two postcards from the Surf Motel

towards the park

A home away from home, looking out to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where the lights of Port Angeles twinkle in the distance. Where Ogden Point breakwater angles into the sea. Where we had dinner at nearby Heron Rock Bistro and came back in the darkness to a room evocative of Patti Page, who stayed in this motel in the 1960s and no doubt enjoyed, as we enjoy, the pink-tiled bathroom, the neat squares of black and white tiles on the kitchenette and bathroom floors, and where time does not exactly stand still but finds its own sweet rhythm. And where maybe she hummed, getting ready for bed, the old song she sang so well:

I remember the night and the Tennessee Waltz
Now I know just how much I have lost
Yes, I lost my little darling the night they were playing
The beautiful Tennessee Waltz

towards cape flattery

postcard from the Surf Motel

Down Vancouver Island this morning after a terrific reading event last evening in Nanaimo, Wordstorm, with a generous audience (and a delicious Goan prawn dish first at the host restaurant, the Tandoori Junction). I said, as we drove, that I always know when I’m on the Island (where I spent most of the first twenty five years of my life, apart from some years in Halifax, Matsqui, Greece, and Ireland) because my skin feels as though it’s come home. I know where I am by scent. By the air. And approaching Goldstream River, I knew the salmon were there. We stopped and in pouring rain I walked out to see them, the chum (or dog) salmon my father used to take us to see each autumn. The salmon I’m used to watching now are sockeye and coho, both more colourful when they spawn, so it took my eyes a few minutes to see the silver bodies in the grey water. But I could smell them, a fresh smell, water and fish and rain. There were a few dead ones


and gulls whirling above, a kingfisher rattling in a cedar, and walking back, I was surprised to see blossom:


I thought of Michelle Shocked’s song “Blackberry Blossom” and it seemed so right to be humming it as I returned to the car where John was listening to jazz:

Can you tell me what happened to the blossom
Blackberry blossom when the summertime came?
The blackberry blossom, oh the last time I saw one
Was down in the bramble where I rambled in the spring.

Everything a piece, a part of my history, my memory, even stopping in to see the Mammoth exhibit at the Museum with Angelica and being reminded, among the mastadon jaws and the mammoth tusks and even Lyuba herself, 42,000 years old,


that one of my sons, aged about 4, used to say that he wanted to be Early Man when he grew up, having been entranced by drawings of hominini in my old anthropology textbooks, hairy people around campfires with mammoths lurking in the background. So time passes, rivers run, salmon spawn, boys grow up to be mathematicians rather than Australopithicus, and the breakwater at Ogden Point is now fenced for our safety. Still, the sealions pass in joy, a heron fishes from a clump of bull kelp, and the sea, oh the sea, is the same sea I loved as a child, the mountains of the Olympic Peninsula barely visible through cloud.

And now back at the Surf Motel where we stayed when one son (that son) was married to his sweetheart on Beacon Hill and where I walked on the breakwater very early on the morning of his wedding, remembering everything.

Early man, wish you were here.

the view

We spent the weekend in Victoria so I could participate in the Victoria Writers Festival. What a wonderful few days. The organizing committee did a fabulous job of choreographing a seamless and beautiful programme of readings, panel discussions, and workshops. And a wrap-up party at the home of John Gould and Sandy Mayzell. I loved walking across the campus at Camosun College, under the mature Garry oaks, to read from my work and to share stories and laughter with a great group of writers.

John and I went to the Island two days early in order to have time to do our usual rambling around the city. We stayed in the Surf Motel on Dallas Road and this was the view from our room:


This is the Odgen Point breakwater. I wrote about this breakwater in Mnemonic: “All those huge granite blocks were brought from Hardy Island, near where I live on the Sechelt Peninsula. I want to walk out on it as I did as a young girl with boyfriends on dark Friday nights. We’d pause to kiss as waves crashed against the exposed side. I always felt like I might fall — into the deep cold water of Juan de Fuca Strait of the most mysterious waters of human affection.” It always felt kind of dangerous to me. And now I note that railings have been erected along both sides of the breakwater which is perhaps a metaphor for aging.

I walked by myself down Dallas Road to stand in front of the house Charles Newcombe built in 1907 and part of the layered history that is Victoria to me. I stopped to pick a sprig of Quercus virginiana from the tree I wrote about in Mnemonic. I’ll keep it on my desk to take me back to that street, that house, its complicated legacy.


We also drove out to Goldstream Park to watch the beginnings of the salmon run there. We saw just a few fish, early swimmers, and some dippers in the shallow riffles. It’s an extraordinary place, that river making its way under huge maples and cedars more than 500 years old.  I was taken to Goldstream Park as a child to see the fish each autumn and I’ve never forgotten the smell, the excitement of glimpsing them sidling under the ferns overhanging the river edges, and their intricate skeletons stripped clean by eagles and ravens. Time stands still, and it doesn’t.

From our bedroom window at the Surf Motel

We were settling into the charming duplex unit at the Surf Motel in Victoria last Friday when we looked out the bedroom window, attracted perhaps by the loud sound of gulls on the roof next door. And this is what we saw:

I believe this is a glaucous-winged gull, one of the most common large gulls in our part of the world. We realized that it had a nest — you can see it at the base of the chimney — and then we saw the three young gulls which made our stay at the Surf such a pleasure.

The parent birds were very vigilant, one of them remaining always in proximity to the young, who spent most of their time huddled under that sheltered area where the two rooflines meet. When a parent returned with food, it would stand on the lower part of the nearest roof, call, then regurgitate a stream of breakfast which the young tucked into with gusto.

Up and down the roof the young gulls ran, their undeveloped wings fluttering a little in the wind. Sea-gulls are thought to house the souls of lost sailors but in this case they seemed a very auspicious sight for parents spending a few days in a city where their son was marrying his beloved and where the mornings were washed clean with wind off the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Those were the same winds that I knew as a child on the beach near Clover Point, this same strait with its constant gulls, and the white waves racing for the shore. I thought of Odysseas Elytis, whose poems I keep on my desk:

     My sky is deep and unaltered

     What I love is always being born

     What I love is beginning always.