Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Ponder me this, O Canada

So it was Canada. It was British Columbia (but, yes, anonymous, it did feel a bit like Wisconsin, Door County to be exact).

And indeed it was Salt Spring Island and Ganges Harbor.

Which means that the "Where-was-Rick" puzzle winner of an always-useful TV-B-Gone is none other than Hillsdale’s own Michael Thomas Ponder (MTP).

See what you can do with a Stanford education? But never mind.

I’m still not able to capture the feeling I had crossing the Peace Arch-ed border at Blaine into Canada.

Part relief knowing that I was no longer under the jurisdiction of the Bushman, part curiosity about whether things would really be that different north of the border. I mean if things are different in Oregon, how much more different can you get?

Short answer: A LOT!

One of the first things I noticed was that it was independence day and not the Fourth of July. Sunday, the First of July, was Canada Day. Happy 140 years, Canada! Three days later, our Fourth of July would be gloriously serene from the deck of our neo-rustic log cabin overlooking placid little Cusheon Lake.

Our itinerary required two ferry rides to get to the island. Ferries are wondrous transitional places. But for the marine air, the steady forward motion, the low hum of engine, ferries are calming entries like those to Japanese gardens and temples.

The island itself is 29 kilometers by 14 kilometers at its widest. I’ll let you do the conversion. The metric system is good for the mind and soul, and a relatively painless way for Americans to get with the rest of the world.

Saltspring Island (yes, it is spelled both ways), is a coastal island that harbors on the east side of Vancouver Island. It has been home to all sorts of folks. The “First Nations peoples” as they are called in Canada, Spanish and English explorers, Hawaiian field hands, Japanese fishermen and farmers, African-American-Canadians (who came here in the 1850s after buying their way out of American slavery), hippies, artists, second- and third-home owners.

Now, in the summer, the place sees a lot of folks like us, tourists, but mostly Canadians.

Ganges, the harbor town, is as much a harbor for tourists as boats. It’s a four-bookstore place with pubs, parking lots, restaurants, parking lots, endless gift shops, parking lots and more parking lots.

At night the town shuts down except for intimate concerts at the outdoor Tree House Cafe. In the cool of the evening under a giant oak, we sipped lattés and nibbled on carrot cake as a trio serenaded us with jazz-inflected sambas.

The island’s signage is a mess; getting lost is easy. A hike took us into a pasture run by bulls protective of their cows. To the amazement of friends, I negotiated us through one tense bull encounter and earned the sobriquet “The Bull Whisperer.” Exiting the pasture, we noticed a sign facing the opposite direction, warning hikers of bulls. There had been no sign at our entrance to the pasture.

The exchange rate still favors the US dollar but only by a nickel. The Canadians have been quick to call it a wash. “One of ours for one of yours.” I didn’t argue. What’s a nickel between friends? Or call it a behemoth-guilt tax.

We read the Toronto Globe and Mail most days. Canada’s major newspaper doesn’t seem to give a rip about the USA. The only US story to make the front page all week was Bushman’s commutation of Scooterman’s sentence. And that story was told with a kind of “What did you expect?” shrug.

The best parts of our time were the long, languid, northern-latitude days and a vague feeling of escape from the responsibility of being citizens of “The Mightiest Nation on Earth.” My vacation mood fit that of Canada, a nation that mostly wants to be left alone.

Laissez Faire.

For all that, it’s good to be back, if only for the challenge of it all. Being an American is tough work, but someone has to do it.

And, yes, there were 240 e-mails in my in-box. And yes it has taken me three days to dispense with them.

And yes, upon a little reflection, it makes perfect sense that Michael Thomas Ponder, who has accompanied me to strange places (literally and figuratively), would ferret out where on earth I was last week.

P.S. For another experience of Saltspring Island and better photos than mine, visit John Harvey’s site. I don’t know John. I just discovered his work Saltspring surfing.

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