One of my favourite people in the world is a guy called Stu.
We met somewhere back in the Doc-Martened recesses of grade 10, circa 1994, in the parking lot or the multi-purpose room or the blue-lockered hallways of Stelly’s Secondary, the exact moment and location either erased or too far embedded in my memory to recall, but the friendship, wherever its beginning bud sprouted, destined to grow full bloom the following year, in a place where a now vague but once vivid artistic dream of mine flourished: Drama Class.
Stu and I were paired up for a two-person play called “Where Have All The Lightning Bugs Gone.” Instead of restricting the class to the use of one room to create our budding works of
art progress, our teacher, Mrs. Pires, let the students spread out to other areas of the school to run lines and block scenes. Stu drove a Toyota Corolla, a used machine he took pride in, enhancing it with incense burning on the dashboard and a mexican blanket that covered the backseat. We’d traipse out to the parking lot, scripts in hand, hop into the Corolla, light up a Du Maurier, and practice lines for an hour, plotting our performance between puffs. I was 16 and had been visualizing my eventual move to New York to fulfill my acting destiny since the sixth grade. Stu had the lead in “Anything Goes” that year; I bombed my audition for the part of Bonnie and wound up singing in the chorus. I still managed to snag the “Best Actress in Grade Eleven” award–probably the result of my attempts at improv and a minor role as a french maid called Eugenie in “A Flea in Her Ear.” The award was the crowning achievement of my performing arts career, which ended as soon as high school did. Luckily I had started squirrelling away my restaurant tips for a post-high school jaunt through Europe, and figured out I wanted be a writer anyway–an equally arduous but ultimately more fitting pursuit.
Stu's Grad, 1995. From Left: Me, Stu, and our friends Candice and Melissa
The friendship stuck. Stu and I shared a love for road trips and nature and night life. We ventured on day-long excursions to Salt Spring Island where we’d roam the forest, admiring the moss growing on the undersides of rocks and carpeting the trunks of cedars that line the coast. We drank pints of draft at bars called The Limit and Rumours and went to raves with names like Frost and Temple–underground parties jammed with electronic music-loving teenagers and twenty-somethings dancing and sweating until daylight. We made a loose plan to one day live in San Francisco, an idea likely sprung from one of our long spells listening to “I Am The Walrus” or “The End” or something sung by Simon and Garfunkel. We loved The Cranberries, too, I remember, the insistent voice of Dolores O’Riordan echoing off the windows of the Corolla as we drove to Island View Beach or Dallas Road or Chemainus, the car and the music floating through Stu’s speakers creating a vacuum from the rest of the world. Everything seemed possible and at the same time increasingly complicated then, the days that followed high school and preceded the rest of life like a fleeting, water-colour mirage.
Now I’m in Korea teaching kids and Stu’s in Victoria, channeling his skills with seeds and bulbs and all things leafy at a sprawling maze of flower life called Butchart Gardens. Every year he travels, has lived in Uruguay, roamed markets in Ethiopia, trekked to the furthest tip of North Western Gujarat to a town called Dwarka. He speaks Spanish and cooks grains with colourful spices and if you are invited to his home, wherever it is, you will likely see tapestries hanging on the walls and smell incense in scents you’ve never smelled and hear music from Africa or India or somewhere else he dreams of going or has already seen, a melody rich with drums and distant chants that makes you want to find a spot on a floor cushion and settle in for the evening.
Since I started Coco Busan a year and a half ago, Stu has been one of its avid followers. He writes enthusiastic comments on my posts like “I am Delighted by this journalism!” or “LOVING the Pics with the Agricultural vibe!” When I stay up too late writing because I want to get a post out, and I wake with one eye refusing to open and my ears already burning with the imminent cries of kindergarten children, then check the blog to see who read the post and if anyone wrote a comment, often Stu’s words will appear, written in the night from Canada, something like: “Nice work, Lovebug. Yet another tear to my eye, after reading your sweet stories.” And the full day of teaching on five or six hours of sleep will be worth it.
A while back, I wrote about Somaemuldo, an island Joe and I visited in July. Stu responded with this: “Loving the photography! I caught glimpses of Flora and I must put in a request to see some portraitures of the biodiversity, especially of some of the textures in the backgrounds of the epic views in Somaemuldo. BIG Hugs!
Since a trip back to Somaemuldo wasn’t in the cards, I knew I had to shoot some close-up nature pics for Stu somewhere else, and soon. So, during our bike ride through the farmland outside Gyeongju, I played around with my Canon’s macro setting, and, with Stu in mind, stopped to peer in closely at the Korean plant life, to note, with my lens, the lines in the petals, the curve and colour of the leaves.
Stu–these are for you.
(I miss you.)