6:55 a.m. and I walk onto the ferry. My mother has driven me up the narrow peninsula to the terminal, perched on the tip as an outpost of light in the pitch-dark January morning. The waiting area is subdued. People drink coffee. A calm woman’s voice announces that we may start boarding, and in a weary huddle, we shuffle through the doors. As I cross the tiny metal walkway onto the ferry, I look down to the thin slice of the harbour, swimming with the flickering reflections of streetlights. It’s a long way down. To my right, the cars are impatiently crawling onto the ferry, two levels of traffic-jammed automobiles fighting their way on. Their headlights are bright eyes staring down the walk-on passengers, and I feel as though we’re all fugitives, escaping the island in the pre-dawn darkness.
Vancouver Island is a separate dimension. I leave it at my peril, reluctantly, re-entering the real world with my hands hidden behind my back. Outside the ferry windows the dark forests are sliding by, a film reel that unrolls steadily as we glide past the tangled little islands between Victoria and Vancouver. The sun is rising but there’s no direction to the pale morning light; the mist has diffused it completely, so that you can’t tell which way is east. Banks of tattered fog hang over the islands, fuzzing out the lonely orange pinpricks of dock lights and faint warm window-glows. Everything is silent. The birds are sleeping or muffled, aside from a few seagulls that soar beside the boat without opening their beaks once. The waters are still except for our wake.
I watch the sunrise until I’m too cold, and then go back inside. By the time we clear the Gulf Islands and are cruising through the open strait towards Tsawwassen, the clouds have dissipated and a soft, gorgeous sun illuminates the waters. Layers of rose and lavender flow between sea and sky, and the seagulls fly past continuously. They follow each other to the front of the boat and then tilt their wings to soar up, up, landing on the top deck before beginning the circle again. Why? Just for fun, to feel the wind? There’s nothing to eat, but perhaps they’re waiting for something to appear.
At eight-thirty we dock. The tugboats are puttering around, tending to their oversized charges. I feel my usual thrill at the sight of bright, industrial infrastructure: docks, cranes, backhoes, big metal bridges that can be raised or lowered by an operator perched in a glassed-in tower. Leading away from the ferry terminal is the thin thread of land connecting us to the mainland. The surface of the highway shines in the morning sun. Onwards to Vancouver!
Already, Victoria and the Island are a world away. It’s a new day. My pre-dawn exodus has already faded to the tenuous memory of a dream.