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.