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Crawling the Last Few Miles: My First Trip to Hanson Island. Part: 3

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The engine sputtered, coughed, and died as the June Cove glided slowly to a stop on the calm water, bobbing in the channel between Alert Bay and Hanson Island. From my seat atop the cabin I spun around and peered down at the stern deck. There was no smoke or flame, nothing that would indicate we would need to start practicing a frantic dog paddle. The door to the helm slid open and Paul opened the engine hood, looking down into a maze of wires and metallic mystery. He pulled his wool hat off, running his hands through his thinning, long dark hair. Years later Paul would describe the Mercury engine as a, “big bloody monstrous thing.”

But right now the monster was pissed, we were almost exactly halfway between the lab and the Alert Bay boat harbor, and the sun was setting. After performing what he hoped would be an accurate amount of mechanical wizardry Paul moved back to the helm and the engine coughed and sprang back to life. The four other volunteers and I smiled as the June Cove slowly picked up speed. Less than a minute later though the engine quit again.

Again Paul marched onto the deck, this time glancing up at me and the kiwi, Shane who was perched on the roof of the cabin with me, “how well can you boys paddle?” he asked, a little laugh in his eye. Shane and I exchanged uneasy grins and I smiled back nervously, imagining how my mother would feel if I was lost at sea my fourth night in Canada.

Three more times the June Cove roared to life and died. A pod of Pacific white sided dolphins had begun following the wounded vessel, giggling no doubt at mans’ vain attempt to conquer this aquatic medium. Finally Paul threw up his hands and told us to get comfortable, the engine would run as long as the RPM’s were kept painfully low, and we slowly puttered to the lab, I swear a kayak passed us along the way.

An hour later we rounded the final point, and there, perched heavenly on the rocks just above the cove was the lab. Tucked back and nearly invisible among the fir and cedar trees was the house. Big bay windows overlooked the cove and Blackney pass, a tiny chimney sat on top, silt gray smoke pouring out, it was the picturesque homesteaders cabin. A board walk ran just above the jagged rocks of the intertidal to the “lab.” Much smaller, the lab had a wraparound porch that overlooked the pass giving a 180 degree view of the water and anything that moved up or down it. On the board walk was Paul’s wife Helena, her slender frame and flyaway white hair visible even from the water, a large husky at her side sent booming bark after bark flying across the cove, a marvelous welcoming committee.

Six years later there is still so much that vividly stands out from that first night. The mac and cheese and garden salad we had for dinner. Watching the sun set through those big beautiful bay windows, and just how easy the conversation was.

There were seven of us around the table that night representing five countries and different walks of life. Shane the New Zealander, slowly traveling around the world. Tomoko and Momoko, two girls from Japan where Paul was revered by many for his anti-whaling stance (and obviously hated by some). And Evan Landy, who, like me, was a biology major with an orca fascination that, like me, boarded on obsession. Helena was, interestingly enough, the only Canadian born citizen among us, who had been a school teacher in Alert Bay before meeting Paul.

I fell asleep that night not in the tent I had lugged all those miles, but on the wraparound porch overlooking the ocean, the occasional waves lapping at the rocks and the soft underwater noises emitting from the speakers connected to the six hydrophones strategically placed around the lab. Passively listening for the orcas to come into range.
I dozed off almost instantly, reveling in the smell of salt on the air, the intimate sounds of the ocean, both above and below, and the magnificent realization that I was finally, actually, here.

This Isn’t a Goodbye, It’s a See You Later

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Although I’ve only lived in Juneau for five years, this place is my home. If a place could understand how much it meant to me, this is what I would tell it:

Thank you. You have demanded more of me in such a short amount of time than any other place I’ve been. The day I dropped my mom and sister off at the airport after they accompanied me on my move down, it finally hit home that this was my chance. I was alone and ready to make my mark on the world. This was the first time I experienced this feeling and it was sweet.

I’ve met some of the best people since that day. People who have shown me how to channel my passion and energy, and people who have taught me not to take myself too seriously and that it’s good to laugh at all of life’s imperfections.

My first year here was hard. I felt out of place, too young, and too ignorant. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment that I decided to stay but what I do know is that it had a lot to do with the people that I interacted with every day.

A few months back, I got a tattoo of a Sitka spruce on my arm. Many people have asked me its significance and I usually don’t have the time to explain. I usually say something about how I’ve always loved the forest but that is only a part of its story. That tree represents my growth in this place. It is meant to be a constant reminder to me of the love and passion I have learned to have for life and adventure. To remind me to always follow my heart and to honor my soul.

I am sad to leave you and the people here but I know I’ll be back. You have completely captured my heart and helped to shape me into the person I am today. I hope that all of you reading this can think of your personal Juneau.

I want to encourage all of you to follow your hearts; age be dammed. Honor your dreams and believe in what your soul tells you. Often times it knows better than our mind. This will require you to open yourself up to vulnerability. This is a good thing…

One of the most profound and yet simple things somebody has every spoken to me was at the end of a yoga class as I laid in shavasana:
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.” –Lindsay Bloom

 

-Brittney