On our way back east from Tofino towards Nanaimo, Lanfar and I called at Cathedral Grove, an old-growth forest accessed directly from the main road (the only road) between civilizations. We parked the car and continued on foot: no sooner had we left the road and plunged forth onto the shaded pathways criss-crossing the undergrowth, than the sounds and smells of the busy road faded away, slipping into meaninglessness. The trees soared overhead, sturdy and proud. A stream flowed quietly alongside our route, washing clean the troubled everyday of my mind. Branches whispered, bushes rustled, the forest alive to the caresses of the elements and of nature. We struck out along the circular walk, passing by the tallest tree in the vicinity, a mighty trunk stretching upwards an improbable distance, clutching at the sky-blue passing beyond. Stretching myself out in a hugging posture, my span barely reached half of the enormous specimen's girth. Visual evidence of blackened patches of forest supported the information boards dotted roundabout cautioning against the seeming indestructibility of this stately ecosystem: fire had wiped out a vast tract of land just seven years ago and the area was still struggling to recover, the composition of the space forever altered - with the loss of a great number of the oldest, tallest trees, the resulting increase of sunlight filtering all the way down to the forest floor had in turn encouraged the establishment of a larger, broader number of ferns, shrubs and plants. Every action necessitates a reaction; the simple discarding of a glowing cigarette-end can have widespread, devastating consequences.
Lanfar dropped me in Parksville, as mentioned, and I caught a bus on to my destination of Nanaimo. I arrived late in the evening, to be greeted by Jacki, a distant relative through my aunt Sue. Jacki and her family made me very welcome in Nanaimo, gifting me the run of their cosy home and striving to spend as much time with me as possible, whilst balancing busy lives of their own. In three slow, easy days, we saw something of Nanaimo, a city elongated by its position along the eastern coast of the Island, populated by strip-malls in the north and a small downtown core in the south, not quite able to escape a lingering feeling of neglect. People wandered aimlessly along the harbour-front, their attentions caught briefly by occasional shop-facades, torn posters supplanting older brethren on street-lights, electrical generators, worn billboards. I was enlightened by Jacki's daughter Mikaela, my bubbly companion, as to the obvious advertizements of the local ladies of the night as we sallied forth to the local ice-cream parlour for frozen delights. I earned the perplexed, incredulous reaction of Mikaela and her sisters, Darien and Sam, when I confessed not only to boasting next to no knowledge of 'Twilight', but also having little inclination to rectify the situation. There followed a necessary indoctrination to the craze in the form of the two films available at that time ('Eclipse' had yet to be released): this initiation has subsequently been supplemented by my reading all four books in the saga in the space of five particularly empty days beck in Vancouver and I feel comfortable enough in myself to concede that the girls favoured me with their persistent efforts - a 'Twihard' I most certainly am not, but I did enjoy the story.
The 'Twilight' films occupied happy evenings indeed at the Maxwell residence. Another super night unfolded when Mikaela's good friend James popped over one night to cook nachos (delicious, indecently loaded nachos) and was roped into Jacki's enthusiastic plan to enjoy a few grossly competitive card games. I moved swiftly from novice to hard-nosed competency: I had to, seeing as my legend was being routed so severely. By far the craziest game involved some eight decks of cards and followed the general nature of 'Patience', in which we deposited our cards in central, communal decks, which could be built upon by anyone. Cue frenetic, contentious action was we all bid to out-pace one another, the aim being to rid oneself of all one's cards something that we never quite managed, despite the evident enthusiasm and effort expended. The games (and players) exhausted, James and I joined the sisters on a late-night road-trip to the local beach, Jacki opting out in favour of an early night. We stumbled along in near-darkness to the water's edge, guided by the tidal exhalations sighing into the sand and rocks. Darien and Sam headed right into the freezing waves, swimming contentedly for some minutes. I am sorry to write that I stuck to some relaxed paddling, barely wading in above my ankles. Still, I ventured far enough to enjoy a phenomenon that I have seen only a handful of times before: after a brilliant, sunny day, the phosphorescence in the water that night was mesmerizing. Truly. the girls were princesses, shimmering within the swell.
I departed Nanaimo a smile on my face: I carried with me the memory of a beautiful night beneath a glowing moon and before a flashing surf, a new-found appreciation of all things vampiric and the possibility of a future rendezvous with Jacki, the girls and further relatives out east in Ontario at the annual family gathering in Sault-St.-Marie. My final stop upon the Island was that of the provincial capital, the gorgeous, colonially-inspired city of Victoria. I had visited Victoria briefly, fleetingly in 2006 with my family, when we journeyed across to the Island upon a whale-watching voyage. I was struck then, as we entered the harbour upon the water, by how wonderfully whimsical the scene appeared, dominated by a majestic, copper-roofed hotel, its facade covered in verdant ivy. The vision screamed afternoon tea, croquette lawns and ladies promenading beneath dainty parasols. Little had changed in the four-year intermission before my return. The ivy seemed every bit as green, the sky remained blue. The streets abided, permitting me to retrace the steps my family and I trod upon our afternoon exploring the city without error. Everywhere were the lingering echoes of the past, particularly fleeting in this locale and yet persistent, seeing as they suffered no competition: I only knew the place in the company of my family and so there was no dilution of their presence in the nooks and crannies of the labyrinthine Chinatown, the bustling harbour. I escaped into a new memory when I headed to a Caribbean cafe recommended by Beth, which she discovered upon her own return to Victoria in 2008. True to her word - why would I ever doubt her? - the plantain was particularly tasty. It was strange indeed, to sit at a table in the colourful bar-area, World Cup football playing on the television, reggae music lilting in the background and imagine Beth sat in this very space, some two years earlier: what had she thought in this place? What sights had met her eyes? Had she enjoyed her time in Victoria, in this cafe? Did she wonder whether there was perhaps more to be discovered in this secretive city, hiding itself behind twisting alleyways and narrow passages opening without warning into secluded, muted, cobbled squares?
I paid my bill and returned to the pavement, for all I knew pacing the steps of my sister's memory. As much to escape these new thoughts as anything else, I decided to take up some of the recommendations of my friend Justin, who had been a proud resident of this beautiful city for a time before moving to Vancouver and who had been disappointed not to be able to join me on my visit due to work commitments. I traversed the sea-wall around the harbour and on to the secluded, little-visited Fisherman's Wharf, hidden from the main harbour behind a small bluff reaching out into the water. Here I treated myself to fresh fish and chips against a backdrop of gulls screaming, wheeling, diving and the most quaint floating houses; quite literally, two-storey homes riding on the water, tethered to the wooden piers comprising the wharf itself. On the piers, bicycles stood against the bobbing homes, alongside them on the water, canoes rocked in watery gardens.
I continued along the seaside path, leaving the wharf in my wake, my mind roving hazily over a little-researched planned hike as far as the Beacon Hill Park, at which point I could turn inland once more and stroll through the picturesque park back towards downtown and my bus back to Vancouver, via the Tsawassen ferry. The weather was brisk yet sun-filled and I was able to look out over the water first to Olympia National Park to the south, a location that had long been on my list of must-sees, alas now to be completed on a future trip. I could not help but think, as I stared out into the blue haze - hinting even now at the possibility of rain on the peninsula, the wettest part of the contiguous US - of Forks, of Bella and Edward. Turning my gaze eastward, I saw the loftier, more corporeal shadows of the Washington coastal mountain range, stretching upwards, up the flank of the land-mass, towards the sky, towards Canada. Caught in a prolonged reverie, I lost track of time and found myself power-walking for some minutes to reach and then pass through the park, sure that I was about to miss my bus, the ticket for which I had purchased earlier that day. Emerging from the park back into the hubbub of Victoria's downtown, I was chastized by my realization that I was in fact mere minutes from the bus depot, which lay but one block further ahead, with time on my hands. I spun around and resumed a slower, fuller exploration of the delightful park, with its colourful flowers, rock gardens and tranquil pond, crossed by a regal stone bridge. I breathed in the air of repose and allowed the peace of the scene to steal upon me, a balm with which to end my short stay upon the Island.
Some minutes later I resumed my walk to the depot, boarded the bus and completed my circuitous loop back to the mainland and to Vancouver, arriving late in the evening, darkness muffling the streets, woven tightly between the trees.
Best wishes to all!