There are some things living in a city makes you take for granted. A wireless internet connection with enough bandwidth to withstand the greatest netflix addiction for one. Here it’s a different story. In many ways it’s an absolute miracle we ever have a connection at all. For now the connection is down, and the reason is trees. Yes, trees.
Our internet connection comes via a relay of Olympian proportions. From Alert Bay to the north, a radio tower sends a signal south down Johnstone Strait to the northern most point of Cracroft Island known as Cracroft Point (CP). Their a radio hangs from a gigantic fir tree, blinking green lights, a beacon of hope for facebook procrastination and football scores. It’s relayed to another 70 foot fir and from their the signal is passed over Blackney Pass and to Parson Island to the east. Mercifully, Parson Island is within line of sight of the lab, ending the marathon and giving us the wonderful gift of internet.
All it takes is one mishap, one bad connection, one depleted battery, one hungry squirrel that wants to find out what electrical current tastes like to bugger the whole thing up. For the entire summer the internet has cycled off and on. Like some sadistic deity that decides to make everyone nervous for an hour a day only to return it with no explanation. It was a problem Paul knew we’d have to tackle before winter. The connection is vital for streaming orca live, allowing people to listen to the hydrophone network 24 hours a day. So when it finally cut out completely a few days ago, Paul and I headed for CP, dead set on finding and fixing the problem once and for all. We knew the problem lay in one of the two trees that relayed the signal to Parson Island, the question was which one.
There is of course the question of how one maintains a radio signal bolted into the top of a tree as tall as an office building. Paul’s method is either simple, courageous, foolish, or some combination of the three. He hammered massive nails into the side of the trees making an impromptu step ladder to the top . Which meant I watched flabbergasted and terrified as this 75-year old man slipped into a climbing harness, and with a look of complete calm, began slowly working his way up the first tree. I am not scared of heights, but watching Paul move up that tree while bits of bark and branch plummeted around me was terrifying. Reaching the top he clips the harness in, and nonchalantly begins to fiddle with the radio. An hour of trouble shooting later, no connection. The next tree sits fifty yards away, a thick impenetrable garrison of alder forming a ring around the base. “It’s been awhile since I’ve been up that one,” Paul admits, “it makes me nervous climbing it. It’s so steep.” I crane my neck to look up the first tree that Paul just scurried up and down like an over caffeinated squirrel. There was nothing the man couldn’t do.
We enlisted Brittney the next day and returned, blazing a trail through the alder to the second tree. Without a backward glance Paul went up. I wanted to tell him it was ok, the blog’s not that good, Brittney doesn’t have to graduate, we can live without it. There’s no stopping him, like he’d just chugged a gallon from the fountain of youth. And still, after an hour of trail blazing and another hour of fiddling we’re right where we were two days ago, no internet. We have internet access at CP, a 20 minute boat ride, enabling us to maintain some contact with the outside world, write, and let Brittney work on school work. Far from a long term solution with hurricane force winds on the horizon. But while he hung so high above the ground that the sea gulls flew below him Paul found the potential villain.
“When I put this radio in ten years ago,” he explained, “we could see Parson Island across Blackney Pass. Now,” he gestures towards the stand of trees, “the trees have grown so high that I can’t see the island at all. I think some of the tallest ones are blocking the signal.” I stare through the thick brush, imagining hours of tree cutting the roar of the chainsaw already in my ears. I look at Paul, even at his age his energy and zeal are palpable, inspiring, his eyes gleam, “I see more trail cutting in our future!” So here we are trail blazing for internet. Never thought I’d write that sentence.