listening to joni: #9: don juan's reckless daughter

Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, 1977

I discovered I didn't own Don Juan's Reckless Daughter either on LP or CD -- which means I don't know the music from it, except for anything performed live or on compilations.

This means I have only my current opinions and impressions, and no earlier thoughts to compare them to. I can conjecture that I wouldn't have liked this album when it was released in 1977, or in 1987 for that matter, because I wouldn't have understood it. I hope by 1997, when I was beginning to explore jazz, I would have been ready to listen.

It is jazz. And it is Joni. I like it a lot, and I can tell that repeated listenings will yield more meaning.

On DJRD Joni works with a group of jazz artists, including four members of the Weather Report ensemble -- Jaco Pastorius (who was already Joni's friend and collaborator), Wayne Shorter, Manolo Badrena, and Alex Acuña.

The first track, "Overture," is played on six guitars in different tunings for a shimmering, echo-y effect. On the first vocal track, "Talk to Me," we hear the unmistakable rhythms of Joni strumming over a jazz backdrop. Joni's vocals have the talk-singing quality that she used on Hejira, but more so, almost as if she's reciting a poem. "Talk to Me" is marked by Joni-style humour -- which critics may think is an oxymoron.
We could talk about Martha
We could talk about landscapes
I'm not above gossip
But I'll sit on a secret where honor is at stake
Or we could talk about power
About Jesus and Hitler and Howard Hughes
Or Charlie Chaplin's movies
Or Bergman's nordic blues
Please just talk to me
Any old theme you choose
Just come and talk to me
Mr. Mystery talk to me

. . .

Is your silence that golden?
Are you comfortable in it?
Is it the key to your freedom
Or is it the bars on your prison?
Are you gagged by your ribbons?
Are you really exclusive or just miserly?
You spend every sentence as if it was marked currency
Come and spend some on me
Shut me up and talk to me
I'm always talking
Chicken squawking
Please talk to me
"Paprika Plains" is a 15-minute piano and orchestral piece, reminiscent of Court and Spark, with some lyrics printed on the album cover but not sung. The lyrics are widely open to interpretation, as poetry often is.
Restless for streets and honky tonks
Restless for home and routine
Restless for country safety and her
Restless for the likes of reckless me
Restless sweeps like fire and rain
Over virgin wilderness
It prowls like hookers and thieves
Through bolt locked tenements
Behind my bolt locked door
The eagle and the serpent are at war in me
The serpent fighting for blind desire
The eagle for clarity
What strange prizes these battles bring
These hectic joys these weary blues
Puffed up and strutting when I think I win
Down and shaken when I think I lose
There are rivets up here in this eagle
There are box cars down there on your snake
And we are twins of spirit
No matter which route home we take
Or what we forsake
We're going to come up to the eyes of clarity
And we'll go down to the beads of guile
There is danger and education
In living out such a reckless life style
I touched you on the central plains
It was plane to train my twin
It was just plane shadow to train shadow
But to me it was skin to skin
The spirit talks in spectrums
He talks to mother earth to father sky
Self indulgence to self denial
Man to woman
Scales to feathers
You and I
Eagles in the sky
You and I
Snakes in the grass
You and I
Crawl and fly
You and I
Those last lines reference "Down to You," the Court and Spark song with a long instrumental bridge -- "you can crawl, you can fly too". Here again, Joni contemplates her own duality and the duality of human potential.

"The Tenth World" is an extended Latin percussion piece: congas, bongos, surdo, cowbell, shakers, and whatever else, with some vocals in Spanish. Joni shares writing credits Don Alias, Manolo Badrena, Alejandro Acuña, Airto Moreira, and Jaco Pastorius.

"Dreamland" is the most well-known song on DJRD, because it's been captured on live albums; Joni was performing it live before Don Juan's was released. It's the most accessible song on the album. Joni sings about all of us here in the first world, in the global north, using other cultures as vacationlands, insulated in the national identities that we carry with us. She might also be musing on we Canadians using our own national identity as a defense against accusations of imperialism.
It's a long long way from Canada
A long way from snow chains
Donkey vendors slicing coconut
No parkas to their name
Black babies covered in baking flour
The cook's got a carnival song
We're going to lay down some place shady
With dreamland coming on
Dreamland dreamland
Dreamland dreamland

Walter Raleigh and Chris Columbus
Come marching out of the waves
And claim the beach and all concessions
In the name of the suntan slave
I wrapped that flag around me
Like a Dorothy Lamour sarong
And I lay down thinking national
With dreamland coming on
Dreamland dreamland
Dreamland dreamland
The title track is a poetic self-portrait. The music has clear links to Hejira -- you can hear strains of "Coyote" -- but the poem is unique in the lexicon of Joni's self-reflection.

On the whole, Don Juan's Reckless Daughter is a complex, layered, textured, somewhat challenging album. It has a hypnotic quality, almost dreamlike. It's not a collection of songs; it's a work that needs to be heard in its entirety. Those who enter into it and spend some time wandering through will be richly rewarded.

Racism and Islamophobia? 

One song on DJRD makes me cringe -- at least one line does. It stands out so much that the man who runs jonimitchell.com has added an asterisk and some news stories by way of explanation.

Apparently the song was written after a terrorist attack in Washington, when a group of people identified as Hanafi Muslims held hostages at Washington's B'nai B'rith offices, an Islamic centre, and some local government offices. Apparently the incident had nothing to do with Israel or Palestine. Nevertheless, these lines -- repeated as a refrain throughout the song -- are so jarring!
They've come for sun and fun
While Muslims stick up Washington.
Considering the US's relationship to Muslims and Muslim-majority countries, this line is more than a bit strange.

Racism, well... that's the cover story.

Bad critic comment of the album

Is there ever a lot to choose from! This album was called "remote," "bland," and "weird".

For worst, I'll take this entire review from People magazine:
Tedious and morose melodies - conveyed by poetic histrionics - fit perfectly with Mitchell's funereal delivery. A downer.
The album cover

This is the only album cover of Joni's that I dislike. It's awkward and graceless, and seems beneath her.

More importantly, the album cover is controversial. There are images of three people, who are all Joni, in costume -- including the African-American man in the stereotypical 1970s pimp outfit. Yep, that's Joni in blackface. Apparently this is one of Joni's alter-egos, named Art Nouveau. Much has been written about this, from writing off Joni as a racist, to downplaying it as "things were different then".

An interesting analysis is here on the BBC website. There's more explanation in this excellent long piece from The Cut: Joni Mitchell, Unyielding. That piece includes some funny lines about Taylor Swift playing Joni in a biopic.

What do I think?

I don't know what to make of either the blackface or Joni's answers about it. I find the "Muslim" line in the song much more disturbing than Joni's dress-up -- although both are puzzling.

Do I think Joni is racist? No, I don't. If we're going to label someone as a racist, there should be more evidence than this.

Has she ever had a racist moment -- a thought, a comment, a misstep? We can assume so. We can assume that everyone has had racist moments. We live in a racist world, and none of us is completely unaffected by that.

Joni dressing as a pimp for a Halloween party is an odd choice, but also funny.  Using that same costume on an album cover is seriously tone-deaf. I don't get it. But I don't think that one act makes her racist. I do think it's interesting that these images are always discussed as blackface, and never (that I've seen) as cross-dressing.

I see no evidence that Joni Mitchell is a bigot, and plenty of evidence that she is not. I hope she's not Islamophobic. But either way, I don't expect her to be perfect. It's one line on one song, one image on one album. At worst, it's one minor misstep in a very long and rich career.

Cacti or stockings?

I haven't found any cactus, stockings, or nylons on this album. Those images have been replaced by Indigenous imagery -- eagles, serpents, feathers, braids, drum beats -- and to being a settler, a foreigner, or a tourist. There are also repeated images of Blackness, and many references to dreams and dreaming.

Other musicians on this album

Bass, Jaco Pastorius
Drums, John Guerin
Bongos, Snaredrum, Sandpaper Blocks, Don Alias
Congas, Don Alias, Manolo Badrena, Alejandro Acuña
Shakers, Alejandro Acuña
Surdo, Airto Moreira
Cowbells, Jaco Pastorius
Congas, Manolo Badrena
Soprano Sax, Wayne Shorter
Electric Guitar, Larry Carlton
Vocals, Chaka Khan
Piano, Michael Colomber
"Paprika Plains" orchestrated and conducted by Michael Gibbs


island day trip with mom: alert bay

This week's day trip was fascinating, meaningful, and so much fun. We went to Alert Bay, toured the U'mista Cultural Centre (us for the second time, my mom for the first), and participated in a traditional salmon barbeque through Culture Shock.

Know before you go: residential schools and the potlatch ban

On the drive down to Port McNeill, where we get the ferry to both Sointula and Alert Bay, we gave my mom some context for the U'mista exhibits -- both the residential schools and the potlatch ban. We have talked about it before, but I felt a review of sorts would make the day more meaningful. After taking the Indigenous Canada online course through the University of Alberta, I feel more confident summarizing the issues -- a concrete benefit of the course.

If anyone reading this doesn't know about these two horrors of colonization, I encourage you to learn about them both. I'll briefly summarize the issues at the bottom of this post.

U'mista Cultural Centre

The U'mista Cultural Centre is an amazing museum and learning centre. It's so perfectly done, I honestly can't think of how it could be improved. In fact, I think I'll quote wmtc from our first visit there, lightly edited, then add a few notes below.
U'mista is a small treasure trove of First Nations art, beautifully curated and displayed, and especially notable for how it was acquired. All the objects have been reclaimed and repatriated from museums and private collections. From the late 1800s until the 1950s, as part of its genocidal policies against Indigenous peoples, Canada outlawed potlatch.

Tlingit Potlatch
(Image: Sheldon Museum)
Potlatch is a ritual re-distribution of wealth, practiced by the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada and the US. About the Coastal peoples, you will hear it said: the wealthiest family is not those acquire the most, but those who give the most away. In a celebration of food, song, and storytelling dance that goes on for days, the wealthier families give food, clothing, other necessities, and also luxuries, to the rest of the community.

At potlatch, ritual masks and robes would be worn for dances that told stories. When the ceremonies were outlawed, the Canadian government confiscated all the regalia. Indigenous scholars and activists have spent decades tracking down and attempting to acquire the stolen objects. Over the decades, too, potlatches were held in secret, and the U'mista Centre honours the courageous individuals who were determined to keep their traditions alive.

The U'mista Centre stands beside the site of St. Michael's, one of the notorious residential schools. When the school -- which closed only in 1974 -- was demolished, survivors and families gathered for a ceremony (good article at that link).

Modern Potlatch
U'mista has information about the residential schools, which I assume many visitors wouldn't know about -- considering up until 15 or so years ago, even most Canadians (from non-Indigenous backgrounds) didn't know about them. It's incredibly painful and incredibly important to learn about. I felt like I did after visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC (although the U'mista Centre is quite small).

I have read about the residential schools, and have learned about other similar situations -- for example, in Australia, depicted in the brilliant, heartbreaking film "Rabbit Proof Fence". I thought I knew how horrifying and disgusting both the schools and the policies were. Yet, when I learned more about them in the online course I'm taking, as bad as I thought it was, it was so much worse. It's painful to contemplate these injustices, but we are obligated to bear witness.

At U'mista, there are also beautiful photographs and displays about Indigenous activists and other community leaders. In the summer, there are cultural tours and sometimes the opportunity to see dances performed. There's also a fantastic gift shop, where everything is most things are made in Canada and Indigenous artists are credited (and, I presume, paid).

The U'mista Cultural Centre is a must-visit if you're on the North Island.
New to our second visit

We watched two excellent videos depicting a modern potlatch. One was fashioned in standard documentary style, with a voice-over narrator. It was very good, but I especially loved the more recent update. This film had no narration, and scenes of the natural world were intercut into the footage of potlatch dances. This style gave a deeper understanding of the connectedness of the people to the natural world; the nature scenes provided context for the dances. I loved it.

Both videos were created by members of the Cranmer family, who also operate Culture Shock. One of the Cranmers is consulting on a project I'm working on. (More on that soon.)

Also new to us at the U'mista was an exhibit called The Story Box, about the historic collaboration between Franz Boas, who founded modern anthropology, and George Hunt, his Indigenous research partner. Their work together was groundbreaking, and Hunt continued it after Boas' death. George Hunt was from this area, and the surname Hunt denotes a well-known and influential Indigenous family on the west coast.

As it happens, the reason we hadn't seen this exhibit on our first visit brings us around to the Cranmer family again. "The Story Box" was being shown at Bard College in New York City, and the Cranmers were among the delegates -- dancing, teaching, and participating in the celebration. Corinne Hunt, a formidable Indigenous artist and the great-granddaughter of George Hunt, designed the artwork for the exhibit.

This beautiful brochure from the New York exhibit includes an interview with Corinne Hunt. Here are some photos Allan took of The Story Box exhibit.

And here are some images from the U'mista's permanent collection.

Chilkat is an extremely difficult type of weaving. A Chilkat ceremonial blanket of this size represents
seven to twelve months of full-time work -- and months of preparation before the weaving can even begin.

We love petroglyphs! This one shows that the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw
have been in this area for thousands of years.

A button blanket, worn for ceremonial dances.

Carved cedar chest. The Indigenous peoples of the Northwest are
intricately connected to the cedar.

Detail of above chest.
Tlubukw: traditional salmon barbeque lunch

We had booked in advance a traditional salmon barbeque. Gwantilakw Cranmer walked us through the preparation, talking about the significance of the salmon to her people, both pre-contact and today. Gwinty has been working with salmon all her life and she was an excellent guide. I'll let the pictures tell the story.

Sockeye Salmon. There are many Kwak'wala words meaning salmon,
depending on the type and its age (i.e., where it is in its life cycle).
The word I've seen most frequently is k'utala.

I took a turn cutting one side of the salmon open.

The wood is cedar, of course.

A cedar fire burns very hot.

We were cooking the salmon in a little grassy area near the water, where a boulder served as a windbreak. A small crowd of tourists gathered on the boardwalk, looking down at us and asking occasional questions. When the fish was done, we were wondering (to ourselves only) where we were going to eat it, and would we be eating only salmon?

Suddenly out came a table, tablecloth, plates, and a huge amount of food! There was potato salad, a green salad with kale, cabbage, and cranberries, a tray of freshly baked buns, and bannock. Bannock has the consistency of cornbread and is so delicious! There was far more food than we ever could have eaten, and (happily) spoiled our plans for dinner.

If you visit Alert Bay, this is a very special experience. It may seem a bit pricey, but if you can afford it, it's well worth the money.

The gift shops!

The gift shops at both Culture Shock and the U'mista Cultural Centre are among the best I've ever been in. If you love Indigenous art and design, don't miss them.

Interesting note: your admission to the U'mista Centre is good for two visits.

* * * *

A bit more on the issues

Canadian Residential Schools

In Canada, "Residential Schools" refers to the system of federally-funded, church-run schools that operated throughout Canada for more than 160 years.

Children were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to live in these "schools" -- more aptly called camps. They were forbidden to speak their language, to use their given names, to wear their hair in their culture's typical ways. The stated goal of the schools was "to kill the Indian in the child".

The children were forced to perform manual labour, which was supposedly their education. Conditions were horrendous. Thousands of children died. Mass graves have been uncovered.

Abuse was rampant: physical, psychological, sexual, social.

More than 150,000 children lived in these schools. The last one closed in 1996.

There were also Indian Day Schools. I don't know why some children were forced into those rather than residential schools, but the day schools were similarly horrific.

One of the characteristics shared by almost all Indigenous cultures is an emphasis on family, usually extended family. In oral traditions, knowledge transmitted directly from generation to generation. Skills -- hunting, gardening, cooking, building, healing, everything you can think of -- are learned by observation and participation. Values, morals, and ethics -- all the guideposts of life -- are transmitted through storytelling and observation. From birth to death, every aspect of life is shared communally, and done for the benefit of the new generations, to build for the future.

Now imagine a culture such as this with no children. Villages where all the children have been stolen. The trauma and grief and shame left behind. The despair, the helplessness.

At the same time, imagine generations of children who have never been exposed to familial love, or at best that love was a distant memory. Generations of children who have been raised institutionally, with harsh discipline, meager food rations, minimal health care, forced lessons intended for wage-slavery, and of course, rampant abuse. Generations of children who have been forbidden to speak their own languages or learn anything about their cultures -- and who are indoctrinated to believe that their original cultures are dirty and shameful.

When these children become adults, how can they know how to raise families of their own? They have not seen normal parenting. They lack the supports of their culture and communities. They know only shame and abuse.

These entwined conditions are at the root of the intergenerational trauma that echoes through Indigenous communities in countless destructive ways. The wonder is how people and their cultures have survived at all -- a testament to the determination and resiliency of the human spirit.

Canada participated in a Truth and Reconciliation process that focused on the Residential Schools. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada set out 93 Calls to Action. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation is the permanent body that came out of the hearings.
As the permanent home for all statements, documents, and other materials gathered by the TRC the NCTR will ensure that:
- former students and their families have access to their own history;
- educators can share the Indian Residential School history with future generations of students;
- researchers can more deeply explore the Residential School experience;
- the public can access historical records and other materials to help foster reconciliation and healing; and
- the history and legacy of the residential school system are never forgotten.
Every Canadian is or should be actively involved in Reconciliation. Reconciliation takes many forms, both institutionally and individually. All Canadian schools must now include the Residential Schools in their history curriculum. Similarly, as a librarian, it is my responsibility to participate in Reconciliation through the library's collections, programs, and service. It's also my job as a human being.

The Potlatch Ban

Potlatch is the ritual redistribution of wealth, both a cultural ritual and a form of social welfare. Viewed through a socialist lens, potlatch is decidedly not capitalist. It may not be anti-capitalist, but it's certainly counter-capitalist. Is why it was banned? Or was it simply part of the Canadian project of aggressive colonization and assimilation -- the quest to "kill the Indian"? I suspect it was both.

You can learn more about the potlatch ban and its insidious effects from these excellent sources.
The Umista Centre's virtual museum
The Potlatch Ban - The Bill Reid Centre at Simon Fraser University
Colonialism and the Potlatch Ban - blog of the University of Alberta's Faculty of Law
The "Potlatch Law" and Section 141 - Indigenous Foundations at UBC


pupdate: in which cookie decides to make a bit of progress

First there was Incident With a Fish Head.

Then there was this.

What is that dog doing, you may ask. She's chasing tiny fish.

She did this for two hours.

Two hours!!!

We brought treats to practice recall, but I didn't remember to make them high-value treats. No way this dog is leaving her mad fishing fun for a crunchy cracker, even it is poutine flavoured!

We tried everything, but Cooks was in her own world. Her own fishing universe. The tide came in, so she was no longer in a tide pool. Just out there in water up to her neck, trying to catch tiny fish.

After about two hours, she finally started slowing down. Some other dogs came over to say hi, and while she was distracted, I was able to grab her collar.

It starts out as funny and adorable. It ends in frustration and exhaustion.

We live so close to this beautiful beach, we could pop down there to give the pups a good run any time. Several times a week for sure! But if it takes 90 minutes to get Cookie back in the car, then we need a big block of weekend time.

Today we were prepared: we opened a can of salmon, and took some dehydrated liver treats along with it. That's as high-value as it gets. And finally, we saw progress!

Cookie still did her crazy fish-jumping thing, and both dogs ran far, far down the beach, almost out of sight. But for the first time ever, Cookie decided -- you could practically see her making the decision -- to come back to us and get her reward. She did that six or seven times.

We have a ways to go, for sure. They don't exactly turn on a dime and run back to us! But we have something to build on.

Meanwhile, back on dry land, Cookie has learned to open doors. First she let herself out the back door. The yard is fenced in, so, not a problem. We forgot that the front door has the same kind of handle!

Cookie let herself out of the house, Kai followed, and they went for a stroll. My poor mother was terrified that they'd be hit by a car. Kai came back as soon as Allan called her. Cookie was busy playing in the neighbour's yard, and Allan was able to grab her. (I was at work.)

Forget about trusting Canadians not locking their doors. Our doors must be locked, front and back, whether we're home or not, all the time.

This dog! She's an evil genius!

The cutest, sweetest, most affectionate evil genius in the world.


"at your library" in the north island eagle: did you know your library is steam-powered?

Your library is STEAM-powered.

STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. But STEAM is much more than those five subjects. It’s an approach to education and learning. STEAM is a way of looking at the world around us, discovering how things work, and working together to create.

STEAM activities use Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math to promote discovery. A STEAM program doesn’t ask you to memorize a list or a chart. STEAM learning happens by doing – tinkering, working with others, problem-solving, tapping into our own creativity.

Whether we realize it or not, STEAM learning is all around us. LEGO and other building kits are STEAM activities. There’s no step-by-step guide requiring us to join LEGO pieces in a certain way, no directions to follow. When we build with LEGO, we use our imaginations and creativity, and experiment to see what works.

STEAM learning is growing a plant inside a jar, using a telescope to see the night sky – then using the internet or a book to identify constellations, experimenting with food colouring and baking soda. Coding – learning how to program a little robot, or create a basic website – is an important STEAM activity, and much easier than you might think.

These days, many jobs are STEAM-based, so we want our children to develop these skills. But even if your children aren’t heading for a STEAM field, STEAM activities are still important. STEAM learning fosters curiosity, creativity, confidence, and the ability to work with others.

The Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) supports STEAM learning in several ways. Library programs such as Minecraft, Code-A-Pillars, Gears Gears Gears are classic STEAM activities. You can also take STEAM home! Search for “Tinker Totes” at virl.bc.ca, or ask at your library. VIRL Tinker Totes are complete kits to use at home, so you can experiment along with your kids.

Your library has hundreds of books to support STEAM learning, from crafts to coding to the limits of your imagination. E-resources like Lynda.com and Kanopy include a huge variety of STEAM learning, from coding to robotics to science experiments. And of course, these are all free with your library card.

If you know about a STEAM program you’d like to see at your library, let us know! We’ll try to make it happen.


weekend trip with mom: a few days in the comox valley

I thought it would be fun for my mom to see a different part of Vancouver Island. I didn't want her going home thinking the whole island is a sparsely populated rain forest! Plus it's more fun stuff to do together. I booked an Airbnb in Royston -- just south of the town of Courtenay -- and we did some exploring from there.

Saturday: driving and eating

First there was the drive down-island, which included our obligatory stop at Ideal Cafe. We contrive to eat there whenever we go to Campbell River or beyond -- which means anytime we go anywhere out of the North Island. After another great breakfast, we found the Airbnb, a two-bedroom cottage with a patio, surrounded by pear trees and blackberry bushes, and steps away from the water.

Courtenay sits on an estuary, directly across from the town of Comox, and the cottage was only steps away from trails along the water. Estuaries are supposed to be paradise for birders: there was a bench hidden in tall grass, and our host leaves binoculars out for guests to use. We didn't see any exciting birds at the water, although we saw many herons flying, and I spotted a red-tailed hawk on a wire. We had dinner in Courtenay -- not a rave review so I'm omitting the details -- but we had a good time.

Sunday: sand art and trees, food trucks and ice cream

On Sunday we took another beautiful drive, down to Parksville for the annual Sand Sculpting Competition. This is held in a section of a beautiful community park, with immaculate gardens and landscaping, an absolutely amazing playground, tennis courts, volleyball nets, and all kinds of other fun, adjacent to a beautiful sandy beach. Well done, Parksville.

The competition is held in a fenced-off area. They had a scavenger hunt going on for kids, and each visitor is given a poker chip to vote for their favourite sculpture. The art and expression were quite amazing.

Those are all sand -- no other material allowed except water. The sculptures must be built on the spot in a set number of hours: rules are here.

We picnicked from food trucks, which boasted fresh, local ingredients and some seriously delicious eats. One notable truck was Farm to Fire -- two guys making individual pizzas in a wood-fired stove. In a truck. Wow.

From there we ventured west on Highway 4, the only road that goes across the island from coast to coast, beginning near Parksville and Qualicum Beach, and ending at the Pacific Ocean, near the surfing-resort towns of Ucluelet and Tofino. We had never driven on 4 before, so that was kind of cool.

The town of Coombs had its fair going on, which looked incredibly crowded and touristy, so we were happy to drive past without stopping. Coombs is known for the store with goats on the roof. We saw them. We kept driving.

We were heading to MacMillan Provincial Park, an accessible bit of forest, and home to Cathedral Grove, said to be the only original-growth forest on the Island. There were many cars and many people. Not the ideal way to experience the woods, but I love that it's accessible to all, and I'm glad that so many people want to experience it.

On the way home, on another great tip from a co-worker, we stopped at a gas station for ice cream, a local favourite. Totally worth it.

We were too tired (and had eaten too much!) for another dinner out. We stopped at a supermarket, and later had a picnic on the patio, then spent the evening reading and relaxing.

Monday: the towns

We started Monday with a few errands in Comox. Comox has a lovely, cutesy main street and beautiful views of the estuary. When it's clear enough, mountains are visible in two directions. (The running theme of my mom's visit is "There are snow-capped mountains in that direction... but you can't see them." Those bright-blue skies with sparkling mountains in the distance don't seem to happen in summer.)

We stopped at the I-Hos Gallery, which I'd read is "like a museum" full of gorgeous Indigenous art. No and no. It is a large gift shop, and not even a particularly nice one.

After a brief walk in Comox, we had another picnic lunch on our patio, then found the Royston Seaside Trail. Exactly as advertised, it's a lovely flat trail along the estuary -- water on one side and huge houses with elaborate gardens on the other.

Apparently people like to look at old rusted boats and call them "shipwrecks".


I was hoping to visit a local-history museum in nearby Cumberland. The area was once a mining region, and that naturally includes radical labour activism. The museum website makes me hopeful for something not sanitized -- but I'll have to wait for that. It is closed on Mondays.

Instead, we visited the Courtenay Museum and Paleontology Centre. Don't let the spiffy website fool you: in person, it's a bit of a wreck. Note to curators: display cases with fossils do not need to be strewn with decorative sea shells. Posters for Jurassic World do not belong in a science exhibit. Not recommended.

But no matter, we saw a bit of downtown Courtenay, had a caffeine break in a laid-back local cafe, then drove into some beautiful hilly outskirts to find Spirits of the West Coast Native Art Gallery. This is a small gallery with unique and stunning artwork created by Indigenous artists. I was especially taken with work in argillite, a black stone quarried on Haida Gwaii. The Haida artists who work in the stone leave some areas rough and some polished, giving it depth and texture, and use tiny bits of abalone and mother-of-pearl for accents. It has an sharp, austere look, very beautiful and powerful.

Later on, we had dinner at "The Roy" -- Roy's Towne Pub, right up the street from our cottage. There's a mini-mart there, too. When we first got in, we were surprised that the host had left no coffee or tea, so we went down the street to pick some up. The store looks like a run-down bodega; I thought I'd have to drive to a supermarket to get decent coffee. But lookee here, in the middle of the junk food, a huge selection of organic, fair trade coffee, beans and ground, plus an impressive selection of wine. The owners of this little store know their customers.

Tuesday: back to reality

We left very early on Tuesday morning, so Allan could clock into work at noon. On the way, we had our first-ever disappointment at Ideal Cafe: they were out of shreds! No shreds?! On Vancouver Island, when you order breakfast, the server asks how you want your potatoes: cubes or shreds. Many places also ask if you want green onions in the shreddies. Shreds! Soooo delicious.


island day trip with mom: sointula

This week's day trip with my Mom was the town of Sointula. One of my libraries is located in Sointula, so I've been there a couple of times, but had never had an opportunity to explore the town or surrounding Malcolm Island.

Sointula has a fascinating history: it was founded as a socialist, Utopian community by dissident Finnish coal miners! Their vision was equality, community, and self-sufficiency. You can read more about this at a wonderful site that documents Utopian societies in Canada: Canadian Utopias Project.

Allan and I always find it interesting that Vancouver Island tourism info about Sointula omits the words strike and socialism. The radical history of this proud little village is diluted to "people who were searching for a better life" -- which is true, but not quite accurate. And boring! It's as if the very mention of the word strike is enough to incite anger -- or longing, perhaps? -- in potential tourists. In this way and a million others, radical activism is hidden from us.

The town itself is proud of its Finnish and socialist roots. Some families still teach their children Finnish, although it is supposedly one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn. We were pleased to see a photo in the museum showing an event in an old community centre -- the hammer-and-sickle symbol and the words WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE clearly visible behind the performers.

Sointula is still a world apart, with its own social-political vibe. Self-sufficiency, independence, and cooperation are the watchwords; in political compass terms, they are left-libertarian. Sointula residents have chosen not to have police on the island. They have a public school, but it's run almost as a community project. The children are all what is now called free-range, but no one calls it that, because it's just normal.

The Sointula library branch does the same amount of "business" -- circulates as many books -- as a typical community four times its size! Their supermarket is a co-op, founded by the original Finnish community in 1909, the oldest, continuously operating store in the province. Instead of a tourist information centre, they have a "resource centre" that serves tourists and residents alike, to help organize borrowable equipment and expertise.

For the tourist, Sointula is a beautiful place to explore. The tiny main street has a cafe (one of two restaurants in town), the co-op, some artist studios, and the building that houses the museum, library, senior centre, and thrift shop.

Bere Point Regional Park gives you incredible mountain views, gorgeous campsites adorned with driftwood art, and a beach where it is said whales come to rub against the rocks. (We went. Obviously we did not see whales, or this would be one hell of a buried lede.)

You can stop along the dirt road and play a game of beach checkers.

There was a small wooden enclosure that housed tourism pamphlets and a few romance novels left behind by previous campers. You could also learn a little bit about the local birbs.

The town is dotted with artist studios, tiny, informal spaces that are open when the artist can be there. In our trip to Newfoundland in 2007, we did a similar art trail in Woody Point. Sointula's is less extensive and more informal, in keeping with the culture there.

There are several hikes and cycling routes that seem wonderful. We drove around and did a few small walks in various places.

On the ferry to Sointula, the bay was completely fogged in, but while we were having lunch at Coho Joe, the fog lifted to reveal a picture-perfect day, cloudless but cool. On the ferry back to Port McNeill, we had beautiful views of the town and all the islands in the area.

We had dinner in Port McNeill, then on the way home, saw a bear and her cub munching grass on the side of the road. Allan spotted it, and we turned around and drove slowly back. The big bear looked up at the car -- and then a tiny little head poked up, too! They went further into the bush before we could get the camera.

And what North Island day would be complete without seeing several bald eagles?