…crowd in Ganges, on Salt Spring Island, we took refuge in Mouat’s Store. Located in the heart of the village, Mouat’s has been serving customers since 1907. When I was a child, camping at St. Mary’s Lake with my family, I used to love going to the store with my father. He’d been looking for a lure, a hook, a new reel of fishing line. Or a part for a pot — he was nothing if not resourceful. He’d spend hours in hardware stores, looking (it seemed) at each nut and bolt, each small hook, determined to find its weak point or flaw. If he found none, he’d buy it, taking money out of a worn brown wallet. If we were lucky, we got a quarter. There was always something in Mouat’s to spend money on. Or dream of buying.
I never would have had enough money to buy a music box. But yesterday I did and so when I spotted this beautiful tin box with a little handle and painted with Jemima Puddleduck, Peter Rabbit, and that rogue Pigling Bland, I knew I had to have it. When you turn the handle, it plays Für Elise in a hesitating way. I love it. At first I thought I was buying for a grandchild but no. It’s for that little girl who wanted to play piano, who wanted something to transport her occasionally far from the world she knew.
We were on Salt Spring for an event at the library. I was to read with Sarah De Leeuw and we were going to talk a bit about the essay—I’ve just published Euclid’s Orchard and Sarah’s Where it Hurts came out in spring from NeWest Press. But then Sarah wasn’t able to come and so Mona Fertig and my husband John read a little from Sarah’s work. Then I read passages and answered a few questions and we drove back to Peter and Mona’s in a drizzle of rain. We had drinks with an old friend Diana Hayes and her Pete and slept in a room overlooking the ocean, window open to the rain. Driving down to Fulford Harbour to take the ferry back to Vancouver Island, I felt (rather than thought) the beginning of a, well, a long essay, maybe even a book about the old coast. The coast I knew as a girl and still find traces of, on Salt Spring, on Vancouver Island, on the shore of Okeover Inlet or at Earls Cove, at Egmont, in places where the wood is weathered, the boats are useful, and people still know where they are. They’re not busy plotting for bridges from one island to another, for fancy forms of governance, for a billion dollar highway to blast its way from Squamish to Gibsons. They aren’t interested in sidewalks in rural fishing villages or buried power lines (because that’s how it’s done in Montreal). A bucket of clams is a dinner, a sockeye salmon a feast.
This morning we ate slivers of the most beautiful smoked salmon as we talked and then Mona poured tiny glasses of crabapple liqueur she’d made last year. I thought of Crete when I lived there and how sometimes the father of the man I was in love with poured Metaxa from a bottle he kept on his boat and we toasted the morning and our collective health. His son, who owned a taverna, took home a string of fish to gut and fillet for the evening crowd. I thought of my old friend Charles Lillard and his lines from “Closing Down Kah Shakes Creek”:
This is the old west where a secret cove with an old house
is called history, a raven cackling on a limb, mythology…
Where a music box playing Für Elise summons it all back. For now. Until I can write it all down.