in praise of coastal time (tofino time)

In Praise of Coastal Time

by Greg Blanchette

the letter 'A'

An old joke claims that Canada tilts down to the left, because everything in the country that’s not rooted to the ground inevitably rolls west. Most of the loose nuts, so the legend goes, end up in British Columbia. Presumably the very loosest keep rolling, right here to the water’s edge in Tofino and Ucluelet.

Folks out here call each other all kinds of names, many of them unflattering, but my favourites are and “Tofucian” and “Uclutian.” I love these words because they sound like “Martian,” and that reminds me that the West Coast really is a different planet.

Out here on the Coast we are not exposed to the full glare of the continent. We are distanced by a ferry, shielded by mountains, quarantined by a notorious goat-track of a highway. It switches up hills and scrambles through rock, turns back in despair several times, vaults triumphantly through a cloudburst, plummets into a fog. The pilgrim is threatened with logging trucks and blind curves, sheer drops and scenery he wants to watch but dares not.

Nobody arrives on the coast easily. And when they do arrive, damp with sweat and breathing hard, they find themselves slowly coming unstuck. What was fixity in their lives now seems to be in flux. Like the weather and the roads, all around them has turned to mist and echo, swirl and curve.

Modern notions, by contrast, travel the straight lines of laser beams and microwaves. They need right angles and sharp edges; they move fast and cannot handle curves. So you can see why the twenty-first century doesn’t get out here much, with its meddling progress and obsessive efficiency.

When you first arrive here from the city, this doesn’t hit you all at once. It takes time to seep in. But eventually you start to notice disturbing things about yourself: that you dawdle more than you used to; that you arrive at places other than planned; that sometimes you stare out over the ocean for minutes on end. And finally, one day, you look at your watch and realize you’re ten minutes late for a meeting and you just don’t care.

That’s when you know you’re on Coastal Time. Over on the other side, time is a rigid commodity — a big trophy buck that Einstein shot 80 years ago, and now hangs mounted and glassy-eyed on his wall. On the Coast, though, time is still fluid. We do not march to Coastal Time so much as we swim it, like a salmon through the Pacific, sniffing out that one, true-smelling stream of our destiny.

Out here on the Coast we have traditions to uphold, imperatives imposed upon us by one transcendent fact of geography: The farther west you go, the later the sun rises. Which means that, in all of Canada, the sun rises here dead last. The indisputable corollary is that we Coast dwellers are the latest risers in the whole country. By the time Tofino rolls out of bed in the morning, Ontario has put in two hour’s work, and most of Newfoundland is already out to lunch. West Coasters are the naturally ordained slackers of the nation.

As a result, Coastal Time is too expansive to be summed up in just one time zone. Out here we need dozens, maybe hundreds. In my small circle alone, for example, we have Jody Time, which consists of just two moments for doing anything: right now, or in three months, after tree-planting season is over.

We have Grant Time, which is as close to random as anything in nature. There’s Robyn & Dave Time, which miraculously runs fast — except when the swell hits two metres, when it stops entirely. And there’s ol’ reliable Barb Standard Time, which runs, depending on weather, about half an hour slow of what your stove clock says.

So it’s a simple matter that when organizing a dinner party, for example, you phone Jody when the rice goes on to boil; you don’t phone Grant at all; you invite Robyn & Dave for 8:00, Barb for 6:30, and the other guests for 7:00. Everybody then trickles in between 7:30 and 9:00, right on time.

Indeed, when the occasional freak event does somehow manage to begin at its appointed hour, it’s a problem. Take the Winter Music Series concert last Christmas: A fine, clear, nearly Arctic night it was, as we pulled up to the Gardens at 7:35 — way early, obviously, for a 7:30 event — only to find audience already in place and musicians setting bow to string. I still recall the Daliesque aura that warped the evening far more clearly than the music itself, and I truly hope the organizers have since come to their senses.

Still, we simply squeezed to our seats and settled in, reflecting smugly that late-comers in Winnipeg would have been shamefully ushered in by flashlight, while those in Montreal would have been left standing in the lobby till intermission.

Out here on the Coast we are safe from this nonsense. If you were supposed to have been somewhere half an hour ago, do not squirm. Finish your coffee. Here you will not be chastised for your dilatory ways, your momentary preoccupations, your very humanity.

Here, we live on Coastal Time.

Greg Blanchette lives in the perilous wilds of “deep south” Tofino (also known as Ucluelet), but his heart drifts north with fondness. This is an excerpt from a longer work.

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Tofino writer Greg Blanchette explains the phenomenon of Coastal Time (Tofino Time) on the West Coast of Canada.

tofino time january 2005

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