It is the off-season around here. It is the time of year that is especially frustrating for me as the weather is unforgiving, chilly and unpleasant at least until mid January so getting out for a paddle now and then is less likely. It is called the wet coast for a reason, and tonight it is wet with a hint of winter falling with each drop from the night sky. If it ain’t pouring rain it is blowing everything sideways with gales. Christmas on Salt Spring Island is almost always green instead of white, and well it is usually mud covered. Alas, this is home and though we only experience two seasons, wet and dry I would not want to live anywhere else. This year it is even more bothersome as I have entered the Yukon River Quest in 2016 and need to get into shape, (round is a shape, right). With all that hanging over my head and the rain falling on my cabin roof I can only resign myself to the days that are agreeable and get out running with my head lamp in my pocket just in case, and doing my nightly workout with the resistance band.
It is also that time of year that I read. Reading like cooking relaxes me no end. Catching up on a pile of books both real and of the e-kind that have gathered over the past months with the climax being those rare finds discovered at the island’s annual Big Book Sale. Each year the Farmers Institute building that only a couple of months ago housed flower arrangements, prized tomatoes, baked goods, preserves and other Fall Fair whatnots was filled with tables of books, books and more books last weekend. The timing of the sale is no surprise. Right before the dark gloomy grey days and stormy nights of the west coast wet season when staying in with a good book seems the right thing to do. Each year, I go in with a budget and a short list of titles I hope to find. The budget inevitably fails to that need for the extra one or two or five books over and above the stack I am clutching at the cash desk and needed to survive the winter months.
I have a job and it made me late for the first day of the sale giving me only minutes to browse, hunt, search and destroy before the 4pm closing. After that I was off to the ferry for a weekend in Victoria. This was my only chance to get the damn books. How can anyone be expected to enjoy the experience of book browsing with the clock ticking. So, with the fervour of a game show contestant I ran around the hall. I have the same target zones each year beginning with the cooking section and ending on the opposite side of the building with a long stop in the outdoor adventure and travel bins with a brief stop in classics before I go.
This year it was about finding treasures to give away at Christmas. My own book stacks near toppling and to be honest I could not find a book that caught my attention and even sadder still, all the books available I have already read. Not daunted I went about my mission to find the titles and some I did not even think to find always end up in my pile at the cash counter in the end. I did good this time around and I did manage to find one for myself. My stack will surely topple now with that one added book.
The point of all of this is not complaining about bad weather, my increasingly bigger battle with seasonal affective disorder as the months grow into the deeper regions of winter’s all too long drive to the first crisp mornings of spring. It is not even about mud, the lack of kayaking time, or all the rain. It is that a book, is a gift. It finds its desired owner. One never lends a book, it has to be given as inevitably you will not get it back once it leaves your hands. Well, not always. I met a man who would eventually become a friend on the day he arrived on the island. He was an acquaintance of a mutual friend and we chatted by the dock in town. His connection to me was through this friend who had leant him a book. He wanted to return it. When he told me the title I laughed and said that I had originally given it to her to read over a year ago. He handed it to me saying then it was officially returned! “Did you like it?” I asked. He did indeed.
Now in a round about way I get to the real point, a story I was told this past weekend about another book and the powers of the universe that must be looked at for what they are. I met, rather randomly a friend when I was wandering the streets of Victoria doing some early Christmas shopping. He is the younger brother of a guy I went to school with and we all grew up on the island. It was nice to bump into him though I noticed we had both begun to go grey. We stood in Value Village, I on the hunt for anything that fit me and he for treasures of another kind. We chatted for a time and he confessed to falling on hard times but taking it with a positive attitude and leaning back on a hobby that could potentially pay the bills. Professional treasure hunting. Finding finds no one would look twice at and only to discover the occasional valuable item misplaced or mistaken for not. He took me through his routine and looking in a small magnifier to take a closer look at inscriptions and stamps on the base of cups. He gave me a short lesson in treasure hunting and as he did so told many stories of lucky finds and one about a book that could have held a different path for him if he had only paid closer attention.
Here’s the thing gang, I am an atheist and a proud one at that. I don’t go for it but at the same measure don’t hold it against anyone who does necessarily. All I ask is that they don’t go overboard with the beliefs and hold true to the higher values and avoid reading anything more into the words. To be honest about it all, to not be trite, hypocritical or maddeningly violent. We see everyday the results of that. I stay clear of it all and those reasons are my own. I lay out his disclaimer of sorts because his story of a book leads immediately to the idea that there was a higher power at work during the experience. I leave it for you to decide.
His story is this. Years ago he was on the streets, yes another bout of hard times had befallen him. I judge not as that edge to the abyss it seems we are all only one paycheck away. It was during this time of living rough outside that he found himself outside of the downtown Salvation Army thrift store rummaging through bags of belongings donated after hours and left under the sign stating clearly the hours that donation of goods were accepted. It was after one in the morning as he sifted though boxes and found a big book. A thick, truly heavy and finely leather bound and it was a Bible. See, the what was the first thing that came to your mind at reading that word? Bible, it has a lot of baggage attached making the book even heavier. I admit at this point in the story I thought, oh no here we go. God talk. He swung away from that to continue telling me how he opened what turned out to be a first edition (I quipped that it was written by the man himself) King James Bible.
He was only just learning the treasure game back then but did know what to look for to authenticate the book for what it was and he thought it would be worth a little bit as it was in good shape. He thought about it for a time but in his homeless situation the idea of lugging such a cumbersome object, even for a short time was out of the question. He reluctantly tossed it back into the box from whence it came and when it fell some of the middle pages folded and were permanently creased.
Some time later, he was reading the local paper. Yep, you guessed it. Someone else discovered the find and the Bible sold at auction for a very large sum of money and would have fetched a higher amount if not for the folded pages. In one moment, in that one night his entire situation could have turned around. Even at half the auction price it would have taken him off the streets in one flip of a page. Was something looking out for him? Was the universe giving him a gentle nudge in the right direction. Who is to say. Not me. Random chance, put that Bible in his hands. Laziness took it out of them according to my way of looking at things. Putting the prize in his hands only to watch him toss it away. well if there is a God would that have pissed him off somewhat? Humans, why bother? Is it too late for a second flood? If it keeps raining like this all winter there may be a chance of that.
We live, we learn and sometimes we have to take a second look in that bargain book bin of life before we get it.