Wild Pick, Chapter 15: Farewell

Chapter 14 recap: Linda began to notice major personality changes in her partner Wayne, who became reclusive and a different person from the man she had spent decades building a life with in the wilderness.

In the year 2000, Linda was 47 and Wayne was 56. They had been together for 31 years, although they were never officially married and never had children.

According to Linda, Wayne never wanted kids because he didn’t want to be tied down. Having kids could mean returning to civilization when the kids needed to go to school, and Wayne never wanted to leave their savage farm in Salubrious Bay.

At the turn of the millennium, Linda was living her best years in oyster farming. She had extended their lease in Malaspina Inlet, and from 1998 to 2002 she reportedly spent an average of more than $50,000 a year working alone for a few months on the floats.

Meanwhile, Wayne spent his days at home fixing whatever needed it or walking the dog through their myriad of bush trails. Once, Wayne even tried to tame a wild crow as a pet, which only lasted a few days once he got tired of crow bites.

A byproduct of Linda’s oyster farming success was that their cabin on the hillside of Salubrious Bay now had several modern conveniences, including off-grid solar electricity. Large solar panels in the front of the cabin powered a battery bank that powered just about anything they wanted, including lights, Linda’s computer, and a TV with satellite dish.

Linda would eventually learn to hate both the television and Wayne’s armchair, as he began to spend more and more time taking back medication while watching the Discovery Channel.

Despite living in the wild, they both maintained their medicals as they got older. In 2006, at age 62, his hair now silver, curly and wild as ever, Wayne went to town for a standard prostate exam.

Although he had no symptoms when he came in, Wayne’s PSA test was slightly elevated, so the doctor recommended treatment, which Wayne agreed to.

On his next appointment, the news was much worse: Wayne was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Each treatment seemed to make her cancer come back more aggressively than before. They also noted that the cancer cells had grown beyond the prostate, so surgery was not recommended.

Even though Wayne had been anti-authority all his life, when it came to his health, he was willing to do whatever the doctors told him to do. It was Linda who questioned the recommended procedures.

“Wayne did everything they told him; everything got worse,” Linda said. “He did 40 radiotherapy treatments in a row. He did five different types of chemo. Each time it worked for a little while and then stopped. They finally said they couldn’t offer him any more treatment. But they said they could irradiate his bones, which would help ease the pain.

“At that time, he was still walking in the bush and leading a relatively normal life, but with increasing pain. So here’s what happened: I left the doctor’s office to move the car, and by the time I got back, they had convinced him about bone radiation therapy. He was so excited about the potential for pain relief that I didn’t argue anymore.

Choose your own path

It was April 2012 when Linda finally brought Wayne back to the cabin, but as Linda feared, the bone radiation didn’t have the desired effect.

“When we got home he collapsed,” Linda continued. “And so the discussion was about going to the hospital and being zapped on morphine and getting a few more months or weeks or days or…choosing your own path.”

During bouts of nausea and crippling illnesses no medicine could mask, from his armchair with the Discovery Channel in the background, Wayne sharpened every knife in the house. Then he got up and fixed a kitchen drawer that had been broken for a while. Then he started telling Linda what goods he should give to certain friends.

Then came the early hours of Thursday, April 12, 2012.

“He chose the day,” Linda recalls. “He said he couldn’t take it, so he went back to town and took another type of morphine, but he said it didn’t work. I came down in the middle of the night and he had about 15 of these patches applied all over his back. ‘Let’s go to the hospital,’ I said, but he said no, because he wouldn’t have a choice.

Linda hugged Wayne and as the sun rose over the Bunster Hills they talked about their wild life together, the life they wanted to live, a love affair that spanned 41 years, always on their own terms.

They ate the food they produced in a house they had built from trees in the forest. They have created a lifelong career from the natural resources found on their beach.

They also talked about a trip they had never done, a horseback trip through the Rocky Mountains to Mexico. Wayne told Linda that’s where he would be waiting for her.

Then he told Linda to take the dog, get in the boat and go.

You will read the conclusion of this story in the next final chapter of Wild Pick, the life and adventures of Desolation Sound oyster farmer Linda Syms.

Grant Lawrence is the author of the new book Back to Solitude; he considers Powell River and Desolation Sound his second home. His book and Linda’s two books: salt water rain and Seashell gamesare on sale at Pollen Sweaters in Lund, and Pocket Books and Marine Traders in Powell River.

Carol N. Valencia