In a recent conversation with another local, our conversation evolved to discussion about one, of many, aberrant personalities here. These sorts of places attract off-beat characters with a plethora of personal issues. God knows I’m one of them. In places like this if you aren’t a social anomaly at first, you will be should you linger long enough. It’s a survival mechanism. We all tend to assimilate our environment.
In our discussion my co-commiserant said that the fellow in question probably needed some “Slap therapy.” I found his bush eloquence hilarious. That I found amusement in the remark is perhaps a symptom of my own advancing warpage and this morning I feel in need of some of that treatment myself. I’m lonely and depressed after a string of disappointments and shattered hopes. I need to cheer myself up.
As I sit writing this, on the settee across from me is a carving I commissioned to a local Heiltsuk artist, Ivan Wilson. He is renowned for his jewelry and has turned out a fabulous piece of art for me from the old yellow cedar root of a few posts ago. (See Fraggle Rock) It will be mounted as the cap on Seafire’s bowsprit, also doubling as a sort of figurehead. I’m thrilled with it. I believe it may bring me a change in luck. There are eagles which roost in the treetops above the boat and just now a piece of eagle down has drifted down into my cockpit. According to local native lore,that has to be a good omen.
A few kilometres away last week, up Burke Channel, a forest surveyor was attacked by a grizzly bear. The attack is not really the story but rather that this fellow survived with minor injuries. That is a miracle. Not many people live to talk about their encounter with such a force of nature. When a grizzly attacks, it must be like trying to wrestle with a locomotive. I don’t ever want to find out first hand. Apparently, the conservation authorities are now out hunting that bear. Often, the “conservation” people employ extermination when dealing with similar situations and that thought can lead to interesting considerations. We’ll never know how their adventures turns out. The media is never very good at follow-up on yesterday’s hot stories.
Now a week later, we’ve had wonderfully welcome rains and some steaming muggy interludes in between. Thehorseflies reappear each time the thermometer rises. This morning I got my own slap therapy. One of the local service contractors managed to back his work truck into my new satellite dish. Gonzo! Bust! A bent receiver dish with a twisted wire hanging down is all I have to show for my great new link to the rest of the planet. It will be replaced but for now I’ve got no internet once again. The local installer is away for an indefinite period and I’ll have to go back to lurking about in quest of a decent connection and repeatedly attempting to bring up the sites I need .
So, this may be the last blog I’m able to post for a while. I’m posting it from the grubby shop where I work via the local gumboot internet. There was a wonderful response to my last two blogs where photos and captions took the place of prose. Maybe I’m on to something!
I’ve now walked the full length of all the roads on the island. There must be only eight to ten kilometres in all. The roads are gravel and in fairly good repair. They certainly have their twists and turns around bays and bogs as well as up and down one bloody hill after another. Camera on the ready I trundle along and am constantly amazed at the beauty all around. The roads are rather dreary but there are sudden stunning vistas of the surrounding countryside. Then a visual treasure appears right at your feet. I’m posting some of those photos from the latest jaunt.
Meanwhile ‘Seafire’ gently tugs at her lines eager to journey on to new discoveries and adventures. There is so much to see here and then, a few miles beyond, the open ocean calls incessantly. I can hear it from here; clearly.
“Land was created to provide a place for boats to visit.” … Brooks Atkinson.
In a recent post I considered dedicating one blog entirely to the forest in this region. Here it is.
I am intrigued with the forest that grows here. With thin soil, often bare rock, long months of gloom and darkness, pounding wind and incessant rain it is a harsh life for any living thing. Yet the coastal geography is lush and verdant. These trees have adapted to this climate and cover the steep country with an often impenetrable jungle. They survive endless cold and wet, snow, fog, droughts, insects and the rape of humankind. They live on.
There is mystery in everything here. How can forests grow like this? What is within the thick underbrush? How did the native peoples find sustenance here? What’s around the next point? It all goes on and on. This is where the vast North Pacific Ocean meets the hard edge of a continent that runs eastward for thousands of miles
“Cruising has two pleasures. One is to go out in wider waters from a sheltered place. The other is to go into a sheltered place from wider waters.” ……. Howard Bloomfield
Classical Spanish guitar music plays softy beneath the patter of rain. The oil lantern lends a gentle warmth to the after-dinner ambiance. I sit alone, pleasantly overfull. Now there are some sea-salt chocolate cashews with mint tea for desert as I write. Yes, rain I said! What a blessed thing. I don’t know if this means the mid-coast drought has broken but it truly feels wonderful to be back in the dripping rainforest I’ve know for so many years. Tonight I’m in Raven Cove and tomorrow I’ll fish my way home. Hopefully my virgin fishing rod will bring me luck.
My favourite camera lense has died and so I’m going to let this blog to simply be a photo-filled post with captions. God knows there are plenty on file. So far my time here has been a wonderful and endless photo opportunity. It is very frustrating to feel that one can never quite convey the sense of this incredible area to my readers, but it is certainly a worthy pursuit to continue. Wish you were here.
The following short amateur video illustrates one of many raven calls. I was being severely admonished for coming too close to the berry feast where this character had been gorging himself .
“ If a man is to be obsessed by something, I suppose a boat is as good as anything, perhaps a bit better than most.” … E.B.White
I’ve killed my first horsefly of the day. That is the only sign of time’s passing here. The damned things only come out once the temperature has risen to a certain point. Everything else is the sort of silence you can hear. If you think that statement is silly then you’re overdue to get the hell of of town for a while. Of course some folks couldn’t survive without a din of some sort to drown out the voices in their head. I feel blessed to be able to savour solitude and quiet. My voices prefer it like that. It is where I write and think best. The notion of going back to work and mechanical problems and other folk’s agendas and impositions leaves me feeling selfish and anti-social. I like it here! I don’t want to leave.
Last post I mentioned the squeeze put on native people and even the ungracious allotment of reserve land. I’ve dug into my archives and pulled out an old photo of the crumbling edifice at Church House between the mouths of Toba and Bute Inlets. I remember the glow of the light that shone over the entrance to the church.
I was happy to see how that symbol of oppression had finally earned an obvious contempt. But, more than once, that feeble glow in the cold winter rain was a beacon which offered a gentle solace while passing in the dark aboard various tugboats. Then the village was abandoned, the lights went out, the church eventually fell down. Now, right down to the border of the tiny piece of reserve land, logging has denuded the forest. The photo says it all.
I’m starting this blog while anchored in Kynumpt Harbour which, more correctly in Heiltsuk pronunciation I’m told is more like Ki-nump. No matter, I’m most content to be here all alone. I stood in the cockpit with the sun warming my body while eating my morning orange and watching a deer ashore leisurely grazing her way along the forest’s edge above the tide line. She nibbled at the flies bothering her and then de-materialized into the brush as if I’d only imagined seeing her. These are moments of feeling an intrinsic part of nature’s mosaic and its wrong that they be so rare. Then the horseflies arrives.
This harbour clearly houses the site of a former native village and I’ll go exploring ashore in a while. It is located inside a spot named on the chart as Defeat Point. I’ve no idea if that refers to a native battle or some explorer’s navigational flub. I’m beyond it and after yesterday’s debacle the name suits me fine. I worked on the July 1st holiday and took yesterday off in lieu to attend the local medical clinic and to enjoy a three-day weekend. It was a blistering hot day, by local standards, and the wait in the little Bella Bella hospital seemed interminable. I did certainly meet some very nice people on staff there. Finally I bought some groceries, stowed them away and the fun began. The engine started, but without tachometers and any sign of electrical charging. I tightened the alternator belt, checked the wiring harness, decided to replace parts of it, could find no other problem, and started out again. Kapoof! Within minutes, the engine temperature was out of sight. The belt had broken.
The waters here are very deep and anchoring just anywhere is not an option. The tide was taking me toward a steep rocky shoreline and so with tools and sole plates cluttered about, I sailed with just the jib toward a neck of shallower water. It was slow going but I didn’t want to complicate things with more sails and more lines strewn about in the mess. One of my tricks when in such a situation is to let out a hundred feet of anchor chain so that as the boat approaches shallower water there is an audible alarm of the chain on the bottom as well as having ground tackle already down to catch and keep the boat off the beach. That way, I can go about my repairs without popping up topside to constantly check my drift. And so I bent to my crisis. The new belt had broken and flung itself into the bilge. The engine was crackling hot, the air was crackling hot and so was the attack of the horseflies. They love heat, the smell of engine fumes, and sweaty human bodies, especially ones where the victim has both hands fully engaged. New belt installed, charging system still defunct, engine cooled enough to add coolant, off I go again now worried about having enough reserve battery power to hoist the anchor chain.
Yep, you guessed it, kapoof again! The brand-new belt had jumped a lower pulley and jammed itself against the engine. Now I had to pry that out from the hot, hot, hot engine, swatting at flies and cursing the gods in general. I had one more spare belt, slightly heavier than the previous ones and so much harder to install, but all’s well that ends. Greasy, scalded, fly-bitten, I cursed myself for thinking I was any sort of mechanic, for owning a goddamned boat, and for ever coming to this bug-ridden corner of the godforsaken world. I hobbled back to Shearwater but couldn’t bring myself to go to the dock. I was close to parts and extra tools should I need them, good enough! I anchored , out and began to change more wires and connectors, feeling utterly defeated. All’s well that ends. At 9 pm, permanent repairs complete, greasy, tired but determined, I headed off into the lingering sunset, hoping to put the day behind me. It was a good decision.
I realized my bittersweet luck was that I hadn’t found myself in the same situation on some distant rocky lee shore miles from the hope of parts and help. Once again, self-sufficiency is the mantra of the cruising sailor and yes I’ll have an armload of new belts put into ship’s stores right smartly. Murphy will find something else to dump on me. That thought has me alluding to the incredible ineptitude of many of the yachters passing through Shearwater on their way to and from some distant point on this wild, uninhabited coast. However, that’s one of the reasons Shearwater Marine is here and how I make my living but there’s at least one blog due to be written about the amazing ,inability of people to wipe their own bottom in any sort of imperfect situation. HOW do they survive? Well the sun is rising, there is a growing mound of swatted horseflies at my feet and I’ve just heard the wonderful din of Sandhill cranes which must have just arrived somewhere nearby. More later.
The clearing proved to be an old native village and more recently, a logging camp, with old machinery bits on the beach, cherry trees growing in the middle of what was a large clearing. I’m also told that this was once the site of a Nordic pioneer settlement. The mystery is sweet. The ugly evidence of old-style logging (Hand saw and axe) lingers on the hill behind. The self- regenerated forest is very eerie. I may post a blog of those photos alone. On the way back to the beach I picked a hatful of succulent berries on the edge of an old clearing. They were delicious and I savoured them in the heat of the day as well as the cool aroma of crushed ferns under my feet. Now I’m in a place Called Blair Inlet and that too may well deserve a blog for itself. I’m now well beyond Defeat Point and as happy as an old clam can be.
Now it is Sunday morning and the air warms as the tide ebbs. The colours are surreal. My photos cannot capture the glacial-like topaz of the water, the source of its colour is an absolute mystery. The trees add their greens, the sky its blue. The thick ancient forest, as usual, appears dead and deserted but little birds twitter and eagles watch silently. You know a deer or a bear or wolf can appear anywhere at any time. Instinctively one begins to move quietly and cautiously with the hope of a glimpse of wildlife. There is always a sense of being watched. I’ve tried, unsatisfactorily, to photograph a massive eagle’s nest, currently in use. The inhabitants watch over me as I write. I am utterly and wonderfully alone. There is no sight or sound of any other people having been here. No drone of motors on the water or in the air, no contrails, no logging. Just a view of the jungle and ocean the way it has been for a very long time.
Well except for the horseflies. They rise early in the morning and ply their trade of absolute fiendish anarchy throughout the heat of the day. Thankfully they vanish in the early evening. Trying to nap when they are about is impossible. They employ strategies. Sometimes they come alone and attach silently. Other times they have a sonorous buzz. While one distracts you others attack from behind. The only way to kill them is to wait until they settle and lock themselves into a painful bite. Then, if you are quick, you can smack them and feel the satisfying crunch-squish of vengeance. They still seem able to revive if you are not willing to smear them into eternity. They could be called Lazarus flies. Eventually as the day wears on, one is harried to a manic mindless slapping, even at imagined flies. Perhaps they are disenfranchised souls and in their frantic efforts to reproduce, death in battle is an honourable way to achieve a new level in the next life. There’s the name! Isis flies!
This inlet is dotted with many small islets. I suspect they may well have been burial islets. I sense no presence, only a languorous peace. The spirits are content and so they should be. I took a long tour about the area in the dinghy last even until I was off the chart. There is an infinity of inlets, islands, coves, nooks, reefs and bays. In all the miles I meandered, I found two boats anchored in a cove about an hour from here. It’s not an area where I’d want to break down but the overwhelming beauty, and magical light draw you on and on in awe.
I’ll be back.
Everywhere there is an ominous faint smell in the air of woodsmoke from distant forest fires and yesterday’s evening sky held a red tinge. In this present drought the threat of fire is all too real and one can only only pray for rain. (Even bottled water in the stores has become a sold-out commodity.) In Shearwater the crew has checked out the fire trucks in preparedness. My heart tightens at the memories of fighting forest fires. There is nothing pleasant or romantic about any of it. CBC Radio is all we can get here and they have an incessant barrage of reports about the forest fire situation across Western Canada. It seems we are burning up this summer and the drought shows no sign of breaking.
were two mornings this past week when it was cool and foggy. It was amazing how suddenly cheery folks were. The doomer-gloomers have it that this is a sure sign of global warming and we must to change our ways. While we do have to try much harder to be better guests on this planet, the cycles of nature are far beyond our control. There have been years like this before. Meanwhile, it’s swat and sweat while we look forward to the return of steady rain and fog.Then, some of us will be anxious to go south and find the sun again.
I’ve finally be able to get a satellite dish installed so now I have reliable, useable internet which allows me to work as a writer who can now reliability send and receive necessary data. I know, I know, I’m always going on about minimizing our needs and about dependance on external sources. Unfortunately I need to stay in touch with the rest of the world and its frenetic modern pace. While shutting out the rest of the world entirely is appealing, to have a hope of working as a writer, doing research and sending data, I must have a reliable cyber-link. I’ll also confess that having a good movie to watch on exhausted lonely evenings is a fine luxury. And, winter is coming. Already he long lingering light of late evening is noticeably shorter. It was pitch dark by 10:30. Soon enough, nightfall will occur before the work day ends. Movies or not, it’ll be due south
The days have passed in an ugly blur. It has been a week since I began this blog and the weather has been hot and bug-ridden. People have been short-tempered and ill at ease. Work has been a daily drudgery tramping up and down the dock for more tools to look after demanding customers. Oddly, many issues this week have been overheating engines. One small job was to check out a motor in a lovely Kelly Peterson 44′ center cockpit cutter. It was a gorgeous, solid, capable vessel crewed by three women. They have sailed her from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Mexico and then on to these waters to produce an overview of British Columbia’s Marine Parks. Nova Scotia, apparently, does not have a similar program and these women are working to inspire a change to that. Having once worked very long and hard to help save one marine park in BC, I wish this trio a grand success. This is nothing finer than a voyage which is also a mission.
This afternoon the skies have clouded and the temperature has dropped from the mid-thirties to, at present, nineteen degrees. It feels positively nippy. It is a testament to the nature of life on the mid-coast of BC, that the overcast has cheered everyone up immensely. It might even rain soon. YES!
“ The perfection of a yacht’s beauty is that nothing should be there only for beauty’s sake.” …. John MacGregor.
These are interesting times at Shearwater. The R2AK race from Port Townsend to Ketchikan Alaska is passing by. It is a race for boats, paddle and wind-powered, along our 750 miles of rugged coastline. I have no interest in racing of any sort but I admire all of those who set out on this gauntlet of both inner and outer stamina. Yesterday morning, in the rain, I heard my name called out from beneath a sheltering cedar tree. It turned out to be Quill, Dylan and Mitch, the Barefoot Boot racing crew from Silva Bay. They were participating in the race with the boat which was purpose-built this past winter. All looked trim and fit with a healthy light in their eyes. Travelling by self-propelled boat does that for you. In days past the Haidas of these latitudes built and paddled dugout canoes as far south as Puget Sound. They were feared and respected by all along the way and returned with slaves and booty all the way back to Haida Gwaii. “How was work honey?” “Blew a paddle on the big bend.”
On notes about the hardiness of indigenous people a news story this week reports the recent discovery on Calvert Island, just south of here, of great archeological significance. Foot prints and the remains of a campfire have been confirmed as 13,200 years old. This is apparently the oldest confirmed evidence of human habitation in North America. Check out www.Hakai.org This is the website for the research group on Calvert Island who found the site. There are some fabulous photos there which may leave you wanting to rush up this way for a visit.
I know I jump out on thin ice with a few things I write, but you nor I could not respect what I write if I’m only trying to please popular opinion. That, ultimately, never works. One of the intriguing features of this area is that there is ample evidence to prove the long presence of previous occupants. As the indigenous people were over-run by the colonists they were constantly shuffled to smaller reserve areas before being moved finally to municipal, or sub-urban residential locations and where they can be easily “administrated.”
I believe that everyone’s mutual humanness must have first priority over gender or race. No-one should have special entitlement because of who their ancestors happened to be. I understand that is a controversial perspective, but I also know folks of indigenous descent who feel that this attitude is the only route to full equality. I also however feel strongly that the measure of character for anyone is evidenced by how we keep our word. Our governments have manipulated and ignored the agreements made with our first nations people. A deal’s a deal and I am embarrassed by how our politicians have altered treaties to suit their own agendas.
In the recent self-righteous uproar about the report submitted by the Truth And Reconciliation Committee Of Canada on the abusive native residential schools, we’ve learned the term “Cultural genocide.” (By the way folks, BULLSHIT! WE DID SO KNOW what was going on, we just chose to turn our heads) This report is no epiphany. It has always been the way of conquerors through history to decimate their victims by destroying their language and culture and then writing the history books to their your own agenda. Introducing new diseases which almost obliterated indigenous populations was an incidental and convenient weapon of great benefit. Obliterating prime food sources worked pretty well too. Then along came the priests and their damnable schools and churches to save the surviving dark, pagan souls. That endeavour condemned so very many to a miserable and unthinkable existence, all in the name of Christian peace and love. Now, a few weeks after the residential school report’s release, the politically correct rhetoric has died and the beat goes on as ever.
I’ve just finished reading “The End Of Faith” by Sam Harris. He presents a conjecture that all religions are based on imagination and raw fiction. Masses through human history have been controlled and manipulated by the imposition of countless religions. We continue to let this devious mindlessness (Yes, I perceive consumerism as yet another religion) to direct the course and meaning of our lives. I agree with the implications of Harris’ rant but cannot deny our spiritual being. The blackness of religion is that it so often strives to actually diminish the spirit it claims to enhance and uplift. As the old cowboy song went, “Send your money to Jesus, make out the cheque to me.” Religion, commerce, capitalism, greed, misery. Enough said.
Most of the copious resource-based communities of the past few centuries along this coast are already decayed, forgotten, gone. Fish canneries, docks, mines, shipyards, sawmills, entire communities in many places are now mere memories mouldering back into the environment from which they were so laboriously carved. The population on this coast was quite large until mass urbanization began to occur in the late 50’s and 60’s. There was an entire industry just serving the needs of these communities. Eventually nearly everyone wanted to abandon rural life and lemming their way to town where they could load their dishwasher and then try to get a good picture on their new colour TV. “A little more to the left, no, no back a bit. Keep your hand right there!“You’ve just stale-dated yourself if you understand what I just wrote about.
Small communities, some built entirely on rafts, began to disappear. A very long list of place names like Holberg, Allison Harbour, Butedale, Namu, Port Harvey, Minstrel Island, Port Neville, Ocean Falls, Zeballos, Winter Harbour, are some which are now ghost towns or don’t exist at all. They are once again just jungle, where the forest reaches quietly out over the ocean as it almost always has. Older nautical charts will display a small square dot, with a place name and the letters P.O. meaning Post Office. That’s all gone now. Pilings, crumbling buildings, and a few rock berms mysteriously linger in many backwaters. The people who worked so hard are gone, their industry forgotten and now meaningless.
Native villages like Mamaliculla (Or Meem Quam Leese) and Karllukwees were evacuated as tuberculosis epidemics swept over them. I recall visiting Mamaliculla in the mid-80s when the last remaining totem pole leaned precariously. A half-finished long house sported massive cedar beams. It was a wonder how these huge carved logs had been hoisted into place. The homes appeared to have been abandoned overnight, with clothes still in drawers, food in cupboards, utensils in kitchens. In the school, the piano remained in its place, destroyed by damp. There was an eerie sense to the evidence of how the place had clearly been abandoned so desperately quickly. I wanted a souvenir but didn’t want to feel I was robbing anything of value. I found an envelope addressed to Harvey Mountain c/o Vancouver Police Jail. I thought it was a poignant cultural essay on how a proud culture had been decimated and homogenized. Apparently there is still a large, respected family of Mountains in the Alert Bay area.
The remaining populations were relocated in places like Campbell River, Port Hardy and Alert Bay. Succeeding generations remain there but wonderfully those folks are fighting to retain their culture and language before it is gone forever. They have the respect and endorsement of most people. The Haida have regained control of their ancestral homeland and proudly share their culture with outsiders who hold an interest. What a wonderful thing that is!
I received an e-mail about Koala Bears in Australia actively approaching people and begging a drink of water during days of extreme heat. I found that fascinating but what intrigued me was the accompanying quote which read, “Until one has loved an animal, part of their soul remains unawakened.”
Some friends, whom I love dearly, passed through Shearwater on the weekend. While we share many views, one of our disparities is that they are not animal lovers. I’ve endured lectures from them on how North Americans spend too much time, money and affection on their pets when there too many children in need of love and nourishment. They’re right of course, but inspired by the above quote, this dog-lover would like to add that until one is able to love, and accept the uninhibited love of an animal, they will never be able to fully share non-conditional love with any person. One of the joys here in Shearwater is some of the lovely resident dogs as well as some from visiting yachts. I desperately miss my own buddy Jack, and hope he’ll forgive my infido-elity. Speaking of critters one of the things I’ve noticed here is the lack of seagulls. There are some, but they don’t live in mobs and don’t swoop in when there are scraps to be had. There are crows and ravens who stay on top of the local clean-up duties and there is a large number of eagles looming large over nearly every scene. Where ‘Seafire’ is moored there is a squeaky little bird who goes on, and on, through the day with an energetic metallic noise like a worn-out pulley. A raven hides somewhere in the trees above and sounds like a one-bird Punch and Judy show. It has a variety of weird, silly voices. On a gloomy day one could easily believe in ghosts.
There are also swarms of horse-flies, or moose-flies, if you prefer. There are also deer-flies and while they disappear after the heat of the day, the cooling evening draws out the black-flies and sand-flies. The bugs certainly don’t begin to match the numbers I’ve known elsewhere, but these nasty pests can still ice the cake on a hot, airless day. You’re hunched down over a mechanical job, with sweat-smeared glasses, skinned knuckles bleeding scarlet out of the black grease on your hands. That is when these chunk-biting beasts descend and begin their feast. At least they leave no itchy bumps; just blood. Gee thanks. We’re supposed to love all of God’s creatures. Right!
As I sit writing into the dusk the sky overhead is laced with jet contrails west and east bound on their great circle routes to and from Asia. We are clearly immediately beneath a North Pacific air route. My brother is a pilot for Air Canada and I wonder which of those shining specks might be him. I also look up and find myself thinking that now we’ve delineated every possible inch of the earth, we’re drawing lines in the sky.
Now, on July 1st, there is a conjunction of planets which will produce an illusion of a super star as Jupiter and Venus align themselves although they’ll still be several hundred million miles apart. These are interesting times at Shearwater.
“Remember it was a professional who built the Titanic
and an amateur who built Noah’s Ark.” …Vanessa Linsley