Celestial Quebec
Story and photos by David Lee Drotar



A visitor flies and sees the supernatural come to life in the forest and looks to the sky over the Eastern Townships…then enters it.


Quebec travel

It was the manifestation of a recurrent dream, a scene that sleep analysts report as one of the most common themes; that of flying. Suspended over a forested ravine in the Eastern Townships of Quebec Province, I slowly pedaled through the treetops on a hot July afternoon. Gentle cooling breezes rustled through hemlock and maple trees while the friendly calls of chickadees punctuated the sound of the rippling creek below.

A strange Zen-like bubble of calm encased me along my flight path. Like the pleasant scene that sleep brings the lucky dreamer, I was floating. Lying in the recumbent position, I weaved through the branches, my VeloVolant (flying bicycle) guided by the overhead cable. The hanging device sometimes swayed when I shifted my weight, but never tipped at a frightening angle. Cradled by the padded seat, I did not experience the sensation of vertigo.

canopy

"How did you come up with this?" I had asked co-owner Jeremy Fontana who met his future wife and business partner, Julie Zeitlinger at a Stephen Hawking conference.

After visiting the area as a guest a decade ago, the stressed-out advertising executive bought the mountainside property that attracts campers, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.

"We wanted to expand the region's appeal," he said, "but we didn't want an adrenaline activity like ziplines. Who wants to hear people yelling and screaming when they come to the mountains to relax?" He saw the prototype for the flying bicycle on a different jaunt in Mexico and wondered if it could be installed on the rugged terrain here.

Quebec bridge

During the required safety briefing and video, I was told to think of the suspended bicycle as a hammock with peddles. I spent the next hour in contemplation and completed the circuit relaxed and refreshed, as if gently waking from the pleasant dream of a deep slumber.

But that evening, as I lay in a real bed watching a vivid lightning storm illuminate the mountains outside my window, the active night sky beckoned me to delve into the cosmos further. I would continue my quest by driving east through the province.

By day, I explored the verdant hillsides and broad valleys along the United States border where Revolutionary-era Loyalists whose allegiance remained with the British monarchy settled after the war. I drove past the rolled hay bales of well-tended farms and sauntered through the manicured grounds and chapel of the abbey at Saint-Benoit-du-Lac where prayers were sent skyward, and the cheese and chocolate byproducts of the monastic life could be purchased in the basement. I precariously stepped onto North America's longest suspended foot bridge dangling 150 feet over the Coaticook Gorge and listened to the echoes of the boulder-filled river cut by a receding glacier millennia ago.

At night, I entered the forest again.


spooky Quebec forest

Foresta Lumina

I stepped into a bizarro world where everything was topsy-turvy. Fearless kids comforted their queasy parents as families crossed the swaying suspension bridge outlined in white lights against the black sky.

Amid the swirling fog of the humid night, the twinkling forest faeries greeted their guests who paused at the gate and whispered their secret wishes. I slowly wandered over the woodland trail, the gorge's benevolent spirits guiding me around roots and rocks through the magical dimension of an elaborate outdoor holographic production. With the technology driving the experience totally concealed by the vegetation, I felt as if I was in the middle of an unfolding fable where the archetypes of the forest played out their predestined folkloric narrative.

devil

In this world, dead trees come back to life and play tricks on the humans passing by. The gnarly bark twisted itself into a facial pattern, taunting me to come closer as it burst into flames and burned to disintegrating embers. The effect was so realistic that I waited until the light faded and the original standing timber re-emerged in the shadows of the night. I carefully walked on.

I watched the forces of good and evil do battle. Taking the form of a man, the devil stirred up the hell fires but could not defeat the inherent goodness of an innocent girl whose spirit had danced in the Coaticook woodlands for decades.

I passed through a spooky, cleansing thunderstorm and soon found myself at the bottom of the rocky gorge alongside the rushing river. I hiked past massive rock walls through clusters of glowing, Stonehenge-like cairns, all the while the tree canopy lit from the underside in a red and green pinpoint pattern that directed my gaze upward. Although I was perfectly safe, I realized that ancient peoples feared and respected the night. Attributing events in their lives to occult forces beyond their control, they spent centuries trying to light the dark.

But now there was too much of a good thing.




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