My two nieces and my son exploring the Cowichan River at Vimy just before the leech incident. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)

Sarah Simpson Column: Family visit after COVID brought out the leeches

It's not what you think

After what seemed like eternity, the conditions were finally right for me to see members of my family from the Mainland again for the first time in more than a year.

Specifically, we recently hosted my 14-year-old niece.

You may remember this particular niece from a column about a bug on my windshield I wrote two years ago.

In that story, I wrote about her not giving up during the 200m final of a regional elementary school track and field race.

“She went into the turn fifth of seven equally gawky sixth graders, arms flailing side to side and form not yet mastered,” I wrote in May of 2019, when my niece was 12. “My niece hustled around the turn, passing three runners to hit home stretch in second. But the leader was a half dozen strides ahead. Through sheer determination, my niece caught up and then surpassed the front-runner in the last few metres to eke out the victory.”

I was so proud.

Thanks to COVID-19, I hadn’t physically seen my niece for more than a year and in that time she’d grown up out of the gawkiness and now, at 14, stands much taller than me. Able to ride the ferry alone, she hopped on and the kids and I, excitedly, picked her up at Duke Point.

What followed was 10 days of exhaustion and I couldn’t be happier about it, even though it’s taken us a full week to recover.

She arrived on the morning of July 1 and we were back in Duncan by 11 a.m. to meet Timber. My niece fell in love with our oddball kitten and quickly learned why we call him Mr. Bite.

We then witnessed members of Cowichan Tribes and their guests marking the day with a community event that, instead of commemorating Canada Day, provided a time to get together after months apart and reflect on some of the tragic injustices inflicted on Canada’s Indigenous people.

My niece had never seen the Tzinquaw dancers before and I did my best to explain to all of the children why this July 1 was different than the ones before.

Because she’d already been with us a few hours and wasn’t yet as tired as me, we had no other choice but to exhaust her. What followed was day after day of go-go-go, starting that very afternoon with a hike up to the swing on Mount Baldy.

The next day was Transfer Beach and, of course, the Old Town Bakery for cinnamon buns. The day after that we spent floating, for our first time ever, down the mighty Cowichan River.

Gawky tween no more. My niece has morphed into a strong competitive swimmer and is a lifeguard in training. (She’s also one of the top soccer goalies of her age in the province… and yes I will brag) so the timing felt right to take our littles for a float with the extra “grown up” around for support.

We had a blast. She caught a crawdad in her hat, which the kids thought was fantastic, and my husband and I reveled in the fact that neither of our children wanted to ride in our tubes because their cousin was way cooler than us.

The weekend continued in a similar fashion: non-stop. We geocached, got ice cream, went to my dad’s for dinner, rode bikes, played at the river, went fishing, and did all of the things.

I thought I was still young and fit and energetic but let me tell you, I fell into bed on the Sunday night and slept 11 hours.

Annoyed her big sister was having all the fun, my 12-year-old niece hitched a ride to the Island and before long I had not one niece but two and as you’d expect, we did it all again. We went fishing, played in the ocean, hung out with my dad (their grandpa) and more.

Wanting to show my younger niece the same good time my older niece had been having, we packed up the tubes and headed for the river at Vimy. Instead of playing where we usually do, and floating the 100m down the easy part of the river over and over again, we opted to walk up the rocky bank as far as my little kids would let us and hop on the tubes from there for a longer ride. It wasn’t the three-hour tour that we did from Lake Cowichan earlier in the week but it would show my younger niece a hint of the fun we’d had without her.

Things did not go smoothly.

As soon as we hopped in the tubes, we drifted to the foliage-clad far side of the riverbank and right into a branch that was covered in baby leeches.

They were everywhere and my poor eldest niece bore the brunt of it. I’ve seen her compete in swimming before but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her hop in the water and kick as hard as she did to get us away from those branches and to fresh water to clean ourselves off.

Once again, I’m grateful for her grit and tenacity, (and to her mother for getting her all of those swimming lessons).

Leeches aside, I sure did miss my family and I can’t wait to see them again.

Cowichan Valley Citizen