“Transplant that hasn’t taken root”
Loretta texts me this writing prompt from a workshop she’s in, as I’m sitting in the sun on the deck of the ferry, sliding from Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay, to meet my friend Bonne for lunch. The apt-ness of the text makes my mouth curve wry, knowing where I am. I’ve done this route before. I lived here, sort of. It’s familiar and still novel. My route with the Russian was Nanaimo – Tsawassen, this start and a different end.
Horseshoe Bay was my solo trip to the Sunshine Coast, when I knew I was leaving BC, and wanted to cram in another small adventure, a trek I sort of trudged through dutifully. A romantic arc without the romance, a bounded sojourn. I ate dinner by the sea, promised as magic by Chef Boy, with a kind of obligation. Found it hard to relax into the seabreeze promises with the sense of an ending urging me to complete the task of salmon and wine with efficiency.
I found a guidebook with day hikes, and made my way to a trail up a small mountain no one had been up in a while. Spiderwebs pawed me as I broke the steep path. A sunny short peak at the top, as alone as I’ve ever been, not one clue left in the world where I was. My car hidden from the twisty logging road I’d traveled 20 km on to find the trailhead, the map picked up en route. I never have figured out how to properly read directions on how to find the start of a trail, always a little fluid in my understanding of navigation (I actually lost the compass after my navigation dive while certifying for my Advanced Open Water, distressing my instructor beyond belief).
I made it down from the sunny peak, and out the bewildering logging road, and the next day, took the long ferry journey back to the mainland, melancholy with the sunlight, the coast, the mountains, borrowing interest in the World Cup in the ferry line as I waited for two sailings. I’d taken on the habits of the locals, waiting for sailings rather than paying extra to reserve. When we’d come here for summer holidays, B and I had always reserved.
Now, an unrooted transplant, I’m back, a visitor, touching down in the life of another unrooted transplant, a friend in transition, in her late mother’s house. We clean up and clear out so potential buyers can view the place, scrape up the dog biscuit crumbs, perfunctory. It’s her sister’s dog, another temporary transplant.
On the ferry, in the March sun, sheltered, I ride toward crabcakes and shrimp dumplings and a restaurant that washes at the edges of the sublime, where I brought B when she visited, and Finch, and had my birthday with Bonne the year I lived here, new fluevogs bought as my present to myself shiny and pinching that day, the same ones I’m wearing now. The same restaurant where I had the internet date with the lunatic who put the knife in his water to try to conduct the sun and melt the ice. Instead of asking for another glass of water.
In my year on this coast, I made pathways here, little grooves of familiarity – the fior di cassis gelato from Joe, touching the bear’s nose as I rounded the end of the seawall on my runs, a bike route right from my house of 19 or 24 miles, deepening on the loop, the route with all the right hills, just the right amount of effort, the one where I fell when my cold pedals wouldn’t unclip fast enough on Christmas day, when I was so taken by the idea of going for a ride, just to prove I could. Dinner at the seafood pub just below my house, where I ate brochettes of salmon and prawns and drank zinfandel while fireworks flew, watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics while local guys mocked kd lang’s gender performance as she dazzled through Halleluiah, where I had a deeply moving conversation with two survivors of the residential school horror, treating themselves to a nice dinner to mark six months of non-smoking, three years of sobriety for her, two for him. Regretting not quietly paying for their meal.
An unrooted transplant into the perfect little cottage perched up a hill, where my bed tucked into a treehouse of a room, windows curved around me, sunset hot and rich and falling over me. Where the sweet “extra” balcony had the perfect perch for rail-sitting and dreamy sunset watching over the bay, shown to me by S, who’d lived her on her own for a decade, whom I’d never suspected of whimsy and playfulness.
Neighbours uncertain about who I was, what I was doing there, the strange woman who gave the one child on the street a jar of jam for Halloween. I harvested blueberries and blackberries, and plucked ineffectively at the weeds, the garden taking over in mere weeks. Weeding me out.
I transplanted my purple sofa, popcorn popper, coffee maker, favourite books, brought new a sharp shiny knife, fancy bean grinder, the perfect turquoise le crueset dutch oven for making jam from the berries that grew all around, seafood paella, winter stews. My car brought fresh to this life, perfect for highways, but recklessly slide-y on the logging roads I needed to take to get to the trailheads I imagined.
Now, the ferry shifts me, the sun cajoling, wind at bay, between. In transit, I’m reflective, I’m still, I observe, I feel the agitation and restlessness of the settled flurry unfurl outward, release. Not hiding, but floating, absorbing. “You should stay put for a while” – the Greek Chorus of my life. “What will you find when you’re settled in Toronto for a change?”
I am rooted, curled into many stories and lives and homes and tables and trails, in my city. And the traveling, the half-transplants – the time in Portland seven years ago, or carving trails in Rochester or Lancashire or Austin, in British Columbia – they held the same thing. The space between. The known folded into the novel, breathing most fully when edged into discovery. Seeing what I know and care about more fully when in contrast. Simultaneously, I drift and I hone in, find the point of connection in multiples. There and not there, engaged more fully.