Cynics in Love…
by Greg Blanchette, Tofino
The Ferret tore a strip through Tofino like a road grader. Not in a crazy, wild-party way — the opposite. But for those of us who knew her, she showed up one spring morning with all her worldly possessions in a small pack on her back and went over town like an f-15 at treetop height.
Even Legal Ari, who lives alone in a trailer with stacks of newspapers dating back to 1972 and who has not been known to pursue a woman since Vander Zalm was in office, was smitten.
Soon Grant the Rant, age 72, was heard referring to the Ferret as "a hopeless bachelor's last hope." He was on the blower to her twice a day suggesting walks, drives, or "just to talk."
I admit it — she got me too. Me, who prides himself on being above such things as animal attraction. Who cherishes a lingering bitterness toward all those popular kids who got invited to their high school prom, and every other social function thereafter. Even I started sniffing around.
Half the weeds, wackos and eccentrics on the coast homed in on her like bees to the season's last bloom.
Not that she was a looker. Legal Ari likes his bazoobies, though he's too much a gentleman to broadcast it, and the Ferret weighed in at about 96 pounds fully dressed, which far as I know is the only way any of us ever saw her. The figure and flexibility of a piece of rope, or maybe a bullwhip.
No, it was the way she talked to you. Really talked, really listened. Getting right to the root of it, whatever it was. Genuine, like — no chit-chat about the weather. Made it feel like the two of you talking about things was a hugely important part of the grand scheme.
All the man action, of course, did not go unnoticed. She quickly acquired a reputation among the harpies in town — the ladies who sharpen their knives across the back fence, if you know what I mean. But that was jealousy talking. Because the weird thing is, it wasn't just men (eligible or otherwise) who took to her. She got along just as well with women. Not all, but the open-hearted ones, the ones who liked to talk rather than gossip — they were drawn to her too.
Above all, she loved the old people. She spent hours in their company, pumping them for their stories, listening to their complaints, as though it were the very thing she had come to town to do. Maybe it was. She didn't seem to have anything else going on — no job, no friends to visit, no overt reason for coming to the coast. The only reason I ever got from her was "to slow down."
She radiated joy, and because of it everybody wanted a piece of her. The volunteer groups around town glommed onto her like zombies onto the last living piece of flesh. They offered her board positions, events to plan. They wanted her to start up meditation groups, healing workshops, martial arts classes.
But the Ferret, for all her seeming compliance, seemed to be armoured in Teflon and stainless steel: Nothing stuck, nothing grabbed hold. She dodged the demands as elegantly as some movie kung fu artist battling the emperor's royal guard. Except she didn't hurt anybody or piss anybody off as she made her rounds, intent on that personal mission she seemed to know well but could never articulate.
People did their best to pull her into the community. They made up jobs and offered them to her. When they heard she was sleeping nights on somebody's couch they created alternatives. An octogenarian living near death on Chesterman Beach asked her to shack up with him (not in those those exact words). A couple offered her a cabin. Another couple offered two months in Fiji, gratis, simply for the pleasure of her company.
She'd tell you these things, laughing uproariously as if they were the greatest joke in Clayoquot — unaware, apparently, that all around her dozens of people, myself included, were sweating bullets trying to procure the housing, the jobs and the friendship that flowed to her so effortlessly. And she'd turn them all down, preferring not to marry herself to any agenda but her own. It was amazing. It was maddening. It was remarkable.
And then she left. Technically it wasn't a surprise — she gave us weeks of notice that she'd be returning to Hamilton to be with her family. But nobody listened. She seemed so natural a part of the community that we assumed without thinking she'd stay.
The day she caught the bus out of town, I didn't go to see her off. I was in a bit of a pet, feeling betrayed and abandoned, so I went down to this cafe where we'd been a few times, having tea on the back deck and watching the world go by.
There to my surprise were three other boyfriends-in-waiting, Legal Ari among them. At one point, we curmudgeons would never have sat together. But this evening they were all at the same table and I drifted over to join them.
I guess we talked — impossible not to in this town — but nothing I remember now. I looked down into the swirl of my café-au-lait. I looked up at the clouds touching the brow of Mt. Colnett. I thought of the Ferret, swaying on the bus at that very moment, looking out at Sproat Lake, maybe, and loving the view, and weeping gently — halfway to Port and halfway gone from our lives.
For the first time I began to grasp that Zen concept of living in the moment, of appreciating the world for what it is, not what it would become at some unspecified time in the future when my plans for perfecting it came to fruition.
I guessed that's what the Ferret was reaching for in her obsession with slow: taking, absolute fullest advantage of what she had right now. It occurred to me that she was living the sanest life I had ever seen — a good life, despite her utter lack of possessions; a full life, despite there being no cause or career she committed to.
It made me realize how few examples I had of how to live well, and how many of how not to live. We learn to admire those who keep many balls in the air — the big achievers, the wealthy business owners, the people who run themselves silly on volunteer committees. The people you never just sit down and be with.
It seemed to us like the Ferret roared through town at a hundred miles an hour and was gone, barely in the act of saying hello. But I saw now that she was standing still, and it was us on the hundred-mile-an-hour treadmill, rushing past too quickly to converse or touch or even look around on our way to the next job, next meeting, next meal, next chore, next rendezvous, next nervous breakdown.
I looked up at the orange light shifting slow and exquisite on Meares Island, and savoured the cold dregs of my coffee, and thought how difficult and lonely it must have been for the Ferret to be the only one standing still, the only one with her feet on the ground.
Greg Blanchette is still reeling in Ucluelet. But now he's searching too. Messages of hope and condolence can be sent to email@example.com.