I’m always quick to tell myself, and anyone who asks, that I don’t have a fear of heights. But then, every time I step out onto a skyscraper observation deck or mountain overlook, or, especially that one time in a hot air balloon over the Nevada desert, I remember, too late, that I do have an extremely robust fear of falling from a great height.
With that in mind, it took me a few minutes to adjust to the lurching and swaying motion of the Capilano Suspension Bridge beneath my feet. The bridge was reacting to the movement of others who were ahead of me or crossing back from the other side and as I stepped out onto the narrow slice of boardwalk, suspended by cables over a 230-foot chasm carved by the Capilano river, I was a bit unnerved.
The bridge, first constructed in 1889, is one of British Columbia’s most popular tourist attractions. It’s just minutes from downtown Vancouver but located in a 27-acre forested setting of massive Douglas Fir trees. I was there in December, in the early evening. The weak, wintry, daylight was fading and the colorful holiday “Canyon Lights” were strung across the deep gorge and on all the tall trees on either side of the canyon. It was a beautiful setting but, to be honest, I was only focused on getting to the other side.
Suddenly someone called out and I looked up just in time to see a large bald eagle fly directly beneath the bridge, directly beneath my feet, on its flightpath straight down the canyon.
I see eagles all the time, they’re not uncommon in my part of the country, but that’s always with my feet on the ground, looking up as the bird soars over me. This time I was was the one looking down, the one with the eagle-eye view. It was an exhilarating feeling. The bird’s white tail feathers stood out against its broad, darker, wings. In that instant I forgot my fear. I let out the breath I’d been holding. I loosened my grip on the cables and turned to follow the eagle until it disappeared around a bend.
By taking my eyes off the destination, the other side of the canyon at the end of the bridge, I was able to see the remarkable natural beauty that surrounded me; the rough stone walls of the gorge, the dense forest surrounding it, the tumbled rocks at the edge of the river and the way the lights glowed in the misty rain. I was in a beautiful place but I’d almost missed it.
With that, I took my hands off the cables and walked, slowly and deliberately, across the canyon to the other side. Before the light faded, I followed the tree walk, suspended, again, on a path strung along the trunks of a stand of giant fir trees. By the time I crossed the bridge to make my way back, the sky was dark and I could no longer see the canyon below.
Riding back to the city, watching the taillights of the evening traffic through the rain-splashed windows of the taxi, I decided at that moment that the eagle I’d seen shooting like an arrow through the canyon would be my guide for the coming year; a reminder that sometimes the easiest way to suspend fear is to simply let go, take a deep breath and move on.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ (available at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org