Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Salt Spring Island Part 1: So Close And So Far Away

“It is wonderful to feel the grandness of Canada in the raw,
not because she is Canada but because she's something sublime that you
were born into, some great rugged power that you are a part of.”
~Emily Carr

In June of 2008 I visited Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. It is a small island (70 sq mi) a short ferry ride from Victoria on one side and Crofton on the other. There are more routes by ferry but those are the only two that come to mind at present.

This was my sixth time visiting British Columbia and each time I enjoy myself even more. From the first time I landed in Vancouver years ago I knew that some corner of BC or, certainly the west coast of Canada, was going to be my home one day. When that day will be is still up in the air, but I am patient. I know its not going anywhere, and it gives me something to aim for as the cost of living is a lot higher out there. I will not be dissuaded however. British Columbia is in my blood. I don't want to write off The Yukon of course, as I still have to visit Whitehorse and explore there, but British Columbia, with its wet weather, cool temperatures and excellent coffee, is always beckoning.

Eagles, greenery, good company and fresh air. What more could one ask for?

After a few days reconnecting with my good friend Anne in Duncan, she dropped me off at the Crofton-Vesuvius crossing over to Salt Spring Island. There were bald eagles fishing and the sky was overcast as I spied the small ferry starting its 20 minute journey over to our side of the blue grey water. I was going to meet my friend John, explore, and take in this small island which so many artists and craftspeople are drawn towards.

The section of the wildly immaculate garden at my Bed And Breakfast

I made my through the circuitous backroads that run in veins around the island. There are only 10,000 people who live on Salt Spring Island, depending on the season I think. From the moment I stepped off of the ferry I knew I was truly somewhere special. I had been forewarned of this phenomenon by Anne and others. I remember musing to myself "really? Could it be that different from the rest of Vancouver Island?" It really was. If you can believe it, the pace was even SLOWER than the rest of the west coast that I had experienced. It was in the air. It had a charm without being cloying. It was quaint without being precious. I fell in love with it immediately.

The harbor in Ganges, the hub of the island where there is
a fantastic market on weekends.

I spent some time with John and his family and then poked around Ganges, enjoying some of the best coffee I had ever had. People were friendly and laid back and it was easy to strike up conversations with just about anyone. I encountered the same thing in Newfoundland. Actually, Virginians too are some of the friendliest folks I have ever met. In Ontario we are friendly, but we tend to be a little more aloof than people I have met on the coasts. We are a bit more insulated and self-contained, whereas easy small talk seems almost rote out east and west. That brief connection goes deeper than you would expect. It supports a feeling of community and warmth that roots you to a place, that fosters affection. Salt Spring had that energy to it.

This affable and humble gentleman was collecting money for ALS
research outside the supermarket in Ganges

The weather during my stay was as changeable as any twelve hours in England. I find their climates similar and perhaps that is why I enjoy BC so much. I love the rain and the cold. Perhaps I am odd, perhaps its genetic, but give me a cloudy day with layers of sweaters and a mug of coffee over sitting and sweating in 30 degree Celsius heat any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

No multiplexes here. The movie theatre on Salt Spring Island.
No, I'm not kidding. 

John was celebrating his birthday and there was a great party lined up for the weekend at Beaver Point Hall on the south end of Salt Spring. The building had so much character, with beautiful hardwood all throughout. It was a perfect place for a gathering and yet another opportunity to meet some pretty terrific people.

Beaver Point Hall

Festivities continued late into the night.

I had plenty of time to go on some hikes and wander around Salt Spring as I was there for four days. Up at the top of the island I visited Booth Bay Beach. I remember stepping on to the rocks as it was low tide and seeing the earth shift all around me. For a moment I could not register what I was seeing. The very ground seemed alive. It was then that I realized that millions of crabs were moving like a living carpet along the sand and rocks. I stepped carefully around them as I hopped from rock to rock, all the time appreciating how privileged I was to share this space with them. I moved along side of them as they went about their daily ebbs and flows of habit and instinct. They were primitive, beautiful, ephemeral, fragile and resilient at the same time. I was moved then and I am still moved by them now as I write this.

I was the only one on Booth Bay Beach, but one of millions too,
 including this Great Blue Heron.

The environment was filled with all sorts of exciting textures and colours. I loved their variety and unique qualities. Below are some examples. 

Driftwood with lines like fields of wheat or canyons from space

Shells like pale spectres sitting on wet driftwood

Barnacles cling, petrified, to the rock

Silvery driftwood that appears charred

My favorite tree: Arbutus. Arbutus is very unique and found in only a few places on the planet

I had a lot of time to myself during my stay on Salt Spring Island. I was careful to be as open to impression as I could be. I tried to keep my mind uncluttered with its usual staccato chatter that can periodically unhinge me. I simply relished its silence and let it soak in, setting aside this special time, unfettered by obligations, prompted on simply by my own two feet, the map in my hand and my trusty camera. It was a time of contrasts. Lots of convivial company with John and his friends and family, plus lots of time to simply let the rest of the world drift away for a time. I have never experienced lucid dreaming but I would guess the experience was similar to that phenomenon: you are aware that you are sleeping, yet acutely aware of what you are dreaming about. Salt Spring was a bit like that. I will write more about my time there soon. 

Have a wonderful day/evening/night/morning, wherever you are,


"We live in a very tense society. We are pulled apart....and we all need to learn how to pull ourselves together...I think that at least part of the answer lies in solitude." ~Helen Hayes

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've been to Vancouver island a dozen times or so in the last twenty years...always meant to jump over to Salt Spring for a day or two....never did make it....thanks for showin' me around, I too would love to live somewhere on the island....Tofino...Victoria....Sooke....Qualicum beach....the whole island is beautiful...the ocean...the cedar trees...the book stores...the moss...the eagles...the swirling unseen energy of Emily Carr...the beaches...the sound of the surf...the hiking trails...the hidden world of Roy Henry Vickers...the salmon...the ravens...the light...aaaaaaahhhhh have a wonderful day Heather.