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Totem poles in Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia

British Columbia Postcard

Travel Reflections by Jonathan Young, May 1997

Dear Fellow Travelers,

Time for more tales of wandering. The sun breaks through as the great white ferry crosses to Vashon Island -- in view of West Seattle but a world apart -- all trees and craggy coast and creative hermits -- like my friends, John and Tara who now have a place right on the water. He's hard at a book on the mythic mysteries of language -- when he's not out on his new kayak becoming one with the currents. I first met her when I was giving a paper for a Festival of Archetypal Psychology at Notre Dame. We all savor endless conversations about the workings of the imagination. Being out on the misty island is a kindly start for this Spring swing through British Columbia to tell stories and see wonders. Had to stop by Bellingham to see the progress on the big church in the forest that Rev. Colleen's congregation has been working on all Winter. I spoke the very first Sunday in the building last Fall. At that time, the walls were still just framing covered with builder's paper. What was an old metal barn is being reborn into a woodside corrugated temple. It is a tribute to vision and an apt metaphor for reclaiming our slightly tattered selves in the service of new callings.

Up in Vancouver, the snow from an extra-severe winter still laces the Grouse Mountain ski area above the city. The white slopes are lit at night like benign glowing mother ships floating above the metropolis. The first event is a reading at a large Chapter's bookstore. The crowd is receptive but for one enormous guy who had been drinking and insists that people like me are responsible for tragedies like Heaven's Gate. What upset him were my comments about the value of spiritual life. Sometimes people who have had bad experiences with religion seem to fear all discussion of the longings of the soul.

Totem birds, British Columbia

By the way, did you hear that they found two more bodies at that Heaven's Gate house? They were overlooked at first because they were down under the kitchen sink -- you know, behind the *Comet*. -Thanks to my sister Mimi for that bit of tasteless mirth.

Back to the report. One of the treats of this trip is that time allowed some exploring to find the haunts of a favorite writer from the thirties. He is one Malcolm Lowry and his masterpiece -- Under the Volcano -- is about the disintegration of a minor British official living in Mexico. In the eighties, John Huston made a strange film of it with Albert Finney and Jacqueline Bisset. Anyway, I had heard that he wrote much of the novel living in a shack at water's edge on the north bank of the bay. That area is now posh suburbs across the bridges from the city. With navigational assistance from my host, Carrie Hunter, we found the site of the writer's shack (which had been partly on poles right in the bay). The structure has long since vanished, and the area is now massive upscale homes, but the view is splendid and the street is now called Lowry Lane. The next day, I found the house where Lowry lived for several years in Vancouver proper. Since he worked on the epic novel for a decade, several sites can be said to be the fertile ground of creation -- including the Normandie Hotel in L.A. where he labored on it for awhile. This hobby of tracking down the places that inspired writers or where they did their best work got started years ago in London reading blue circular historical marker tiles on famous homes. It is stirring to notice that triumphs of the imagination have been achieved in ordinary places near our daily lives. In the morning, the B.C. Ferry threaded its way through the channels between the densely wooded Gulf Islands to get me to Salt Spring Island. The main town is Ganges, named after a ship that used to call there when in from India.

Great Cedar, Stanley Park, 1897

Appropriately, my talk is hosted by the coordinator of an ashram (she can also deliver a wicked impression of a pompous guru fresh from Madras). The next day, a friend takes me to a mountaintop on the island that affords a view of the maze of fjords below. It is quite a dazzle, all greenery and waterways framed by billowing clouds. The central presentation of the tour is a workshop for the Praxis Screenwriting Center at Simon Fraser University. Vancouver has become the third largest film production center on the continent (after L.A. and NYC) and the eager young writers have taken notice. The theme is personal discovery in small films. I show clips of some Canadian movies with modest budgets and point out how psychological development can drive a story. A character learning something important about herself can be as fulfilling for the audience as flashy special effects, and a lot cheaper to film. The best example for the talk is a movie called My American Cousin. It's about a twelve year-old girl growing up in rural Canada in the fifties. Her cousin from Texas shows up in a red Cadillac convertible looking like a young James Dean. She gets a mad crush on him as he chases the older girls. There are many good shots at gross aspects of American culture on the way to the inevitable disappointment that leaves her older and wiser. The film is a jewel in showing illusions at work -- and revealing how not getting what we want can sometimes be the best thing in the end.

The last leg of the trip is inland to the Okanagan Valley where most of Canada's fruit is grown. Towns have names like Summerland and Peachland (the actual setting for My American Cousin). I do an interview on the Okanagan Live television show. The host had read in The Cinderella Complex how awful fairy tales were to suggest that women should wait for Prince Charming to solve all their problems. This provides a great opening for me to explain how these stories are better understood as spiritual allegories and not courtship dramas. If she makes a good connection with her personal angel, the Fairy Godmother, the heroine gets to live in the palace of radiant fulfillment with the beloved of her soul. This is not just some guy, but something closer to allowing the Holy Spirit to become real in one's life. The show is one of those moments where there is a brief chance to take large ideas to a general audience who least expects such content on local TV.

There are more sights and stories but enough for now. It is sunny outside my window here in gracious Santa Barbara and this looks like a good day for a walk on the beach.

Jonathan