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lasqueti

Lasqueti is an island that comes with quite a fearsome reputation. It is off the grid, has few services or formal commercial enterprises and no vehicle ferry. Some people inform me that Lasquetians don’t really welcome outsiders and others merely resort to silent disapproval when I had tell them of my destination. Seeking information about the ferry schedule from the Harbour Master at French Creek, he freely shares his decided opinions on the island and its inhabitants. So, by the time I find myself on the ferry, I am curious about how things are going to go despite a warm and unreserved email invitation from Sheila, a long-term Lasquetian and a friend of the people I met in Whitehorse.

I have had trouble, as I always do, with the public phone when trying to ring Sheila for directions and to let her know that I am impending. The beast had swallowed large quantities of quarters without result, as the ferry threatened to leave the wharf with my bicycle already loaded. A man organising his bundles of groceries on the boat lends me his mobile phone when he learns of my predicament.

Sheila gives me a long set of directions – clear enough – but I am without pen and paper to hand and so I recite them aloud, as she speaks, in order to remember them. The man and his girlfriend are paying attention and give their opinion when I get off the phone. They find a map somewhere on the ferry which they mark with some vague clues as to my presumed destination, potential camp sites and their address and present it to me with an invitation to visit them.

Getting off the ferry I am greeted by name by Sue, Sheila’s neighbour, who offers to take my bags, corrects the errors of the map and quickly produces a hand-drawn supplement. I set off through the forest on a good packed unmade road towards the south of the island.

Turning, finally, off the road onto a narrow track with a sign forbidding motor vehicles, but welcoming walkers, I come across a woman wielding an axe next to a pile of split logs and a wheel barrow.  Sheila greets me with the statement, “You travel light!” In my enthusiasm to arrive, I have sailed straight past Sue’s truck parked at the end of the track with my panniers still sitting in the tray. I backtrack and return laden and then we make our way to the house.

Sheila.

Sheila.

If I had to describe my dream house it would come very close to matching Sheila’s. It is a small wooden shingle structure sitting on the water’s edge. The decking, which extends over sea-water at high tide, is probably equal in area to the inside space. To the right of the back door, steps lead down to the sea, a bath tub is set into rocks to one side with a space underneath to light a fire to heat the bath-water. To the left of the house are boats, two kayaks and a slightly decrepit row boat and a series of small sheds – one for the wood pile, one for boat stuff and one closed.

Sheila's house.

Sheila's house.

Dishwashing view.

Dishwashing view.

We lunch from Sheila’s garden; fresh lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and peppers, supplemented by crackers and cheese. Sheila then returns to the garden while I nap, first on the deck in the sun and then in the loft bed at my disposal.

Later in the afternoon, I go out in a kayak and paddle along the rugged shoreline, exploring hidden bays and coves for an hour or two. Clouds above like fish scales, lichen on the rocky cliffs making patterns like the stylised wave forms in oriental paintings.

In the middle of the night, thunder rolls and lightening cracks and Sheila gets up to move things inside off the decking but the morning dawns bright and clear.

I spend the day lazing around the house and in the afternoon we visit the garden and then tour the neighbourhood. Sheila’s daughter-in-law and grandson live close by and Sue and Peter, also. Sue and Peter are harvesting potatoes in their garden. Sue finds a perfect snake skin on the ground, abandoned as thoughtlessly as a piece of clothing of last year’s fashion.

We return to the house to cook pasta with pesto made from fresh basil and fennel stewed in olive oil. We discuss books, family, life.

Sheila harvesting fennel.

Sheila harvesting fennel.

In the morning the tide is out and I dig for clams on the exposed mud flats. The bay is home to a small commercial operation and so we use their gear to do our poaching. Sheila shows me how it is done; a small rake drags the clams unresisting from the mud. The creatures do not move at all so the amount skill and effort involved is small – especially compared to that required to collect pipis, clam’s ocean-going antipodean cousins with which I have previous experience and provide a far greater challenge, burrowing through sand with surprising speed and determination. Once they are in the bucket, however, the two are pretty similar.

Mudflats at lowtide.

Mudflats at lowtide.

Gathering shells for dinner.

Gathering shells for dinner.

Oysters are also plentiful and I gather a few even though mud oysters don’t have the same glamour as rock oysters. A bucket of seafood quickly gathered, I return to the house. We sprinkle oatmeal into the water with the idea that it will speed the clams’ digestion and encourage them to expel all grit before dinner. Unfortunately Sheila is going out in the evening so I can’t share them with her. In the meantime, she entertains me by reading aloud from Between Pacific Tides, a book on marine biology, a treatise on the sex life of oysters.

I spend a lazy afternoon in the garden collecting vegetables and herbs for dinner – tomatoes, a pepper, a few carrots, parsley, thyme – and picking blackberries.

Gathering vegetables and berries.

Gathering vegetables and berries.

When I return to the house the tide is in and I take the kayak out again, paddling in the opposite direction this time, past a series of small islands. A seal is playing in the distance and I paddle towards it but as I approach it disappears below the surface. I continue parallel to the shore line until a huff behind me alerts me to a seal, perhaps the same one, swimming in my wake – grey head bobbing in the water as it gazes after me. We regard each other curiously until the seal tires of it and sinks below the surface again.

I continue to the point in the gathering twilight. I can’t see the sun behind the clouds but I know it is descending as the surface of the water is darkening rapidly – smooth ripples making intricate patterns in grey, brown and fawn. I head back to the house and as I enter the bay, another seal is there to greet me, peering earnestly at me for a long moment and then submerging. I stop and float, bobbing gently in the twilight water trying to see the seal under the surface but it has disappeared without a trace.

After an evening swim, I steam the clams in a tomato sauce and eat them with freshly harvested potatoes.

Clams for dinner.

Clams for dinner.

It is the season of plenty on the island: harvest time – fruit and vegetables ripe and abundant, flowers still blooming in the gardens. The sun shines enough to provide power.

Sheila's garden.

Sheila's garden.

Beefsteak tomatoes.

Beefsteak tomatoes.

Onions.

Onions.

Squash.

Squash.

Pinto beans.

Pinto beans.

Pinto, black and orca beans.

Pinto, black and orca beans.

Abundance in the greenhouse.

Abundance in the greenhouse.

From mid-September through October things are not as easy for Sheila, the solar panels are starved of light and there is not yet enough water to spin the water wheel – and I guess when the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are all gone the garden seems less bountiful, too. Sheila’s larder is full of preserves and pickles but I imagine the winter can seem long.

Sheila’s house has no locks. She has lived on Lasqueti for thirty-five years. At first her house floated on the water – tethered here and there, in the places where she was able to – before she dragged it up onto the shore and fixed it to the ground, slowly adding a room on here and there.

Neighbourhood messages.

Neighbourhood messages.

I sit and watch the water.

Imagine thirty-five years of watching the tide rising and falling, watching the changing sky and the succession of the seasons, knowing the names of the trees and which birds will visit, day after day.

I wonder if I will ever be so part of anything. To watch a child grow, a grandchild grow, the garden grow.

CLAMS STEAMED IN TOMATO SAUCE

Ingredients:

  • tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • garlic
  • onion
  • parsley
  • oregano
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • salt

Chop garlic and onions and saute until transparent in olive oil. Add chopped tomatoes, herbs, salt and pepper and cook down for a while. When the tomato sauce is ready add the cleaned clams. Close the pot with a tight fitting lid. Steam until the clams open, tossing or stirring from time to time. Serve with rice, pasta or bread.

{ 4 } Comments

  1. harold | September 24, 2009 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    anna! I’m just saying hello and wondering where you are today.

  2. anna | September 24, 2009 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    hey harold! nice to hear from you… i’m half way down the oregon coast today hanging out in bike shop which has a lounge upstairs that they let cycle tourists use.

  3. Babs | September 26, 2009 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    I would love to take a bath in Sheila’s tub during a full moon…..peace.

  4. anna | September 27, 2009 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    I really wanted to have a bath in the outdoor bathtub but being the end of long dry summer water wasn’t abundant, unfortunately…

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