About ten years ago while visiting my sister in Vancouver her and her hubby convinced me to go to a remote island off the coast of Tofino with no electricity or running water except for solar panels in a house that only played opera.
I was skeptical. I'd found myself in various communes and monasteries and remote alternative living situations that ranged from wonderful to nerve-grating in my youth and I wasn't particularily sure I wanted to roll the dice on this trip. The destination wasn't somewhere you could just call for a taxi. I didn't want to get trapped in the middle of nowhere with granola and corn and conspiracy freaks.
She sold me on the idea because she said I'd get used to the opera, it suited the ambiance, she wanted me to see some wilderness like we grew up in on Quadra Island...a sort of revisit of our childhood adventures...and she assured me there would be a glass of red wine served in a bath tub raised over a wood burning fire on the beach to watch the stars.
She also said I'd love the company, especially our host.
I was still skeptical, but hey...the idea of a week or two on the farthest land of the west coast of Canada did kind of appeal to me. She also knew I had a weakness for Tofino.
Four of us hopped into the car and caught the ferry to Nanaimo and just as we pulled off the ferry a CBC biography of Chet Baker began and it set the tone for the following days. We were ecstatic. We happened to be listening to the CBC because two of us were full time reporters and my sister and I had done various stints for the CBC. Loyalty to the Canadian institution which has been good to us all. I don't know why but it took us about four hours to get to Tofino...where we had to scrabble to the grocery and liquor stores and hire a water taxi. We spent something like 600 bucks on food and 400 bucks on booze.
I realized the sober part of the journey was way behind us...Don't even ask me how the four of us managed to carry all the supplies. I can tell you at some point about 45 minutes into grovelling over the rainforest gnarly floor I was creating some world class swearing combinations. I felt I had made a grave choice...I was not interested in adventure any more.
Don't get me wrong the rainforest is gorgeous, but it would have been a lot more beautiful if I hadn't had 200 pounds of vodka and beer on my back. How much could these bloody journalists drink?! I realized I didn't even hardly know my brother in law or his wildly decadent friend, who seemed to be suffering even more than myself hiking on mossy rocks and tree trunks. Who cared if he was some well known international reporter. Shit.
Half knackered we finally arrived at Lyle's house. It was ungodly quiet not even an aria. Inside was the most gorgeous young French man half naked and suddenly...the bitchingly hilarious international reporter and I woke up afresh. We both said "He's MINE!"
I was about to have one of the most fabulous holidays of my life. The host was everything my sister said and more. His name was Lyle and he made me initiate my visit by climbing a ladder and sliding down into some kind of macrame birth canal and then we all drank like Hemingway for the rest of the night. Lyle kept me charmed with stories about Greenpeace and taking acid in an experimental program when he was in med school in Saskatchewan. (I've written here about that LSD experiment as a treatment for mental illness along with vitamin therapy)
Among Lyle's houseguests were two other young men who were planning on buying the property. I was surrounded by my gay peeps and in heaven. Lyle needed the place painted so we all pitched in...his house was built with wood that was flown in from the mainland by helicopter in the 60's or 70's. We caught fish all day and ate them for supper or my sister cooked up other marvelous meals. One evening she dug a pit on the beach and cooked a lamb buried a couple feet under hot rocks. Like butter. We took turns at night sitting in the aforementioned tub under the stars with the Pacific ocean pounding on the stoney beach. The cast iron tub, also flown in by helicopter was so hot we had to have a sheet of plywood protect our bottoms...and it was glorious like sitting on a surf board in a spa. The islands neighbours popped by or we went on small walks to visit them, the one thing everyone had in common aside from nature-loving, was a love of good food and cooking and we all took turns impressing and feeding each other.
Lyle was a member of a commune that lived on Long Beach back in the day. When the B.C. government wanted to preserve the area as a National Park, they had to negotiate with these pranksters and so offered them an entire island as compensation for kicking them off what is now called Pacific Rim National Park. Can you imagine that there were areas of Canada that were so wild and available as recently as the 70's? It breaks my heart and amazes me and where Lyle had his house is one of the last great places in Canada.
Lyle was an incredible host and conversationalist and he turned me on to opera. When I was rummaging around his place I found a box of acrylic paints and some brushes. He said he wanted to try to paint in his retirement and he hadn't but I could go ahead and use some. I carried the box down to the beach and painted on empty food boxes all day. He was the kind of person you read about but rarely actually get to meet in life. A free spirit, a gay man who lived out of the closet years before Stonewall he loved people and interesting people were intensely attracted to him, and he didn't suffer fools. I also felt a huge kinship with him because he seemed to love my bro-in-law so much and my sister and he had a seasoned delight her cooking.
I was very sad tonight when my sister e-mailed me about his passing away, and I am grateful to have met such an amazing person even for such a short time. I feel bad for my sister and brother in law. Lyle was huge inspiration to them both especially when my brother in law was a young journalist starting out: He was a kind of metaphysical uncle to him.
Lyle was an inspiration to a lot of people and his reputation as a real life "character" seemed to be international. Remember that young French man? He had showed up at Lyle's the week before from France with a scrap of paper bearing a faint map drawn on how to find Lyle's remote cliff hanging house. Someone in France told him if he was ever in Canada he had to get to Lyle's place. He just showed up and Lyle put him to work repairing odds and ends.
I realize I have written perhaps too much about someone I didn't know for a long time or as dearly as a close friend...but I feel as if such a rare soul demands extra appreciation.
Thank you Lyle and I hope the spirits in the sky turned up the opera and had the party favours in full supply for your safe passage.
Here is an obituary from a Vancouver paper:
Greenpeace Founder Lyle Thurston dead
Dr. Lyle Thurston dies in hospital Tuesday. He was 70
Published: Thursday, March 27, 2008
Dr. Lyle Thurston, a founding member of Greenpeace, has died. He was 70.
Thurston was among the motley band of protesters who sailed from Vancouver on the Phyllis Cormack to a remote island off Alaska to protest against U.S. nuclear testing in 1971. Thurston was the ship's doctor.
For years Thurston lived in a North Vancouver commune with other environmentally conscious residents, among them lawyer Dave Gibbons, Dr. Myron McDonald and his wife Bobbie, all of whom played pivotal roles in the development of Greenpeace.
He later joined the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in several campaigns, including sailing to Washington in 1998 to save grey whales from a native hunt.
A pharmacist and physician, he sat on the board of the Window Pane Society, a Vancouver organization that helped young people beat their drug habits.
Thurston died in Victoria's Royal Jubilee Hospital on Tuesday after battling emphysema and a chest infection.
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1972, Greenpeace Visits The Pope