Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Return to Oz....minus the Wheelers

All right, I've never lived in a place called Oz.

But I did live in a place called Bowen Island, and like Oz, it was a dark and disturbing time for me.

Like Dorothy, I was about 12/13 years old and it was the absolute worst time/year of my entire life. Unlike Dorothy, I didn't have a pet chicken (though I did have a horse) nor was I put in a mental asylum nor did I meet a witch who could take her head off and exhange it for another.

But it was almost that bad.

Bowen Island is a 8 km wide island in Howe Sound, off the coast of West Vancouver. When I lived there, about 3,000 people lived there, with 4,000 deer. Now the battle between deer and human is about even. Bowen Island is only a 20-minute ferry ride from the mainland and a consequent 20-min drive from the terminal to downtown. It is a favourite hangout for hippies (I recall the school bus being filled with pot smoke).

It is also a favourite retreat for celebrities such as Robin Wiliams, Harrison Ford, Tony Parsons, etc. and a filmmaking mecca for such "works of art" such as The Fog and Double Jeopardy (Ok, so I really liked Tommy Lee Jones and Ashley Judd together).

I lived in snooty, snotty West Vancouver for several years before my parents had enough of the rich bitches and decided to relocate and buy a ten-acre property on nearby Bowen Island. My mom would be able to design her dream home. I would get to have a barn on the property and my own horse.

It was frightfully indulgent for a pre-teen like me and, in hindsight, a terrible idea. But my parents were having some problems at the time, most notably with my then 16-year old Asperger's diseased brother who just started dabling with hard drugs.

They figured that by isolating my brother and giving me a horse, things would turn out OK for all of us.

Never mind that the we were moving us to a house that cost more than we thought to build, never mind that my father had to commute via ferry and then a 45-minute drive each day to work and back, never mind that I had to take the ferry to school, never mind that while trying to get my brother away from drugs we unknowingly moved into the pot capital of BC, never mind that I would end up getting a horse but that the barn would never get built and the horse would hate me.

To make a long story short, it was the worst year of my life. My family life fell apart, my brother stole and sold everything that was dear to my parents for drugs. Grade 7 in Junior High was terrible for me as I was tormented by the "cool" kids left and right, somethings that they said still affect my self-esteem to this day. I developed terrible stomach pains at this time as a way to deal with all this stress.

Did I mention my horse hated me?

Anyway, we left Bowen Island and it's 4,000 deer after a year or two. We were so eager to get out that my parent's sold our "dream house" without making any money on it. In fact we lost money. And my family problems got worse, combined with me moving to a new town and a new school in the middle of the 8th grade. But leaving Bowen Island was the best thing that we did.

I really wanted to make this a long story short but that's not going to happen...

At any rate, where I am going with this story was that on the weekend, I returned to Bowen Island for the first time since 1994.

A lot can change in 13 years.

But the same, lame old ferry is the same. The very same ferry that one day missed the dock and plowed through all the ferries in the Marina.

Ross and I came to Bowen Island because he was jonesing for a relaxing weekend away for the city and I had a hard time coming up with any sort of wilderness retreat that was cheap and close to the city.

But thanks to a few hours of googling I came up with:

Wildwood Cottages offered a few snazzy cabins amid artful words such as "foxgloves" and "verdant ferns."

We hunkered down in the "studio cabin" which was perfect for the two of us.

We did nothing all day. Napped. Read. Drank wine and beer on the porch and listened to far-off tribal drums in the darkness. Attempted to make pizza in a microwave.

The best part of the night was when we were soaking in the wee hours in the outdoor hot tub. The cloudy sky was a hazy shade of pink, which we later attributed to the lunar eclispe.

Our little getaway also consisted of me taking Ross on a driving tour of the island. We went past my old equestrian center where I used to take lessons.

Here I am, with my horse that hated me, Lady - 1994

I was delighted to find the center still up and running, with a Norwegian Fjord cross that was anamored with me...and my hay. Yay!

Afterwards, I took him (erm, Ross, not the horse) past my house. This was a big moment to me and I was surprised that it still looked relatively the same. Although, there have been some add-ons made so it's a lot bigger than when we built it. But hey, my mum's designs still ran through it, and as did my memories.

What also ran through it was a new road that went behind the property. I remember 13 years ago, filming movies with my rusty camcorder about dinosaurs (um, toy dinosaurs...stop motion...that kind of thing. Sigh. No wonder I was tormented in junior high) and all that was back then was an old logging road that no one used. Except for me.

The wilderness, wild-growing ferns and muddy terrain was my backyard, my livelihood, where I would eagerly escape my problems by exploring its depths each day, all day. Now it was reduced to a paved road that led to a golf course and condo developments.

At one point, as we followed the road and it curved around the small, forested hill behind the house, I remembered my days climbing into the forest. Sometimes I brought my dogs, sometimes it was just me. I remembered one day I brought up a small lunch box and wrote my own summary for a time capsule. I wondered if anyone had found it, the chicken scratch writing that stated "If you find this, you should consider yourself lucky because I am probably a famous filmmaker by now."

It's funny, the optimisim of youth regardless of the negativity that surrounded me.

We ended our stay in Bowen with long massages at a local spa, a tasty meal at the then-only coffee shop where I first heard the song "Linger", followed by a stroll around the town and waterfront.

Feeling adventurous, we climbed up a familiar hiking trail to a vantage point I used to frequent with my old friends.

The distinctive pink bark of the lookout's arbutus trees were still there, along with the scrawled names and initials of people that, until then, I remembered only in disjointed and unnerving dreams.

Which was just how I had remembered Bowen Island. Thirteen years had passed and it existed in my mind like some vague fog that you try and grasp as you wake from sleep. But now that I returned to the past, returned to the place that did so much to me and to my family, I am able to look at it, accept it and put it aside.

This weekend I created new memories.


simon said...

I know a place called Bowen Mountain and its in AUS!

great post, great writing!..made me laugh.

Rachel said...

How fantastic that you were able to put some of those old demons to rest and make new memories.
I loved the writing. This was fantastic.

Indiana said...

Sometimes thats what we need, fresh memories to obscure the ghosts of the past. Going back can either be painful or joyous, and its great to see you looked with eyes more hopeful than you once did.

Kass said...

I've been to Bowen Island, but just fora few hours. We actually did some sea kayaking around there. I can't imagine living there tho!

Glad you made some new memories of the place :)

halfmanhalfbeer said...

Wander Lust: what a great post, really loved it.

It was good to go back, good to layer the bad memories with good ones.

Do tell, what exactly is Ross doing in that pic?!


Cazzie!!! said...

Thanks for allowing us to be armchair tourists of sorts..yet again :) The pictures are great :)

Peter said...

Great post!

And, because I'm me, I am going to ignore the wonderfully expressed, heartfelt emotions and make this about me...

I actually know a couple here on the east coast whose son lives on Bowen Island.

Plain Jane said...

A witch that takes her head off?? Chickens?? Are you sure you were watching The Wizard of Oz?

Great post, btw. It's nice to know you aren't perfect and the writing was very humble and honest. I could relate. Good job!

Unknown said...

I can totally relate to your feelings. Boo to inadequate pre-teen years and miserable family times.

That being said, those cabins look freakishly like the cabin my husband and I stayed in on our honeymoon. But we were in Tennessee.

clw said...

Very cool post! I'm so jealous you can find such a cool place to hang on a weekend. We have nothing that exciting around here until spring/summer then it's just the boring ozarks. Maybe I should google - perhaps I could find something cool too :-)

Eileen Dover said...

Oh my gosh, you crack me up and make me laugh.

I absolutely love the photos too.

I think I had a similar experience. Only I was a little older, my parents didn't have a dream house, and I didn't have a horse.

Oh wait. I think I was just reliving high school.

Dan said...

Awesome! This is one of the best posts you've written, and the photos were just a perfect accompaniment.

But how can a horse hate little ole you? You look so adorable in that photo from 1994! :)

And you still do!

Dayngr said...

I think it is awesomely amazing that you went back with someone you love and created a whole new history there. We can't escape or erase our past but we can most certainly make up for it with our future.

Scorpy said...

Another great tale and great pics...loved it. I live in least (as you know) that is what we call Australia...I'm still to find the yellow brick road :)

M said...

hehe, I live in Oz!!

This was a great entry. I did something similar recently - it was interesting what goes on in your mind while you're revisiting.

Unknown said...

this post gave me tingles. so well put.

i guess visiting those horrible-memory places can turn out to be positive. i have a couple of Oz's in my life that my be worth a second chance.

i'm glad you were able to create new memories - the old ones sound horrific.

Sipwine said...

So, this comment has really nothing to do with the gist of the post.

I remember the exact place I heard the song Linger for the first time. I thought that was funny.
It was with someone who I still hold dear to me. And he and I went to a cranberries concert just to hear the song together again.

As for the rest of the post... I've had times like that in my life. And like Rachel said, I've always been happy to lay those demons to rest. I'm glad you have too.

Wanderlusting said...

Simon - Thanks, I think I do remember hearing about a Bowen Mountain when I was in that Oz.

Rachel - It's funny that I never thought how much that place affected me. In fact, when I told my mum that we went there over the weekend, her voice went low and she said, "You went back to that horrible place?"

She hasn't been back either...maybe the two of us will take a trip there in the Summer, so that she can do the same.

Indiana - I did need it, I just never thought of it.

Kass - It's really nice to visit but when you live there? Ugh. The last ferry to the island is at like 10 at night so if you want to go to Vancouver you have stay overnight. Not to mention taking the ferry to school and back every day.

HMHB - Why, I believe he found a stick that looked a lot like a gun and is trying to camoflauge himself. I have pictures of me doing the same, but they didn't make it on the blog :P

Cazzie - Thanks, it's great to know things can still be "travel" and "entertaining" even when it's so close to home.

Peter - Really? Now that is a small world.

Lulu - Return to OZ was the "sequel" to Wizard of Oz. Go and rent it. It is SO not for kids. Last time I watched it, I was in high school and on mushrooms...freaked me right out.

Charm - Cabins in Tennesse sounds like a wonderful kinda thing.

Clw - I would totally look into it. And it's all about perspective, the Ozarks always conjure up romantic notions of the South to me.

Eileen - Reliving high school...*shudder*. Having a horse did NOT help.

Dan - Awwww, thank you! But my horse did hate me. She didn't mind my dad so much but I think she could tell that I was a bit afraid of her. Or maybe she was afraid of me. She ran away at every chance.

Dayngr - I never thought of it that way. I guess it was great that Ross was there to hold my hand in a sense...and be subjected to my show and tell of my past.

Scorpy - I've looked too. Sigh.

M - It is. I was just really paranoid I would see someone I knew.

Rachel - They were quite horrible. But hey, they made me who I am and I don't regret any of it at all.

Sipwine - It's funny, I just think the Cranberries were so different from anything else at that time and that song certainly stands out.