Island in the Salish Sea
Island in the Salish Sea
Island in the Salish Sea is another anthology of thoughtful West Coast moments from veteran author McFarlane who also authored Waiting for the Whales (Vol. XXIV, No. 4, September 29, 2017) and Island Santa. (Vol. XIX, No. 16, December 21, 2012)
A young girl narrates the details of a much-anticipated annual trip to spend time with Grandma at her “island cabin on the Salish Sea”*. The lazy routines of enjoying the water and the surrounding landscape are described perfectly.
Every day is a beach day, and every day is different.
Sometimes I build forts out of driftwood tangles or explore the
sandstone caves. Sometimes I search for sea cucumbers and
decorator crabs in the tide pools, or we eat clams and roast
marshmallows around a beach fire.
But every day we swim, even if it rains.
Time unspools with activities such as picking fresh peas from the garden, riding bikes to get ice cream, gathering blackberries for jam. The book is not about plot; it is about mood. There is a reverent tone in the descriptions of watching a First Nations artisan at work or learning about the island long ago.
One day when we are clamming, Gran shows me a midden.
“It’s a way to touch the past.”
I find a piece of bone with sharp edges in the heap of white shells.
Gran looks at it closely. “It’s probably a piece of a harpoon blade.
They hunted seals and whales in these waters.” She tells me to
put it back when I’m finished looking.
This environment is obviously familiar territory for McFarlane as she tells about it in such warm detail. Leslie Redhead captures the loving relationship between a vigorous middle-aged woman and the pigtailed granddaughter who is being taught so much so gently. Soft watercolour illustrations depict the scenes with colour and light. The detail of five juicy blackberries lying alongside gleaming jam jars and a close-up of calcified shells and harpoon head are captivating, but my favourite spread is the one which accompanies the outing to “one of the other islands” to find petroglyphs. Here, two pairs of hands, one pair veined and slightly wrinkled, the other clearly younger, plumper, fill the page as the pair work together to make a rubbing from the rock with soft paper and sticks of charcoal.
Island in the Salish Sea would be a good addition to a public or primary school library collection for a quiet read-aloud as an introduction to summer. It is a fine depiction of British Columbia coastal life, but it also evokes warm feelings of family.
*(The use of the term Salish Sea is a result of the official renaming of waters between the British Columbia mainland and Vancouver Island - the Gulf of Georgia and the Straits of Juan de Fuca - agreed on by the provincial government and First Nations groups in 2010.)
Ellen Heaney is a retired children’s librarian living in Coquitlam, British Columbia.