He’s back. One of the disappointments on my return to Shearwater this year was that Edgar was gone. Someone, with a burst of artistic genius, installed the gnarled top of a tree on the waterfront. It accents our sweeping panorama of the Great Bear Rainforest and proved to be a perfect perch for an eagle which the locals had named Edgar. Last year he sat placidly twenty feet above the ground while people stood beneath and clicked their cameras merrily. The old tree sat empty this year. Yesterday, there he was! Even if he moves on I know that yet he lives. It is tiny moments like that which make life here survivable for me.
I’m starting to write this blog only a day after I posted the last one. Apparently the containment boom around our sunken tug in Seaforth Channel has broken in heavy weather. While I’m concerned about environmental aspects I’m getting damned weary of the whole situation. CBC’s “On site” report by Chris Brown yesterday was skewed and poorly researched. The story he presented was largely uninformed opinion and quite misleading to the broadcast audience, most of which swallows anything viewed on television as God’s truth. If Mr. Brown would like to report on environmental devastation he should return when the gillnet fleet is at our docks when, for months, there is a thick film of diesel and oily bilge water punctuated with copious beer cans and every sort of plastic garbage. All of that on the ocean which these fishermen depend to provide the bounty of their livelihood. Report on that Mr. Brown. Perhaps he could spend more time, than that between flights in and out of here, and review the rape which our sport fishing industry annually imposes on our fish stocks. Perhaps he could review some of the hypocrisies and environmental travesties our indigenous population imposes on the land and sea they claim to cherish so dearly. Report on that Mr. Brown.
As for quoting local environmental activists who consume the same products and fuels we all import on barges by burning, yes diesel, try reporting on how ALL of us are consumers and part of the problem. If we really don’t want the bulk transport of fuel in our waters, fine. I live on my boat, I’ll be OK. Stop our fuel deliveries and let’s see how long it takes for the squeaking to rise in a different direction. And as for quoting Heiltsuk executives who are criticizing the alacrity of the clean-up process, perhaps you could check on the accuracy of their claims. There were vessels on site within six hours of the grounding. Fifty-four million dollars were spent in the first week and I’m told the daily operational costs are around $1.3 million. And by the way, check out how many folks from the Heiltsuk Nation are being paid obscene hourly rates to merely wander the beaches with a bundle of absorbent pads. Furthermore, what IS the wildlife death toll? Report on that Mr. Brown. I am damned weary of hearing about what someone else is supposed to do. We are ALL part of the problem. What are YOU doing about it? Hello? Mr. Brown?
As I sit writing this morning, for a few minutes, there was a burst of golden sunlight on the trees above the dock. Now the forest is again plunged into various dim tones of grey and green. I find that my life here scuttles between those moments of light and rainlessness. Now pelting rain is clattering against the pilot house windows. Last evening, the schooner “Spike Africa” returned briefly to the dock. I managed to grab some photos with my mobile phone in the soft afternoon light. I love traditional boats and it was an inspiration to see this beautiful, lovingly-maintained, wooden vessel. Just about every boat here is a utilitarian conveyance and the notion of keeping a boat clean, tidy and shipshape is considered frivolous. This morning, at first light, the schooner was gone. But that is the way of sailors.
The afternoon today was warm, calm and sunny. Back at my secret petroglyph site more moss was cleared away. More carvings, some under up to six inches of soil, roots and moss. It has been a while since anyone else looked on this ancient art. I wonder at how these images were made in such hard rock and what spiritual energy inspired the endeavour. I wonder what these ancients would have thought of their descendants. I have no illusions about the noble savage, past or present. I choose to see us all as human beings first, complete with our amazing strengths and pathetic weaknesses. I look at evidence of a time when we humans were apparently in harmony with our environment. I can only wonder when our slide backwards will stop and when technology and profit will cease to be our god.
All the while, as they have for the past several days, thousands of snow geese wing their way southward. They fly high, fast and strong, constantly shifting their formation to take a turn at sharing the effort of breaking the way. Even the birds know. They know and do not forget.
“The superior man understands what is right, the inferior man understands what will sell.” .…Confusius
When I edited my last blog and read my footnote about the grounding and fuel spill on Edge Reef I realized that the blog’s title was “Over The Edge.” How’s that for a strange co-incidence? Shearwater has been bubbling with all sort of marine recovery experts, divers, Canada Coast Guard vessels and crews, other motley characters including media and enviro-wannabe-activists. It’s a circus. It’s a war zone. This is a situation where if you’re not part of the solution then you are part of the problem. It is best to stay away unless directly involved with recovery efforts. The site of the incident is within my favourite corner of this country, that being a short radius around Ivory Island. All of my information is second and third-hand but I have no interest in being near the melee which must be occurring there. There has been a standing gale warning or randomly a storm warning almost constantly. We all live in dread of worst-case scenarios. The response to the grounding was amazingly swift. Despite claims by Western Canada Marine Response, there are no specific response vessels stationed in Shearwater. Canada Coast Guard did have vessels and a plan in place before dawn of that morning. The problem for CCG is that you can’t go to the bathroom without permission from Ottawa which comes through the Victoria Headquarters, all at glacial speed.
I promised to update news about that tugboat grounding on Edge Reef a few miles west of here on the South beach of Seaforth Channel. Despite claims that the tug had engine difficulties, the track of the vessel before it ran aground certainly makes for easy speculation that the helmsman on that mate’s watch simply fell asleep. Having stood that very same watch for many years, I know all too well how that reality is all too common. Meanwhile Shearwater continues to swarm with people involved in the many aspects of this incident. Plenty of the locals have been out to see the wreck site. I’ve worked at other marine incidents and know It is no picnic. The work is dreary and dangerous and everybody there seems to think they are an expert. Despite all the alleged experts on site these events are often chaos. The empty fuel barge was separated from its tug and anchored in the mouth of Dundavin inlet until it was finally be towed out of this sensitive salmon habitat. Diesel fuel has an amazing property of being able to spread itself over a broad area. One teaspoon of the stuff can look like a replay of the ‘Exxon Valdez’ incident. It also stinks horribly. Urbane journalists and environmentalists eagerly dramatize what they think they are seeing.
The media has reported the total fuel capacity of the foundered tug in varying amounts and quite inaccurately as the whole amount leaked from two of its fuel tanks. Reporters who clearly don’t know port from starboard are offering their uninformed opinions after brief forays to the site of the wreck. I am incensed as usual by the media’s misuse of essential correctness and poetic speculation. It makes blatantly incorrect claims and is apparently determined to milk this story for all it’s worth and more. There are swarms of personnel appearing in increasing numbers. Temporary accommodations are being barged in. This misadventure has become a feeding frenzy for anyone who can possibly involve themselves. Helicopters fill the air. Boats and barges of all sizes come and go constantly. Gaggles of strangers costumed in life jackets and new fluorescent oilskins clomp around in big gumboots looking quite bewildered. Our little hardware store has run out of rain gear. The local restaurant and pub is overflowing. I am told that the sum spent in the past week is around fifty million dollars.
The work to re-float the tug, get it the hell out of here and continue with the environmental cleanup will continue as much as possible despite gale warnings and huge crossing swells with full moon spring tides. There is a storm warning up at the moment but work is continuing with the hope to pump all the fuel out of the sunken tug, then lift the vessel with a monstrous crane onto another barge and tow it away. The first crane towed up from Vancouver has been determined to be too small so another bigger one is on its way from Seattle. Ca-ching, ca-ching. That will hopefully occur in the next few days. The final ordeal will be the horrific effort to clean up all of the spilled diesel and turn the whole situation over to years of litigation. There will be battalions of lawyers wrangling for dollars far into the future.
Here in Shearwater I have spent long hours helping repair a water taxi which was thrown onto that same reef by a rogue swell. The vessel was delivering crew to the wreck site. No-one was hurt and the boat is ready to go again after an intense effort. I’ve no doubt that there will be a huge outcry from the environmentalists. There are plenty of those here, both professional and amateur. This is fuel on their fire (Yes that’s a pun) in the arguments against tanker traffic in British Columbia coastal waters. The over-powered boats they use to zip around this part of the world won’t do very well without tankers of some sort; and, as usual, folks don’t see themselves as part of the problem. Someone else is supposed to provide a magic solution while we all consume all the things we need and want. They are delivered by diesel powered vessels or jet-engined aircraft. Then, to appear environmentally friendly, we ship our recyclables back down the coast. Yep, more diesel! One thing is for sure, there will never be a reliable solar-powered speed boat in the Great Bear RAIN Forest.
The Heiltsuk First Nations have justifiably reacted to the grounding with great alarm. Traditional seafood resources are in direct threat of long-term contamination. This is in the heart of what they know as their ancestral sovereign waters. Heiltsuk warriors in days past held a reputation of being fierce and formidable. They turned back the intrepid explorer Alexander Mackenzie and held their own against the notorious and formidable Haida raiders who frequently attacked from adjacent waters. That legacy is honourable and respectable. My writing champions native rights and traditions but not on any level above other folks. The Heiltsuk allow us to all interact with each other as people first. No bad guys, no good guys, we’re all just people first. Parochial rights come second. There is a willingness to openly share, but not impose, their culture and it’s richness. Before this sad and stupid tug boat accident a few Heiltsuk vigilantes had already taken to patrolling regional waters to confiscate any unattended prawn and crab traps they find. They are destroying the respect and goodwill which the rest of their people have worked so hard to to establish. Natural resources have a global value. They do not belong to any one community. If we truly want them protected, let’s work together to preserve them.
On a very happy note, I’ve found it! A treasured book I have describes some ancient petroglyphs carved in solid granite on a nearby island. This book was first published in 1974 so the description of this site had to be made sometime before that. For all I know, I’m the next visitor all these decades later. Certainly the site is overgrown with moss and there was a bit of luck in finding the tiny secluded spot at all. Fortunately I earned my bushman’s eyes long ago. The location was described as being on a ridge when in fact it was below the ridge in a rocky saddle. The sky was overcast and the moss needs scrubbing back to take good photographs on a sunny day. Now that I know the location I can return and try to take better photographs.. My feelings at finding this ancient art are immense. I want to tell the world but will keep the site’s location secret out of respect. I’ve consulted with a Heiltsuk elder who asked me not to “rip up the forest” but cautiously sanctioned my interest after he’d explained that this is a very sacred place and doesn’t want the site over-run by intruders. Nor do I. These images were made in solid granite. All that arduous work was done with the full knowledge this sacred art would rapidly disappear beneath forest debris and a thick layer of moss. To have found it at all is some sort of miracle.
There are other petroglyph sites in surrounding waters. There is nothing like having a cause to justify poking about with old ‘Seafire.’ Wish you were here.
On another note, CBC live-broadcast the final US presidential debate this week. This is political leadership at its lowest. Both of these candidates are terrifying. Their arrogance and blatant stupidity is stunning. Hollywood could never have scripted anything so crass. It is hard not to despair. I subscribe to a daily electronic bulletin board from La Manzanilla, a small Mexican fishing town which is inundated with winter visitors from our northern latitudes. The following message was posted on the board. I transcribe it here verbatim in illustration of sentiments aroused by American election storm clouds.
“To the deplorable living in La manzanilla:
We are good people, we welcome everybody to our house and our country without question,
we love and share our culture our food and our humble lifestyle, we don’t ask much in return, because we understand that best things in life need to be share and treasure.
We are also proud people and as history tell we don accept disrespect from nobody not matter who they are and were they came from.
We are not Pendejos* neither, don’t get confused about it, we know what is going on in the world and who is who, some of you are trump supporters and thats ok, BUT if you are and brag about it please move back to trump tower because la manzanilla is definitely not for you, since we were call all kinds of names and disrespect our people and country in the most lower manner.
So this is for the deplorable who live in La Manzanilla
A world of advise be careful what you wish for.
Most “mexicans” in town know your names and who you are by now and believe me they are not happy about this, you don’t want then to go cinquo de mayo on you, so please go back to trump tower,
I love this little missive, complete with it’s spelling and grammar errors. It is a message of dignity and stubborn indignity. I have found the warmth and hospitality of rural and small town Mexico absolutely wonderful. Even a barefoot Mexican possesses a quiet pride and graciousness which we “Gringos” cannot emulate nor fully understand. However the Latino self-esteem can only be bent so far. That character, despite a person’s station in life, is one of the beautiful resiliences that draws me back to Mexico. Mucho Gusto!
If I could get rid of me, I could do anything.” …Steve Earl.
Friday night, beginning of the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend. I finish work at five and ‘Seafire’ is leaving the dock by 6:30 pm. It will be dark in an hour and I need to have the hook down by then. I don’t want to be mooching around these rock-infested waters in the dark, no matter how many electronics I have. I sneak along the beach where last weekend I explored forest grave sites. Suddenly I see a light ashore and then in the gathering dusk, more crosses. I’ve just spotted yet another burial sight. It is an eerie moment seeing that solar light. I’m told that the next small island to the north is covered in gravesites as well.
By seven thirty I’ve got the anchor well-set and a few minutes later, total darkness descends. I write seeing my reflection in the darkened window across the cabin. The scribe alone in his garret, no-one else in the world knows where I am. Outside low peaceful bits of cloud drift beneath a waxing quarter-moon and a star-studded sky. Two miles distant the lights of the Dryad Point Light Station cast long reflections on the calm water. I am utterly alone, and lonely, but I am at peace cocooned in my little boat. I think of my wife and my dog and my friends and wish they could all be here. I’ve also made some wonderful friends in Shearwater this year, we’ll be able to help each other through the winter ahead. There’s comfort in that. In the morning I’m up at the break of dawn. I make some coffee and complete my morning ritual by writing at least a few lines. I’m free to go wherever I want and while I sit writing, I’m wasting precious daylight.
I anchor in mid-afternoon in Clatse Bay, a deep sub-inlet hooking back eastward from Roscoe Inlet. The entrance to Roscoe starts just above Troup Narrows, a divide between Cunningham and Chatfield Islands. I‘ve found very old, faded pictographs in the narrows and drawn onward I find one more at the entrance to Roscoe. There I enter one of the fiords which penetrate well into the interior of mainland Canada. The land masses on either side are now peninsulas, not islands. The only way out is the way I came in. The weather is glorious and I am compelled onward, reluctantly turning back a few miles until I drop the anchor here. I’ve travelled beyond the edge of my last paper chart for this area and prudence demands I go no further relying on only electronic charts. I have to practice what I preach. The water at the head of the bay is filled with detritus and covered with gull feathers. There are hundreds of birds and very many seals. I can hear the calls of gulls, eagles, ravens and crows all at once. Salmon are still spawning and there is a feeding frenzy at the mouth of the stream running into the bay. I take the kayak and video camera and inch my way forward.
Wheeling birds fill the air above me and I glide over the sunken corpses of thousand of fish. A pungent dead salmon reek fills the air, the water bears foam and bubbles from the excess of protein. Wary of bears defending this feast I paddle cautiously until the kayak is almost aground. Darting schools of salmon surround the kayak, thumping against it at times, in their frenzy to complete their life cycle. As the light fades and the tide begins to ebb, I retreat, awed as always to see this timeless drama. I leave the birds to gorge, knowing that within the thick brush all around there may well be both wolves and bears watching me depart the scene of their autumnal feasting. How I wish for a glimpse of them. There is a waxing quarter-moon tonight and a clear sky, the feast may well continue in the dark. The lean, cold, wet days of winter are not far off. Now is the time to be putting on the Ritz.
Thanksgiving Sunday morning arrives with the same clear sky. The stars last night were amazing. I sit in ‘Seafire’ writing and watching the shadowed silhouette of the mountain to the east slowly descending the face of the mountain on the other side of the inlet. When the line of brightness finally hits the waters where I am, the dripping dew will begin to burn away. Any dew in the shade will remain all day. That moment arrives nearly two hours later as the sun climbs free of the land. The mist dissipates over the water and the plexiglass windows on the boat gently click and pop as they expand within their frames. Sunlight reflecting on my computer screen makes writing difficult as I peer through it at the image of my wrinkled visage on top of these words. Birds over the mouth of the stream rise and swirl, calling raucously. All are species which are natural enemies of each other. Here they are drawn by their mutual fixation of plenty.
The season for painting brightwork has slipped away. Even on a day like this, by the time the wood has dried sufficiently to apply any sort of finish, it is already accumulating a fresh coat of dampness from the approaching evening. In the coming winter there will be many days with no sunlight at all. Keeping ahead of the ubiquitous black mould and green slime will be a constant chore. We’ll think it is a fair day when the wind eases to allow the rain a vertical descent. I may as well be content to simply savour this moment.
If I could I’d take the boat back south, haul her for storage ashore, then take my little trailer down to where the cactus and palm trees grow. If I had my druthers, uh huh! As it turns out, I may well have to sell my beloved ‘Seafire’ to break out of the spiral I seem to be stuck within. The thought breaks my heart but I know that as sacred to me as she may be, a boat is only “stuff.” Invariably it is our stuff which in fact owns us. Some of my finest memories are from times when all I possessed could be kept in a backpack and my pockets. My downfall was my first credit card. It seems I’ve owed someone money ever since. I don’t need money to enjoy the day ahead and that is what I’m determined to do.
I go on deck to savour the sun’s radiation on my old bones and bend to a repair on my kayak. It’s not really a repair but more of a pre-fix. I see a tiny crack and surmise that an application of special epoxy will prevent the blemish from becoming a serious leak. I apprenticed as a helicopter engineer and was indoctrinated that anything less than perfect was never ‘Good enough.” I muse now how that has so often taken me from a functional imperfection to a perfectly nonfunctional situation. I’ve also learned that “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and that “If it’s working, leave it alone.”
Einstein suggested that you can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created it. I knew the parameters of life here and chose to come back anyway, a humble financial refugee. My experience and knowledge have to put aside and I just do my job. The hardest part of being here is dealing with a few people who demand respect which they not are prepared to reciprocate. It’s a small community and folks have to get along whether they like each other or not. There is a very long winter ahead. Negativity is often ambient here and I do my best to find humour in most things. That is my best effort at being positive and trying to buoy my fellows. I am reminded of Richard Burton’s response to a question about his success as an actor. “I say the lines, I take the money and I go home.” That, I tell myself, is a mantra to cling to as I strive toward my personal goals. I remind myself, the failed entrepreneur, that if I know so much, I wouldn’t be here in the first place working for wages. Enough thinking, enough writing, it’s time to weigh the anchor and see what’s around the corner on this beautiful weekend.
Being in this wonderful area is indeed a perk of my employment here. I head out and around the corner away from my workplace as often as I can. This weekend I’ve gone a few inches off the chart, both in my comments and where the boat is anchored, somewhere onto chart #3940, which I don’t have aboard. It is at the top of my grocery list. Fat lot of good that does me today. There is not a breath of wind. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been able to use my sails. I find more pictographs on the eastern side of Roscoe Inlet, and three hours after raising my anchor I’ve dropped it again in Morehouse Bay on the west side of an island named Chatfield. I’m not far from Shearwater and a Thanksgivng dinner invitation. I’ll make a bet that tomorrow the wind will rise and produce seas right on my nose.
While editing today’s photos I discover pictographs that I had not clearly seen while photographing them. They are so faded that they don’t show up until I enhance colour saturation. I am stunned and delighted. I wonder how many people pass by this very important first nations art and never know. I suspect there are many native people who themselves are unaware. How I would love to find an elder who can explain more than the little I know but the paintings truly seem to be a lost art. I do understand that many pictographs were painted as a rite of passage. That may explain why so many are found in places which would have been very difficult and dangerous to climb or descend to. Perhaps modern graffiti placed in conspicuous places such as on a water tower or a bridge-span crossing a busy highway or above a rushing river is a good contemporary metaphor. The daring-do of young people, especially males, declares “Look at me, I’ve taken this risk to tell the world that I am brave beyond doubt and I claim my place in the world. Don’t mess with me. Women should take note of this macho dude.”
Perhaps I’m over-simplifying the mystery of pictographs. They probably have many meanings. They may mark the edge of territories, or work as roadsigns or warnings. They may have simple commercial connotations. “Aunt Thelma’s Best Dried Berries And Oolichan Grease” or “Old Joe’s natural remedies,” or maybe, “Honest Jimmy’s Good Used Canoes.” I do know that if you look specifically for pictographs, you probably won’t find them. Look instead for the type of location where they are found. Occasionally these natural billboards will reveal pictographs. It is usually an over-hanging rock face, often covered in part by a yellowish type of lichen or mould. This seems to indicate a permanently dry spot that is seldom, if ever, washed with precipitation. The paintings are made by using ochre. This is a colouring (According to my Oxford dictionary) which is “A mineral of clay and ferric oxide, used as a pigment varying from light yellow to brown or red.” All that I have seen on the West Coast are evident in varying tones of brick red. When completely faded, there is still a dark undertone left behind. No-one has found a way of dating pictographs. In other locations around the world they are deemed to sometimes be thousands of years old. I am awed to see them, no matter what their age. I can’t explain my fascination with this primal art form but looking for more, as well as petroglyphs, is as good a reason as any to continue exploring this amazing region of twisting waterways, bays, islets, inlets and archipelagos. The images are from an age when indigenous people truly lived in acknowledgement of their environment.
Thanksgiving day finds me blasting back to Shearwater with all sails out before a steady north wind. I sailed a broad reach all the way home. Damn it felt good!
“The way to kill a man or a nation is to cut off his dreams, the way the whites are taking care of the Indians: killing their dreams, their magic, their familiar spirits.” …William S. Burroughs
“THIS JUST IN…”
That’s what they say during a newscast when a new story breaks. Today is Thursday the 13th, apparently close enough to Friday 13th. A pusher tug ran aground with an empty fuel barge in the wee hours this morning. The grounding was at the mount of Seaforth Channel, eight miles west of here, immediately south of the Ivory Island Light, in an area I dearly love. The ramifications will be huge, especially with the ongoing controversy about gas and oil pipelines and terminals here on the central coast. Speculations are already a fathom deep.
Once the muck and frenzy has settled and I can put together an accurate story, I’ll have the fodder for my next blog. By the way, the marine weather forecast at the moment is for gale force winds.
In my last blog I made disparaging remarks about computers. I must admit that all of my writing is done on a computer and that the internet has saved me years of research in libraries and various archives. I mentioned a childhood memory of a grist mill in the tiny village of Kilbride where I first lived after being born. Suddenly it occurred to me that a little on-line research might confirm my memory. Blam! Boom! There it was, a history and photos to confirm that flickering memory. The Dakota grist and sawmill, built in 1844, burned down in 1979. It was named after the indigenous people who originally lived there. Wow! This blog is not about my childhood memories and I’ll leave my fascination about that old mill right here. I’ll write about it elsewhere and have already mentioned it in one my books.
The advantages of our cyber age are huge and wonderful if computers are used as a tool and not a master of our lives. Stay focused and keep your shoes on the dock. Ask questions of all things. I am amazed that in a place like Shearwater, with very limited media availability, that people form strong, unshakable opinions based on someone else’s skewed perspectives. Politicians, everywhere, try to manipulate our loyalty with fear and our laziness about questing the “rest of the story.”
A friend commented on my last blog and closed by saying “By the way say hello to the royals as you sip tea with them while wearing your work gloves.” My reply was “I’ll wear my cleanest overalls, one of those T-shirts with a tie painted on the front, and try really hard not to fart. “I say old chap, was that the call of an eagle?” Prince Frederick.
Royal Monday morning arrived with a building deluge which soon proved to be the most intense rain some locals claim to have ever seen. A river ran through the hangar which has apparently never happened before. Perhaps a drain was plugged but I can affirm never having seen such a prolonged downpour. Unfortunately I did not have a camera with me as I worked. I busied myself on a project in a far corner and came out only when I was sure the whole royal flap had passed. I don’t know how things went in Bella Bella other than that William and Kate came and went and all the efforts of the Shearwater gang to grab a little attention proved for nought. The disappointment was clearly profound. All’s well that ends and I’m happy to get on with life here without worries of stepping in any Grey Poupon. Take that as you wish. As their allotted number of minutes in the Great Bear Rain Forest came to an end the rain eased and our sodden skies began to clear. They flew off to their next engagement. I hope the noble pair did not take the weather personally.
On that same evening the first television debate between the Frump and the Trump was aired. Apparently 80,000,000 people watched/listened. Our sole radio station here, CBC North, aired the debate and I listened for a while. My God! Those are the best two candidates anyone can come up with! “It’s the end of the world as we know it,” are lyrics from a song by the band R.E.M. Perhaps I’m moving in the right direction with ‘Seafire.’ There are plenty of long inlets up here with a place to hide away. The rest of the world could go to hell. It seems determined to do exactly that anyway.
The afternoons have been sunny ever since our royal deluge on Monday. Today, Saturday, was exceptionally nice. All boat owners in our little corner were out cleaning, sanding and painting. It was delightful, such days are very rare here. I took the afternoon to begin a quest. One of the small islands which surround the waters between here and Bella Bella has some very ancient Heiltsuk petroglyphs. The island, I discovered, has three cemeteries. I must confess that I felt as if I were trespassing although I have previously enquired of locals if it would be permissible for me to explore the small island. Of course, the forest is thick tangled jungle and you can try to trespass as much as you want, you won’t get far. That I found three, instead of one burial ground, was surprising but it was a grand experience. I had no sense of dread or foreboding and of course I was respectful in all ways. I took only photographs and any of those I publish, will have family surnames erased out of respect.
There is a curious blend of traditional aboriginal sensibilities blended with Christian persuasions. A grave marker displaying beautiful native art often also declares that the deceased has gone to be with Jesus. There were many depictions of praying hands, rosaries and other rhetorical biblical nuggets. The grave sites blend peacefully into the overhanging forest and are all located, for practical reasons, close to the beach. Always, the echoing call of ravens in flight resound through the tangled forest. The graves must be extremely difficult to dig between the roots and the rocks and it’s clear that the sense of extended family and deep, strong love is an enduring quality of local culture. It was unsettling to realize how young many of the interred were. I am decades older than many of of those in the ground. I should also mention that there were also local Caucasians buried there as well. A little over a mile away lies a burial island, barren and lonely, guarded by a grim-faced totem pole. Older local folks tell of of that island in their childhood when coffins on burial platforms slowly disintegrated to reveal their boney contents.
Tomorrow I fly south for medical appointments. After this afternoon’s experience I find myself considering my own health, longevity and sense of purpose. It would be so grand to be one of those folks who progress through life without a questioning mind. TV hockey, beer and chips, the latest headline, a shiny truck, a new lawnmower and a steady union job with a good pension….bliss with never a question, total fulfilment as a consumer. That has always eluded me. I was one of those children who took things apart. Toys, clocks, radios and so forth; I’m still dissecting things decades later.
The flight was marvellous, clear smooth air, some wonders of the Central BC Coast revealed. Seven long days of passage in ‘Seafire’ equals an hour and a half in a Saab turbo-prop. Another few minutes in a floatplane, with a pub at either terminal, and there in the golden autumn sun of Nanaimo. I am greeted by Jack and Jill. On the following day, a urologist dons a surgical glove and tells me to bend over. Right! He then declares that I need another appointment for another procedure in that damned shit-brindle beige hospital. Bugger me! Today I’ll see another vet about other problems and then with their monthly Porsche payments covered, I’ll make my way back to the Great Wet North.
I lay in bed in the middle of the night, listening to the peaceful breathing of my wife beside me and that of Jack in his bed on the floor. I savour every moment, knowing that all-too-soon I’ll again be a lone in my bunk in shearwater. Truck tires howl on the highway, a short distance away. They sound the same as they always have and stir memories of sleepless nights as a child in a bed in a house not far from a highway. A weird regular hooting howl punctuates the darkness every few minutes. It drives Jack frantic. Sounding like an an escaped fox from one of those BBC detective series it probably is some sort of owl. It’s nothing I’m familiar with and I half expect the appearance of a figure with a hockey mask who is wielding a gory chainsaw. It’s been a long way to travel for a finger up the bum and a hoot in the night.
Wednesday afternoon sees me back up to Port Hardy. I’ve dropped off my vehicle for it to be delivered by the company freight barge to Shearwater. There’s nowhere to go but it will be quite nice not having to pack laundry and groceries in the pouring rain. I’ll sell it up there and acquire a vehicle more suitable to my Mexico needs but for now it’s going to be workity-work-work and pay off some bills. But first, there’s a long weekend ahead and a boat straining at her lines wanting to go exploring. The weather forecast for this part of the coast is looking fine so off I’ll go. Who knows what I’ll discover this time?
“My doctor tells me I should start slowing it down – but there are more old drunks than there are old doctors so let’s have another round.”