Rest (or, a love letter to Clayoquot Sound)

As I sit here at my patio table, umbrella raised to shade the sun when she’s not obscured by the passing afternoon clouds, I am confronted by the heady scent of May Day and Schubert Chokecherry blossoms; I wipe a thick layer of yellow pollen from the table in order to set my writing tools down. The dandelions are dotting the grass (and lining the alley) and the robins, sparrows, and finches are busy clearing bugs and worms out of the grass and soil. Now, on the precipice of summer, my yard becomes a haven for me – a sanctuary from the demands of life and work and an escape to a place of growth and restoration.

My garden is a place of rest for me for about 3 months of the year. It takes work and effort to bring the space to life – a deeply satisfying type of work. But there is another place I have frequented, and it is a locale to which I keep returning because it offers for me a different kind of rest than what I find in my backyard, and of late I’ve been pondering what makes it so…

When I was 9, we made our first visit to the west coast of Vancouver Island. The occasion was an extended family gathering – cousins and grandparents and aunties and uncles all descended upon the iconic beehive cabins at Ocean Village Beach Resort near Tofino, British Columbia. What followed was 3 memorable days of building sand castles, beach combing, exploring tide pools, rainforest walks and hermit crab races. And while there have been other wonderful settings and experiences in both my childhood and adult years, somehow this one destination stuck with me.

That’s me front and centre, clearly missing some shades
Sandcastles – I’m on the left

So why does a place hold you captive? Why do some places fill you up and give you a deep rest? What even is deep rest?

I am not good at rest. I think very few of us truly are. We exist in a culture that glorifies busy, and our lives, maybe especially as parents, are always on the go. We’ve had a reprieve in a way, with the forced rest of a pandemic shut-down, but even in our isolation we find ways to keep our moments full. Maybe it’s a side hustle, or a renovation, or a six-hour Netflix binge, but we rarely make time for being still (and entertainment-free). Our days off are really only days to complete the work for which we aren’t paid – yard work and errands and home maintenance and the like. Perhaps that is one of the attractions of another place – we exist in that locale in a way which is a departure from our everyday. In addition to our jobs, we also leave the chores, the cooking, the planning, the cleaning, and all of the other time-fillers that eat up the margins of our days. We bring a small suitcase and exist simply, with far fewer distractions, and thereby enjoy mental and physical space for contemplation and reflection.

I have been to Tofino as a child, as a childless newlywed, as a mother with all 4 of my children, and as a 40+ woman with just my husband. And yet in all the ways I have been, (never solo) there is an element of solitude on Pacific Rim beaches which I cherish. How can I feel a sense of silence and solitude with anywhere from 1 to 5 to 10 or more companions? I am going to suggest that the vastness of the open ocean combined with the constant roar of the surf ensures that when you gaze westward, you only observe water and sky, and when you listen, you hear only your own thoughts. Sharing a place with the people you love while simultaneously experiencing solitude, at least for this introvert, is the very best of both worlds. For me, solitude is an indispensable component of rest.

I live in the prairies, where water is a limited resource. We experience it in its frozen forms nearly as often or more often than in its liquid form, and it often requires management – shovelling snow or protecting plants from hail or diverting the fast and furious flow from summer storms. Water on the prairies is almost always a special event. On the west coast, however, water just is. It’s the backdrop. It is everywhere. In the tides that crawl in and out, leaving pools in their wake; in the frequent rains, the mists and clouds, the estuaries and creeks, and even in the drips from towering trees. Life just seeps out of everything because it’s always wet. It is so different from my home environment, and I think that’s why the allure is so strong. I become numb to the “ordinary” beauty around me but this green soggy life-oozing world reawakens my senses and I rediscover wonder like a little child. I am just as excited as a 5-year-old about starfish and sea urchin sightings, snapping photos and poking about with a huge grin on my face.

My initial charm and captivation with the Tofino area (situated within the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation) has only been reinforced with each visit. Adding to the wonder, simplicity and solitude is now a strong sense of nostalgia. I have made many enchanting memories with my family and the desire to return feels like a normal rhythm now – a slow tide. Passing on the delight and appreciation for this place to my children somehow increases the joy I feel when I contemplate future visits, and hearing them talk about their own fondness for stand-up paddle boarding on Mackenzie Beach or climbing around rocky outcrops or dribbling soccer balls in the surf fills my heart right up. Those idyllic childhood memories have been cultivated in the soil and sand of the Clayoquot Sound and gilded under the golden rays of the late summer sun.

What follows is a small stack of photographs I have taken over the years in this wonderful place – photos that transport me to the moments and feelings and places they have attempted to preserve.

And so, dear Tofino, in the spirit of anticipation, I bid you au revior…till we meet again.

* Thoughts on rest, solitude, margins, and wonder were inspired by the writings of Brennan Manning, John Mark Comer, and Tish Harrison Warren