Years ago, we spent an unforgettable six months, November to April, on Salt Spring Island, B.C. Of course, we did everything backward as usual. We Ontarians headed to the Coast for its mild winter only to find that most islanders had headed to the Baja to avoid that self-same winter. To add insult to injury we brought the snowstorm of the century with us.
True islanders are loath to admit that such an event is even possible. Several weeks after the event, Jon and I were hailed by a couple of men on the shore we were paddling past. Determining we were from Ontario, they assumed we had just arrived and donned the classic cloak of climate superiority which begins with the boast that it doesn’t even snow on SSI. Nice try. Completely snowed in for four days, we had had nothing but pizza ingredients for Christmas dinner; that is not something easily forgotten. Still, because Jon had packed our cross-country skis (and his canoe, his bike, his rods and reels, and all peripheral equipment, a collection which undermined his complaint that my painting kit took up too much room), we did get to ski, if only to buy eggs. So I guess it was worth travelling across Canada with newspaper on my lap because the only place left to put Bijou, our macaw, was on a perch hanging from the passenger visor. She loved the trip, delivering an enthusiastic ‘Hi!” to every car we passed. I should get danger pay.
Undeterred, the men who tried to mislead us about the recent weather hastened to tell us about a regular feature on a Victoria radio station. This gambit involved picking a name at random from the Toronto phone book, dialing the number and asking about the weather that day. They called it “Taunt a Torontonian.” Cold. Very cold. My own dear Uncle David never failed to write us in Winnipeg every January, always managing to mention (ever so casually) that the bloody daffodils were in bloom. This particular winter, thankfully, weather did settle back into its temperate, if overcast, norms and we had many days of hiking every trail we could find. Jon also took the car to go fishing and if I wasn’t painting, I would walk for miles up and down North End Road. There was little traffic and few houses so I could botanize or muse to my heart’s content. Occasionally a black-tailed deer and I would meet for a shy hello, but there was always time to think. This painting was inspired by a brief interlude of sunshine. I was so surprised that I took a picture.
I was reminded of these wonderful solitary walks this week when I finally got into the second of the two books on the subject of hiking which Scott, my brother, had given me. It references Thoreau, Rimbaud, Nietzsche, and Kant, to name a few famous walkers. All four were dedicated to the outdoors, unpopulated spaces and that most precious of commodities, time to think. I particularly liked the chapter on silence:
What is called "silence" in walking is, in the first place, the abolishment of chatter, of that permanent noise that blanks and fogs everything, invading the vast prairies of our consciousness like couch-grass. Chatter deafens: it turns everything into nonsense, intoxicates you, makes you lose your head. It is always there on al sides, overflowing, running everywhere, in all directions.
I wouldn't begin to put myself in the company of those famous thinkers, except to say that most of my paintings and these blogs are begun in my head, gestated to the silent rhythms of walking or meditating; to some extent they write or paint themselves when I eventually get down to work. If there is a moral to this, it is nothing more than an encouragement to take good care of shank's pony. Start early if you can, the goal being not to outlive your feet! Wearing spike heels for thirty years was not a brilliant long-term decision on my part; my feet have eventually and grudgingly forgiven me, but only after I promised them a pampered future filled with orthopaedic shoes and pricey orthotics.
It would have been a heck of a lot cheaper to get it right from the beginning.
I am a woman and I could change. Because I had to. I guess.