When my partner and I moved to the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island five years ago, we were coming from a large, sprawling, polluted, anonymity-driven megalopolis in the global south. It took us (and is arguably on some levels still taking us) time to get used to how things are done on “the island.” This past summer, we decided to do something truly “island-y.” And by that, I mean trusting, community-oriented and (as it turns out) just plain old naïve.
The story begins harmlessly enough with a striking orange, yellow and black ocean kayak reminiscent of a sizzling summer sunset. The boat was purchased by my parents – an item for all the kids and grandkids to enjoy whenever we wanted. With two kids under five, my partner and I wouldn’t have prioritized getting an ocean kayak right now, but with the availability of my parents’ boat it became something we regularly did.
Without hesitation, we’d strap it to the top of my parents’ roof rack and head off on early morning adventures en famille to Spider Lake, haul it along forest paths to Gabriel Lake on Denman Island, and, much closer to home, regularly baptize it in the ocean next to the River Walk in Courtenay.
Oh, how we loved this kayak and the ventures it bestowed! We loved it so much that we decided it would be most used if it lived at our house. And so, it was. The kayak moved from my parents’ garage to our backyard, where it would be regularly hauled a couple of blocks to the ocean shores whenever the tides were high. Every night my partner and I alternate turns: one paddling the waves at sunset, seals bobbing nearby; the other watching for sightings of the little red Pelican from the master bedroom window, filled with a mixture of envy and glee.
One day, upon seeing the preponderance of canoes, boats, kayaks and the like simply left on the shore between uses, we decided that we would do the same. We tucked it up against a big old piece of driftwood where it would wait patiently to be taken out for its nightly dip.
By now, you know where the story is headed. The island isn’t a utopia. Things happen, people walk by, ideas churn and before you know it, I get the phone call just as I’m putting our son to bed.
“You put the kayak back in the same spot?” my partner says in a whisper.
My stomach drops.
“Yes,” I respond dragging out the syllable.
To say we both felt ill would be an understatement. It was a mixture of shame, guilt, stupidity and disappointment all wrapped into tightly knit aches in our bellies. I couldn’t bring myself to tell my parents. Not yet at least. First, we had to scour the shorelines, scan all the nearby forests and, most certainly, return to that big old piece of driftwood night after night. One night we faced the truth. It was truly gone.
By that point, my sadness and guilt turned to anger and revenge. I conjured elaborate images and storylines of who stole it, how they dragged it across the riverwalk at midnight, hauled it onto an old truck and shipped it to the North Island where it would be sold online. I began scouring Facebook Marketplace fuelled by the desire for justice and obsessed with the idea that I would find the precious Pelican and bring it home. Those perpetrators, I promised myself, would be sorry.
In my rampant online searching one day, I stumbled upon a site I never knew existed: Lost, Stolen or Found in the Comox Valley. I immediately typed in my loss, shared a couple of pictures and shrugged the post off as a last desperate attempt.
The post got hugs, hearts, likes and replies. But no kayak. We finally told my parents and ordered not one, but two replacement boats. One for us and one for them. Immediately the guilt subsided. But my disappointment and anger, not so much.
Until one day.
It happened by chance really, as I am rarely on Facebook. But there I was, looking up at a notification on the Lost, Stolen or Found in the Comox Valley page. A woman who lived about 10 minutes south of our house messaged to say a lone kayak had washed up on her property a couple of weeks earlier and while she had posted the notice on a community bulletin board (yes, they do still exist in some communities) someone else who had seen my post had connected her with me. My heart stopped. Could this be true? I messaged her back. Could I see pictures? When did this happen? In what condition was the kayak? Was this all possible?
It was. By happenstance, community connections, chance encounters and a varying tidal current on that particular day, our kayak had taken a solo journey down the ocean and landed on the banks of a retired couple’s home.
When we went to pick up the kayak – en famille, of course – my elation was palpable. I wanted to hug the couple, to hug the kayak, to hug everyone I later saw that day as we took the kayak for another spin out on the water.
“This has restored my faith in humanity,” I boasted, hauling the boat down to the water with renewed vigour.
My Dad tilted his head sideways, peering over his sunglasses. “Maaandy,” he said in a tone bringing me back 40 years.
“At least on the island,” I rushed. “In fact, only on the island.”
Amanda Fortier lives on Vancouver Island.