Oh good grief, here he goes again, another lament about life on the West Coast in mid-winter. No more please! We get that it’s winter. Low grey skies, penetrating dampness, pizzling dripping precipitation, foggy wind in your face from all directions. E-mails from friends in Mexico to ice the cake. This morning a golden sunlight beams down through the eternal rain. There must be rainbows out there.
I’ve been looking for a dog. No, no old Jack is fine but my daughter needs a full-time friend. She and Jack adore each other and they spend some quality time together, but in his dotage he needs a canine companion and she needs to have a home-body and travel partner. It sounds easy. Just go pick one out. Right! There must be plenty of local dogs who need homes and among those there will be that one special heart throb who somehow finds you. There are certainly several folks within short radius who describe themselves as being dog rescue centers but almost invariably, the beautiful creatures pictured are from as far away as Texas, California, Mexico, Florida, even Kuwait. Shipping a dog in a crate tossed by uncaring baggage people into the dark belly of an airplane to travel half-way around the planet is not a trauma I want to impose on any creature; well maybe a few people. But anyway, where the hell are our local needy canines?
There is a surplus of pitbull-type dogs. I know they are often lovely characters but the stigma about them is far-reaching and many folks pucker up just at the sight of one, which is where the problems begin. There are many places with succinct laws against the breed. So, mutts are us. I saw one lovely-looking young female described as a black-lipped cur. That puts a new meaning on the term cur-b appeal. “C’mere my little black-lipped cur.” As it turns out, I found the perfect puppy, or he found me, but the stars are not aligned correctly and Jack remains a solo act for now.
While this has been going on another local canine story has been unfolding. The archipelago along the Southern Coast of Vancouver Island is known as the Gulf Islands. Further southward the islands become smaller and more arid. Just forty miles to windward, on the outer coast of Vancouver Island, some of the highest rainfalls in Canada are recorded. In the rain shadow of the leeward side these small islands are dry enough to have cacti growing. The most southerly group of these are Discovery and Chatham Islands and the weather station on Discovery records the least annual precipitation anywhere in Canada. Struth! They lay across Baynes Channel a mile away from the Community of Oak Bay, which is annexed to Victoria and helps form the largest urban area on Vancouver Island with over 400,000 people.
Inching carefully through the kelp beds there is a way through the rock-studded waters of this small archipelago to a secure and peaceful anchorage. But don’t go too far, there are more rocks. It is well within ear shot of the sirens in the city. Yet despite the ruins of a lightkeeper’s boat house there is a sense of the pristine. You must trespass across First Nations reserve land to walk the trails and open meadows of cactus-studded Discovery Island and then dinghy or kayak around the outside in dangerous open waters. The original owner was a retired sea-captain who worked ardently to develop the island. The remains of his roadways and little stone bridges among the arid landscape can conjure a Mediterranean sense to the place. Along its southern shore there are spectacular views of the Strait Of Juan de Fuca and the towering Olympic Mountains beyond in Washington State. All of the surrounding waters are a swirling maelstrom of treacherous ever-changing tides and currents. Overfalls and whirlpools are constant, the tidal sea is seldom still. It seems at times that all of the open Pacific is trying to crowd through these narrows. Many a mariner has a yarn about their experiences in Baynes Channel sneaking past the fang-like rocks lurking helter-skelter while surging swirls of sea try to throw your boat upon them. Now imagine swimming across this bitterly-cold gauntlet.
So, with this stage set, I must admit with chagrin I did not know about ‘Takaya’ the sea wolf who has lived alone on these island for the past several years. I’ve been up the coast for a while so maybe that’s how I missed learning about this character. CBC has archived an incredibly beautiful film about Takaya The Lone Wolf of Discovery Island. Here’s the link to 44 minutes of excellent video work and editing by Cheryl Alexander as posted on You Tube:
Take the time to watch this, it will enrich you. Hopefully it is not blocked in your area.
This splendid, award-worthy effort helps dispel some of the ridiculous myths about wolves and other mystical creatures of the wild. This woman’s incredible work leaves me humbly wanting to chuck all of my photo gear into the sea. WOW! Her videos reveal a bond and trust that she established with this fellow. Some of the clips are stunning. I have lived a good part of my life in wolf country, I’ve listened to them howl many wonderful times but I have only ever had fleeting glimpses of their beauty and I consider myself to be observant above average. This is an eight-year long story which had eluded me until a television news item appeared a week ago about wolf sightings in downtown Victoria. At first I was skeptical of the blurry photos I saw on the news, thinking that this was probably someone’s large dog. This magnificent creature has now been captured alive and relocated to a distant and remote area of Vancouver Island. Kudus to our conservation officers who, for once, did not shoot the wolf. That is often their solution to situations where humans have imposed themselves on the natural world.
How the wolf first found the islands and swam to them, then back years later, is an amazing mystery to me. I am not quite content to accept the explanation despite some solid evidence that he actually meandered through the city until arriving at the sea. That he survived there on his own, and thrived, is an incredible fact. Wolves hunt in packs yet this character perfected techniques which clearly worked well for him on his own. Finding drinking water on these arid rocks was another skill he taught himself. I am convinced that wild canines and domestic dogs all possess an intelligence, and intuitive spirit, much higher than we credit them with. They are often in tune with things we chose to abandon. Some folks on the city shore claim to have heard his howls at times. That’s certainly possible. Wolf howls are a communication and he was probably checking to see if there was any of his kin out there somewhere, anywhere. All wild canines are naturally very social. That’s how we successfully interfaced with dogs. I wonder if this alpha male was not at times, in abject solitude, trying to somehow communicate with the sirens. We all know how town dogs react to the wail and hoot of emergency vehicles.
This archipelago is one of my two favourite anchorages on the South Coast and has a special place in my heart. I remember magic times through the years on various boats while being nestled into this place, distant sirens aside. (God, I miss my boat!) However, my faith in a few things is slightly restored after watching this video. I’ll never go near that island again, or hear sirens, without thinking of him. Happy trails Takaya.
Meanwhile another movie company invaded downtown Ladysmith, changed the face of main street to be somewhereville in Colorado, liberally distributed faux snowdrifts and filmed their hearts out for three days in the pouring rain. Is there a movie set somewhere in Colorado that represents Vancouver Island? I photographed the sets and some of their fabulous video equipment then came home and promptly deleted everything while downloading it. I know, “smart as he looks.” That’s how the pickle squirts some days. Oh darn, the wolf ate my camera!
“The tiger and the lion may be more powerful but the wolf does not perform in the circus.” Anonymous