1. My new respect for the surveyors, engineers and workers who plowed their way through this country. Lesser men and women might have butted against the Rockies and thought, “You know what? We don’t re-e-eally need to get through there. Besides, British Columbia is a bit of an odd duck, isn’t it?”
But no! They were determined to forge a land passage for traffic, goods and tourists stopping their cars to take photos of goats. They smashed through those mountains, much the way the thieves smashed through my driver-side window with a bocce ball.
I will never forget driving through those mountains for the first time, the soaring peaks, the twisting turns, the stupid tailgaters. My hair was raised, my breath taken. Also taken: my camera.
2. Our insatiable need to go further. Our original destination was Salt Spring Island. But once there, we quickly determined that it wasn’t west enough.
“We have to go to Tofino, stand on the Pacific shore with nothing in front of us but Japan.”
So we hopped another ferry to Vancouver Island and drove north through more mountains to Pacific Rim National Park.
But even that wasn’t enough. We had to plunge into the Pacific, wade out as far as the dangerous waves would allow us, closer still to Japan. This also revealed something I was unaware of: the Pacific is freezing.
I don’t know why I had the impression that the Pacific would be warmer than the Atlantic. It’s not. The water was around 14 Celsius, 57 Fahrenheit,” which is something like 283 Kelvin, -700 Hobbes. Combined with the angry, jagged rocks that line the shores, the Canadian Pacific is entirely unwelcoming. Yet we were determined to swim it, especially Abby, who boogey-boarded for hours in the surf until her toes were as purple as a BC starfish.
Cold, yes, but conquered. You know what else is cold? Driving on a BC morning with a smashed driver-side window.
3. The knowledge that Bryan Adams remains popular in this country from sea to freezing sea. I don’t even like Bryan Adams, but somehow this fact is comforting, a small unifying element. It cuts to the heart of the country. It cuts like a knife.
Also popular: Billy Idol. One of his hit songs was “Rebel Yell.” My camera was a Canon Rebel. But it’s gone now. Unlike Billy Idol.
4. My wife and her four siblings coming together for the first time in over five years. If vacationing with your own family is a series of negotiations, travels with multiple families are constitutional talks.
In fact, I’d say we represented Canada in microcosm. Different needs and demands, diverse resources and talents, the odd squabble and competitive impulse. Some haves, some have-nots, everyone sharing. Outrage over gas emissions on the one hand, downplaying their significance on the other. On paper, it really shouldn’t work but somehow it does.
5. The Grandmother Tree, the largest, oldest tree in a grove on Salt Spring Island, left untouched for hundreds of years. It took two adults and four children holding hands to ring its circumference.
The Grandmother Tree’s bark is pocked with holes, where people have placed small gifts: pebbles, feathers, pine cones, coins, messages. “You will get better Heather,” one read, missing a comma but certainly not sincerity.
Something else that’s missing is a tin of Bag Balm, which was inexplicably in my camera bag. I hope the thieves open it, get all greasy, slip and fall and hurt themselves so badly that they can never play bocce again.
6. The arranged stays in strangers’ vacant homes, places where we could hang our hats, pitch a tent, use the owners’ toothpaste; my eldest and youngest daughters being pals and never fighting, especially when I’m driving; the Victoria water-taxi driver, Yves, who was from Quebec but whose accent all the tourists assumed was Dutch; the rope swing on the Nanaimo River. I’ll always have these memories. No photos, though, but lots of memories.
7. The relief that the thieves missed a lot in the car: my wife’s wallet, gifts, CDs, camping gear, a jar of peanuts. They may take my camera. They may take my deodorant (also strangely in the camera bag). They may even take my faith in humanity. But they will never take my nuts.