Sunshine Coast and my weird summer

The summer of 2018 has been probably the most unusual one in my life. It started out well. I’d wanted to travel Canada’s Sunshine Coast, which is the area north of Vancouver. We planned to end up on Texada Island, the largest of the Canadian gulf islands, and a trip that required 3 ferries to get there. Coming along was Joey Marguerite, a college friend from Lewis & Clark. Our first crisis was when my oil light went on as we were in line at the border, so I w

Veeka and Joey in the amazing “artist’s loft” place in Powell River.

as praying the car would hold up until we could get to the first gas station. Fortunately, we made it to one. We headed north on Rt. 15 to catch Highway 1 to Horseshoe Bay, from which we took a gorgeous ferry ride to Langsdale. We stayed at the Cedars Inn and Convention Centre
in Gibsons, clearly a budget accommodation, but everything else around there was surprisingly expensive.
Gibsons was a cute town, but tiny. We had breakfast at the Black Bean Roasting Co. near the water but didn’t find the famous Sunday market that the tourist brochures spoke of. The next major town was Sechelt. We stopped just north of that to hike 2 kilometers to Smuggler’s Cove, which was a lovely interlude – think Tolkien-in-the-rainforest. We went on several boardwalks through ghostly clumps of trees over black-water fens, coming out into more forested up-and-down paths through openings in the rocks and up staircases of railroad ties on the steepest inclines. There were lots of mini-coves plus arbutus trees, which looked just like our madronas. There was a zillion viewpoints of the Strait and Vancouver Island lurking like a blue shadow to the west.
This was on a Sunday, and the further north we drove, the less signage we found that led to anywhere. Some of the signs were truly outdated, which led us on some rabbit trails when it came to looking for a lunch spot. Then it started to rain. We took another ferry to the next island up, then pulled up outside the Artist’s Loft, a lovely AirBnB place in the woods 13 miles south of Powell River.

Veeka outside our cabin on Texada island

The next day, I took Veeka for a hike on Valentine mountain above Powell River, which was quite pleasant and had nice views. There were 100 stone steps to get to the viewpoint and we could wander about to other viewpoints in all directions. We then went to a local beach in Powell River where Veeka could get ice cream, visited an art gallery and the visitor’s bureau (which took awhile to find). Powell River was not what appeared to be in the brochures in that it too was a bit underdeveloped. Like there’s this lovely 13-km path around Inland Lake a few miles to the east, but nowhere nearby to rent bikes from. You have to get them (+ a carrier) in Powell River.
The really interesting thing to do in these parts is to hike the Sunshine Coast Trail, a 180-kilometer trail in the back country east of Powell River. There’s amazing huts in which you can stay and were I younger and more fit, that’s how I’d like to spend 2 weeks.
The following day, we took ferry #3 to Texada, landing at Blubber Bay. We headed for another Airbnb spot in Van Anda, which is the largest town in those parts.

Turtle crossing on Texada island. Like I said, life is slow there.

It was a sunny day, so we headed for the beach at Shelter Point Regional Park. It had the nicest concession stand with lots of creative, nice food – for a remote island – like some fish and chips for Veeka and some kind of cheese-toast concoction for me and an oyster burger for Joey; great pies, including blueberry, pecan and chocolate cream. The water was cold and the beaches were rocky.
The next day, we visited the local museum, an attractive hodgepodge of history in several rooms. A curator called Doug showed us around and told us that limestone was still being quarried there and that in 2006, 10 million tons a year were quarried. LaFarge, a French-owned group, does the quarrying and I’d seen their sign and trucks.
We learned that an Ed Blewett – the same Blewett as Blewett Pass in Washington state – and part of a mining empire, found his way to Texada in the late 1890s. Iron ore was first found on Texada in 1871. It’s odd how this island has so many metals while Powell River and Comox (on Vancouver Island) do not. Texada had high-grade iron as well as copper, silver and gold and as far as I know is the only Canadian Gulf island like this.
There were old-fashioned pictures of some of the early mine financiers, ie Harry Whitney Treat and his wife, Olive, and VanAnda, who was Blewett’s wife. In the hallway of the museum, a former elementary school, was a collection of model ships dating back to the 1700s, one in particular looking like a dead ringer for the Dawn Treader. Other rooms included a reproduction of a mine shaft, primitive ox plows with seeders attached, and other farming and mining implements plus house wares. Doug said a lot of the school kids who visit haven’t a clue of what a rotary (dial) phone is. Or what washboards and beaters are and other things I knew from the early 1960s.

Sandy McCormick, the immensely talented artist on Texada Island, displaying one of the driftwood pieces I bought. This photo does NOT do it justice.

I was interested in hiking to Stromberg falls, on the southwest side of the island, so someone directed me to the post office and to ask for a “John Wood,” the local hiking guru. Wood was out for the day but his substitute, a young woman, told me how she and her husband only recently went there in a van and that the road was steep, but they finally reached a clearing and the falls weren’t far from there. Then again, it was late June and there might not be much water. No one much knew. I was learning that Texada was a very informal place with no tourism office to speak of, so everything was word-of-mouth on what was available plus the southern part of the island was hardly visited by anyone. Only gravel roads went there and not all of them were very drivable. Deer wander about everywhere and there was a “turtle crossing” on Gillies Bay Road.
Now I had seen the most cunning mirror surrounded by cut glass at the place we were staying and I wanted to get one and it turns out the artist was one Sandy McCormick, the Powell River Regional District Electoral Area D director – kind of like a county commissioner. I learned she used to write for Canadian Press while she lived in Vancouver.
I kept on calling this woman all day and around 5:30 pm, I got a call from her that she’d been in Vancouver and had just gotten home and I could come by and visit her. So we agreed to meet at the emu farm on Mouat Bay Road just past Shelter Point. We followed her black Jeep about a mile further over a bridge and through a gate to a patch of land with 5 homes right on the driftwood-strewn beach and killer views of Vancouver Island. Her home was the last one and glass concoctions were everywhere; hanging from her walls, surrounding pictures and mirrors, outside on her deck. I went into her work room where I saw about 10 lovely mirror sculptures with not only shells and beach glass, but old bottle caps – one in Japanese or Chinese, coral, chains, driftwood, stones, beads, cutlery, bottle parts, pieces of china, tiles, jewelry, parts of fuses, marbles, tools, handles from God-knows-where, dice and whatever else she could scavenge from the beaches, which are goldmines for the ocean’s largesse. The current sweeps all sorts of stuff past Vancouver (where she said the collecting was awful) and deposits it on Texada’s isolated and remote beaches.

The viewpoint from Menucha on the Columbia River Gorge.

She started collecting (in Vancouver) in April 1974 and, “I’ve collected on all 7 continents,” she told me. “It’s an adventure. You don’t know what you’re looking for until you find it… It’s the ultimate in recycling.”
One of the sculptures I bought was all in gold – which she said was unique to Texada. She scoured the beach near the ferry dock to get a lot of those materials, a lot of which were trash from miners that had sat around on the beach for decades and had turned metallic colors. In every sculpture, she puts a “Texada rock,” which are unique to the island. They appear to be beige rocks with black starburst patterns on them, forged by ancient volcanoes.
About Texada: “We’ve an industrial base but an artistic heart,” she said. On her desk were glues and cements, emery boards and scissors and many boxes of glass all sorted by color. Most popular were blue and sea-green sculptures. I bought the gold one and another one mostly in whites. Veeka chose an expensive-looking white confection filled with smoky white glass and white nautilus shells.

The psych ward at Children’s. Everything was bolted down and locked.

That was a real highlight of our stay. We then spent the next two days driving back to the USA, which is where things took an unfortunate turn. Veeka had been having problems with tantrums during the entire trip and I was only 20 or so miles from home that Friday afternoon when her violent behavior caused me to pull over on the interstate and call the police.
That led to 12 nights and 11 days in the psych ward of Children’s Hospital in Seattle. We could not have chosen a worse week to go there. We were heading into the Fourth of July holiday and there were different medical teams circulating in and out almost daily. A lot of folks were on vacation. It was tough to get the same person there two or more days in a row to observe her. A team of people who were supposed to work with me (the parent) never materialized. There was one doctor there, Robert Hilt, who was very discerning and who seemed to “get” Veeka more than anyone else.
The wards were something out of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest;” well, maybe not that bad, but I saw kids there who made Veeka look angelic. Seattle Children’s was supposed to be short-term facility for emergency cases, yet I saw kids who’d been there longer because there was nowhere else to put them. There were some really tragic cases and I felt so bad for everyone involved; the patient staff who had impossible jobs; the violent and lonely kids and of course my daughter, who was getting different meds tried out on her each day. I stayed the nights with her and I was the only parent I saw doing so. Many of the kids appeared to be just left there.
It took a week before I began sending annoyed emails to folks in my church asking for SOMEONE to come visit us. Everyone knew we were at Children’s, but no one came by for 8 days. And then a bunch came at once.

Former Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, about whom I wrote endless blog posts this summer.

We were eventually discharged, but it was clear the stay at Children’s had solved nothing, so Veeka was admitted to a place that offers residential care for kids. There’s a lot of families I know who want to send their kids there as well and who haven’t been able to get in, so we were very fortunate.
But the whole situation is very sad and depressing. I go to this place twice a week for parent/family therapy. Veeka is slowly getting better but is not out of the woods. I’ve been home alone, trying to catch up on projects I never had the time to tend to. I’ve gone on hikes that were impossible to do beforehand, as she couldn’t do the same distances. I attended a reunion (of the Christian fellowship group I was part of at college) that took place at Menucha, a lovely retreat place outside of Portland. I went on a bike ride in the Skagit Valley near LaConner one sunny day; I rented a paddleboard at Lake Sammamish State Park late one afternoon and had the loveliest time splashing about in the lake. I’ve started in an exercise club (very much needed) and sold my 2006 Subaru and acquired my mother’s 2003 Subaru, which had far less miles on it. In terms of religion news, this summer has been insane, as THREE major crises hit the U.S. Catholic church. The first was when the Catholic cardinal of Washington, D.C., was unveiled for being a sex predator; something I’d known about for 10 years but had never been able to write about it. My first post on him came out June 21 and it was about why journalists have been silent about this man for so long. Then I wrote another and another and another … and then the grand jury report came out in Pennsylvania, which was about how several dioceses hid horrible instances of priestly sex abuse. And then a few weeks later, a Vatican archbishop broke ranks with the papacy and published an amazing expose on Cardinal McCarrick (who’s actually been demoted back to archbishop). So I have spent much of my summer covering this stuff and occasionally tipping off other reporters as to how they can find out more information.

With my mom in white seated in the middle, the rest of us grouped around her. From left: Steve, Nancy, Jan, me, Veeka, Rob, Carley, Jed, Lindsey with Madelyn and Wyatt; Jason, Susan, Bill and Kathy

I had to cancel a bunch of things I had planned for the summer, but I will say the smoke from regional forest fires that covered the Pacific Northwest for much of August put a gloom on everything. I hardly did any swimming. So, it was not altogether a bad time to be working on things. It was an odd month. My Aunt Lee died on Aug. 6 near Philadelphia, leaving my 90-year-old mother the sole surviving Hammer daughter (she was one of 6 girls). Fortunately, she’s in good health! And then my cousin Nancy on the Duin side of the family died on Aug. 19 of lung cancer. I’ll not get to attend her funeral in London, but she was only 68 and she leaves behind a son, Alex. A lot of us gathered in May to celebrate my mom turning 90 and I put together a slide show about some of the highlights in her life.
So we are definitely in the midst of an adventure here; not one I would have chosen, nor one that has a clear ending. I sensed things were coming to this point, and that we had to find answers as to what has been ailing Veeka all these years. We don’t have answers by far, so those of you who pray, please do intercede for us.

Graham Kerr in his kitchen in Mt. Vernon

I did get some things published this summer, including an op ed in the Wall Street Journal in mid-July; my second one this year. (My first op ed came out May 3.) Both appeared in “Houses of Worship,” a guest column the Journal runs every Friday. Then there was my
short profile on the famous “Galloping Gourmet” cook Graham Kerr for AARP magazine. I did the research in June and the piece just came out. It was lovely to meet Mr. Kerr, now 84 and living in Mt. Vernon, about 70 miles north of me. AARP sent a photographer and a “groomer” who made sure Graham’s every hair was in place for the photos; which amused him greatly. Then he cooked us the lunch that is featured in the magazine piece. It was heavenly and in a year that’s had some really tough spots in it, that afternoon was like being on a shining hilltop for a few hours.

2 thoughts on “Sunshine Coast and my weird summer

  1. Alan N Hunt, MD

    Menucha is in a beautiful setting–glad it was spared in all the fires……

    So sorry your little idyll was`spoiled by Veeka’s breakdown. Don’y blame yourself, hoping you haven’t.

    Luckily my memories have faded….Had my ex-wife sent to a state hospital, and had a stepchild in drug treatment and then a group residential facility for a few months. I have thought of writing a book. So far only one family ever surpassed our experiences–no one set fire to the house!

    I really ache for you and

  2. Julie

    So sorry to hear about this, Julia. Watching our children be unhappy is about as hard as it gets. Of course I’ll pray for you.

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