Rithet’s Bog is one of the ecological glories of Vancouver Island. It is an important haven for more flora and fauna than the average person can identify. It is a beloved site for committed and casual birdwatchers. It provides handy and not-too-difficult walking paths with lovely vistas for folk of all ages and a convenient course for fleet-of-foot runners. Dog owners love it as an “on leash” natural area where they may enjoy a brisk, stimulating outing with their pets. Motorists find it a splendid visual break in any season from the grayness of the highway that borders it. The volunteers who work hard to control invasive species such as poison hemlock, blackberry and broom and the Society that advises Saanich on its care view it as a wonder and a cause. For many others it is an enchantment where they were young and in love with their future spouses.
The Bog is all of these things to my family but in the last couple of years it has a further, extended significance to us: it resides in our hearts as a port of natural physical therapy.
Eighty-two-year-old David is my cherished near relative and I am his chief caregiver. He has had a severe heart condition for many years and two years ago, during one of his bouts in hospital for his treatment, suffered a massive stroke that left him speechless, paralyzed, and unable to take food by mouth. After brain surgery he was nearly given up on, but doctors did not count on his strong Irish genes and indomitable will. Over ten weeks he regained his speech, his ability to eat, and the full use of his limbs, though walking took a long time to approach any level of normalcy.
Once he was released and he no longer required a wheel chair he could shuffle perhaps fifty feet, but the distance increased weekly until he was able to walk the length of Dalewood Lane just above the bog. He has always loved the bog and simply seeing it again on a regular basis gave him a lift like few others. He never lost a moment spent in regret that he could no longer walk its entire perimeter, but instead took joy in its sights and sounds.
Of an early evening we would watch the sky blacken with birds swarming to their roosting place for the night. David observed these intently, having had it explained to him that birds do this for protection: one among many is less likely to be singled out by predators, and many ears can listen for sounds of danger. “They are like the convoys I was in during the war in the Atlantic. Strength in numbers and protection.” This is a simple analogy, a ready comparison for anyone who had ever served in the forces. In this context, however, it was significant. David’s mind was healing and his essential self returning. On another occasion, in the spring of last year, we heard the tree frogs set up their cacophony, as I put it. David would have none of it: “No, not cacophony at all but modernist dissonance. Stravinsky, Britten, or Barber could not have done it better. He listened for quite some time each evening as if to a score of major importance. “I’m so happy to be alive to hear it and lucky to live near this place.”
I knew all along that the beauty of Rithet’s Bog was one of those elements that would encourage his return to health and to focus his mind. David is indeed fortunate to know the Bog in a way he would never have imagined before his illness.
Aren’t we all, whatever our present state?