A lot of misogynist horror has transpired since I wrote this essay in June of 2017. My fear that my words would provoke strong criticism has been overwhelmed by intervening events. The enforced departure of Harvey Weinstein for assaulting female staff and performers, the endless male perpetuated civilian massacres, and the ongoing display of juvenile anger by Donald Trump has confirmed my premise that there’s Trouble on the road to Paradise.
My original story:
In four days I’m expected on Cortes Island, my old home place, an isolated wilderness isle in the BC Northern Gulf Islands. In sharp contrast to the heart wrenching events happening elsewhere in the world, Cortes is often said to be and isle of Paradise.
Long sandy beaches, rain forest trails, healthy lifestyles and friendly community are the order of the day.
I could use some of that.
But I feel confused and unprepared for a vacation, or even the idea of a vacation. I’m reeling from the magnitude of human tragedy in Manchester, Paris Brussels, Aleppo, Yemen, and cities much closer to home. How do I respond to men slashing viciously into unsuspecting crowds? How do I respond to mad men gunning down dozens of young children in a classroom?
I attempt to set these anxieties aside when friend Jodi and I leave by car from the silvery sage of the South Okanagan for the coastal vistas of Cortes Island.
Within a few kilometers we turn away from the Okanagan corridor and head West on Route #3 to the coast. At this early hour we are lonely travelers. There’s barely a vehicle ahead or behind.
In the deep valley of the Similkameen, loose gravel and rough pockmarks on the highway indicate recent slide activity from the ragged cliffs above.
My mind drifts to a world where humans too fall among others in catastrophic ways. What of the men who attempt to shield young Muslim women and are murdered for their compassion and bravery? What of the profoundly disturbed men who terrorize unsuspecting crowds? What trauma clings to those who witness these events?
This fragility is difficult to shake. I’m mesmerized by the size of the boulders that rear up beside the road. I scan the steep hills and follow the trajectory of ancient rockslides. I see houses and farm buildings among the boulders and rock fall.
What is the difference between choosing life at the base of an unstable mountain and an unprovoked attack? Both are unpredictable. Rocks fall and rivers flood and crazed radicalized males do attack without provocation.
I find myself reviewing recent terrorist events. I can’t help but note the gender of the attackers. Strange. I sense that I’m not to mention this. Women friends often jump to defend the men in their lives, as if identifying men as the chief perpetrators of violence somehow threatens their own relationships.
We drive onward through flickering light and shade. We pass from cool to warm and back again. I’m grateful that in this moment I am spared rock fall, or flood, or brutal attack.
Beyond the town of Princeton, we ascend into open rangeland and evergreen elevations. But a distant pale gravel slope stained by dark water-like marks and grader cuts unsettles me.
I wonder at this unstable looking slope, the tailings pond at the Copper Mountain Mine operation. Again my mind takes me away to recent stories of tailings pond collapse…the rush of destruction that has followed, then been ignored…and recent reports that the government has approved the dumping of mine waste into a central BC lake.
In my present moment, new swooping highway curves hardly require a change in speed and expose the open landscape on the edge of craggy mountains.
In the high elevation passes of Manning Park light glimmers on remaining snow, and I blink at narrow light through skeletal evergreens that are no longer green. I recognize withered Douglas, Balsam and Alpine Fir. Stately Engelmann Spruce, normally almost black-green, is gaunt with leaden colour and down turned branches.
I sigh and push myself to admire the late dusting of snow.
Beyond Alison Pass we gather speed on a steep decline and encounter another crumpled mountainside. I feel acutely aware of the sharp edged, house-sized boulders of the Hope Slide.
The rock face above is still monitored for oscillations. I mentally review a photo I’ve seen of miners in a tunnel when the mountain ahead had been sheered away, leaving them blinking into daylight where moments before darkness prevailed.
Now we slide down a long hill away from historic disaster and scoot out on the other side of Hope. It’s mid-morning. The veil of interior BC slips aside. The mountains ride low in a soft haze on the far side of vast level fields.
Traffic increases, as does the speed. The sun glances off car windows and chrome wheel covers. I put on sunglasses and pull the visor down. Vancouver hovers on the horizon.
I feel anxious.
Low shiny-roofed barns expel manure-scented air into strangely unpopulated rich green pastures. A plant nursery interrupts the flat agricultural fields with unidentified exotics.
At the huge multi-lane section of highway leading to the Port Mann Bridge and the Fraser River, I am purposefully breathing with Yogic awareness.
“Just don’t leave this lane, or turn off anywhere,” Jodi says, fearful that we’ll be lost in the mysterious streets of endless suburbs.
Abruptly, an exotic sports car driven with masculine confidence by a trim grey-headed man, whips from a right hand on-ramp and abruptly switches back and forth across four lanes. Moments later men in a maroon SUV and a dusty van play tag at high speed, cutting me off with their games.
I’m grateful that stats indicate a continued decline in vehicle accidents since 1995, though I’ve heard men still account for more than 70% of aggressive driving charges.
We finally enter the cities of the Lower Mainland and a myriad of roadways.
On the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge I’m again purposefully breathing. On my right I glance down into Burrard Inlet…the inlet where oil companies directed by male CEO’s, push for an expanded pipeline terminal and an 80% increase in tanker traffic.
On my left the massive superstructure of a tanker seems about to brush the underside of the bridge.
Then we’re out onto the serpentine concrete byways that sort traffic into those headed for Horseshoe Bay Ferry and those rushing to countless destinations, east to Dollarton and Deep Cove, west to Burnaby and Vancouver. We merge onto the Upper Levels, ferry bound, wheeling past high-side retaining walls and tree shrouded off ramps toward Horseshoe Bay.
On the expansive ocean crossing to Vancouver Island we read and people watch. The newspaper shares more horror as humans take out their frustrations on families, each other and our extraordinary landscape.
In mid-afternoon we arrive in Nanaimo. At a simple motel we trundle suitcases up a flight of exterior stairs.
Jodi departs to visit her mom in a senior’s complex. I settle in with my current favourite book, Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us.
I’m fascinated by Weisman’s premise…a devastating reveal of how we live now and how the earth might respond if humans vanished in an instant.
Weisman fearlessly examines our present moment, often in unsettling detail. With well-researched clarity Weisman exposes our 21st Century as it begins to self-destruct within days of our magical departure.
I am especially shocked by Weisman’s description of Houston’s devotion to oil derivatives production, from chemicals to gas. I flip open Google Earth to view the actual physical domination of Houston by this intense industry. I am shocked. (Shortly those very facilities will face the wrath of Hurricane Harvey with explosions, fires and release of deadly chemicals manifesting the very scenario I’ve been reading about.)
Again I’m pressed smack up against the reality of what we have wrought.
We? Women are rarely participants in Weisman’s dissertation, or in most histories…or in most boardrooms and war-rooms where disastrous decisions are made.
I remember checking out a friend’s video he encouraged me to watch. “It’s a really good history of Poland,” he said, “where I’m from.” After dutifully watching centuries of warfare, plunder and decimation, I primarily noticed the total absence of female references. What happened to the women?
I momentarily ponder Weisman’s futuristic world where we’ve all vanished in an instant. I’m tempted to consider a more gender specific dematerialization.
The next morning I wander without direction. I’m sandal shod in a semi-industrial area without sidewalks. I forego a dark underpass for a lengthy trudge to a distant traffic light. The day is already hot.
At a compact mall I push open the door into Tim Horton’s. The sunny morning heat activates the sugary, coffee edged smells. I watch the patrons around me for a moment. Then I pull a small coil bound notebook from my bag and begin to write.
Half an hour later, I tuck everything away to explore other mall offerings.
I walk into an unexpectedly cool, bright, expansive grocery featuring an enormous deli.
To my left, a large woman refills coffee carafes.
She happily walks all the way back to the distant clean-up area to provide tap water to go with my bulky ham and cheese. On the way, she chats volubly with a burly balding man in a hair net who is serving at the luncheon meat display.
“I worked thirty years in the sawmill,” he shouts back, “now I’m here.” He lifts his chin to let a customer know he’s caught her order. Change affects all of us.
At an outdoor table I continue to write. Waves of warmth rise from the sun heated concrete.
The next morning we hum along the highway north to Campbell River.
We enjoy the flowering yellow density of roadside Scotch Broom, and question the thrumming demand for its removal along with hundreds of other invasive plants.
We consider the challenge of aging, a matter of immediate concern for Jodi and her mom.
We speculate on our approaching sojourn in Paradise.
At 1:42 pm we glide into the Cortes Island ferry dock, arriving at last…in Paradise.
On the afternoon of our second day on Cortes, we visit Manson’s Lagoon, a natural wonder of sheltered tidal waters and home to a Government dock.
In the cry of gulls and whisper of ocean wind, we find an island friend unloading his pick-up truck for a dockside boat repair.
We chat in comfortable familiarity of island life and changes. Larger worldly events creep into our conversation. In London, three men have slammed a vehicle into a crowd.
There is a pause. All three of us look away, unable to formulate a response.
With his hands resting on the pick-up rail, our friend says quietly, “I’m sorry.” I look at him. “I apologize,” he says more clearly. I’m still puzzled. “I’m embarrassed to be a man.”
I’m startled. I had no idea I had been waiting for these words.