I live on an island, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that there’s a huge beautiful world on the other side of the strait, bustling with people and things and ideas. I know that sounds terribly isolationist. I grew up on the island and so my childhood was defined by water; if we went on a vacation, we had to take a ferry, so boat rides became synonymous with venturing into the great unknown.
When I was a teenager, I knew the farthest I could drive was two hours (either north or south), and then I’d hit water, and if it was after 10:30, no ferries would be running and there’d be no option to go any farther. I had a friend who’d never left the island – ever – and she didn’t exhibit any great desire to leave. Maybe we just knew we couldn’t afford to take the ferry, so we convinced ourselves that the island was enough. Or maybe we liked the sense of security that those ocean boundaries gave us, even if they were an illusion. (When a particular serial killer was stalking Vancouver’s children in the 1980s, I remember some of the adults talking openly about how we were safe here on the island, as if the Georgia Strait was a weird wall with the magical ability to keep out murderers. Not true, of course. Even as a kid, I sensed that was a strange level of bullshit to calm terrified minds. People are so good at lying to themselves, aren’t they?)
When I lived in Vancouver, I shed this sense of borders and boundaries, but not quickly. For a long time after moving to the mainland, I would wake in the middle of the night with thoughts like, “If I got in my car right now and drove east, I could go all the way to New York! Right now!” That sounds silly, now that I’ve written it down, but it’s true. It gradually lessened. Eventually I lost that insular sense of disconnection, and I became part of the larger world without the need to consciously remind myself that I was part of the larger world.
But when I came back to the island, I fell easily and effortlessly into the island mindset again. My environment became clearly bounded. Travelling anywhere becomes a financial consideration and a scheduling hassle — I can not simply pick-up-and-go, but must make sure I can (a) afford the cost of the ferry and (b) work to their timetable. There is a strong sense of who is an islander and who is a mainlander, because mainlanders have a capriciousness to their travel plans that seems so very innocent. They haven’t had to spend 8 hours in a ferry line under a hot August sun with two unhappy children. They do not seem to recognize the importance of packing snacks, juice, and comic books.
That friend who never left the island? She left. I think she lives in the prairies now, where the widest stretch of water is a river you can throw a rock across. I like to imagine she got to the other side of the strait, pointed her truck east, and just kept driving until she ran out of gas. Late at night, I wake and wonder what it must be like, to live in a place where you can see forever, and know that if you wanted to go in any direction, there’s nothing that nature can do to stop you: no cliffs, no ocean, no mountains, no jungles.
Y’know what? I think it’s time for a road trip.