build and decorate the interior.
Today, the quiet visit that I had anticipated here was put to an unfortunate halt. I peeked through the mottled hand-blown window glass, wondering if maybe there was a mistake. ‘Surely there were some people inside’, I hoped. I strained to see the grand yew staircase, with its one large bannister limb reaching down to the newel post at the bottom. Everything about this lodge was about trees. Trees fortified it with its posts and beams, and fuelled it in the large stone fireplace. The energy that it imbued provided respite from a stressful life.
Because the house was closed, I was relegated to the front covered veranda. Two drift wood lounge chairs welcomed me to sit. I had an eery fixation with this place. Sometimes, I would come here and listen. My adult son had commented when he had visited here, “I can feel the ghosts in this house, Mom.” He was a big believer in the paranormal; whereas, I was a skeptical believer. If there had been ghosts, I would have seen some by now in my five-plus decades on earth. No angels, ghosts or demons had ever come to say hello and actually pay me a visit. However, I had always felt some strange connections to buildings in the past. I sometimes heard, smelled, and witnessed things that were a bit unusual.
“Is it open?” I turned to see a tall backpacker approach. He sported a paisley bandana and sunglasses, and carried a large overnight backpack. He clunked up the stairs with large shoe-laceless hiking boots.
“No,” I answered disappointedly. “It usually is, but I’m not sure what is happening today.”
He smiled slowly revealing a large toothy grin. “That’s too bad.” He looked to be nearly half my age and a well-seasoned traveller with all of his weathered gear. He seemed to be relaxed in his Bohemian lifestyle that I might have embraced if I had had another lifetime to trek around the world.
I nodded, unwilling to share with him my irrational preoccupation with the estate. He took off his pack and sat down in the other chair. He pulled out his water bottle, and drank most of it. He explained, “I am related to the owners. That’s why I came.”
“Are you the long lost grandchild due to inherit all of it?” I joked.
“Wouldn’t that be interesting if I was,” he laughed, appreciating the possibility as he looked up at the building. “No, I am related to the cousin of the owner’s daughter somehow. My mother used to talk about this family like they were the royal family.”
“They had a strange history.” I explained my limited knowledge of it. “He inherited the money by marrying his wife and working his way into the family logging empire. In the end, he was the last surviving of his two children, who died fairly young, shortly after their mother. It was all very sad.” I was momentarily distracted by the pretty pink hollyhocks knocking up against the porch front.
“You know quite a bit about the owners,” he mused looking around at the acres of manicured gardens leading away from the forest and down to the Comox Bay. In the distance, the Beaufort Mountain Range and its white glacier framed this pretty ocean paradise set in the Valley of the Whale.
“Not really. I did a bit of reading, but there’s not much to learn about it aside from what the tour guides tell us. I just like sitting in the quiet of it when no one is around. I suppose I come here expecting answers. I listen for some kind of advice from the walls,” I admitted to myself and to him.
“The walls…” I could feel him summing me up as a bit odd, and he was likely correct. He contemplated my strange disclosure for a while, and then said, “I do that too. I look for answers in odd places, especially in nature. What are you hoping to learn?”
“I want to learn why I keep coming back here. Every time I do, I see things changing inside of the house. I feel a conversation stirring inside of me as if there is something on the tip of my tongue that needs to be spoken. There are also smells…”
“What kind of smells?” he pondered.
“Apple pie; a man’s cologne; and roses…lots of roses…oh…and strong cigars. I can almost see the smoke. It all happens when no one is around, nor when anyone nearby would be making these smells,” I tried to change the topic. “But no matter, I just enjoy the place.”
He sat back in the chair, and folded his arms. “I am a little bit psychic sometimes,” he spoke tentatively. It was my turn to wonder if he was a bit daft and disoriented, or in these parts, maybe a bit under the “influence”. “I have spoken to ghosts,” he said convincingly in a whisper as he leaned in to me to explain further.
The elderly lodge caretake interrupted coming up the steps. “Can I help you?” the portly older man with an uncomfortable looking limp, stopped to inquire of our loitering.
“We were wondering why the house is closed,” I prompted him to explain why to my myself and the backpacker friend who had introduced himself to me as James after complimenting on my long hair. “This fellow here came to see the house because he is related to the owners.”
“You may kiss the bride,” the minister announced. We leaned in to kiss each other very passionately, and then turned, almost surprised to see to the house full of guests. They clapped in celebration, recognizing the joy we were experiencing together. We had finally found each other, and we were thoroughly caught up in this special moment. “We’d like to invite everyone into the dining room to enjoy some wine and toasts,” my new husband, Chris, cleared his voice and announced. He was very handsome in his dark pin-stripe suit. His red rose boutonniere complimented the white and red rose flower arrangements that had been brought in by my family. It was Christmas time, and we stood in front of the Christmas tree, humouring my father for a couple of pictures before heading to the other room.
“You have finally found each other…” my best friend began her toast, while my other friends filled up their glasses with champagne in preparation to raise them in good cheer. The rest of her toast was a bit of a blur to me as she reminisced about my childhood, and some of my accomplishments. I was also distracted by my husband who leaned in to kiss me on the head during it. I could smell his sweet cologne, and could sense his excitement and fatigue from the many days of preparation that had led up to this special day. It was both a triumph and a relief to have it all come together in such a beautiful venue. I had always liked this house. I had doubted that I would ever marry at all, let alone in such a special place which sometimes felt to be more a church than a heritage home.
We could smell my sister’s apple pies cooking in the kitchen. It had been decided that it would be an old-fashioned wedding and what better way with which to bring in a new life together than with the taste of her nutmeg and cinnamon seasoned dessert. However, there were more toasts, first by my husband’s brother, and then by my other friend, who broke into tears before getting very far in her speech. It was all a bit of a dream for me, as I had wondered how it all happened so quickly.
We met each other over coffee, and we spent our first date exploring the park around this very house. Then, on our second date, we walked further over to the spit, and enjoyed a beach fire by the ocean. From there, our lives together unfolded naturally, as we shared a mutual love of hiking in the trees. He would laugh when I would go up to an old-growth Douglas Firs and sacredly hold my hands on their trunks. I had been told that these parent trees nurtured the smaller ones in the forest. I believed that they gave me energy too. We were tree huggers, and for us, there was no finer place in which to share our vows than in a home and park dedicated to appreciating them right along the harbour front.
It was raining and we wrapped our arms around each other. The damp pungent smells of the cedar shingles, and the fragrant foliage that stayed green here even into the middle of winter, sharpened our senses to this magical evening. We sat under the tin roof of the veranda, and Chris pulled me in to him, savouring this quiet moment together before we headed back into the lively celebration. “I love you beyond belief,” he whispered.
“Just come on in,” the lodge caretaker laughed, amused by our interest in the house. “I have dishes to clean up from the wedding this afternoon. You can poke around. I’ll be here an hour or so.” He pulled out a key chain with dozens of keys on it, and opened the front door. We were welcomed into the woody living room with hand-woven Persian rugs. This cozy sanctuary was filled with antique, hand-made mahogany and oak furniture surrounding a large stone fire place that still burned wood on special occasions. “Please take off your shoes,” he looked at James dirty boots and backpack.
“Amazing,” James exclaimed. We wandered into the dining room with rough cut Douglas fir planks across the ceiling. A used silver tea service was spread out over the dining room table. We stepped down into the little breakfast nook and admired the mosaic floor with its inlaid multi-coloured tiles. They had been brought over in the ballast of ships from the Far East for lumber. “There is such a powerful energy here.” He looked carefully at the family pictures on the wall, reading about the family history. There was one of the owner’s daughter and the owner on the front steps of the lodge where we had been sitting earlier. She was joyful in her wedding dress, holding wild flowers. The owner looked on at her with pride. The photo captured this family in its golden years, and it was with sadness that I thought of everyone who had lived here, and were now gone.
He came over to me and spoke quietly so that only I could hear him. “I think that this house holds memories of the past and the future in it.” He reminded me of his son in his youthful belief of mysterious and unexplainable things.
“How can you have a memory of the future?”
“This house seems to have something prophetic about it. I don’t know if I would call it a memory. It just gives me some feelings of things to come.” He touched the heavy wooden mantlepiece above the fireplace.
“What kinds of messages?” I had been alone for along time. I always liked to speculate what lay ahead me. I had many tarot card readings foretelling pretty average events. Most were vague and inarticulate at best. I wished that somehow I could know what lay ahead for me. Would I grow into my older years alone?
“I feel something about you. You are attached to this home in the past and in the future. Have you ever been here before?”
“I don’t think so,” but I tried to think about where I might have somehow come across this lovely place in my history. My family had come over to the island when I was a child, but I had no real recollection of it.
The men’s laughter rang through the night louder than the rain that pelted overhead onto the tin roof of the veranda. They spoke heartily about the deal of the day. “…and I told him to bugger off if he didn’t have the cash for the lumber.” All five older gentleman dressed in distinguished evening attire laughed in unison enjoying their whisky and lox. He pulled out a cigar and clipped the end of it in a definitive stroke, and then handed the cigar clipper over to his friend who did the same. They savoured the slow catching of the flames before inhaling them. “Dad,” a woman poked her head out of the front door. “Can I talk to you?”
“Sure,” he responded, handing his cigar to a friend with a pat on the back, excusing himself. He followed her into the lodge, past guests in the living room, with whom he shook hands. They ended up in the sitting room of the master bedroom, where she sat with him on one of the sofas.
“I am not sure that I can keep doing it,” she confided to him. “He has been moody and unpredictable. I am exhausted with all of the money he has been spending lately.” She looked over as a little girl peeked around the corner, looking up at them shyly as she made her way from the bathroom back towards the living room to find her parents again. Mary smiled and beckoned the girl over to her, and had her sit between them, playing with her long red curls as the girl looked up at them through sleepy eyes.
“I don’t know what to tell you. Marriage isn’t easy, Dear. It seems like yesterday when you were the bride here in this house. I think you have to talk to him and make it work,” he looked into her sad eyes, and offered, “Would you like me to talk to him?”
“No,” she was quick to reply. “He would be furious.” She started to cough. “We have to get back in and pay our respects to the beautiful bride. She is such a lovely New Year’s bride, isn’t she, Dad? She has so much hope for the future, doesn’t she?…” She sighed.
“Yes, she does,” he held her hand. “1967 is going to be a good year for all of us. You lie down,” he pulled her in for a hug and then encouraged her to rest. “You don’t look well. I’ll pass on your best wishes to the new couple.”
“Okay,” she agreed. She never left a social occasion early. He held out his hand to the small girl who looked up at them with wide green eyes. “And we need to find your parents, Missee,” he smiled down at her, and then led her out to the living room.
“It’s a beautiful place,” James looked around and then down at his phone where he typed a message. He looked up at me and then spoke a bit distractedly. “I do feel the energy that you are talking about.” We had wandered around the upstairs and we ended up in the owner’s daughter’s bedroom.
“Apparently this room has been reported to have ‘an unexplained chilly draft in one part of this room’”, I read the description of the room posted on the wall. “‘Over the years, various lodge caretakers and workers have reported sensing a ghostly, yet benevolent, presence about the property, particularly in the owner’s former bedroom’. Spooky!” I turned to James and we both looked out of the room with a stunning view of harbour. “This is the room where I smell a lot of lavender. I asked the lodge caretaker before if they used lavender oils or perfume in the room, and he said that they do not. He also confirmed that there was no longer lavender on the grounds because it was sometimes invasive to other flowers.”
James turned to with a strange look in his eyes. “I think you will have a significant moment in this room.”
“Really? Unless I break in here at night, I don’t think anything really interesting can really happen to me here with all of the tourist traffic,” I teased.
His phone chirped again, and he made apologies. “My girlfriend is texting me, and I’m going to have to go.” I was taken aback by the abrupt ending to our brief encounter. He continued, “It was nice meeting you. Remember, good things are going to happen to you in this house.” He said a quick good-bye, leaving me to wonder about where he would end up. I was left alone in the quiet of the house. I explored the adjoining dressing room with its built-in cupboards, and coal fireplace. I felt a presence, and heard a hint of laughter, but I wasn’t sure if it was my over-active imagination. I stayed still, listening.
“She is so perfect,” I held my sleeping grand-daughter, Jane, breathing in her lavender talcum powder while her mother, Andrea, explored the room. Jane’s little eye lashes fluttered and her tiny fingers twitched while she slept in my arms. I was in love with this little biological heirloom that my son and his wife had given our family
“This is an amazing house,” Andrea exclaimed as she wandered around the room, appreciating all of the antiques. “Do you think this room is really haunted?”
“I don’t know. I’ve always felt like it had something magical about it. Now you are here to share it with me,” I revelled in the intimacy of this moment together, just the three of us.
“It looks like they are setting up for a wedding on the front lawn?” she pointed down to a man who was setting up a table next to a full garden of pink hollyhocks. I leaned out of the open window, and recognized him. I couldn’t quite place where I had met him. He looked up to the window that we were leaning from, and squinted up at us.
“Hey, Christine,” he seemed excited to see me. “Remember me?”
“No,” I yelled back, smiling. My daughter-in-law’s awkward laughter suggested that this might have been a forgotten lover from days gone by.
Like a slow processing computer, my mind finally crunched out a memory of my very brief encounter with this man. “James! The backpacker. I remember you. God, it has been almost ten years. Do you work here now?”
“I took over that old caretaker’s job. It helped to be a long lost relative. I love the trees, and hell, the pay was pretty good. I got married too. We live in the little cottage behind the house in the forest,” and as an after thought he blurted, “…and you still have that pretty long red hair.”
I smiled a bit awkwardly. The dots in my head were starting to re-connect the many pieces of the puzzle of this house that we had spoken briefly about a decade ago. “I got married too, and we got married here in this house. This is my daughter-in-law, and their baby!” We both waved a bit awkwardly to him, holding up the sleeping baby who was oblivious to our hollering back and forth.
He gave us a thumbs up and flashed us those big white teeth. He still wore a flannel shirt, and I wondered if he had finally gotten shoe laces for his big boots. “You see,” he yelled up happily to remind her knowingly, “Good things did happen here, didn’t they?” Our conversation years ago had been a foretelling of things to come for me, and stirred a memory from my childhood that I had long forgotten.
“Yes, they did!” I gave him a thumbs up, and held my other hand to my heart at the immense realization of it all.