Tag Archives: spiritual

Hanson Island Life Lessons

Every week and a half the fridge begins to look bare, the tortillas are gone, the beer and wine but a distant memory. The marine weather report is lit up in crimson, gale warning in Queen Charlotte, storm warning in Johnstone Strait, rain, wind, small craft advisories. On a good day Alert Bay is just thirty minutes by boat away, weaving through the Plumper and Pearce Islands, sending torrents of frothy white water over the deep green waters is nothing short of cathartic. It’s just finding enough of those days that can be the struggle.

And so we look for “windows.” Six hour blocks where the wind dies, the rain lessons, and the boat floats. As the storm inhales for another blow you run for town before the next exhalation. But after eight months of this game, pulling the boat up and down the beach so water lifts it off the rocks at just the right time, it feels commonplace. The fact that we once lived half a block from a Rainbow Foods absolutely absurd. We’ve traded the convenience of stores, bars, and restaurants for the simple tranquility of wilderness.

In a few weeks we’ll be gone, on our way back to civilization. At least our definition of it which entails residing in a town of 350 people. But right now that feels more like a metropolis than hamlet. Certainly there are things we’re looking forward to, I mean, we’ve talked to just a handful of people face to face this year. No longer having to correlate tide height and wind with fresh lettuce will be convenient. And I really do miss Alaskan IPA.

But more than anything, I’ve learned a lot about myself over the winter. I landed my first paid writing gig, wrote thousands of words for a novel that I’ll probably let no one ever see, and am just a season and a half away from watching the show, “Friends” all the way through.

Brittney loves the website, mindbodygreen.com and there are some great articles and information to be found. She hates me for pointing out however that the site is often flooded with “top 10” lists. Top 10 ways: to know your man has a good heart, yoga pants, fat burning foods, etc. Now it’s all she sees… she may never forgive me. But I’m going to conform, and walk through the ten things that I’ve learned this winter on Hanson Island.

1. How ever much time you think you have until the boat is aground, subtract by ten minutes. You’ll save yourself a lot of disappoint, frustration, and expletives.

2. Mice will find a way into your house. Steel wool, blockades, and a cat will only do so much. Accept the inevitable, keep the counters clean, and check under the propane stove frequently.

3. It is perfectly acceptable to wake up in a cold sweat because you just dreamed that you could hear orcas and aren’t recording.

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4. No matter how much you hoot and holler at them, Stellar Sea Lions will not give you the time of day.

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5. Orcas love to call at dinner time, so you stuff your plates into a plastic milk crate box and lug it all over to the lab and have dinner with headphones on.

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6. Bath Days are a gift from God and should be worshipped as such.

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7. Mink will live under the house, they’re cute but smell terrible, your cat will want to make friends, the mink will not acquiesce. 11081015_10155300238395858_6083581184589343527_n

8. Porch baths in December are a necessity. Treat them like a Nascar pit crew changes tires. If you’re not out and back inside in under five minutes you are a) doing it wrong and b) probably borderline hypothermic.

9. Bring pets. You’ll need someone to talk to when your wife gets mad at you for ruining her favorite website.

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10. There is nowhere on earth like this place, nothing can replace it or come close. So enjoy every moment you have here regardless of the time of year.

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Face to Face

A seal bobs in the shallows of the cove next to our house. Floating silently, big wide eyes fixed on the rocks and washed up logs in the back of the cove. Where there’s seals there’s usually fish and I rush out the door, grabbing the net leaning against the wall that we always have close at hand. I pick my way down the beach, stepping and sliding over logs, their surfaces slick with rain. I clamber over one and try to push myself up, my hand slips, coming away with some nasty slime coating my palm. But after wearing the same pants for a week a little tree slime seems irrelevant and I wipe it on my pants leg.

The fish love to take shelter in the shallows, even huddling under the logs when they float on the high tide. It’s an aquatic Easter egg hunt and I peer under log after log, looking for a dark shadow, a burst of blue, a hint of silver. I find nothing as I near the far side of the cove. I look out over the water, the seal has vanished like a phantom beneath the waves. There are no sea lions, no humpbacks, just the lapping of the waves. I balance on a floating log and continue to pry the water with my eyes, the net held loosely at my side. The rain that has been falling for three days begins again, and with it the rush of wind, the beginning of a 30 knot storm that would blow in before the night was done, pinning Paul and Helena in Alert Bay for another day.

I reach the last fallen tree and gingerly step off, hearing the rock crunch against my feet, my toes tingling from the cold. I’d gone over the top of my XtraTufs putting the boat away last night and the insides are still lined with sea water. The sun disappears behind the clouds, concluding it’s brief appearance for the day, the solar panels have had little to do this week, but we’ve been keeping the generator plenty busy.

Something large moves in the shallows, than a flash of silver. At my feet is a salmon. Adrenaline rushes, my eyes wide. The chum is laying on its side mouth working feverishly, passing as much water as possible through its gills. One wide unblinking eye stares up at the sky and into the heavens. He’s dinner. I pull the net out, and take a step towards him, this was too easy. But something large and gray slithers across the submerged portion of the nearest log, making me stop my approach.

It’s a harbor seal, maybe five feet away, it’s belly dragging against the rocks of the shallows, whiskers a yard from the fish. It had to know I was there, his sharp ears and wide eyes would have told him long before he reached this point. And yet there he floated, trusting me. For the briefest moment I’m conflicted. Two steps, a yell, and a quick move of the blue net and the fish was mine. And yet, what would that say about me? What kind of man would I be to callously shove this seal aside so that I could have what it had chased. How was that any different from the profit hungry oil company, banging on the doors of the refuge? The hunter on Baranof Island, murdering a bear for its fur. This fish wasn’t meant for me and I knew it. I may want it, but I didn’t need it. I look down at the seal, still floating there, a wave hits shore and almost carries the pinniped into my feet, I’ve gone over the tops of my boots again.

Finally, the seal turns his head, and looks straight into my eyes. For the briefest moment we’re connected. What must he be thinking. Many of my species would call him a pest, destroying nets, eating fish. God forbid that he live the way a seal’s supposed to live. And yet here he was, giving me a chance to do the right thing. Nature once again, giving us a chance to make amends. It was my turn to represent mankind to the animal kingdom, I didn’t want to disappoint.

“Go ahead,” I whisper, “take it, it’s your fish.” The seal turns away and with one movement, delicately grabs the fish by the tail and pulls it back into the deep water. I watch the little gray torpedo depart, gliding serenely through the waves, the fish clenched in his teeth. Ten feet from shore he surfaces, his head turned back toward shore. The tail hangs out one side of his mouth and he hovers for a second, starring at me, and is swallowed up by the sea.

God’s Cathedral

There is a place on the island where you can see history. Feel it travel through your feet, up your spine, sending tingles down your arms. You travel back a thousand years in the blink of an eye and remained rooted hundreds of years before Columbus even considered leaving. And yet all is quiet and still, the words whispered. The story and message imagined and interpreted within. The walk to the time machine is a short one. Winding through stands of rebellious young Hemlocks, shrouded in the shade of their brothers above, crawling year by year upward. I’ll be long gone by the time they see the sun. Here and there a strand of blue is wrapped around a tree, the words, “culturally modified” scrawled across it. They are not the largest, but they are the most important. The historical importance of these trees to the Namgis first nations people has saved the island from logging, a tiny shrine to the old growth stripped by the mountainside on Vancouver Island just a few miles away.

For all her size you don’t see her until you hop the stream, round the final corner, and the shadow towers above you. 12 feet in diameter, hundreds of feet high, she is more impressive than any building any architect could create. The land around her base is bare, her children, teenage trees, shurbs, and huckleberry rise up nearby in the protective shadow of her arms. All is still, the silence so complete you can hear mosquitoes on the other side of the clearing. It’s like walking into a church, you speak in whispers, move quietly, sit down silently. Holier than any church man could conceive. Gods first and true temple, standing, waiting to be worshiped in for a mellinium. Grandma cedar is the pulpit the trees her congregation, it would be arrogant to call us angels.

Everyone I take to see her has the same reaction. Visitors, cameraman, authors, journalists, stare upwards, mouth open, their necks craning farther and farther back, searching for the peak of her branches. Again and again the photographer falls to the floor turning his camera this way and that, trying every conceivable angle in a vain attempt to capture the beauty and tranquility of the scene. Every glance at the LCD screen leaves him shaking his head, hands running through his hair, than back to the forest floor for another attempt.

While the light reflects bright and harsh off the water a quarter mile away, here it is soft and green, the eyes and mind relax, and you drift to a time before anyone knew this existed. The clearing transforms and a sheet of ice replaces the trees. Creaking and groaning it moves, imperceptibly, year after year, resignedly giving way to bedrock, slate, and erratics. It drops a massive rock near the cove, an erratic that will someday be the wall of my home. Water fills the passes and straits that will become the homes of salmon and seal, humpback and herring. Grandma cedar begins to grow. When exactly is not important, what’s 100 years when we’re speaking of thousands? As she rises she sees and hears all. She sees the Namgis settle and camp. Catching salmon and seals, revering the orca and raven. There songs and fires echo and reflect off her face, the jumping light and songs drifting across what would someday be Blackney Pass. They may war with each other but they are at peace with nature. She sees the otter, the humpback, the people, obliterated, her landscape changed forever. Her kinfolk felled to make wooden tables like the one I write on now. The hypocrisy burns as I sit in a house made entirely of wood.

She sees a man in a kayak, a flute at his side, paddle into the cove at her feet. He walks to the erratic on the beach, running his hands down the cool stone, an image born in his head. A house appears, than another, yet the structures seem to melt into the forest. Wrapped in the cloak of grandma’s congregation. People come and go in the following years, nothing more than a fleeting second in her eyes. But whoever touches the shore is brought before her, to pay their respects, honor the matriarch of the forest and remember where we have come from. She changes lives without an audible word. She speaks in riddles, symbolism, and nothing more. The message you take away is the one you are looking for.

And now I stand before her, staring up at the tips of her branches that seem to reach to the heavens. Touch her trunk, feel her age, her power, a talisman of the past. Of how things were, how things can be if we allow them to. I fall to my knees, in silent worship and thanks for this place. For Muir had his glacier, Heacox has his kayak, and I have this island.