I was supposed to be working, but fled the over-warm house with no plan, ending up, as I often do, at Sahsimi, meaning harpoon, named for the large erratic on the shore – an unwitting forever seal god or “boss of seals” that in Songhees memory Hayls the Transformer made of a disrespectful seal hunter. The place is also named Harling Point, for a dentist (!) who died of the excitement of a dramatic ocean rescue in 1934.
And it is where the oldest Chinese cemetery in Canada lies, the place chosen for its feng shui (wind water) – “a mystical combination of Chinese philosophical, religious, astrological, cosmological, mathematical, and geographical concepts,” Chinese Canadian scholar David Lai writes, “originating in fear of…forces of nature which the ancient Chinese could not explain,” and perhaps in admiration of how nature’s “agents of erosion, wind and water, carve out lofty mountains and hills.”
The souls of the dead hover over their tombs, Lai explains; good feng shui gives them comfort. Sahsimi has topnotch cemetery feng shui: smooth treeless surroundings; no straight lines, which might point at and disturb the dead (the paths wander so naturally, following them is like floating); a water view; a sheltering border of low ridges and mountain ranges; a well-drained slope to the south, which equals life (north, not so much).
The tide was high, a relief after last weekend’s dizzying visit to Botanical Beach (where, facing FOMO panic as tourists oohed across the beach, I’d taken myself by the shoulders: their tidal pool is no more amazing as yours). With that beauty covered up, I could make tracks or, in pedometerist parlance, get my steps in. I hurried along the “complexly folded seafloor volcanic rocks overlain by marine mudstone,”* -- clinging vertically at times, loathe to yield shore rights to the bully mansions.
Finally, my yeah-yeahs out, I slung my backpack onto a rock ledge, and sat. A single crow pecked expertly at tiny somethings I could not see. I even wondered if she was faking it, out of pride or for an excuse to hang out. She was oddly unperturbed by me. Did she know that I feed two crows daily? Had they draped me with some magnetic veil, the way travellers mark a generous house? Or had I learned crowy ways of negotiating space, glancing dartingly to camouflage acute awareness?
A dragonfly tilted and zoomed on the air. The fastest flying insect, a 2021 study also found dragonflies to be the “most agile”, with “exquisite control” over their flight, separate muscles directing their four wings independently. To track their motion, the researchers “dressed” them with tiny magnets.
A Pacific harbour seal raised its blubbery head amid some bull kelp – the fastest-growing plant in the world (neck and neck with bamboo).
The barnacles by my feet were likely chthamalus dalli Pilsbury, which live higher in the intertidal zone than any other barnacle, able to go without water the longest. Barnacles also have the largest penis of all creatures (relatively speaking). The tide had ebbed a little, and I spied a limpet in a pool. Designed to scrape algae from rock for 20 years, the limpet’s tongue is the strongest natural material – stronger than spider silk. The limpet would have wandered grazing during high tide, then followed its mucus trail back to this home spot, where it won’t dry out during low tide. Its shell’s sharp edges have possibly worn in the rock a path to help get her home – called a homescar.
This was a boomerang walk, not a loop, but on the way home, I cut straight a few times, across my undulating path outward, the way a river will remove a meander (and sometimes create an oxbow lake). I thought about superlatives – most, only, -est – and how they help us realize that here too, are the farthest reaches.
But isn’t everything a superlative? My kids laugh at the claim that the totem pole in Beacon Hill Park is the tallest in the world, when they’re only made along our coast. Aren’t you the greatest person right now, at your intersection of longitude and latitude? Can’t we honour each unremarkable blade of grass and dull stone…
Philosophical quibbling is becoming luxury. Heat records, highest ocean temperatures, are being set monthly. It has been said that what we are calling the hottest temperatures today will in 100 years be the coolest temperatures in the past century.
Soon, we won’t have time for a day’s casual amazements, the cricket that seemed to fly but was actually being carried off by a moth, or the preponderance of late-season blackberries, which I ate greedily, having skipped lunch and run out of water. Or, back in “civilization”, the older man exiting Thrifty’s with three large bags of grapes in each hand. I chased after him to get a photo, but he turned too quickly into a dentist’s office. Later, I saw him walking down the street, no sign of the grapes -- instead, he was pushing a baby carriage.
David Lai, A Feng Shui Model as a Location Index
Victoria’s Waterfront Geology: Part 1; Bud Harwick and Gerri McEwen
Lyndsay Dagg, The Influence of Feng Shui on Cemetery Design: A Spatial Analysis of the Chinese Cemetery in Victoria, BC, 2021; UVic thesis
The Haunted House of Harling Point