The last couple of days I've been reading Beyond the Outer Shores, Eric Enno Tamm's biography of Ed Ricketts 'The Pioneering Ecologist Who Inspired John Steinbeck and Joseph Campbell.'
Ricketts spent a summer in Clayoquot, where my story's set, albeit a decade and a half earlier, and this episode is brilliant for insights about the Princess Maquinna, the legendary steamship that serviced the lighthouses, missions, logging camps, canneries and villages of the West Coast of Vancouver Island.
"The Maquinna is an ugly ship [...] with her thin, elongated funnel and her illproportioned bow, she is ugly from any direction in which you look at her [...] she has stolen the hearts of the people, and I doubt if any vessel afloat could be more beloved."
Ricketts, (the barely-disguised 'Doc' in Steinbeck's Cannery Row) spent his Clayoquot summer foraging at low tide for marine life, making a painstaking inventory of the 'good, kind sane little animals' of the shore. I've been using the book to extend my reading list, get a better sense of the huge significance of the pub at Clayoquot (one of only three on the west coast of Vancouver Island at the time), then sitting and staring and eventually drawing out a little more of my own story, which has been so neglected for the last month or so.
The folk are good. Last night I spent some time talking novel (particularly the pure intent of the ones which are never meant to be published, and what a luxury the absence of ambition can be) with Claire Wigfall. Her debut The Loudest Sound and Nothing was published by Faber in 2007 and she's currently the Book Trust's Writer in Residence.
The others are visual artist Chris Evans, James Rigler, a ceramicist, with whom ('with whom'!) I've debated benefits of various courgette species; Olufemi Terry, who won the 2010 Caine Prize for African Writing, currently resident in Berlin, Lina Peterson, a jeweller; Roanne Dods and Frances Priest – this weeks 'Creative Catalysts', who led us astray yesterday to the ruins of St Peter's Seminary in Cardross, just down the road from Hell(ensborough); a vast tangle of graffitied concrete and drifts of shattered glass. It rained and thundered, what Rickett's might have called 'Old Testament Rain'. It looked like the multi-storey carpark in Altrincham Town Centre. The niches in which the trainee priests (we speculate) could pray, dripped. Frances directed us to 'Concrete Britain' when we got back which merges footage of the seminary ruin and the building in use: elegant, bright, airy, modern.
In the evening Roanne opened a discussion about the artist's perception of their place in our culture. It wasn't long before we'd all got hung up on the money, which is always a circular kind of riff. It's a bit of a necessary purge, maybe, to talk about it but I usually feel as if I've been a bit foulmouthed afterwards.
Something new feels possible in the work in this reprieve from habitual life. It's occurred to me that a pessimist consciousness almost can't help but express a pessimist world populated by pessimists, which certainly has never struck me as the prevailing weather in 1930s Tofino, whose country dances Ricketts describes as 'peppy and drunken', despite its hardships.' Whisky crops up a lot, as I believe it did in my grandfather's days as G.P. in Tofino in the 30s.
'"It was at Tofino," a passenger once remembered, "that we realized to our absolute horror that we were running out of Scotch." [...] Ricketts had taken action by "self-consciously" carting a couple cases of beer up the Maquinna's gangway.'
So maybe I should follow Rickett's example when I finally get around to going into Kilcreggan for groceries. Sort of looking forward to getting my hands on the truck, but I'm liking walking the roads and forestry tracks in the immediate vicinity even more. I enjoy the limits of what's walkable. And to be seen there are: bats, dragonflies, newts, swallows, swifts or housemartins (some time I'll learn the difference) a herd of Highland cows that drowse around the pods and cubes, and this morning I found an owl feather, that jumps in your fingers as you draw it down through the air, thick brindles softened by the extra pelt that acts as a silencer.
Still missing the cat though.
(All quotations from Beyond The Outer Shores, Eric Enno Tamm, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 2004)