The bubble still surrounds this island home of mine. To someone sitting in a Starbucks as city traffic rumbles by creating white noise, the bubble I talk about is utter nonsense. It makes no sense to anyone living ‘off-island’ where the world is in full-swing warts and all. However, to a near life-long islander such as myself this bubble of which I speak is a very real concept. I call it the bubble, but it comes in other names as well. Perhaps the best word for describing the bubble effect is the word, denial. While sitting in a coffee shop on Salt Spring Island with the loud chatter of locals and tourists at tables around my table the bubble is thick. We are safe in our understanding that the outside world, while well and truly existing does not affect our enjoyment of a morning coffee. No insurgence, no car-bombs, no rabble in the streets chanting for us all to rise up. In much of the world that hum of city traffic sending your nerves on extra edge with your double Americano grande deluxe would be the least of your troubles. Ask that limbless kid in Cambodia looking for a meal, or in any country torn by the acts of those living in their own, if nastier versions of the bubble.
We Salt Springers pride ourselves on this lovely island life and our relative safety and distancing from the evils of what lies on the other side of the water. It is artifice and silly to think that the rest of the world, wars, economic tail-spinning, and the acts of limited minded folk can not get to us here. They do, if only in small ways, which the current island economy is beginning to realize. That is when we mutter at the headlines and swig a second cup at Barb’s Buns, or T J Beans, or the Roasters. Then, we islanders do what we do best, go about out daily lives. Concerned with mending that fence that the sheep keep leaping over, or getting crafts or produce ready for this Saturday’s market in the park, or getting up in arms over metal recycling, CRD, Islands Trusts, etc.
On the outer rim of the bubble there is a corner table with an old leaning and rustic looking wooden sign that says, community. It is this place that I try to hang around as much as possible. These are my people, a tribe of sorts. There is a welcome acceptance of each other and that ever-present (us against them) mentality. As the summer season approaches we see less and less of each other around town. Hibernating until the Fall Fair in September, avoiding the crush of visitors as best we can and making stealth runs with sorties to the grocery store at odd hours in hopes for an easy entry and exit to our hide-aways in the woods.
It’s this sense of community that I felt around me in the past few days, and a reminder during two small incidents that none of us, islanders or off-islanders should ever take for granted, that one word, community. A few days ago, a fellow long-term island resident who like many (not me but who am I to judge?) afford the luxury of avoiding the wet season from October to April with a second life down under. No not Australia, but Mexico. Snowbirds of the wet coast relocate a part of the Salt Spring community to warmer climes for the winter months. Sadly, last year one of our tribe was killed at the Mexican vacation home owned by the above mentioned well-known and loved local full-time real estate guy and part-time comedian. Overhearing a short conversation sent back and forth in the busy coffee house about his experience this winter. A somber returning literally to the scene of the crime that occurred during a home invasion resulting in the death of a friend. It was a conversation not told in whispers across a table but across the entire room for all to hear. We all understood his plight and the off-hand remarks about ceremonial smudging with sage that took place a few dozen times to remove any lingering musty bad juju of the murder. We all confessed inwardly to the slightly awkward moment at hearing how he felt uneasy for the first few weeks and the 24-hour party on the date of the attack. Good vibes replacing old bad ones.
Some might ask why he did not attempt to sell the place last year, be rid of the thing and the sad memories of what took place? The bubble.
The second reminder came just this morning as I sat with a friend who was recovering from an assault to him that occurred early this winter on a frozen pond. Arm now out of the sling but the nagging pain and lack of full movement evident from the separated shoulder injury that resulted from the attack. This event was a step outside the bubble by someone disturbed and not of the bubble tribe.
As we talked he realized that though he had arrived on time to get the early breakfast special our chatting had distracted him from the time. It was past 9am, the cut-off time for a cheaper breakfast. At a quarter past nine our server stopped by the table and he commented on missing out. “No you didn’t.” she told him with a smile reserved for known bubble dwellers and regulars, and she took his order for the dairy free version of the special. It arrived minutes later, at special price with a brown paper bag with a toasty treat for his dog a well-known mischievous companion of a Blue Healer. My friend’s breakfast was without toast when it landed in front of him. No matter he said but she informed us that the cook had accidentally buttered it and a new batch had already been ‘put down’ meaning in the toaster. In seconds, a plate of plain toast arrived displayed in an interlocked pin-wheel design that was almost too nice to disturb.
When asked why I stay on this island, why when I have a constant struggle to make ends meet, why? The bubble. That sense of safe belonging and the knowledge that if you are a regular you can actually warp time, get a treat on the house for your dog, have the calm demeanor to tell your tales of loss publicly without concern or personal embarrassment and above all, get your toast served unbuttered and in a pretty display.
Oh, and there is a lack of car bombs here as well.