Friday, April 10, 2020

Ancestral Remains Unearthed at Nootka Lighthouse


When 1,000 year old ancestral remains were unearthed at Nootka Light Station in 2018, Mowachaht/Muchalaht elders made plans to reinter them with a private traditional ceremony. It's thought the remains were moved unknowingly to the light station by keepers preparing a garden bed on rocky San Rafael Island.

The bones belong to a woman and an adolescent. Mother and child?

Elder, Ray Williams, who's lived at Yuquot all his life on the same land his ancestors lived, suggested a traditional pre-Christian cave burial. Read the full story here.

Caves with Mowachaht and Spanish burial sites exist in the area of Friendly Cove. This is a special place. If you ever find remains, please do not disturb them. These graves are sacred. This land is sacred. 



This 1946 photo of the pebble beach shows the existing cemetery.

Here's a wonderful archived photograph of the Yuquot summer village.

The Washing of Tears by Hugh Brody is a heartwarming NFB film about the people of Yuquot.

I can't explain how touched I am by this place.


Thursday, March 19, 2020

Uchuck III Cruise to Nootka


My experience working as a lighthouse keeper at Nootka was one of the best I had. This is an incredibly beautiful place with a complex history. When I decided to write a paranormal mystery set at a lighthouse, naturally Nootka or Yuquot as it's known to the indigenous people who live there, was the setting I thought of first. Now, as I'm working on this story, I'm going back through my lighthouse journals and old photos, many of which are posted on this blog. What I didn't post were the photos from my research trip back to Nootka the summer of 2018.

The state of the world is in flux, but Canada still has many beautiful wild places we treasure. At the time of writing the Uchuck III is still sailing to Nootka Sound. The Uchuck III delivers cargo, food, and supplies to many people in remote places who depend on her. That is why, I imagine, she's still sailing. If you're interested, check Get West Adventure Cruises for updates and to call for reservations.

Because it's a day trip, we stayed overnight in Campbell River (on Vancouver Island, British Columbia) and drove out early the next morning to meet the ship at the dock in Gold River.

Uchuck means healing waters. “The Uchuck III can move along at twelve knots, and carry up to 100 day-passengers and 70 tons of general cargo including three or four cars” (Get West.) We watched from the upper deck as the crew loaded supplies using a crane for the folks at Yuquot. This included a new red ATV that was immediately put to work when we arrived.

When we were underway at last, the two-hour cruise took us through Muchalaht Channel past controversial fish farms and logging swaths, around Bligh Island (named for a young Captain Bligh of Bounty fame), and through Cook Channel into Friendly Cove.


We were fortunate. It was a perfect day of sun and fair breezes and the calm waters certainly felt healing. The captain said that humpback whales often come into Muchalaht Channel. All around Nootka Sound, salmon fishermen were hoisting their catch to show off their prizes.


In 2014, I lived at the Nootka Light Station for two months (in April/May) while working as a relief lighthouse keeper. Although it was a short stint, catching sight of the white and red Coastguard buildings felt like coming home. We had three hours to explore the Yuquot site, which includes an amazing pebble beach, a portion of the Nootka Trail that leads past a graveyard and rentable cabins at Jewitt Lake, the old church which has now been reclaimed by the Indigenous community as a cultural centre, and of course, the light station.

The long pier was teaming with people as the Mowachaht/Muchalaht community was holding their annual Spirit Summerfest campout in the grassy area near the church and many friends and relatives had come out aboard the Uchuck III to visit. There was also a celebration in the church as this year marked the 240th Anniversary of Captain James Cook’s arrival at Nootka Sound.

As the story goes, Cook arrived in what he first called King George’s Sound in the spring of 1778 with the Resolution and Discovery. Making the usual European blunder, he named the people and the place based on his suppositions. The Indigenous people—who’d been living here for thousands of years—called out and told the captain to go around to avoid the reefs. More precisely, it happened like this:

“Captain Cook’s men, asking by signs what the port was called, made for them a sign with their hand, forming a circle and then dissolving it, to which the natives responded ‘Nutka’. No.tkak or no.txak means “circular, spherical” (Sapir and Swadesh 1939:276) in The Whaling People. 

Though the village was teaming with people, Cook claimed the land for Britain. The British soon called all the people there, the Nootka, though there were 1500 Mowachacht people living in villages in the area. Yuquot was the summer home of Maquinna’s people and they wintered down the channel in Tahsis. The Mowachacht—“people of the deer”—began a lucrative (especially for the British) trade in sea otter pelts. In the cultural centre (the old white church) you can see yellowing photographs of the original village.

Captain Cook’s claim on Yuquot set the stage for later conflicts between the Indigenous people; as well as the Spanish who built Fort San Miguel on the rocks beside the lighthouse. Sadly, within forty years, the sea otter disappeared.

On our return voyage, we sailed through the more turbulent waters of Zuchiarte Channel. I went up to the wheelhouse to ask about the ship, but Captain Adrien said that he’d only answer my questions if I took a turn at the wheel. So, under his direction, I steered the Uchuck III through King’s Passage.

The wheelhouse is beautiful and it was a thrill to turn the wheel two spokes starboard and then back to port to straighten her out while keeping my eyes on the bow.

The fabulous photo below was taken by Low Light Mike, August 28, 2010. One of the crew had just polished the engine-telegraph (to the left of the wheel) a piece from BCCS's Princess Victoria,a River Clyde vessel that sailed around Cape Horn in 1904.

Wheelhouse

We arrived back in Gold River at 5:30pm. It was a long glorious day, and I recommend taking a voyage aboard the Uchuck III so you can get a taste of history firsthand. Below is a site map of Yuquot and a directional map to Gold River. All maps Friendly Cove and Map to Gold River

As I write my book, my mind naturally drifts back to my experiences at Yuquot.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Return to Nootka

Four years ago at this time, I was working as a relief lighthouse keeper for the Canadian Coast Guard. I'd taken a year off teaching to explore and destress and try something new. Between March 27 and May 23, I stayed at Nootka and recorded my adventures, and misadventures, in a journal and a blog. This was my house for eight weeks.


my house (1).jpg

 I've been thinking about that time a lot lately. This summer, I am planning to take the Uchuck III day cruise from Gold River to Friendly Cove, so I can walk those beaches and trails once again. This is a photo of the Uchuck III docked at Friendly Cove. This will be a brillliant way to experience the sound and the cove where so many historic events occurred. Plus, you get three hours to hike and explore the beaches, trails, graveyards, lake, and the lighthouse.


I had hoped to visit with Mark, the lighthouse keeper I worked with at that time, but apparently Mark and Joanne retired last September. So, all I can say is "Congratulations!" from afar.

People often ask me: what do lighthouse keepers do?

This video and article written and recorded last August with Mark and Joanne brings it all back to me. It is a beautiful landscape, rife with history—some of which is tragic—and I feel blessed that I was able to spend some quality time there.

This is my post from April 22, 2014.

And this is the pebble beach—one of my favourite places on earth. I can't wait to walk here again this summer.




Friday, August 29, 2014

Lighthouse Keepers Save Lives

One gigantic reason to keep the keepers living in the lighthouses is that, from time to time, they pull drowning people out of the water. They give aid to injured hikers. They save lives. Humans. Animals. They are the eyes and ears of the ocean. First responders. They safeguard our waters. And, they are there when you need them 24-7. Don't believe me? Watch this recent news clip:

http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/Canada/BC/ID/2498294002/

I was living at Entrance Island this time last year.

Harbour Seals

and a California Sea Lion

I lived in that big tall house

And the sunsets were spectacular!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Trail of Graves



Cast up by an angry sea, lying haphazardly on the beach, is a rusty propane tank, detritus of the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan on March 11, 2011. Approximately 1.5 million tons of debris are still floating in the Pacific Ocean. This tank is a testament to the nearly 16,000 lives lost in the event. A rusty reminder that the Earth is alive and we two-leggeds are not in control. 




Beyond the undulating pebble beach, protected by a pine windbreak, lies the graveyard trail. Cemeteries captivate me. I dragged my daughter all over Ireland, stopping to marvel at names and dates on stones, colossal Victorian crypts, the flowers (tended and not), the weather-beaten toys. This is a human need, this marking and remembering. Even our Neanderthal kin buried their dead with precious bits of life some 250,000 years ago. We need to know where our loved ones lie. We ask that their remains come home. We ask that we be buried together. 

This is a peaceful place, swept by the sea breeze, carpeted by verdant plants. It is private, yet public: the path hikers tread as they begin or leave the Nootka Trail. 










The graves are marked in various ways: etched stone crosses overgrown with moss, piles of beach stones, hand-tied sticks. One bears a carved totem taller than me. 


Twentieth century dates...1919, 1946, 1965. 


The name “Margaret” appears often. 




I am connected to this name, Margaret. When I trace my father’s ancestry back to the Eighteen Century, Bolton by Bowland,Yorkshire, Margaret and Stephen are the two names that appear most often, rippling through successive generations. The name gives me pause.

Margaret “derived from Latin Margarita, which was from Greek μαργαριτης (margarites) meaning "pearl", probably ultimately a borrowing from Sanskrit मञ्यरी (manyari).

Saint Margaret, the patron of expectant mothers, was martyred at Antioch in the 4th century. Later legends told of her escape from a dragon, with which she was often depicted in medieval art. The saint was popular during the Middle Ages, and her name has been widely used in the Christian world.http://www.behindthename.com/name/margaret



Was the first Margaret given this name by a priest, or when she went to Residential School?


One thing I know. All of the Margarets died young, too young. The oldest of four was only 31 years old. 


There is a tragic beauty to this place that makes me think of those who once walked here, as I do. These women...these pearls.







Further up the trail are several cabins--one that hovers between the sea and an inland lake where the whalers once bathed before venturing out to hunt. From the veranda, you can see these fabulous pine-topped rocks. 













At low tide, starfish and urchins appear between intervals of rushing water.

















One of the cabins has a notice: Jewitt Lake is a sacred place. Do not go there. 

The English blacksmith, christened The White Slave, perhaps by his publisher close to a century later, was adopted by a Maquinna in 1803. His journals publicized this place, these people, and their culture. Now, he is immortalized in the land. 

I wish it were summer, and I could swim here in the pine-swept lake.

The cabin smells like a cedar sauna, and can be rented.

Perhaps, one day I will. 








Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mystery Plant

I spoke with a couple of local women today who say that this plant is fantastic for healing wounds. It grows in shady woods, low to the ground, and has a stalk of delicate white flowers. I come from Ontario and thought we called it coltsfoot there, as it looks like a hoof. Does anyone know the name for it? I'd like to know more about it. 



Saturday, May 17, 2014

Adventures and Misadventures

This has been quite a strange week. It may have had something to do with the Full Moon in Scorpio, which appeared mid-week, bringing a new set of extremes: low low tides, extraordinary social activity, and sleeplessness. Last Saturday, kicked it off. 

I’ve fallen into a routine here at Nootka over the past seven weeks, but last Saturday everything I usually do, I did just a little differently. This, I expect, contributed to my misadventure. To begin with, the 7:30am weather had me stymied. I stared around at the dense fog that enveloped us like a horseshoe, and up, at the clear blue sky above, and thought, where are the clouds? Eventually, with time pressing, I settled on X- (partially obscured) and a remark that I could actually see 15 miles to the south.

After the fog cleared, though I didn’t feel like going for a walk, I went anyway. I’ve been hiking and rock-climbing in my clunky rubber bogs for the past seven weeks, but decided to wear my grey running shoes. I don’t wear them much. I don’t even like them. In fact, I’ve almost given them away a few times, but they’re asics and waterproof, so... Moral of the story: always trust your intuition.

On the way back, I detoured to chat with a lovely Nuu-chah-nulth woman and a biologist, who had overnighted on their sailboat, with her son and their dogs. We photographed this sea otter, who was lunching in the cove, and then a flotilla of kayakers disembarked on the beach.




On my way home, I was halfway across the driftwood log, that I cross several times a week, when I realized I was still holding my wolf stick in hand. I turned back and stashed it, then started across the log again. Almost at the end, distracted by the kayakers, my left foot caught on a root and CRASH! I got up, shook it off, chatted briefly with the kayakers--who saw me fall--and climbed up the rock to the lighthouse.

The rest of that day and the next is a blur of ice packs. I walked around in a sleep-deprived haze for a few days afterwards as sleep was a challenge. Still, I was thankful.

Two other women fell out here on the coast this week and needed a medi-vac. This is not the place to get hurt. My wound, which was quite swollen to begin with, settled down with the ice. It was not painful, and I could walk. I’ve been using my new essential oils all week: first melaleuca (tea tree) on the open wound, and then lavender, and today frankincense. All three heal skin irritations and wounds. 

One week later. The bruise is 8.5” x 3”, and the abrasion is healing well. No doubt, I'll carry a Nootka scar forever.

We were inundated with visitors this week. The Uchuck III made a surprise stop on Wednesday. They were carrying a class of students from Napanee, Ontario, whose school partners with Gold River. The ship released its passengers and left for three hours. Mark and I sat out, soaking up the brilliant sunshine and chatting with folks who ventured up the rock. We swapped travel stories with a lovely couple from Ottawa, and met a young man from Holland, who’d just completed his MA in Forestry at UBC (five years) and secured a job in Rochester, NY. The world is a strange place, indeed. I managed to sunburn, just my left arm, but slathered aloe on it, and it too has recovered.  


The next day, we were surprised again by the arrival of a chopper. Craig, from Grizzly Helicopters, brought two young technicians from Environment Canada, who spent hours checking our weather books and equipment, and installed new max and min thermometers. Hurray! The weather was perfect, the rhododendron exploded into bloom, and we sat outside swapping stories, again.



Then, last night, we were surprised a third time, by a visit from Tom, Anne, and Brian of the Coastal Messenger. This is a group of dedicated people whose mission is Christian outreach, up and down the Pacific coast from Olympia to Alaska. Anne gave me a goody bag, and I’ve already cracked the grape jam, and had it for breakfast this morning on my toast. Yum. Thanks so much.

With only six days left at Nootka, I am back into my routine--it's safer that way. I still have things to do: get back to the pebble beach and explore the inland lake. The weather looks promising and so does my shin. Let’s hope there are no more misadventures. Oh yes, about those grey runners...


Ancestral Remains Unearthed at Nootka Lighthouse

When 1,000 year old ancestral remains were unearthed at Nootka Light Station in 2018, Mowachaht/Muchalaht elders made plans to reinter them...