Last October on the last night of photography retreat in balmy Palm Springs, I found myself at a table surrounded by women, cameras and margaritas. As we grazed our way through bottomless baskets of chips we reflected on the past few days at Oasis. We all agreed that even though the camaraderie between us all felt unified and supportive, we wished we had more time to really dig into more personal issues behind our work. Everyone at the table knew that would be next to impossible with 100 attendees. So we decided to scale it down from 100 to let’s say 10. I remember a perky blonde whom I knew only by her work, took hold of the conversation and before someone could say “another pitcher please!” it was decided, next year we would travel to British Columbia, to the seaside community called Tofino. And those who had joined that table serendipitously earned themselves a ticket. A simple craving for tacos opened a door, behind it lay a pathway cut through forest, paved in cedar planks, I would experience the most profound moment in complete and utter silence. A sort of vision quest was about to happen. Eleven months later with the final count at mystical seven I boarded a plane. Our group itinerary showed us arriving from all four corners some as far as Washington DC. In customary fashion I packed the night before, desperately searching for anything that could function as rain gear, the forecast mentioned something about biblical rain. I managed to squeeze in 5 cameras, 12 packs of film, two lenses and a flash.
Its been a good year or so since I have had the pleasure of flying. I could do this often if the paralyzing stress of the pre-travel stuff wasn’t so death-grippy. I literally will sit and stare at an empty suitcase for hours, time in catatonic state proportionate to length of trip, of course. It isn’t until I am buckled in at 400 mph, 40,000 feet above terra firma that I begin to unwind. The inflight cocktail helps. When I look out the small window at that vast space my mind is completely free to roam and contemplate the little things like string theory and parallel universes, or is it mulitverse? Hmmmm.
Just under three hours, wheels down at Vancouver International. Passport in hand I eagerly hustled to get to customs. What I thought was “have your passport?” was actually “Canadian passport?” and soon found myself swimming upstream against the locals. Nothing screams American more than me in my Wayfarers and neon pink Nikes walking against traffic. Let’s try that again. “Canadian passport?” No. “This way please.” Customs booth number 4. Purpose of your visit? I replied I was meeting six others and travelling on to Tofino to photograph the surfers. He wanted some clarification on the photographs and I assured him I don’t do anything professionally to which he simply closed my passport and said, “Either way enjoy your time here.” I’m officially a foreigner.
My 54 lb. suitcase is spinning solely on the carousel. I need a cab, I need to get to dinner. I tell the driver the address and off we go speeding through residential streets. There are no highways from the airport towards downtown. The train is your next best choice if you want more of a direct route. I’m good with the scenic route through house lined streets. This place is so different I tell my cab driver. He wants to know where I am from. I tell him ‘Southern California’, “Oh”, he says. “I live next door to Disneyland”, “Ohhhhhhh! OK, Yes!” He apologizes for the pace and tells me no one knows how to drive or how to use a horn in Vancouver. We find Nuba, a cozy Lebanese restaurant located in Kitsalano, known as ‘Kits’ in Vancouver’s West Side. After the initial reunited squeals of happiness and long hugs they poured me a glass of cold Sangria as I melted into vacation mode.
We spent the night snuggled into the cozy guest quarters nestled below Tamar’s home which happen to have a birthday sign planted in the front yard. The house was over a century old! I have never been so excited to be completely out of my element. Maps of Antarctica and exploration gear clung from the walls. The woman who occupied this space was out in the field doing research on penguins. Penguins! How awesome is that life I imagined. As I laid there on what felt like a mattress of buckwheat on a dining room table I drifted off fantasizing about a life without carpool, dance lessons and homework. And then it was 6:30 am.
A thirty minute drive and were driving our car onto the 8:30 am ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo. From there it would be another 3 hour drive to Tofino.
The weather that day was sunny and beautiful. I sent my mom, a former ferry rider herself, a text and photo from the upper deck. Of all people she would know exactly how I was feeling at this very moment, relishing in this space of sparkling blue skies and purified air.
So much time to do nothing but enjoy the ride and maybe a little instagramming (when you can get through on the ferry WiFi). The last time I was on a ferry was on business commuting my way over to Bainbridge Island, and again in 2007, just my son and I back to Seattle to tour Boeing and see the Foo Fighters play at Key Arena. I must really dig those photos out for you.
Arriving in Nanaimo we have a three hour drive across Vancouver Island to Tofino. Its a winding road through miles of forests that come right down to the edge of inlets and eventually the Pacific. We made as pact between our two cars that we wouldn’t pass up an Kodak moments. We stopped at Cathedral Grove (MacMillian Provincial Park) first. When you get out of your car you immediately look up. Towering Douglas Firs, some as old as 800 years, will be here long after you have gone.
Luckily for us we were there on a sunny day, the ground still soggy after the last rains. We walked the trails in perfect peace, completely awestruck by the sheer size of these goliath cedars, red maples, and firs. Over 15 years ago the park suffered such damaging winds that part of the trails remain closed to this day. The resulting pockets have created a natural sky light where rays can reach all the way to the damp forest floor.
A few more miles down the road and we come across a store nestled in front of picturesque meadow complete with a couple tractors and some Texas BBQ on an open grill. We cruise colorful artisan crafts that were brought in from Mexico, I imagine this is pretty unique collection to this woodland area, for me its like home. We pile back into our cars, leaving behind a few dollars at the store. The owner tells us that she too is a photographer and we have to make sure we get ourselves to Black Rock to photograph the surfers. I’m starting to get excited. Two more hours on the winding Pacific Rim Highway, a two way lane carved through thick tree groves that stop where the water starts. When you get to Kennedy Lake you know you are close to the most western edge of the island.
Armed with only one key, no map and no idea where our rental was we drove down a gravel road, almost missing the driveway had they not left a plume of dust hanging in the air. We backed up and followed the bend, around the corner was a beautiful knotty pine home with a front door of glass that revealed the pacific just behind it. Cherish held the key and then slowly turned, IT OPENED. You can only imagine the squeals and “oh my God’s” that followed. We were home.
the osprey house
We all reached for two things, as all good campers and photographers do, champagne and cameras. It was time for a toast followed by an impromptu still life session. That is half the fun on these kind of trips, we don’t dare take a sip or a bite until everyone has fired off their shots.
#stayloose and shoot on
We spent the next four days in this great cycle that rotated through exploring, shooting, sharing and cooking. There was such an ease abut the days that they sorta just melted all together into one very relaxing long weekend. You can probably imagine the joy of experiencing time like this. Not having to be somewhere or do anything for four days in a row with the exception of Fridays excursion to the hot springs, was exactly what I wanted to do.
Friday the weather turns grey as we head to the harbor. Part of my quest on this trip was to get out on the water to see some whales, orcas to be exact. Before I flew to BC I had read about recent sightings of transient orcas in the area. I was hoping third time trying would be a charm, unfortunately it remains unchecked from the bucket list. Only accessible by boat I suggested a day trip 90 minutes north by boat to the hot springs at Manniqua Park. We left Tofino at the helm of Captain Tim, a native to the area and descendant of the indigenous people of Vancouver Island. He said he couldn’t promise we would have an orca encounter but that we would see lots of wildlife. Debra and I threw in a hail Mary to the universe that she show herself in abundance and she did. Plenty of real life National Geographic moments including floating sea otters, sea lions, a pair of grey whales, a lone eagle and a skittish black bear.
The park only accessible by boat drops you off on a dock and there are few signs at the entrance of the trail, I understand there are actually two loops, we followed the one that winds around the cedars and fallen nurse trees and ends with the reward of a dip in the hot springs. I could dedicate an entire post to the experience in this forest. The photos just dont’ do it justice and the few videos I have will give you a better idea of the surrealness. It was humming with a life force that extended beyond the surface of the forest floor. You get the feeling that there is wisdom in the trees and the plants that support them. Every surface covered in a sort of living carpet, in every shade of lime, olive, forest and chartreuse. Banana slugs larger than your fingers devoured mushroom caps in silence. It reminded me of Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, The Signature of All Things, I had read it had to do with plants, moss specifically, I am guessing in her fictional tale she is going to make the universal connection between God, civilization and plants by weaving non-fiction with storytelling and I am going to hang on every word! For some reason that book stayed with me all weekend. Released a few days later on the day I flew home, I grabbed a copy. A week into it I read about Captain Cook and her character, his botanist, Henry Whittaker as he collected samples from all places, the islands of Vancouver.
You enter the hot springs at the end of one of two trails. As you come closer to the end you start to see steam rising from streams that run beneath the boardwalk trail. The scalding water cools as you get towards the lower pools, pools I never see because I am too much of a baby to get in past my knees. Something about my bikini feeling as slippery and unpredictable as the moss covered rocks I maneuver around. I feel like a lobster but the medicinal properties have me splashing myself head to toes with sips in between. Next time I should bring a thermos like the other visitors.
Afterwards we hiked the same pathway back, stopping again to just absorb it all. Appreciative of how blessed I am to have been the opportunity to travel to this beautiful and spiritually rich place. So happy to be sharing this with six other like minded woman who appreciate the difference between a vacation and a life altering adventure. I decided I wanted to have more of these if the universe would allow it. Our captain sensitive to those that do not travel well by boat, took us back on the leeward side of the islands. The water was smooth and the color of a dark emerald. We even spotted a lone brown bear probably doing some final foraging before winters long nap. My camera shutter sent him running away quickly.
And although the damp weather kept us from exploring the food of Tofino (including the taco truck I read about on Glutenfree Girl’s Ah Tofino) there was no shortage of delicious dishes. With a stocked kitchen we feasted on dishes that included blackened halibut and sweet spot prawn tacos, Spanakopita with roasted vegetables and my mom’s homemade spaghetti sauce. We also polished off a lot of good cheese and a certain mix of glazed nuts that had a certain lethal addiction quality to it.
Weekend of biblical rain
You know a little bit of rain isn’t going to scare of a photographer, unless you are shooting instant film I suppose. Some of us didn’t bring rain gear *cough cough* and brought home wet shoes in a bag three days later. I forgot, things don’t dry quickly in the northwest.
photo by our resident local Cherish Bryck
We took turns going through portfolios, this was a time for show and tell. I wasn’t fully prepared for this portion of the trip so I opened my iPad and revisited some of my favorite iPhone shots which of course included the underwater photo of Ava, which lead to a recap of what happened seconds later (the long version), that ended my sharing on a tearful note.
We asked for words that described our work. I was surprised to hear the words bold, confident and fearless connected to my images. Being my own worst critic, I tend to focus on everything my work is not. Why can’t I capture mood like Cherish? Or illuminate a space like Tara? I want to shoot more like ______, anyone other than me. No matter how many years I have practiced there is an endless supply of self doubt asking the question, will I ever be that good? I would like to think that this trip was about pushing through that dark place and into a world of unanimous support where possibilities are talked about in terms of realities. Shoot for Bon Appetit? Why not? Curate your work for a local showing? Why not global? The wheels slowly begin to turn as they free themselves from the rust.
Sunday was technically our last day, we knew Monday would be spent tracing our steps back to Vancouver. We headed out to Chesterman beach one last time. we tried group shots, timers, portraits, polaroids, silhouettes you names it we covered it. Here a few of my favorites from that day.
photo by Debra Cowie at Manifiesty Photo
photo by Corinna Robbins birdwannawhistle
film photo by Tamar /colour of pomegranates
lindsey / debra / meghan / tara / corinna / cherish / tamar
A few more discussions about editing while making dinner. Spanakopita followed by ice cream sundaes with hot fudge sauce from our unofficial sponsor, Mink Chocolates, I feel like that’s all I ate that trip. That and Planters Toffee Mixed Nut crack that I can’t even find on Amazon. Canadians you have good snacks!
The trek back home
Parting gifts and guest books. We left our mark and our #hashtag, no trip is complete without a hashtag. #BHBTofino on instagram.
A quick cuppa at Vicente Coffee and we’re on the road.
We got really crazy on the ferry with our cameras. I’m not sure if it was the fact that this was our last photo op or maybe the lack of pressure, this is us goofing off. Either way I am SUPER happy about it, I got some new photos of myself …. thank you Corrina for the new photo that follows me everywhere now.
me on 35 mm film!! captured by Meghan Davidson : Life Refocused
Wow 30o0 words later I feel a bit like I did on the plane ride home, quiet. Lots to think about and now I have six others I want to conspire with to rule the world or at least update my portfolio with. We have all vowed for a reunion in hopes that this small group finds a place in each of our lives. Who knows what the future will hold for us, but as long as it involves cameras, snacks and bubbly I’m all in!