It’s the last week of school vacation, and we’re spending it on Mayne, the smallest of the Gulf Islands. We’re camped on a low bluff overlooking the waters of Active Pass. We’ve been here for about a week, and have fallen into gloriously lazy daily rhythm. In the morning we make thick black coffee and cook scrambled eggs or porridge on our single burner stove. The rest of the day is pretty much devoted to exploring the tideline — turning over rocks in search of crabs, exploring tidepools, and reading books while Jessie, our seven year old, makes necklaces and bracelets from kelp and limpet shells. We skip flat stones across calm waters, eat picnics of crusty French bread and sharp white cheddar and tangy pear chutney while kestrels soar and glide far above us.
One morning, when the sun is warm enough to entice us, we swim for hours in a sheltered bay while two seals repeatedly dive and surface a dozen or so feet from us. Exiting the water, we watch small, crystal clear jellyfish float around our ankles. Gingerly, we pick our way past larger wine-coloured jellyfish the size of dinner plates. On a stretch of sand, Jessie and I are engaged in a serious architectural project. A miniature citadel of sand emerges at the edge of the tideline. There are schoolhouses, longhouses, libraries, fortresses, and observatories — all decorated with sea glass and sea china, their walls covered with seaweed vines. It’s a kingdom where time stands still, and the only currency is sand dollars. Like all great empires, it will eventually crumble and fade.
After eating fish and chips at the Springwater Lodge, we watch the ferries passing by, lit up like floating palaces. An hour later we’re squeezed into the Ag Hall, along with a sizeable number of the 900 or so permanent local residents, for the monthly Friday Folk Night. Sweat flying, we’re stomping our feet and clapping our hands to a local band playing traditional Celtic reels on fiddle, harp, accordion and drums.
At the farmer’s market the next morning we buy organic apples and loose leaf tea. We eat homemade scones packed with fresh berries and listen to a busker with a six string singing Fields of Gold and Solsbury Hill. Jessie asks if he knows Baby Beluga, but he declines to play it out of respect for Raffi, who apparently lives on the island. He compensates with a rousing version of Puff the Magic Dragon. Seconds later, improbably, Raffi himself appears out of the crowd. He borrows the busker’s guitar, sits on the bench across from Jessie, and asks if she has any requests. After performing Baby Beluga, he blows her a kiss and wanders off up the road with a shopping bag filled with fruit.
On our last night there, Jessie and Janice are in bed early in anticipation of getting up for the early morning ferry. They’re buried in their sleeping bags, reading Haroun and the Sea of Stories. The tent is lit from within by electric Coleman lantern light — a glowing cocoon wedged between woods and sea. I wander down the beach for a few minutes to listen to the waves and watch the stars and make some disconnected observations by flashlight in my notebook about the end of another magical summer.