Sometimes I feel I never really go anywhere, but here I am, having captured a moment in a day last week to book this cliffside cottage on Salt Spring Island. Spur of the moment, so little planned that I didn’t know my husband had already booked a major meeting and couldn’t come. He had a hard time wishing us a bon voyage. I assured him we were scouting for another future trip. When I’d first broached the subject of a little getaway, he’d suggested making it a major one, which I just couldn’t stomach at least in terms of planning, for which there was no time, anyway. It was the last chance for my kids to all do something together, with two different spring break schedules, and the girls longed to get away somewhere pretty, if not to a beach in California. So the second time I looked online and happened upon Daffodil Cove Cottage, it was free for the two days we wanted it at a reasonable price, I nabbed it. A long ferry ride sounded better than a drive, and a stay sounded better than a tour, so we loaded up the blue van and here we are.
All windows in front facing the Strait, and islands all the way to vast Vancouver Island at the back. My two daughters are napping in the loft after a bit of fresh air and a bout of watching videos on their phones. My youngest son is bored, he says, but as he’s already used up his screen time for the day, I’m letting him figure out what to do with his discontented soul. He’s too tired to take a walk, he says, and didn’t respond to my suggestion that he bundle up and sit out on the deck and just watch the trees and waves, see if it might bring him some peace? I’m talking to myself more than him, and neither of us is listening very well. We’re all needing a detox–maybe a habit-forming three weeks in the woods with nothing but art and writing supplies (not ready to go totally mind-to-nature yet).
I’m missing the way (I think–nostalgia?) I used to be, again, able to be deeply aware in tune with wind and scents and the glory and wonder of the “natural world.” On my morning walk–made myself go out by will and not longing, reasoning that I really should go experience more of this beautiful scene–what moved me most (and that not much) was the ditch flowing with water down the hill beside the road. Why that? Because I used to go play in the ditches by my childhood home in the spring, sending leaf boats down, racing with the ones my brothers had launched. But not with peals of laughter and the joy of childhood, now that I think of it, just a conviction that mine would never win, and if it did, the race must have been unfair, according to my big brother, who would keep racing until he tipped the balance again. But there was the relief of the long-awaited melting of the frosty ground, the smell of crushed stems and warm sandstone, first sightings of water striders and tadpoles, the trill of the red-winged blackbird. The wind off the bay was no longer too cold to face without a hooded coat, and the cumulus were higher in the sky, in my idyllic childhood.
I suppose the only reason I can take pleasure in those sounds and scents today is because of that early exposure. The meaning in the running of a ditch is relative. Is it too late for my high school students, then, who mostly suffer from nature deficit disorder? When I appeal to them to bring in their permission slips so we can walk a few blocks to the stream a few times this month, assuring them that it will be good, not tedious and uncomfortable and strange, am I mistaken? “I don’t like to go outside,” says one. “I already did that,” says another. Is it any coincidence that this person (gender uncertain) is showing signs of psychosis and suicidal tendencies? Am I being unrealistic to believe that a half hour in the woods by a stream could be balancing for all of us, and that even if we don’t get any official science done, it’s a move in the right direction in terms of their “education”? STill, a good number are willing, so I guess the protocol id to leave the rest at school with another teacher and a paper assignment.
Can’t believe how little I want to do, how unenthusiastic I am myself, about getting out there right now. I make myself do it like exercise, when I’m not planning it for others. Even try to get a bit more energetic first my drinking a cup of coffee. Really, has this too turned into a discipline? Maybe just temporarily. Sure, I’m not sucked into cyberspace to pursue endless curiosities or obsessions, nor do I feel the need to vlog the view, the cabin decor, and my kids eating lunch, but still, I’m not experiencing oneness with nature either. If I do some sketching it will do me good, I know, but it will have to be initiated by will power too. Since I’m not in my own home, there isn’t a garden I can work in, though I did get to chop some wood for the stove this morning. I was surprised how long the sense of satisfaction and pleasure in that work, along with the lighting of the fire, lasted. Better than several hours reading on the couch with a bag of Cheetos.
It’s all going on without me, without us, out there in creation. All those fishes and seaweeds floating and swimming by through the currents, barnacles and mussels filter feeding, deer and rabbits hanging out undercover until evening, when they’ll steal out onto the mossy trail and pull at the new grass coming through the matted straw and leaves. Owls are asleep, and small rodents tunnel under the thatch, and I’m missing it all–can’t see, can’t smell, can’t hear, especially behind my cozy glass where the refrigerator hums along with the wind in the trees outside. Trees falling in the forest in every windstorm. Season after season, as the trees, moss, frost and running water slowly break down the mountain and infuse it with air-sourced organic matter and deer carcasses. I collected a deer skull and vertebrae when I was out, and took a lot of photos to illustrate the process of weathering to my science students. I hope they will notice the little purple and yellow flowers, moss sporophytes, and all the beautiful colors of lichens and fungi, and I’ll try to tell them what else I saw when I looked close.