Sunday, August 14, 2011

Catching up on August: People and Places

We have been in transit: Hornby Island ... Victoria ... Birch Bay, Washington ... High River, AB. We will be returning to Edmonton soon.

On Hornby Island we enjoyed getting to know Amanda Hale, author of novels and short story collections. Currently I'm reading her book My Sweet Curiousity (novel, Thistledown Press, 2009) and Greg is reading In the Embrace of the Alligator (linked stories, Thistledown Press, 2011) .

Near the end of our Hornby time we connected with Al and Lynn Forrie for a mountain hike -- three hours! -- then back to their home for snacks and drinks.

It was so good to see them. I did some quick math and realized that Al and I have known each other since I was 26-years-old. I took his community college creative writing class, and a year later Thistledown Press, of which he is publisher,  released my first book of poetry, A Few Words For January.

Shelley and Greg at the summit of Mount Geoffrey
Greg, Shelley and Al Forrie on a hike
Al and Lynn Forrie, Shelley and Greg

After Hornby we were in Victoria for two days, meeting for a family picnic and celebrating Greg's mother's birthday.  

Greg and his cousin Cindy

Greg and his Mom on her birthday, lunch at Cadboro Bay

Shell and Greg at the family picnic in Victoria

Greg, his mother and sister Laura in ever-floral Victoria
Family Picnic people

This summer we've spent a fair bit of time socializing with my friends, so it was time to connect with a few of Gregs. This is John Newberry (below), former Montreal Canadians player and presently a firefighter in Victoria.

Next up was Birch Bay, a new place for both Greg and I to visit. Frankly, it felt a little like a resort that was past its prime, but the company was fantastic.

This is the Therres place in Birch Bay, and friend Ed, from Chilliwack, below.

 Dawn, Alex and Ken Therres. The photo doesn't truly demonstrate how, in fact, Ken is a ringer for actor Ed Harris.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Kayak Adventure: A Photo Essay

Hornby Ocean Kayaks employee gets us set up at Tribune Bay
 It was not unlike a movie. We began joyfully, pumped full of vim and vigour for the adventure that awaited. Although it was raining lightly, we decided that today would be our full-day kayak trip. The goal: circumnavigate Hornby Island.

We rented a double kayak from Hornby Ocean Kayaks
and were told it would take about seven hours, depending on the conditions. "But you two look strong," the genial employee reassured us, "you shouldn't have any trouble. I'll meet you back here at 5:30."

"Do many people paddle around the entire island?" Greg asked.

"No, not many. If you want to be picked up early, I can meet you at Ford's Cove, Phipps Point, Grassy Point, or Whaling Station Bay. You should be at Ford's Cove in about two hours. You have a cell-phone?"

Yes, we did. We exchanged numbers.

Photo at Tribune Bay, pre-adventure.
Greg joked: "This will be the photo they use in the newspaper:
'Edmonton couple disappears while on Hornby Island kayak trip.'"
So we set off in calm waters under light rain. "It's so clear," I said, paddling over great blooms of seaweed while bald eagles wheeled and screeched overhead. The sea-sculpted limestone coastline was sculpture-esque, and seals soon began bobbing their heads out of the water all around us. Perhaps it was their large eyes; they seemed to be curiously regarding us.

We paddled toward a colony, and they only let us get so far before they slid back into the sea. There were a surprisingly large number of seals, and few anglers. Only one fishing boat, by Norris Rocks. "I remember a time when it was bumper-to-bumper fishing boats out here," Greg said. "These are well-fed seals."  

Seals, or perhaps sea lions?
All was pacific and well. "So interesting to have this perspective," I said, viewing the shanty-like structures -- basically tarps thrown over pole frames -- folks had erected south of Ford's Cove, and also the million dollar homes people had built along the Lambert Channel, facing Denman Island. You only see these properties from the water.

We rowed toward Ford's Cove and I checked my watch. "He said it would take two hours. It's been an hour and fifteen, and that's with that extra time spent paddling out to the rocks to see the seals."

I did some mental math, and expected we'd loop the island far ahead of schedule. I don't know why I'm such a competitive lass, but Greg knew what I was thinking. I wanted to race. I wanted to impress the kayak rental guy. I wanted to have extra time to "gallivant" on a beach, or possibly two. I wanted our $90 worth.

"It's not a race," he said. "Just relax and enjoy it."

Greg with a pink whistle.
We planned to kayak past the ferry dock and have our lunch on the shore after Phipps Point. It was so calm in the Lambert Channel, so easy. It would have been nothing to paddle to Denman and explore that coast, but we stuck with our plan.

I thought it might be simple to identify where I often took the hilly path down to the water (to find pre-punctured oyster shells with which to make hangings and video crabs doing their funky thing). "Is that it? I think I recognize those logs. Or maybe that's it over there." That sort of thing.

The sun was full on now, and I could feel my skin beginning to burn. But Greg had thought to bring sunblock, so I slathered it on my arms, face, and neck. I'd forgotten that my sunglasses were on my hat, and when I removed it the glasses flipped into the water. Gone.

"Do you want to stop and get your other pair?" Greg asked as we parallelled Shinglespit Road.

"Nah, I haven't worn them yet. I've got the hat," I said. "I'm fine."

Seconds later, those glasses were lost forever.
Fortunately I rarely spend more than $5 on sunglasses. I know me.
The tide was out when we stopped to eat our salmon sandwiches and oranges. We were past Phipps point (map below, so this will all have a context). We crossed the barnacle studded rocks (ouch!) and took photos.

"What a grand day!" I enthused, and it was, truly.

Stopping for lunch.

Tide is out.

Snow-capped mountains on Vancouver Island.

"It's amazing that starfish are mostly deep purple or deep orange. Such extremes."

Looking toward Hornby, and some indication of how wide the tides are.

I wouldn't be smiling for long.
Energized after our shore lunch and a break, we set out once again, still confidant that we were well ahead of schedule. We tried to identify where Hornby artist Elaine Savoie's property was -- we'd visited her at her studio a few days before. She was very warm toward us, and is a superb artist. We had already spent most of our art budget a few days earlier, but another time, if there is another -- hope so -- we will buy a piece from Elaine.

We came toward Grassy Point, which is a huge rock-beached area -- with some grass -- where people can drive down and park. We were at the "top" of the island. Then we turned the corner.

All would have been grand had we rowed in at Grassy Point, but no, that would have been too easy. A cop out. "White caps," Greg said, and things got harder from there.

I had never done even a medium distance kayak trip before, though I have had loads of experience with canoes, beginning with my high school participation in Outdoor Education at Carpenter High School in Meadow Lake. I felt strong, even though we'd swung far away from the coast and the waves were steadily growing.

There were still seals, and the coastline Powell River way appeared lovely, but suddenly we noticed that the distant sailboats were clipping along with impressive velocity -- in the other direction. Yes, we were battling wind, waves, current and tides. We had three calm hours of kayaking behind us -- the beginning of the movie -- and the next three hours would be freaking hard labour. It would be full on war. 

We wobbled through the waves like a minature toyboat in a gushing spring ditch, waves breaking around and upon us, pounding and soaking us. Let me tell you, this was no time for picture taking. We simply could not stop paddling or we'd be immediately tossed. We hardly spoke. Total concentration was required, and shoulder-wracking paddling.

How hard was it? Well, to paddle the width of a bungalow, it took us about twenty minutes of relentless paddling. Maybe even longer. I kept setting my sights on small goals: that white boulder ... that especially green tree. It was like that. I was grateful that the water was not too cold, and at times I'd dip my hands in purposely to cool my burning blisters and numb my arthritic thumbs.

Greg said something, but it was hard to hear. I asked him to repeat himself."We have to get to shore and wait this out," he said. 

"But what  if it doesn't end?" I kept hoping that around the next rocky outcropping, and then the next, it would be calmer. "The kayak guy can't pick us up except at certain locations, and we're nowhere near any of them."

"Nobody kayaks in water like this, Shelley. This is not what it's supposed to be like. This is extreme."

We soldiered on, and I had no idea how much time was passing or what damage was being done to my body, though it was not feeling good. At times we were 150 - 200 yards from shore. Could I swim it if we were dumped? I felt I could, but it wouldn't be easy with the wind and white-caps. Currents and riptides; that was another matter. I thought that when I closed my eyes later that night I would see only the dark blue waves reaching for me.

"We're going to have to pull in at Whaling Station Bay," Greg said, and I didn't respond. Damn it, I wanted to finish the trip. All the way around the island. I wanted to be able to say we'd kayaked all the way around Hornby. 

But it was requiring a brutal effort, and it was sush slow going. At one point I asked Greg for the plastic-covered map, and he passed it. While I looked at it we lost precious time, the wind taking us backward and undoing the last five minutes of paddling in about thirty seconds.

My shoulder was burning. My hands. And I'd cracked my elbow, hard.

"Okay, I concede," I said, still unable to see Whaling Station Bay. Every once in a while I'd sit up straight and dig in for all I was worth. We argued about paddling in synchronicity: I championed a "heave ho" approach, feeling that we progressed much more efficiently when we were in tandem, whereas Greg, behind me, was often in a different rhythm. "I'm so damn busy keeping this thing pointed into the waves, I can't be worried about rhythm, too!"

We didn't talk, and didn't talk some more.

Finally we could see Whaling Station Bay, but it seemed the distance of the moon away, and getting there via a kayak in choppy water would take just about as long as a lunar voyage. 

"How you doing?" Greg asked.

"Getting tired. "You scared?" 

"No, just frustrated. Most people would have sensibly gone to shore long ago. This isn't kayaking."

No, it was more like thrashing. With three hours of tremendous effort we finally approached the bay and turned in. Nothing was easy now. My arms felt like they were weighted with anchors.

Two men and their dogs were at the water's edge where we pulled up. I couldn't move. I couldn't get out of the kayak, but knew I had to. I felt a few million years old.

"So tired," I said to the onlookers. "We've been out there for hours. Rough water." 

Looking from the beach to the water was disappointing. You could see the odd white cap, but only when you were out there could you appreciate the wind and hard-going. What a deception.

The smiles below are misleading. We were weak, and shivering with cold and exhaustion.

Greg's arms after the kayak trip: huge.

We had to admit defeat at Whaling Station Bay.
I was freezing and maybe a little delirious.

So this was my maiden kayak trip. "You have to respect the ocean," Greg kept saying. I was pissed that we didn't complete the circumnavigation, but when I finally was able to dig my watch out of my soaking pocket, I saw that it was 4:15, and to go into those treacherous waters again would be ridiculous. We just couldn't manage it.

Ocean: 1     Shelley and Greg: 0
We phoned the kayak rental guy who picked us up, and said we'd done well. Thanks for that, friendly kayak guy. As you can see in the map below, we made it most of the way, but still had the peninsula to go around, by the Helliwell Park cliffs.

The story does not end there. When we got home I totalled the damages to my person: from innocuous blisters to an orange-sized bruise and swelling on my elbow. Ow.

But hey, I slept well.


Where The Wild Things Are

I've been spending time on the beach just down from the cottage on Hornby Island. I get a huge kick out of the sea and the creatures who live in and near it. The dramatic tides are breathtaking, and beachcombing's provided hours of entertainment.

A few days ago I was seated on a log beside the water, thermos of coffee in hand, when I caught some peripheral movement. I turned and there was this strange, broad, ring-tailed creature.

I used my camera's zoom feature, and captured the following. What the devil was it?

I thought bobcat, but took my question to my knowledgable friend, writer Adrienne Mason in Tofino.

Adrienne's married to Bob Hansen, Wildlife-Human Contact Specialist for the Pacific Rim National Park, and she shared the photo with him.

He wrote:

"The overall body shape - heavy around the middle - and the shape of the tail suggest to me that this is blonde phase raccoon.

We don't see them often on our side of the island but I recovered a partial hide and tail from a wolf kill on the West Coast Trail with the same shape and colouration."

A blonde raccoon: what a gift! Here's a close-up, below. Very cool.