It was a crack of 9 start from Highland House. I drove out of the lane, greeted a friendly Paint who stood, head over the fence, watching me leave. He didn’t mind having his picture taken. He seemed accustomed to the attention. Jill, the B&B owner, had hauled him, and seven equine friends, (including a super inquisitive miniature pony who liked to sneak out of the corral and visit guests whenever he could – he’s not a bear Jill had warned me), west from Ottawa two years prior when she picked up stakes in search of a new way of life. Her job in the hi-tech sector had collapsed with the market. With few job prospects she took up the challenge of taking over her father’s business at Highland House.
“I haven’t had a lot of time to market both the B&B and my equestrian school,” she told me. “But my son loves it here. He’s really thriving and I love it. The business will come.”
And I’m sure it will. Relaxed after my one night sojourn, I know I will make plans to return – it is a perfect place for a writer’s retreat or simply a get-away.
I headed westward along a secondary road, postponing my re-entry onto freeway driving as long as possible. The road wound through high plains, along lakeshore where water lay tranquil in the morning sun. This is True Grit country. Vast expanses of plains punctuated with craggy outcroppings and rock. Fir and pine stand sentinel, silent witness of time passing. Evidence of the pine beetles' voracious appetite can be seen everywhere. Pine trees stand denuded or in semi-robed state with rusted red needles tinder dry. Nature has its way of impressing upon mankind its unrelenting force and beast, no matter how small, ensures we humans understand our place.
Driving west pulls the thread of memory into the present. Dark grey tarmac, yellow ribbon dividing right from left, pulls me into the past as I move forward.
I have driven this road many times and still the view, the aura of journeying westward entrances me.
On the ferry leaving Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo
When my daughters were in their middle school and high school years we’d set out every Easter break for the coast, the car laden with their essentials for a week long holiday at Tofino, a little piece of paradise on the far west coast of Vancouver Island.
One year, Liseanne, the youngest, desperate to test the extent of my tolerance asked if she could bring her Beanie Baby collection (those small stuffed animals that were the rage when she was in her tweens.)
Sure I replied.
Her sister, Alexis, (the eldest and as she used to like to tell me, -- the better mother :) )was aghast. You know how many she has, mom? You can’t let her bring them all.
I smiled. Why not? I asked. We’re in the car. There’s room.
One hundred and sixty-seven Beanie Babies later, the car was loaded with three girls (they always brought a friend along on the trip), various bags and suitcases, food for the road, food for the cabin, food for just in case and an assortment of games and books to ensure our week long stay at Middle Beach Lodge would not lack for things to do – which it never did.
The year of the Beanie Babies however, I had decided we should try a different resort. When we arrived at the Wickinannish Inn, a very exclusive and beautiful resort, the valet opened the rear passenger door and out tumbled one hundred and sixty-seven Beanie Babies. Liseanne followed in their wake, asking the bellhop if he’d mind loading them all on their own luggage cart. Beanie Babies don’t like being handled like luggage – don’t you know?
The next year there were no Beanie Babies on the trip. Only Powlie, her giant, overstuffed polar bear who travelled everywhere with her. He even had his own seat on a flight once (mostly because the seat beside her was empty – and Polar bears don’t like being stuffed in the overhead bins – don’t you know?)
One year, during a period when I was working with street teens, the girls took it upon themselves to do a photo-shoot on the beach. They hauled make-up, a suitcase of clothes and the video camera to the shoot location and proceeded to video each other dressed up in the latest fashions.
Having met many of the teens I was working with (I was writing a play with them which we produced and staged as part of a benefit concert I organized) Alexis and Liseanne convinced their friend Vicky – who was travelling with us that year – that they should do a special segment of their video in honour of the girls they had met in the play.
And thus, one of their most memorable videos was created. “Hooker on the Beach”.
Dusk draws the sun into night on the ferry to Gabriola
Twelve years later, I still haven’t shown Vicky’s mother the footage of her daughter strutting her stuff on Long Beach.
In the video, Alexis, the official documentary interviewer, asks her erstwhile subject about her life with great seriousness. (In the background you can hear the videographer, Liseanne, giggling and egging her on with suggestions of what to ask and how Vicky should behave and answer.)
They had learned well the art of ‘hooking’ from the young girls they had met during the course of my research into teen prostitutes and street children in Calgary.
“So Miss Precious, can you tell me how you find men on the beach to be your customers?”
“It’s easy,” replies Miss Precious who is chomping gum as loudly as possible. “I’m so beautiful they can’t resist me.”
Nope. Don’t think even now I’ll share that particular piece of footage with Vicky’s mother!
Those were unforgettable years and form the fabric of our lives. And while I was somewhat aghast as to the subject matter of their video, there was an innocence and a depth of compassion and understanding to what they were doing and what they had learned about these young girls.
In the course of my work with street teens I stood out posing as a prostitute one night. The girls were curious about the work I was doing, and the work these young girls did. One day, shortly after my ‘night on the street’, Alexis and I were walking with Bella, their old dog, and she asked me. “Why do they do it mommy?”
“Like you and me, they are looking for someone to love them. For many, they’ve never known what that feels like,” I replied before adding, “And this is the only path they know.”
Alexis listened intently, as she always does, put her arm around my waist, leaned her head against my shoulder and whispered, “I’m so glad I know you love me.”
The road pulled me further westward, to my daughter Alexis. I’m so glad she was there waiting so that I could remind her, “I love you.”
Always have. Always will.
Dinner at the Marina
My sister, Anne, and I took the ferry to Vancouver Island last night and just made the 7:20 to Gabriola. After a beautiful dinner overlooking the marina, we headed home to their house on the island – a delightful retreat from it all. Anne takes the ferry back tonight and I shall be alone to stretch my creative muscle and revel in the wonders of this little piece of paradise here on Gabriola Island.
At 7 tonight, the course begins. It's rather an intensive schedule -- 9am to noon. 2 to 4pm. 7 to 9pm.
I'm looking forward to it.
No Internet at the house, so I'm sitting in a delightful cafe soaking up the island charm and drinking tea while Anne sits on the garden patio reading. How blissful.
You'll find me here, every morning during the week, I'm sure. I'll watch out for you!