This tale is really about a different type of garden. No vegetables or flowers to speak of. It was a garden for the spirit. It was seven or eight acres of pristine BC Island forest, a five minute walk from the Chemainus RR Station, right behind the local high school.
An eccentric old man, raised by a Buchart head gardener father took refuge here, in a little trailer. With gardening born in his blood he transformed this little patch of second growth wilderness into the most spiritual environment I have ever experienced.
The paths, swept daily led to vistas at every turn. A lightning struck burnt out tree transformed by careful human tampering to a sculpture which spoke of the timelessness of growth and decay.
Stones worn smooth by the river below became low stone walls edging paths and bird baths. A delicate hand cleared a little here, cut a little there, a bench overlooking this bit of ravine, a few ferns moved to form a tapestry of green, edgings of lace. The subtle difference that touched this place was this man’s hand.
Our discovery was by chance, a holiday visit to Thetis Island where we learned much about the subtle changing hues of wild turkey wattles when excited.
A local paper featured an article on the newest development planned for this little town, who collectively decided to become a quaint tourist attraction to stay economically viable. An artist colony that would annex much of this man’s life’s work was next on their agenda.
His only claim to the land was kinship. Our first visit led us to meet him face to face sweeping his paths of newly felled autumn leaves, (we were there for Thanksgiving) and he said he was moving on next week. Implying in his lack of possessiveness that he was merely passing through.
Our race to destruction and unwillingness to appreciate anything with no discernible dollar value leads me to believe the progressive town of Chemainus had their way and colonized that little bit of land for prosperity not content to leave it for posterity.
I don’t know, I’ve never been back, although I have been to the island many times since. I grow cold with thoughts; the experience of defeat would continue life’s lifelong attempt to turn my heart to stone.
I have recently learned that his name was Charlie Abbot. The locals called him ‘The Hermit’.
They did preserve his work and called it ‘The Hermit Trails’.
In 1988 he became the first resident artist of the Artisan Village.
He died April 14th, 1989 at the age of 89.