Here is Penny Tomlin's advice for enjoying the perfect evening at her Sahhali-Serenity Bed and Breakfast, perched cliffside above the waters off Vancouver Island: "Well, my dear...
PENDER ISLANDS, B.C. — Here is Penny Tomlin’s advice for enjoying the perfect evening at her Sahhali-Serenity Bed and Breakfast, perched cliffside above the waters off Vancouver Island:
“Well, my dear, first you get a piece of this wonderful chocolate dessert from Pistou (one of a very, very few restaurants on the island). Get the one that’s hard chocolate on the outside and soft on the inside, and get it to go. Then you bring it back here, get yourself a glass of wine — don’t forget to use the large plastic goblet in the cupboard — and you sit in the hot tub and eat it and watch the sunset. Oh, you’ll love it.”
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The view up, down and sideways from her three-suite B&B (plus cabin) on the west side of the Penders (There are, technically, two) is just about two turkey vultures and a few eagles shy of overwhelming.
Do what Tomlin says, because if you don’t, you darned well better have a good reason the next morning for not following her advice.
She’ll ask — as she and her helper Jackie Hull serve you a multicourse breakfast in your room beginning promptly at 9 a.m.
Because she wants you to have a good time — at her place and on North and South Pender Islands, home to more than 2,000 residents and more land-and-sea wildlife than you may have seen, on the loose, in your lifetime. Maybe a couple of lifetimes.
Tomlin certainly has some vested interests for being such a saleswoman.
First, along with husband Wally Skillen, she owns one of the inns competing for your business. But perhaps closer to her promotional heart is the fact that Tomlin’s family first came to the Penders nearly 100 years ago — a very long time ago by modern Pender standards.
“My grandfather came here first. He would row from here [Pender] over to the Turn Point lighthouse on Stuart Island [in the U.S. San Juans] and then, with his friend, row over to Sidney for supplies, and then back,” she relayed, hanging over a glass railing of one of the suites and pointing out the route south and then west to Vancouver Island.
“He was what they used to call a man’s man.” He certainly must have been something — the distance from each island to the next is staggering to the eye of a beholder who classically arrives by motorized ferry. The thought of rowing is stupefying — but then that’s not something to be pondered when your vacation goal on Pender is simply to sit and do nothing.
Pender will oblige.
The two “islands” that make up Pender are classic in their northern Pacific Coast rural islandness. (A small channel that separated the two sections of Pender Island was dredged and widened in 1903 so a ferry could pass through. The pair are connected by a small, single-lane bridge.) Lots of trees, lots of small roads, lots of hidden small homes and farms, lots of not much else.
Instead of shopping malls and all-night convenience, there is one, tiny town center (Driftwood Centre, which, delightfully, has about everything you’ll need, including chatty locals, a great community bulletin board, the island’s only gas station, and, as of a week ago, a roaming peacock that most think escaped from a nearby farm. It had been roaming for several days.
For the most part, though, artists’ havens and storefronts are announced by hand-painted wooden signs and sandwich boards placed at the ends of wooded driveways. You usually can’t see “the store.” The hours? Just watch for an open sign. But never be afraid to venture in.
Most residents will tell you that Penderites generally are a mix of old-timers, a wave of down-to-the-earthers from the 1960s and ’70s, your average joes (Pender’s workers, for the most part) and a late surge of Canadian mainlanders with the money and job flexibility for high island living. Which gives rise to the island’s quirks and variety.
There’s a farmers market at the Pender Island Community Hall each Saturday, which this spring featured everything from enormous heads of lettuce to pamphlets on how to attract snakes to your backyard. There are all kinds of community organizations and events — you can pick up a monthly Pender Post to find out more. There is a booklet of 68 hikes produced by the islands’ Parks Commission; the Pender Island Museum has its own self-guided history tour. There’s little Magic Lake and a golf course and seafood charters. And among the best hamburgers in all of the province are served at The Stand’s tiny, seen-better-days trailer at the ferry landing at Otter Bay.
And let’s not forget the newly opened, obligatory upscale development, this one called Poets Cove Resort and Spa on less-populated South Pender, with cottages, villas, a lodge and the busy marina at Bedwell Harbour.
Mostly, though, the Penders are a place that helps you to remember and rejoice in the land in which you live — or would like to if you are among the unfortunate not to have found a place to settle in the U.S. Pacific Northwest or in British Columbia.
That peacefulness is a bit of what drew Pierre Delacorte to Pender three years ago to open Pistou Grill, his bistro in Driftwood Centre — he of the chocolate dessert. Delacorte traded an executive-chef position in Vancouver’s highly regarded Seasons in the Park restaurant and what he calls a “stressful and never catch up” lifestyle for something like Pender.
Well, not exactly. “I knew I wanted to be in the country,” but he had expected to land on something like Salt Spring Island or the lower mainland’s Fraser Valley. Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, he ended up on Pender.
And frankly, Pender and its guests may be as surprised as Delacorte that he’s there.
“Yes, it is the most common comment that I get,” he says, when confronted with the biased incongruity of something as meticulous and delicious as Pistou on an island like Pender. “I am just doing what I can. I am preparing ordinary food.”
What does he think of Pender? He’d like to see more of it.
He does all the cooking, six days a week, and spends the seventh day shopping for food in Victoria: “I could be in a basement in New York or in the mountains. Because I am solo, I don’t get to see the island. That’s the sad thing, to be in a paradise where the community is so great and the pace is so good. But I’m always at work.”
Which is why you, dear guest, will fare better. Your job, simply, will be to sit, look and eat.
And be informed. At her Sahhali-Serenity retreat, Penny Tomlin continues her lectures on guest comfort, must-sees and island facts. Yes, some islanders who know her say, she can be, ahem, encyclopedic:
“My dear, we are 347 feet up right here where we’re standing (on one of her decks). I got that from a Boeing engineer who brought along one of those tiny measuring things. …
“Oh, the art here. We have just as much good art as any of the other islands …
“Oh, he’s a giver. He’s such a giver — and I’m sure he wouldn’t want you to know about some of the special things he does for his passengers,” she says of an island charter fisherman. There are many more givers on the island, she reports.
And then she’s gone.
“My dear, you must have a little lie down before you go out for dinner.” The door closes, and you’re left with that view.
It’s not an overstatement to say its vastness can seem completely unreal.
But then, the quiet of a late afternoon on the island settles over you.
The cooks are cooking, the artists are arting, the fishers are fishing and the deer (that are everywhere) are munching everything in sight.
You just get to sit — and do nothing.
Terry Tazioli: 206-464-2244 or firstname.lastname@example.org