I lived in a basement in Victoria BC and ate cottage cheese because it was cheap and I had read somewhere of its complete-food value. The basement had a door facing the back-alley—it was badly hung and usually jammed so we used the large window in the kitchen to go in and out.
That was the season of lice and scabies and gallon jugs of Benzo-benzoate. And it was the season of a large landlord standing on my feet outside a pub on Government St. telling me I had a week to get him the rent or he’d "do something worse." He was a junkie and unpredictable.
Winter had moved in and it was rainy and I was broke, as we all were, and so it was back, once again, to Port Alberni for a few (Mac and Blo) lumber-mill pay cheques.
The months and years of no-fixed-address had been piling up and all around I sensed things were winding down, preparing to break up. Like there was a ledge somewhere down river and you could hear the water whitening as it fell over rock shelves but you couldn’t tell how far down, or on which bend you should start to back paddle.
It was a year or so after we were kicked off Hornby Island—banned for a year for building a raft out of driftwood, setting it on fire and swimming it out into bay then swimming back and watching the beauty of the thing burn into the horizon. A flaming eye in the night, fixed back on us, pinning us to the beach.
Well, we had taken too much for granted. Like we were the only ones living on the Island. The first or last tribe. And I had fallen for it all. The beach, the salt, the oysters cracking open in a fire and eaten off the shell, the arbutus trees—their skin as sensual as the legs of Tina Turner—the turn of the tide like a seeking heart, the small store with the screen door a short hike away, the communal come-and-go.
That time was too spiritual to last anyway. It was too basic. Too Huck-Finn-human. I mean we built a driftwood hut, called it a house, and why not, it had two rooms and a big open door you hardly had to duck under to get in.
For a while there was a nudist family—a couple with two daughters—that camped on the beach just the other side of a rivulet that ran throughout the summer; and Joe, who wasn’t paired up, was always going over to the rill playing with the running water, then finally making excuses to go over and visit. One evening he just stripped naked and went and joined them by their fire—sat there on a log grinning. From where we were, we could see his teeth shinning in the orange-yellow light.
The morning after the raft-fire, police came and tore down our house and escorted us off the island. Ferries from Hornby to Denman Island and on to Buckley Bay, they saw us all the way to the main island.
Nobody said it but it seemed to mark the end of a beginning. Still we hiked, walked and rode, and landed on Salt Spring, flirted with other gulf islands; always finding ourselves in Victoria and then in Port Alberni when things got too bare-bone.
But the frays came, edges showed and life slowly became serious. People left, moved, found paths that lead far away. There was a time on Hornby that I thought it possible to live out a life entirely untethered—but for that sustaining bay. Silly. And yet here, writing this in the innocence of pre-dawn, I think; and why not?