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November 3, 2020

This place that has my heart

On the day the world begins again
will it be the strongest animal
the swiftest bird
or the tiniest insect
that carries the news to humankind
announces rebirth in a roar
in a squeak or maybe silence?
On the day the world begins again
will luminous light
rise from parting clouds
in unquestionable power
and refract a miraculous prism of colour
while the tallest white pine announces peace
in a sprinkling of communion?

Armand Garnet Ruffo1

For me, one of the first signs of hope for our community is when neighbouring Indigenous-owned Tin Wis Resort removes the gates barring access to its beachfront buildings and to the beach itself. For months, Tofino, BC had been shut down to tourism with only the most essential services available to locals in the early days of the pandemic – groceries, gas, pharmacy, and carefully screened healthcare. While I absolutely love where I live with my dog Okami and we are able to seek solace at Mackenzie Beach via another more meandering route, stir-craziness quickly sets in.

In early June 2020, as BC transitions into Phase 3 reopening, I am invited to be amongst the early guests during that first week when Tin Wis Resort reopens. Only 20 of us in total. Every precaution has been considered to help maintain safe social distancing, minimal contact, and cleanliness. Empty rooms buffer occupied ones, breakfasts are Grab and Go, and streamlined check-in procedures help keep guests and resort staff – all wearing PPE – safe. When Rachel greets me at the front desk with a pink flower playfully tucked into her mask, it sets the tone.

From the moment I arrive at Tin Wis Resort, my two-day locals’ staycation becomes a play-cation. Cocooned in the westernmost building, the sliding glass doors of our pet-friendly ground-floor room open out onto a patio and a front-row seat to the rolling green lawn, grassy dunes, and Mackenzie Beach itself spread out in all its magnificent glory with seasonal low tides.

The Tin Wis Resort from the beach.

As a friend once pointed out, this place – Tin Wis (aka Mackenzie Beach) has my heart.

Tin Wis meaning “calm waters” is the Tla-o-qui-aht name for this protected cove on traditional land once used for whaling. The resort and Tofino itself are located within the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Tribal Parks. Later this week, when Long Beach reopens in the TFN-co-managed Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, visitors will be greeted by a Tribal Parks Guardian along with Park staff and instructed that that their access ends at Incinerator Rock. The neighbouring communities of Esowista and Ty Histanis will remain sequestered to keep the people safe.

Living here, I have learned how important it is to understand that this west coast region is not a wilderness, but a deeply storied place for the Tla-o-qui-aht people.

“Calmer waters” is what the generous Tla-o-qui-aht people offer through Tin Wis Resort at this time when an oasis is especially precious. Staying so close to the ocean resets my circadian inner rhythm so that I breathe deeper and slower, sleep better, and rise at dawn eager to start our day.

On that first early morning as my world begins again, the beach, mirror-slick with the receding near-zero tide (0.2 m), stretches all the way out to the rocky headlands. I walk out barefoot in the sand for this rare opportunity to explore tidal pools tucked into the rock. Okami joyfully bounds up for a better view atop the outcropping. Normally, these headlands are surrounded by waves where paddleboarders and kayakers come out to play. Those dramatic clouds overhead soon give way to blue sky and sunshine.

As we turn back towards the resort, the isthmus of sand seems infinite. The last time I remember the tide being this low was during a Supermoon when I walked out here after a New Year’s fireworks display and bonfire jointly hosted by all the resorts on this beach. So many memories are made here.

When I am not on the beach, the patio is my little paradise: with a Keurig-brewed tea to accompany a book of poetry, really, from my first sip of morning coffee to toasting the rising Strawberry Moon as the stars begin to flicker in the sky. The ocean breeze carries hints of music and laughter, BBQ and bonfires as small groups of friends and families gather after a day of bocce ball and building sandcastles. Okami rests at my feet, content.

For my sociable Shepherd-cross Okami, that patio door is an all-access pass to his favourite playground. In just one day, we visit the beach 7 times to play with his pals, splash in the pool that forms where the tides meet the creek, peek curiously into tidal pools, and follow rainforest trails over to Middle Beach and beyond via the Tonquin Trail extension.

Sunset in Tofino
Paddleboarding at sunset at Mackenzie Beach

That magnetic pull of the ocean and the Roy-Henry-Vickers sunset (in Tofino every sunset is an event) draws us back to the shoreline splashing bare feet and paws in the surf. Grounding ourselves again.

Like the last lone paddleboarder stroking his way languidly towards shore in twilight, I want to make the most of every moment. Now is ephemeral but infinitely powerful.

Okami and I follow the bonfires back towards the resort where I witness a galaxy of stars mirrored across the glass of this oceanside resort where every room overlooks this beach.

Tonight, after my bubble bath in the deep tub, I will drift off to the ocean’s lullaby on a bed that feels like falling asleep on a cloud. As I close my eyes, I will marvel at the way the reflected light from the fireplace appears to shoot stars up across the hearth and onto the ceiling-sky. Noticing everything, Okami will open one eye to gaze at me from his cool spot on the floor next to the patio door, anticipating tomorrow’s adventures.

But first, I will linger a moment longer, here on the beach with my dog, in this place that has my heart.

—Erin Linn McMullan

1“On the Day the World Begins Again”, ndncountry, a joint issue of CVS and prairiefire, 2018.