We were looking at the photographs in Mouat’s Store in Ganges yesterday — my publisher Mona Fertig organized a reading for me and Trevor Carolan who just published a history of the Literary Storefront; John and I arrived early enough to explore Salt Spring Island first… — and I suddenly had one of those moments of recognition. Not for Mouat’s, which i’d already told John was a mecca for my father on our family camping trips to Salt Spring all through my childhood. So Mouat’s was familiar already. But it was the caption on a photograph of a Native couple in a canoe at Fernwood. Oh! That was the place I wrote about years ago in an essay, “Pioneer Jacket”, published in my Red Laredo Boots. I hadn’t remembered its name but I thought there was a long pier, a shell-strewn beach, a small store where we went for ice-cream on summer days 50 years ago. The summer before grade 7 (so I would have been 12) I bought a tiny bottle of sweet-pea cologne and I decided the next school year would be the one where I would dress carefully for school each morning. I’d choose a piece of jewelery from the stash given me by a friend of my mother’s — all costume grade and all hideous; I know this now but I didn’t then — and instead of dreaming over my bowl of porrige, i’d groom myself carefully for the day, as the girls did in the books I was reading (Cherry Ames, Trixie Belden). Of course it didn’t last; I am still the girl lingering over her coffee each morning, hair uncombed, and not a jewel in sight. But the word Fernwood summoned that long summer, the pier, my resolution which made me feel so grown-up as I chose sweet-pea from the selection of little bottles of scent.
We went to the Info Centre for a map and found our way to Fernwood. Would I recognize the place? Or was I just hoping for another anchor for my chaotic and wistful hoard of memories?
And look! (“We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started… and know the place for the first time.”)
I have more to write. The farms, the sheep, the little guest cottage, newly created, which Mona and Peter made so welcoming and where I woke this morning to see a streak of pink over the sea. But that will have to wait, as I waited, unknowing, for the name of the place to return to me, and me to it.