The afternoon sun shone bright and hazy as the twin propellors hummed outside the airplane window. 4,000 feet below, the Pacific Ocean spread out in ripples of aqua-blue, catching the sun’s rays and lighting up in bursts of brilliant white-gold. Vancouver’s skyline turned to pins in a cushion as we rose to cruising altitude and flew over the Salish Sea, a patchwork of Gulf Islands ahead. I craned my neck around for one last look at the city and the North Shore Mountains, beyond whose peaks laid the rest of Canada and all that it stood for: Friendships. Family. Triumphs. Regrets. Love. Heartache. A lifetime. Home.
One by one, the plane passed over the varied isles and skerries that pockmark the Strait of Georgia and rise out of the ocean’s depths like whales breaching for air. I spotted the long, narrow neck of Galiano, then the forested hills of Salt Spring. I was bound for the coastal capital of Victoria, and all that it represented: Excitement. Opportunity. Fear. Uncertainty. Change. A new beginning.
We don’t get too many of those in life: new beginnings. There’s the occasional new job or new relationship — maybe a new addition to the family — but reinvention is messy, troublesome. It goes against the things we covet most: comfort and security. I once interviewed a writer who referred to travel as the practice of giving up one’s pillow, and in this case, I was giving up the whole bed. Leaving home meant putting myself out into the world, either to take it on the chin or let its wind guide my sails. It meant moving to a city, meeting new people, saying yes to new opportunities. It meant cobbling together the things that make up a life and starting something new.
The first new thing was a second piece of ID. The cashier waited expectantly at the BC Liquor checkout line as I stood there, six-pack on the counter, clueless as to why my driver’s license and healthy beard wasn’t proof enough of my age.
“We do things differently here,” she told me.
I learned quickly just how different things could be.
For one thing, stores are banned from giving out plastic bags in Victoria. My landlord made sure I left the house with an armful of reusable bags before my first trip to the grocery store. For another thing, Victorians are exceedingly polite to their bus drivers. (Unrelated, I know, but these are the things you notice when you’re new to a place.) Rarely a stop goes by that I don’t hear a loud “thank you” proclaimed by a passenger exiting the bus, and on a recent trip on the #7 line, I listened to the driver personally call out all the stops along the way, despite the automated recordings working just fine. I felt like a crude Ontarian by comparison, in my wilful ignorance of all things and all people. I shudder to think what other boorish behaviour I’ve brought with me.
The bigger new thing was the ocean — a constant presence which takes on greater significance when you live on an island. From my view at the top of Foul Bay Road, just a short walk away from home, I can see the ribbon of ocean blue peeking above the line of trees that stretches from Oak Bay to Gonzales, and on clear days — my favourite days — the Olympic Mountains loom above the water, their faded blue peaks like brushstrokes on the horizon.
On those days, the thought of home feels as distant as Washington’s shoreline, and instead, I’m wrapped up in the magic that comes with living in one of the most beautiful places in Canada. I’ll ride downhill until Crescent Road and Beach Drive, past McNeill Bay and the rocks at Kitty Islet, where driftwood piles on the pebbled beach and a trio of Muskoka chairs beg for passersby to sit and stay awhile. A short stretch away, I’ll reach the Victoria Golf Club, where on most days, I’ll cross paths with a few deer in search of their breakfast. Eventually, I’ll reach Willows Beach and Cattle Point before turning inland for home, putting my back to the ocean once again.
It’s been nearly three weeks since I landed on Vancouver Island, saddled with bags full of clothes and a bicycle in need of reassembly. I put the bike back together on the first day, rummaging for missing pieces and fiddling with hex wrenches until what I’d assembled looked, for all intents and purposes, like a bicycle ready for use. I even felt good about it until bringing it into a shop, where the mechanic immediately set about truing the wheels and lubing the brake cable, all the while rattling off other things in need of adjustment — things that come when you’ve pedalled a country’s length on the same two wheels.
The other reassembly, the one that comes with making up a life, takes longer, but I’ve found most of the pieces — and really, most are the same as the ones before. Family is family, wherever you go. Some friends, I’m closer to now than I was before. The other bits come with time.
After that, well, show me a person who doesn’t have at least a few screws loose.