illahie : this place
A falling half-tide lapped our grey pebble beach at first light on a cool June morning when I pushed through the horsetails and crunched down onto the shingle. The nettles had grown a foot since yesterday, and everything smelled green and new. I’d studied through the dark hours; there was nothing more I could do with the Latin vocative or trigonometry. There wasn’t time to drag my boat over the logs to the water. I was sixteen, and it was my last day of high school before the departmental exams.
Above the tideline I made a fire of cedar shavings as the sun bled over the rounded hills of San Juan Island, and on it I burned my school notebooks. The smoke rose and drifted across the dark wall of firs, the red arbutus on the point and the silver water of the cove. Then a dawn wind stirred and layered the fragrant cedar smoke. In a moment it was gone.
My home was on ŚNEU¸EU¸EĆ or Arbutus Cove, south of W̱SI¸NÁĆEṈ or Gordon Head, among small farms, cottages and estates where people lived quiet lives. They had come from around the world—Europe, India, China, the Caribbean—for the beauty of the place.
Ours was not the best canoe beach, and passing boats rarely dropped anchor, though old people pointed out the two twisted fir trees at the north end as a marker for sweetwater springs where sea travellers could resupply. We never forgot that the W̱SÁNEĆ people had been forced from this area by a colonial government. These are the traditional, ancestral and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples.
Long ago I read a mediaeval historian’s regret that knowledge of his people could sink into oblivion and drift away like smoke.