Perhaps my feelings are somewhat anachronistic, but I can't suppress that special sense of adventure and excitement that I get when I head west. Somehow the "west" remains in my mind a frontier to be explored, a vast land that evokes that pioneer spirit of centuries ago. Of course, upon arrival in the city of Vancouver such feelings are quickly overwhelmed by those well known emotions that arise every time I find myself in a busy metropolitan.
Visiting this city with an open mind, one can easily sympathize with those segments of society that so ardently protested the billions of dollars spent on the Olympic games here. Homeless people abound in this seemingly luxurious city - it is a place of stark contrasts. The bedraggled man pushing his shopping cart of plastic bottles past the latte sipping professional in her designer jacket serves as a reminder of the ever present disparity in this rich nation of ours. The pockets of lush green coastal wilderness interspersed between skyscrapers and condominiums speaks to our tendency to make nature conform to us, not the other way around. Captain George Vancouver wrote so many years ago of British Columbia:
"To describe the beauties of this region, will, on some future occasion be a grateful task to the pen of a skillful panegyrist. The serenity of the climate, the innumerable pleasing landscapes, and the abundant fertility that nature put forth, require only to be enriched by the industry of man with villages, mansions, cottages and other buildings, to render it the most lovely country that can be imagined."
Needless to say, his desires have certainly been realized. I am grateful to have this beautiful land to live in, but I can't help question at what cost it has been developed. Driving along the highways that wind through ancient growth forests, you see in the distance huge swaths of trees clear cut for this "industry of man" as Captain Vancouver put it. First Nations peoples are quite visible here, which at first glance seems positive, but perhaps this visibility is a result of forced assimilation after having their lands stolen or poisoned, and their ways of life bulldozed over literally. I'm not sure how to reconcile these thoughts, knowing that I take advantage of this "industry of man" like any other here, but I suppose awareness and appreciation are important first steps.
I arrived at my final destination, the town of Tofino on the western extreme of Vancouver island, late in the day. Starting from Toronto I had taken a plane; a train; a bus; a boat; and finally a car all in the same day. Despite this making for an interesting trip, it was admittedly easy and uneventful. Just being here however, has stirred in me nostalgia for my last adventure out west, when me and my friend Tristan made our way across Canada by foot and thumb to arrive in Tofino for a summer of discovery and disaster, of laughter and despair. I remember vividly standing in the cold rain at the side of the highway north of Toronto, wondering how we were ever going to make it all the way across this vast country. I remember Tristan and I taking turns sleeping in the back of one of the several trucks that happened to pick us up, while the other entertained the lonely soul behind the wheel. I remember trying to sleep in an emergency stairwell in a residential building of a small town, lying cold and damp, thinking about how someday I would write about this. Finally we arrived in Tofino and the summer unfolded to set us upon our respective paths.
Now here I am again, in this place that has played a big part in shaping the person that I am today, and I'm not quite sure what to feel. Although getting here was not quite as adventurous as I had hoped, I'm glad to be here, but something about this place feels so much different than I remember it. It is cold and rainy as I write this, every few hours the wind begins to blow hard and the overcast skies open up to unleash a torrent of rain that rattles the structure that shelters me. The town seems barren, the thousands of summer migrants having not yet arrived. The ocean is churning and the waves crashing, it is angrier than I ever remember it from my former days here. This is the true Tofino I suppose, the Tofino felt for eight months of the year. The rugged, stormy, unrelenting Tofino. I think I like it.