B.C. author Sylvia Taylor stands with her new book, which takes a look at 24 women from southern Alaska to northern California who work with, in or on the sea. — Courtesy Sylvia Taylor

The mermaids of the Cascadia Coast

Author coming to Parksville to discuss new book on maritime women

Sylvia Taylor’s connection to the sea has been longstanding and important.

It extends from birth, she said, and her first memory: standing in the cold waters of northern England. She said she’s lucky to have never been very far from the sea since.

Having chronicled some of her own adventures on the water (specifically as a deckhand on a salmon troller in B.C.) with her first book, The Fisher Queen, Taylor has recently published her second book, looking at 24 maritime women and their lives in connection with the sea from southern Alaska to Northern California.

Taylor will be holding a talk in Parksville at Mulberry Bush Bookstore on Thursday, Sept. 21, on the book, Beckoned by the Sea: Women at Work on the Cascadia Coast.

Based on research and interviews of the 24 women involved, their accounts are those of boat captains, marine biologists, history keepers, artists and many others.

Among them are nine from Vancouver Island, including Qualicum Beach artist and author Peggy Burkosky.

She thinks of them all as mermaids, she said.

“The mermaid motif, of course, is very ancient… existing for 4,500 years in human history, even into the landlocked parts of the world,” said Taylor.

“I chose that motif… because, to me, mermaids are not evil, divisive creatures. What they are is this powerful, mythological energy that is the bridge between the land and the sea, in the same way that these women that I write about are the bridge between the land and sea.”

It was in discussion with such mermaids that Taylor was first inspired to write the book, she said.

A featured author at the Pacific Rim Arts Society’s Cultural Heritage Festival three years ago, Taylor was quickly the centre of a gathering of women interested in her first book.

“They started sharing stories… about working with the sea in their lives, and every one of them had. And I was so taken by this sight of these incredible, attractive, vibrant, intelligent, fascinating women that had shared this common thread, which is a deep connection of working with the sea.”

“And so I just literally opened my mouth and said, ‘Well, I have an idea. I’m going to go home and I’m going to pitch a book idea to my publisher… and I’m going to write a book about women who are like you — that work with the sea.’”

Now, the upcoming Cultural Heritage Festival, taking place in Tofino and Ucluelet Sept. 23 to Sept. 30, will be celebrating the women of the West Coast and featuring Taylor’s book.

Featuring women from a range of experiences and backgrounds, including First Nations, Taylor splits the book into six categories based on their connection to the sea: harvesters, travellers, teachers, art makers, history keepers and protectors.

When it comes to art makers, like Burkosky, the connection to the water is inspiration.

“I think one of the most powerful inspirations in the world is that which arises from the sea, and its connections… the land and sea are interlocked, like puzzle pieces on the Cascadia Coast. They are inextricable,” said Taylor.

And while the book is about these 24 women, it’s also about this specific coastal area of the world.

Part of Taylor’s goal with the book is an environmental one, striving to let people know, or giving them a greater understanding of the uniqueness and importance of the region.

One of her other goals, of course, is to describe the uniqueness and importance of these women and their contribution to this place.

“If I can illuminate the work that (these women) do in the world, and how they live and their history and culture… I’m honoured to do that,” said Taylor.

Her talk at Mulberry Bush Bookstore in Parksville takes place Thursday, Sept. 21, starting at 7 p.m.

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