Tonight, in the car, riding back from Vesuvius Beach with my family, I realized my brother in law listens almost exclusively to 100.3 The Q, The Island’s Rock….which means my nieces can sing the Thrifty Foods jingle on command (The smile’s in the bag for you….at Thrifty Foods!). These same nieces, along with their big teenage American cousin, spent an hour at the beach tonight pushing lumber mill driftwood logs into the water and then wading out to play on the barely buoyant wood, as the sun went down over the perfectly smooth Salish Sea. These kids are literally living the childhood my sister and I shared, a very specific Pacific Northwest existence, in the magical days of summer when the sun just never seems to go down. My sister has somehow managed to move her children back and then give them a way to create memories similar to our best recollections of childhood.
My gratitude for being here, so close to home, is off the scale. I’m so glad my sister actually did decide to move back here. After all, I’ve been Off Island since 1998. That’s more than half my lifetime out in the Wider World. And yet, I still come back consistently to the Salish Sea, and feel something in me release every time I do so. I felt myself breathe more when I drove out to the ferry at Tsawassen today, like something around my heart had loosened a bit. I am out there taking on the world and all its uncertainties every single day, but when I get back to Victoria or the Gulf Islands or the Lower Mainland, it’s still the place I’ve always known. The certainty of being able to come home to BC because my family re-settled out here resonates deeply with me, and the relief of getting here is indescribable.
Even after almost eighteen years in L.A. and NYC, I still respond with this flood of relief when I get to the Pacific Northwest every year. One year, I burst into tears seeing the metal salmon set in the floor of Seattle-Tacoma airport, because I was back in a region where people understand the importance of a salmon stream. This year, I started crying with joy and sheer relief when I got to the end of the Tsawassen causeway and pulled into the ferry lane, knowing I was going to make it onto the next sailing and that I had finally almost completed my journey back to an island.
It isn’t as if I’m fleeing my existence in NYC or Philadelphia exactly though. It’s more that somebody told me this is the place where everything’s better and everything’s safe. When I get to the Northwest, I feel like I have a respite from the fears I have living in the wider world. My son and I are here, safe and loved, in a place I know by heart. Being here means I can put down the mental defenses I have to keep up every day to survive in the Wider World, and just lean into a place where everything feels familiar and comfortable. I’m so grateful to my sister that we get to come back to the home she’s created out here and that my son and nieces are able to experience the best parts of our childhood as a result.