There is no end in sight. The tug ‘Nathan E. Stewart’ still sits on Edge Reef where she ran aground three weeks ago. I took the opportunity of a sea trial on a water taxi last week and ran out to the wreck site for a quick look. That was an impromptu decision and I had no camera along. The seas were flat calm, there was barely any swell. There was also no diesel on the water, not a drop. I’m sure there is residual fuel along the beaches but the ocean was void of any evidence of fuel. Monstrous cranes are stationed nearby and hopefully the recovery of the sunken tug is imminent. I’ve had the notion that perhaps the tug should be left where it is and a beacon could be mounted on it’s superstructure to mark the reef. Of course winter storms would move the vessel into deeper waters but the humour of the thought did not elude me.
All things considered, this situation could have been very much worse. If the heading taken by the sleepy mate had been a bit more to port, chances are the fuel barge would have been rammed into the mouth of Gale Passage. Who knows what effect that would have had. This is an environmental disaster but it is far less compared to what this coast has known. This is diesel fuel which was spilled, it is light, evaporative and not nearly as insidious as crude oil or bunker fuel. There may be long-lasting effects but nothing compared to other possible scenarios. I am stunned at the hypocrisy of locals who cry loudly about the devastation of their axis mundi and at the same time have their arms wide open to the copious amounts of cash being showered on the event. The sums are obscene. Call it hush money if you like, but payback time will come, if only in people’s conscience. One water taxi operator said it like this. At the beginning of this event there were fifty to seventy-five clam-harvesters whose income had been affected by the grounding and the spill. Now nearly the whole village are clam diggers.
I repeatedly use Einstein’s quote about how you can’t solve a problem by using the same thinking which created it. The results of one greed cannot be erased with more greed. Imagine this scenario unfolding during the royal visit of a few weeks ago. Now the Heiltsuk are demanding Prime Minister Trudeau get his butt out here to participate in the show.
It is bemusing to hear of some of the efforts taking place at the site of the sinking. The derelict will have to be dragged across the bottom to deeper water where it can be successfully hoisted. It is sitting in a bed of precious abalone and so the creatures, approximately 120, were all cleared out of the pathway by being chased with a plastic starfish. Starfish and abalone are mortal enemies but with no live starfish handy, a sham was employed. What it cost is beside the point. I am also learning from on-site personnel of wildlife being harassed in an effort to prove the extent of oil contamination. I am disgusted at the determined and blatant determination to turn an environmental accident into an open treasure chest.
This grounding is a stern warning about the consequences of moving dangerous goods anywhere. We have to collectively take responsibility and look for ways to prevent similar and worse catastrophes. On that note I repeat that so long as we each rely on petroleum products, we are part of the problem. We, not them. If there is a demand there will be a supplier.
Here at Shearwater, all is goodness and light…at least for the company. The hotel is full, the restaurant and pub are bursting, even the showers in the laundromat sometimes have waiting lines, the engine shop where I work is busy with maintenance and repair. This is probably the best fourth quarter at Shearwater ever. Fortuitously the weather has been relatively gentle, but the nights are just as long and dark and lonely as ever. I have plenty of writing projects sitting on the back of the stove but after a day’s work I just can’t get motivated to peck away at anything. There are overdue projects on the boat but the supplies I need are in my vehicle which has not yet been shipped from the company’s freight terminal in Port Hardy. Everything is displaced in the name of the spill. The only way I’m going to make it through the winter is to tighten my blinkers and live one moment at a time….and not look at photos of Mexico.
This Sunday morning is presently windless and rainless. Fresh rain and condensation drops outside cover everything but this is as good as it gets. I’ll take my kayak and go explore nearby Shearwater Island which helps protect our little harbour. I’ve been told that a former WWII gun emplacement is hidden there. On the CBC radio, a famous author is being interviewed. The term ‘Human Stain’ came up and so I go to find a bit more of that stain. Shearwater was an RCAF sea plane base. I work in the old hangar and walk across the remains of the huge concrete apron. I can show you bomb shelters and remaining perimeter defenses.
Here is how the day went. I was donning my rain pants in preparation for the little trip when I looked out and saw that it was raining. Again! Goddamnit! “Rain or don’t rain, make up yer feckin’ mind!” I screamed to the Sky-gods. I’ll know I am a full fledged-local when I don’t notice these incessant cloud dribbles. I decided to take my little Olympus camera with me. Olympus tried to give it some sort of online upgrade yesterday, which didn’t work. Now I discover that the battery was drained flat. Bugga! Plan F: Go have a shower while the camera battery recharges. Shower uneventful, more cloud dribbles while walking back to the boat. Wash down the boat, fill the water tanks, launch the kayak. Still dribbling. Check e-mail; nothing new. Still dribbling. Off I paddle. Still dribbling.
At the island there is no visible trail as described and I plunge into the jungle which hangs over the beach. The forest is rain-wet and tangled, with windfalls, holes, roots and thick pockets of brush. I find well-trodden paths which suddenly end and then begin again on another tangent past a tangle of windfall. I had an image of concrete battlements with steel gun mounts and perhaps a rusted-out metal helmet. I did not know what I was looking for so I moved slowly, pausing to look in all directions every few steps just as if I were deer-hunting.
There is some evidence of logging, but most trees seemed to have been felled and left. The largest trees have not been touched. I found monstrous spruce and cedars and eventually came to the highest ground on the small island. I found what I can only describe as an old tree fort with some very determined scaffolding which rose up the ancient cedar about one hundred feet. It made sense.
If the notion of defense was to spot attacking aircraft and shoot at them, it would be hopeless from the floor of a rain forest. Having a platform in the tops of massive trees seems far-fetched but sensible. Further research confirmed that the tree fort was the sole fortification of Shearwater Island, that and a perimeter of concertina wire. There were two small buildings and that was it. I wonder if duty at that post was considered punishment or if were it welcome solitude from the regimen of the main base. My writer’s imagination has conjured several possible stories about life at the guard tree. While clambering over the tangled windfalls it did occur to me that I had told no one where I was going. With my creaky old legs and the rough terrain, I suddenly felt very much a fool. I’ve travelled endless miles alone in the forest but I’m no young buck anymore. One misplaced step could begin a nasty misadventure within earshot of Shearwater. Back on the beach where I’d stowed the kayak, the clouds began to dribble again. Once the kayak was lashed down back on ‘Seafire’ the dribbling stopped for the rest of the day.
The day before I took a friend’s dog for a walk. The little guy can’t weigh more than ten pounds and is stone blind. He knows me by my voice and smell and is a tiny buddy. He had one of those reel-type leashes and a little harness. Little Todd could range away from me at will. I took him to an adjacent parking lot to do his business and I became distracted with some equipment left laying on the ground. I did not immediately notice the faint, distant plunk but was horrified to eventually see Todd’s thin line extended over the edge of a fourteen-foot seawall. There, far below me, was poor wee Todd at the end of his leash stoically paddling away in the bitterly cold sea water. I winched him aloft on his thin string, shivering and sopping wet, and took him for a warm bath and a good towelling. All’s well that ends and Todd seems none the worse for wear. There was a time when only large dogs interested me but I’ve come to accept that little dogs can be just as endearing. I’m getting old. Now I’m dribbling dogs.
Halloween Monday, the end of October. I wore my greasy coveralls and by midday I was my usual apparition with tousled hair and grease-stained whiskers, a wrench clenched in a big, gnarled hand that looks like a blackened bunch of bananas. As usual I was dragging a semi-crippled leg and muttering about a lack of parts. It was just another day in Weirdwater. Now we are already a tenth of the way through November. For the second night a full storm rages. The boat dances frantically on it’s lines. The rain is pelting by in sheets. Last night the dock began to break up. Other folks had float homes break loose and drift away into the darkness. As I write the boat now lurches desperately against her lines and there are frightening, violent noises coming from the dock. The whole boat shudders like a sobbing child. I shouldered the doors open to see what had happened but I could see little in the bulleting rain. The dock and the boat are still in approximately the same place and all I can do for the time being is hope. It will be another long night.
A few miles to the west the foundered tug still sits on the bottom, grinding itself to death, becoming part of the earth again from whence it came. Three weeks have passed since she struck the reef. The massive crane barges were moved into place to retrieve the wreck but were promptly recalled with a new forecast of these bumper to bumper massive storm fronts. The suspense is killing us.
“This is our land and they’re treating us like dirt.”
… Lakota Sioux defender at Standing Rock, South Dakota