A bittersweet journey to Vancouver Island


Hello from Santa Clara, California. I returned here, to the San Jose area, about a week ago, but I’ll make a separate post about my time here. Right now, I’m behind on reporting my travels to Comox, British Columbia, on Canada’s Vancouver Island.

As some of you know, my maternal grandfather was Canadian. His parents had immigrated to Canada from England in the late 1800s. His father—my great-grandfather—was an architect who built a house in 1912, when my grandfather was 7, in an idyllic Vancouver Island hamlet called Comox. The house was situated on about seven forested acres, with the open front yard ending in a bluff overlooking the ocean (and nearby Denman and Hornby Islands).

My grandparents retired to this home in the 1960s, after my grandfather had spent his career in the United States, where he had met my grandmother and raised my mother and her two siblings.

I was born in 1972, and during my childhood and teen years, our family would make the trek from Virginia, every few summers, to visit the grandparents in this wonderful place. My grandfather was a forester, and in addition to the wonderful vegetable garden and berry vines they cultivated, he also planted fruit and nut trees, including an apple tree with at least eight varieties of apples grafted onto it.

My grandparents passed away in the mid-late 1990s, but we have been able to keep the house in the family, sharing it among various relatives, since then. As an adult, I have visited a number of times, although living in Portland without a car made it difficult to travel there. (Even from Seattle, it was a full day’s journey, including a drive to the Canadian border, a wait at the border, a wait at the ferry, a two-hour ferry crossing, and then a nearly two-hour drive from the ferry to the house. Flying was possible, but expensive and similarly time-consuming, since of course there is no direct flight.)

Sadly, our family has finally come to a time when we will soon need to sell the house. Life marches on, and things change. I accept this, but saying goodbye to a place I have known all my life is sad.

So, I made a (probably) last trip up there a couple of weeks ago, which happened to allow me to celebrate my birthday in this special place and spend time with my parents, who have traveled all the way from Virginia to spend a couple of months there.

It was a very special trip, and I’m so glad I went.

I flew up on November 6th. I would have preferred to avoid flying, as usual, but the logistics, time, and expense of doing so from San Jose were unfortunately prohibitive.

I spent my first night on the island in a hotel, since my flight arrived late, and then, since my parents had not arrived yet, I chose to spend the next two nights with a Servas host, to give myself a non-family perspective on this place I had only visited with family over the years.

I’m so glad I did! Jane, my host, was in her mid-70s, and had grown up in a Servas family. Her parents had hosted dozens of people from around the world; she actually showed me two thick binders of letters and photos from these folks, mostly from the mid-1980s. How cool!

Her cottage was magical, situated directly on the beach(!) and with a special outdoor guest bedroom, set up to be very cozy and inviting.

The day I met her was the last warm(ish) and sunny day of what is a very dark and rainy season in that area, and the rain and windstorms had not yet taken down the autumn leaves from the trees.

We went to my family house to see it in this golden state, and I’m so glad we did. A few photogenic deer made their customary appearance, and we even picked apples from one of my grandfather’s trees, from which we later made applesauce.

Then she drove me around the area, and we took a hike at a beautiful nature park called Nymph Falls.

The next day—my birthday, the 8th—we took a walk along the beach, and then back through her neighborhood, passing a glorious red Japanese maple.

That evening, my wonderful vegan Facebook friends Fireweed and Mike, who live on Denman Island, took the ferry over with their electric car, and took me out to a sumptuous birthday dinner (for Fireweed, too—her birthday is the day before mine, and her late father’s birthday was the same as mine) at a nearby Greek restaurant that boasts a separate vegan menu. The meal was wonderful, with an assortment of flavorful appetizers, entrees, cocktails, and even dessert, and I had leftovers for another meal the next day.

The following day, my parents came to Jane’s place to pick me up and take me to the family home.

Sure enough, we got plenty of dark, rain, and wind over the next six nights—enough to knock out the power (and thus well water supply, too) for five hours one night.

But it was wonderful to reconnect with my parents in person; the last time we had seen each other was over Mothers’ Day, a year and a half ago, during my cross-country travels. My mom even veganized my grandmother’s bread recipe for me, which was a great treat that reminded me of childhood summers in that home.

I did do a small amount of outdoor exploration while there, including a short woodland hike that showed me the largest, coolest fly amanita mushroom I’ve ever seen!

I also took the ferry over one day to Denman Island, to meet up again with Fireweed and Mike. They fed me a homemade vegan lasagna lunch, complete with peach tarts made from their own tree’s peaches! (I was shocked to learn that peaches could grow in such a wooded and rainy environment, since they are difficult to grow in Portland.) They have a beautiful art studio for Fireweed’s photography work, which doubles as a guest cottage. The inside and out were beautiful.

They also took me on a hike that afternoon, in Fillongley Park, which included wonderfully tall trees and also stunningly blue sea views.

When they dropped me back at the house, there was just barely enough daylight left for Fireweed to capture a few photos of my parents and me on the bluff and in front of the house. I’m glad we have that documentation, as well as one of the most beautiful sunsets I can ever recall seeing there.

I’m really glad to have made that trip.

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