Sunday, July 31, 2005

Overheard near the bottom of Lang Bay Road while exploring a path directly adjacent to it:

"Do it!"
"Let's hear it, Motherfucker!"
(more laughter)
"Show us what ya got!"
(Unbelievably loud motor begins to rev, like something out of a monster-truckathon nightmare. The sound of tires spinning, squealing, shrieking for an impossibly long time, then finally catching as something black and low tears past in a cloud of thick exhaust. Hoots and hollers. Snickering.)
"Man, that was just sad was what that was."
"We have got to get that boy a bigger engine."

Saturday, July 30, 2005

K-Ronto, the reactions of an ex-Vancouverite (my friend Kyath Battie) to her new home, Toronto. An e-mail received from her several weeks ago says "Wow, people actually look you in the eye here."

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Haslam Lake, North Tip.
Two hour paddle to the far end of Haslam Lake, ending in a beautiful cluster of islets, a stunning campsite, a perfect diving rock, and the biggest assortment of water lilies I've ever seen. We stay for three days, stuffing ourselves on homemade cookies and brownies, the rain fly never coming out of it's bag. Each morning begins with a running leap into the lake. Frog, snake, trout, beaver, loon, osprey all sighted, as well some friendly little LBB's I couldn't identify.
Wake up in the middle of the night and am struck dumb by the amount of stars reflected in the water outside our tent, and the indescribable quiet.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Geez, how to explain something like Konono. It's like trying to describe Public Enemy to somebody in 1958.
Ladies and gentlemen, the best band in the world.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Leaving the house at six o'clock, the sun still high in the sky, and ferocious.
Down on the beach the air is hot and salty, brazen with opportunity. A river otter is perched on the top of the large boulder that I use for fishing. He scrapes his pelt against the textured rock, contorting his tiny body into knots of pleasure. The sun seems to blind him to me, and I pass unnoticed, heading for the point.
The tide is high, and in the spots where I can't climb I'm forced to step down into the water in order to navigate around the sheer rock faces. A satisfying feeling of release as my sandaled foot sinks into the cold water, then rises again into the hot air. A tension that releases. There is the moment before the foot enters the water, when the brain says no, the foot must not get wet. Then the "giving way" as the foot enters, the brain forced to resign itself to the two extremes of temperature, to the possibility of full immersion even. A different, older part of my brain stirs.
Spider webs clog all the good handholds up higher on the cliffs, seagull shit smeared on the ledges. The ocean is not far below, but it is shallow here, with rocks waiting just under the surface. My sandals squeak with seawater as I grope my way around the farthest ledge and onto the next beach.
There is no one here, there is never anyone here. Just driftwood and rocks and birds, a few houses that look like they are only lived in three months out of the year. The ocean is louder on this side, the south facing beach less protected. At the end of the sand strip there is a rock outcropping that juts out into the ocean like a finger, and nestled behind it where the trail used to be, a brand new 2,000 sqft. house. It's newly retired owners have been giving people a rough time for using "their" beach, and I'm half hoping for an excuse to explain the laws regarding high tide and public access to them, but I pass unmolested. Maybe next time.
Up onto the road and home, with the sun saturating the woods to my left and right. A million different bird songs. At home it is eight o'clock. How can it be eight o'clock?

Floating V, Little Sliammon Lake.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Currently plowing through Susan Casey's "The Devils Teeth," a first hand account of life on the Farallon Islands (home of the west coast's largest population of great white sharks.) If I was given the option of inventing a book that did not yet exist, it would probably be something pretty close to this.
You can tell very quickly how a writer really feels about white sharks by the language they use to describe their one on one encounters with them. I've read some personal accounts that had all the passion of a legal brief (or worse, the cliched passion of the "heroic" shark hunter.) Thankfully, Casey gets it just right. That perfect mixture of fear, wonder and respect that these creatures should inspire in anyone who is breathing.
The book was a gift from my friend, Jim Affinito- surfer, naturalist and appreciator of all things larger than himself. Jim lives and surfs just two hours below the Farallons, in the bottom quadrant of the "red triangle." His ability to enjoy his sport with the full awareness that he is sharing the ocean with these animals has always amazed me. A few months back he sent me a photo taken at one of his usual spots, moments before an "aborted session." The photo shows the dorsal fin of what is obviously a very large white shark, knifing sideways through a crumbling wave, only 10 meters offshore. An impossibly large and ancient presence, gliding smoothly through our present.
These animals have been doing what they do for a very, very long time. So long that it is almost beyond the reach of the human imagination to comprehend. Casey sums it up in three words:

"Sharks predate trees."

Monday, July 11, 2005

A dusk paddle in search of firewood, the canoe now serving double duty as a logging skiff.
Rounding the point I come abreast of our neighborhood family of river otters, all six of them splayed out leisurly on the rocks ten feet to my left. It takes them about one full second to hear the paddle wash, wake up, spot me, register my proximity, realize what I am, and then plow clumsily into the water en masse.
No sooner have they submerged than they are up again, launching immediately into their usual tough-guy routine of hisses, barks and snorts. Why do I always get the feeling that they see themselves as being much larger than they actually are? Paddling away from them (the whole encounter probably lasting under 5 seconds) I can almost hear them saying "Yeah, thats right pal, keep movin, keep movin..."
On my way home, the canoe now filled with knotted pieces of bleached out driftwood, I pass two kayakers of the shiny neon variety. We eye each other suspiciously, they glancing uneasily at my newly collected firewood and archaic mode of travel, I wondering how they can possibly take themselves seriously in those tour de france outfits.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

A full day of cutting driftwood into stove sized pieces, then stacking it in piles to be rained on. Over the next 3 to 5 months the rain will clean 90% of the chimney-corroding salt out of the wood. It will then require a minimum of 3 additional months of drying time under the tarps before it can be burned.
In other words, an enormous stockpile of firewood that probably won't even be used until sometime next winter. Yes, my conception of time is changing.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

R.F. takes the plunge, Desolation Sound.
A horrible racket in the trees the other day, a screeching. The next morning on the trail, a scattering of bloody feathers. Later that day, something shoots past the window at mach 10, then more screeching.
Finally, this morning, a glimpse of the mystery intruders. A pair of Black Merlins, perched stoicly in the branches, scanning their surroundings like little terminators. The salad days for our resident robins and starlings are officially over.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Why does this always make me want to cry when I hear it? It's driving me nuts. Was I a poor kid growing up in Brooklyn in a past life or something? What is it?

Sunday, July 03, 2005

A distinct visual memory of the theatre lobby itself. Gold trim running along the candy counter and up the staircase to the balcony (there were balconies in movie theatres back then). A giant cardboard cutout of the movie poster on our right as we enter. Oddly, Alfred E. Neuman on a dinghy has replaced the naked woman (some kind of National Lampoon tie-in?) Who cares, this is it. The film has been playing all summer, and I've been campaigning relentlessly to see it. Faced with the announcement that it is in it's last week, mom relents.
A rush of adrenalin as the theatre darkens and the soundtrack begins. Several seconds of underwater ambience, then the pulse.
The next two hours will see me and my mother engaged in a strange, silent combat. Her trying desperately to shield my eyes from the disembodied limbs, spouting arteries, shrieking victims- me doing my best to push my way through her flailing arms and see what is going on, like a jungle explorer hacking his way through heavy brush. Something important was happening up on the screen, I just knew it.
And it's something I've never changed my mind about.
"Jaws" was and is a great film. One of the better american films of the 1970's, and easily Spielberg's finest hour. You could argue with it's ambition, but not with it's execution.
Fast forward 25 years into the future, and the (un-intentional) fallout from the film is only beginning to be fully understood. We still hate sharks. We still pay hundreds of dollars to go out in boats and kill them so we can have our photo taken with the corpse (who doesn't want to be Quint for a day?). We still slaughter them by the millions for their jaws and cartilage and fins.
Imagine the moral outrage if it was discovered that someone was hunting dolphins for their jaws, or cutting their fins off of them for "dolphin fin soup" and throwing them (still alive) back into the ocean. The earth would shake. Supermodels the world over would faint in protest.
Not so for sharks. We don't like sharks.
So the statistics continue to pour in (north atlantic populations at 40% of what they used to be and shrinking, 20 species worldwide slotted for extinction by 2017, etc, etc.) and to no effect. Dolphins, whales, and seals seem to be the only sea animals worthy of our respect. Is this simple anthropomorphism? Do animals have to be cute and harmless for us to value their role in the ecosystem?
When all the makos and blues and whites are gone will we applaud these men or arrest them?