The Locals

Her voice was vaguely European, not specific to a nationality but housing a general air of condescension.

I had started across the street in need of a weather report and directions to a trailhead that I had very little information about other than what I happened upon on the internet a week back. I checked what wi-fi signals I could pick up and, lo and behold, the name of her particular coffee shop popped up on my screen. I needed a password so I walked across the street, under the “Wi-Fi Here” sign, and into the shop to get something that would grant me access to the information.

It was 4:30, which is a little late for a coffee, but I was not about to spend $4.50 for a vegan muffin. There were books, which seemed a particular kind of hodge podge—tiny homes, permaculture gardening, vegan cooking, how your dog is a mirror into your soul. I looked at a collection of Wendell Berry essays, but decided to get a coffee in the end when I realized I had read several of the essays already.

“How can I help you?”

“I’ll have an Americano.”

“Just hold on, let me help this woman.”

This other woman was buying a book called Street Vegan.

“Are you a true vegan?”

“No. . . I’m an omnivore but I’m interested,” the other woman answered.

I didn’t hear the rest of this conversation, but waited patiently with my phone in hand noting the disappointment on her face as she listened to this woman admitting to such a moral failure.

“How may I help you?” she eventually asked me.

“I’ll have an Americano.”

“Okay.”

“Can I also get the password to your wi-fi?”

“Just wait.”

So I waited again until she finished brewing my Americano (black; the other option with coconut cream) and then I paid ($4.00!), all with my phone in my hand waiting for the password. Once we were all settled, she said, “Okay, the password is ————”

I started to type into my phone, but she interrupted me.

“Could you take your device outside?”

She waved to the outer room where the tables were looking as if to shoo away the poisonous waves coming from my phone. I wandered out to check the weather and then find more information on the trail. A grey-haired man worked on an airbook in the corner.

“Can I help you with anything?” the grey-haired man asked.

“Me?”

“Well, you’re looking at books and checking your phone. Perhaps I can answer any questions.”

“I’m camping at Ruckle Park and am checking the weather to see if we should stay for the rest of the week or go home early.”

“Ah. Sometimes people want to know the ferry schedule and they could just ask someone.”

“Right. I’m also checking my email while I have wi-fi. And am looking for a hike.”

“The best hike is down this road on the First Nations reserve.”

“Oh! I’m glad you said that, because that was the hike I was looking for! I just didn’t know where to find it on the map.”

The woman who sold me the coffee poked her head in the outer room and said, “See, human contact is always better than devices.”

“Yes, but I talked with two of the park rangers at Ruckle and they didn’t know about the hike so I thought it was a secret I stumbled across.”

“Well, you need to talk to the locals; they don’t always hire locals at the park,” the man said.

“How do I get there?”

“You drive down to the end of this road. You’ll pass all these billionaires’ third homes and then the road will end and you should see the trail head there. Great views of the islands.”

“Is it an actual old growth forest?” I asked, “That’s what I read on the website.”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Okay, well I guess I’ll see for myself, anyway.”

I went back to my device because the locals couldn’t answer my emails for me. After a few minutes, when I was done I asked the man, “What was the name of the First Nations band?”

“I don’t know,” he said, not looking up from his work. “The trail is Reginald Hill.”

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An arbutus tree hugging a Douglas Fir

This turned out not to be the case. I found the website that told me about the trail. One  end of the trail begins near the Reginald Hill trailhead, but I didn’t tell him. I also found out that the First Nations band is called the Tsawout nation. They do not live there anymore but have moved to Vancouver Island now. The trail is on the last bit of land they have left in the Gulf Islands, which they use for various celebrations and ceremonies. We hiked it the next day and it became one of our favorite hikes we’ve ever done as a family, with very large trees, a haunting cedar grove, and beautiful beaches. We were grateful that the Tsawout nation allows people to hike on it despite their being displaced. They are no longer locals.

Four days later, while waiting for the ferry, I went back into the cafe for a cup of coffee. My wife wanted to see the place so we all went in but that proved too many people for the back room. Or so those in charge seemed to think. They sent the rest of the family into the front room while I waited to order. As the same European woman brewed my coffee, she asked, “Did you find the hike?”

A little surprised that she remembered me, I answered, “Yes!”

“The one on the coastline?”

“It was wonderful.”

She nodded knowingly and handed me my coffee. “Here you are darling.”

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About azlewis

I'm an academic living in the poorest neighbourhood in Canada. I also teach at a local seminary.
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