Adventures in Solitude – Book Review

Grant Lawrence’s first book revisits his years growing up tied, sometimes unwillingly, to the marine park beyond the end of the road – Desolation Sound.

It was the first truly Spring-like day of the year but as I boarded the bus for the long ride home I wasn’t noticing the beautiful weather.

I was feeling mightily stressed. Innumerable assignments, articles and projects were demanding my attention and I was feeling the pressure.

In an act of rebellion against my usual routine I opted to forgo my copy of the Toronto Star for my ride home and instead pulled out Adventures in Solitude and dug in.

Solitude, Grant Lawrence’s first publication, is a unique take on the autobiography.

Lawrence covers all the main points you would expect: his awkward, nerdy childhood; rebellious youth and triumphant self-discovery in adulthood.

What sets this tale apart is the perspective from which it is told.

In Lawrence’s life, all roads lead (across a couple of aging ferries) to Desolation Sound.

Set some 120 km up the British Columbia coast from Vancouver, Desolation Sound Marine Provincial Park is somewhat unique.

When it was formed by the B.C. government in 1973 the land it encompassed included several private cottages and homes. Over the ensuing decades, until other economic causes took priority, the government has bought up what properties they could when they came up for sale. Those that remained have been grandfathered their right to existence in what is otherwise a pristine provincial park.

One of the properties still in private hands belongs to the Lawrences. Unlike most scenic cottage country, being surrounded by provincially-owned parkland the Lawrence cottage and those few others around it will never get another neighbour. The isolation they now enjoy will never be violated.

One small part of the 84 square kilometres of B.C. coastline that is Desolation Sound Provincial Marine Park.

The book starts with the Lawrence’s first miserable camping trip through the frigid Rocky Mountain rains to their newly-bought territory, then utterly devoid of development.

As the years and pages turn, Lawrence tells you in the rough former-rock-and-roller tones so familiar to fans of his CBC Radio shows of the deadly risks and inspirational rewards he escaped from and to in the Sound.

Lawrence’s own growth is paralleled with that of the Sound itself, as told through numerous historical tales of its denizens.

You meet the hermetic Cougar Lady, so named for the dozens of wild cats she killed in her years living on the rugged shore, who rescued the Lawrences from the weather on that ill-fated first trip north.

You’ll feel young Grant’s despair and teenage Grant’s disgust at the Sound in the excerpts from the logs of Captain George Vancouver (for whom the provincial capital is named) as he suffered ever-deepening depression while mapping the Sound’s craggy coves seeking the Northwest Passage.

Finally, Lawrence rediscovers his lost love for the Sound, matching it with the new discoveries of the friends he brings with him seeing the raw, unadulterated beauty for the first time. The perfect, awe-inspiring event to summarise these discoveries happened within hours of their arrival at the end of the road.

‘“F**KING F**K F**K!” Rodger the Dodger screamed, incredulous at the raw nature unfolding around him. The eagle plunged talons-first into the water ten feet away from our mouths agape.’

Whether it’s Russel Letawsky, the “hippie from head-to-knee” in “no-nonsense” hiking boots, or the “lightning bolt of artistic, feminine energy” Handy Candy, you’ll feel yourself escaping along with Lawrence and his friends and neighbours to the land beyond the end of the road.

And so it was I found myself at the end of my own road home, the warm hints of spring wiping away the bitterly, painfully cold memories of winter. The stress and pressure of my schoolwork was long forgotten.

Upon disembarking my bus I tweeted of my own adventures in the solitude enforced by the unwritten ‘no talking’ rules of the public transit system. Lawrence replied to my missive “perfect place to be reading it … #escape.”

Escape is the theme and solitude in the means of attaining it. All of this is perfectly summarised in the quote from theologian Paul Tillich with which Lawrence starts the whole book off.

“Language has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone, and the word solitude to express the glory of being alone.”

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