This is the life: Just a coincidence

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I am not much of a believer in old adages like “Everything happens for a reason” and “It was meant to be.” As I age, though, it seems like I am confronted by coincidental occurrences that might cause others to look skyward in wonder.

Some background is needed for the latest strange bumping together of two seemingly different occurrences. On July 11th our family marked the passing of my oldest niece who, with her boyfriend, died in a hiking accident near Canmore in 2005. Regular readers with excellent memories occasionally bring up the column I wrote afterward, describing—dare I say it—the happenstance of my being in Calgary for eye surgery on the days that the pair went missing and when the awful news came from the police. I was staying at my sister and brother-in-law’s home when late on a Sunday afternoon word came that their tent had been set up in a campground the day before, but there were no signs of the young couple or their vehicle.

Early the next morning, after a restless night for all of us, another phone report informed Shawna’s parents that the vehicle had been located at a trailhead, and that a search was being organized. Despite advice to the contrary, the agonized parents began to prepare to make the hour’s drive west, just to be nearer to the search operation. The phone rang shortly before they were to leave, saying that the bodies had been located and RCMP and a victim’s assistance councillor were on their way. My sister fell into my arms sobbing and I grabbed her husband as he stumbled past. As we stood hugging and crying, Shawna’s youngest sister came upstairs from her room, realized what had happened, shrieked and ran out the door, heading to a nearby girlfriend’s house, unwilling or unable to face the tragic news head on.

A few weeks ago I got an email about a hike planned to introduce locals to a new trail about 25km west of Creston on Highway 3. The trail, called the Char Creek Cedars Walk, is being constructed by the Trails for Creston Valley Society, and is a tribute to the late and lamented Ralph Moore. Moore, for those who didn’t know him, was a great outdoorsman and a marvelous champion for our natural world. He knew the mountains and valleys of the Kootenays, I am sure, as well as anyone. Ralph championed the Char Creek area as an ideal site for a network of trails, partly because it is as good an area to snowshoe in winter as it is to hike in summer, but also because it features gigantic trees, most notably cedars.

The hike was planned for last Wednesday afternoon and I, along with about three dozen others, gathered to hear Mary Jane Blackmore talk about the area, and reminisce about tramping through the bush as Ralph waxed enthusiastic about the area’s low impact recreation potential. We then made our way to what really an outline of the first phase, brush cleared and rudimentary trail clearing done on a 1.3km circular route. It is spectacular.

It wasn’t until later that evening when I began to process an email post that same day by Shawna’s youngest sister, Corinna. My niece had reposted on Facebook photos from two years ago on that day: “Today I hiked for the first time in 9 years. After losing Shawna in her hiking accident, I never wanted anything to do with it ever again. But I decided this was the year to start again and through a couple tears and being accompanied by my dear friend Sean Peters, I did it, loved every minute of it and have never felt closer to Shawna than I did in those mountains today.”

I posted a note of encouragement for her, and spent the next while thinking about how this year hiking has become more important to me than any other time in my life, and about how it affords the opportunity to quietly reflect. The truth is, my thoughts during those hikes often turn to Ralph Moore and Shawna Rae Demmers, people I miss dearly. I will admit to a little shiver, thinking about the coincidence of hiking on a trail Ralph dreamed of creating on the same date that Corinna had found the inspiration to go on a hike of her own, and that she had chosen to share that memory two years later.

I am determined not to overthink the coincidence, but I relish it having happened.