I Think His Name Was John
By Cynthia C
Walking home with a neighbour recently, I learned in casual conversation, that I knew of the kayaker who drowned in Gonzales Bay at the end of January. Until that day he was a news story of the day, an unidentified person. He was not connected to me in any way. My reaction to the news hit me like a sucker punch. I thought about him all evening, and the next day and the day after that.
To be clear, he was not a close friend. In the two years that I have lived in James Bay I had only a few conversations with him. Why was I taking this so hard? Why such a deep feeling of loss?
When I moved here two years ago it was a hard time, a big life change, with a lot of new challenges and different things to get used to. I very quickly established a weekend pattern of a morning walk to the Breakwater. First I walked by this fellow’s house. Eclectic doesn’t come close to describing it. The signs, “Beware of the Cockatiels”, “Schnauzer Crossing”, the rocks and seashells lining the fence, the little woven basket that hung with a different sign every day telling you the herb that was contained in it, and asking to take only what you need, water dish for dogs, natch, and a bench labelled “bullshit corner” always stocked with the local publications.
As I walked down Menzies Street I could often see him in the distance, sitting on the bench, looking to the sea, with his coffee, wearing his trademark sombrero. If he wasn’t there he was down on the beach making his rock sculptures, carefully balancing one rock on top of another to make a tower. At low tide he would build them on a big rock in the water, the tide would wash them down and the next day he would build another one. Unbeknownst to him, I would tell the tourists who stopped to watch his building, all about this artsy neighbourhood guy. I never knew his name.
The last time I saw him, he was ambling home with a bunch of bull kelp. He had made them into the craziest little voodoo looking dolls. The ball of the kelp was the head, with seaweed for hair, shells and rocks were poked in to make facial features and some had little seaweed necklaces. He was putting them on sticks and placing them in his garden boxes. We had a little conversation and some jokes about it as I walked him home. I never saw him again.
I realize that although I never really knew him, he was a constant in my life. He was an interesting neighbourhood fixture that you always thought would be around. I looked forward to seeing what herbs were out, or what he might be creating on any given day down on the beach. It is weird to walk that walk now. Signs of him are disappearing. A lot of the little decorations on the fence are gone, the herb basket no more, and his outline on the bench with the telltale sombrero, never to be seen again.
He wouldn’t have a clue that he ever had an impact on me. Isn’t that the interesting thing of it all and maybe the big lesson to keep in mind. We have no idea of how we can touch others, in so many small ways, every day. James Bay has lost a real character, the kind of person that makes our community so different and vibrant.
I will surely miss him.
I think his name was John.