Thursday, September 24, 2009

Building a life #2. Okies. Looking for land.


Threatened with the long arm of the law.

We had been on one of the smaller Gulf Islands for half a day driving around and trying to get a feel for it. Would it suit our family? Supper in the local restaurant was our first heads-up as our hungry family sat and waited forever to be served as the waitress, with her back to us, visited with her friends who were here to celebrate getting their welfare checks. By the time we were finished, the last ferry off the island had left and the one small campground was full. As we drove around looking for a camping spot we focused again on signs that had seemed innocuous in full daylight. ‘No camping.’At a south end beach we found another such sign at road-end beside a grassy field. We knew enough not to camp in the field, but from our canoe camping days among the islands we also knew that below the high tide line was public property. We also knew that the tide would not return up the beach until morning. Out came the inflatable blue igloo tent and sleeping bags. A man arrived at the top of the grassy bank and told us that we needed to READ THE SIGN!

I had been a teacher, upright citizen and authority figure for the past five years but here was an opportunity to hone an alternate set of life skills - those of the Okies and the denizens of Cannery Row in John Steinbeck`s novels. Landless migrants!

“I would not be here if I had an alternate camping place for my family. Just overnight.” I said.

“Nope, Nope, you gotta go!”he said adamantly.

“This is not private land below high tide line. We are not lighting a fire if you are worried about your dry grassy field.”I replied in a decisive tone of voice.


He wandered off. His wife arrived soon after.

“ I am not a softie like my husband. You get out of here or I`ll call the police!”she shouted, waving her arms.

Holding little Gwynnie in my arms, I re-explained our position carefully and finally called her bluff. “Call the police if you must. We are here `til morning.” I know, and she knows but hopes I don`t, that there are no police on the island. It pays to read the background information about a community.

I offered her a way out of the impasse.“ We are looking for land to buy. We plan to move here.”

Her tone altered immediately.“ Oh, you plan to buy?” ( You are really solid citizens like us? Despite the VW van? Maybe I can sell you our place and we can move back to civilization.) “Well, OK. then. Maybe we`ll see you in the morning?”

Not bloody likely! We plan to return to Saltspring the next morning to focus our search on that island. What we have experienced this evening has been an introduction to some of the undercurrents of island living. The non-service in the restaurant has been an introduction to the counter-culture invasion of the islands over the past few years. The rude behavior of the beachfront landowners, a reflection of the struggle of the established community with that invasion. The island residents, old and new were united in one thing -their treatment of visitors. We were people who were not part of the local scene and who could be picked on by one and all - a sort of community building exercise at some stranger`s expense. It was useful to have this introduction, so that later when we settled into Saltspring we would not arrive with starry eyes and expectations of sweetness and light. A spectacular natural setting, but people would be much the same small town folks with their issues as those we were leaving behind in the Okanagan.

1 comment:

Michael said...

This is GREAT Bill. I always wanted to hear this story. I can hardly wait for the next installment.