Deeply depressed over our boat?s busted prop shaft (who breaks a prop shaft by motoring down the middle of Cowichan Bay in broad daylight with not even a crab pot in sight?) John and I determined to cheer ourselves up with a trip to Salt Spring Island in our 1979 Execuvan. Former CBC personality Arthur Black was launching a CD of stories called Planet Salt Spring and we didn?t want to miss it. Besides, I?d asked to interview him.
It is said that Salt Spring Island is so laid-back that people who visit there, even without the use of banned substances, slip into a kind of euphoric stupor: their alpha brain-waves lengthen until they?re almost too sleepy to drive their RVs. Quaint, touristy and friendly, you will find there a sense of escape and happiness you can get only on a Gulf Island. Now, available RV sites on Saltspring Island in the summer are scarce as capitalists in a commune, so we were in a bit of a dither when it came to deciding where we could park for the night. But when our friend said we could borrow her mother?s driveway, we were set.
So off we rattled down the highway. The van was hot. I could feel heat on my arms and my neck. The highway was clogged and John was cranky but the cherry trees and businesses of Duncan whizzed past us. I sighed with contentment. ?Darling,? I said, ?What shall we do for fun??
?This traffic isn?t fun,? he replied.
?There is rather a lot of it,? I agreed. ?Want to plug in the GPS??
?You mean ?Our Lady of the Square Face?? he asked. ?No, I know how to get to Salt Spring Island.? The traffic thinned, and we shot clear of Duncan like a cork popped out of a champagne bottle. We whizzed past a hydro plant guarded with barbed wire and a row of seven enormous identical trucks.
I reached toward the 12-volt cooler we keep between the seats and raised the lid. We store our cassette tapes there because they?re tidier when they?re stowed. We haven?t yet determined what to do with perishables, but I?m sure some day we?ll figure it out. ?Fats Domino,? I said, rummaging. ?Blueberry Hill, Louis Armstrong.?
?Thanks, but I don?t feel like Dixieland jazz right now,? John said. He sounded more cheerful.
?We swung down the narrow paved road at the Saltspring Island turnoff. ?Pastry?? I asked invitingly.
His face brightened. ?What kind do we have?? he asked.
?Cherry and lemon danish, croissants and cinnamon buns,? I replied.
?Cherry danish,? he said.
I passed him one. We bumped over railroad tracks, turned down a curvy road and came to a halt at the Crofton ferry terminal ten minutes before the sailing. A nice young woman in a fluorescent vest came to say we?d get in for sure and to please follow lane number three. ?Now what do we do?? John asked happily. His mouth was full of Cherry Danish. We weren?t even on the ferry yet, and we were both starting to relax.
?I think,? I said, ?that we should buy a ferry ticket and then watch the world unfold before us.?
?Good idea,? John said. A skinny man in short sleeves sporting an amazingly bushy beard and masses of hair sauntered in front of us. There were yellow flowers by the side of the road, as if put there for no other reason than to entertain the ferry passengers, and we drove onto the ferry past young people in safety vests painting the ramp railing the same brilliant yellow as the flowers. We slid smoothly out of our berth to the sound of the whining, rumbling ferry engine.
?Darling,? I said, ?Are you ready to listen to some music now? We have Glen Miller and Chopin.?
?No thanks,? he said. ?I?d rather look at the scenery.?
We drove off the ferry onto a twisting road gawking at signs of jams and jellies and studios. We whizzed past the Salt Spring Cinema behind a station wagon with a blanket wrapped around wheelbarrow handles sticking out the back. We drove past hedges, around curves, under overhanging trees and over hills. We parked our van next to the wonderful Volume II Bookstore overlooking the wharf, and even though they were closing the owner let me have a quick browse. We met our friend and walked down a boardwalk to the Tree House Caf?, where under the spreading branches of a real tree we pigged out on quesadillas. Afterwards we sat with our elbows on the table and laughed and visited and finished our coffee.
That evening Arthur Black read from ?Planet Salt Spring? with verve and spirit. The audience (?The cream of the upper-crust,? my friend murmured in my ear) laughed uproariously at his stories. When he finished, our heads reverberated with the image of Arthur Black, socks in his sandals, riding his modified moped amid a thundering herd of Harleys raising Christmas cash for kids. We understood the exact procedure for the Gulf Island hug. And we couldn?t wait to rush out to practice hitchhiking Saltspring Style, ?Where all the drivers are na?ve,? Black had told us.
When I found a moment to talk to him, I was surprised to find him shy. And very kind. I asked him to name something he does well, and he didn?t even hesitate. ?Evesdropping,? he said, and I laughed as heartily as I had at the reading.
That night when we pulled into the secluded driveway of our friend, Salt Spring Island had enfolded us in her magic. Our boat engine repair seemed remote and inconsequential. ?Darling,? I said, ?I feel as if we have shed our worries like fleas off a hound dog.?
?Like mud off a mud flap.?
?Like rust chunks off the bottom of this van.? We both laughed, then fell sound asleep in the cool dark.
We awakened to the full-throated singing of small birds. We ate blueberries and croissants for breakfast, and said goodbye to our friend, then popped on our sunglasses and drove past deer signs, past 40 on the corners signs past hydro lines threaded through the foliage and got to the ferry two hours early. We were, needless to say, first in line.
The parking lot was surrounded by trees next to the abandoned Vesuvius Pub. The water lay like glass. An old arbutus tree stood with peeled bark. ?Like a snake shedding its skin,? John said. We sat with our sunglasses on and felt rested and at peace. A crow flew overhead. John sat for a moment. Then he said, ?Let?s see if our lady of the square face knows where we are,? and he plugged in our GPS. We both leaned forward to look. ?Continue to Crofton-Vesuvius Ferry,? the GPS read. ?I think this is the road,? John said. He touched the screen. It blipped and changed screens. ?Oops,? John said. The pink ramp to the ferry showed up clearly, so John was satisfied our GPS knew where we were. He unplugged our lady of the square face. Then he finally rummaged in the cooler full of cassette tapes. ?Here?s one,? he said, and he slipped it into the player.
?Ahwoo, ahwoo, ahwoo,? the cassette player wailed.
?Darling,? I said, ?this is the most truly dreadful Hawaiian music I?ve ever heard.?
?Ahwoo, ahwoo,? the cassette player answered, and John changed the subject. ?I wonder why all those cars are parked there.?
?They?re commuters, dear,? I said.
?But what do they do when they all get to the other side??
?They all work at the mill.?
?Do dee do my Bluuuuue Ha-va-ii, do do
hmmm mmm mmm de dooo
tinkle tinkle la la la.?
?That Telus phone-booth trim is painted the same shade of blue as the public washrooms,? John said.
?I had remarked on that too,? I replied, ?and marveled at it.?
A wet brown otter slithered across the road to some foliage and disappeared.
Then a lost fawn flicking its tail pranced back and forth under some trees in front of us.
?Awhooo, awhooo,? trilled the cassette player.
?Dippy dippy tinkle tinkle.?
?Darling,? I said. ?Let?s clean the side-view mirrors.? I pulled out some napkins I?d purloined from our last visit to the A&W.
?Why?? John asked
?Because, in case you didn?t notice, when I Armour-Alled the console I Armour-Alled the mirrors too by mistake, and now they?re all smeary.?
?Oh,? said John. ?Are we bored??
?I?m not,? I said stoutly. ?I?m in an extremely happy frame of mind ? or I will be if I can clean the mirrors.?
?How are we going to get these napkins wet??
?I have a bottle of water,? I said.
We opened our windows and scrubbed our side view mirrors. By this time there was a hefty lineup of cars behind and beside us, though people who walked near our van looked a little startled when they came too close to our open windows.
?Ahwoo, ahwoo, yama yama slippy doopy …?
?Darling,? I said, ?where in Heaven?s name did we find this cassette tape??
?I like it,? he said, and that ended the matter. But it didn?t end the tape.
?Ahwoo, ahwoo, whoopsy whoopsy tinkle tinkle …?
But then the ferry came, and we had a front-row seat. The big engines hummed and rattled and threw the wash out for yards. Some minor clanking, and she slid out of her docking. Crofton lay off our port bow in a valley and the mill lay off our starboard bow with one lonely smokestack spewing white smoke into the air. We motored across the open water, then there was a whirring and a gurgling, a bump and a squeak, a roar, and we?d docked. We lollopped down the looping road past cows and cornflowers and cornfields while the breeze batted at us through open windows.
When we got home, we still felt the Salt Spring Stupor. It lasted well beyond the end of the tape of Hawaiian music. It lasted until our boat was repaired. And then, full of happiness, we went sailing. To Salt Spring.
BY CATHERINE DOOK