…If you are about to embark on a journey, or think that you are going to have an experience which may prove interesting, I’d recommend keeping a journal. Besides the reputed therapeutic & cathartic benefits of writing, journalling is a great way to capture moods, feelings and observations, that photos just “don’t get”. In a serendipitous moment, a friend of mine in the AA program (thanks Kelly!) gave me a lovely leather-bound journal for my one-year anniversary of sobriety, weeks before I would make my first trip to Mayne Island…in search of Shavasana. I filled that book and others over the past three years of this journey, and am referring to them now as I write this Blog. I find that reading some of the words that I penned three years ago can transport me back to some beautiful moments and also remind me that my ongoing search has been both outward…and inward.
It is May 22, 2013 and the rather long and arduous Goldilocks quest for a rural property will soon bear fruit. I am on a solo cycling trip through the Gulf Islands to check out lifestyles and amenities on each of the five major islands and to get a feel for the various communities residing there. Galiano just felt a little too close to Vancouver, and, as an avid cyclist, I wasn’t fond of the layout of it’s road system. Salt Spring Island was a little too big and too busy, rumours of traffic congestion and narrow roads made cycling sound awkward and unpleasant. Saturna – although beautiful – was too far way, sparsely populated and had few amenities. Pender Island was a contender, but, when I finally arrived on Mayne, the Fates intervened, the stars aligned, and my Goldilocks quest was over. Mayne Island felt right, it felt like home.
It almost didn’t happen. The prior eight years had been a rather arduous & gruelling journey of tragedy, misfortune, alcoholism & recovery: https://clayandbone.com/2016/12/13/death-mask-troubled-dreams-on-the-road-to-clay-bone/. One attempt at relocating outside of Vancouver on the Sunshine Coast in 2011, had crashed and burned ( https://clayandbone.com/2016/12/27/death-mask-part-2/ ) and my realization then, that I would need to gain my sobriety before embarking on this solo rural life, would prioritize a year of dedicated recovery in Vancouver before I could recommence my search for a rural property. Even the process of gaining sobriety would ultimately feed me an obstacle on this quest for a simpler country life. Within a month of quitting drinking I began having seizures which would eventually be diagnosed as Transient Epileptic Amnesia ( https://clayandbone.com/2017/01/01/transient-epileptic-amnesia/ ). This condition prevented me from driving for a year and modified my out-of-town search greatly. Without knowing what the eventual outcome might be (I had no way of knowing if I would ever be fit to drive again) my property search was limited to places within walking or cycling distance of the ferry terminus on each island – which explains why I was on this current bike excursion…although I loved cycling, It was suggested that I not drive until I was six months seizure free.
Bikes it is. The first thing I had to do was learn how to navigate the Vancouver Transit System with my bike. From my point of departure in Kitsilano, it’s a four part journey to get to Mayne Island – first the B-Line Bus down Broadway at 8am, transfer onto the Canada Line at Cambie, exit at Bridgeport Station to catch the 9am # 620 Bus to Tsawassen, in order to catch the 10:10 (10:20) Queen of Nanaimo ferry on it’s milk run through the Gulf Islands – Destination Mayne Island…a gorgeous one hour and forty minute journey through bliss…unless there are crippling windstorms – more about this later. Little did I know, at the time, that this would become my weekly commute for the next 3 1/2 years (and counting!).
Mayne Island is, like most of the Gulf Islands, a hilly proposition for cyclists. As a friend has observed, islands are the tops of mountains…if they were flat, they’d be reefs 🙂 As you leave the ferry your first task is to climb a rather steep hill to exit the Terminus. My first destination was to check in at the Springwater Lodge, a short undulating 10 minute jaunt to “The Village”. As I sped down the hill which approaches the Village, on my trusty old Peugot, I spied a cute commercial cottage on the left hand side of the road which, to my eye, looked like an appealing little coffee shop. I decided to pull in and grab a coffee and get my first sense of the community, as coffee shops in small villages can be wonderful locales to pick up on the gossip and learn of the goings-on of island life. As it turned out, the business was vacant…a hair salon called “Mayne Cuts” which had occupied the space for the past decade had just closed it’s doors within the last several months. The “For Lease” sign indicated a monthly rent of $550 – cheap by Vancouver standards, and said to call Dave for further info.
Friends, who are unquestionably smarter than I, had suggested that I would be wise to rent before purchasing – to try living in the rural setting prior to buying to see if I was cut out for island life. As it turned out, this little commercial cottage which held great visual & locational appeal (stunning views, waterfront property, proximity to the village and the ferry) was also dual zoned residential – I could live in it as well. Although my original intention was just to rent a cottage as a residence – not run a business – I found the concept unexpectedly appealing…”artist in residence” was the first thought that came to mind. Yeah. Perhaps I could use this space as a studio for my ceramic mask making and other creative projects I had pending …I’d have to call Dave the landlord to discuss.
At this point, I was in no hurry. I had an island to explore and the call to Dave could wait – although Mayne felt good I still needed to explore its nooks and crannies to determine its suitability for my needs. I checked in at the Springwater Lodge – which is the oldest continually operating Hotel in BC. – where I’d be staying on this two-day adventure. At the time, the rooms above the pub were available for $40 per night…rustic and worn, it very much felt like staying at a Youth Hostel. There was a shared bathroom/shower, and the rooms were only lockable from the inside…”Don’t worry, nothing ever gets stolen here, Mayne Islanders are very honest” Tessa the affable barmaid assured me. As quaint as this reassurance was, years of urban conditioning had taken its toll – it involved a leap of faith to leave my “stuff” in an unlocked room. But it was charming & I loved it, the strength of the Springwater Lodge lies in its restaurant/pub and the outdoor deck, which may be the sweetest place in BC to grab a meal and watch the sun go down.
Almost everything that I saw on these initial trips to Mayne Island charmed me. Perhaps I was looking at the world through the rose-coloured glasses of those new to sobriety, but in fact, so much of what I saw and whom I encountered fed my enchantment. The Village itself is small – perhaps a collection of a dozen plus businesses – which reflects its rather intimate yearly population of roughly 1,000 good citizens. It seemed to have everything one needs to cover the basics: 3 grocery stores, a liquor store (for those so inclined), a gas station, 3 restaurants, a gaggle of unique shops, ubiquitous realtors, and a fabulous little bakery that opened sprightly at 6am every day. (This thrilled me because I do some day trading and like to hit a coffee shop when the markets open at 6:30am.) Some remaining heritage buildings from the late 1800’s (The Agricultural Hall, Museum, & Springwater Lodge) give it a comforting sense of community & continuity. Other island amenities include a lending library, a Hardware Store, a Community Centre and a second retail gathering in the middle of the island known as the Fernhill Centre. If I was going to rent the little vacant cottage/business from Dave I would become part of “The Village”…how cool is that?
Perhaps the greatest appeal of Mayne though is its natural beauty & outdoor amenities (I would later discover that its citizens are yet another wonderful attribute, but that would come later) The Gulf Islands are a uniquely beautiful micro-climate which has been compared to the Mediterranean for it’s low precipitation & above average warmth (compared to the rest of Canada). As I cycled around this tranquil rock I encountered dense rain-forest woodlands, pastoral heritage farmland, rare stands of Garry Oak & Arbutus, and a beautiful selection of bays and beaches to toss down a blanket and make an afternoon of it. There are some fabulous parks with great hiking opportunities, a heritage photo-op lighthouse, Mt. Parke with its mezmerizing vistas, and an unexpected treasure – the well-tended Japanese Gardens. The fauna is equally varied & enchanting. Deer abound – both the indigenous Blacktail, and the pernicious Fallow…and in fact, the wildlife is just too plentiful to write up in this article – so I won’t try. Whether in the ocean, in the air or on land, if you choose to live on a Gulf island you will be living “in” nature not just alongside it, it envelopes you in a charming & therapeutic way.
My brief Mayne Island excursion was drawing to a close as I had obligations back in Vancouver. Of the many properties, hamlets, and rural communities that I had visited over the last five years of this quest…just like Goldilocks and her porridge, this one tasted just right. I had Dave’s number and would call him to find out the scoop on the vacant business.
(this story is continued in: Searching for Shavasana (Part2) https://shavasana.ca/2017/01/08/finding-shavasana-part-2/