Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Next Chapter: The Sunshine Coast.

Molly's Reach (yellow building) in Gibsons.

The Preamble.

“We’re moving to Sechelt, it’s on the Sunshine Coast of BC.”

I made this declaration to disbelieving family and friends when my partner, Greg Richardson, accepted a teaching position at Chatelech Secondary School in Sechelt, though it was, I agreed, difficult to believe. Me, in BC? Where one can garden ten months of the year rather than two? Where I may not see snow all winter? Where one could potentially live right beside the ocean? 

Except for the last year and half spent in Edmonton, and some short stints in Calgary and Medicine Hat before I was 20, I am Saskatchewan born and raised, and proud of it. Although not as exotic as haling from, say, Newfoundland, Saskatchewan is distinct. The word itself is a bit of an ear-catcher.

I’ve sometimes prided myself on an ability to recognize the subtleties that distinguish the beauty of the prairies. “See that field? Look closely. Look at the variety of colours in one square foot of land here. And that sky. It’s all cinema and big band. Just look up, and you’ve got all the entertainment one needs for a lifetime.”

We say these things in Saskatchewan, and we mean them.

But it’s good to shake things up, too. And Greg, who is originally from Victoria, longed to get back to ocean fishing and milder winters. “We’re giving up prairie snow and cold for west coast rain,” I told anyone who bothered to listen. “I’ve never been to Sechelt, but I hear it’s nice.”

Sechelt. What did I know about it? I met a woman in Bali who does body-piercing in Sechelt. Flo. I know there are an abundance of writers and artists, and an impressive Writers Festival: a huge drawing card for me. One must take a ferry to get there, though it's close to Vancouver, and very near Gibsons, where one of my fictional characters, Ringo, (from the juvenile novel Riding Planet Earth) once lived. Of course Gibsons was also made famous thanks to the iconic TV show we all watched for years: "The Beachcombers" ... Molly's Reach, Bruno Gerussi, "Relic" and the rest.  

I scarcely knew anything.

Greg drove out in August to find accommodation for us on the coast. He stayed in two temporary homes before moving into our longterm situation, the beach house I can only refer to as jaw-droppingly-gorgeous: it's smack on the waterfront, features a solarium, sleeps ten, and comes with two kayaks. "Shell, you've got to get out here soon," Greg said at least 250 times on the phone. "This is paradise."

"I'm trying," I assured him, but for all I knew it could have been months before I would make my way to the Sunshine Coast. (There are details, a few thousand, one must attend to before they change chapters, eh.)  

But things miraculoulsy fell into place with whiplash-inducing speed. I secured excellent renters, cleaned and packed and said goodbye to wonderful Edmonton friends. I made a too-quick exit from my radio job (which I would take with me to the coast). I loaded the car up with everything I could fit inside -- leaving much of what I wanted -- and away I went, alone, westward into the mountains, fearing my bikes would fly off the top off the car and I'd be responsible for some innocents' deaths. Maybe a whole family. Or at least an elk in Jasper.

The Journey.

I'd never personally driven a car through the mountains before. Beautiful driving conditions, summer traffic had dissipated, but I clutched that wheel so tightly I had to dry my palms on my sleeves every few minutes between Valemont and Hope. (True thing). One does not perhaps appreciate the curves and climbs unless they’re behind the wheel, watching the car’s temperature gauge edge toward red on those gas-chugging climbs.

Did I mention that I didn't have a cellphone, should worse come to worst?

But I made good time. I even stopped to see if a friend, Ken Therres, was at work at London Drugs in Chilliwack. Nope. I got a bit turned around, but soon was back on that straight bullet of a highway toward Vancouver again. And then I was in. And didn't have a clue where I was going, except Greg'd said: "Just stay on the #1 Highway ... it leads you right to the Horseshoe Bay ferry."

I passed accidents. I passed towers. I passed cops and cyclists. I crossed bridges. I stayed on that #1 like my very life depended on it. But where was the ferry? I seemed to drive forever, not weaving between lanes like the  experienced Vancouver drivers, just doing the grandmother thing: pick a lane and hope like hell it's the right one, 'cause sister, you're not moving.

Vancouver was going ... going ... I thought I might end up in Whistler. But there was a sign. And another. Ah, I was still on track. Finally the traffic began to thin and the roads wound ever more ... and then the last Horseshoe Bay sign.

I'd arrived. And it was already so beautiful I didn't know where to look ... islands, the sea, the quaint buildings. Unfortunately the ferry schedule I'd printed off the web a few days before was now obsolete, and the 20 minute wait I thought I was in for was actually a 2-hour wait, but I was a-tingle, just by the very fact that I'd actually made it that far, unscathed.

I tried my computer to let Greg know I'd be late, but there was no internet service. No cellphone, of course (that would be too easy). Smoke signals? Psychic messaging? Well, he'd figure it out, and it wasn't like he'd be meeting me at the ferry in Langdale. No, I would make my way right to our new home on Stalashen Drive. "Turn just before the Chapman Creek bridge," he'd said, "right off the Sunshine Coast Highway."

So I waited, and walked around, and admired the view, and talked to people, as I'm wont. A couple approached me, attracted apparently by the car's excessive load and the bikes -- broken down and wrapped in cardboard my son and I confiscated from an Edmonton dumpster--on top.

"Are you moving to the Sunshine Coast from Alberta?" the man asked.

"I am," I said, "this very day."

The friendly couple, Dee and Michel, explained that they'd made the move from Canmore a few years before, and loved the coast. Dee was just arriving home from a trip to Madagascar, and didn't look one iota jet-lagged. We got to talking, we did, and Dee gave me the advice I'll keep in my metaphorical back pocket through the wet winter here: "Shelley, the winter skies on the coast aren't gray ... think of them as silver." Ah. Priceless tip.

What's more, Dee actually asked to buy a book from the back of my car. Oh, what a good omen, I thought. I'm going to love this place and these people.

We boarded, and I sat with my face to the sun on the 40-minute ferry ride. I was floating in all senses of the word. I spoke to a woman from Stuttgart, who did not know my Stuttgard writer friend Daniel Bachmann. I asked another woman -- also German -- which way I'd go to find Sechelt. "Just follow the ferry traffic," she said, "follow us."

We landed, and I remained in fairytale mode, following the bead of traffic up a long hill. When I turned left, I was blinded by the late afternoon sun, and basically had to struggle to see the lines of the highway for th rest of the drive. I didn't see any of Gibsons, Roberts Creek, or anything else for the next 20 minutes. Traffic seemed to speed and slow without cause. I looked for my markers: a gas station, a Canadian Tire, a small bridge. There it was! The bridge over Chapman Creek, just before Mission Drive. I cranked the wheel and was glad to get off the busy -- and narrow -- highway. 

"You'll pass some post office boxes," Greg had said, and I did.

And then: the sign for Stalashen Drive. "Turn left," Greg had said, and I did.

I minded the 20\km hour speed limit, bumped over two speedbumps on the towering-tree bordered lane, and looky, who was standing out in the road wearing an ear-to-ear smile: Greg Richardson.

Hugs and kisses and all that lovey-dove business in front of the house. Then: "Close your eyes," Greg said, "and take my arm." He led me into the house. "Watch your step ... and step here ... and lift one more time ..." I heard a patio door sliding open, then he said: "Okay, now you can look."

I opened my eyes and the sea filled my sights. When I could speak, it was through tears. "I can't believe it," I said. 

This was my welcome beginning.   

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