A Place of Safe Landing
Greetings from Coombs, in the central part of Vancouver Island! After a lovely stay I’ve moved on from Blue Raven, and have since visited 2 more wwoof hosts. The first was on Gabriola island, where I had the most laid back wwoof week so far. I felt spoiled by the time I left – work days were short and one of my hosts, Claire, took me somewhere almost every day, whether it was to the many beaches on the island, some of the forested trails and nature reserves, or the village to see the tiny museum. It was a beautiful place to be.
The Commons was one place Claire took me. It’s a piece of land that’s owned by the public, and has community garden plots, a community kitchen and food bank, space for classes to be held, and is entirely run by volunteers! Amazing.
I helped with a variety of projects on Gabriola. Much of the time was taken up building a home for some new chicks who hatched a few days into my stay. They are crafty little things and can squeeze through cracks more easily than expected, so we were always “renovating” their enclosure to keep them safe with their mother and to keep any intruders out. It was great to see Mango, the mother hen, interacting with the chicks. She had been sitting on unfertilized eggs for so long that Claire decided to give her some fertilized ones instead, and now she’s finally satisfied.
I also helped mulch some paths in the woods. Claire and Jan are trying to restore the forest on the property to a more natural habitat, so they work with an eco-forester and propagate native trees and plants to put in, as well as remove invasive species like honeysuckle. They also have lovely gardens and fruit trees around the house.
The second place, where I am now, is an organic blueberry farm in Qualicum Beach. It’s gorgeous and hot. There were 3 other wwoofers here when I arrived, all from Germany, who I loved – they were always laughing about something and making delicious desserts! All have since moved on, and I’ll be here for another few days. Making new friends so quickly and then parting ways so soon is the worst part of wwoofing so far (but also, maybe the best).
I have never worked with blueberries before. The cultivated varieties are much bigger than the wild ones – the bushes are about as tall as I am once staked, and the berries themselves are quite big. So far we’ve been tying them up to the stakes, weeding, doing some work in the vegetable garden (which serves a small number of CSA members) and doing some invasive plant removal in the woods out back. Our hosts have taken us to some cool places as well – we’ve spent an afternoon at Qualicum Beach, looking over the ocean and across to the coast mountains on the mainland. We’ve also gone to Top Bridge, which is part of Englishman river, to go swimming. The river is fed by the melting snow atop Mount Arrowsmith, and the water was very cold! But such a beautiful swimming spot. We’ve also meandered into Coombs, which is the nearest town, and visited the famous Goats on the Roof shop (which actually does have goats grazing on its living roof).
As I mentioned before, my stay on Gabriola felt more like a vacation than a work-stay, and that laid back state of being has carried forward since. In the midst of my stay here in Coombs, I decided to take an impromptu side trip to the west coast of the island with Ina, one of the other wwoofers. Thankfully, Joanne & Richard have been very accommodating and we agreed that I would go for a few days, and then work again for a few days once I got back. Until that point, I hadn’t planned on visiting the west side of the island, although many people have encouraged me to visit Tofino and Pacific Rim national park. I remember, before I left Ontario to start wwoofing, reassuring my family that I wouldn’t be alone the whole time, that I’d probably meet people and end up traveling with them, and lo and behold it happened. Working and living with people can create fast friendships and I’m grateful for it!
The side trip to the west part of the island really drove home how generous people can be. As we left for Tofino, not yet knowing where we might stay that night, I got a message from someone on Couchsurfing.com who could host us, but was in Ucluelet. We accepted the offer during the bus ride and got off early in Ucluelet instead of going all the way to Tofino. (Our driver John, by the way, was hilarious – speaking over the bus microphone to tell us about points of interest along the way, such as Cathedral Grove, where the home of the ewoks from Star Wars was apparently filmed. I hope that guy gets a career doing stand up sometime in his life!) Ucluelet was such a beautiful place. I haven’t spent much time in seaside towns but now I see the appeal.
Our couch surfing host Shannon was wonderful – we were given a key to the house, comfy places to sleep, and were welcome to use the kitchen to make ourselves meals. Shannon & her roommates also invited us to trivia night at a nearby pub which was on a ship, and we gladly joined them. It was perfect to have a landing place during our days in Ukee, as we could leave our heavy bags and go for hikes or to the beach. I later found out that the name “Ucluelet” is a Nuu-Cha-Nulth (First Nations) word for “place of safe landing,” and it definitely was.
After spending 3 days in Ucluelet, we decided to move on and make our way to Tofino. Shannon was kind enough to drive us part way, and we got a free ride from a bus driver who had just finished his shift. As we had no plans for where to spend the night at that point either, the driver gave us suggestions, looked up phone numbers for us, and even dropped us off at the campground we decided to stay at. The kindness of strangers is not to be underestimated!
Seeing Humanity in Tofino, and The Commons on Gabriola island, was encouraging. It’s refreshing to observe what community spaces and organizations are doing, to see a place where all people are welcomed without having to purchase anything (even if you need to use the washroom), where folks can come together and just relax. I’m grateful to have visited these places and hope I can bring something valuable back when I go home to Ontario, where we need such places too.
One other thing I’ve noticed about the west so far is how much nature is valued. Even in heavily developed or populated areas, wild spaces are left to be enjoyed and preserved. It may be that these wild lands are not suitable for development, but the sense I get is that people genuinely value their presence, and so they keep many areas untouched or undeveloped. I find this incredibly touching, and almost a relief. I’ve never visited a park here that required an admission fee; wild animals actually live nearby because their habitats are large enough to sustain a lasting population. I’ve seen owls, eagles, deer, frogs, ducks, newts, and of course, trees so massive that their sheer size and age supports other life forms. All these things I’ve seen within close proximity to cities, and in some cases within cities. This is something I really wish southern Ontarians would value more. Looking across the land there and seeing nothing but strip malls, subdivisions, and monocrop farms makes it feel like a wasteland sometimes. Making wild areas accessible to people is so important.
So, although this is not a very farm-y post, I felt it was important to update about all the positive things that have happened in the last couple of weeks. Community, wild space and the kindness of strangers are all things we need more of. I will always be grateful for those who gave something of themselves during my travels: to Claire for showing me around Gabriola and driving me all the way to Coombs, to John our hilarious bus driver on the way to Tofino, to the many friendly locals who gave us advice on where to go, to the cool Belgian woman we chatted with at Big Beach, to Shan and her roommates for being so open to having us stay at their place, to Joanne and Richard for being flexible with my wwoof stay so that I could see the west island, and to Ina for sharing her camping gear, whiskey and good company! I leave you with one of my favourite quotes, another from Jeanette Winterson:
Loneliness isn’t about being by yourself. That’s fine, right and desirable in many ways. Loneliness is about finding a landing-place, or not, and knowing that, whatever you do, you can go back there. The opposite of loneliness is…return. A place to return.
Posted on July 22, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged couch surfing, gabriola island, jeanette winterson, organic blueberries, qualicum beach, tofino, ucluelet. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.