By the time I am back home from this trip I will have spent 1 year out of the last 5 and a half years over here. Quite an unsobering thought. And it feels great to be here again, at this very moment recovering from a sunshine-and-showers day of cycling and walking among the 200′ cedars, the Douglas Firs and the fossilised toadstool shapes of the giant shoreline rocks on Gabriola Island.
The arbutus trees look even better after rain, all vividly polished, smoothened strawberry trunks. The bark forms voluptuous layers of rusty flesh on a grey inner bone. It looks like half-solidified lava from some Icelandic volcano…whaheyhup! See what he did there!?
Yes, I managed to fly out on the first full day of operations at Heathrow. Thousands were locked out in the chilly dawn, but once the doors opened everything seemed really well organised. The flight left a mere 20 minutes late and seemed to go by very quickly courtesy of a couple of in-flight movies: Crazy Heart, a well-worn but well-told tale navigated superbly by Jeff Bridges; and Reel Indians, a Canadian documentary about the movie industry’s portrayal of native Americans and native Canadians from silent film to Atanarjuat the Fast Runner (highly recommended).
The journey got off to a great start thanks to the family Stevenson, new friends from some happy discourse on a ferry last time I was here. Kari and Russ’s house is undergoing major work, so I stayed for 3 nights chez Russ’s mother, Denise, in White Rock in a very beautiful cathedralette overlooking the Pacifc Ocean. A stunning home, and magnificent hospitality.
We walked Crescent Beach and the White Rock promenade. There is literally a huge erratic boulder on the beach, which is painted white by the locals. It reminded me of a horizontal version of the Bishop of Barf in the Lake District: the Bishop is a prominent rock which has to be whitewashed once a year by some lucky punter from the pub at the foot of the hill called Barf (North American readers can stop giggling now). The climb is up virtually sheer unstable scree.
So the Vancouver weekend was a combination of gentle walks, a very anatomical and visceral exhibition at the main Art Gallery, red wine in the evening sun aboard Denise’s 40′ cruising boat, some fine eating, meeting the excellent Erik, and a wonderful gig at the Rio Theatre (Dan Bern – one of the most interestingly original rootsish folk-rock performers I have seen in a long time…one of those nights when everyone streamed out buzzing with the sheer enjoyment of the music). Thank you so much, folks, I hope you enjoy the gift of my story(-ies)…
On Sunday I took the 2-hour ferry trip over to Vancouver Island from the Tswaessen terminal. It was more convenient but the really important thing is in the joy of the name! Tim, my cousin, met me in Nanaimo, straight from having done a big charity half-marathon in Victoria, and we headed over on a second ferry to Gabriola Island, where Tim lives with his wife, Michele. In Pick Up the Pieces I re-cast Gabriola as Ezekiola, about as thin a disguise as you can get I suppose. When I was a child I was given a superb comic strip version of the Old and New Testaments, and the illustrations to the Book of Ezekiel were very striking (and in the King James Bible the Book of Ezekiel is glorious poetry). The legacy of this was more a deep love of comics than a deep love of the Bible. (But of course there is more to say at a different time and place…oh, and Robert Crumb has recently done a version of the Book of Genesis)…
Tim has work commitments but I shall be on Gabriola for a few days, exploring and stravaiging all the parts of the island not parcelled off for future development. There are scores of bald eagles drifting around at dial-up speed whilst masses of smaller birds fly their Spring broadband ultra-fast missions. The shoreline rocks are covered in oyster shells, as big as Tesco’s extra large mangos. But salty and juicy rather than sweet and juicy. Both are good. And probably even better when eaten together.
Gabriola has a pub, a yachting and boating clubhouse restaurant, and some state-of-the-laid-back-art coffee bars. So there is ample opportunity to combine the seashore and the woods with some socialising. I have re-connected with Tim and Michele’s friends Larry and Steve, truly convivial company. In the Raspberry Coffee Bar I chatted to a smiley man who turns out to be one of the few accordeon tuners on the American continent (good accordeons need re-tuning every twenty years and the process takes a month) discussing the finer points of Tex-Mex accordeon music, as opposed to Italian and French accordeon music, as opposed to Gypsy accordeon music, as opposed to Argentinian tango accordeon music. We’re saving Cajun and Celtic music for next time.
I am also very much looking forward to the next stage, a journey up to Whitehorse in The Yukon Territory for my month-long house-sit, which is where the wilder shores really open up. From White Rock to White Horse, but for now bring on Red Arbutus, the colour of every red setter you’ve ever seen rippling by in bright sunlight.