Tag Archives: storm

Escape From Hanson Island

For a week the weather services proclaimed that Wednesday, April 15th would be calm, clear, and peaceful. It would be a fitting and tranquil journey from the lab to Alert Bay, a promising start to what would be a week long expedition that would eventually lead to Gustavus, Alaska. On Tuesday night I checked the weather one final time, more out of sentimentalism than anything else, and saw Johnstone Strait caked in red. “30 knot southeasterly winds,” it boldly proclaimed. I rolled my eyes and glanced out the window, the cedar boughs were fluttering in a benign and apathetic way, I shut the curtains and crawled under the covers.

The next morning we awoke to the windows rattling, though the rain showed merciful restraint. We packed and began to debate tersely the best strategy for placing a bulky rabbit cage, a squirming cat, and countless bags and boxes unto the deck of a pitching boat.

An hour later the June Cove pulled around the corner, bobbing in the churning bathtub that was Blackfish Sound. We threw our belongings unceremoniously aboard with rabbit and cat perched atop the pile, and watched the lab fade from view. In the stress and rush to load the boat before the waves could put it on the rocks, there was little time for nostalgia and farewells. Instead of casting a final look at the lab deck, where I had been bombarded by sun, rain, and a rotating cast of marine life, I diligently jabbed a long two by four into the rocks as the bow of the boat slowly turned toward open water.

The water deepened and waves broke over the bow, foam and white caps littering the ocean. Paul peers through the blurred windshield as we hit the crest of a wave and slide down, the screech of nails emanates from Penny the rabbits cage as she slides back and forth. Completely unperturbed, she continuously tries to stand on her hind legs as the boat rolls, dead set on glancing out the window.

Paul glances over at where I stand, staring out the window into the crashing waves, willing the boat forward. He catches my eye and grins, “the escape from Hanson Island!” he shouts and the tension breaks.

Perhaps it was best like this. No tears, no long, lingering hugs. Leaving Hanson Island is removing a band aid, it’s best to just rip it off. Thirty minutes later we reached the relative peace of the dock, the first of four boat rides behind us. Again there would be no lingering as Paul needed to rush back to the lab before the tide ebbed too far, exposing the June Cove to a night of gale force winds.

And just like that, it was done. We stood where we had eight months ago, with an overstuffed Nissan Pathfinder and a pair of pets staring confusedly out the window while the wind buffeted us.

To our immense relief, our reliable Pathfinder sputtered, coughed, and after several heart stopping seconds, roared to life and we wove along the shoreline to Paul and Helena’s home for the night.

We curled up in the lap of luxury. Hot baths, ice cream, cold beer, electric heat, baseball, it may as well have been the Ritz Carlton hotel for all we cared. But it was hard not glance out the massive windows down Johnstone Strait as the light slowly faded, the outline of Hanson Island still visible and know that it would be months before we were forced to contend with the beautiful inconveniences that only life on an island can bring.

Perhaps the weirdest moment came when we finally crawled into bed. The room was as silent as a tomb and it was completely unsettling. For months we’d been passively listening through the night as the hydrophones reported the sounds of the ocean. The rushing water of a gale, the crackle of a dragging hydrophone, the low pitched growl of a tug, the whistles of dolphins, and the call of an orca that sent you flying from the covers. Now it was all gone, the silence leaving a strange ringing in our ears.

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An Unexpected Hiking Partner

The wind howls and the waves charge, crashing against the shoreline, shooting up the steep edges of the cove before slowly draining back into the ocean, preparing for another attempt. But a quarter mile away in the woods, the sounds are muffled, the wind denied entrance by the protective arms of the trees. The only evidence of the winds raging up and down Blackney Pass is the rustle and swaying of the treetops towering high above. And the three of us yes, three, myself, Brittney, and Porter the cat tromp deeper into the forest. Away from the wind and waves and into the serenity that only the forest can give.

It had been Brittney’s idea originally. After all, the massive windows of our cabin overlooked the ocean and the forest, and poor Porter had been desperate to step outside and meet the squirrels and birds for himself. We’d tried the same thing two summers ago when Brittney was a kayak guide in Gustavus, and Porter had, after earning her trust, vanished without a trace for five stressful days. He was found just two streets over, hunkered down in somebodies wood shed. We decided he had a crummy sense of direction. But it now seemed unfair to be surrounded by this untouched land and confine him to the cabin every day, so she started to take him outside. And something funny happened, he started to follow her, like a dog would follow you when you go hiking. And just like that we had the most peculiar and unlikely hiking buddy imaginable. A nine pound cat willing to hop over logs, scale massive glacial erratics, and bound through the velvety club moss like he’d been doing it his whole life.

Just a mile beyond the ocean, the sounds of the storm vanish completely. The temperature rises, and it’s tempting to just collapse into the downy soft moss and stare up into the trees forever. The forest has been allowed to grow for so long, unhindered by logging that the undergrowth completely disappears, the shrubs unable to gain a foothold thanks to the selfish fir and cedar above, devouring the sunlight.

The whole land used to be like this. The forests of Cracroft, Vancouver Island, and the Broughton Archipelago sported massive trees and a maze of trails beneath leaving passage for man and cougar, deer and bear. Hanson Island was spared, thanks to the collective effort of many, and I whispered a word of thanks as I climb over a fallen log, tiny hemlocks growing stubbornly on it’s trunk, yearning to be like their idols above. There is something refreshing and healing about these old forests.

While the ocean is constantly ebbing, flooding, and crashing against the land, the forest is nearly always still. The ocean changes suddenly, sometimes without warning. The forest is gradual, methodical, in no hurry at all. Secrets fall to the bottom of the sea, vanishing from sight as they plummet downward. The forest is an open book, its stories and tales remaining visible for centuries. They are the ying and yang of ecosystems, and yet they compliment each other perfectly with forests protecting salmon streams. The trees are rewarded by the precious nutrients the salmon return with and give back to the forest as their bodies decay. A perfect thank you gift for guarding their stream.

A massive cedar tree lays on its side, stretching for dozens of feet in each direction. Even in death you can still picture how proud it must have been in life, towering over the island, looking out over Blackfish Sound like a sentinel. You can almost hear the final crack and crash it made as it finally surrendered to gravity and plummeted to the moss below, the impact echoing in your ears. Decay has set in, and the bark peals away in my hands, falling through my fingers like sand. But on the trunk sit more tiny hemlocks, taking advantage of the light now penetrating the canopy. As the cedar falls, it ensures more life will follow, clearing a hole for the sun, allowing the saplings to grow. The next generation of the old growth forest.

Porter sees none of this, he just weaves through the hemlocks, meandering to the end of the cedar and with a nimble leap, lands on the moss below, his big blue eyes darting everywhere, ears orientating to every crack and whisper of the wind. The wind howls above us again, this time with more force, and the trees sway ominously, the forest suddenly full of creaking as trunks rub against each other. I feel the first rain drop fall down the back of my neck. The wind gusts again as we head for home. Even the forest isn’t impervious to forty knot winds.