I watered my garden—a deep soak for a hot day. I refreshed the birdbath, checked the hummingbird feeder and smiled at the roses. A sanctuary of cool green shade. My home for the past seven years. I walked through the still rooms, then I locked the door, climbed in my van and drove away. I will be gone for four months.
It was a relief to hit the road and soothe my anxiety. I had a lump in my throat for everything I had left behind, hand-picked treasures, vibrant with colour. I reside close to a diverse array of ethnic restaurants, grocery stores, knick-knack shops and boutiques, a modern library, coffee shops and parks, along with quick access to the waterfront, forests and rivers, friends and neighbours. I may grow old in this neighbourhood after all. Suggest for last sentence: I contemplate growing old in this neighbourhood.
My second day on the road did not go as planned—the toilet stinks. I Google Sani-dump and find my way to Canadian Tire in Merritt. There is a line-up of intimidating RVs, and I, the novice in the camper van, will struggle with my Sani-dump while they wait impatiently in the baking heat.
Waiting in the line-up, I Google “How to empty your black water tank.” All indicators inform me that I’m doing everything just perfectly. But I’m not. I know I’m not. I can smell it in the weirdly pervasive odour in my van.
I Google RV repairs. A little tour of Merritt takes me to a shop that refers me to a backyard pop shop on Grimley Street. Pop Grimley informs me that I’m doing it wrong. “Seriously! I’m doing what the YouTube video tells me to do?” Huh! He gives me a credible explanation, and I head back to Canadian Tire for the suggested $25.00 part and to do a Sani-dump per Pop Grimley’s instructions.
A young man serves me. Neither he nor I actually know what I am buying nor what he is selling me. But he gets the workshop to attach the new part for me to the black water pipe, free of charge. Bonus!
I head back to Sani-dump and am relieved that I am the only vehicle there. But the new part does not work as per Pop Grimley’s instruction.
My next stop is Kamloops and the smell is still bothering me. I Google RV repair shops, noticing that Google and I are developing a co-dependent relationship.
Due to delays on the only bridge in Kamloops connecting downtown with the RV repair shop—a large 18-wheeler stuck on the old iron bridge—I get acquainted with local Kamloops folk on the burning pavement in the midday sun. Finally, with much advice and direction, the 18-wheeler backs off the bridge, and I trundle on to the RVrepair shop.
Mr. RV Repair Shop is grumpy and cannot help me for at least two weeks. But he does. And low and behold, the black water tube fits, but the new part is unnecessary. Cursing through his grey beard, he undoes the new part that Canadian Tire installed for free. He gives me the exact instructions Pop Grimley gave me. I head back to the Canadian Tire Sani-dump.
It is a hot day. I dump. I am sceptical. The smell is better. I head out to my next Harvest Host in the company of Mrs. Google, who gives me directions. We find it. A stark field in the baking sun. As the day didn’t turn out as expected, I console myself with an afternoon snooze and a book. Ignoring the flies, I fall into a heavy slumber, the heat bearing down on me.
I am startled awake by a small girl with a List. Would I like to buy sausages, minced pork or beef or fresh eggs? Not at that exact moment, I tell her, trying to summon up some friendliness in my voice. I shake the heat from my head. The wild child has disappeared, and I decide to “just pull yourself together, Julie,” brush my teeth and hair and set out for the farmhouse.
The Wilding appears with The List. After a bit of negation, we agree that right now is not a good time for a shopping list but that she will take me on a farm tour.
The Wilding’s name is Xyla. She leads the way on long, skinny legs. I follow her to the creek and back again, past the goats and a fat black pig, all of whom greet us at the fence for a scratch. I am introduced by name to all ten horses as they peacefully munch on grass and nettles. There are hens, ducks, chicks and ducklings, a lone rabbit that gets squished and kissed, two alpacas sporting new haircuts and best of all, six red haired pigs who appear out of an acre of scrub, running towards the fence on the off chance we have food.
I notice the vegetable garden. “It’s a family garden’ sighs Xyla, “we all help out.”
Xyla is ten. Her hair is matted, and her eyes shine with intelligence. She is at ease with all the animals, relaxing into a horse’s flank to nuzzle its big neck, and I am impressed by her innate knowledge of the farm, the animals and her environment. “See, I braided this one’s mane,” she says, and I notice the girlish pink, yellow and blue elastic band at the end of each braid. Her younger siblings, twins Hunter and Nevada, have long become bored and disappeared back into the cool farmhouse.
The tour includes a short walk through the forest on a horse trail. "We won’t go too far on foot,” says Xyla, “ because of the coyotes. We normally come on horseback”. Xyla points out the dead wood fallen in the forest. “My dad says we have so much firewood. He tries to clear it out, but it’s a big job. Sometimes the neighbours come and help. We all help each other out,” she says.
When we get back to the farm yard, a slim woman with a thick blond braid is showing a beaming South Korean family around. They are staying on the farm for a week while travelling around Canada, and in exchange for free board and lodging, they will help out for four to six hours a day. Their first task will be to help weed the large vegetable garden. Work on a farm is endless. A lot of help is needed.
‘Come for supper”, says Nika with the thick blonde braid. I am taken aback by this warm extension of hospitality. Supper is served at a long table in the farmyard in the farmhouse shadow. Ji-yeoung runs around on the grass, laughing with Xyla and the twins. I marvel at how easily children play together, the language barrier a small, surmountable thing.
Farmer Chris welcomes me to a long table where I join two New Zealanders—friends-of-friends, lending a hand in the vegetable garden—the South Koreans and Nika’s mother. Mother Sabena is sitting in a simple but elegant black and white, paisley cotton shift with her leg in a cast propped up on a chair. “I broke it; fell from a horse.” She flashes me a brilliant smile.
“We’re going to help out on Sabena’s farm,” the New Zealanders tell me. “Until her leg is better.”
Supper is homemade hamburgers, fresh new potato salad, yams and cauliflower tossed in mayo, and homegrown beetroot, asparagus, and carrots, pickled by NikaIt is is delicious. I ask for the List and buy pork sausages stuffed with raisins.
Two large Anatolian Shepherd dogs walk me home to my van in the last of the evening sun. The moon is showing herself. What an unexpected delight this day has brought me.
And so, I venture forth, knowing there is only the idea of what is safe. I have left the certainty of my comfortable life in North Vancouver to disrupt and step into the unknown. I’m on the road, and uncertainty is the only certainty.