Adventures in BC: Sunshine Coast

I LOVE BC!

I get very disappointed sometimes when I am around people who were born in BC and have become, somehow, immune to its charms and beauty. ARE YOU PEOPLE ALL CRAZY??? Look at the mountains! Look at those giant boulders and pieces of tree lying willy nilly all over the place! Look at those ferns! And for the love of all that is good and holy, TAKE A LOOK AT THAT MOTHER-LOVIN’ OCEAN!

Since graduating from my BFA in 2009 and getting a job (i.e. since having money) I have been slowly but surely exploring this beautiful province (as much as I can without regular access to a car, at any rate). Last weekend my parents (who were visiting from Saskatchewan) and I made a trip up to Sechelt on the Sunshine Coast to visit some family friends for the night.

Molly's Reach is very important for Beachcomber fans. Photo: Daina Zilans

Though the Sunshine Coast is technically part of the BC mainland, the best way to get there from Vancouver is to take the Langdale ferry from Horseshoe Bay. The ferry terminal is actually relatively easy to get to from downtown if you hop on the 257 Horseshoe Bay Express bus (get the schedule on the Translink BC website). The ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale only takes 40 min and it’s a beautiful trip past Bowen Island and through the other little islands dotting the coast.

The old TV show “Beachcombers” (Wikipedia that show!) was filmed in Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast and though I don’t recall ever watching the show I did spend most of my visit combing the beach for pretty rocks and soaking up the gorgeous scenery.

But enough of my stupid words. Let’s look at some pictures!

The coast we visited appears to be made up mostly of granite (the lighter rock above) with streaks of basalt (the grey rock). Or so our gracious host told me. The rest of the shoreline is covered in the smaller rounded rocks you see in the photos. When the waves crash against the shore, the pebbles scour out the bigger rocks and create the interesting smooth coastline I spent all morning clambering over.

In the afternoon we went to Roberts Creek to see their shore and also the site of the community mandala. Apparently, every year an artist designs the shape of the mandala and it is painted in white. Then visitors and members of the community get to come on down and help paint the mandala that will remain in Roberts Creek all year.

I thought it was a nifty idea and a wonderful way to build community or, if you’re a visitor, a respectful way to leave your mark in an area you’ve enjoyed.

A quiet corner in the Gumboot

After visiting the mandala site we ate at the Gumboot Restaurant in Roberts Creek. My Thai salad was good (with a great peanut sauce), not excellent, but I appreciated their commitment to sourcing their ingredients locally (mostly from their very own garden!) and I also liked their homey atmosphere and colourful art. They actually had tables set up in the garden outside (not just on the patio, in the actual grass) which was another nice touch.

After lunch we went back to the shore near my hosts’ house for a little bit of swimming. I enjoyed baking on the rocks on the beach and taking dips in the (fairly cold) sea. I will mention that due to the pebbly nature of the shore, those nerdy water shoes you used to have when you were a kid are HIGHLY RECOMMENDED and definitely protected my poor little feet from rock-induced harm.

Putting on my water shoes. Photo: Daina Zilans

This garter snake likes the beach too, don't you little buddy? Photo: Daina Zilans

I can’t think of any good way to segue into a conclusion to this post so I’ll just say thank you to our hosts: thank you for the excellent BBQ shrimp and the homemade whiskey and for showing us the sites in this beautiful bit of BC that you call home. I hope you don’t mind but I have a feeling I’ll be wanting to take advantage of your hospitality again sometime in the future.

If you have any tips or suggestions about parts of BC I should visit please leave a comment. I’m no millionaire so tips about affordable places to stay are always appreciated. 🙂

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Salt Spring 3: Nifty Takes Flight

The first weekend in June dawned bright and beautiful and my TC and I took off (quite literally) for another dream-like weekend on Salt Spring Island. Instead of sailing on the slow pokey ferry, we enjoyed a gorgeous 25-minute flight with Salt Spring Air.

I’m not gonna lie: what masquerades as a blog post this week will actually be my attempts to make everyone jealous of my awesome life by sharing photographs of my splendid adventure.

Salt Spring Air - cutest planes in the west

Burrard Inlet - Look at all my boats!

Aerial view of the Lions Gate Bridge

Pacific Ocean - more boats!

YVR - Ever seen a plane taking off from above? I have!

Gulf Islands ho! (Nearing our destination....)

Helloooooooooooo Salt Spring!

Upon our arrival (and a very smooth touchdown) in Ganges, we promptly dined with my TC’s family at a quaint little restaurant just off the marina called “Cafe Auntie Pesto’s” (250-537-4181). Punny name notwithstanding, Auntie Pesto’s is actually a very fine (and slightly pricier) establishment. The service was excellent (our server was attentive and prompt without being annoying) and my Muscovy duck confit (with asparagus, spinach, and Gorgonzola ravioli) was excellent too. Magnifique.

Our first morning on Salt Spring was a scorcher (compared to the very cold spring we’ve had on the West Coast this year) so we made good use of sun screen before visiting the Saturday Market. I avoided buying myself anything (I tell myself I don’t need anything!), but I did have the pleasure of sitting on the grass in the sun eating a fabulous Ukrainian smokey (and the yam fries belonging to my TC’s four-year-old cousin). For dessert, I decided to consume a daunting creation called a “Dough Boy” which is essentially dough fried in hot hot oil and covered in sugar and cinnamon. My arteries cried but my taste buds were delighted.

Dough Boy: A heart attacky snack

Not surprisingly, I reserved much of the rest of the afternoon for napping and sitting.

Time flies when one is having fun, and alas, alack, our Sunday morning came too soon. Luckily, we didn’t take wing again until 5 o’clock so my TC and I were able to take in some capital-N Nature courtesy of the neighbourhood walking trails. TC took all the photos of the nature excursion. I just used my eyeballs.

Salt Spring sunshine breaking through the canopy

The trees are so big and I am so small!

We wandered off the trail and frolicked in the woods. I pretended I was a dinosaur, naturally.

TC thought it would be a good idea for me to climb this tree. And it was. Until I tried to get down.

I would like to tell you more about my latest adventure in the Gulf Islands, but I don’t believe I can be more eloquent than these images can be. If a picture is truly worth a thousand words, let’s just say you’ve just finished reading a 12 000-word post about my weekend.

And that makes you a good friend.

Adventures in BC: Salt Spring 2

Ruckle Park, Salt Spring IslandThis year, I was able to stretch the Easter holiday into a five-day weekend. Naturally, my travel companion (TC) and I headed back to Salt Spring Island the Thursday before Easter to enjoy some BC nature and awesomeness.

Good Friday was a beautiful sunny day so after a pleasant lunch at the Rock Salt Restaurant & Cafe with my TC and his sweet relations, we took a little trip to Ruckle Provincial Park, at the southeast corner of Salt Spring. My burgoyne burrito at the Rock Salt was everything I expected it to be though I think I prefer the Mexicana grilled naan I had on my last visit. Once again, the Caesar salad was beyond reproach. One note about the Rock Salt for my readers who have a powerful aversion to cilantro: many of the items on the lunch menu include cilantro aioli so read the ingredients on the menu, or ask your server, before ordering.

Ruckle Park, Salt Spring IslandRuckle Provincial Park is a lovely place for a little afternoon jaunt and I think it definitely deserves further investigation in the future. My TC’s little cousins and I spent most of our time clambering on the rocks on the seashore, looking at sea stars, barnacles, and welks (I called them snails but was corrected by my TC’s little cousin).

Love knows no colour, Sea stars, Ruckle Park, Salt Spring Island

Love knows no colour

In addition to exposure to seaside life and beautiful views, Ruckle Park provides camping year round (even in the off-season for adventurous campers who don’t mind that several of the park’s amenities would be unavailable). Unfortunately, it is not possible to reserve individual campsites at Ruckle Park so if you’re planning a weekend camping trip on Salt Spring be prepared to duke it out for the first-come, first-served sites.

I was not obligated to duke it out for off-season camping because once again I had the hippest, happenest hosts in the whole world who housed and fed us for four nights. On the evening of good Friday they took us to the village of Ganges for dinner at the Oystercatcher Seafood Bar & Grill. I remembered that my TC had amazing fish and chips the last time we were there so this time I got a plate of my very own. Hooray! Amazing! The raspberry mojitos were amazing too. A downside of the Oystercatcher that I have not only heard about but read online as well is that the service there is quite slow. Which is fine if you want to spend a long evening with good friends and good food and good drinks looking over the water. Less fine if you’re out with hungry kids who don’t find adult conversation stimulating. I enjoyed myself all the same. I even coloured a picture!

Saturday dawned warm and sunny. A perfect day to check out Salt Spring’s Saturday Market, held in Ganges every Saturday from April to October. With such great weather the place was buzzing. Kids with painted faces and balloon animals were everywhere. I spent a goodly amount of time sitting in the sun on a grassy knoll thinking warm sunny thoughts and eating a real blackberry popsicle. Afterwords I did some browsing in the market and was impressed by the sheer amount of goods for sale: jewellery, crockery, textiles, soaps, food…. I wanted to buy about a hundred things but I remembered just in time that I don’t actually need anything new and my wallet stayed put in my purse. Financial crises averted. I enjoyed the atmosphere, and the sun, and looking at neat things, and a blackberry popsicle. I’ll buy myself some crockery some other time. Like when I have a fancy cheese that would necessitate the fancy cheese dish I wanted.

I slept in on Easter Sunday and so I missed watching my TC’s little cousins have their egg hunt. It was a good thing for me that the Easter Bunny left me chocolate right there on the bureau that I didn’t even have to hunt for. It was unfortunately grey and rainy most of the day, but these were perfect conditions for staying inside to rehearse and perform a play written by my TC’s 8-year-old cousin. This particular piece of theatre was about four siblings who rise above their poverty by forming a hit rock band. I got to “play” the drums for our musical finale: an airband to “Judy is a Punk” by the Ramones. Our performance was a resounding success and I was able to keep a copy of the script, signed by the precocious playwright.

On Monday we made one more stop at the Rock Salt for coffee and desserts before boarding our ferry home. It was a delicious send-off (lime cheesecake!) but I was not looking forward to real life (and going back to work) in the city.

I sleep so well and feel so relaxed when I’m in the Gulf Islands that I never want to leave. It makes me think I should just quit my 9 to 5 job, pack my things, catch the next boat to Salt Spring, pitch a tent and make my living by…………um………..

Crap.

I guess I’ll keep my 9 to 5-er in the big city for now, and really get serious about my plans to win the lottery. In the meantime, I will try to be comforted by the fact that Salt Spring Island really isn’t that far away. Ho hum.

P.S. Check out the view of the Gulf Islands from my hosts’ backyard:

Gulf Islands, Salt Spring IslandSweet.

Adventures in BC: Salt Spring Island

I think by now I have made it pretty clear that I love Vancouver, and East Van in particular. But sometimes, this city is a drag. Day after day of grey sidewalks and grey skies makes even my imagination grey.

Enter a very appealing proposal that I use my recent three-day weekend to go to Salt Spring Island. I had never been before. I said yes. I may have even said, “Hurrah!”.  I was pleased.

Apparently, one can take a little float plane from downtown and be on Salt Spring in under an hour. The CHEAP way to get to Salt Spring involves ferries and several hours. On the way there we took the ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay and hopped onto what can only be described as a cute but dumpy little ferry to Fulford Harbour. Once landed we were literally twenty paces from a lovely little eatery called the Rock Salt Restaurant & Cafe.

I wish I had taken a picture of the interior of this restaurant: yellow walls, big windows, and stained glass everywhere. It was a children’s drawing come to life. Although Salt Spring was all aflutter that Raul Pacheco had recently posted a very positive review of the Rock Salt’s Burger Deluxe in his blog Hummingbird604, I decided to go with the Mexicana naan sandwich and it was delightful. I don’t consider myself much of a foodie but I think it’s worth noting that the Caesar salad that came with it was good too. I have been to many restaurants that served great main courses but sub-par salads and the Rock Salt was not one of them.

The view from the home we stayed in.

Our hosts for the weekend were relatives of my travel companion: a very hip couple and their two adorable and energetic daughters. Within 20 minutes of arriving at their house, we had listened to three radio plays, watched two hip hop dance routines, and one incredibly literal sock puppet show. I really must take the time now to thank our hosts whose warmth, humour, and hilarious children made my weekend.

My first evening in Salt Spring was spent in good company, dozing in front of a wood stove and listening to Joanna Newsom. There was also some drinking of Glenmorangie. I know nothing about scotch. Apparently this was a very good scotch. I believe I have tried scotch, once before, on Mayne Island (what is it about the Gulf Islands and scotch?), and I had a few sips of the Glenmorangie this time, but unfortunately, not having acquired a taste for scotch, the quality and the glory was a little lost on me. Made me feel quite warm though. Warm and tingly. And oh-so-fancy.

I slept through my nights in Salt Spring in the kind of deep dark you can only have far far away from the city. The wind was howling in the trees and I was snuggled in a comforter. I cannot think of a more cozy arrangement.

As beautiful as Salt Spring Island is, one cannot control the weather. In March, the weather is rainy. This meant a lot of indoor visiting (more dance routines) and naps. My little outing for this particular adventure on Salt Spring was a trip to the village of Ganges to have lunch and poke around in the shops.

One shop that was a particular favourite of mine was Black Sheep Books, a used book store with two floors. This place is literally stuffed floor to ceiling with books: new(ish) books, antique books, travel books, children’s books, all carefully shelved in their own labelled sections. The shop also had several out of the way nooks, perfect for those who have always dreamed of having a romantic tryst in a book store. The upper floor houses a collection of books and original prints by Nick Bantock, an artist and author of the “Griffin & Sabine” trilogy. According to Wikipedia (and our hosts for this adventure), Bantock is based in Salt Spring. Sadly, I did not see Nick Bantock (whose work I know through his book “Averse to Beasts”) but I feel as though I have had a brush with literary fame all the same.

At the marina in Ganges. I love boats.

For lunch, we stopped in at the Oystercatcher Seafood Bar & Grill. I had the Biltmore Chicken Burger which was fabulous (can’t resist any sandwich with pesto) but I think next time I will order the fish and chips. I tried a piece of my travel companion’s and it was perfection, as far as fish and chips go. The texture and the taste were exactly what they should be. It’s probably worth heading back to Salt Spring just for that.

It was a sad day when we had to say good-bye to our amazing hosts and head back to the busy city. This time, we took the ferry that stops on Mayne and Galiano before heading to Tsawwassen. The trip between the islands was beautiful but the crossing over the Strait of Georgia was a little rough for my liking. I spent a lot of that time squeezing my eyes shut and wishing I had taken the float plane.

Seasickness aside, if I had to sum my adventure up in one word I would say it was restorative. I am not from the city. A city is not the home of my soul. No city, no matter how beautiful, can make up for how fully relaxed I felt the moment I reached Salt Spring. I have a feeling my little weekend excursion was the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship with a charming and beautiful island.

Passing through the Gulf Islands on the ferry home

“Making art for free” – I’m opening that can of worms

An interesting gentleman I recently met at a party leaned over a kitchen counter at me and slurred something to the effect of, “Every artist is exploited for their passions.” He continued on after this point but as he was drunk and getting a little incoherent I don’t recall the rest. The gist of his argument seemed to be that because everyone knows that artists love to do what we do (be that music, theatre, dance, visual art, photography, etc.), we are expected to do this for little or nothing.

I couldn’t agree with him more. All of the theatre I have been involved in since finishing my BFA has involved little, but more often non-existent, compensation.  I entered into the work fully aware that nobody was being paid. I did it because I respect and enjoy the people I work with, and because if I didn’t take the time to be an artist sometimes, my soul would start to die.

There is a very prevalent though very misguided attitude surrounding the idea of payment in the arts community. People seem to believe that because artists enjoy their craft, they don’t require the same kind of compensation they would if they were doing a job they hated. I would like to make something very clear:

Enjoyment DOES NOT EQUAL easy. Enjoyment DOES NOT EQUAL lack of time or skill. Any good piece of art involves time (during a theatre production, for example, usually 20-50 hours a week on top of a full or part time job) and skill (most of the artists I know have either a university degree and/or extensive studio training, which they supplement with workshops). In a regular working environment, this time, training, and skill would be compensated.

Making art also requires an emotional and often physical investment not found in other jobs. Making art is not an activity in which you can “coast” (i.e. writing that report for your boss while you flick through photos of last weekend on Facebook or watch a funny cat video). Coasting results in shallow, if not plain old shitty, art. An artist is required to be emotionally, mentally, and physically present in their work. I enjoy everything I do involving the theatre but maintaining this focus isn’t easy. Sometimes I’m ill but I have to be on my feet for a two-hour run before I can sit down again. I’m exhausted sometimes but I’m staying at rehearsal late into the night, knowing I am going to be waking up at 6:30 to go to work and THEN I’ll be going to rehearsal all over again. Sometimes the work scares me or makes me so angry that I hate it and hate everyone involved and hate myself but we get through it and we make some art.

And then I am told by the prevalent public opinion that I don’t need to be paid because I’m having so much fun!

What can be done? I’m not sure. The other night I met some (relatively) new theatre friends for drinks in the Backstage Lounge (the lovely bar behind the Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage). The conversation, while passionate and animated, was rather disheartening at times. No, we (and I mean “we” in a broader sense than just those present) shouldn’t all be doing what we’re doing for little or no money. Yes, anyone working this hard should be appropriately compensated.

But I’m going to let you in on the not-so-secret dirty little secret of the art world. There’s. No. Money. Not for me, not for you, not for the many and varied brilliant performers, musicians, visual artists, writers, dancers, stage managers, designers, composers, producers, dramaturgs, and wandering minstrels in this city, this province, or this country. Working in the arts is a Catch-22 of survival:

1. I cannot survive without money. I need to eat, I need a home, I need to be able to clothe myself and have a telephone. Without money I am starving and I am cold.

2. I cannot survive without creating art. I need passion, I need ambition, I need goals to work towards, I need my inner fires to be fueled and my inner children to be nurtured. Without creating art my spirit is starving and my heart is cold.

If I use my time to work at a job that pays I have money, but no art. If I use my time to create art, I have art, but no money. I get by by straddling these two worlds. Monday to Friday, I work a job I like that pays me well. When I’m involved in a project, I spend my evenings and weekends on it. My system is working for me right now and I feel fortunate to be able to do this.

This is not sustainable, however. The older I get the more demands there will be on my time. This is not a system that can work for me if I ever have a family, if I am ever less healthy than I am now, or if a loved one is ever in need of my care. I also might simply burn out.

In fact, most of us are in danger of burning out, simply because there just isn’t enough money out there for all of us to get work in the arts that pays, and there’s only so long many of us can keep going without any hope of eventually being paid to do this.

I am aware that by agreeing to work for free, I add to the problem. As long as there are artists willing to work for free, there will be artists working for free. There will also be people who expect artists to work for free.

I hope that this situation will not last forever. I hope that the time and hard work put in by artists everywhere will eventually receive respect and provide them with the means to earn a living. Achieving this utopia would be complicated and take time. Government, artists, and audiences would need to be involved in supporting arts and culture and those who sacrifice so much for them.

In the meantime, I think it is up to every artist to decide what they can and cannot do. My system works for me. Other artists have theirs. I am engaged in an ongoing struggle with myself and I am always reassessing my relationship with work, money, and art and hoping I will find a way to reconcile them.