My rating: 7.5/10. I enjoy re-reading up this slight volume of memoirs every few years, and I suspect it will always remain in my permanent collection of British Columbia books. I do wish it were a bit longer; many of the stories stop short, leaving the reader yearning for more. Ruth Loomis doubtless has a fount of knowledge and stories of this area; I would be thrilled to read a longer, more in-depth volume going into more detail. A very personal memoir, this one, and one almost feels as if one were eavesdropping on a private conversation. Well done.
In 1952, young and newly married Ruth Loomis moved with her husband from bustling Seattle to small Pylades Island in the Strait of Georgia, between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia. Here an alternative lifestyle moved from dream to reality. A home and garden were established, two babies born, and the challenges and joys of a life intimately connected with the sea and nature were embraced.
Time moved on, and twenty years later the marriage dissolved and the island was left behind. This was shortly followed by the tragic death of Ruth’s eldest daughter, and, after trying to cope with her multiple sorrows by immersing herself in the busy mainland world, Ruth decided to go back to the island alone.
She lived there until 1985, when she left for the last time. Pylades was sold, and Ruth moved to Vancouver Island. This book is a collection of reminiscences and a loving farewell to the dream and the reality.
A slender volume, only ninety-six pages, but it captures the essence of one woman’s thoughts and feelings about a very unique time and place. Having recently returned from a Vancouver Island visit, and after having leaned on the railings of the ferry crossing the Strait, yearning romantically for a chance to explore those wave-surrounded rocky isles glimpsed all too briefly in the ship’s swift passage, I sought out this book on my return. The smell of sea and cedar seem to waft from its pages, among other evocative aromas.
The Gulf Islands are famous for their free spirits and willing experimenters with various relaxants and hallucinogens, and it is apparent from this memoir that Ruth was no exception; some of the vignettes are very much tinted with a haze of unreality, though most are straightforward stories. There is a strong vein of melancholy and sorrow throughout, though it is balanced by remembrances of joy and healing.
In her Introduction, Ruth says
I survived, discovering that life has a healing balm alongside its searing forces. I needed time, time to feel my past dissolve into the present. That love of now Pylades gave, with its interplay of seasons and sea-life. The fantasy that I controlled my life vanished. I became interested in the essence of creation, slowly realizing I was not separate but part of it. Others occasionally came to this gentle island who needed time too, whether a few hours, days or months which Pylades gave.
The stories follow a chronological path, from 1957 to 1986, allowing brief and vivid glimpses of moments now lost in time. Along with the poignancy and the regrets there is plenty of humour and thoughtful musing. This is a slender little volume, an hour or two’s reading, but the stories stay in one’s head long after the book is put back on the shelf.
The Visitor ~ 1957
Butter Money ~ 1959
Today, Tomorrow and the Brother ~ 1961
Fog ~ 1968
Five Days of Nina ~ 1970
Appointment with God ~ 1974
Squatters ~ 1975
Susanne ~ 1978
Mushrooms and the Renaissance Man ~ 1979
Play with the Dolphin ~ 1980
Eagles ~ 1984
The Last Season ~ 1985
B.C. readers, keep an eye out for this one in secondhand book stores. If you find it, open it up and spend a few minutes in Ruth’s lost world, and perhaps give it a home on your own shelves among other records of our past.
A postscript. We were curious about the eventual fate of Pylades Island, and did a bit of internet research. Pylades was on the market again in 2009, and a lot comprising half of the island, with Ruth’s derelict old home on it, had just sold for something like $2,400,000. I hope Ruth profited to a like degree upon her departure. Here are several picture taken at the time of that sale. Dream away!