Empty Seats

At this time of year I spend a lot of early mornings on the ferry between Vancouver and Nanaimo. I actually don’t mind the first ferry, getting up early to catch it is a bit painful, but it’s my favourite ferry of the day because it is emptier and quieter than later ferries. Eveyone on board is usually in a little bit of morning fog. Even more so on grey and rainy days.

I like it.

It is a time for thinking, for musing about topics I may not have time for otherwise. I can read the newspaper, prepare for whatever I am doing that day, catch up on news feeds, or browse through friend’s Facebook posts and see what’s what in the world.

In other words, I can be fabulously, wonderfully, antisocial and no one judges me for it.

This morning, Mother Nature is in a foul mood. The rain is pelting down and the sky is like lead. The drive up the Island won’t be pleasant, there will be cross winds and the vehicle will probably be tossed around. The inland Island highway is poorly cambered and the lanes are badly indented; water pools terribly and hydroplaning is always a risk. The highway speed limit is 120, and too many people think they can do that in these conditions. There will be accidents today, cars will go off the highway and into the ditch as if it were snow and ice.

This morning I am in a pensive mood.

A high school friend’s mother passed away the day before yesterday. She was a bright light with a golden laugh. She had a smile for every teenager that walked through the door. The loss of a mother cuts deeply and his loss reminds me of how deeply I still miss my own mother, every single day. I see things in shops that I would have bought for her. I see books and think how much she would like to read them.

Then I remember she is gone.

Driving to the ferry terminal at quarter to six this morning I was listening to CBC Radio.

Gord Downie died.

Canada has lost its poet.

He was 53.

I pull into my lane to wait to board the ferry. It’s 6am.

In the dark of the car I reach for my iPhone and pull up Facebook to post my sadness at Gord’s passing. But before I can, I see another devastating post.

Sally has lost the love of her life.

John & Sally came to our volunteer group from another Squadron. They brought a light and a fire that lifted our Squadron up and carried us along with them. John had a quiet charm, and a wonderful sense of humour, he had that classic twinkle in his eye. He also had a deep respect for the organization and a dedication to its mandate.

John has left us too early and he will be missed.

The drive up was as expected. An accident on the Nanaimo Parkway holds me up for a time. The traffic feels like that of Vancouver. On the highway, the weather and the pooling water toss me around like a toy. I feel the car start to hydroplane and adjust. Then I do it again. And again. And so it goes.

We work our way through the fish as the rain pounds down. The crew is jovial and lifts my spirits a bit. My main purpose here today is to learn two techniques from a guru from the biological station who has come up to work with this particular stock and to teach me some of his voodoo, that and to help out with the work anywhere I can. I take over the disease sampling to free someone up for the otolith and scale sampling.

When that’s finished I leave to stop in at their home hatchery and see how things are going, and also to check in with someone there, someone who has had bad news about a parent. He isn’t in, but I learn a little bit about what’s going on. I feel his pain even though I don’t see him.

I leave to drive partway back down the Island and the trip is no better. The rain is still pouring from the sky and the wind and the pooling water knock me about. I see many places where cars have gone off the road, the grass in the median torn up and muddy skid marks scarring its surface.

Just north of Cook Creek Road an emergency crew directs traffic around a car lying on its side in the middle of the northbound lanes. The roof is crushed and the windows smashed. A few kilometres down the road the ambulance passes going the other direction. It has no lights on, no siren. That makes me sad because it may mean that the driver of the car perished in the single car accident. Did the driver overestimate his or her capabilities in the awful weather? Did they hydroplane while driving too fast for the conditions and lose control, overcompensating for the loss of steering? Or did a deer run out onto the road and startle the driver, sending them out of control.

I look down at my own speed, and I slow down. I’m in no rush, the only place I have to be is my hotel twenty minutes away from here. Maybe I’ll make it thirty minutes away instead.

When I took this photo a couple of weeks ago I had a different thought about how to use it. I had seen it as a metaphor for the end of summer and a return to school.

I used to feel uncomfortable eating dinner in a restaurant by myself, now I enjoy the solitude, particularly when I am in a mood such as this. And at the end of the day, alone and over a glass of wine in a quiet corner of a restaurant in Parksville, I thought about this photo, and I pulled it up again. It seemed to capture my feelings differently after the past few days.

I used to like fall, but in recent years it seems to have become a season of sadness.

Friends are mourning, Canada is mourning.

Today the world feels a little bit emptier.

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