Thursday, August 13, 2009

Three Little Girls

Whenever I tell anyone that I’m going to Gambier Island, they often nod & smile and say ‘Oh that will be nice’. Sometimes they admit up front that they have never heard of it, and sometimes they mistake it for The Gambia. I think it is no small coincidence that so far, the only people to have made this somewhat charming mistake, are Brits with good strong accents (and I can say this with impunity as all my family members are British). You know what I mean – they switch around the endings on words that end with ‘a’ and give them an ‘er’ instead, and vice versa. India becomes ‘Indier’, Australia turns into ‘Australier’, and Gambier Island, somehow shifts into The Gambia. And as The Gambia is a former English Colony, it occupies a place in English schoolbooks and minds and therefore it somehow seems possible to them that one could in fact be going to The Gambia for a summer holiday.

I had a wonderful conversation on this very subject with a certain very English Gym teacher with whom many of you will be acquainted, who asked my son one year what his travel plans were for the summer. He duly repeated the list of local destinations, which included Gambier Island. The next day I was flagged down by this teacher who wanted all the details on our ‘fascinating trip to The Gambia this summer’. I must have looked very surprised and indeed we went back and forth for some time before finally reaching an understanding that it was an island in Howe Sound not far from Vancouver that we would be visiting and not a small west-African country.

Gambier Island itself is about as far removed from The Gambia as you could possibly imagine in both distance and culture.The Island is home to approximately 120 full time residents and I am indeed very fortunate that two of those residents happen to be my Uncle and Aunt, Richard and Louise. For as long as I can remember I have made my way to Gambier every summer to hang out with the cousins, jump off the dock, swim in the warm water, scratch the bottom of my feet on the barnacles, fish for shiners, climb the hill back to the house, drink tea on the deck, eat delicious food, and sleep in the absolute darkness and profound quiet that can only be found many miles from streetlights and traffic.

My Uncle and Aunt’s house is a labour of love, transformed from a tiny little cabin (how on earth we all used to fit I don’t know) into a beautiful home, with a stop along the way as a Bed and Breakfast. The garden is all roses and lavender and a huge Bay Laurel grows by the door to the workshop. Rocky outcroppings give way to flowers and ponds, and stairs lead down to a vegetable garden (the source of Potter Organics which may be found at the dinner table on any given night) and a young orchard. And all around are huge fir, cedar, maple and alder trees. If you are lucky, sometimes a raven might fly low out of the forest; the swoosh swoosh of its wings beating through the air makes an unmistakeable sound. As I sat on the deck, two came croaking and cawing out of the trees, upset I think by the fort building that was going on in the forest below them. Perhaps a certain high-pitched voice?

I should admit here that I spend a fair bit of time on the deck. The ‘schedule’ of the day seems to encourage it and unfolds something like this:

whenever: wake up, wander to kitchen for fresh bread, homemade jam and tea. Wave goodbye to kids as they head to dock to fish. Chat with Kent, my cousin Mel and Uncle Richard and Aunt Louise

10:30ish: tea on the deck

11ish: wander outside, inspect garden, sit and ponder what it is to be a dragonfly, or not, or just sit.

12:30ish: Lunch (on the deck of course)

1pm: wander to dock, jump off pier, fish for shiners, lie on the dock, play on the beach, convince daughter to jump off dock (more on this later), wonder who that big guy is over there and then realize it’s your own son

3:30pm:  wander back up hill to house for, that’s right, tea on the deck. Chat with whoever is still awake. Pride self on not feeling sleepy at all

4:00pm: read book

4:02pm: fall asleep

5:00pm: wake up and wander to kitchen to help with dinner

5:30pm: wonder where the kids are. Decide it doesn’t really matter and hey it’s kinda nice without them right now

6:00pm: kids show up, dinner is served, dishes are washed

7:00pm: whatever

8:00pm: put kids to bed

9:00pm: watch tv/read a book/go to bed

What can I say, it’s tough.

Gambier Island does have one small store/restaurant and no summer trip is complete without a visit. So one evening my cousin Mel and Kent and myself took the kids over to the store for dinner. My aunt had made a ‘reservation’ which was hilarious as we were the only ones in sight. We walked inside and there was the largest table, with a handwritten note ‘reserved for Potter’. How quaint! But regardless of all the jokes, it turned out to be an excellent dinner. I highly recommend it! Especially the Shepherd’s Pie. And also the Prawns and Scallops in Pernod. And actually while I’m on the topic the quesadilla was also very good. And I believe the pasta with chorizo and tomatoes was also excellent. No, I did not eat 4 dinners that night but there was a fair amount of sampling going on. Whatever!All meals/trips to the store must end with ice cream, so ice cream it was all round. This is necessary as it provides the appropriate fuel for the trek back to the house.

I am happy to report that in all ways, ice cream included, this year’s visit was essentially no different from the previous 30 or so years that I have been making this pilgrimage.  There is, however, one gut-wrenching difference and that is that my cousins and I are now all grown up and those three cute little girls running ahead of us on the gravel road with ice creams are our children, not us!  If somehow we could have known all those years ago that we would be watching miniature versions of our grown selves at exactly the same place on the road, picking blackberries from the same bushes, jumping off the same pier, and playing in the same trees as we did when we, too, were three little girls, I think it would have blown my mind then like it did today. I guess that’s the beauty of childhood – to be unencumbered by thoughts of the future and instead to embrace the exact moment of the ripe blackberry, to fall through the air into the water, or skip along a path through garden to your secret fort. I’m so glad I had it, and I’m so glad to see it in the faces of three little girls.




DSC04400 DSC04370






1 comment:

  1. Where is this place? Sounds like it may be worth a visit. And who are these people?
    When I was a very young kid I had an auntie. Doll was her name. Still is, I guess. She lived in a wisteria and hollyhock cobb cottage with a well and a secret passage and she cooked tarts and pies and had a garden full of vegetables and tomatoes. Then one day, she disappeared. But now I realize that she has returned; and her name is Richard that shall be called Richard. Next time you visit this paradise discreetly find out if he occasionally wears a flowery patterned smock and a pink bow in his hair when he picks his vegetables.