Have you ever noticed something that had gone long unnoticed? This morning, I was looking over my bike to check for loose screws, and suddenly, this image popped out at me, which I haven’t noticed in these several weeks I’ve had this bike.
It’s funny how often we overlook the little details in life. It is moments like these, when something pushes you out of your normal, everyday consciousness, when you are reminded to be more present. If we were truly present all the time, we would always notice everything about our surroundings. Have you ever tried to focus on all of your bodily sensations all at once? It’s kind of mind-expanding. Think of how many things you can focus on… the feeling of air passing through your nostrils into your lungs, the tiniest sounds around you, the feeling of your lips touching each other, your tongue on the roof of your mouth, or the pressure of your eyelids on your eyes. There are so many sensations available to feel, but most of our waking life is spent wrapped up in bygone memories or future possibilities, we often forget to truly experience the present, which is the only real moment we have.
Most of my Monday was spent biking around to the parts of the island I hadn’t seen yet. A 4km ride east brought my trusty steed and I to Helliwell Provincial Park. I was truly impressed.
The combination of lush green Doug-Fir forest and open, grassy meadows was inspiring. The bluffs overlook a sheer drop down to the ocean.
It’s hard to capture the immensity of place without being fully immersed in it. A photo comes close; a panoramic photo gives a slightly enhanced view. Photography is by nature a subtractive medium; it can only capture a small piece of the full experience.
After Helliwell Park, I climbed a few hills and checked out Ford Cove, where the smell of battered fish and greasy fried potatoes mingles with the salty air of the ocean. The cove rests in its own neck of the island, untouched by high traffic roads, it felt like I stepped into a different part of town, where crusty sea-faring types would totter into ramshackle pubs and slam down mugs of grog over aged oak barrels.
After my day of pedaling to two separate corners of the island, I pulled back into the community hub, and I decided, what the hell. I’m getting some chocolate ice cream. Life’s too short to worry about “dental care,” anyway. I’m joking. I love my teeth, but I love cold ice cream on a hot summer day too. Everything in moderation!
I spent the rest of the evening hours reading Jack Kerouac, because I still have a lot of classics to catch up on, and “On the Road” is one of them (thanks, Tom, for reminding me that it would be a good book to read on my trip…) Once the sunlight had all but disappeared behind the grove of trees surrounding what I’ve come to know as my little hobo camp, my stomach began to rumble, and I remembered that I had a can of tomato paste and some bow-tie pasta in my panniers.
Sometimes when I know something needs to be done, such as making dinner for myself, I will end up thinking about what I need to do, instead of actually doing it. More and more, I’ve caught myself paralyzed in thought and have decided to replace the useless thinking with an emptying of the mind and letting the action flow seamlessly without thought. It’s like in the passage from the Tao Te Ching that sagely reminds us that “the Tao (the way) takes no action, and yet it leaves nothing undone.” Instead of remaining in the state of trying to do something, we should allow ourselves to become conduits for the actions that need to be taken. As our crinkly friend Yoda put it, “do or do not, there is no try.”
And so, the pasta was cooked and no water was wasted, for instead of straining the water, the tomato paste was added to it, and grated parmesan and pepper were sprinkled in. Dinner flowed effortlessly, and when it came time to scrape the pot, I did it without thinking, instead of dreading over how I don’t like doing dishes.
As I packed up my cooking supplies, I remembered that I had told Bobcat I would come in to the radio station for his Monday night show. It was dark already and I had put on my headlamp to finish cleaning up my camp site, and I didn’t remember exactly where on Central road the station was located. I heard a saxophone filtering through the trees, and wanted to know where it was coming from. I found myself biking out past the wrecked cars, past the gate and the deer carcass that marked the entry to my hideaway. A few meters up the road and I found the sound emanating from the ballpark. Curiously, I pedaled down the dark pathway and heard the music grow louder. It sounded kind of jazzy. I wanted to walk in and start playing, but I hadn’t brought my flute and wasn’t sure if the musicians wanted any flute accompaniment anyway. As it turns out, the ballpark is right next to the radio station, and I knew this because I heard a song playing on the radio, and coming from the adjacent building, I heard the same song playing but with a half-second delay. I realized that it was the delay of the broadcast and I was standing right next to station building. Peeking into the illuminated windows from the dark night, I saw Bobcat’s distinctive, nearly dreadlocked, white beard and balding head. He was leaning back in the chair, sorting through stacks of CD’s and talking into the microphone. One of the first things I saw as I stepped into the open door was this sign, advising to make sure the brain is in gear before engaging the mouth. Ha!
I waved and said hello, and without batting an eye, Bobcat turned in his chair and quietly acknowledged my presence. His calm demeanor suggested to me that he, like many of the people who choose to call the gulf islands their home, was living on “island time,” the phrase coined to capture the slower pace of life typically found in beach towns and islands across the world. Island time, to my understanding, is a protest against the frenetic pace of the mainland; it rejects the notion that everything must be done as quickly as possible. In a go-go-go world, island time says, “Hey, why not stop for a minute and try some of these delicious roadside blackberries while we chat about this year’s harvest?”
At one point in our history, we humans decided that we would have more leisure time if we delegated all the manual labor to a machine. What ended up happening was that we quickly found ways to occupy the time saved by the machines. So, in our modern world where everything is faster and more efficient, we find ourselves busier than ever, filling our days with multitasking, speed-reading, and then power-napping when we don’t have enough time to get a good night’s rest. Island time was seeping into my dreams and into my life as the summer waned and I learned to truly savor the simple pleasures of life on Hornby Island. A broadcast interrupted my stream of thought —
“This is Bobcat, coming to you on your FM dial from Community Hornby Friendly Radio.” Bobcat adjusted the faders on the aging audio equipment and transitioned to a James Brown song from a “60’s Soul Classics” disc. I began to see the slower pace of life manifest in the way his words meandered and paused reflexively, letting long silent gaps punctuate his narration.
The radio station was small — just a small room filled with radio transmitters and receivers, and a separate broadcast booth filled to the brim with old CD’s, tapes, and records. I sat down in the office chair next to Bobcat, leaned back and gazed up at the wall of music towering above me. I didn’t recognize most of the CD’s, but a few classic selections caught my eye. I pulled out Van Morrison’s “Moondance” album from off the shelf, remarking that I’ve been listening to that album since I was just a little kid; I used to wake up on Sunday mornings to my dad listening to music like Bob Marley, Van Morrison, Stevie Ray Vaughn, or John Hiatt.
“What’s your favorite track off that album?” He asks me.
I scan the track list. “And it stoned me”, “Moondance”, “Crazy Love”, “Caravan”, and “Into the Mystic”. That was the one.
“That’s my favorite Van Morrison tune,” I declared.
“Oh hell yes, that’s a classic.”
A few minutes later, he announces to his listeners that, coming up, is a tune by Van Morrison, by request. The intro piano begins, and I reel in the memories that this song conjures.
“Damn that sax player on this album is great,” I comment.
“That’s Van Morrison himself, he plays Sax, Piano, Guitar, and Harp.”
“Really? Wow, the guy was quite the jack of all trades.”
I kind of see myself like that. Jack of all trades, master of none. Though I’m shooting for master of one. I can’t decide what I want to play. So far, I’ve spent considerable amounts of time learning drums, piano, guitar, flute, and most recently, the xaphoon. Right now I have my flute with me, but only because I’m pretty decent on it, and most importantly, it’s portable. I often fantasize about my next living situation, how it will be a completely musical house. A baby grand piano to play on, and a household full of roommates whose idea of fun is to have rollicking jam sessions late into the night.
Suddenly, someone from the jam session nextdoor pops in.
“Hey Bobcat…” he begins, “and guest”, he adds as he sees me flipping through dusty records. “You want a beer?”
“Sure, pour it in here,” Bobcat responds as he hands him an empty cup.
I ask this guy what’s his name, and he tells me it’s Ron.
“What a coincidence. That’s my dad’s name.”
“Hey, you were that guy playing flute at the bakery last night,” he says.
“Yeah, that’s me.” I find it kind of nice how small the island is. On any given night, there might be one event, where most people who like to go out evenings end up congregating. It’s a small world, and a much, much smaller island.
“I don’t know how much longer we’re going to be playing, but you should bring your flute and come jam with us for a bit”
Isn’t that how life works? One thing just leads straight to another. I find this to be true in many areas of my life. So I went back to my camp site, grabbed my flute, and stopped in to jam for a bit. The dimly lit room was the headquarters of the ballpark, where there was a big open room, still somewhat under construction, a decently sized kitchen and shower facilities. I liked the hand-built feel to the building. It had character.
After five songs or so, and we ended the night on a good note. Everyone told me thanks for playing. It was a great way to end the night, I found myself buzzing with that unmistakable musical afterglow. I was glad to have been able to connect with more musicians without even trying.
As I returned to my camp, I was not surprised as my headlamp shone onto two white beads looking back at me; the deer in the headlight stared back for as long as I shone light on him. I continued mozying back to my tent and let the night fold over me as I slipped effortlessly into my cozy cocoon and fell into a deep sleep.