Tofino profile: Lise Saurette
by Shirley Langer, Tofino
Lise is what you'd call a worker, a person who focuses and goes deep into any matter occupying her attention. She and her significant other, John Wynne, are partners in Sound Cleaning Services. Some jobs, she says, can be pretty dirty, pretty challenging, but she doesn't get ruffled. Lise tells me her personal Zen of cleaning. "I aim to remove all trace of what has gone before. To do that, a cleaner must develop the eye and instincts to see everything from all angles. I love problem solving on difficult jobs."
Lise applies this same focus to her creative endeavours. She is deeply attracted to the natural world, and draws inspiration and ideas from that source. Currently Lise is fashioning jewellery from the shell of the gooseneck barnacle. The preliminary work is painstaking, but once the shell is dry and stable, Lise paints an image reminiscent of ancient aboriginal art on the inside of one plate (how she does it is a trade secret), enhancing some shells with inset stones or beads. Lise recently acquired a good supply of barnacles from an enormous log covered with barnacles that drifted in to Chesterman Beach on a very high tide on a calm sea. It lodged suspended on two rocks in front of Henry Nola's carving shed. Dubbed the gypsy log, barnacles hung thickly by their long necks, the effect resembling a fantastic bead curtain. Lise also makes West Coast Rainsticks, fashioned from dried bull kelp, painted and ornamented. What makes the "rain" sound? Would you believe thousands of delicate sea urchin spines? Lise calls her products Kelptic Art, and hopes to eventually teach the techniques of working with kelp, seaweed and other unique natural materials.
Like so many, Lise is from away, born to a French-Canadian family on a mixed farm thirty miles south of Winnipeg, moving to the city when she was six. The dominant feature of her early life was being one of eleven children. "There was a kid in every grade, and we all came home for lunch every day. Our mother cooked everything from scratch. We were always together, like a tribe. The boys were always wrestling and it was generally so noisy it was impossible to read a book, but we had comic books, which we would pass around. All the kids were involved in musical studies, and we sang constantly, even when we were doing the dishes."
Despite this upbeat childhood, Lise says her adolescence was less happy, and she began dreaming of what life might be like on the west coast. When she was eighteen, she went to Vancouver to visit a brother, and remained there. "I became a hippie, involved in meditation, yoga, the study of herbs." Lise became the partner of a lighthouse keeper, and for the next thirteen years lived a life of isolation at four different lighthouses.
The first posting lasted ten months at Quatsino, south of Cape Scott near Winter Harbour. Lise never once went to town. The next three years were on Pine Island, thirty miles north-west of Port Hardy. Then came six years at Langara, an island off the coast of the Queen Charlottes, and the furthest westerly point in Canada. Lise elaborates about Langara. "It was completely deserted, and there are no predators. Fossils lay in abundance on the beach." Lise shows me one, a bowling-ball-size rock with a fossilized trilobite. "Occasionally researchers would show up, paleontologists and people from shows like The Nature of Things."
The last posting was four years at Estevan. Estevan, she says, felt like Victoria. Working in her garden one day, she was astounded when a group of hikers appeared out of nowhere, among them Tofino women Dorothy Baert, Maureen Fraser, Barbara Campbell, Darlene Choquette, Meg Stewart and Judy Andrews.
During these years, Lise raised her son, Noah, whom she home-schooled five hours daily, and read to at least two hours every day. I was curious to know how Lise adapted to the extreme solitude of those years after living in the midst of her huge and boisterous family. "I took solace in nature," she answers simply. "I became acutely aware of the quality of the air, which seemed to speak to me in colours motivating me to begin experimenting with watercolours. I learned how to make beer and wine using collected rainwater, our only source of water. I had duties such as taking daily water samples for temperature and salinity. And, of course, raising Noah. Having five weeks of annual holidays helped."
Separation from her partner occurred on Estevan, and Lise decided to live in Tofino. "For me, Tofino was the beginning of the road, not the end. Getting settled was hard. I moved eight times in the first year. Eventually my friends told me to let them know when I would be moving next so they could be out of town. I love Tofino as much today as I did when I arrived by helicopter years ago. Tofino is changing, growing up. It feels good."
She and John have been together eight years, and recently John proposed marriage. She proudly shows me an engagement ring, and tells me they are planning a family wedding in Tofino next summer. Neither has been officially hitched before, and with mischief in her eyes, Lise tells me that the word fiasco follows the word fiancee in the dictionary. Obviously she doesn't intend to let that stop the show. I ask John to describe his fiancee in a few words. Without hesitation, he says, "She's multiply talented, amazingly energetic, and has boundless love to share with the world." Sounds like love to me.
Note: Lise Saurette's Kelptic Art can be seen and purchased in Tofino at Reflecting Spirit Gallery, Aveda Salon and Mermaids Tales Bookshop. Her sea-themed watercolours are at Trilogy Fish Store.
Shirley Langer describes herself as a woman about town with a well developed civic consciousness.
Tofino profile of Lise Saurette, who describes her life's journey from Winnipeg to Tofino, with stops as a hippie in Vancouver and her life as a keeper on four different lighthouses.