Part 5 — at last, oysters

Campbell River: chilly, but clearing.

Travel Tip—When in line for a car ferry, keep your eye on the truckers. As soon as they stop shooting the breeze and checking each other’s cargo you know it’s time to board. Truckers are always the first to know everything.

Lovely sail over to Quadra Island. Chill in the air be damned. Trumped by the view and wind in my hair.

We drive forty-five minutes up the island on beautiful, albeit dodgy, semi country/semi deep woods roads, following cryptic directions from our host (turn right at the lightning-ravaged elm then left where the creek forks and go just past the fava bean farm… not the string bean farm, the fava bean one…). The directions turn out to be perfect and without a single hitch we arrive at a lane and a sign for our organic farm B&B.

As we turn in, a white chicken jumps out of the shrubbery and runs alongside our car in a very excited sort of chicken waddling way, ushering us in the whole way to the house. We’re amazed and honoured. The Mr. of the B&B and a yellow lab greet us and we chat briefly and as I’m remarking on the beauty of the place, saying I’d love to stroll through the garden sometime, the Ms. of the B&B pops her head out the back door and hands me a bowl, and without a hello or a howdoyoudo, says no one goes in or out of the garden empty-handed and would I pick some nasturtium flowers for the evening salad. Oh, I love nasturtiums, I say; would she like leaves as well as flowers? She doesn’t answer immediately, looks quite disappointed in fact, and it occurs to me that she wasn’t prepared for my familiarity with flower eating, that it’s possible I’ve denied her the pleasure of shocking me. In any case, she’s not amused. This is the first sign that we’re not merely at an organic farm B&B as we’d hoped—to breathe clean air, eat fresh food and learn how to pick wild mushrooms—but at a B&B that prides itself on offering an ‘organic farm experience‘ to city folk who for the most part don’t the know the difference between parsley and chives.

Like Elizabeth from Düsseldorf, the other guest at the farm. I meet her at dinner and then again in the morning, in the garden, where she’s working in the rain. She wears big black wellies, a rubber jacket and a red headband. She’s our age, maybe a little older, has been coming here for six years, always for a month, says it’s a much-needed break from her noisy, lonely life in Germany where she has no garden, no animals. I suggest potting up some window herbs or a Philodendron, maybe get a goldfish… she laughs, says it’s all too much trouble, that she enjoys such ‘complications’ on a holiday basis only. In fact she enjoys the farm, the chickens, pigs, the dog, so much that it takes her three months to get over it all when she returns home and then she spends the rest of the year waiting for her next visit. She sighs heavily as she leans on her muddy rake, says it’s a funny thing, but in Germany she hates the rain, here she loves it. [I know this is supposed to mean something… but what??] She’s a bit intense, I decide. Peter says she’s a downer. But she’s quiet and clean and since we share the loo, this is important, and I’m grateful.

Later, I drive Peter to his dive group and then go to a yoga class the Ms. has invited me to. A beautiful space, all windows, surrounded by forest; I do sun salutations to the sound of rain and distant thunder. I figure maybe they’ll help.

The Mr. has promised mushroom picking later today but when I return to the farm he says it’s off. The reason is to be found somewhere in the two-hour infomercial he gives me on the wonders of life at the farm and all he and the Ms. plan to do with it, including offering mushroom picking excursions. There will be honey collecting also in this dream version of things. And jam making and nature crafting. He just has to work it out. For now he’s simply happy to have people come and help him pull weeds and pay him for the pleasure.

But I have my own weeds back home and I don’t remember reading about that side of things on the website; I was expecting to learn how to identify ferns and lichen, preserve wild edibles, make herb infused sausages and goat cheese. Yes well, he’s a bit busy, he says. All this rain screwing things up. Besides, he insists, there’s not much out there, lichen-wise.

I notice a mushroom nearby. I point. Look!

He shrugs, says it’s probably not edible.  [Probably?]

At dinner Mr. and Ms. tell us about Victoria, how English it is and how thrilling that will be for us; the Ms. is Irish but speaks with a posh English dialect. The architect of the Empress Hotel, Francis Rattenbury, well, not him but his driver, was related to somebody in her family’s past, or to someone she knew… or knew of. Or something. She rattles on about it all through the meal then loans me a book on Rattenbury. I must have looked interested.

The salmon, we’re told, has been caught especially for us and it’s delicious. Garden veg and homemade wine (which is all the Ms. can drink because of the sulphates or some other ingredient found in good wine). The Mr. is all for the stuff we brought and so is Elizabeth (as is the most recent guest: an Irish cattle rancher who’s just come from a round-up in Alberta). We open a second bottle and finish only half, put the rest in the fridge where it disappears by morning. We guess it was Elizabeth but don’t begrudge her given she’s here for a month with only the house plonk.

We have tea and coffee in the lounge by the fire and eat homemade double chocolate zucchini bread with freshly whipped cream. Elizabeth sits morosely in a corner, likely contemplating the swiftness of passing days until she has to return to her self-imposed lifeless life in Düsseldorf. But the food and wine and conversation has made Mr. and Ms. quite sparkling and pleasant, their strange, accusing, angry sadness temporarily gone, and the evening is really quite lovely.

Could be we’re just getting used to the place. Rubber boots can’t be far off.

We spend another day hiking and climbing, driving around the island, puttering about the farm, and then on the morning we leave we ask the oyster question: where can we get some? Ms. says there’s probably none for sale on the island but we can collect our own; she gives us directions to a pristine little slice of water where for a moment we consider canoeing but it’s raining and we don’t have much time not to mention a canoe and never mind—we stare out at the perfect silence and breathe instead. We see eagles, find oysters. It’s enough.

We bring back the shells all agog with happy anticipation; Ms. laughs, tells us they felt the same way when they first moved here, when they had no idea about farming. She says they took comfort in the oysters, knowing at least they’d never go hungry. But, she adds, things are changing, the logging, shipping, destruction to the land, the water, the oyster beds; soon there won’t be any left. Residents came here for a simple life but nothing’s simple forever it seems. She tells us about the issues, how they have rallies and protests against the machinery and devastation; we’ve seen only a small bit of it, didn’t know how bad it was. And the politics takes time away from tending beehives, she says, and, worse, it does little good. Eventually life on Quadra will be changed; it’s beauty ravaged and the typical man-made mess left behind.

The Ms. lends us her oyster knife and we suck the cold salty meat out of the shells—and this only an hour after a breakfast of rhubarb bumfi, homemade bread and yoghurt, berries and freshly laid eggs. The combination seems odd at first, but then, quite fitting for this place. Quite perfect really.

[Part 6: back to the mainland and over to Tofino. Baked spaghetti en route.]

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