Making Friends, or, how I met a Soviet Indigenous healer picking berries on the roadside.

I’m the only person on this island.

I biked to a United Church this morning, hoping to meet some people at the service time I found online. Despite an open door, I was greeted only with a sign saying no services until September and an empty atrium.

Biked around some more.

No one.

Defeated, I now walk down to the barnacle covered beach in front of my house.
No spots to sit because everything is spiky death.

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“I will turn your legs red with tiny pinpricks, blasted human. Don’t even think about sitting here.”

What am I doing on this stupid island all alone.

In Call the Midwife, she talks about all the little girls who had rickets in the early 1900s – they were Vitamin D deficient from living in overcrowded housing and never seeing the sun. I am struck now with the totally unfounded and absurd fear that I too will be Vitamin D deficient, after one day of overcast drizzly rain. I come from one of the sunniest cities in the world after all. And I need strong bones for rock climbing. I must commit to being outside the entire day in this rare sunshine.

Who cares if it’s covered in barnacles. Put your darn sweater down on these rocks and chill the heck out. You need the sun. 

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This is what commitment looks like.

Oh right. It’s beautiful here.

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I watch eagles fish on the shoreline. I admire the sitka spruce, red and yellow cedars.

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Notice the giant eagle chilling waiting for fish in the centre of this photo.

Then I pull out my phone and join Tinder.
I will meet a friend if it kills me.
(It has now been less than 24 hours since I arrived here. Old patterns die hard.)
There are a handful of rad looking people, but after less than one minute of swiping, I have run through all the 18-36 year olds within 60 km. After that is the mainland, so the search must stop.

I go home and make dinner, write for a while, try to keep my insane mind at bay.
WHO EVEN KNOWS I’M HERE. I COULD HAVE A HEART ATTACK AND NOONE WOULD EVEN KNOW.
(There are people that check on the chickens at my house twice a day while the grandmother is away. And she will be home in 3 days. I am fine.)

The map on my wall says the paved road goes a few more kilometres past my house, so I decide to bike out there (with a tshirt on, to get the last of the sun’s rays – gotta get that vitamin D!). There is a beautiful campground near the end of the road.

Deserted, of course. Is this what it’s like to survive a sci-fi movie apocalypse?!

(No, dear. This is Sunday night on a quiet island. This peace is why you came.)

Oh yeah. I keep biking. Wondering what the prolific berries along the roadside are. Can I eat them? As this thought enters my head, an old man ambles out of the bushes. I slow my bike down.

“Excuse me – do you know what these berries are?”

His eyes light up as he turns.

“Yes!!! Lay your bike down there. Come and see.” He opens his wrinkled hands over mine and sun coloured giant berries land in them.

“Salmon berries! Deeeeeelicious! Absolutely phenomenal for jam!”

I pop one in my mouth. The sweet juice spills down my chin, slightly more tart than raspberries. He’s right. Deeeelicious.
“They’re all over the roadside, thousands of them.” I say. “Why aren’t people picking them?”

“Lazy!
I know a girl, she says ‘why do you pick your berries? I just buy them in a carton.’ But you need to experience the plant. See it yourself. Feel it with your hands. Come here, let me show you another plant.”

We cross the road and bend down to examine a long leaf with deep grooves running lengthwise, hiding a deep purple root. “Cures 250 different ailments. TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY! And noone is picking. They take pills. The medicine is right here!”

We pick some and I promise to eat it in a salad so I’ll be strong and healthy.

“Where are you from?” I ask, as he points out different plants along the path.

He laughs from his belly. “How much time do you have?”

Kamil is from the Soviet Union, a native Tatar, originally from Siberia. “We grew up with the medicines. My mother was a famous healer. People who were sick would come from all over to see her, to be healed and to get the plants.”

He asks about my family. I tell him I have 3 brothers, that we all live in the same city as my parents. That makes him very happy. “Are you close with them?” Yes, my brother and father actually built my house for me this year.

He claps his hands in delight. “Oh! That’s very good!” He laughs, “Here sister! Here is your house!” His single tooth bobs. His wrinkles deepen and I see they are mostly laugh lines.

Kamil’s Recipe for Salmon Berry Jam

Fill 1 glass jar with berries. Leave 3 fingers width water at the top. Don’t add sugar or anything! Boil for 90 minutes.

When it’s time later to eat it, open the jar and add some honey. Boiling it with the honey spoils it. But ooooooh it’s good with honey!

Kamil is very upset to learn that I can’t eat salmon when he offers to teach me to dry and can it. “What is wrong with your liver???” He asks a lot of questions about my diet, and is satisfied when I say I eat eggs and yogurt. “Come to my house tomorrow, I’ll teach you to make jam and yogurt.”

Ok, let me get a pen.

“Don’t need a pen. Just use your brain! Go up the paved road, cross a bridge, then you’re 1 km from my house. Pass 3 bears. Then my house is in the trees, 360 degree view of the water! You will see my goat. If I’m having a nap or something, just fight my goat – the noise will wake me up!”

I promise to come and wave goodbye, biking home smiling. As I near my house, I wonder if it’s reckless to go to a house in the woods to see a man I just met on the roadside. As the thought enters my mind, a giant bald eagle swoops right in front of me, wingspan at least 7 feet. She lands in the tree beside me and stares right at me, chirping in sweet sounds I’ve never heard from an eagle. 3 more follow her, singing gently.
Ok. I get it.

See you tomorrow, Kamil.

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