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Jedediah days: one woman's island paradise
British Columbia's Jedidiah Island is now a popular marine park, 640 acres of natural splendor tucked in between Texada and Lasqueti islands in the Strait of Georgia. But when Mary Palmer and her husband purchased the island half-a-century ago, they found out it could be a challenging indeed to live in an isolated coastal paradise.

Mary Palmer has had two dreams come true: first, the dream of owning and living on her own island paradise; second, the dream of ensuring the future preservation of the island in its paradisiacal state. The power of dreams has put her book high on the best-seller lists in British Columbia and established Jedediah Island Provincial Marine Park as a mandatory stop for boaters en route to Lasqueti and Texada Islands and Desolation Sound.

As the subtitle indicates, island living constituted one woman's paradise, every woman's - not every man's. The "feeling of strong affinity to this land," which Mary felt on first visiting Jedediah in 1949, was not shared by her husband, and the cost of paradise included the loss of a marriage. The first version of the dream, bringing up her young sons year-round on the island, had to give way to a less idyllic arrangement. But at last, for twenty years, Mary and her second husband, Al Palmer, lived and farmed on their island.

Mary Palmer chronicles the joys of her Jedediah days, and does not hide the challenges, which for most people would have been hardships. A surprisingly large cast of characters enlivened their solitude, and she has enjoyed researching and recording her predecessors on Jedediah, making the book more than a personal history.

As Mary and Al entered their seventies, they faced the impossibility of their continuing to operate a productive farm. Without farm status, they would face the infeasibility of paying the land taxes. So they explored "ways in which we could preserve Jedediah in its pristine condition in perpetuity, without sacrificing its land, native plants, timber, beaches and other unique features. "After several years of intensive lobbying and fund raising by a number of caring people, the provincial government agreed to an all-too-rare partnership with corporate and non-profit organizations. Jedediah Island Park was purchased for $4.2 million, a sum which, while "substantially below market value," might these days be considered yet another dream come true.
-Phyllis Reeve, British Columbia Historical News

Recently I was walking with a ten-year-old down a rainy November road. As we splashed through our umpteenth puddle, she asked if I had ever been to a tropical island. Not to the tropics - to 'a tropical island.’ The very word ‘island’ is evocative of the out-of-the ordinary, of freedom, of a delicious isolation (its Latin root, isola, means ‘island’).

An island is a place where an obvious edge is offered - for misfits, originals, free-thinkers, seekers, the lazy, the industrious. You are here; here is where you are. There is the edge, right there, and beyond it is the sea, and after that everywhere else. Milton Acorn, in his poem "The Island," put it like this:

Since I'm island-born home's as precise
as if a mumbly old carpenter,
shoulder-straps crossed wrong,
laid it out,
refigured to the last three-eighths of shingle.
Nowhere ...
is there a spot not measured by hands;
no direction I couldn't walk
to the wave-lined edge of home.

This clear definition of place also defines community. If you and someone you haven't met are on the same island, then you are not strangers. There are obligations to lend a hand because a person in distress can't just call some anonymous expert. On an island all your best resources will be summoned to use. You become the expert. Because of this lack of anonymous somebody's running things, there's an unpredictability, an unironed quality to the texture of daily life. Of course this can be true of country life in general, but on islands it is magnified. Expect to be surprised.

Three of the books reviewed here are very personal accounts of the time their respective authors spent on particular.

Mary Palmer's Jedidiah Days is the story of her time on Jedediah island, a square mile of forest, meadow, rock, bays, and beaches located between the southeastern ends of Texada and Lasqueti Islands. From 1950 to 1971 she came in the summers when she could and twice lived for longer stretches through the winter. Then in 1972 she and her second husband Al sold their business in Seattle and moved fulltime to the island, where they lived and farmed for twenty years. The Palmers stepped into their new life with spirit, courage, imagination, faith, humour, and gusto. This book is a vivid account of their life in the Strait of Georgia before the arrival of cell phones and a more general affluence. She gets it right: the sounds, the smells, the air, the make-do clothing, the clocking of life by the tides, the rowing everywhere, the complete dependence upon yourself and your resources, and, at the same time, the great sociability when someone pulled into the bay - the ready teapot, the fresh-baked goodies, the willingness to put anyone up for the night.

There was fun in the challenge. Many of the settlers of these isolated places came from backgrounds that could hardly be more different from the bays and necessities of coastal life. Jenny Hughes, a neighbour on Lasqueti Island, is described as "a gentle lady yet able to cope with primitive surroundings and turn adversities into adventures". These words describe Mary Palmer as well. As she puts it, "each day on Jedediah was a treasure" (136).

In 1994 the Palmers, after lengthy negotiations with the provincial government and an active campaign by many public groups, sold Jedediah as a provincial park. The spirit of this transfer was a continuance of the passion and generosity of the best of coastal life so well described by Mary Palmer in this book.
-Sue Wheeler, BC Studies

The Northern Mariner
This autobiographical account of Mary Palmer chronicles her life and times on her island paradise in British Columbia's Strait of Georgia. The story progresses from buying the 640-acre Jedediah Island in 1949 through the Palmers' departure from the island in 1992. It ends with the Palmers' struggle to preserve the island in its natural beauty, culminating in a successftil sale to the provincial government at well below market value and its dedication as a Class A marine park in 1995.

The author and her first husband Ed sold their landscaping business in Seattle and bought the island as a "life style enhancement" after World War II. Their summer trips to Jedediah soon progressed to year-round living. Unfortunately, Ed had to return to Seattle during their first winter of residence on unforeseen business. Mary stayed on the island and educated the boys through correspondence courses for several years. Eventually, she felt that the boys needed their friends and peers and so returned to Seattle. Mary and Ed divorced during these years and, in 1959, she married Al Palmer. They ran a landscaping business and shared a goal of saving enough money to live on Jedediah for a long time. She became Garden Editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Seattle Times. In 1971 they retired to the island until poor health drove them back to civilisation in 1992.

The first half of the book focuses on the struggle for the resources to live on Jedediah year round, leaming the ropes of survival, and the activities of family members and Jedediah Island caretakers. The second half of the book describes their life as year-round residents of the island. The emphasis shifts to the Palmers' involvement with the exploits and foibles of boaters and visits with friends on nearby Lasqueti and Texada Islands.

The author succeeds in keeping the focus of the book on the years in which she owned the island. She chronologically describes her life but treats the reader to the island's past by strategically weaving in some historical tit bits. For example, she observes some goats during a hike and tells her sons that eighteenth-century Spanish explorers kept goats on board for meat and milk and put them ashore on select islands.

Mrs. Palmer gives us a largely first hand account and includes interviews with former residents. Consequently, there is no bibliography. It would be helpful to historians to know if she is recreating her account from memory or relying on a diary. Regardless, Jedediah Days is meticulously written.

To enliven the text the author has strategically inserted eighty-two black-and-white photographs, largely of people. The self-explanatory and thorough captions usually include dates the earliest are from 1906. Mrs. Palmer's expertise as a garden editor is evident in her evocative descriptions. "We hiked over moss covered hills and crept down into a deep valley which was lush with high-growing ferns, salal, reeds and other heavy undergrowth." [51] Her engaging style lures the reader onward through many events such as fishing, boating and raising vegetables which, understandably, recur repeatedly. A few minor improvements could be made in future editions: adding a map showing Jedediah in relation to the coast of North America and making the italic font on the front cover more legible. As there is no mention of who took the photographs, one presumes they are from the author's private collection.
Jedediah Days eloquently describes the joy, peace and beauty of island life. It just as clearly depicts loneliness, danger and the physical and financial struggles required of those who eschew the city and embrace life in the bush. The book is a vivid account of life in the wild for the armchair city dweller and an informative guide for the prospective bushwhacker. Commercial and pleasure boaters who visit the area will, no doubt, derive the greatest benefit from reading it.
-Suzanne Spohn