Posted on July 2, 2012 - by Nadia
Friday, June 29
Niblock Hollow to Vixen Harbor, off Earnest Passage
The logs and twisted stumps become ancient, contorted skeletons lunging from the bank. They become Sasquatch and innumerable seals and whales tails that never move. A kelp ribbon is an otter. A new fangled high rise boat is coming at me fast (Oh, no, that’s the current, picking up and carrying me fast straight at that … buoy).
Today, a log bobbed up ahead of me and I thought: log. Then it rolled on its back, gave a hissing bark and bared its teeth. I braced and turned abruptly. Geez! Stellar sea lion. Then it did it again, alongside me: rose up, rolled over to show its long snout, its little dog ears and all of its teeth. And it snorted. Yikes! That’s a drowning bear! I took off and didn’t look back for a while. Probably, it was a sea lion. But it had such a long, dog-like snout and seemed to be struggling so. But no, a drowning bear would be a very strange thing. Still, clearly, I’ve got bear on the mind. This landscape, huge, long drawn and cluttered, puts the psyche on stage.
There are two sorts of dizzying self-perception that go on out here. One has to do with scale and where I am on the landscape. The other has to do with internal references and where the landscape settles in my brain. I’ll tackle the issue of scale later. Today, the question is what things are and what they seem and what maybe a question of the energy they emit.
On the water, floating logs assume all sorts of disguises. Most often they seem to be benign sea mammals: seals, otters, whale parts, or, just once, a real sea lion seems to be a drowning bear. Then they go back to being logs, or the sea lion and seals slip beneath the surface. On shore, however, the dark, moss draped woods are so clearly inhabited by spirits that it is impossible that they should not manifest themselves visibly.
The shoreline has opened up north of Ketchikan. Although there are still miles of the impenetrable shoal-cliff-tree combination, now there are landable beachs every couple of miles. The forest rims the beach, and appears to offer refuge. Step behind the drift logs and up, into the spongy muskeg, and it takes the mind time to adjust. Refuge is not always the first thing that comes to mind.
My eyes refocus, from the long reaches of water to the looming, present woods. What seems solid, is not. A mossy log gives way to a spongy gap, a branch twists silently into moist crumbs. Shapes loom. As I evaluate a campsite I look for bears. They leap out of the trees: mossy bears, dancing bears, corpulent bears. I haven’t seen an actual bear at a campsite since I left the Vancouver Island end of BC, but I see bear shapes everywhere.
Yesterday, winds and surf booming on offshore shoals in Clarence Straight eventually encouraged me to stop at noon, after a blissfully calm, early crossing of Behm Canal. At this spot, the woods were dense and unforgiving, filled not only with ghost bears but with evidence that the real thing call this home: Piles of shell-fragment filled poo.
A well-worn trail connected two coves of slurring surf and low tide pools that are fast food stops for hungry bears. That trail went steeply up and over a cedar-filled hump connecting the coves and the only clear spot for a tent was just along the poop path, next to, I swear, a bear den. I spent the better part of and hour heaving my bear line high above the trail, getting it tangled in the mess of branches overhead, and pulling it back down on my head.
Done with that, I went to check on the boat and realized the winds had dropped and the sea was calm. I reloaded the boat in a flurry and squeezed around another point and cove before the winds came back up.
My second site of the day had absolutely no sign of bear. But it was full of spirits. A fire-scarred, soaring ancient cedar protected a clearing big enough for my tent. The fire scar was deep enough to give shelter from the never ending rain while I ate, and was a locker for my padding gear. But clearly, this cedar was at the center of a sacred space as well. Around it, the forest seemed especially still and free of specific specters – no skeletons, mossy bear or Sasquatch. Instead, the specific spirit of this tree and two others beyond the reach of each other’s branches, created a still space in the usual chaos of the woods. At the foot of the tree was an abalone shell. I have only seen abalone shells in the forest in one other place on this trip – the midden camp just before Port Hardy. It, too, was clearly a special place.
Here, behind the grand cedar, was a pile of fish ivories. I’ve asked around and it seems maybe the Yellow Rockfish has ivories like these – butterfly shaped, the size of joined twonies, the big Canadian two dollar coin. These ivories are not bone but harder and stronger ivory. They have to be carefully located, removed and kept while cleaning fish. Their proper name is otelisk, though I don’t know how to spell that and neither do any of the fishermen sitting around me as I write. Halibut and other deep diving fish have them in their ears, I understand. Many people collect them.
These were not a casual offering, like the inland crab shells left by eagles or the urchin shells bears drag ashore. These were left for this cedar.
The cedar’s broad reach protected the only space large enough for a tent. For some reason, although I was only a few miles north of the earlier camp, the bears left this area alone. I asked the cedar to keep it that way for one more night. It had rained all day, I had made two camps, I was cold and tired and I slept soundly through a night of hard rain, protected by a tremendous tree, and the spirits inside it.