by Norman Todd - October 1999
We saw the brushed cream and pink and mauve dawn behind the slender boat masts; we saw the mile long shards of mirrored glass that sealed the surface of Kennedy Lake; we saw the surreal shapes of ancient cedar stumps – huge and silent on Clayoquot Island; we saw a dome of rhododendrons as a’maze’ing as Hampton Court; and from that dome we could see forever across the sound, over the low treed islands to the still snowed sides of far-off mountains. And for three days we saw our island at its Beautiful BC best and not a drop of rain – but the dew on the plants in the morning would make our Water Board postpone raising the Sooke dam for yet another ten years.
Our contingent (the Propagators) numbered twenty-two. Our hosts, Ken and Dot Gibson did the work of an equivalent number. A welcoming vase of flowers graced our motel rooms and a dram warmed that welcome, up at the house. The conversation flowed. One lives with history in Ken’s presence. In Tofino one is conscious of ice ages and explorers and settlers – and some unsettlers – when contemporary issues are discussed. Rhododendron growers, past and present, get equal time with logging, fish farming and fiberglass moulds for patio slabs. Grafting techniques are explained and powdery mildew bemoaned. At other times the hikers can exercise their legs on the sand smoothed beaches leaving the praters to continue exercising their tongues on good and bad doers.
Magic it was, and probably a record too, to sit outside eating brunch in Ucluelet on Saturday morning, the sixteenth of October. The table umbrellas had to be unfurled so the menus could be read, the plates were the size of old growth stumps and the toast the thickness of a barn shake. George Fraser’s maples were in full fall colour.
Back at the dock in Tofino, Captain and Master Gardener Chris was waiting with his launch to ferry us over to the Island and our numbers were such that he had to do it twice. Waiting on the Island was Master Gardener Sharon and her tribe of visitor-starved raccoons who no doubt are now suffering from distended stomachs, the consequence of the bag of buns Alison Hawkins took for them so she could have them eating out of her hand. The plants we remembered had grown and were more at home than ever and there were lots of new plantings to see. If Sharon especially liked a plant it was a ‘she’, and if it was just so-so it was a ‘he’. She had the blue and the pink wisterias interplanted so it seemed her segregation proclivities could be eased if aesthetic priorities prevailed. She was so energetically poetic in her descriptions of her creative endeavors that we also were breathless and unable to speak our approvals. She described the initial coolness of a couple of English BBC photographers making a documentary on the flora and fauna of the land and water, and how that coolness changed to bubbling reverence once they were ‘touched by the magic’ of the island. A thing of magic was the Mushroom gazebo. Built from driftwood, fitted together like the great hammerhead roofs of mediaeval cathedrals; sheathed with shakes split from curving logs to give the mushroom profile; its seat a slice of a great donut of a cedar with grain so fine it could have made a violin; it was of classic beauty and a work of art. Their tomatoes were quality too as were all their vegetables. Sharon claims curative properties for her soap. One of the few items not totally homemade was Chris’s rum, which, I’m told, also had curative properties. Dot’s apple spice cake complemented the magically curative ambiance.
Dinner that evening was good. For those who haven’t tasted it, the Schooner’s clam chowder is, of itself, worth the trip to Tofino. We sat at a table next to a couple who had almost finished their meal. We tried to encourage them to leave so our group could be together. It turned out, however, that they were from the Vancouver Chapter so we had to chat a while. Rhodo people were everywhere. Next day at Coombs, with the goats on the thatched roof, we bumped into the president of the Mount Arrowsmith Chapter.
Sunday morning the cutting raid began. Ken Gibson behaved like a frustrated IWA logger, disappearing into the massed greenery and throwing out great limbs of rhododendron. The group descended on these with hungry clippers just as the goats at Coombs savaged the maple branches being thrown up to them. Plastic bags were stuffed with precious cuttings and many times one heard the plaintive cry "What was the name of that one?" This orgy was followed by more Gibson hospitality on the deck with the sun still blessing us. Most of us then set out for the glorious drive home. Some of us set out twice, as when we got to the junction for Sutton Pass my wife recalled leaving her jacket in the motel. Others enjoyed the beaches and Karen Morrison found magic in the seaweed of Chesterman Beach. Evidently she looked like a mobile kelp stack.
We all felt we had been touched by the magic and want to thank our hosts for that.