You can go home again, but it might hurt

I was restless this morning, finding my life is again at a crossroads. What to do with my day? Not a Netflix day. I didn’t want to see friends. I wanted to be alone with my thoughts, but still stimulated.

So I loaded the kayak onto the car and set off for Cedar, a rural area south of Nanaimo, BC. I grew up there.

The day being calm, it seemed like the right time to put the kayak in the ocean at the Cedar boat ramp and paddle north to Boat Harbour. In the not too distant past, such a thought would have spiked by glucose. Not today. Not anymore. The ghosts that used to put me in a cold sweat no longer exist.

I just wanted to pay a visit to my old home, and maybe see what the new owners are up to.

My parents bought the 3 acres in 1957. The $19,000 purchase price was a stretch for them, and they managed to get a mortgage. With Dad being a Second World War veteran, the interest rate was next to nothing.

Mom wanted the place, Dad didn’t. Mom had been raised on a farm a short drive away, and saw the house on the cliff, overlooking Boat Harbour, when her mother paid a visit to a friend across the bay. Dad was raised in the city and didn’t know the first thing about rural life. I’m sure he balked at the chores he’d have to learn how to do, and he didn’t like to look foolish. In any case, Mom won out and they bought the place, moving in with my older two siblings in July 1957. I came along a couple years later and had the advantage that the youngest of the family often has, more independence.

The neighbours were appalled a family with such young children would move into a house where the property featured a sheer cliff on one side. But our parents just said, “Don’t go near the cliff.” And we didn’t. Good Canadian children, in that respect.

I spent many hours on the sandstone rocks on the point, where twice-daily tides left an assortment of oceanic creatures in the tidal pools. The rocks on the point are my true home. I never was connected to the house. The house was a place where our family members sought out places to hide from each other.

So today I paddled along the shore. The sea was calm, the wildlife abundant. Great blue herons stood like statues on the rocky shores. I got too close to one and it launched into the sky, squawking in protest. Curious seals popped their heads up from the shallows, then disappeared again. Seagulls sang in a chorus, their calls so intrinsically linked to my childhood that the sound made my heart sing.

I paddled northward past clutches of modern, glassy homes that replaced the old bungalows I remember. I knew the access roads from the homes, but nothing looked familiar.

I rounded the corner and turned into the harbour and the first thing to catch my eye was our old house. It used to be obscured by trees, but many of those have been cleared out. The house looked so exposed, vulnerable. Mom would have hated to see any of those trees removed, but she’s no longer here to worry about things like that. There’s the cliff that gave the house such an outlook over the water. I had to paddle into the far bay to see what was going on on the other side — I could hear machinery.

And there it was, a fortress of rocks above the bay. The granite hillside nearby has been blasted and the blast rock is being used to create a level place an a distinctly unlevel lot for new construction. I imagine it will be a modern monstrosity with lots of glass and square footage. I floated in the bay and watched the machine carefully place each boulder in its place. A couple on the beach turned and left on a new path that skirted our old property. So someone had created a beach access after all. I always knew the easement was there, but now it’s a path for the public to use. I could use it to swim at my old beach or climb over the sandstone to the tidal pools on the point. Maybe this was what I was meant to learn today. I can come home to my beach anytime I want.

I took one last look and paddled away, thinking about how we just borrow land for awhile and then pass it on. I remember finding seashells buried in the ground above the bay. It was a First Nations midden, a place where the First Nations’ people discarded waste. Like clam shells from our beach. But it was only our beach for awhile, and now it’s someone else’s.

I met a man in a dory type row boat. He built it as a Covid project, he said. I was intrigued by the design of the oar locks which allowed him to sit facing the bow but pull the oars toward him and go forward, the way he was facing.

“I got tired of seeing where I’ve been. I want to see where I’m going.”

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