I took the picture below just off of the coast of Vancouver Island last Monday. Seeing this ball-like cloud from the Tsawwassen-to-Swartz Bay ferry felt like a ‘message’ of sorts, confirming that my visit to Victoria was for me (as I was already feeling) an exercise in coming full circle.
Ten days ago I left my young family at home to travel back to a place which has always (also) felt like home to me (Oh, what a tangled web we weave, said Walter Scott).
(Retrieved from http://forums.longhaircommunity.com/archive/index.php/t-94966.html)
The first tread of this strong weave came into being during from my first visit to Vancouver Island in the summer of 1995. I made that trip with two of my dearest friends named Jennifer, both; together we personified three distinct sections of an effective braid. But first (to loop back to the beginning) with the collective guidance of our parents we had bought an old blue station wagon for the trip we were planning. One which would see us spending the summer driving, and camping our way across Canada.
We named that wagon ‘Mona’. Now, if ever a real reason existed for that name, I can no longer remember it. In all likelihood, Mona was a combination of habit, and artistry on behalf of a woman who – to this day – still possesses an active and brilliant imagination… No matter, off we ventured from New Brunswick, a drift on the voices of Janice Joplin, The Grateful Dead and Ani DiFranco rolling out from our CD player and weaving a map from our collective emotions and pulling us along the Trans Canada wrapped in the comfortable metallic hug of Mona‘s cocoon.
The summer of 1995 is now so far back in my memory that it has the impression of having almost happened to another woman – almost – except for the fact that each moment of my life has been shaped by the emotional sensation and texture of my first step onto island’s soil.
I remember feeling so wonderfully unencumbered that summer. We were on our own, out in the world just the three of us, crossing the big beautiful, richly woven landscape of Canada. We stopped when we felt like it, camping at each site for only as long as we liked.. Just before the trip, I’d cut my trade mark long curly hair pixie-short, and the girls kept it trim for me with the pair of scissors from my Swiss Army knife. Those were our days (I recognize that the expression is “those were the days”, but I don’t believe any of us felt that we were living in a particularly historic or enduring time, yet we did seem to recognize that this was our time. We intended to fully wrap ourselves within it.)
That summer of 1995 we learned to camp, to use a gas stove, plug a leak in the tube of our engine fluid, and to get along as a ‘family of three’. We danced late into the night at music festivals (Another Road Side Attraction), caused a fuss at a few bars (Bourbon Tabernacle Choir), and discovered for ourselves the landscapes which we had only ever witnessed previously in books or on TV. To be certain, the Canadian shield was vast in Ontario, the Rocky Mountains were colossal and magnificent, and the turquoise water of Lake Louise were majestic, truly breath taking as they’d ever appeared on the CBC. (I remember watching the CBC special below from my grandmother’s house. It’s Canadian olympian Brian Orser is skating on Lake Louise..)
However, I’ll never forget arriving on Vancouver Island. Arriving on the island for me was like realizing that you had been holding your breath for years and year then, all of a sudden, taking that first free, deep breath.
(Sidney, BC. photo retrieved from http://www.victoria-bc-vacation-paradise.com/camping-on-vancouver-island.html)
The girls and I camped on a long beach just outside of the small town of Sydney on our first night. Camping there was already illegal in 1995 but still early days, so no one really enforced the rule. The air was full of the smell of marijuana and patchouli, mixed with drift wood and seaweed.
I remember driving up the YOS (Malahat Mountain) better known as Malahat Drive, one of the most sacred places of First Nations on southern Vancouver Island (Grateful Dead sticker in the back window) and pulling our station wagon over next to the small thunderbird-totem which marks the peak of the mountain. We got out and looked down into the water of the Saanich Inlet and across to the Salish Sea – a view that in the years since I have had the privilege of witnessing many many times. I remember the trees – the most monstrous beings that any of us had ever seen, and the one subject that non of the postcards could never have prepared us for… so majestic.
Totem pole on YOS (Malahat Mountain). Photo: tourist postcard, 2006 (retrieved from http://www.firstnations.de/development/coast_salish-yos.htm)
Just two summers previous were the Clayoquot protests on the territory of the Nuu-chah-nulth people. Those protests are often sited as the largest protests of their kind against logging of in the temperate rainforest, and the biggest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. Protesters had come to Claquot Sound on the west coast of the island from all over the world to form human barricades to save the trees and in the summer of 1995 people were still trickling in still to see the trees and visit the location. The energy of that protest still loomed large during the summer of 1995. That was the first summer that I’d ever slept out on a beach (in the years since, I’ve done so many times), that I’d heard drums around a campfire, that I’d seen such BIG, wise trees. I remember so many trees.
There are many more stories, but suffice it to explain that I ended up back on the East Coast swiftly near the end of that summer, and not by my original design. Yet, I never forgot about that island…
In 2002, seven years and a bachelor’s degree from Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design later, I was emitted into the masters program in visual art at the University of Victoria. I was returning to the island with my then boyfriend – now husband. (Jeff and I had known each other previously, but fallen for each other hard during the time my girlfriends and I had visited his place in Saskatoon during our ‘95 tour). It wasn’t my first trip back, as we’d been living in Vancouver and come over a few times to visit friends, however this was different. This was the first time that Vancouver Island would be the place that I could ‘hang my hat’.
Then eleven years, two children and as many houses later in the summer of 2013, we packed another car (this time one from a dealership and with many more ‘safety features’) and again headed out for a cross Canada tour only this time headed in the opposite (eastern) direction; we were headed away from what feels/felt like my heart’s home, and towards the direction of our extended-family roots.
By which time we had built for ourselves on Vancouver Island a community of friends who had seen us through scary home renovations, more summer music festivals, endless camping adventures, marriages and break-ups, and the birth of our two beautiful babies. We’d spend Christmases in Victoria, New Years in Uklulet, Easter at Mystic Beach near the Juan de Fuca trailhead and countless other occasions cavorting the island’s coast.. We’d rented houses on the beach with our friends, logged hours attempting to learn to surf and start beach fires with wet wood, barbequed our fair share of wild west coast salmon, and captured crabs with our bare hands; in short we’d built a nice life.
And yet, that summer three years ago when we moved, it was for solid reasons. Non that I was actually ready to accept – truth be told – but they were sound. So, in the end when the time came, we made all of our final rounds, had our last meal of fish, and said our goodbyes to the west coast.
(*map retrieved from http://www.firstnations.de/img/01-0-first-nations.jpg)
I felt that as we drove eastward we were somehow, irreparably tearing up the landscape behind us as we drove, decimating any possibility of a road back as we drove East. I recognize now, just how much I’ve ached over the subsequent years – grieved even – for our time in BC and in particular for our life on Vancouver Island. It was as though I’d come to believe that somehow I’d never actually get back there.
Last Monday, I went back to Victoria. I had a paper accepted to the Canadian Society for Education Through Art’s annual conference being held at the University of Victoria. And (to my surprise?) the island was all still there. (I know, that sounds terribly narcissistic and I’m sorry for it. I mean to express the depth of loss I felt..) And the strangest thing, I feel now that this visit has somehow removed the spell which I’ve been under. This is not to say that I am falling out of love with the island, in fact not in the least. Rather what last week’s visit did for me was to break the curse of my pining for Victoria. Instead of seeing what I can’t have, or I’ve ‘lost’, what I saw was happiness. I was reminded of goodness, of all of the beauty which the time on Vancouver Island has brought to my life. I met up with friends out there, and they had not forgotten us – missed us as we’d been missing them in fact. I saw and remembered love, light, and a city that will always have represent a large section of the weave of my personality; a big part in who I’ve been and will continue to be moving forward.
So today, I am flying back home (to my sweet little family, as well as many members of my generous, and loving extended family). I’m feeling happy, and feeling like my heart is full & light, rather then full & heavy. Vancouver Island tightly woven into who I am; it is in me (not to suggest that it’s mine – it belongs to the Indigenous Peoples of that land– rather what I mean is that I will always belong to it in some way) and I wrap myself in it, wherever I go.
Humankind has not woven the web of life.
We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together.
All things connect.
-Chief Seattle, 1854
(woven heart image retrieved from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/151433606199648631/)