The Cortes Portraits: Om Beach
I’m late. And I’m scattered.
A cloud of dust billows behind me from the dry gravel road as I pull into Om Beach’s driveway. I know I need to be in the right mindset to photograph (at least to photograph well), but I can’t seem to let go of an argument that consumed my morning. The argument that bled into my time with Om.
Relationships are tricky things. No matter how much you have in common with someone, no matter how much you love them, respect them, and want to share a life with them, sometimes being with another person is a real battle. I’m long past the ignorance of my early twenties, when I thought that “true love” meant never arguing with your partner. I know there is tremendous value in healthy conflict; it expands perspective and confirms core values. But as a photographer it also hijacks my creativity. Which, at the moment, is my bigger problem.
“Hey!” Om says, breaking my internal monologue as he jumps into the car. He is wearing a white t-shirt that proclaims “Free Hugs” across his chest. It’s so Om.
I apologize for being late as we drive the roundabout that encircles Om’s home. We head towards the road. The property belongs to Twincomm, the internet company where Om has worked for the last decade, that provides internet to most of the island. Om has always been good with computers. Like my tech-savvy brother, it’s as if binary code is his second language. When Om dropped out of school at sixteen, he posted an ad on Cortes Island’s community board offering computer repair. His business increased until Dino, Twincomm’s General Manager and System Administrator, offered him a job. For many on the island (myself included) Om’s name is synonymous with functioning internet.
It’s a quick drive to Easter Bluff and we snag the single parking spot at its trailhead. It is a part of Linnea Farm’s protected land covenant. It’s understated entrance makes me feel like Om and I are the first to discover this route. But that’s a far from the truth - this is a well known, well traversed hike on the island.
We begin to make our way along the trail, forest floor underfoot. The sun is already quite high. Its beams cascade between the trees. Walking through the forest, I still feel a little tense, but the earthy smell grounds me to this moment. Om and I pause, taking in the lush beauty of the coastal rainforest.
Like relationships, the route to the bluff starts easy, only to become increasingly more difficult. Large rocks start to jut out into the path. The trail no longer weaves through ferns and firm pathed earth. It becomes a switch-back with moss covered rocks and loose soil. Soon the rocks grow into boulders, encompassing the entire width of the trail. We start to climb with all fours. I stop only to take a precarious photo or two.
The ascent is short.
Within thirty minutes Om and I have made it from my car to the summit of Easter Bluff. It’s brilliantly sunny. We take in the magnificent view as the July heat sinks into our bodies. In the distance, Gunflint Lake is quiet, and deep fresh-water blue. Behind the lake, the salty waters of the Salish Sea reflect cerulean. To the west, we can spot Quadra Island and the snowy peaks of Vancouver Island. Om plays with a grass stalk as he wanders closer to the edge.
My first year on the Island I thought this was where the trail ended. After all, it lead to such a spectacular view. But last summer metalsmith Anna Oschenbein revealed a second viewpoint to me. It was hidden just off to the right. Om and I weave through a patch of slender pines in its direction.
Throughout the hike, Om and I chatted about summer activities, common friends, Apple products, and our mutual obsession with peanut butter. Now, when I ask about work, Om shares a whopper of a secret.
“I’m leaving Twincomm. But it’s not public, so don’t tell anyone...yet.”
As much as Om loves connecting people, he is ready for a change. I don’t blame him, by his count there are only ten driveways on the whole of Cortes Island that he has not driven down. We assume they must not have internet; fundamentalists intent on a simpler life. I’m honoured by his authenticity and promise to keep the news to myself.
The steep incline looks much worse on the way down. I take a slow pace, aware of the gear packed on my back. Om, on the other hand, appears completely comfortable. He veers off the path altogether to clamber up a large douglas fir. I’ve watched him monkey-up trees before (buildings too) to install a satellite dishes. Today, with no signal to negotiate, he smiles the whole time.
We return to my car, and begin to head back toward home. It’s been one of the shortest shoots I’ve done for The Cortes Portraits. I’m not sure if I’m getting better, or if I’m still a bit scattered under the surface after this morning’s argument. I hope it’s not the latter, but the thought of returning home ignites anxiety. I take a deep breath.
We pull up beside Om’s red 1967 Volkswagen Beetle. Like his shirt, the car just feels so “Om.” I’m going to miss seeing that car out on the road. I take my free hug as we say goodbye. We have a few months yet, before Om leaves Cortes Island for good, and we have to offer a longer one.