Last year a film was released about my favourite musician, Nick Cave. Entitled 20,000 Days on Earth, the brilliantly conceived movie was part documentary, part fantasy, looking at Cave's supposed 20,000th day on earth. As part of the promotion for the film, Cave mailing list subscribers like myself were sent a link to a calculator with which, simply by entering one's birth date, anyone can see when their 20,000th day on earth is, or was. Upon entering mine I was delighted to learn it had yet to occur, but would be on September 15th, 2015.
I got excited. My health history dictates that I feel very mortal, so I like to approach life in a way that many see as with real gusto. I want to pack in as much life as I can until my time comes, so Susan and I are always off on adventures, having as much fun as we can cram into any given day. Even when simply fetching groceries, we might spontaneously burst into a dance in an aisle. And why not, eh? We're a very long time the other side of the soil. So, when I noted such a milestone as my 20,000th day, my mind went into overdrive as to what to do with it. Firstly, I thought about a big party, but that idea soon grew tired, especially as this year should belong to Susan's 50th birthday, for which we held a big bash at our home in May. Then I thought the best way to go was to spend the day doing things and visiting places, that I had never experienced before. It needn't be anything insane or bucket list-esque, like freefall skydiving or bungee jumping, just a day of fun things.
Inspired by friends showing us some amazing photos of the region, the initial idea was to spend the day exploring the Port Renfrew/Sooke area. Susan and I love to travel locally; this is a big island with a lot to see and do, so we head out there whenever we can. Looking again at the map, it seemed like too much to take on for a single day, so we have shelved that plan for a time when we can stay overnight somewhere and spend at least two days poking about.
Instead, then, we turned our attention the Lake Cowichan area, especially the tiny communities gathered around the banks of the lake itself. It seemed we could easily take in a few places in one day, and be home in time to hurl back a bottle of champers or two.
The day itself, September 15, started with a hearty congratulations from Susan, then breakfast soundtracked, for no particular reason, by Wanda Jackson, then Gene Vincent. We set out in no particular hurry, the car CD pouch full of sing-along pop CDs to keep the mood of the day jolly and spirited. We love singing our heads off on road trips, so selected our road music accordingly.
Turning off Highway 1 onto Highway 18, we headed down to our first destination: Paldi. This is a truly odd little place with a remarkable history, which a little of can be found here. Founded in 1917 by an Indian immigrant named Mayo Singh, Paldi was named for the Punjab village in which Singh grew up, and initially started life as a logging camp under Singh's command. Once a thriving, bustling community, it now consists pretty much of just the Sikh temple that is attended as a place of worship by Sikhs in the region each Sunday. Otherwise, where buildings once stood and people once lived and worked, there is just open scrub. The population of Paldi itself appears to be just TWO, being the temple's caretaker and his wife. When Susan and I approached the temple a tiny wizened Sikh appeared from tending his garden and, initially bewildered as to what I meant by my 20,000th day, offered us a tour. We went straight to the back of the temple, the walls of which were festooned with haphazardly hung historical photographs, documents, Sikhism iconography, Gurmukhi writings and more. It was fascinating, and in broken English the caretaker explained the significance of a few images to us.
Thanking our nonplussed host we made our exit and headed to our next destination, noting a nearby abandoned shack bearing the graffitied legend "Sikh fag" on its exterior wall as we departed. It's nice to see how 'welcomed' these people were locally...
Following a brief stop to visit the fish ladder at Skutz Falls on the Cowichan River, we headed past the town of Lake Cowichan, along the banks of the lake towards the tiny community of Youbou. A former mill town, it is now a quiet village where it would appear not too much goes on but the daily plod of rural life amongst its less than 1,500 residents. There was hardly anyone around, which was a feature of the day in this area. We stopped at the pretty lakeside Arbutus Park, which even though summer had hardly ended and it was a dry day, there was not a soul to be seen in. We walked on the jetty and looked across the lake at the gorgeous surrounding scenery, spoiled only by the inevitable clearcut scarring of logging operations all around us. Such is the way here on Vancouver Island, but having recently visited the Nanaimo Museum to view an exhibition of photography by the brilliant Edward Burtynsky, examining humankind's impact on nature when raiding its resources - which can be ugly, like clearcutting, or actually stunningly enhance landscapes, such as ancient rice paddies - it only served to make me feel melancholy.
Nevertheless, as you can see above, in an image taken from Arbutus Park, the scenery of my island will always inspire me, even if a chunk of forest happens to be missing here and there.
Getting peckish, we headed back down to Lake Cowichan, the town, for a spot of lunch. Having investigated online in advance of our trip, as one would expect in such a small destination it seemed our range of dining options would be limited, but we liked the look of a place called the Cow Café & Cookhouse. It was very good. I opted for the Crab Club and a sleeve of the amber nectar, Susan for a burger in her ongoing quest for the perfect one! This one ranked highly, it seems.
Setting off again we drove up the opposite bank of the lake with a very definite destination in mind. Having only two days prior renewed our wedding vows we thought a stop at the beautifully named Honeymoon Bay was appropriate. We only hoped that its romantic name would be reflected by the beauty of the place in actuality. It seems, however, at least from our brief gander at the place, that it could be struggling. Lots of real estate was up for sale, as was the small marketplace in its entirety, plus several commercial properties in what I must emphasize is a tiny community of only around 600 residents. It was pretty and charming, undoubtedly an attraction for holidaymakers in the summer, but on the surface has perhaps struggled to keep its head above water in the wake of the ongoing economic downturn. I hope I'm wrong, as it exuded friendliness and a rare backwater serenity.
Apart from an attractive mobile home park the focus of Honeymoon Bay was a small beach on the shore of the lake. It was getting blustery and the sky was threatening rain when we parked for a look at the scenery it afforded us from the beach, but was also peaceful and all ours. We just stood and looked out at the icy waters, feeling blessed that such beauty is so accessible to us pretty much whenever we want it.
Leaving Honeymoon Bay we passed back through Mesachie Lake, most notable at least as far as we noticed for the amusing name of the small community sports field:
Back in Lake Cowichan we poked around a few stores, including a staggeringly disorganized, ramshackle odds and ends store, mainly because it had a pile of second hand CDs and DVDs. We picked up a couple of movies but, as can be seen at the top of this post, I also found a copy of the animated 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, so used it for my own personal photographic ends in continuing celebration of the occasion! We also stopped by a lovely art gallery, where I picked up a hand-carved and illustrated paddle, plus a pair of cute cat earrings for Susan.
On the way home along Highway 18, one final surprise lay in store for me on my 20,000th day alive, although because we were on the road, so could not stop, and due to it being totally unexpected, there was no way I could have grabbed the camera to capture the moment.
Having lived here almost nine years we have seen plenty of Vancouver Island's wonderful wildlife, but certain creatures have so far eluded us. Until September 15, one of these was elk, but Susan's sharp eyesight caught movement up ahead at the side of the highway, and lo and behold we passed a group of four or five elk cows. Massive, beautiful beasts, and although the sighting was momentary I shall never forget my first ever sighting of wild elk, which just about topped off the day.
As I say, yet have no need to, we are a long time dead. A very, very long time. Until my time comes I will do all in my power to have as much fun as possible with my beautiful wife at my side. Susan thinks as I do - that life is ridiculously fleeting, so we should live as well as possible during our tenure here on earth - so, we will always make the most of such occasions as my 20,000th day alive. People we've told about this appear to think we're cranky, which is bewildering to me. It's nothing but great fun and celebrating life while I have it. What is cranky about that?
Susan's 20,000th day comes in four years' time and she is already thinking about what to do with it! My guess is that there will be books and knitting involved somehow, but that's just great. It'll be her day, so she can do what the hell she wants and the hope is I'll be right alongside her to enjoy every minute, whatever she ultimately decides to do.
If your 20,000th day, or another such milestone lies ahead, what will YOU do with it?