August 2012. My cousin Liz, her daughter and Bixby the Tofino rescue dog picked me up at the airport in Victoria BC. They were taking me to Tofino for an overnight camping trip—my first visit back to that little town that had taken up lasting real estate in my heart and psyche eighteen years before. I hadn’t stopped thinking about Tofino in all that time.
I remember saying ‘I have to write about this place’ to my cousin as she navigated us through the sharp twists and turns of the Island Highway. There was something about winding up and down the sides of mountains and around the lakes and rivers. There was something about the cedar trees and the ribbons of mists that played through them. There was something about the stretches of sand and all of that West Coast ruggedness. I felt like I needed to somehow find a way to lay down all of those words that wouldn’t come when I tried to articulate what the West Coast meant to me.
That was the day Tofino became a destination for Morgan and Ben in my novel.
We camped overnight at Mackenzie Beach. We went to Shelter for supper. We visited Roy Henry Vickers’ gallery and spent time wandering Wickaninnish—significant for me because of ghosts of Tofino Adventures Past— and Mackenzie beaches before we reluctantly piled into the Subaru and headed back to Victoria.
Before all of that though, we were browsing shops in town, looking at local art, crafts and jewellery. I found it in a shop called Love Craft. I was drawn to it like a magnet. ‘It’ was the necklace with a raindrop-shaped locket and an oxidized bronze sparrow, wings spread in flight on an industrial-looking chain. I remember thinking it was the perfect articulation of the West Coast. I looked at it through the glass in the display case and walked away- several times but found myself drawn back to it again and again until, finally, I asked the woman who was minding the store if I could see it.
“You could put a picture of your mom in the locket,” Liz said as I contemplated the piece around my neck in the mirror. It was August 2012 and my mom had passed three months earlier.
I bought the necklace even though it was unlike any jewellery I owned:
- it was bronze (I only wear silver);
- the charms were small (I only wear chunky pieces); and
- I think lockets are super cheesy …
But the piece would not leave me alone. I had to have it. And so, I handed over $40.00 in exchange for the necklace with the little blue sparrow.
July 2013, I was back for another ‘research’ trip. Tofino was now well established in my narrative, and so was the necklace. I had even written a scene where Morgan goes to Chesterman before leaving Tofino. She looks out at the ocean, puts down tobacco and releases a little pinch of sand in the locket chamber.
By then my West Coast longing—okay, let’s call it what it really was: my West Coast obsession—was firmly cemented due, in large part, to writing and re-writing those Tofino scenes. Tofino became all I could think about. I moved mountains to get there any chance I could.
I arrived that night around 5 pm. My first stop, after checking in to my accommodations, was Chesterman. I decided that I would follow Morgan’s lead and collect a pinch of sand for my locket.
You know the saying – ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’? Yeah. Well … I was so excited to be back there, on the beach, living out the scene from my novel that I forgot tobacco. This is something I’ve been taught – always give thanks when you take something from the earth. I went ahead and put a pinch of sand in my locket anyway. As soon as I did, I felt … uneasy.
And so, it should be no surprise that I lost my necklace when Steve and I went to Lawrencetown for an East Coast beach day when I got home. I took it off to go swimming. Left it on the towel that I shook out without a thought before we left the beach.
We were half way home when I went to play with my sparrow—as was habit—but it wasn’t there.
Steve indulged me and we headed back to the beach. The lovely young man who had taken our spot helped us look. The three of us combed the sand for probably a half hour before we gave up.
My necklace was gone. Found on one coast, lost to the other.
I had worn my little sparrow everyday from the time I bought it, in August 2012 until I lost it to the Atlantic in 2014. It had come to symbolize a lot—the West Coast, Tofino, my novel, my character Morgan, my Mom … I was heartbroken.
After a few months of sporadic on-line searching, I found my necklace again on Etsy. I learned that the jeweller was not, in fact based in Tofino as I had imagined, but in Texas USA. I ordered another necklace. This one has a smaller locket (which balances better with the sparrow) but the sparrow isn’t as blue. You can’t win ‘em all. I was just happy to have my ‘To-fexan’ necklace back.
August 2014—Steve and finally I got to go to Tofino together. The very first thing I did, once we were settled, was go to Chesterman and release tobacco to the Pacific.
2017, and I still wear my sparrow and locket filled with sand everyday.