Thursday, August 09, 2007

Salt Spring Island Redux

When Diane and I went to Salt Spring Island last month, we were with our dear friends Cathy and Jerry Zimmerman.

I described our experience in an earlier post. Now it is Cathy's turn. Cathy is a wonderful writer and editor for the Longview Daily News in Longview, Washington, where, an eon ago, I joyfully worked at what was, at the time, one of the last family-owned newspapers in the land.

Cathy shared her version of our Salt Spring Island experience with her readers recently. Here it is with some more of photos I took of this enchanted refuge off the east shore of Vancouver Island.

"Listen to the quiet'

By Cathy Zimmerman
The Longview Daily News

SALT SPRING ISLAND, British Columbia — I almost hate to write this story. The temptation is to keep a recent vacation discovery secret. But there's also the urge to rhapsodize about it, and then of course the word is out at a gallop.

The word is this: In addition to its sleepy, unspoiled pleasures, Salt Spring Island percolates with variety and surprise.

mainland and Vancouver Island, Salt Spring offers rustic resorts, charming B&Bs and anThe largest of the Gulf Islands nestled in the Strait or Georgia between British Columbia's elegant inn. We enjoyed hiking at a coastal park, canoeing on a pristine lake, strolling and snacking in a harbor village with cool shops and restaurants, and visiting the rural studios of some of the dozens of island artisans.

Salt Spring — nicknamed the Banana Belt because it's in a rain shadow — is dotted with sheep farms and has 10 designated bicycle routes. Its Saturday market has inspired magazine articles.

And history buffs will want to read about the 3,000-year presence of First Nation peoples, the freed slaves from the United States who settled in the mid 1800s, and Japanese and Hawaiian pioneers who contributed their chapters to island life.

In short, it's a natural, recreational and cultural gem.

* * *

My husband and I and another couple, Rick Seifert and Diane Moskowitz of Portland, stayed at the Cusheon Lake Resort, in a log cabin overlooking the lake. We split the week's rental of about $1,200.

Fourteen cedar cabins and two chalets share the use of several docks, each with Adirondack chairs, as well as an open area with a big brick fireplace for outdoor cooking, a volleyball area and a small fleet of canoes and rowboats.

Our cabin had two good-sized bedrooms, a bathroom and a big living area with a fireplace and a well-equipped kitchen. A high deck across the front of the cabin overlooked the lake.

The resort's slogan is "Listen to the quiet," and we did.

The family-friendly cabins have no televisions, and visitors are asked to keep any music turned down. No motorized boats are allowed on the lake, and swimming is fine in the warmed-up waters of summer.

Twice, a deer and her two fawns fed on grass 20 feet from our deck. A bald eagle took a lazy turn around the lake. And one evening we saw the resident beaver chugging through the water.

Salt Spring has several other lakes, most of them smaller than Cusheon. St. Mary Lake, at least three times the size of Cusheon, has its own resort on the north end of the island. Aside from the resorts, there are numerous single homes for rent and a surprising number of B&Bs: 33 at last count.

Hastings House, a luxury country estate on 22 acres overlooking Ganges Harbor (again, see photo), has an 11th century Sussex-style manor house, restaurant and spa. Patricia Schulz includes Hastings House in her book, "1,000 Places to See Before You Die." With rooms and suites from $360 to $795 a night and cottages from $625 to $910 a night, we saw but did not stay.

More than 10,000 permanent residents live on Salt Spring, but the narrow roads were never busy. Ganges, the island's central town, felt lively but not overrun.

* * *

Books, samba and creme freche

The peace and quiet of Salt Spring made me feel so relaxed I joked that I felt drugged.

We did rouse ourselves for some hiking and a couple of trips into town. We stocked up on groceries at an unpretentious emporium packed with deli treats and gourmet items, from fresh fish to creme freche.

One evening, we listened to live Latin music at the Tree House Cafe in Ganges, where trios and bands were booked for outdoor concerts every night the first week of July. The cafe serves delicious, innovative meals in its tiny historic building and at outdoor tables tucked under the generous canopy of a tree. We also had good food at Calvin's Bistro and the Tide's Inn.

Three independent book stores in Ganges are distinctly different; we spent time in all of them. Almost everything is independent on Salt Spring, including clothing stores, bakeries, a shoe store and a big toy shop.

Thanks to a local ordinance, we saw no fast food outlets or chains. The only brand name we saw was "Sears," on a small catalog outlet in Ganges.

Several locals were stumped about where the town's name came from, but I discovered on the Web that Ganges was named for a British naval ship built in Bombay, India, of Malabar teak, which visited Salt Spring Island in the 1850s.

The town makes for a fun couple of hours. But if you're seriously interested in shopping, you'll have to hit the back roads — not to find a mall, but to visit dozens of art galleries off the beaten track.

* * *

Art among the trees and hills

Salt Spring makes it easy to find its artisans. Free maps show the locations of 32 galleries, offering pottery, wine, goat cheese, fine wood turning, folk art, baskets, photography, French linens, hand-sewn toys, wool, glass art and jewelry.

We visited Salt Spring Island Cheese, a working goat farm. On the charming, immaculate grounds, we sampled cheeses and crackers, took a short walk around the outside of the cheese-making rooms to watch the process, and sat on a terrace.

At French Country Fabric Creations (pictured here), proprietors have built a country house that is right out of Provence, complete with expansive rows of lavender in front. A separate shop with a loft displays bolts of cotton from Provence and table linens sewn by the owner.

One more foray took us to Blue Horse Folk Art, a stunning gallery on the edge of a country pond. Blue Horse sells paintings, Raku vases, lamps and carvings of birds. An outdoor coffee garden is shaded by towering red-limbed madronas.

* * *

One island, many peoples

I was interested in Salt Spring history, so we visited the graveyard (photo below) near Vesuvius Bay Road where some of the African-American and Japanese pioneers are buried.

We were surprised to not find many signs of the original inhabitants, however, aside from a pictograph on a boulder near Fulford Harbor.

According to "Salt Spring: The Story of an Island," by Charles Kahn, aboriginal peoples of Salt Spring go back 3,000 years. Salish groups frequented the salt springs on the north end and planted fields of sweet camas root. Today, little remains of their villages.

According to Kahn, the sites were abandoned for several reasons. A smallpox epidemic spread by infected Europeans in 1769 "killed so many aboriginal people that not enough remained to maintain villages," he writes. Another factor were fierce wars between the Salish and Kwagulths that drove some Salt Spring natives to the mainland, where descendents now reside as Lummis near Bellingham.

The First Peoples who were still there in the 1800s clashed with newcomers, according to the Heritage Map of Salt Spring Island.

"About half of the first settlers were African-Americans from San Francisco who had come to Victoria in 1858 seeking a place to live where they had the same rights as everyone else," the Heritage material says.

By 1895, an Anglican minister listed a diverse population of 450, including "160 English, 50 Scotch, 20 Irish, 22 Portuguese, 13 Swedes, 4 Germans, 34 Americans, 90 Halfbreeds, 40 Colored or partly colored, 6 Sandwich Islanders, 10 Japanese, also 1 Egyptian, 2 Greeks, 1 Patagonian."

* * *

The Bull Whisperer

Our study of history involved plenty of mental exercise. For a physical workout, we chose a hike at Ruckle Provincial Park.

Winding in and out of forest to beautiful coastal views, the trail was sometimes hard to follow, and we ran into German tourists who were lost. After comparing maps and heading them off in the best direction, we kept going. In a wooded spot along a bordering farm, we ran into four or five shaggy cattle. One with long horns sat right in the middle of the path. Our friend Rick approached the bull and told him calmly that we needed to pass.

The animal stared, stirred, heaved himself up and lumbered off.

The remainder of our stay, Rick got the title of Bull Whisperer.

Salt Spring fed so many of our needs. It's only a day's drive/ferry ride from Longview, but the island lifted us out of space and time. Among the lakeside reeds, we watched dragonflies dart and sparkle. Roadside stands offered lemonade and cookies and trusted us to leave payment in a jar. At the end of a hot day's hike, we sipped chilled Chardonnay at a picnic table in our bare feet.

Go back? In a heartbeat

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