Quick—what image first comes to mind when you hear the word ‘island”?
For many people, myself included, the first visual is something tropical, with astonishing turquoise water, palm trees and white sand. A week ago, as I made the sunset flight—so short we barely had time to climb—between Vancouver and Victoria, I stared out the window at an entirely different sort of island. These were so densely forested to appear almost black, most without a single light to suggest human presence. How radically different this was from the Caribbean I had just left—beautiful and fun, but so thoroughly humanized. This would take some getting used to.
The first time i saw the Island View exit on the highway through the Saanich Peninsula, I thought it was just another example of naming something to sound more romantic and exotic than it really is, like calling tract homes villas or estates, or pretending there is a river or a bay where these only exist in some marketing firm’s imagination.
Then I went there. The Gulf Islands visible from shore are dark, hauntingly beautiful enigmas, most with names that signify nothing, because nature doesn’t need the labels we give it. i have been back many times since, and it has become one of my favorite places.
Today I made my first trip back to Island View Park (see photo above), and I was starkly aware of how much had changed in my head since I walked here last summer Today I struggled to be in synch with it because I am struggling to be in synch with everything.
It hasn’t been an easy transition back to Victoria. I was randomly selected for Covid follow up, which made me unable to call up friends and suggest an immediate get together. Oh well, as my friend Annie said, perhaps a soft, buffered landing is better anyway after such a huge and lengthy adventure.
She was right, of course. One thing I dread about a return from an adventure is the sense I must account for it somehow. I truly don’t know what to say about all the different environments I was in and the wide array of challenges i faced, and trying to think of how to hit the highlights is exhausting. And besides, I am really more interested in what I have missed by being absent from my friends’ lives for so long that I’d just prefer to pick up where we left off.
But as I walked today along the pebbled beach at Island View, I thought there is something more going on. With the exception of a few cruise companions for short periods, since I said goodbye to my tour guide in Montenegro in September, I have been alone. Yes, on the ships I did make a few friends I think are keepers, but the typical day found me off on my own from morning to night On the ships, I ate dinner alone most of the time (Covid rules, and my personal concerns influenced this), and when I didn’t have an escorting gig in port, I wondered around on my own. This made the months I spent in the Caribbean feel very different from any other cruise assignment I have had.
As a result, my authentic life has been lived inside my head, and I am fine with that. One of my alter egos is a hermit. But the hermit life is not what being in Victoria is about. I really like a number of friends I have made, and my reluctance to break through my self-imposed exile for people who are important to me is surprising. I guess there are a lot of different kinds of islands, and I have been on my own personal one for so long it has become my sanctuary, and I feel protective of that.
I thought that when I first came back to Vancouver Island I would feel a rush of affinity with it. Instead, I feel stuck on my own island, with unresolved business, personal worries, and an inability to just be in the moment, which has been so central to what has made me happy here. I guess that is the nature of any transitional period. I have “moved ” in a sense, and I should expect that to be mental, physical, and psychological work both in relation to what I have left behind and what I have entered. But I wish I felt a little more of the magic….
I think stepping off my island is crucial now. Just a coffee, or a movie with a friend (hooray—theatres are open!) may crack something open and let the comfort of being here find its way in. All I know is that everything changes, and I will change too, and that has been the driving force in my life. Who knows what is next? I will have to come off my island to find out