Oh Canada– land of poutine, Caesars and unfailing politeness. I cannot understate just how much I enjoyed spending a month visiting my northern neighbors.
Rather than making responsible decisions and finding a summer job after my season at NAL ended, instead I repacked my car and began driving north. After the first day spent entirely on the 5 slogging up to Oakland I was doubting my plan, but felt much more confident as soon as I crossed over to the coast. Highway 128 was full of beautiful lakes with docked rowboats begging to be used and plenty of wineries just waiting to be sampled, but I forced myself to continue into redwood country, stopping only once I saw the ocean in Mendocino. Quite possibly the world’s most peaceful town, I spent some time poking around in little tourist trap shops before I walked alongside cypress trees down to the cliffs to stretch my legs. From here onward every bend in the road became like a song, and I stopped often to indulge my whims. My favorite stop before reaching my cousin’s house in Eureka was the Avenue of the Giants, where I slipped off my shoes and silently crept past ancient trees on a carpet of pine needles, expecting to be greeted by a dinosaur around every bend.
I woke early the next morning, fitting in a quick stop at Redwood National Park before crossing over into Oregon. The coastline looked haunted, the road winding through veils of fog extending from the low-lying mountains out towards the sea. My first stop in Oregon was at Samuel L Boardman State Park, where I walked a trail next to blooming blackberry bushes to the ocean. On the sand I followed an elk’s footprints past bleached bones of driftwood until I reached the shoreline. While clambering over piles of olive and turquoise rocks I discovered my first tide pool, and actually exclaimed aloud in surprise and delight. The purple and orange starfish next to neon yellow and green anemones on bubble gum pink rock was a meditation on beauty, and I sat there for a long time, entranced, as gentle waves lapped at the rocks and kelp nodded knowingly in the distance.
The Pacific Northwest grew even more majestic as I moved up the coast, nature on steroids. The green was almost too green, and the trees became trim and stern, watching militantly from clusters along the roadside. After a stop at Bandon Beach to see the natural rock sculptures carved out by the sea, I drove a bit further to visit Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Hiking the John Dellenback Dunes Trail basically amounted to playing in a giant sandbox plopped down in the middle of the forest. I spent at least an hour scrambling up and down dunes, imagining the gentle sensation of falling down them to be as close as I’ll ever come to experiencing what it must be like to fly. Aside from the wind blowing through the dry grass, everything was totally silent, just big blue skies and gentle sandy slopes as far as the eye could see.
Eventually I was over-saturated, losing track of how many rivers I crossed on ramshackle bridges, or how many antique shops, art galleries and espresso bars I had passed. Flashes of beauty through the car windowpane mirrored my fragmented memories of sites I visited: meandering through Three Capes Scenic Drive; a scoop of cherry ice cream in Manzanita; splashing around at Cannon Beach; jealously watching surfers at Ecola State Park. At last, after two days camping in Olympic National Park, where I walked along many a beach and through many a moss-covered forest, I arrived in Vancouver.
My former non-sexual life partner and now newly married (to a man) Cristella recently moved from France to Kitsilano, a bustling neighborhood practically a stone’s throw away from the beach. Vancouver itself is perhaps the most beautiful city I’ve been to, gorgeous mountains seemingly in every direction, white sandy beaches, handsome humans jogging or playing volleyball or just generally standing around being the pinnacle of health and fitness. After a couple days this actually became a little eerie, and I started to feel as if I was in a real life Truman Show. Despite searching I wasn’t able to find any flaws beneath the façade, and after a blissful four days eating and drinking our way around the city, I was off on the ferry to Vancouver Island to WWOOF for the next three weeks.
Vancouver Island did not feel like much of an island, since upon my arrival I learned that it is roughly the size of Ireland. Most of my time there was spent working at a permaculture farm on 23 acres of land sandwiched between Duncan and Cowichan Bay. An ancient First Nation battleground, in the ‘60s the land became a Hell’s Angels’ clubhouse, whose presence is still felt thanks to the shards of broken glass found throughout the property. Eventually the Angels were run out of town (although I’ve still seen more of them on the island than anywhere previously in my life), and right as the land was about to be turned into a fish farm, an environmental lawyer from Vancouver swooped in, turning part of the property into a preserve, while reserving a few acres to serve as a guesthouse and working farm. The area surrounding the farm remains all tribal land, and the nearest building to my house was a still operational long house, used for ceremonial drumming and chanting during the weekends. With cool ocean breezes, romantic cloudy skies, and lush forest, my time spent there was for me like finding an earthly slice of heaven, even with the very aggressive mosquitoes.
When not practicing farming I practiced being a tourist. I happened to visit Victoria during Pride, where the rainbow colors and a parade helped to perk up the old buildings and grey skies. Aside from just generally strolling about, I also stopped by the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria where I learned about Mary Carr, the Frida Kahlo of Canada. Another weekend I went out to Sidney by the Sea, where I poked around the used bookstores and ate a plate of fish and chips for lunch that I still find myself thinking about, before heading to the Butchart Gardens. Those gardens just about did me in, somehow they managed to do things with flowers and fireworks that I did not know were possible.
I began by following the well-worn tourist path through cedar trees with topiary grizzly bears towards the Sunken Gardens. As I descended down the steps, an Elvis cover band began playing ‘Return to Sender,’ and the woman behind me leaned over to whisper conspiratorially that she had married her first husband because of this song. The music distorted as it reverberated off the limestone quarry, adding to the surreal effect of the technicolor dream I had just entered. In every direction the flowers were colorful and vibrant, and there was not a single leaf or blade of grass out of place. I used my time wandering the grounds alone to eavesdrop, and I loved hearing so many different accents remarking on how splendid everything was: ‘Gorgeous,’ I heard in a thick Brooklyn accent; ‘Magnificent,’ a Brit marveled; ‘See, now these are gardens,’ a man remarked in a southern drawl. Eventually I found my way to the carousel to watch a morose little girl ride an orca, and then made my way to the great lawn where the band was still rocking out. Even better than listening to the international crowd was watching them dance: women in saris, women in burkas; the young and the old; the Amish and the Asian- I loved them all.
My last weekend was spent driving out to the west coast to explore Tofino and Ucluelet, where I had plenty of lazy beach time and enjoyed spending the night under the stars on Meares Island. It’s amazing how fast time has gone by, already on Friday I’ll head down to Seattle to spend the weekend enjoying the Capitol Hill Block Party, before picking up my mother in Portland so we can finish the tail end of this road trip together, Thelma and Louise style. I’ll be sad to leave, since Canada is pretty neat, eh? I’ll have to continue perfecting my ‘eh’ on the next visit. For now, watch out ‘merica, I’m a-comin’ for ya.