Although my ancestors hail from an island (Sicily), I grew up on another island (Cyprus) and live on a third island (Prince Edward Island), I have never lived on an island that is only reachable by ferry. Friends that lived on Prince Edward Island before the Confederation Bridge was built have told me about the rite of passage that taking the ferry over to that island was. How watching the reality of the mainland slip away — the brilliantly reflective ripple of the sharp blue Atlantic closing like a curtain in the wake of the ferry, and Prince Edward Island’s surreal red cliffs slowly emerging out of the blinding haze gave the body time to slow down and prepare to embrace the pace and rhythm of the Island.
The only way to get to Salt Spring Island in British Columbia is by boat. My dear friend Ahava and her partner Gregory have made Salt Spring Island home, and for this I will be forever grateful because I doubt I would ever have visited if they had not. Ahava and I joined the slow crawl of vehicles boarding the ferry on a cool late spring evening. The water between BC’s Gulf Islands was inky dark and only slightly rippled. I could sense the depth of the water beneath us, and imagine why whales are drawn to these nutrient rich sheltered channels. The ferry ride only lasts about thirty minutes, but the shift in rhythm begins the instant we propel ourselves away from the dock. Outside, leaning against the car for a better view, I watched the highest points of islands slide past us, rising out of the deep evening shadows like the rounded bellies of sleeping giants. Unexplainably, like the water itself, I had a sense that unlike Prince Edward Island, which seems to be in full bloom, cradled on top of the waves, the secret of the Gulf Islands lies deep beneath the water line. If Prince Edward Island is floating, the Gulf Islands are snorkelling — shoulders just beneath the surface, heads only above water momentarily.
We used the weight of the water behind us to push us into harbour, and joined the slow but steady collective crawl back off the ferry boat and onto the winding road that immediately climbed upwards steeply, curving into the tree covered darkness.
Ahava and Gregory have the good fortune to live on a farm that belongs to friends of theirs. It is half way up a mountain off of a gravel road. To get there you have to meander through farmland and thickly forested areas, through a wide open valley called Cranberry Valley, and then up another steep climb. By the time the car headlights hit the sign reading Butterstone Farm (the photo above was taken the next day) my eyelids were heavy. We coasted down a long driveway. Through the passenger side window I could just barely make out the bodies of two horses in a large pasture. A large wrought iron gate slowly opened in front of us, and Ahava made a large arc and pulled the car up outside her house.
I do not remember much from that first evening. I was exhausted, and fell into the comfy bed that Gregory had kindly made up for me in his office. I do remember lying in bed listening to the creek running outside my window and the branches of trees scratching against the windows and roof.
I was woken by the absence of noise the next morning. City noise, that is. All I could hear was birds chirping, the creek running, and the breeze moving through the trees. I swung my bare legs over the end of the bed, set my feet on the floor and wandered from Gregory’s office that doubles as a guest room into Ahava’s yoga/writing studio. The building that I have now renamed my home away from home used to be a garage. Many, many lifetimes ago. Gregory has completely renovated and restored the building, and it is now a beautiful work and creative space that he and Ahava share. Gregory is a creator of beauty. A builder. An organizer. A designer. A carpenter. A gourmet hot dog seller. A sportman. An incredible cook, and many other things besides. Ahava is also a creator. She creates community, nurtures creativity in everyone around her, and is a talented artist and educator. She is also a dancer, a meditator, a free spirit, an award-winning writer, and a courageous leader in the arts community. Her studio is three walls of light, well-loved wood floors, a custom-designed writing desk that Gregory built for her (that I would kill for) and a giant bookcase to house all of Ahava’s beautiful journals. For an artist of any description, being in her studio is like stepping into heaven. The studio opens out onto a low wooden deck that is built in such a way that it feels like it is literally inviting you down the steps and into the garden.
I spent as much time as I could while at Butterstone Farm wandering barefoot in the garden, writing in my journal and photographing the flowers that seemed to burst out of every bed and tumble over every fence and wall.
When I was not in the garden I was savouring delicious home-cooked meals often prepared by Gregory (the man’s hands are kissed by the culinary gods), read books, took part in some of the writing groups that Ahava facilitates, and enjoyed some of the most enriching conversations I have ever had with friends. I enjoy spending time with both Ahava and Gregory alone. But I also love to spend time with them as a couple because they actively create a spaciousness together in which individual and collective growth, exploration and dialogue is encouraged and nurtured. As a visitor I was invited into their space. To learn with and from them. To question and agree with them. To challenge and be challenged by them. I always leave their company with new ideas spinning in my head; new creative projects I want to begin; new perspectives on tests or challenges I have been unable to get past…I have always appreciated friendships that enrich the good times, but also challenge me to keep growing and pushing myself beyond any limitations I am consciously or unconsciously imposing upon myself. My relationship with Ahava and Gregory is one such friendship.
In the evenings Ahava and Gregory and I sat and talked. If it was cool enough Gregory made a fire. We read books. We talked about our goals and dreams for the year ahead. We encouraged each other. We challenged each other. We questioned each other and helped each other gain greater clarity on the next steps we needed to take to get us where we wanted to go. At night we slept peacefully, and then woke up and did it all again.
For me, being on Butterstone Farm was an opportunity to temporarily step outside of the normal stresses of life and into a much slower, more gentle version of reality. It helped me to slow down and create the type of space that is perfect for nurturing creativity and new ideas.
I was only on Butterstone Farm for a week, but hanging with these two gems for seven days was all I needed to leave feeling 100% rejuvenated and ready for my next adventure. Butterstone Farm is such a peaceful spot that it is tempting to never leave the farm. Although it may not sound like it, Ahava and I actually did actually leave the farm to explore the island, and a number of our adventures included flowers. I will share some of the sweet spots that we visited (that you definitely will want to add to your itinerary if you are on Salt Spring) in my next post.