Thursday, February 14, 2019


The snow has arrived in swirling blizzards that have left towering, soft piles of white over the South Coast.  Our little island, which has blithely gone about its green business while the rest of Canada shivers in the grip of a massive Arctic outflow, is reminded that we are, indeed, part of the country.  Everything I had planned for the last two days has been cancelled.  I got my exercise clearing the driveway with a snow shovel.  As I did, two neighbours passed on their morning walk, and predicted, "Those people who have just moved here to get away from this weather will be thinking twice.  Eight days without power in December and now this heavy snow?  They'll believe we lied to them."

Our island is full of transplants.  Rarely do I run across a person who was born and brought up here.  The island has been subject to wave after wave of incoming groups -- the farmers and brickmakers, the back-to-the land hippies, the environmental activists, the artists and musicians.  The latest group has been the retirees. Those who can work from home (like writers and artists) or those who needn't work at all choose the island because it's beautiful and friendly and more affordable than the big city across the strait. The First Nations people who originally populated the island have left their ghosts in petroglyphs in the forest and the white middens that mark generations of shellfish harvests.  It's rare to find a descendent among the current citizens.

I grew up with big snowfalls in the Interior and today, as it piles up on the bamboo and pampas grass and yucca plants, I am reminded of the way it used to cover the brown grass and weigh down branches of apple and poplar trees.  But it's different here.  I'm a transplant, like the windmill palm tree next door.  The snow is foreign to us.  Even though I have lived on the coast longer than I lived in the Interior, I still feel the strange breath of salt air by the ocean, laden with moisture and blurring from one shade of grey to another.  The snow from my childhood was to be expected.  This is an exotic gift.

For many it's a struggle to make a home in a new place.  The air is different. The native plants don't smell the same.  Familiar faces have been left behind. And the harsh realities of the new don't always match the expectations of what they hoped would be a new and better world.  Making friends can be hard work, full of awkward misunderstandings and discomfort with strangers.  People come from wildly different circumstances, dreaming of a place that feels like a home but often not certain how to create one.

 Yet somehow we survive, sometimes because of a friendly hand, sometimes because we've sunk our teeth into this rocky island on the fringe of the Salish Sea and refuse to let go.

I've lived as an outsider often.  My university campus was 3,000 km from my hometown.  From there, I travelled to the high mountains of Southern Africa, where I loved the people and the culture but was constantly reminded that I was a transplant.  In Australia, I loved the friendliness and the strange flora and fauna, but there too I strained to understand colloquialisms and always felt the distance between me and them.

Sometimes I walk the forests or the beach and feel like I've come home.  But there's always an edge of "otherness" about living here.  And as a writer, I see the good in that.  If I'm to see a place, I need to see its geography not as a native born daughter, its actions not as unthinking instinct, its characters not as familiars.  I need to step back for perspective.  I need to measure all that is familiar here with all that has been familiar elsewhere.  I need to see with different eyes.  Being apart can feel lonely at times but in rare flashing moments it also feels like a gift of sight. 
I am reminded of Tennyson's "Ulysses":
I am a part of all that I have met
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough gleams that untravelled world
That fades forever and forever when I move.

I may sometimes be a stranger here, but that doesn't mean I'm not home.


  1. Beautiful, Wendy. I can relate to feeling like an outsider, many times in recent years. Returning from four years living overseas, Canada felt stranger to me, and less hospitable in many ways, that Tanzania, or China. But I'm slowly slipping into familiarity and a sense of home again. It does take work, and creativity, as you put it, observing all that's around me and allowing it to affect and change me, without losing what I've gained from being elsewhere. I too am infinitely adaptable, it seems. Thanks for your thoughts, Wendy.

    1. I often think of the transitions you have had to make over the years -- they create stress but also bring awareness of wonder.

  2. Love reading your insights and gratitude for a spite of having been exposed to these so often over the years, I too am humbled and inspired to thoughtful reflection (tho not so articulately as you) when in the presence of a fresh snow blanket. It is a gift, so quiet and completely earth-changing -- however temporarily. I love your words and thoughts.

    1. Thanks, Mo. It does create a new perspective, doesn't it?

  3. Really enjoy the pics too, Wendy. Nice shovelling job...😁

    1. Who needs an elliptical trainer when there's a driveway to shovel?