Sunday morning, Naka Creek. I sit inside my camper with a fresh, stout black mug of coffee beside this keyboard. It is chilly. I couldn’t be bothered to stoke up my propane furnace so instead I wear a heavy flannel shirt. Outside a low overcast races before a westerly wind and balls of drizzle wash over my campsite. I had the happy foresight to stow things away while it was still dry. Soon I’ll be on my way.
Across Johnstone Strait a sail advances in the murk, westbound into the wind. It is bucking against the wind and tide. When the tide turns fully and the ebb begins to run in the boat’s favour, but against the wind, the seas will rise and those lumps will continue to hold him back. The boat is fast but for every six miles it tacks the position on the chart advances only a mile. I used to do that long ago, just to feel manly and salty but I eventually gave it up and motored directly toward my destination, having decided to bring a gun to the knife fight. Still I ache to be out there, cold and wet though it may be, it is in some people’s blood to suffer for the religion of the ocean. I am one. I think this boat is a participant in the R2AK motorless race to Alaska. Whoever is out there bashing along deserves full kudos for their drive and spirit. Puget Sound to Alaska is one bloody long way, I’ve done it often enough in a tug boat and even that was wearisome. Travelling the coast in my own sailboat was a dream. There was a time when the globe was being discovered by Europeans. This coast was explored entirely by wind power and muscle alone.
From where I sit I can see northward to Blinkhorn Pennisula, beyond famous Robson Bight and marking the entrance Beaver Cove. Past that are the radio towers of Cormorant Island and Alert Bay. In the far distance are the shoreline humps near Port Hardy, where the island shoreline turns sharply to the northwest. I know these waters with their labyrinth inlets and archipelagos. I ache to own a boat once again so I can vanish into secret anchorages.
Advancing from behind the sailing boats and passing quickly out of sight ahead is a gleaming white motor yacht. I wonder how many barrels of fuel per hour it burns. Powering along, level, warm and dry I wonder at other perspectives on manliness. Then I nod off, my thick old fingers on the keyboard produce two pages of ppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp’s. Time for a walk. I clamber up to the secret waterfalls which are as beautiful as ever. I muse that on my last visit here my beloved companion, Jack the dog, was with me and I plunge myself into momentary sorrow. He will always be with me and I try to cheer myself with recollections of all the happy moments. He loved this place. Once again I can see him rolling happily on his back in the long grass and daisies as well as the smug look on his face when he had returned from running off on his own to visit other campers and their dogs. He never made an enemy. Today I have some lovely neighbours and new friends. I am grateful.
The weather evolves from winter-like conditions to a flawless summer day in a few hours. I change costumes and emerge with my fluorescent shanks sticking out of old camo-patterned work shorts. How have military motifs ever become high fashion? That bemuses me, the old poster boy of the thrift stores. I’m “stylin’.”
Home again it is time for tinkering on my little circus caravan. Minor repairs, some upgrades and I’ll be back into the woods somewhere on this magic island.
Let’s have a moment of silence for all those North Americans who are stuck in traffic on their way to the gym to ride the stationary bicycle.h Earl Blumenauer
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