I push hard against the door, fighting winter’s wind on the other side, stepping from the bright, cozy warmth of the passenger lounge into the dark night air. Brrrr. Baby it’s cold outside. Turning right toward the front of the Queen of New Westminster, my unzipped jacket flaps wildly. I pause, turning my back to the wind and do it up, pulling both my hoodie top and jacket hood over my head. Better; much better.
On the forward deck, directly under the bridge, I find the sweet spot, the quiet space created by the wind hitting the bow and being directed up and to either side over my head, the wind reduced to a moderate breeze. I am alone. I lean back against the cold steel of the vessel and take in the clear night sky above me.
In this moment I stand with Abraham, overcome by the brilliance of ten thousand points of light, my life – a single star in the brilliant hemisphere – seeming both small and significant at once. I remember a night in Fez three decades ago, the same canopy, the same wonder, the quiet assurance that, come what may, all will be well.
To my left on the distant horizon, the glow of Vancouver, adorned with a tiara of sparkling mountain ski slopes hanging as if in midair in the black void above her. To my right the brooding dark hulk of Gabriola, ringed at the base by a warm cincture of home lights burning. And dotted around in the vast, dark waters of the Strait of Georgia the lights of other vessels bear witness to Canada’s unending industry, fishers and loggers most prevalent here.
Vancouver Island, my first Canadian home, lies at the end of this ship’s wake, becoming a mere memory as we draw away. I’ve come to say goodbye.
Our four day journey saw us drive halfway up the eastern coast, taking the old Island Highway, enjoying the hospitality of friends and family, pausing in Black Creek to dust the snow off of the graves of our loved ones and sitting for a moment on the logs at Miracle Beach, like Adam and Eve, or whatever their names were in the aboriginal tongue and creation myth, when they emerged from these ocean waters ten thousand years ago. In the hours between, the windshield wipers making music with the rain, me driving and Renata resting her feet up on the dash, we talked. We talked as if talking would help us finally understand why we had come here in the first place, why we needed to leave, and what we left behind when we did. This place changed us, but how?
Tears well up in my eyes now, turning the points of light into oversized Van Gogh-inspired creations. How can a place that was never really home make me cry for it, long for it again, miss it even before it is gone? The words of Erasmus come to me: “Ik ben een wereldburger, mijn vaderland is overal; of eigenlijk ben ik een vreemdeling voor iedereen.” I am a citizen of the world, my homeland is everywhere; but really I am a stranger to everyone.
Farewell, Island. I shall miss your misty forests, your mountains running down to the sea, your fine and friendly people, your deer, otter, eagle, and orca. Hold our loved ones in your earth, hold them softly until we return, or their Saviour does. You have blessed us, delighted and perplexed us; changed us and made us better than we were when we first arrived on your rocky shores. For this we are grateful. Farewell now; be well.
(Written aboard the Queen of New Westminster, 29 December 2015.)