Friday, November 13, 2015

Recollective essay - Lasqueti Island

    Even as a teenager, I loved to tell stories about Lasqueti Island, where my father worked for almost two years as a logger, but I do not remember seriously thinking about writing about the island until I had met my wife. Very early in our courtship she had charmed me with stories of the town where she grew up, but she had at that time practiced only as a poet. She knew I was a hopeful story-teller even before I started my campaign for our marriage, and as I matched some of her adventures and learning experiences with accounts from my Island years - when I was ten and eleven - she insisted that I should one day write down these stories and the sooner the better.
    Shawn Harold was a great reader, and she knew that two years of island boyhood was a natural situation for a book, which she said she would very much like to read.
    I agreed, but the story of the island presented problems. To tell of individual adventures as they came spontaneously to mind was one thing; to knit them all together in a book was something else. I had a feeling that young writers were unable to do justice to their boyhood, that it was a province best kept for old age. The island had been, I thought, a truly wonderful experience for me, and I did not want to sell it short before I had reached the full use of my powers as a writer. There was also the reason of my mother's unhappiness with the island; she had been a city girl, much fonder of concerts and ballets than backwoods living, and I did not feel like dwelling on her bitter experiences before I had lived long enough to see them through some age acquired perspectives of my own. Finally, a book about a schoolboy on an island did not feel like a major work. I had a thirst, quite healthy, for plunging on into the moral issues of the university age and upward, and I also was driven, by books Shawn had bought for me just before we were married, to get to the sort of spiritual wisdom the great Carmelites write about. I did not see how writing about my childhood, at that point, would help me toward this goal.
    I promised a substitute. "When I sell a novel," I said, "I'll take you there and you can look the place over as long as you want." That would be good for research, of course, for the book I eventually would write. That I was going to sell a novel soon, of course, was something I did not know how to doubt.
    I did not sell two novels, as a matter-of-fact, but shortly after the second one was rejected Shawn got a job teaching school up the coast. The job was not on Lasqueti Island, which is sixty miles north of Vancouver, but at Alert Bay which is two hundred miles north of Vancouver!
    Leaving the city harbour at night, we passed Lasqueti in the dark, not seeing it, but in the spring, sailing down to the city so I could look at a job for myself, we did, see Lasqueti in daylight.
    I had studies the marine charts in the ship's hallways the night before and mad some simple calculations. I knew we could have a look at it if we got up early enough. As it was, we were up just in time, probably aided by the impossibility of us sleeping in when we insisted on sharing the bottom bunk. We were already abeam of the part of the island I had known as a boy before I was sure of where our ship was. I was able to point out Tucker Bay for sure, near where I went to school, and what I hoped was Marshall's Beach, where I had many of my holiday adventures.
    We were both excited, and with my habits of confusing the natural with the Divine, I was sure it was all a sign that we would soon be able to visit the island at our leisure. We were on the boat because I had a chance, I thought, at a job in the Kootenays. If I were to land the job, which would start in the fall, might it not be possible to arrange to spend part of the summer on the island?
    I did not get the job in the Kootenays; we went back up to Alert Bay via the Vancouver Island highway and we did not see Lasqueti again. At the end of the summer we went further north, up to Ocean Falls, where it was my turn to teach. To have spent the holiday on Lasqueti would have been impractical, as Shawn was due in July with our first born, and for a variety of other reasons, spiritual and physical, we needed to finish out our summer at Alert Bay.
    We have not yet gone to Lasqueti, and perhaps never shall. I did in fact revisit the island when I was fourteen, and that was a separate learning experience, but other places I have come to learn have always been more important. Realizing that, I have learned something of the power and purpose of memory.
    Perhaps we shall never visit the island, even though I have assumed that I would one day take my children there. It might be that they are supposed to accept a book instead of a visit, especially as they have already known a number of beaches and forests and glens of their own. We cannot go back to everything in the physical world except by way of the spirit, through which we can go back to everything more completely than time and change often permit. Even if we are permitted to go back physically, it has to be for the sake of the spirit. One must go to grow, as a man, as on went to grow as a child.

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