One woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure. That’s as true for a piece of creative writing as it is for all that stuff stored away in a spare room. What may have, at first, seemed like a useless, trivial bit of in-progress thinking on the page, may, into the future, be the kernel that ignites the spirit for a new piece of writing that will eventually find its voice and sing. It’s not possible to predict how many years might pass in between. It’s not possible to predict which pieces will work their way to the surface again.
Here’s one example. Some time in the mid to late 1990’s, I went away for a three-day weekend to Ruckle Provincial Park on Salt Spring Island. When I arrived at the walk-in campsite later that afternoon, I noticed a sign that said there would be a slideshow and talk in the old Ruckle Barn. The talk would be given by Gwen Ruckle, a descendant of the original homesteader Henry Ruckle. It would be a fantastic opportunity to listen to someone who grew up on this historic piece of property, the oldest farmstead in BC. I was eager to hear this woman’s firsthand account of what it was like growing up on this favourite patch of land on this favourite island of mine.
When it was time, I took the path from the walk-in campsite, the one that leads past Grandma’s Beach off Grandma’s Bay and carried on past the Arbutus and the Garry Oak trees, the rocky outcroppings, the moss on the trees and past the fence of the original Ruckle homestead. I made my way across the field past the creamery and the turkey sheds until I was standing straight in front of the old barn.
The barn’s double-wide doors were open and slices of sunlight shone through its slats to highlight the shades of browns in the dirt floor. Swallows dive-bombed. A float plane may have droned past overhead. I could see that wooden benches had been set up inside the barn. As I was standing there, waiting for others to show up, I noticed a man who was dressed a bit like a cowboy. I vaguely recall a plaid cowboy-type shirt. A black cowboy hat shaded his face and he even had the slightest cowboy swagger in the busyness of setting up in preparation for the audience. There was a big white screen, the kind people used to show home movies on, a little ways into the barn and when it was time for the show to begin, I took my place and the man at the front took off his black cowboy hat.
Much to my surprise, the man was a woman. She introduced herself as Gwen Ruckle and then proceeded to give an engaging talk about growing up on the farm, about working the land, about the orchards and even showed us some of her paintings. Although I’m not positive, I think she even referred to a favourite pet pig. She was a character. I remember being absolutely mesmerized by her stories and by her as a person. When I came back to Vancouver, I wrote my recollections down in great detail. Mary Gwendolyn Ruckle was born November 1, 1931 and died in May 2006.
Now, 20 years later, as I’m getting to the point in the manuscript I’ve been working on related to my mid-life detour to Salt Spring, the part where I’m attempting to write about Ruckle as a person, Ruckle as a touchstone for me, and about working through why this place has come to mean so much to me, I curse myself for throwing out that old piece of writing that I’d originally saved to a floppy disk. Remember those?
When I bought a new computer in 2007, I thought I kept all the pieces of writing that I’d saved to that little hard disk before I transferred the files to my new computer. I never copied that piece. Not in a million years could I envision then, how a description of Gwen Ruckle, from that one evening, would have relevance to me in the future.
When it comes to writing, being a hoarder is a good thing. When it comes to technology, transferring content from outdated forms of storage to current ones is also a tedious necessity. Do as I say, not as I did.