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September 03, 2014

Sweet surprises on my fair Isle

Wow. It's been a long time since I've updated the old Spirit of Salt Spring blog. That's mostly because of stupid Google+ causing me extreme confusion. Only tonight did I realize that I could indeed get my password again to get into the thing and update it. But if it's any consolation, it's only been a week or two since I last visited the fairest isle of them all.

I showed up at Ruckle Provincial Park at the end of August, at about 3 pm on a Friday afternoon. I'd brought my new tent. In fact, it was still in the box. I'd snagged a three-person Coleman at Army & Navy for a mere $69.99 the week before. That's how long it had been since I'd been camping. I didn't even own a tent. I had my sleeping bag, my cooler stocked with Stagg chilli and other fine delicacies including some dark coconut porter from Maui. I had my little rock climbing stove perfect for cooking on, and I was happy, happy, happy to be there and to be outside.

As I pulled into the parking area in the campsite, in spite of cars being splayed every which way along the dirt ring road, I managed to park the car right near the wheelbarrows, close to the trail. I threw my stuff into the closest yellow wheelbarrow, all the while recognizing the urgency of laying claim to a spot. It was busier than I'd ever seen it. I needed to stake a claim on my territory. Hurry up!

I was pushing my wheelbarrow full of stuff, like I'd found the Motherload of ultimate Chantrelles and as I passed a ranger, she pointed me in the direction of one of only three spots left. What? Only three spots left and I got one? Fantastic! I'm walking up to my spot and this young guy, camped at the next site, appearing to be alone, comes up to me and offers to lend me a hand.

"No. Nope. I'm fine. Thanks but I'm good." There's that pesky, indomitable, I can do it, I am woman, I am an island unto myself, hear me roar idiocy raising its clueless head. As the words leave my lips, and I'm staring into his very pleasant young face, I'm thinking, he's male, that's what they do, they like to feel useful, to feel needed, remember?  Do you recall nothing from the manual?

I look over at him. Oh, maybe I've hurt his feelings, I think. Oh well. So, I'm a slow learner.
I start whipping things out of two, big, blue Ikea bags that I've carried all my stuff in, and he shows up again.
"I can help you with the tent," he says like a Golden Retriever waiting for me to toss a ball.
I've got the correct response ready this time.
"Sure, why not. That would be great. I just bought the thing. I've never put it up. It's not even out of the box. I hope to god it's not missing a pole or something. Go to it."
We work together. He takes out his big huge knife that doubles as a couple of other things and rips the box open in a split second. Together we get it up in no time because even a three year old could put this thing up, and my new home is ready for sweet dreams later that evening.

Now, can I just say that this is so Salt Spring and me. Whenever, I'm there, things just seem to work out. I almost take it for granted now. It's as if I'm thinking to myself, of course some cute young thing will be there at the other end to help me put up my tent. Why wouldn't he? Now, let's be clear, this type of thing is so far from my city reality, it makes me feel like I'm not just a ferry ride away,  I'm on another planet. Young guys do not come up to me in the city offering anything. No drugs, no sex, not even directions.
I find out all sorts of things about my helpful neighbor. He's only 19. He doesn't like being stuck out at Ruckle with nothing going on. "That's the whole point," I say, cheerfully, as if I'm his mother. I find out he's from Libya. I mean are you kidding me. A Libyan is camping on Salt Spring right next to me. And, then he tells me he's been in Canada for about a year. First he says Vancouver. Then, he says Victoria. I note that and let it slide, although I do feel, after that, that I'm beginning to do some sort of racial/terrorist profiling on him and even though I feel a bit guilty about that, I realize that in these times, the worst of times, it's inevitable.

Our conversation is easy. With the tent up, its time to eat. "I have some vegetarian Chili," I say. He turns his nose up at that.
"No meat?" He declines.
"I have some rice," he says. "Out of a package. I've been eating it for a month."
I learn he's been travelling around - the Rockies and other parts of Vancouver Island.
"Come over when you're ready if you want. We can have dinner together."
He goes off to pray or send encrypted text messages to the enemy.
I continue to prepare my fresh air domicile as if I've just returned from Pottery Barn.

We seem to have lots to talk about at dinner. I'm delighted to have company.
We are joined later that night by a guy who picked my new friend up as he was walking towards Ruckle with a huge pack. The good Samaritan has a PhD. in American Literature and he's getting away from the city prior to returning to a classroom and the responsibilities of college teaching. We sit around at dusk, Marwan and I, and Simon, the guy who's written a book on prison writing based on his research and experiences in some maximum security prison in New York state. Conversation meandered as darkness blanketed the campsite. What a motley little crew we made, indeed. And what a fantastic beginning to my little trip.

The next morning, I dropped my new Libyan friend at the Fulford ferry and backtracked to meet Gail, at KiZMit, the coolest coffee place on island that you really must go to if you have never been, and especially if you're in the South end. This photo below doesn't really do it justice. Get coffee and goodies there if you can even though it's only open 11 am to 4 pm (in the summer) I suppose.

After that, I keep moving. I drive into town and attend a workshop on Writing and getting grant money. Later that night, I hang outside the Treehouse to take in a bit of Tom Hooper and his family. He's playing with his wife, Suzanne Little, and their two sons. How cool must that be to have your whole family on stage?

The next day I conduct three interviews. I meet up with a jewelry artist at her fabulous ocean-side studio for a future Aqua feature. I meet up with photographer John Cameron and then a Realtor for separate, upcoming magazine features. Its always so enlightening to get a glimpse into other people's livelihoods.

After that, I wrap it up by accompanying Gail and Chloe to a wonderful community concert in what's called the South End Groove yard. We're in the backyard of a man named David who has turned his garage into a performance space so he can curate and invite the kind of musicians he loves to hear. He then shares that talent with whoever wants to come for a reasonable price ($20).  All the ticket sales go to the musicians. We listened to the Bluegrass pickings from a talented duo named Cahalen Morrison and Eli West from Seattle.

It was a great visit and just in time to make sure I could get my island fix prior to a busy fall.

You won't want to miss the fabulous Pride Parade, The Fall Fair and Sip and Savour weekend. Don't forget, as well, the Heritage Apple Festival.

September is one of the busiest months on the island and in my books it's one of the very best times to plan a visit.

The reflections at this time of year are as colourful as some of the island's characters.