Going where time doesn’t exist with M. Wylie Blanchet

“Her voice, forty years after her death, is timeless. In the end, I did not want to get off the boat, or let her go.” Timothy Egan, in his introduction to The Curve of Time: The Classic Memoir of a Woman and Her Children Who Explored the Coastal Waters of the Pacific Northwest, by M. Wylie Blanchet

Whidbey IslandIf you want to read this treasure of a memoir you’ll have to do a bit of work. It’s out of print, so I ordered it from a used bookstore listed on Amazon. I love finding small packages on my doorstep from faraway bookstores. Blanchet and her five (FIVE!) children spent many summers on their 25-foot boat, the Caprice, exploring the British Columbia coast. This, after Blanchet’s husband had been lost at sea on the Caprice – only the boat was found. Driftwood

Often, Blanchet followed the route of Captain Vancouver, who explored the waters in 1792. She read a copy of Vancouver’s diary to her children, and they tried to identify landmarks the sea captain had written about.

They followed no particular schedule except for being mindful of tides and weather, stopping when they pleased to explore little islands, hidden coves and beaches, and secluded inlets and bays that often didn’t show up on the map.

“We were very comfortable in the daytime with everything stowed away. The cockpit was covered, and had heavy canvas curtains that fastened down or could be rolled up. There was a folding table whose legs jammed tightly between the two bunks to steady it….We washed our dishes (one plate, one mug each) over the side of the boat; there was a little rope ladder that could be hung over the stern, and we used that when we went swimming.” Whidby Island

Her stories remind me of our many trips over the years rediscovering nature through the eyes of our children. This is the kind of book you’ll want to read aloud with children and grandchildren. Blanchet’s children were amazingly hardy and brave, often finding themselves with their intrepid mother doing things I couldn’t imagine doing with my children: crawling on a log suspended over rapids, exploring Native American burial grounds (in which bodies were “buried” dangling from trees in nets), making their way along a cliff in fog on a slippery, snowy mountaintop.

Few children today will have these kinds of adventures. Much of the wild, pristine country Blanchet wrote about in The Curve of Time has been developed. “I lighted a fire [on the beach] and piled it up with bark…We always carried a rack for broiling fish. Soon they were spluttering and browning over a perfect fire, which I raked over between two flat stones. We built it up with more driftwood…The Northern Lights were edging this way…and that way…across the northern sky – reaching above us – white and elusive, then retreating hurriedly down to the horizon.”

Langley Public Library, Whidby Island All photos were taken on Whidbey Island.

The quotes are from: The Curve of Time: The Classic Memoir of a Woman and Her Children Who Explored the Coastal Waters of the Pacific Northwest, M. Wylie Blanchet, Seal Press, Berkeley, CA, 1968.

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Bald Eagle, Whidby Island

2 responses

    • I was so thrilled to read your review. I found out about the book when I read a column by Timothy Egan. It’s one of my favorites – I can’t imagine having a childhood like that. Thanks for stopping by my blog, I’m so glad to have discovered yours.

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