Written On the Body 13, Nov. 24, 2019: Beautiful British Columbia

We had a wonderful trip to Vancouver and Vancouver Island, Nov. 2-10 — beautiful, mostly sunny weather, too. This was an important trip, mainly to see close family and friends, but also to see if and how well I could travel. We planned the trip for the last part of the 3-week chemotherapy cycle, the time I usually have the most energy and stamina. And we were not disappointed, on either count! Everything was even better than our expectations — including smooth travelling connections.

Englishman River Falls, near Nanaimo B.C.

We arrived in Vancouver on Saturday afternoon, were met at the airport by my dear friend, writer Shaena Lambert, who welcomed us to her home. Roger’s daughter Terri and her husband and two of her three children (both in college) drove from Washington State to Vancouver for the weekend to see us. We had dinner at a middle-eastern restaurant, then the next day enjoyed a leisurely brunch at Shaena’s. (Thanks, Shaena, for your hospitality.) The next day, Roger, Shaena, and I drove to Richmond to see the migrating snow-geese on the estuary near the airport: at one point, we watched a flock of geese flying, with an airplane flying in the background. On our short walk, we also saw two eagles (probably an adult and a juvenile) sitting together in the same tree, then flying off — one after the other. And a circling hawk, a seal, and a bird we couldn’t quite recognize: a cormorant? a heron?

Then we drove to Steveston, for a seafood lunch and to look at the old, abandoned salmon-canneries which once employed many people: Japanese, Indigenous, and others. Sadly, we saw the reconstructed home of the Murakimi family: the parents were Japanese immigrants who came to B.C. separately, met and married, started a family, and moved to Steveston, working at the Pacific Coast Cannery and other jobs. They lived in their (now-restored) home from 1929-1942, when — along with thousands of other Japanese in Vancouver and on the Pacific coast of British Columbia — they were stripped of their property and rights, and interned to isolated areas in the interior of B.C., Alberta, and Manitoba (where the Murakimis were sent), to work on farms in harsh and oppressive conditions. The house and garden have been restored by their children and grandchildren, including a Japanese bath, cooking utensils, sewing machine, and family photographs; these homely domestic details highlight the tragic injustice of what happened to them, and gave more context to the exhibit I saw at the Royal Ontario Museum last August, Being Japanese Canadian: reflections on a broken world — art made by people who survived the internment (children or teenagers at the time) and their children and grandchildren. see https://westcoastlivingcanada.com/2015/07/05/murakami-family-in-steveston/ for more on the Murakimi family and this subject. This is the website for the ROM exhibit (closed now, but the website is interesting): https://www.rom.on.ca/en/exhibitions-galleries/exhibitions/being-japanese-canadian .

That evening, we had an informal story-telling and poetry reading session, both fun and inspiring, with Shaena and some of her family, Roger, and me.

The next day we had morning coffee and conversation with my friend Marilyn Lemon, whom I met in Woodstock over 30 years ago (when our kids played t-ball together, and we then participated in a year-long poetry workshop with bill bissett.) Marilyn moved to Vancouver some years ago, so we enjoy visits when we can.

Then it was time to head to Horseshoe Bay and the ferry to Nanaimo. We spent a night in the Grand Hotel (whose dining-room decor and music made us feel we were in a 1940s movie, and then my son Joe drove us to his home in Parksville, which he shares with his partner Christina and her son Elijah — and their dog Ruby, whom they rescued when she was abandoned as a puppy. They moved there in August, after working in Cape Dorset for a couple of years. It was lovely to see them in their home and feel comfortable there, get to know Christina and Elijah better, spend more time with Joe than I have a for a while and see him enjoying the role of dad (taking Elijah to soccer practice, for instance), and do some wonderful walks — to Cathedral Grove with its mystical trees, ancient and giant; at Englishman River Falls, and along the boardwalks in Parksville and nearby Qualicum Beach. Water and trees are so healing — we know this intuitively, and there is much current research showing that being among trees (taking a forest bath) is physically and spiritually beneficial. My soul really opened in all this nature and family-feeling — and I was glad to be well enough to do this trip. And in Qualicum Beach, I found a small bookshop which offers occasional concerts and poetry readings — and the owner offered me a chance to participate in a reading on my next visit (if I give him enough notice). I am hoping I will be able to do that next spring or summer — we will see. Elijah did a drawing of the mountains, and a stalking cougar, for our wall at home of art by our kids; Roger and I both feel we have extended our family and see Elijah as a grandchild.

On our final evening, we had dinner at Dining in the Dark in Parksville, one of the restaurants that have recently sprung up, offering people a chance to see what eating is like for blind people (though, of course, as sighted people we can only experience a nano-fraction of the experience.) Still, it was fascinating: you can choose your food from a menu in the lighted reception area before entering the full dark of the dining room, led by one of the blind servers (you can also opt for a mystery entree, as well as the mystery starter and dessert). What we all noticed was the need to focus on the smell, taste, and texture of the food, how to negotiate the mechanics of eating, and also the way we focused on conversation, listening intently to each other as there was no eye-contact. Our server was friendly and capable, and we had a good evening. (Joe and Christina had done this before, in Vancouver, and wanted us to experience it, too.)

Too soon, we had to take the ferry back to Vancouver and the airport. The good memories linger. I wish I could just whisk back for another trip to the market at Qualicum Beach, or another walk in the woods, but it is good to see Joe happy in his life, even though distant (and not THAT far). As Kahlil Gibran says, our children are the arrows, we are the bows — and they travel on their own arcs and journey.

We arrived home at midnight, the morning of November 11 — just in time for the first snowfall in Toronto. Winter is coming…

Roger and Ellen in Cathedral Grove, B.C., by an 800-year-old, 76 metre tall tree (Douglas fir, I think, or cedar).

About Ellen

I am a member of The Writers Union of Canada, the League of Canadian Poets, and CANSCAIP. I have received grants from the Ontario Arts Council for both writing and teaching. I currently work with Learning Through the Arts and Living through the Arts, programmes run by the Royal Conservatory of Music that enable artists to work in schools and community organizations. I have also taught in many other school and community programs, and have been a judge for various writing contests for both young people and adults.
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4 Responses to Written On the Body 13, Nov. 24, 2019: Beautiful British Columbia

  1. Prairie says:

    Thank you for sharing your journeys Ellen. How closely I relate to the Gibran quote–my children are in Ontario, Michigan and Alberta. It was our choice to live in PEI and we do love it here. We are but a four-minute walk to the seashore; the fragrance of the ocean and evergreens is rejuvenating; the peace of a tiny rural community suits our solitary souls.
    I travel to see my family two or three times each year and they visit PEI each summer. Paul, a bachelor until he married me two decades ago, prefers to stay at home while I am away and tend to the care of our little dog.
    I trust that your wish to re-experience the west coast will materialize in the best possible way at the best possible time.

  2. Carol Goff says:

    Ellen….it’s so good to know your perseverance, faith, and love of family and friends carry you forward on this journey of health and vitality. That you had even better stamina and enjoyment from your trip west is uplifting! You are an inspiration to all, and thank-you so much for your writing and continued optimism. ~Love and blessings from Carol and Steve Goff

  3. Ruth Zilkha says:

    Hello from Paris!
    It’s so lovely to read you and to be on touch again,
    If you ever wish to come to Paris, you are very welcome to stay
    in my tiny guest room, which fits 2 guests, rather squeezed!
    I live just across the river in the back of Notre Dame.
    It would be a treat to see you again!
    Ruth Zilkha

  4. Ruth Zilkha says:

    Hello from Paris!
    It’s so lovely to read you.
    We were both sophomores at Wellesley at the same time.
    Could you send me your email address?
    If you ever wish to come to Paris, you are very welcome to stay
    in my tiny guest room, which fits 2 guests, rather squeezed!
    I live just across the river Seine in the back of Notre Dame.
    It would be a treat to see you again!

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