Tag Archives: Washington

The Birthday Post

For the first time in a year, I got carded. Granted, some of that may have something to do with spending the last six months buying drinks from the same two people (not a lot of choices when there’s only two “bars” in town). But on the eve of my 28th birthday, it served as some sort of inverse reminder. Youth is fleeting. Now I know, my elders and betters will roll their eyes at such a proclamation.

“28? You have your whole life ahead of you.”

To which I say, of course. But we must all admit, that in a society obsessed with youth, with staying young, where waging war against wrinkles is a billion dollar industry, it’s hard not to look at your birthday as some sort of landmark. A road sign twisted and rusted on the highway of life, reminding us that this precious gift slides by far too fast.

I’ve spent the last few days in Seattle. A fine city as far as cities go. It’s big on brew pubs, grunge music, and Macklemore. Though it could do with some deer, perhaps a pack of wolves prowling along I-5. It’s my little snapshot of how normal people live. You know, the ones with satellite TV, high speed internet, and cars that don’t resemble the rusted hull of the Titantic.

I stood in a mall with glistening floors and walls. Music blared through speakers, a movie preview played on a loop from a cluster of wide screens, dozens of adds battled for my attention. But as I dutifully manned my post by the Old Navy entrance, I watched my fellow mall patrons and decided on a little sociological experiment. How many, I wondered, would be on their phones?

The answer was almost all of them. Eyeballs sucked to the screen as if Apple had designed a gravity app more powerful then the moon. What, I wondered could they all be looking at? I didn’t have the phone Brittney and I share. And I must admit there was a decent chance that if it had been in my pocket instead of her purse I may have pulled it out. And what would I have done? Jumped on the internet I guess. Refreshed espn.com even though I knew that there was nothing there I needed to see. People sat side by side on benches, heads bowed as if in prayer, not saying a word. Couples walked hand in hand, free hands holding the creations of Samsung. What are we doing on these things?

Which leads me back to my birthday road sign. If life is so precious, so fleeting and quick, why don’t we spend more time in the present? Why are we so quick to escape to an alternate reality? Later we pass by a Windows PC store. Near the door stood a man. He’s facing the big pane windows but he can’t see him. Something looking like a futuristic toaster is secured to his face. The heck?

“Alternate reality,” Uncle Chris explains to me.

No way.

Maybe it’s just the next wave of video games. Essentially that’s all it is. A really realistic game. And if they made a sports one? Heck yes I’d try that out. Again I must admit to my love of a certain baseball computer game. It’s my escape when I can’t read about Trump, climate change, or acidifying oceans anymore. My own, if you will, alternate reality where the Minnesota Twins finish above .500. So really I’m no different. And maybe that is the wakeup call.

And perhaps that’s what I’ve learned in the last year. That despite my little migratory life from the seat of my kayak, I’m not all that different from the mall patrons and commuters of the city. And that’s ok, that’s a good thing. If I’m no different then those I want to reach, then getting them to listen, to put down their phone and read what comes out of my head should be easy. Maybe one of them will load raincoastwanderings from their phone! The irony.

Because I want the mall dwellers to read what I write. I want to inspire and touch people’s lives. The mall is not a bad place just as a phone that can tell you what time the Vikings play isn’t. What I want, what I aspire to, is to remind people that there’s a big blue and green world beyond the sliding doors. A world you can enter without strapping a toaster to your head. And that, most importantly, we cannot live without it. That the natural world, like every day we are gifted, is precious.

Advertisements

Cranky Border Guards and Getting Busted on the Ferry

If objects at rest tend to stay at rest, and objects in motion stay in motion, than it’s no wonder I feel exhausted. Our travel itinerary for the last twelve days has pulled us thousands of miles on every medium of transportation this side of sled dog on ice pack. Small boat from Hanson Island to Alert Bay, ferry to Port McNeil, drive to Nanaimo, ferry to Vancouver, drive to Seattle (and past the crankiest border guard), drive to Bellingham, ferry to Juneau, ferry to Gustavus, fly to Juneau, and lastly, fly to Anchorage.

After a winter of sitting quietly on a rock in the middle of nowhere with nothing more pressing than to run into town once every two weeks, our manic travel itinerary left us both in a haze. A haze that provided plenty of magical, confusing, and absurd moments. It all starts, I suppose at the B.C/U.S border. We’d spent the day driving south down Vancouver Island after pulling ourselves away from Hanson Island and watching the little cluster of cedar buildings disappear for the next for six months. But the weather turned sunny as we moved down island and spirits were as high as they could be at the prospect of reaching Seattle that evening and spending some time with Brittney’s aunt and uncle.

Joy was further magnified when we reached the border crossing to see four open stations and only a handful of cars in line. With Brittney behind the wheel we glided up to the kiosk, passports in hand.

“Hello!” called Brittney handing over the passports, speaking loud enough to be heard over the quiet whistle our precious pathfinder makes at low RPM.
The U.S border guard didn’t smile, didn’t nod, or in any other way acknowledge or return the most basic and acceptable of human greetings. Instead he snatched the passports from her hand and stared at them as if he’d just picked up something dead and repugnant. After X-raying them for several long moments, his head jerked violently to the side, a great bird of prey ready to grab us and the pets in his talons. His eyes stare into the tinted back window.
“Um, I can open that for you if you want…” Brittney offers.
“Ok.” It speaks!
She rolled the window down, exposing an embarrassing cluster of bags, boxes, and of course, a rabbit, her eyes wide and nose bouncing as the window slides down.
He stares into the labyrinth of our worldly possessions.
“Is that a rabbit?” He sounds disgusted, maybe a little amazed. Surely he’s asking ironically. What he must have been like in high school.
“Yes?” Brittney answers.
Why do we always seem to draw the nastiest of border guards?
“Why are you here?” He snarls.
Seriously? A little ember of rebellion catches some try tinder in my chest. What a hack. Just ask us where we’re from, what our business is, and let’s be on with it. You can be professional without being an asshat. I badly want to say, “why are any of us here man? What’s it all about, man?” But refrain.

Brittney tells him, and before the words are out of her mouth, he’s tossed the passports back into the car and turned away. Wherever he is right now, I’m willing to bet he isn’t smiling.

But we were free, that’s all that mattered. Free to pick up a six pack of glorious IPA after a winter of Kokanee. As we moved further south the road got wider, the trees fewer, the shopping malls greater, and the things I needed to possess to be happy more expensive. If the billboards were to be believed.

“Money doesn’t buy happiness,” Said comedian Daniel Tosh, “but it buys a Waverunner… try to frown on a Waverunner.” Fair point.

We enjoyed a few wonderful days in Seattle, and all too soon, were making the drive north again to the border town of Bellingham to catch the ferry. For the pets, it was the greatest hurdle. Three days cooped up in the car with each other for company. Twice a day we were allowed to go down to the car deck, feed them, and promise that we were almost there. Kind of.

The journey aboard the ferry Matanuska was not a lonely one. A bouncy, adorable two year old with no concept of personal space joined us on the covered back deck of the ferry known as the solarium. A gaggle of wilderness guides based in Haines, including some familiar faces were also aboard, and we prepared for a merry ride north. As we neared Ketchikan, the southernmost town in southeast Alaska however, a ferry employee gave us some grave news. 250 high school band members would be boarding in Ketchikan, swelling the ferry to the bursting point and undoubtedly putting us over the U.S Coast Guard regulated number of tubas. We did what guides do when they’re not on the ocean, the rivers, or the woods. We bought some beer.

Sure. I mean, technically no alcohol was supposed to be consumed in the solarium, but it’s Alaska, surely it’s more of a wink wink, nudge nudge sort of rule. Nope. Half an hour into what looked to be an enjoyable ride from Ketchikan to Petersburg, a lady in a uniform so starched it could stand up on its own materialized in front of us. I had taken the necessary precautions and poured my beer into a nalgene bottle, giving the impression that I was drinking the muddiest, nastiest water in the 49th state. But I remain amazed at how quickly bottles and cans disappeared as she appeared. It was like watching cockroaches scurrying from the sudden flick of a light.

“We had a chaperone complain that there was some open containers of alcohol up here.”
Dead silence.
“Is that true.”
Slowly we shook our heads, muttering “no” while failing to meet her steely gaze. Put us in the woods, in a kayak on four foot seas, and we wouldn’t bat an eye. But here, we were emasculated, or efemulated in Brittney’s case. When in doubt, deny.
“Really?” Stunning that she didn’t believe us. “Cause I don’t think that anyone would just complain for no reason.”
“Maybe they mistook a soda…” one of the other guides mutter.
The lady marches into the middle of the circle. Brittney’s bends her torso over her legs, her Arc’teryx jacket folded over a Sierra Nevada Celebration IPA. The lady tilts her head, “what’s that than?” She points to a big glass bottle beneath one of the lawn chairs someone had been sleeping on.
“That’s… creamer.” Someone says just above a whisper.
“Uh-huh.” She marches over, a soldier of marine enforcement and picks it up. Technically we weren’t lying. Bailey’s is indeed, a creamer. “Consumption of alcohol is not permitted on Alaska state ferries.” She says, much kinder than we probably deserve after lying to her face. “I have to take this, but you can have back when you leave the vessel. I just need to have a name.

Still we’re silent, no one willing to claim any responsibility. We’re all in college again, a militaristic RA confiscating our good time. At last, one of our friends raises his hand. “You can put Mike on it,” he says meekly.

Envisioning a Happy Ending for Lolita

For the past few days my facebook feed has been inundated with posts concerning the protest on the behalf of Lolita, the imprisoned southern Resident orca at the Miami Seaquarium. The activism and awareness spurred from the documentary Blackfish continues to gain momentum and the pressure continues to mount on those that guard the tanks.

The scene of Lolita breaching in cold north pacific waters surrounded by her family, the San Juan islands in the background is certainly a powerful, and romantic one. An image and ending almost too good to be true. Yet we are many steps away from that reality, and on borrowed time.

The conversation unfortunately begins and ends with those that, for legal purposes, “own” Lolita. The proposals seem to be gravitating toward the idea of the aquarium deciding that the time has come to retire Lolita from the show business as a way of thanking her for her decades as a forced laborer. Some have suggested the positive media coverage would offset the loss of those that attend the aquarium solely to see the orca. It would be an incredible gesture, and sadly, a dramatic change in philosophy. She remains a massive source of income for them and it seems unlikely they would willingly part with her.

Just last year a U.S district judge threw out a case proposed by the orca network, PETA, and others protesting the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) renewal of the aquarium’s license. Claiming that the marine parks tank was too small and in violation of the USDAs standards. The case was dismissed as the judge determined the animal welfare act (AMA) did not specify requirements for those already holding USDA permits. It is a frustrating and despicable minefield of red tape and bureaucracy that now seems firmly on the aquarium’s side. There appears to be no hope in the near future of government intervention forcing the release of Lolita.

Meanwhile National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is proposing Lolita be included in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since she remains a member of the Southern Resident Population. Public comment closes on the 24th of this month, if she does indeed qualify as a protected member of the population, the hope is that she would no longer be allowed to be used as a revenue stream. Should the motion pass, I’m confident the aquarium would fight tooth and nail to ensure that she remains where she is. A long legal battle would probably ensue, where, as we know, the system moves very slowly. The courts have already sided with the aquarium once for much flimsier reasons and I’m hesitant to believe that they would redeem themselves this time. I pray I’m wrong.

Which leads us back to the aquarium doing it on their own. Yes, Sea World stock is plummeting, marine park public opinion is at an all time low, and yet, Sea World’s response seems to be to throw more money at the problem and I imagine Miami’s response would be the same. It continues to confound me what my fellow man will do for profit but it is most likely the only voice that they will answer to. We must continue to ensure that revenue continues to fall, in hopes that they realize they must cut their losses and salvage what public opinion they can. They must reach a point however, where the cost of keeping Lolita is higher than what she brings in. It feels so taboo, dishonorable to make Lolilta’s case come down to money, but I fear it’s the only outcome with a happy ending.

So we will protest, we will hold signs and picket. Give copies of Blackfish to our friends that continue to attend the parks. Support animal advocacy groups, volunteer, and write our congressmen. Real change is happening and I pray that it comes before it is too late for Lolita, Corky, and the others.

The best case scenario may be a net pen, the waters of Juan de Fuca on her skin. After forty years of swimming in slow circles, it would be a miracle to see her travel hundreds of miles with her natal pod. She could hear the calls of her family, her relatives, and maybe remember what it means to be a wild whale after all these years. It’s hard to admit that she may have changed irrevocably, who wouldn’t after all those years alone. I may never buy a ticket to an aquarium, but would happily hand over my money to stand on the shore and see her in a cove, on the open water. No corny music, no tricks, no bleachers, no applause. Just a whale trying to be a whale again, chasing fish, and vocalizing without fear of the calls echoing off concrete walls. And know that the age of captivity, is coming to an end.

The Southern Residents and Repeating History

Off the waters of Washington state live the most magnificent, beautiful, and intelligent creature on the planet. A species that has learned to exist without wars or visible disputes of any kind. They maintain a peaceful, complex, and intricate social structure with bonds that we cannot even begin to fathom. And it is all in danger, of vanishing forever. For many it’s already too late. Like Rhapsody, whose body has gone to science in the hope of finding out what ended her life.

It is all so chilling because it’s not the first time that this story’s been told. In the serene and beautiful waters of Prince William Sound, hundreds of miles to the north, the same tragedy is playing with a 20-year head start. The genetically unique AT1 Transient pod, that has lived, stalked, and hunted within the sound for generations is just years from extinction as it comes up on three decades without a successful birth. For AT1, the prognosis is simple and obvious. On good Friday, 1989, the whole pod swam, unknowingly through the lethal slick of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. They have not reproduced since as friends and researchers like Eva Saulitis watch the pod disappear one by one, a slow tear jerking countdown to zero.

For the southern Residents, it’s more complicated. For decades they’ve endured live captures, bullets, overfishing, and the toxic runoff of the increasingly urban Puget Sound. In many ways it’s miraculous they’ve persevered for so long. They can still lay claim to, “Granny.” An orca that was born the same year the Titantic sank and is still seen every year off the San Juan Islands, a talisman to the resilience of the community. And yet, Orcas are dying that shouldn’t be. When Plumper (A37 of the northern Residents) finally vanished from the lab’s view in August 2014, there was such a finality to what we were seeing. It was his wake. His time had come, and all of us, including him and his brother Kaikash seemed to know it. But sweet 18-year old Rhapsody shouldn’t be washing up in Comox. She should be with her mother, siblings, Grandmother, and Aunts, with one or perhaps two calves to her name. This wasn’t her time and it’s hard not to feel guilt, knowing that our species shoulders the blame for her demise and dozens just like her, whether from captivity or PCBs.

The southern Residents are at 77 individuals. The time has come for drastic action before the genetic bottleneck tightens anymore. So that in 20 years, we’re not watching the last of the pod fade into darkness, leaving the waters of the San Juans and Puget Sound in great silence. How empty and desolate it would feel. Imagine Orcas Island with no Orcas. It’s not impossible, the only place in California you can find a brown bear is on the state flag.

It may mean sacrifices on the part of us as human beings. To surrender the pleasure and joy that only comes from watching a line of dorsals materialize off the bow of your boat or kayak. Or perhaps going without Chinook salmon in the freezer this winter. Or maybe as simple as riding the bus to work and reducing the carbon exhaust pumped into the atmosphere.

These aren’t tigers or elephants, we can’t just start captive breeding programs and reintroduce them. But they do need help, and we have a chance, maybe not to make amends, but to right some of the wrongs that we’ve brought against them. To even the playing field as best we can for a species that doesn’t deserve the cards we have dealt. North American progress, american history as a whole, has been filled with extinctions, manipulations, and destruction. We’ve hunted the Gray whales, sea otters, wolves, and now the Orca. But today sea otters again bob in the waters off of Monterey Bay, wolves run through the forests of Yellowstone, and North Pacific gray whales represent one of the healthiest and strongest whale populations in the world as they continue their amazing recovery from industrial whaling.

I don’t think it’s too late for Rhapsody’s kin. But it is time to try something different, because whatever help we’re giving them clearly isn’t working. They need time, space, and most importantly, the salmon that make up more than 90 percent of their diet. Save the whales doesn’t have to just revoke memories of Greenpeace and the 70s. The war is not over, and it is our time to fight for the animals we love.

Making Christmas

It is somehow December. My Alaskan sensibilities tell me it’s impossible for it to be the season of; holly, mistle toe, and red clothed, cookie scarfing, overweight home invaders without a thick carpet of snow. I suppose that’s not entirely fair. It did snow one morning and it almost stuck around for the whole day. But for the most part, the weather continues to emulate an Alaskan fall with the temperature playing jump rope with the freezing point and encouraging us to maintain a fire around the clock.

The orcas gifted us an early christmas present the other day when the I15s announced their arrival in Blackfish Sound with their trademark, donkey like, “hee-haw.” After holding down the strait for much of the summer, seeing the family charge through Blackney Pass and into Johnstone Strait made it feel like August all over again. They have sense vanished, we presume they are still to the west of us in the strait. Though we have reached the time of year where the clouds and storms begin to choke the power from the solar panels, causing hydrophones to cycle on and off, especially at night. With the ocean again silent, save for the daily parade of tugs and the occasional Alaska state ferry, we can prepare, as best as we can at least, for Christmas.

Much like our ill fated New Zealand thanksgiving with the intrusive lemurs, we knew this was coming. That we were going to be far from not just our families, but our friends as well for a season that magnifies togetherness more than any other. Thanks to Helena and our parents though, we’re doing our best to bring a little bit of Christmas to the island. We’ve put up our single strand of multi colored christmas lights and a tiny, “father christmas” figurine who for some reason, is outfitted like a biblical Shepard complete with a staff, mercifully the glorious white beard remains in tact. Than there’s my mother, who can only be described as having been born with second and third helpings of, “care bear DNA.” Their christmas gifts, complete with stockings for not just us, but the cat and rabbit too are piled on a shelf in our room (Brittney insists that we need to find a tree). All together, it makes it feel a little more like the holidays on Hanson Island. But it feels weird to not be listening to the traditional Cannamore rotation of Christmas music, I can’t believe I’m admitting that.

It is, I suppose, all part of the isolation of care taking. And there are certainly days when we need the other to make us smile, laugh, or at the very least, roll our eyes. Yet besides Mom’s christmas cookies and everything else that always made Christmas special, I don’t find myself missing civilization much at all. Groceries being a 30 minute boat ride away doesn’t feel like an inconvenience, nor does getting up every two hours in the middle of the night to stay warm. On the whole, I’ve transitioned into this lifestyle magnitudes easier than I had trying to live in Seattle. When the luxuries of normality are stripped away, we find that we really need precious little to be happy and secure. There’s a roof over our heads, a pot of coffee, and a comfortable fire burning. What more does a human being require. It makes me wonder what it’ll be like when we do leave, and drive back down to the big city before escaping to the comfort and familiarity of Southeast Alaska. Sensory overload, I imagine. Perhaps Brittney should drive.

Thanks Alaska

I sat in more traffic in one afternoon than I had in the last five years. I watched a homeless guy grab a stack of free newspapers, turn to me, and ask if I’d like to buy one for a dollar. I’ve gotten lost, paid 22 dollars for parking and 9.50 for a Sierra Nevada. I don’t know what I expected.

After all, we did just move to a city that has four times as many people as the entire state we just left. I guess they all have to live somewhere. But the magnitude of change is staggering and I don’t know if I could ever get used to it. What’s more though, I don’t think I’d ever want to either. Every square inch, from Bellingham to Seattle has mans’ fingerprints. Shopping malls, on ramps, and suburbs sprinkled liberally up and down each side of the I-5. Somehow I imagined Washington feeling more… earthy, natural. And perhaps compared to L.A, New York, or Houston it is. There are parks of course, with beautiful running trails hugging the shorelines of the lakes, huge oak, fir, and cedar trees creating a beautiful canopy, scattering the light on the trail ahead. But it’s hard to be enamored when bike, jogger, and dog walker stream steadily past, and traffic from the nearby interstate thunders by. It is nature, but like everything else, mans imprint is noticeably present.

This is not meant to be 500 words slandering Seattle. I’ve met some fantastic individuals, the city is clean, the people environmentally conscious, and orca paintings are splattered over countless buildings. Alaska has simply spoiled me with natural wonder and peace. A quiet secluded cove, an imposing glacier, and a curious bear never that far from hand. Perhaps I didn’t realize how bad I needed that until I left. I miss how easily accessible it all was. That 15 minutes could get me to a picturesque stream, fly rod in hand, coho salmon bubbling below the surface. Here it takes two hours, the river damned two miles further upstream. I understand the amazed looks of people on my tour when I explain Egan is our highway. That getting stopped at a light was a traffic jam. That a glacier in your back yard is a huge deal. I understand why people come to Alaska in the first place now. Seeking something that’s still natural and wild. And, sadly, why they expect to be able to find it within two hours of leaving their cruise ship.

We’re not going back to Alaska though, at least not in the immediate future. But we do have the next best thing waiting for us, on that little island, nestled in the middle of what could easily pass as Southeast Alaska, just with bigger trees. If I want solitude, starting July 21st I’ll have it. Free of freeways, traffic jams, and warm running water. Maybe I’ll be craving some taste of civilization come next April. Will desire the luxury of heating the house by just turning a dial. But right now I kind of doubt it. Some people would call it “roughing it.” Or maybe just, “a great life experience while you’re young.” But now I think it’s the only place I truly belong and I blame Alaska for making me this way, and I’m eternally grateful for that.

Nissan Tetris: 20 days to go

Everything we own has to fit in a 1996 Pathfinder. This includes, one cat (Porter) who feels it is his god given right to move freely throughout the cabin, fasten seatbelt light be damned. A rabbit (Penny) and her cage (excuse me, Brittney insists we call it a house), and the two of us. Our bed is long gone, we’ve never owned a dresser that wasn’t made of cheap plastic, and our entertainment system has been those two fur balls we’ve shared our lives with the past two years.

So when we moved out of our cozy (a nice word for cramped) studio apartment in January to house sit until moving day, I thought decluttering would be a breeze. The mattress and end table were gone within hours of a craigslist post and seemingly bag after bag of discarded and forgotten memorabilia was dropped unceremoniously into the dumpster. So when the day came to move our few remaining possessions from the Mendenhall Apartments into the house we’d call home for the next few months, we were terrified to discover it still took three loads to remove everything. We were over capacity, by a lot. And Penny’s cage house wasn’t even set up when we moved it.

And so we’ve spent the last few months enjoying the luxuries of modern civilization such as electric heat, big screen TV’s, ESPN, and Fred Meyer while trying to part ways with more of our stuff. And yet there are things that, incredibly are just hard to let go of. A stack of birthday cards that spans a decade, a high school basketball shirt, and a pile of text books that weigh half a ton but I kept swearing I’d go back and read some day. But in the past two weeks we’ve finally said goodbye to all of them and the moment of truth is three weeks away.

The pathfinder, dubbed “Tui” after the sweet singing song bird of New Zealand needs a serious cleaning before we can actually test how much she can carry but I’m now confident it’s all going to fit. If not, we have until June 28th to say goodbye to whatever else needs to go, whether we deem it significant or not. We spent last night pouring over the highway between Skagway and Seattle, piecing together campsites, food options, and trying to realistically estimate how many miles we can cover with a hyperactive cat crawling all over us. If all goes to plan, the Seattle skyline should come into view some time on July 2nd, the first 1,731 miles under our belt.

I’ll be in Seattle for two weeks before setting out for what will, ultimately be the final destination for the four of us come October; Hanson Island, British Columbia. Through this website we hope to maintain a link to the outside world, and give people a glimpse at what we’ll be doing on our own little slice of heaven throughout the coming winter. We feel we’ve been blessed with the opportunity to grow and challenge ourselves in a way that we never have before, and I for one, could not be more excited or nervous.

It’s my hope that, with just under three weeks before we board the ferry and say goodbye to the city and people that we’ve grown to love so much in the past five years, I can give some background on the place we’ll call home, and how we came up with this hair brained scheme in the first place (spoiler alert: alcohol was involved). But for now, the words of John Muir, one of the greatest explorers of our time seem most appropriate, “We must risk our lives in order to save them.”

David Cannamore