It’s a calm day on Cowichan Bay. The air is so still that the water is like a mirror. Fishing boats line the wharf and they seem to hover in mid air. The reflection of the island a mile offshore is its perfect twin. The world is glass and there is a feeling here that time does not exist. The smell of salt water, fish, rope, marine oil, and gas transports you to a simpler time. Wayfarers and mariners. Here they still exist.
CowichanBay is a long inlet that sits about the mid way point on Vancouver Island. It’s called CowBay by locals and those who have come and fell in love with the place. The town, or at least the parts I’ve seen of it, strung out along the shoreline, is what you’d imagine John Steinbeck discovered when he wrote Cannery Row.
It’s a fisherman’s world that I know nothing of. The boats that sit packed tightly around the wharf are mysterious things. They are oddly shaped to my eye: ungainly and seemingly unsuited for days and weeks on the sea. I’ve never been an intertidal person. The sights and smells and look of this place inspire the storyteller in me and I look at it all with a hunger to know it.
I’m here to tell stories at a national conference. What fuels me the most when I do these events are mornings like this one. Mornings when I see the world as though for the very first time. It’s then I realize again that everything around me has a story. Everything around me has a vital energy that fills me, excites me, connects me it all. I feel empowered and curious.
That’s the wonderful thing about the world and about this country. When you think you know something of it, when you think you understand it and heck, can even glean your own special place in it, the world has the power to upset all that. It has the power to re-introduce you to itself and teach you things about yourself you never knew before. It’s always had that power and I hope it always will.
Looking out this window at a world that holds more secrets, I feel those stories all around me. The seabirds, the wharf, the loops and coils of rope, the rugged shore of the nearby island; they all contain stories within themselves. When I close my eyes I can feel them.
There’s no special magic to this. You don’t have to be a storyteller to glean that. Instead, you just have to be open to the world, to want to fill yourself with it, to want the experience of being somewhere lead you to ask questions and be patient enough for the answers to come.
That’s how our traditional storytellers found the motivation to create. They opened themselves to the world and the world gave them story. It still operates the same way. Stories are as close as an open window or a walk through an unknown territory. They wait for you. They want to be told. All that it takes to gather them is the acceptance of the notion that everything exists as story.
As a writer I have come to believe in that. I tend to look at things a lot longer than most people I know. I can study something for hours, intent of discovering what it has to tell me. There’s always something. That something usually finds its way into a story at some time or another. What happens for me is that I remain curious about the world and I retain the power of the innocence that comes from a feeling of wonder.
The stories I tell to the people at the conference will include this vision across Cow Bay. There’s the essence of Canada here. The country revealing another spectacular part of itself to me in images, shapes and sounds foreign to me. The people I spoke to in the museum, on the wharf, in the diner and the quirky shops all add substance to the stories I will tell.
For every story I shape and gather about this country, there is an immense payoff. I become more. The idea of Canada fills me. I can transcend issues. I learn to see the country and my place in it as the articulation of a great story. I am a part of that story. It’s a thrilling prospect each time I revisit it.