Canada Sabbatical Pt. II

Why are you coming to Canada?
How long will you be here?
Do you have any guns with you? Do you own any?
Do you have pepper spray?
What will you do while you’re here?

These are some of the questions we were asked at the border crossing. Two of which, we didn’t answer very well.

“Yes, we have pepper spray.”
“We are going to be camping and visiting National Parks.”

The man wrote notes on his little yellow pad, and I could tell that wasn’t a good sign. He gave us his scribbles and told us to pull over and park. Another man told us to bring the pepper spray and head inside. Despite not really having anything to feel guilty for or worried about, we felt guilty and worried. A man inside asked us more questions and then we told him about volunteering on some farms through WWOOF. Basically, he asked why we didn’t just say that in the first place. Because border agents are intimidating, and WWOOF has poor guidelines on its website, that’s why. The WWOOF Canada website provides information on crossing the border and some advice on what to say or not say, implying that one’s primary reason for travel should not be to volunteer. To the contrary, the border agent was pleased to hear we would be volunteering on farms as that explains why we would be in the country for 6 weeks. He took our pepper spray, we signed some forms, and were soon on our way.

What we learned from this experience is that being sketchy gets you no where.

Our first destination in Canada was dreamy indeed. After a bit of a mishap on my part (setting the Google Maps navigation for West Vancouver and forgetting to input the actual Airbnb address until I no longer had service and was unable to do so) we made it to our quaint little accommodation in a ritzy neighborhood. One smart couple in West Vancouver renovated a shed in their backyard into a kind-of tiny house. It was adorable. That evening we took a stroll down to some parks on the beach, oohing and aahing at the fancy homes, cute trails, and lovely beaches. Upon returning to our tiny house we did a quick online search to find the cost of the standard sized house in the area – they ranged from $2million to $12million. Feeling fancy, we reheated our leftovers and slept like royalty.

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Above Images: West Vancouver, BC

Before leaving our well-groomed neighborhood, we went on a bike ride so I could further demonstrate my disheveled cycling abilities. Local cyclists whizzed by with their lycra shorts and zippy road bikes, while I huffed and puffed my way up periodic hills on my dusty mountain bike. I made it though, with the aid of Cam’s unwavering motivation, and after long we were at a trail head. We hiked to a lighthouse among old-growth trees, many over 500 years old.

Our next mission was to load the Canada Mobile onto a ferry and make our way to Vancouver Island. The mission was a breeze, literally and metaphorically. We got there in good time, were ushered to the front of the line, parked, and made our way to the top deck for lunch as the ferry departed. Once speed was gained however, the wind was intolerable so we found a seat downstairs and did some writing. Exiting the ferry was a bit less breezy despite being one of four vehicles parked right at the exit gate. We thought we might be the very first off the boat, but we thought wrong.

As my grandmother likes to say “he thought he had a bicycle, but he only had the wheels.”
This, I think, translates to: don’t make assumptions, you fool.

After watching all the lanes of vehicles exit before ours, we eventually did drive off the boat and onto Vancouver Island, into the town of Nanaimo. There we exchanged our boring green paper money into exciting colorful paper money, then used that money to buy local beer and wine. All stocked up and ready to go, we hit the road to our new home (while quickly reprogramming our brains to focus on the kilometer gauges on the speedometer).

We have been able to call this farm home for a week now, and it’s sure been a beautiful week. Within the first few hours – meeting our WWOOF roommates, and having a community dinner together with our hosts – I was reminded what I love most about traveling and staying in communal spaces: sharing knowledge and stories with people from vastly different backgrounds. The day we arrived, our host mum had just returned from a herbal conference; at dinner she told us things she learned, like how trees communicate and if you kill a mother tree all communication is lost for that family of trees.

Lunch and dinner is a community event here, provided by our hosts. We all participate in setting and clearing the table, after lunch the hosts do the dishes, and after dinner the volunteers rotate dish duty. Meals always feature a green or two from the gardens, fresh baked bread from the kitchen oven or the clay oven outside, and meals are often followed by dessert. Conversations are vibrant and educational; I always leave the table having learned something new about history or culture or any other topic.

As volunteers we work on the farm Monday through Friday, 9am – 3pm, with an hour break at 12pm for lunch. This is a very manageable schedule, and I’ll be in for a shock when I’m faced with a traditional American 40-hour work week again. For now though, I’ll keep that out of mind and appreciate my current situation. So far we have assisted in weeding, fertilizing, seeding, transplanting, planting, and harvesting. Having spent the past year working in a classroom with youth who have experienced trauma, feeling drained mentally and emotionally right up until we left for this trip, it’s been harmonizing to spend my days working so intimately with nature. I love working with youth, but that energy exchange takes a toll no matter the what the job is.
Every day I feel the soil embedded into my fingernails, hear the birds sing their tunes, see the trees dance in the wind, smell the herbs being picked, taste the freshly grown lettuce, I feel more connected in myself and with nature itself.

With a short work day and an even shorter commute, we are afforded ample time to play, to idle, and to explore each day. This is in contrast to life at “home” in Denver, where I would maybe find time to indulge in hobbies a couple times a week. Here I can indulge in multiple hobbies all in one day. Already this week I’ve practiced yoga, gone on walks to the beach and the woods, done plenty journal and blog writing, practiced on the slack line, played games with the fella and the roommates, snapped some photos on the camera, and read from three books – perhaps it’s smarter to make significant progress on one book rather than slight progress on three, but oh well. With our Swiss roommates, we’ve talked about cultural norms and I mentioned the tendency in the States to over-value work and under-value vacations. To take two months off from work, from paying rent, to volunteer, to camp, and to explore and relax – this is well outside the norm in our society. This was emphasized before we even left Colorado, by comments from people who were impressed, confused, inspired, and curious about what our plans were on the road, and especially our plans when we return. We still don’t have a plan for our return.

Lately we’ve just been hoping the Jeep can actually get us back to Colorado. It’s been through a lot. The poor thing is almost as leaky as my eyes after watching pretty much any movie based on a true story. Somehow rain (I blame beautiful soggy Oregon) has been slowly seeping in through the roof and making its way down to the floor, drenching the carpets and enlivening Cam’s dread of mold. Truthfully, the trusty Canada Mobile has been fab and should mosey along fine to the rest of our destinations; it just might have a slight mildew aroma until we can sort something out. Thankfully the local Walmart (a phrase I’m reluctant to say) stocks car covers, so we got the Jeep a rain jacket.

We have taken some more interesting trips away from the farm this weekend; I’m glad to say Walmart hasn’t been the highlight. Like a bunch of groupies, we attended the farmers market and hovered around our host’s farm stand for a while, proud of our own little contributions and amused to see the hosts in action. An old man made a bee-line straight for the bread they were selling and we learned he is a most loyal customer. The man could speed walk with the best of them if there were a couple loaves of clay-oven baked rye at the finish line. At the market we met a friend of our hosts who owns a Winery and Ciderworks nearby; our host mum told us it was “just down the road” – which is Canadian for “a thirty minute drive.” It was well worth the drive mind you. As if cider and wine tastings aren’t treat enough, they also offer high tea on Sundays. After filling our bellies with scones and Earl Gray, we tasted four ciders and two fruit wines. All were amazing and we each left with a liquid souvenir, plus some advice from a local on where to adventure to next…

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Above Images: Organic Farm on Vancouver Island, BC

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