Early spring visit: Salt Spring Island

This week I scratched the surface of Salt Spring Island. It was my first visit to the popular Salish Sea home for about 10,000 people – many of them artists, musicians, organic farmers, crafts people and independent spirits.

Even on a brief visit, the natural and human-made layers of existence in a place like Salt Spring are apparent. My wife and I were visiting during the early spring ‘off-season.’ The term seems strange. How could a season be “off?”

It refers, of course, to the currently dominant industry on Salt Spring, tourism. By May and through the summer months, thousands of visitors will stream onto the island via its three ferry terminals to soak up the rolling green vistas, sample fresh goat cheese, buy some hand made clothing at the market, or stop at a roadside stand for some organic free range eggs.

The quiet, at the end of February, suited us just fine.

Bald Eagles - one flying, one watching from tree

Bald Eagles – one flying, one watching from tree

At Grandma’s Beach in Ruckle Park, we were the only human visitors, so the Bald Eagles who initially flew out when we walked in eventually returned.

Sitting still in nature reminds us that there is no stillness, no stasis. Life is moving.

Up the coastline a ways we poked around at Beddis Beach. The shore, here, is also a fascinating statement about time and change.

Layers upon layers of activity over time

Layers upon layers of activity over time

Look at the strata in one small space: the water’s edge, fed by a fresh water spring, the crushed-shell shore, a washed up log, the braided roots of a tree grappling to hold on, the layer of soil (again with broken shells embedded in it), some tufts of grass and above all that the stacked split wood of a rail fence.

There are centuries of stories here, in just this one small slice of this gulf island. Old stories and new. 

Salt Spring is a getaway for many, a reprieve. It was for us, on these days, when we came seeking quiet.

Of course, we seekers change the place by our very arrival. Just as with our disruption of the eagles in a small cove, the whole of Salt Spring Island is the story of humans imprinting their needs on nature.

We each think our needs and our views to be unique, or uniquely important.

At Southey Point, I snap this shot of the vibrant colours of an arbutus tree, its bark peeled. It is so very fascinating and new to me. Yet the red swirls of skin on the tree speak to age and the experience of time.

Arbutus tree at Southey Point

Arbutus tree at Southey Point

The Salish people who were here before those of us of European descent used the arbutus bark to treat colds and stomach problems.

In 1947, painter William Percival Weston painted an “Arbutus Shedding Bark” – a work that was featured in a 2011 exhibition at Legacy Art Gallery in Victoria, BC.

Arbutus Shedding Bark, by William Percival Weston, collection of University of Victoria

Arbutus Shedding Bark, by William Percival Weston, collection of University of Victoria

There are more nuances in the bark of a tree than we can absorb.

You can understand why a person, in a place like Salt Spring Island, might just want to sit, observe, and soak up the meanings in this one place.


  1. Anonymous says:

    Having lived on Saltspring for 15 years, I find your comment about “off season” well placed. I am a photographer and shoot every day. I find the “off season” the best for colours, subjects and skies.

    My daily pics can be seen here: http://www.blipfoto.com/wetcoastbob.

    It is good you enjoyed your visit.

  2. Anonymous says:

    For over 20 years we have made our living through art. Visitors see this idyllic laid back life but of course as with any business a lot of hard work is essential. For many the winter season is a time for regeneration, creation and community. We feel quite blessed to make a living from art here. You might enjoy seeing a you tube channel of interviews we have done with local artist. Search for “art lovers getaway”
    Glad you enjoyed your visit.. Duart

  3. Anonymous says:

    Reads as though you’ve been dipping into Annie Dilliard. Nice. dk

  4. Not recently but certainly in the past – thanks much for the flattering comparison.

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