THE SURROUNDING BLUE

Opening Introduction by Allie Jenkinson
Photo by Paige Brown

I first sensed how landscape affects us while studying writing at the University of Saskatchewan. The books I recall most vividly from that time describe Saskatchewan and Manitoba in a way that was insepearable from their characters. People whose emotions were laid bare to the elements that blew across the prairies, nothing to slow the wind before it shook their windowpanes.

Halfway through my studies I transferred to UVic, and experienced a kind of environmental disturbance. Whereas Saskatchewan felt hardy and undefined, stretching on endlessly, Vancouver Island felt lush and precarious, with the elements pressing down from above instead of coming in sideways. Here, I fell into a new landscape of writing. Ceaseless rain and a vast ocean sat at the heart of what people created here.

But the relationship we have with the Pacific Ocean is not easily defined. The ocean is, above all, a paradox, shaped by our own perspective. Meditation or agitation, a way to make a living or a recreational escape. Something to prove yourself against. Something to shepherd. What else in history has humanity been so calmed by, but also felt the need to conquer?

We are not indifferent to the water—this seems certain. When I spend time next to the sea I feel clarity, or something like it, and rarely wish to be somewhere else. To me, it’s as significant as it is straightforward.

We live on an island consisting of just over 30,000 square kilometres of mountains and forests, off the coast of the second largest country on the planet. Our home is defined by the straits and ocean that surrounds us. Our borders are the tides that wash up on our shores. In this sense, we’re in this together, out here among the waves.