Tall, Dark, and Mysterious


Off the beaten path

File under: Home And Native Land, Talking To Strangers, What I Did On My Summer Vacation. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 10:04 pm.

I never got around to writing about my tour of the Gulf Islands last June.

* * *

The public transit system that serves the Gulf Islands is unreliable when you’re in a hurry, but it’s friendly and it’s free. During my forays onto Salt Spring and Pender, I quickly marked myself as an outsider by looking askance as would-be commuters faced me, their thumbs extended. I recognized that this was how Islanders got by, but I was raised in a city, where strangers were not to be trusted.

The three picnickers on Cortes Island were different, however, and I slowed down when I saw them. The oldest of the them thanked me for stopping, and told me that she wasn’t coming along for the ride, but that Megan and Katie appreciated not having to walk to the community hall on such a hot day. No problem, I replied; I was happy to help. But I wasn’t from around here; where, I asked, was the community hall? The woman pointed to a junction on my map - not far at all - and thanked me again. She paused before turning around, and then said to the other two, strapped into seatbelts in the backseat - careful the traffic when you cross the street.

I introduced myself to my passengers. They were sisters, as I’d suspected. Megan was nine, and Katie was seven, and they were going to the community hall to rehearse for a play.

* * *

I never met the host of the inn on Mayne Island where I spent a rainy night. I’d called the innkeeper a few nights before to reserve a room, and she’d told me that she probably wouldn’t be around when I arrived. But she’d leave me a note and a key in the mailbox, and I should make myself at home as soon as I got in.

When I got off the ferry, I headed right for the inn, but I didn’t see a sign. I stopped at a bakery to ask for directions, and the baker asked me my name. “Oh, she told me she was expecting you,” he said when I answered. “Inn’s right next door, behind the tree. It’s hard to see the sign from the road.”

I thanked him, and found the key. The $60 room I’d booked was larger than my apartment. It had huge windows on two sides, and I selected a bed adjacent to one of them. I awoke early the next morning; my host was nowhere to be found. I put some money and a thank-you note in an envelope, stuck the envelope under the door, and left.

There was a note posted on the front door. It was dated two days earlier; I’d obviously missed it when I arrived. In the same formal script that had appeared on my note was a message: I will be out of town all week. If you would like a room at the inn, please see the baker next door.

* * *

Denman Island is the flattest of the Gulf Islands, and as such, it is also one of the most cyclist-friendly. There are bikes everywhere on the island - in the many parks, in front of the community school, in the middle of driveways. Unlocked, all of them.

“You can’t leave your bike unattended for a minute where I live,” I remarked to the owner of the bed and breakfast. “I lock mine even when I’m just running in and out of a store; otherwise, someone would take it for sure. It’s amazing that you can trust that no one would do that here.”

She shrugged. “People take bikes here, too,” she said.

“And you still leave them like that?” I said, gesturing toward the trendy mountain bike that was propped up against a tree.

“They take them, but we always end up finding them sooner or later,” she said. “I know what my neighbour’s bike looks like, and so does everyone else. Someone finds a purple hybrid near the Hornby ferry, they know it’s his.” And then, almost as an afterthought: “It’s an island. How far could they go?”


  1. I live in Vancouver now, though I’m originally from Newfoundland, and the latter part of your post reminded me of home. One day outside of the supermarket I not only left my car accidentally unlocked — I left it RUNNING. I was in the store a good half an hour, and when I got outside it was still there, idling in the parking lot. :)

    - PhilipJ — 9/23/2005 @ 10:29 pm

  2. That sounds consistent with everything I’ve ever read about Newfoundland, and it makes me want to visit even more. (Newfoundland is one of two provinces I haven’t visited - I’d wanted to go last year, when I saw the other Maritime provinces, but I wasn’t around long enough. Damn.)

    A few weeks ago, I read The Day the World Came to Town - an account of the flights that were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, on September 11, 2001. This book is quite possibly the warmest, fuzziest book ever written. The Gander natives were insanely generous to the displaced passengers. One family offered some of the visitors the use of their car. “We usually leave the keys in the ignition in the driveway,” they said, “and we’ll be out all day, so help yourself.”

    I love small communities, but I also recognize that I could never move TO one - I’d always be an outsider.

    - Moebius Stripper — 9/23/2005 @ 11:04 pm

  3. The other province being Saskatchewan?

    - wolfangel — 9/24/2005 @ 7:07 am

  4. I really liked St. John’s when I was there for CUMC a couple of years ago. We got a bit lost on the streets late at night, rather like Boston streets actually. No right angles there! It would be neat to see [parts of] the rest of Nfld some time, and also the two provinces (and three territories) I haven’t been to yet.

    - plam — 9/26/2005 @ 12:04 pm

  5. Oops, didn’t see this a few days ago. Wolfangel - no, it’s Manitoba. I actually spent a few days in Saskatchewan five years ago. And Alberta only counts in the airport sense, and I plan to actually go to Alberta at some point.

    - Moebius Stripper — 9/26/2005 @ 1:35 pm

  6. Speaking from experience here:  Winterpeg, Manifroza is not to be visited without proper equipment.  Heavy coat, thermal underwear and balaclava are essential, and a sled and team of huskies is recommended.


    - Engineer-Poet — 9/26/2005 @ 3:36 pm

  7. I couldn’t decide between Manitoba or Saskatchewan for a while, but thought that at least you’d lived in a province that touched Manitoba. I’ve only been in 4 provinces. I would like to do some real Atlantic province visiting, one day.

    - wolfangel — 9/27/2005 @ 7:52 am

  8. To make a pedantic (though this is the kind of place that would appreciate them!) comment, Newfoundland [& Labrador] is strictly speaking not part of the maritimes. When we joined confederation, Joey Smallwood didn’t want to assume we could share the title so “the atlantic provinces'’ were born, consisting of the maritimes+Newfoundland.

    I do recommend a visit, the late summer is particularly nice!

    - PhilipJ — 9/27/2005 @ 8:21 pm

  9. Bring me your pedants, your nit-pickers yearning to quibble free

    (from Emma Goldman’s lesser known poem: “Hobgoblin”… and the new ad for TDM)

    - meep — 9/28/2005 @ 4:00 am

  10. Engineer-Poet - hey, I grew up in Ottawa, which is no Winnipeg, but I do have first-hand experience with minus forty degree weather. And honestly? I prefer it to plus forty degree weather (Celsius), which I’ve also experienced in Ottawa. I’ve got good winter clothes, but I can only get so naked.

    Wolfangel - Manitoba and Ontario may be adjacent, but it’s impractical to drive, and once you’re on a plane, you might as well stay on it until you get to Vancouver. I think it’s still cheaper to fly from Ottawa to Vancouver than from Ottawa to Winnipeg, anyway.

    - Moebius Stripper — 9/29/2005 @ 12:49 pm

  11. Yeah, I know, but I had to choose between them somehow. It was as good a reason as any.

    I refuse utterly to have a preference between the two forty degrees.

    - wolfangel — 9/29/2005 @ 6:00 pm

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