Back Amongst the Arbutus Trees

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.

Ted xox


  1. All sounds very positive so far!

    This update made me feel hungry, reading some of the food references – and it’s too late here to rush out to buy mangoes to mash together with oysters. I have just bought Crumb’s illustrated slant at the bible from the comfort of my armchair though,

    Best, Chris P xx


    1. Great! I have only glanced at it in a shop so far. He’s such a great draughtsman that I’m sure it’s good stuff, even if he didn’t make the story up…
      When I was a kid someone spoilt the Bible for me by telling me “He dies in the end, you know”.
      Are you going to go to Wemberley with Jack to cheer Oxford back into the league??
      Ted xx


      1. A cracking result for Oxford, I’ve just watched the highlights of the match this morning. I did get a text from Jack but unfortunately I think I’m working on that Sunday and so won’t be able to witness Oxford make an overdue return to the big time.


      2. You know they got it wrong, don’t you, the person when you were a kid? And don’t you know I wouldn’t be able to resist commenting on that one!
        Gill x


  2. Hi Ted. WOW! It sounds wonderful. Look out for the Spirit bear. Amazing! Wathed it on Ray Mears programme. Carolyn x


  3. Ahhh… such bliss to have your wonderful travels so eloquently documented once again 🙂 It’s like finding out a favourite author has written another book… a sort of a sense of naughty pleasure and pure contentment! You sound very settled in already – must be an amazing place for you to be again. Have lots of fun xxx


  4. You mention lots of coffee bars, restaurants, pubs and gorgeous scenery etc but has it got a prison or at least the equivalent of our police stations???? xx


    1. Thank you for this enigmatic question, MadameLaPeep! Yep, there are baddies in BC and The Yukon (haven’t you ever heard of the Mounties??!…actually known as the RCMP). The crime rate is a lot lower than in the UK, though there are parts of the bigger cities that are similar, and there’s plenty of alcohol and drug abuse in some of the smaller, isolated communities. In general there is a much safer feel and there is a hugely lower rate of the public order, obnoxious nuisance type stuff that we get a lot of in the UK. There would be zero tolerance for anything remotely resembling what happens from Thursday to Sunday nights in our towns and cities. Much less community breakdown and a strong neighbourly culture. I think that some Canadians might say that there is a drift towards the bad stuff, but it’s all relative I suppose. I think it has a lot to do with population density…there are way fewer people here and they are mainly much more spread out, less in each other’s space!


      1. Thanks for the detailed reply!! Had been wondering specifically about Gabriola and what would happen there to deter miscreants!! Err yes I know about the Mounties (I’ve heard talcum powder helps!)but didn’t think a horse would be used for a minor, say shoplifting offence – although it would be able to jump the queue without too much trouble…
        Seriously, I am really enjoying all the great blogs and have just read the next one. Amazing about the snow. Hope it’s short lived and you get out and about ok. Thinking of you.


  5. Hi Ted

    Just read your blog for the first time. Sounds like all is going well. I am using a friend’s computer at the moment as I do not have access to my own. (long story) !! I have included my work e-mail address above, so when you get chance, drop me an e-mail and I will reply and tell you all.

    Best wishes



    1. Thanks, Liz. Today I finished the last of my LizandColin’s-damsons-flavoured flapjacks (carried a boxful in case I was hungry on the plane)!
      Send my very best wishes to the Poetry Group…I am working on one about clam shells after walking around acres of oyster and clam shells so thickly washed up by the tide that there was no visible sand beneath.
      Ted x


    1. Thanks for the comment…some of the exhibition was a little too ‘visceral’!
      Here’s hoping for a good result on Monday when Oxford play the second leg of the play-offs. A 1-1 away draw is at least better than having a deficit to make up. Come on you Yellows! Hat-trick for Beano!!!
      Loving you,
      Ted xxx


  6. You’re back in the land of the Canucks- Yeah and yippy! I’ll follow your progress with interest, assured in the knowledge that one day you’ll hit the Gold Trail and find your way to sunny downtown Ashcroft..


    1. Good question…not sure of the answer. I think that they are also in California and parts of the Oregon coast. They are also called madrona trees (strawberry in Spanish from when the ships from Spain explored the west coast). A coffee bar is about to open on Gabriola called Mad Rona’s…maybe someone should open a rival called R. Beateous…
      Ted x


  7. Hi Ted
    Already sounds amazing! It was worth the trip for those first few days adventures,by the time you return your journal will be too heavy to carry. I still have the card you sent me of the arbutus trees,so I can imagine where you are and what you are seeing.
    love suexxx


    1. Hi Sue,
      Yes, the Journal thing is interesting. I am still keeping one up despite the blog…it’s a nice relaxing thing to do, and it serves as a kind of inner blog I suppose. And it has scraps of ideas for poems and sections of writing too embarassing or unformed or libellous to share!
      I’m sure that some of my arbutus pictures will inspire you to a new sewing and/or quilting project…
      Ted x


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