Within a few miles of crossing the Canadian border my cell phone reception fades. I think to myself that I would like to have at least a few more miles (or kilometers), but instead notice my phone connected to ROGERS, not AT&T. Calls now cost $0.79/minute; I joke to myself that at price I had better have a smile on face at the end of the exchange! Next, I receive a text indicating the data roaming plan: $15.36 per Megabyte. I turn data roaming off, which means no more GPS maps, text messages or internet surfing . . . I am in a foreign country and now completely cut off from the world.
It’s not long before I am patting myself on the back for finding my way to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal (about 45 minutes from the border) without GPS. Even prouder for making it to Cindy and Brendan’s house in Victoria, BC, although it is not without help because I am able to download GPS maps while on the car ferry due to the fact they offer wi-fi. In fact, as soon as I figure out I can connect my iPhone to the boat’s wi-fi, I shoot Cindy an email: “I’m on the boat, be there around 5:30.” I next check my email and turn on my Google Voice account, texting a few friends my “alternate” contact information “just in case there is an emergency and you need to reach me,” noting that I need to be connected to a network in order to receive messages.
Victoria is beautiful and mellow, and Cindy and Brendan’s house reflects that essence. Nestled on a short “dead end” street, they each work out of their home and grow vegetables and flowers in the backyard. The island is one of the only places in Canada where you can grow things year round, so there exist amazing gardens, plants and trees everywhere. I settle in for a week with my friends and take my bike off the roof rack for the second time in 4500 miles. I bike around town and take in the backyards and fresh sea air.
Cindy and I venture to a farm just outside town where we pick blueberries. The abundance is astounding – we spend an hour-and-a-half and return with over 17 pounds of blues. As I pick, I think about how disconnected I am from my food, from the earth. Normally I go to the store and pick out my fruit in plastic or green paper containers. I sometimes know the country from where it came – US, Mexico, Peru – but rarely the location and never the actual farm. Rarely do I actually work with the plant, earth or animal that is feeding me. Not so today, I am actually pulling big, beautiful, ripe berries right from the bush where they grow, popping one or two in my mouth here and there.
Later in the week, we take a hike “up island.” The rocks and land crash into the water in a dramatic and beautiful way. Juniper and sequoia trees cling to the dark rocks projecting shade onto pebble beaches while hearty ocean grasses and vines grow nearby. In the distance, the Washington coastline jets up above the clouds to reveal snow capped mountains. Suddenly I receive text and voice message alerts. I am picking up AT&T signal from the USA! I jump for joy and nearly forget I am hiking with friends. I shoot several picture texts off just to make my friends jealous: “my current location,” I send with a picture. I receive a text back with a picture of my friend on his couch: “my current location,” he responds
It nearly escapes me that the disconnect I feel from the earth is less concerning or alarming than the disconnect I feel when I cannot get a mobile phone signal. I reason that it must be because I have spent a lifetime ‘getting used to’ not being connected to the earth and only a few years with the feeling of disconnect from the network. It makes me think: If people experienced the feeling of disconnect from the earth as intensely as they do when their technology doesn’t work, would we have as much illness, pollution or problems as we see today?