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...

Monday, May 12, 2014

The White Church (Part 3)

The steep cracked cement steps are caked with moss. A mottled brass plaque inside the wooden doors reads:

This church, dedicated to Pope St Pius X, erected 1956 to the Glory of God and in memory of Padre Magin Catala, OFM, first missionary to Friendly Cove, 1793 and in memory of the historic meeting of Capt. George Vancouver, RN and Commander Bodega Y Quadra of the Spanish Navy in Friendly Cove, 1792, and the Nootka Convention Treaty, was sponsored by His Excellency, Bishop James M. Hill of Victoria, directed by the Rev. F. Miller OMI Parish Priest, assisted by Rev. T. Lobsinger OMI with the approval and assistance of Chief Ambrose Maquinna and his band at Friendly Cove.

So many to acknowledge, and yet the actual people, who have lived here since time immemorial, and on whose territory the church stands, barely make it to the last line. In the vestibule are stained glass windows sent by Spain, framed yellowing photographs, and a model of a longhouse. 

The hall itself, I am pleased to say, has been reclaimed by the First People of Yuquot. Their art, their totems, and their symbols now inhabit this space.

The only symbol that remains of the Spanish church, apart from the cross atop the steeple, is the large Latin/English bible that rests on a wooden table.

Flanking the table are carved and painted poles.

The historical presence at Yuquot was rather brief, yet remarkably intense. In the 1780s, Nootka Sound was the most important anchorage on the Pacific Northwest coast--contested space, sought by Russia, Britain, and Spain. Thousands of Nuu-chah-nulth families lived here in scattered communities, as their people had for millennia. Of course, that didn't stop the Europeans from trying to "claim" the territory or exploit the people for their resources. It never did.

The historic meeting and treaty mentioned on the plaque were the result of a crisis in 1789, fueled by a hot-tempered Spaniard named Martinez. The story goes something like this:

In 1788, John Meares, a Brit, builds and launches--with the help of many Chinese workers--a 50 ton barque, North West America, in the cove, west of the village. (The first Spanish church is later built there.) Martinez, who has established a fortified post in Friendly Cove, seizes the ship, along with three others: Iphegenia, Argonaut, and Princess Royal, and sends them off to San Blas, Mexico (the centre for Spanish operations). During one skirmish, Maquinna’s relative, Callicum is shot and killed--again, this involves Martinez. As tensions escalate, Martinez requests 200 infantry. Before they can arrive; however, he abandons Nootka Sound.

With no Internet, this news does not reach anyone of consequence. The King of Spain had issued a Royal Order on April 14, 1789, requiring the establishment at Nootka to be maintained. So, Flores, the Viceroy of New Spain orders the First Free Company of Volunteers of Catalonia, under Alberni, to move north. In 1790, Alberni’s soldiers reoccupy the fort, under the command of Eliza. The Catalonians rebuild and enlarge Fort San Miguel, and the settlement, Santa Cruz de Nuca.

Things stabilize somewhat. Maquinna’s trust is regained, and trading goes on.

In 1792, Quadra is sent to command the base and the famous Nootka Convention Treaty (mentioned on the plaque) is signed with the British. George Vancouver represents England.

Santa Cruz de Nuca has barracks, a hospital, and fantastic gardens. Quadra is respected by the Yuquot people; in fact, Maquinna often stays overnight at Quadra’s residence, and enjoys his famous silver plate banquets, wines, and brandies. Life is good.

The first missionary, El Padre Magin Catala, arrives in 1794, and assimilation commences. 

(These two paintings were donated by the Government of Spain in 1957.)

But, within three years, the Europeans abandoned Nootka Sound. 

Maquinna tore down the fort. What followed for the people of Yuquot was a time of tension and declining wealth, due to the lessening fur trade.

All that remains of the Spanish are names on a map: Quadra, Flores, Alberni... 

At the back of the church, carvings hang from the ceiling, a testament to Nuu-chah-nulth reclamation. The eagle resembles the carving that adorned Chief Maquinna's burial site (1902).

The church/museum feels lonely this time of year. Come summer, when hikers hit the Nootka Trail and the Uchuck III begins its tours from Gold River, it will fill occasionally with curious tourists. The old buildings have sunk into the moss, and the people have all but gone. I wish I could hear them...singing, dancing, laughing, explaining what all of this means, and telling their story of this place.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Moving with the Sun

With perfect weather yesterday, I decided to challenge myself, and go exploring. With my fearless companion, I headed out across the rocks at low tide. Here, Lucy strikes a pose, while waiting for me to hoist her down the rock.

We saw brilliant starfish nestled in amongst the kelp-strewn stones.

After crossing the rocky cove, we had to scale a rock wall. This might look easy, but I had to find solid handholds and toeholds, and be careful not to fall or twist an ankle or knee, or slip on a dodgy rock. I always carry a handheld radio, but I don't ever want to have to use it to call for help.

Spring flowers are popping up everywhere. Nestled in cracks, or riddling a grassy area, they shoot up and bloom wherever they can. This "Indian Paintbrush" found a rock depression right at the edge of the cliff.

I'm not sure what this plant is, but it's a lovely wine shade. I think it's a type of lily. If you know what it's called, please leave a comment.

From the top of the hill, where the Spanish fort once stood, we gaze back across to the station. 

Rather than go back the way we came--which would take us to the right--I decided to go left at that log jam in the central depression. We edged our way across those dark rocks and then crossed another logjam on the east shore of the island. Lucy scampers across the logs--I wasn't quite that nimble.

Chasms and gorges cut through the rocks. Unfortunately, we came to a dead end, and had to backtrack in order to climb our way out and up to the station.

When we arrived back home, our first group of hikers was relaxing on the patio. The lightstation is usually the last landmark on the trail. This group had come in via Air Nootka aboard a floatplane and were waiting for the rest of their party to arrive before boarding a water taxi back to Gold River. They'd chosen a great week. Excellent weather, even a couple of bright hot sunny days! Experienced hikers, they'd also hiked the West Coast Trail. This trail, they agreed, was shorter (only 4-5 days), but more technical, and more rugged (less facilities, like toilets). For a taste of the Nootka Trail, read this article. It wasn't written by our hikers, but the writer had a similar experience and took fabulous photographs.

Beginning in late June, the Uchuck III picks up hikers at the dock below the lightstation. For more information on making connections while hiking Nootka Sound, check Get West.

Courtesy of pbkiteboarding.com
Just now, I was visited by two guys who were kite-sailing, and had camped overnight on the dock. I don't know much about this sport, but gather it looks something like this:

As the days grow longer, and the sun shines stronger, more and more visitors frequent this giant ocean playground. 

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...