Canada Speaks: March 2010: Kaie Kellough

A Barnacle on Gabriola’s Shore

by Kaie Kellough

When Kim (my wife) and I disembarked from the float plane on Gabriola Island, November 2008, I looked out to where sky and ocean fused in the distance and I felt a quick spasm. The rippled expanse of ocean and the open sky hinted at emptiness. I remembered being told that 3000 artistic, liberal individuals flourished under Gabriola’s leafy canopy, swayed by the tide’s rhythm. 3000. Instinctively, I grew tense.

I’d lived uptown Montréal for 10 years. Montréal is not a large city. Toronto exceeds it; New York embarrasses it. But Montréal’s uptown boroughs are dirty, packed with bustle, exciting crime, and culture. When I step onto my street, I can turn 360 degrees and find myself encircled by people, people’s creations, and poodles.

Standing on the docks looking out at the ocean and not seeing one familiar brick structure, one doorway defaced by graffiti, one group of cynical hipsters in tapered jeans smoking cigarettes and spitting, made me want to leap back into the float plane.

Kim, who grew up in inner city Boston, had an opposite reaction. Her city was full of hidden perils, carefully drawn racial boundaries and the threat of violence if those boundaries were ignored. Growing up, she longed to escape Boston’s tensions, vices, contrivances. The instant we stepped off the float plane she unleashed a broad grin. She then spread her arms and remarked: ‘I feel free.’ I cursed her silently.

Over the next 3 days, Kim made friends and hitchhiked about. I didn’t hitchhike. What if I got singled out and placed under citizens’ arrest? I prescribed myself a red wine anti-tension regimen. To feel hip I tried on outfits in front of the mirror, but when I looked outside at the evergreens, I felt like Andy Warhol, who admitted: ‘I am a deeply superficial person.’

Red wine convinced me to walk the shoreline, where I saw 3 things that recalled my Vancouver childhood: Barnacles, sea anemones, and jellyfish. I remembered how I used to delight in leaping from stone to stone, aware that if I slipped on the sea-moss I might crack my skull open and bleed to death. I relaxed.

Our final afternoon in Gabriola, sipping wine outside, I looked at Kim and grimaced: ‘I’m sorry. I’ve felt hard, like a barnacle. But today I feel like a jellyfish: Clear, supple, able to ride the ripples.’

Kim deadpanned: ‘Promise me that’s how you’ll be if we ever come back.’

I sighed, ‘I promise,’ then turned to the ocean and winked.