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December 13, 2013

Salt Spring and Christmas Memory Lane

I admit it. It's been ages since I've blogged about Salt Spring. It's pretty hard to do when I don't actually live there anymore. The photo above shows the steps to Moongate cottage, the first place I lived on island. I loved that little place, especially the hot tub on the deck but  I nearly froze my you know what off the first year. I couldn't chop wood like a girl fast enough to keep warm. That was December, 2008 and January, February 2009 when the snow just kept coming and coming.

Does it count that I'm going to see It's Snowing on Salt Spring at the Art's Club theatre tomorrow with a real live Salt Springer who, by the way, has never actually seen this play before?  I won't rat her out, but her name is the same as mine, spelled a bit differently, and I guess after 25 years of living on Salt Spring, the last thing you need to see is a play about the place you know better than the person who wrote it. 

In the spirit of the season, I thought I'd re-post a few links to my favourite winter Salt Spring moments that I wrote about when I still lived on island.

I have to admit it, I really, really miss the rock at this time of year. So much community spirit. Santa's fly in. The way the little village is decorated. The lights on sail boat masts. New Year's Eve at Fulford Hall. Inhaling the aroma of Pauline's baking. The conversations that took place in the line-up of the Salt Spring post office which grew longer every day closer to Christmas and where people would start offering up enticements like roast beef dinners just to try and get to the front of the line faster.  The craft fairs at Beaver Point and Mahon Hall. Stop. Stop already! 

So, just to torture myself, I thought I'd take a little trip down memory lane. Here's a few of my favourite posts from year's past:

July 13, 2013

What about Crowd-funding to Change Homelessness?

What’s the right thing to do when you are acquainted with someone who finds himself living in a tent at almost sixty years of age? Do you invite him to come to live with you knowing that’s not what you want and it wouldn't work for him either? Do you help him try to solve his housing problem? Do you give him money? Do you know that giving him money, when he is without employment, isn’t going to fix what led him down the treacherous path.
He moved to Salt Spring in 2005 or 2006. He worked at a variety of places before he remained with an employer and worked consistently for about three years. He didn’t make much money. He lived on a boat. He became very depressed. Mentally and emotionally, he couldn’t return to that job. In a very long story, mostly related to depression and his way of being, he lost the boat he lived on. He then managed to find a rental for $400 per month. He was receiving EI and that ended. He was evicted. He was given a two-person tent and has now set that up on a wooded property offered through the empathy of a young couple in the community. His TV set is now situated beside the campfire.

There's a new site called ShareSpring that describes itself as community crowd funding for Business, Organizations and Personal Causes. The giving is dedicated to the Salt Spring community and projects and people that live there. As it says on the website, ShareSpring is a project of Virtuous Circle Social Venture Corporation, a company incorporated in British Columbia, and owned by Michael Contardi, a Salt Spring resident. Ky Fox provides video and video editing support.

Most recently, the community stepped up through ShareSpring when Kilaya Singh, a three-year old girl, was killed during a tragic car accident on the Fulford-Ganges Road. Sharespring sprang into action and the community, near and far, raised funds for her family and for the driver of the van involved in the crash. It would have been easy to say, well, one or both people were driving at inappropriate speeds for the road conditions, and then, to do nothing. Instead, there was an outpouring of compassion and dollars.

There’s a new restaurant called The Gathering Place. Helping it with start-up was a project. The abattoir which is so vital to those who are raising animals, making it so that the butchering and all that entails of selling meat locally is more economical and feasible is a ShareSpring project. 
The description on the site about what it supports also mentions “personal causes”.

This friend’s current state could be a personal cause. He has lived on Salt Spring for more than seven years. It’s easy to think, well, that’s his problem. He got himself into that situation, he’ll have to figure out how to get himself out. I mean, it’s not like he’s twenty-something.

But, at what point is that distancing just not good enough. It’s too easy. Especially given that something could be done if people came together to help. He could be offered a helping hand to get back on his feet. There’s a place for everyone and the “right place” where he can contribute and continue to live on Salt Spring can surely be found.  

It’s so easy to take the self-righteous road. But when there’s a crisis, regardless of how it came to be, what’s the virtue in judgement? What does that solve for this man? Do you think that this idea is a good one or way off base? I’d be curious to know. What would you suggest?  

July 07, 2013

Purple: The Colour of Intuitive Interactions

What I'm about to tell you is the type of interaction that happens all the time on Salt Spring. Or, perhaps I should just speak for myself. Although, from anecdotes, I know this type of serendipitous interaction occurs regularly.

My day began with a drive to the South End. I passed Drummond Park, and took the right hand fork up Musgrave on  my way to Sacred Mountain Lavender because I wanted to get a glimpse of the sumptuous purple in bloom, blooming, about to bloom. English. Spanish. French buds tinted the green landscape mauve. My visit was not going to coincide with the annual Sacred Mountain Lavender Festival which will take place this Sunday, July 14th. I was one week early.

After my wander around the lavender fields, I went into the small store on the property. Lavender coffee, tea, pepper, lavender wands, spritzers, white cotton night gowns embroidered with lavender, massage oil, salves, bunches of the purple buds. A quick trip to lavender heaven.

I spoke with a woman working there. Her name was Diana. She asked me where I was from which launched me into the story of my former residency on island.  She asked me why I'd left. “Didn't think I could handle another winter. Couldn't make enough money. Wanted to be closer to my 92 year old father."  I told her he'd died a month after I returned to the city in November 2011.

She asked me what I did. I said I was a writer, about to start a new writing job but when it came to writing, what was really consuming me, was the completion of the first draft of a non-fiction manuscript I'd been working on. I told her that I was having trouble pulling my thoughts together to create an ending that would deposit readers to a more insightful place about Salt Spring, about themselves, about mid-life journeys and jumping off points. I'm not sure why I felt I could tell her this. 

“I think you need to incorporate your father into that ending.”

I was silent. My father? Why was she saying that?

“I feel somehow that your father has something to do with helping you find that ending,” she said. 

I barely mentioned my father. Why was she saying this? 

I said that I didn't see how that could be and I didn't really want to write about my father but I would think about it.

I told her that Ruckle Provincial Park was my touchstone, the place I had camped at when I first came to the island in the late 1980's, a place that had not changed in the 20 or so years since I’d been coming to visit. I told her I was writing about Ruckle trying to explain how a physical place can become as important as the relationship we have with another person. It takes on the persona of an individual and our relationship with them.

She told me her touchstone was Mount Douglas in Victoria and all the Garry Oak there.  "I go back there and I’m nine again," she said. We decided that everyone probably has a geographical place that is, for them, that kind of place and if they don't, they should.

After having left, I notice that when I return to the island, I always feel a little fragile. It’s hard to explain.  As a visitor, I don't belong. I feel wistful and regrets arise about not having made it work better - financially - so that I could have stayed, knowing that it's a place that holds such a significant place in my life, yet knowing that I have a lot of company in both regards and knowing, as well, that I wasn't meant to stay any longer or I would have.

She told me that her sister was a writer and on their father’s 80th birthday, they had given him a list of everything about him that mattered to them as his children. He loved it, she said. He loved being written about.

She seemed so convinced that my father has something to do with the ending of the manuscript and as she said this and we talked a bit more, we both began to have a wavering in our voices as we spoke and our eyes became glassy and she admitted that just thinking about it was making her cry and I told her to stop because she was about to make me cry. We shared a moment of being disarmed by each other’s openness and we hastened to hold back, to stop what might come, but there was a raw feeling there; a chord struck. Emotion as intuitive messenger.

Now, having lived on the island, I know to pay attention when these types of interactions occur. I know they are not a coincidence. I know this because it was a similar type of recognition that helped me move here in the first place.  These types of interactions are a gift, a message from the other side or from the future that’s being formulated for us.

So, I will consider Diana's suggestion seriously, not because I'm convinced that it is the right one. It may not be. But, I will consider it because when we spoke, emotion rose quickly, connected us, brought our humanity to the forefront and that’s the kind of emotion that makes a story worth  telling; the kind of story we can all learn something from.

And besides, purple is the colour of the crown chakra. It's the colour of peace, and wisdom, of the quest for fulfillment and personal identification with the infinite and that's good enough for me.

April 06, 2013

Restaurant Roulette on Salt Spring

It has been a bad couple of years for some restaurants on Salt Spring.

First the Fulford Inn closed its doors. I was still on island then, so, even though I know I should go out of my way to find out the exact date, I'm going to guess that it was some time in 2010. There were various rumours about what sent it over the cliff. Then, Raven Street Cafe turned off the oven. I loved their wood fired pizzas and the miso dressing was to die for on their salads. I also liked the quietude of the North side but quietude is not what lets restaurants thrive.  Marketplace Cafe packed it in. I have to admit, I never went there. Bruce's Kitchen shut its doors in March. Bruce left the island with no forwarding address. I'm so glad I lived on island when Bruce was cooking there, especially in the first place on Gastronomy or Gasoline alley as it's sometimes called. Now Mobys Oyster Bar and Marine Grill has locked the front door. On Facebook, there's the usual outpouring of dismay.

Well, if it mattered that much, why didn't you support us? Why didn't you come to eat? That's maybe what the restaurant owners are thinking. Just guessing.

Mark's Work Warehouse expanded and the complex where it was located meant ripping down some old buildings which meant some charming small businesses either chose to close, had to close, or shifted location. Then, after the big reno, Marks Work Wearhouse packed up its inventory in 2012 and got the heck off the rock as well. I don't have the scoop on what that was about but bad decision-making at play to say the least.

I celebrated my 50th birthday at Mobys and had some great memories. I recall Tal Bachman and his band. They were great and it was a fantastic evening. And then there's the domino effect. Moby's closure means one less venue for musicians. The loss of all of these means less B2B on island trade.

The first month I moved to the island, October 2008, I can still recall the delight I felt sitting in the front porch area of Raven Street Cafe on a really quiet Sunday afternoon,  savouring a glass of Merlot, and being serenaded by the clear crisp notes of a professional flutist who lived there for half the year.

I will never forget the practices for beginner band in the former Cafe El Zocalo owned by Wendy and Derrick Milton that they sold and then it transformed into the Marketplace Cafe. Eating out on island as far as I'm concerned is an absolute necessity, especially if you live alone. I had to get out of the cottage, see what was happening, bump into someone to talk to and eat food cooked by people who can cook way better than me. That's how it was in the winter, especially. I can only imagine the memories of those who have lived on island for a long, long time about all the restaurants that have come and gone.

On the positive side, there's a beautiful new library. If you want to read and hike and other more private activities, it's a great place. And, of course, there are still some great places left to eat: The Treehouse Cafe. Barb's Bakery and Bistro (Barb's Buns). Auntie Pesto's. Harbour House Hotel. Salt Spring Inn. Seaside Kitchen. Calvin's Bistro. House Piccolo. Rock Salt Cafe. Oyster Catcher. Hastings House.

Even when I first arrived on island, fewer American visitors had been the trend and being a vendor at the Market lets one track these things informally. Ferry prices keep going up. From Vancouver, it now costs $66.15 for a car and $17.85 for the driver, one way.

Add to all that the on-island demographics and opening a new restaurant on island makes about as much sense, financially, as oh, I don't know, selling photographs at the Saturday Market.

Is it just the usual shift, capitalism in action, or is it a more definite indicator of economic decline that slices away at the appeal of visiting Salt Spring? I have to think about the answer to that. What do you think?

January 24, 2013

Passion Just Can't Shut Up

Photo from Peter Schaaf off Marin Symphony site.

How do you know when you're in the presence of passion? It just won't shut up, that's how. It can't. But, in a good way. That's Rob Kapilow.

An American composer, pianist, educator, author, tennis-playing, karate-teaching, all around intellectual whirlwind, (who surely must have been a child prodigy), Kapilow showed the audience at the taping of a show for CBC Radio last night What Makes It Great with the It, in this case, being classical music.

It's also the name of his new book, an enhanced e-book, the first of its kind, that lets readers read and hear about classical music simultaneously thanks to iTunes, iPhones, iPads  and I can't believe my publisher just refused to get that they should have done an enhanced e-book years ago when he first mentioned it.  That's kind of what he said.

Seated at a piano, wearing grey flannels and a white shirt, attire which was ridiculously conservative in contrast to his gregarious, non-stop personality, this 60-year-old who could pass for someone at least 10 years younger, was mesmerizing because of his knowledge, his riffs on the piano and his out of the box enthusiasm.

He played his way through the first bars of a Chopin piece, talking almost non stop to the audience  as he did and revealing a few of the tricks of the composing trade in a way none of us had ever seen. Or maybe I'll just speak for myself.

At 24, he was a Yale music professor who got the opportunity to step in for one week as the conductor of the Broadway musical, Nine. That experience made him realize that not only is music not about the musicians or the conductor, it's about the audience and right then he was suddenly overcome with a compulsion that would change his life to help audiences feel about classical music the way people feel about the first popular music they fall in love with and  played over and over again as teenagers.

What he discovered by stepping into conducting that Broadway musical in the middle of its run, is that there is no such thing as getting to rehearse. Rehearsing is sitting in the audience and watching in preparation for being the conductor the next day. No pressure. He managed to pull it off  until it came time at the end to throw a large tambourine onto the stage, to the female lead. He had never done it before and instead of directing it at her, it went flying over her head the way a home run hit strikes the back wall, in this instance a wall of curtains.

A few years ago, he was hired by the Marin County Orchestra to write a symphony to celebrate the 75th anniversary (in 2012) of the Golden Gate Bridge. "What does the bridge sound like?" he asked the audience. "Foghorns" was one man's response. "That's right," he said, practically jumping off the piano stool. Instead of sitting alone in front of his piano, Kapilow got himself out onto the tug boats under the bridge, he listened and he asked questions of the tugboat operators and interviewed people on the street and even interviewed parents whose teenagers had, tragically, committed suicide off the bridge and that's when he knew he must have a chorus which grew to 100 so he could tell the full story, not just in music but through words  and he must have this and that and...you get the idea.

He wouldn't be the easiest guy to work with but he would get it done, and uniquely, no matter how many people ended up thinking he was a pain in the butt. Hey, no pain, no gain, no creativity.

I could go on and on about him but really all you need to know is that in his new book, What Makes it Great, which you can buy off iTunes or even the old fashioned way, you can read about some of the famous classical music pieces you love, assuming you do, and hear those parts he's talking about at the same time, right in your own living room. It will be almost as good as him being there. Nah. It wouldn't. But it would be the next best thing.

But the e-book/book here.

January 12, 2013

Ayahuasca judgement, not curiosity

Last night I went to a play in Vancouver, a monologue about Ayahuasca and how the characteristic purging, puking, and grip you by the throat terror that this thirty-something guy on stage had experienced after participating in a ceremony as part of a retreat on Vancouver Island that enabled him insight and to make connections that had eluded him for years.

He had been trapped by behavior that made his life miserable and came with inexplicable and horrific random visualizations.These images confused him, paralyzed him, made him disassociate and sometime even puke, even without drinking any Amazonian vine called Baanisteriopsis Caapi.

He’d read books by a well known Vancouver doctor more than once, inhaled them in fact,  and then one day, uncharacteristically, he e-mailed the doctor who eventually invited him to a retreat of about 25 people where Ayahuasca was consumed. The doctor ingested it himself, as if he was John C. Lilley doing his first hits of L.S.D. because this doctor liked to be different, he was different, he’d built his reputation on it.

Before this play, I’d first heard of Ayahuasca in 2008. I saw a documentary film on Salt Spring that played to a full house with the filmmaker, Richard Meech, present. In his film, Vine of the Soul: Encounters with Ayahuasca, he'd documented the  experience of three thirty to 40 year old Caucasian Torontonians who'd travelled to the Amazon and, like this actor on stage before me, went through their own little private versions of Hell and back as part of their purging experiences. Only one had experienced pure bliss.

I thought to myself, Jesus, why are middle class white people so tortured and why must they participate in rituals considered “cool” because they've been stolen from ancient cultures? Sweats. Ayahuasca. Take your pick.

The guy who hosts the groups was on stage to answer questions on this particular night as well. A medical doctor. Written a bunch of books. Good books. Books worth reading. I've read a couple myself. He had a ring on every finger,silver rings, which unnerved me. It reminded me of someone who had been a therapist in my life in my past. Be suspicious, very suspicious of any health care provider who wears a ring on every finger.  They just might come with side effects. Who you trying to impress? Why you trying so hard to be cool?  Don’t agree with me? Go get five rings, if you own five rings, out of wherever you keep them, put each one, one by one, on your fingers and see how it makes you feel. 

This guy, the physician on stage, he had a very masculine presence even though he’s not a very big man. After the play, on stage, he was wriggling around like a football coach, preparing to give the pre-game talk to his jocks. A not so undisguised whiff of disdain was wafting off of him and I couldn’t figure out why. He’d agreed to be there hadn’t he? 

I asked him a question, a rather innocuous question I thought, “What personal experience had he had that convinced him that this should be incorporated as part of his therapeutic technique.” His  response came back with such defensiveness it was as if I’d challenged him. I wonder if he realizes that his manner, on stage, is arrogant and defensive and maybe all those years of working with clients reeling against “the man” had rubbed off on him except I didn’t believe that. I believed it had always been there, right from the beginning, and that’s his shit, entrenched and perhaps why he's able to have, such compassion, I guess, with the addicts he treats.  

But, I also wondered what his story is, the other story, the one that he tells himself when he’s home alone right before he goes to bed at night and whether it would ever be possible for him to just sit in a room and do nothing, be a nobody, just a human being, minus the notoriety because eventually we will all have to be what we are, just that, flesh and blood and bones, that's it, just ask the elderly.

I wondered why it would be okay for the doctor to take the Ayahuasca while he was hosting these retreats and I wondered why cultural misappropriation wasn't an issue for him and when he referred to a Shaman named Dave, I didn’t even bother to suppress a laugh. Would you go to a shaman named Dave? Where do you find Dave? In the yellow pages under S?

Sometimes middle class Caucasians really make me sick with their first world desperation and their cloying need to be rescued out of their first world problems and it’s not as if I haven’t been there myself because I have. 

Those are the kind of thoughts I was having at the end of the evening. It made me wonder if maybe I couldn't benefit from a little Ayahuasca intervention so I might discover, Yes and thank you, why that sort of thing really irks me more than it should.

When I left the play, my friend looked at me and said, "That guy, the doctor, he has a lot of anger. I feel agitated," she said and we continued on to the corner of main and Hastings where we saw three or four cops in the middle of a take-down  and my friend, who has an anxiety disorder, insisted we get on the wrong bus just to get away. 

"It's all bullshit," she said. "People looking for a quick fix and there isn’t one and it's only when you've been through hell and back and done the work that you know that."

When you’ve become really attuned to others' feelings because you've had to become attuned to your own because there was a time when you were more removed from them than the Grand Canyon is long and wide, then you can see other people's bullshit. The lies they are telling themselves become so obvious because their body language is betraying them. And then you can see false prophets as if you are an astronaut on the space shuttle looking back at earth shocked by a huge clearcut or like you’re reading a new adult version of the Emporer’s New Clothes.

You want nothing to do with anything that isn’t  about you finding your own inner strength, not expecting external sources to rescue you,  not even from some doctor who thinks he has all the answers  even though he thinks he’s fooling some people by saying, out loud, that he doesn't.

PS: Kudos to the guy who wrote and performed the play. It took a lot of guts. There's no need for the doctor in the house, except for ticket sales. Maybe.