Photo by Mary Broach

by Traci Skuce

I want to tell you how my bare heel wedged into the hard, wet sand, over and over, and how sea water wicked my pant cuffs as I walked from one end of Chesterman Beach to the other. I want to tell you how there was a frieze of morning mist, but after noon the clouds broke apart and the sky became so blue I forgot about the fires and those weeks of heat and smoky haze.

I want to tell you about sandpipers. The nervous flock of them around the pooled water, needling the sand for food. And the oyster catchers, gliding above the rocks with their orange elegant beaks.

I want to tell you too that when I first drove out here twenty-five years ago, I missed the beaches entirely. I went instead for a cinnamon bun in the town’s famous bakery then turned around and drove back home. But I want to tell you that the second time, and even the third, the beaches were empty, stormy and vast. And now they’ve been discovered, their wildness tamed by five-star resorts and West Coast cuisine.

I want to tell you about the forty wet-suited folks bobbing in the surf with me, each with our rented boogie boards and surfboards. About the wave that thrust me into a woman’s back, and how gracious she was and how I apologized and felt ridiculous, only to walk back into the surf, forgetting about her as my next ride came in.

I want to tell you how I burned my face. How all summer I’ve been careful with a hat and sunscreen, walking in the evenings to avoid the midday sun, and how after two hours in the ocean I may as well have held a mirror beneath my chin.

I want to tell you about the tide pools out on Frank’s rock, crammed with electric green anemones. And how you think there’s a stillness in them until you yourself are still and then see tiny legs scuttling beneath shells, hermit crabs marching across the backs of mussels. I want to tell you about the background shush and roar, the tangles of glistening bull kelp swaying in the tides.

And then I want to tell you about the security guards my husband saw. And how we made up a story about Ryan Renolds, who I didn’t know, and still don’t, but how my friend said he’d married his first wife, Scarlett Johannsson, in Tofino, and that maybe he was here with his second. We decided they were staying in the house on the high rocks, the one with the million dollar windows and the billion dollar view. Later we learned it wasn’t Ryan Reynolds or anyone Hollywood at all, but the PM himself, Justin Trudeau.

I want to tell you about late afternoon light, how it’s difficult to describe, to capture, but how it’s worth trying because when the sun is low everything becomes drenched in gold, and the lines and definitions make things more themselves. Heavy cedars above the shore. Rock formations. Underwings of birds. Each wave and human face.

I want to tell you how we couldn’t leave. A culvert collapsed on the one road out. We turned around, ate fish and chips on another beach, and checked a DriveBC website hourly until finally the road opened and we said goodbye to our friends a second time only to wait in a kilometers-long lineup of cars. And as we waited, and even after we finally passed through, I felt that twinge in my belly, the slightest flutter of anxiety, despite the fact we were safe and heading for home.

I want to tell you that we listened to music along the twisty road back across the island, Radiohead, the Beatles, and that Gillian Welch song I love so much we listened to it twice. And then the dark settled in around us so the world shrunk to the road and slow drivers in front of us.

I want to tell you too that my hair was still full of ocean snarls, my skin full of salt, and that I had the feeling of summer’s long slow finish. We were nearing its end, as we do every year, and I had to reacquaint myself with the dark. So I’ll tell you now how I pressed my forehead to the window. How I whispered hello to a sky full of stars.