“Life is easy here,” the Pakistan-born cab-driver tells us. “No traffic, no snow, no problem.” Shoulder-checking then changing lanes he asks Stan, “Where did you fly from, sir?” When he learns we came from Regina he offers his apologies. “I’m very sorry, sir, but that is a terrible place. I was there once. Stayed in a hotel that was 700, no, maybe 800, years old.” At this point Stan interrupts to say Regina didn’t exist 700 years ago, but the driver shrugs it off as a minor detail. “I’m telling you, it was terrible. I got out of there as soon as I could and I didn’t look back, sir.”
I laugh while looking out the window trying to absorb every green leaf, blossom, and blade of grass. Minutes earlier, when we walked past the airport’s sliding doors and stepped into spring, Belén and Susanna asked if they could dash across the street to touch the grass in the median. At first I told them no, but then reconsidered. Even I know the pleasure of cartwheeling in green grass outweighs the risk of running across the road.
The next morning Vivi wakes up at dawn and Stan walks with her for miles, exploring the streets of Victoria and checking out places we’ll return to later as a family. The second time around it takes us the whole day to cover the same ground; we stop to meet up with friends, take pictures of dandelions, feed seals, eat fish and chips, smell hyacinths, throw down pop-gun firecrackers in Chinatown, and pose in front of sailboats. Amazement sinks in as we realize people actually live here. They wake up to the ocean and cherry blossoms and snow-capped mountains every day and call it home. Our friend Matt is also impressed. “Yep, I could live here,” he says, verbalizing what we’re all thinking. Apparently we’re not the only ones; when I talk to the guy beside me in a cafe and find out he’s a teacher I ask him about the job market. He tells me most teachers put ten years of subbing in before they land a position. I remember then what our taxi driver said and wonder what makes life easier. Getting a job? Or never shoveling snow? I finish eating my gluten-free pastry–something every restaurant seems to offer out here–and decide I haven’t made up my mind yet.
A day later we drive up the eastern side of the island, past vineyards and organic farms, logging towns and artsy hamlets, to Kent and Shalain’s house. Having relocated from Saskatchewan themselves they know exactly what our prairie family wants to do: eat seafood, beach-comb, and hike. The kids seem to be happy with all these options but it occurs to me they might be just as content in a parking lot as long as they had their skipping ropes and frontal lobes with them. At Saratoga beach they race in the sand, at Rebecca Spit they tumble out of the car and set up a fort before we strike the first match for our fire. When we tell them we want to go to the other side of the spit they resist. They don’t want to leave the “best skipping rocks” for anything else. Then, after we walk the 200 meters to the other side and they make the “best fort in the world” out of driftwood, they balk at driving to the lighthouse. When we get to the lighthouse they explode from the vehicle to restart their play, making a swing out of scavenged rope. The way they settle into the world around them–the driftwood, rocks, and trees–in 3 seconds or less reminds me of pop-up tents that poof out in the air; their play is as immediate as the tent that only needs a quick toss. While they carry on, we spot some seal lions lollygagging offshore with their flippers in the air and I tell Stan I wish I were lazing around in the water with them. Never shy about pointing out impracticalities he asks, “So you want to be cold and trying to find a way to stay warm?” It’s true these mammals thermoregulate by sunning their dark fins, but I prefer to think of it as their way of relaxing on a Sunday afternoon. As if even they think life is easy out here.
Watching the sea lions and our contented children against the backdrop of the lush Discovery Islands I wonder why we live where we do. I think of my family and the course of history. Why did my grandparents get off the train? After sailing across the Atlantic and traveling through eastern Canada, why did they settle before checking out what was ahead in the West? And more to the point, why don’t we all move here for the easy life?
When we return home I talk about all we saw, smell, heard, touched and tasted, and the overwhelming beauty. Someone reminds me that’s why all the best musicians come from Winnipeg–where the harsh realities of weather and landscape create deeper artistry. Another local friend comments on the incomparable rush of spring and seasonal change. Yet another tells of her homecoming after years in the West: of being hemmed in by family instead of mountains, the relief of wide open spaces, of hot summers and growing tomatoes, of snow and sunny skies. While I don’t mention the name Emily Carr (the West didn’t seem to hamper her art) or that we might can salmon instead of salsa, I know they are right. There is more than one way to look at things; more than one way to respond to a pod of sea lions and more than one way to figure out what makes home home, regardless of what any taxi driver might tell you. Especially if we immerse ourselves in our surroundings, be it grassland, desert, forest, or a mountain ridge, like a couple of eight-year-olds I know.