Sunday, December 29, 2013

Lighthouse Keeping (Part 1 -- Physical Rigors)

When I say, I am a lighthouse keeper, most people are surprised. Unknowingly they smile. Do they still exist? How did you even think of doing that? Is there training? How did you get the job? I understand this fascination; asked many of the same questions myself when my friend became a keeper a few years ago.
Romantic. Captivating. The Lighthouse. That fiery beacon by the misty sea is ingrained in our ancestral memory. If you’ve ever dreamed of living in a tower, stirring up a cauldron of chowder, or sipping tea as you scan the horizon for foundering ships, you know what I mean. But be forewarned. As merry as it seems, lighthouse life is not a dream.

In my late fifties, I wanted a new career, something different from my stressful, chaotic, sedentary high school teaching job, something that would allow me to think and write and create.

When the online job posting appeared at last, I applied and waited, interviewed and waited; and finally, was informed that if I passed the medical, I would be accepted as a candidate. Assistant lightkeeper. Entry level position: relief. Much like a teacher-on-call, I would fill in for someone going on leave. Variable times. Various locations along the coast. Yes please.

But, being a lighthouse keeper is demanding: physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Because stations are in remote locales, you must be in good health. If you’re on any kind of medication, you must remember to bring plenty with you. There’s no slipping out to the 24 hour pharmacy.  

There are still twenty-seven staffed lighthouses on the B.C. coast, and each is unique. As a relief keeper, I travel between them, work with different Principal Keepers, and stay in different houses. Some are bungalows, some are two-storey, some are spare houses sparsely furnished; while other--especially if it’s a keeper’s residence--are cozy and comfortable. But, if you don’t like sleeping in different beds, this is not the job for you. It's capital G Glamping.

Though we don’t live in the light towers, we do climb inside them. Someone has to clean those windows and make sure everything is functioning as it should.

Tower Stairs at Lennard Island

And we climb stairs, countless stairs, and cement steps, some ancient and uneven. We scramble up and down ramps, hike forested trails (whenever possible) and pick our way through rocks and boulders. It’s all hard on the hips and knees. I’m petite, so even getting in and out of the helicopter is a challenge for me. 

Apart from doing a marine weather report every three hours, lightkeepers take care of the station, inside and out. Here’s just a sampling of work I’ve done in the last few months:
  • Dipping diesel fuel tanks from atop a ladder.
  • Helping to refuel domestic tanks.
  • Dipping cisterns. Rainwater collects in a 5,000 gallon cistern in the basement and is filtered for drinking. Filters require changing.
  • Scraping and painting buildings, decks, and walkways.
  • Testing the fire pump and hoses, and checking fire extinguishers. 
  • Pumping up the zodiac and angling it down the high line
  • weed-wacking, hedge-trimming, grass-cutting 

At one station, armed with trimmers and clippers, I battled English ivy, knowing full well that in weeks, it would be back, sucking the life out of every living thing in its path. Carving a space in the salal is a constant challenge.

Still, wearing personal protective equipment, we maneouvre and maintain self-propelled lawnmowers--my personal bane--weed-whackers, hedge-clippers, tractors, and pressure-washers. We are coastal caretakers.

Lifting. Besides packing in all of our own food--that’s a whole story in itself--when there is a grocery tender, lightkeepers unload boxes from the helicopter, deposit them in a trailer, and then carry them gleefully into the house. Those days are like Christmas.

You should be able to lift about fifty pounds. When I fell at the beginning of August and injured my back, I had to stay off work until I was healed sufficiently; in fact, I had to see a Coast Guard doctor before returning to the job.

Not exactly sipping hot tea by the sea.

So, what do I love about being a lightkeeper? The adventure. 

Carmanah from the Air

Lift off in the helicopter.

Driving the tractor. (That's all my gear)

Boating. Hiking. 
Watching and recording whale sightings. 
Eagles. Ravens. Seals and sea lions. 

Clouds that are never the same twice.
The wind. Even the rain.
Challenging my mind and body to perform. 
Time to think and write and create. 
Living deliberately, as Thoreau would say.  

And especially those times when I do get to sip hot tea by the sea.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


The most critical duty of a lighthouse keeper is to observe and report a marine weather forecast* every three hours. It is human eyes and ears, that experience standing beside this Pacific sea, and record it for the benefit of all who use this “whaleroad”. Some keepers also observe the skies and provide aviation reports much needed by pilots. Etched up and down the west coast of Canada from Victoria to Alaska, we are a scattered chain of observers, linked by Coast Guard radio.

As I listen to the other keepers report, I am always curious. No two of us ever give the same report; in fact, the weather is often vastly different. The nearest station to us may report visibility of 15 miles, while we are obscured by fog, or it may be raining there, while I am basking in starlight. This is why human observation at lightstations is critical.

The first report comes early: 3:30am. Awakened by my alarm--best to set two I’ve discovered--I slip into clothes, boots, toque, glove, jacket and don a miner’s headlamp. As I walk down the stairs I wonder: what will I discover when I open this door? I’ve not spent much time in this life wandering about at 3am anywhere, let alone on the edge of the sea. And, the experience is never the same.

Two weeks ago, during a cold spell, the skies were so clear, I was stargazing under the dark moon. Pointing my iphone to the myriad constellations that sparkled above, and using my new “Star Chart” app, I was able to pinpoint Jupiter in the constellation Twins. Directly west and low in the Pacific sky, it is one of the biggest brightest stars. 

A few nights last week, under the waxing moon, I could walk the cement trails of the station without need of the headlamp. And one night, while sauntering across the landbridge, I looked to my left and was surprised by my own “moonshadow”.  I’ve been listening to Cat Stevens sing that tune for years, but that was the moment, I actually understood his words.

Today, we are obscured by fog. I can see no more than 1/8 of a mile and light rain is falling. The wind is up to 15 knots, blowing from the southeast, and it’s necessary to not only use my headlamp, but to gather up my hood. (I really hope it clears because groceries our scheduled to arrive today by helicopter.) 

The full solstice moon lies hidden on the far side of a stratus bank; still, I know she’s there. We are creeping towards the longest darkest night of the year. 

Winter Solstice occurs in Vancouver, this Saturday, December 21, 2013 at 9:11am PST. It is the longest darkest night of the year, and therefore a fitting time to celebrate with light.

GoTofino: Supermoon

*The Marine Weather Forecast includes: sky state, visibility in miles, wind direction and speed in knots, and sea state (wave size and swell). 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Oh the Wind and Rain

When I came out of the office this morning after reporting the 6:40am weather, I had to hold on ... to my hood ... to the wall. With southeast winds gusting 28 knots (that is 52 km/hr ... think of driving through town) that corner of the station was getting walloped. The wind, of course, churns up the sea, so we had some roaring waves breaking off the rocks.

This is the kind of thing that makes Tofino a surfers' and stormwatchers' paradise -- although this is technically not a storm. This is just a little wind and rain ... light rain, to be exact; what the Beaufort Scale calls a "strong breeze" ... close to a "near gale".

Below is a map of Tofino. You can see where we are, just to the west of Chesterman Beach (which is touted to be one of the best surfing spots in North America. Surfing Tofino

Below is a photograph I took after the 9:40am marine weather. The wind has settled some, but we're still seeing a moderate SW swell and some decent waves breaking off the rocks. Chesterman Beach lies along that foggy line of pines in the top lefthand corner.

And, here's another of the breakers just west of the station. No storm yet, but hey, I'm here for another week. If we really do get one of those storms, we'll likely have to lash me to the railings. Oh the wind and rain!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Alive Alive O!

"When the tide is out, the table is set."

I heard a Musqueam elder say this a few years ago at a Vancouver gathering, but its echoes are much older. Any of the First Peoples who've been living along this western coast since time immemorial know it, and know it well. This is the first day I've lived it.

We've been talking about gathering mussels all week, but the time just wasn't right. For one thing, you need a low tide, and this time of year when daylight is limited, low tides are scarce. In fact, they become increasingly later in the day over the next week, and by December 15, as we move closer to Winter Solstice, low tide occurs in the dark.

Today, I took advantage of a low tide at 9:45am. Perfect. Right after my last weather. I wanted to check out the tide pools and see what I could photograph. Unfortunately, there wasn't too much around.
But the next item on the agenda was collecting mussels. (Any of you who know me will understand that mixing Irish and First Nations expressions is not unusual for me.)

Anyway, we pick our way across a crunchy white beach, composed largely of clam and mussel shells battered by the sea and rocks. Tony carries the pail. By now, he's discovered my rather indelicate large motor skills--add slime to klutz and the simple answer is, let her use both hands!

He points out a few things, like these sweet sea anemones who, like us, are bundled up in the incredibly cold (-2) sunshine.

At last, we reach the mussel beds and hunker down. This is my first mussel-harvesting experience. You have to kind of dig them out and hack them off at their beards, tough hairy threads with which they attach themselves to the rocks--most likely to save them from being carried off by ravens and eagles. It's hard work, though pleasant enough, with no wind and in the sunshine. (Sorry about the knife, Tara, it may never be the same.) With a half bucket of mussels, we head back.

The next thing I have to do is clean them, scrape off any barnacles, and trim their beards. Tony gives me his recipe, and I set about making dinner: a large stock pot, a little olive oil, some chopped red onion and garlic. Meanwhile, I decide to make fettuccine (gluten-free of course) and start boiling up the noodles. Into the stock pot, goes a whack of white wine, and when it starts to boil, in go the mussels.
Here they are about 15 minutes later, all cracked open, steamy, and good.

Once the noodles are cooked, I drain them, throw in some butter and feta cheese, and then pour in the wine broth from the mussels. And then, at last, it's dinner time! The table is set. Alive alive-o!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Quick Trip to Tofino

Yesterday we managed a supply trip to Tofino when a decent weather window arose. I picked up a cold virus just before coming out to the light station, and have been feeling "under the weather" for the last couple of days. With no rain, fog, or high winds in the forecast, and most importantly, a rippled sea, we decided to boat into town to pick up some meds from the pharmacy along with a few other supplies. Now, out here you can't just walk across the street, or slide in the car and drive to the drug store.

T's zodiac resides on a trailer atop a steep rocky ... dare I say cliff? In order to launch it, we had to  drag the trailer into position, gather our equipment and prep the boat, and then attach the boat to a winch by means of a giant iron hook. My job was to hold the bow line and keep the teetering boat vertical, while T ran the winch that lowered it down the high line and into the channel. Here it is in the water.

We also had to carry the skiff down the cement steps to the boat ramp, so that T could then row out to the zodiac, board it, and motor over to me.

My trick was to hop into the bow of the zodiac from the ramp. After that, we were on our way.

Tofino is about 15 minutes by water from the light station. For the most part, it is known for surfing, fishing, beaches, seafood, and storm and whale watching. This time of year, most of the tourists have vacated, leaving the town to the locals. Yesterday several First Nations folk had come in via water taxi from the neighbouring reserves to shop, and it was a bustling community. It's a pretty little town of friendly folks with a cared-for feel. After gathering our supplies we boated back -- bracing -- making it back just before the weather turned and the window shut.

But no getting out of the car and running in the house -- the whole process must be reversed, including running the zodiac up the high line and landing it in the trailer. Meanwhile, the tide was ebbing, so when I hopped off the boat and onto the seaweed-riddled ramp, I was amazed by pools of undiscovered  (by me) sea life. "Nimbly" pulling out my camera, I snapped a few shots while holding on to a rope with the other hand -- delicate lime green sea anemones and starfish hidden beneath the sea grasses.

By the time I crawled into bed at 7pm with a tall hot Neocitran and brandy, I was weary. At 3am when I did my first marine weather observation, we were already experiencing fog and light drizzle. The weather here changes rapidly and without warning, which is one of the reasons light keepers observe, record, and relay weather reports every three hours. With this front upon us, it might be days before the chance arises again to take out the zodiac. Life here follows its own rhythm and we must take advantage of every moment.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

On First Coming to Lennard Island

My two days of travel to Lennard Island involved several events: an hour drive to Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, an hour and an half ferry sail, another drive to downtown Victoria where I met a friend/colleague for catchup and tea at the Solstice Cafe on Fisgard Street, and then a short drive to uptown Victoria where I stayed overnight with a lovely couple (thanks again Iona and Alaistair).

The following morning, I met the helicopter at 8am. Lift off is extraordinary ... exhilarating. The first place I recognized from the air was Hatley Castle--Royal Roads University. Passing overland provides a different perspective. We are but a tiny insect. So many trees. Unfortunately, most, perhaps all, are second and third growth, and clear cut swaths appear like scars on the earth. We pass the San Juan River Valley and stop briefly in Tofino, before arriving at last on Lennard Island around 9:45. My gear is moved out of the boot and replaced with that belonging to the keepers I am replacing. All is done with friendly efficiency.

 Here's a picture of jolly Molly, the border collie, getting fitted with her specially made noise reducing earmuffs:

And we, stand waiting--two tall shadows--for the helicopter to depart.

Then it's to work: settling in, orienting, reviewing and reporting the marine weather. Last night, I was exhausted but happy to be back working as a relief light keeper on a beautiful West Coast island.

Oh yes, this is the view from my bathroom window:

And when I awoke at 3am to do the first weather this morning, this space was glowing with stars and a crescent moon. Imagine.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lennard Island

Starting to organize for my upcoming trip to Lennard Island. I haven't been on station for awhile and have missed working as a relief light keeper, so naturally I'm excited. We visited Tofino a few years ago--Tara, Quinley, and me--and walked around Long Beach. Quinley was visiting from Ontario, and sadly, passed on not long after returning home. We still miss him.

 Apart from that I've never stayed on the legendary storm coast.

Lighthouse Friends has great info about the station. Be sure to watch the NFB film, "Beautiful Lennard Island" — the young narrator is adorable. 

Here are a couple of fantastic aerial shots. Many thanks to the photographers. More to come.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Sights & Sounds of Pender Harbour

I am not currently at a lighthouse but a place just as beautiful. Pender Harbour is a region midway up the Sunshine Coast. You arrive here by taking a 40 minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay in Vancouver. After passing through Gibsons (famed home of The Beachcombers), Roberts Creek, Sechelt, and Half Moon Bay, you finally reach Pender Harbour--it takes about an hour by car. If you continue on up the coast from here, you will come to Egmont and another ferry will take you to Powell River and finally Lund.

It is a rugged craggy beautiful place defined by ocean, freshwater lakes, wildlife, mountains, and mists. Oh, and yes, people. Wonderfully eccentric creative people (at least the ones I’ve met so far). 

The last week was perfect: days and days of warm sunshine, spawning salmon (we think these are chum), mushroom foraging, quiet writing, yoga moments, and rehashing stories with my olde friend. Life does not get better than this. The following short film captures some of the images I encountered. I purposely did not add music, as the silence and the natural sounds really define my experience.

Stepping outside is like entering another world, as the riot of birds on the estuary compete for food. One giant hemlock tree vibrates with a chaos of red-winged blackbirds, while eagles, ravens, and crows cruise the sky, and seagulls swim, bathe, and drag salmon from the slack water.

Mornings are misty calm. Evenings black and silent. Salmon jump splash and frequently dance across the top of the water on their tails. One morning while writing, I glanced up to see the most adorable baby bear walking by my window. Shy and alone, we hope he will manage on his own. And so it goes, as I watch the tide ebb and flow twice a day.

The Sights & Sounds of Pender Harbour

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Almost a Lighthouse

Almost got off on a lighthouse adventure yesterday ... almost. I was this close. Unfortunately, plans changed at the last minute, and I ended up taking the ferry back home again. Very disappointing. It was my first offer since being cleared for work after my back injury, and I was SO excited to be going back to the lights.

Life is ever changeable and out of our control.

While in Victoria, I took a stroll around Fisherman's Wharf. This is a unique waterfront neighbourhood close to downtown on Dallas Road. They even have a Facebook page.

There is an active working marina where you can buy fresh catch:

And, several boardwalks lead to floathomes and liveaboard boats--moorage costs around $735 plus $125 for the licence fee per month. I've fantasized about buying there myself from time to time, so decided absorb some atmosphere.

It was still morning--I'd left home at 5am to catch the first ferry out from Tsawwassen--so the shops and restaurants weren't open yet. Fortunately, several homes were decked out for Halloween.

This next one is adorable and for sale! It reminded me of you, Jackie.
I could definitely live here--if it was affordable:)

I couldn't find it listed on MLS but this little gem is being offered at $249,900- just to give you some idea of the pricing in this community. Oy! West Coast prices!

Unique artwork ...

and, of course, political commentary...

are other features of Fisherman's Wharf.

Below is the home of a diver who retrieves discarded cell phones among other things from our ocean. Thank you for that. You can see them on display around the window.

An intriguing community but NOT a lighthouse.

Inside my empty bottle I was constructing a lighthouse while all the others were making ships. ~Charles Simic

Courtesy of Brainyquote

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Little Birds

Most of us are impressed by the sight of a bald eagle in flight or a great blue heron keenly focussed on his prey, but the little birds we oft times ignore. Some are drab, all are small, and most seem hard to identify. But around the BC coast, the little birds assure us that the ecosystem is working. Food is eaten, mating accomplished, and eggs laid. Always a lover of finches and chickadees, I was able to widen my small bird repertoire this summer by learning about a few new (to me) species.

Steller's Jay

I photographed this charmer after a rain shower about 60 miles north of Vancouver Island. These bold mimics of the evergreen forest can imitate several other species; as well as, mechanical objects, and are known for stealing eggs from other birds' nests. They were named after Georg Steller, a naturalist on a Russian explorer's ship who "discovered" them on an Alaskan island in 1741. This crazy-crested predator was likely hunting peanuts.

Black Oystercatcher

The Black Oystercatcher was an entirely new species for me. As per their name, these large obvious birds love to probe for molluscs. I'd often hear them through the night waves chattering like squeaky toys. But what I love most about them is their sharp amber eyes and long orange beaks.

I'm still not absolutely sure if I've correctly identified these plump sandpiper-like birds as surfbirds, as there are several different species that frequent the BC coast. Yellow legs, white rumps, stripey wings that appear in flight--if anyone knows for certain, please comment.

Storm Petrel
Finally, a friend of mine just found two of these sweet birds stranded, on two separate occasions. The fork-tailed storm petrel is a beautiful pelagic seabird who cannot take off from land as its body is designed uniquely for the sea--but sometimes, they get blown off course in high winds or lost in the fog. How vulnerable. Imagine if no one was around to pick her up and take her back to the water?

Storm petrels use their keen sense of smell to locate small fish and crustaceans at sea. They hold a supply of oil in their stomach which can be used to feed their chick or discourage predators. In bad weather, the chick may be left without food for several days, during which time, it goes into a state of torpor and stops growing. Luckily growth resumes again when the parents return to brood.

Just looking for photographs of the storm petrel in flight, I ran across this webpage with gorgeous bird photography by Mike Yip. 

Birds are part of us, even the little birds.

New Word of the Day: pelagic
Meaning? relating to the open sea
Origin: mid 17th century, via Latin from the Greek pelagikos, from pelagios "of the sea"
Used in a sentence: Like the shorebirds, I am pelagic.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sky Gazer and Cloud Gatherer

Clouds have always fascinated me. I can remember learning their names--Cirrus, Cumulous, Stratus, Nimbo-Stratus--in elementary school, and later lying on my back in our orchard watching Joni Mitchell's “folds and folds of angelhair” drift by.  Standing on a rock in the ocean, the celestial dome spreads in all directions; each one often revealing very different types of clouds.

Last Thursday, when a thunderstorm rampaged through the Lower Mainland, I watched the backside, where the sky to the northeast bubbled with Mammatus.

Derived from the Latin mammalis meaning “having breasts” -- Mammatus are pouches of heavily saturated air that often hang from the underside of a storm’s anvil cloud. Staring at this cloud mass, I became mesmerized by what I discerned as the face of a god.

If you look carefully just above and to the left of the light, you can see a visage that looks very much like Zeus. Replete with  wild hair and beard, he seems to have descended in a rush of wind from the heavens. Compare the features in Mammatus to the features on these Greek sculptures of Zeus and you’ll see what I mean.

Zeus 2nd Century AD from The British Museum
Jupiter from The Musee du Louvre

Zeus, the Grecian Sky King and Weather God, was said to wield thunder and lightening, carry a royal sceptre, and cavort with his sacred golden eagle, a creature symbolic of strength, courage, and justice. Indeed, from his castle atop Mount Olympus, Zeus/Deus, the father-god, presided over law and justice. Fathering many heroes through his escapades with both goddesses and mortal women, Homer dubbed him "cloud-gatherer". The mythology of Zeus is not lost on us in this century who still revel in the Olympic Games, created by his Olympians.

Later, below Mammatus, the sky severed and cracked to reveal a pale blue fissure like a portal to another world. 

I have become a sky gazer, discovering passion--joy and sometimes chaos--in the natural beauty of the celestial dome. Later still, on the same night Mammatus appeared, the sky to the west appeared like this:

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

... from Tennyson's "Ulysses" -- 1842

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Few Words on Seals and Sealing

My grandmother owned a full length shiny black sealskin coat. I know this because it was passed down to me in the 70’s. Luxuriously soft and silky, I wore it for awhile during my hippie days, and don’t remember now, how I felt then, about the fact that the pelts were stripped from the body of some beautiful marine mammals, perhaps while they were still alive. I was a most unenlightened hippie. 

I didn't know, for example, that most of the world’s seal hunting occurs here in Canada (northwest Atlantic region) and involves the Harp Seal

Note: this is an intensively complex controversial subject that involves many players.

Hunting is regulated by DFO, The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, who set quotas based on their studies of the seal population, and enforce “Seal Protection Regulations” to ensure humane killing and reduce competitive slaughter. DFO conducts studies and works hard to protect the species. They post a Q&A page here.

Harp seals can be commercially hunted once they are 12-14 days old--at this point they molt their downy white newborn fur and are abandoned by their mothers. The killing of whitecoats and bluebacks (newborns) has been banned since 1987. Most sealing is done on The Front, the ice flows east of Newfoundland, during March and April (though the season is open from mid-November to mid-May). According to Liberation BC the total allowable catch for 2012 was 400,000. 

Kill methods are also regulated by DFO--seals can only be dispatched using high-powered rifles, shotguns firing slugs, clubs or hakapiks--a heavy club with hammer head and metal hook on the end.  As brutal as this sounds, the hakapik (a Norwegian harvesting weapon) seems the most humane method as the seal’s skull is crushed with a quick blow to the forehead. This means the seal is not bled or skinned alive. Hunters are supposed to render the animal unconscious, check that it is dead, and then cut the main artery to bleed the seal out--it's meant to be quick.

Think about how the meat in grocery stores arrives there and compare. And, for the Canadian Sealers Association side of the issue see Myths and Realities.

To further complicate matters, global warming is now threatening the harp seal population. Females come out of the water to give birth on the ice floes in late winter, but warmer temperatures are causing the ice to break up before the pups even learn to swim. Many drown. In fact, in 2007, one government study posted a 100% mortality rate on newborns. And in 2011, a year in which 70,000 seals were harvested, the mortality rate was 80%. DFO must take all of this into consideration when they set their quotas.

And, as always, times are changing. Demand for Canada’s harvested pelts has diminished since the European Union (EU) banned importation of seal products in 2009, and to date, 34 countries have banned importation of seal hunt products not created by Indigenous Peoples. Liberation BC

Harbour Seals

These lovely creatures--Harbour Seals--are not commercially hunted. Since 1970, they’ve been protected under the Federal Fisheries Act, along with northern elephant seals, and Steller and California sea lions, so their population is steadily increasing.

Pinnipeds are acrobatic in the water, but movement on land is difficult--they wriggle over the rocks like giant slugs. In the photo below, you can see scars, likely the result of dragging the weighty body over sharp rocks. A party of them haulout on the rocks during low tide. There are sometimes kerfuffles over personal space if someone gets too close, and I am almost certain they post a sentry. One always appears to be looking up at the land, and when I reach a certain point, he or she squooshes into the water, an act which inspires a chaos of squooshing and splashing, as the entire party takes cover. Then I am all apologies for having disturbed their slumber. Ironically, their enemy here is not man, but Orcinus Orca, the killer whale, who often hunts them in the early morning hours.

I am so grateful to have had this time to share this rock with these Harbour Seals. They are beautiful creatures, so vital and curious, and I will miss them when I'm gone, but take comfort in the fact that they will remain.

I have no idea whatever happened to my grandmother's coat, and though I see the many sides of sealing, personally, the only seal hunting I will ever do is with my camera. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

My Shipping News

Vessels abound this Labour Day Weekend in the blue waters between Gabriola Island and the Sunshine Coast. It is bare foot tank top hot, the air calm, the sea rippled, the hazy sky sprayed in low white clouds. Definitely gorgeous. But also definitely dangerous. The combination of motion, sunlight, wind, waves and sound on water can impair a boater’s judgement. 

I’m creating my own little "Shipping News", watching the sailboats drift by soundlessly, the fisher folk relax into their lines, kayakers slip amongst the seals, while the ferries cruise businesslike up Fairway Channel towards Nanaimo. No PWCs here, no water-skiiers flanking souped-up power boats. This is a sensible stretch of water. Of course, I don’t have the inside story--I’m only a casual observer. I'm no Quoyle gathering stories for the Gammybird.

Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News is high on my list of all-time favourite books. Not sure if it’s the locale, the coastal village of Killick-Claw in Newfoundland, or Quoyle himself, an antihero whose struggle with life and love drives the story. Certainly the mythologizing of such things as sailor’s knots intrigues me. Annie Proulx acknowledged that “without the inspiration of Clifford W. Ashley's wonderful 1944 work, The Ashley Book of Knots, which I had the good fortune to find at a yard sale for a quarter, this book would have remained just a thread of an idea."

But, more than likely it’s in the writing itself, the words, the images, the details: the headlines buddy Billy Pretty creates as he struggles to teach Quoyle to write news copy; the justice in the Aunt’s quiet revenge, the creepiness of the House at Quoyle’s Point which has a mind all its own.

Ah, now I’m going to have to read this book yet again--just thinking about it makes me feel good.

Happy Holiday from Entrance Island

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...