Friday, April 25, 2008

Shiriri Saga # 13 The Hermit Dog of Beck Island.

Every day when the Tide drops to expose the big sandbar beside our mooring, a black dog comes out to run busily around, splash in the puddles in search of fish, and bark. Ruff! Ruff! The tidal flat is connected to a little forested island and he must live there when the tide is high, but he is always alone and quite self sufficient. We name him " The Hermit Dog of Beck Island"and concoct a story of shipwreck and high adventure. Perhaps we are feeling a little marooned ourselves as we wait near the little town of Tofino for word of Heathers heart angioplasty back in Victoria.

Tofino is connected by road to the east coast of Vancouver Island so the plan is for Anne to drive her up so she can join us on the boat and yet still be near the Tofino hospital in case of post op. trouble. We wander the streets of this tourist town and the long sandy beaches of Long Beach while we wait, and sample the beauty that we have so recently sailed past on our way north from Barkley Sound. The waters around here combine rocky islands with big sandy shallows making navigation even more educational than usual!

It is time for Elaine to travel back home to Nanaimo, so Gwyn and I decide that while we continue to wait we can make a small circumnavigational voyage of discovery around the high forested mountains of Meares Island. We will be sailing in protected waters and this time we plan to actually SAIL as much as possible rather than use our engine. We have had to motor up `til now as we rush north in the calm mornings to reach the next sheltered bay before the strong headwinds start to blow in the afternoons.
We pick our way carefully through narrow Browning Passage under power until we reach open deeper water and then hoist all our sails and beat back and forth in the fresh afternoon breeze. Shiriri is reminding us that she is after all a sailboat and handles in a much more lively fashion when heeled rail down and roaring along. Without the engine noise we hear the wind whistling among the sails and rigging and the splash of our wake. Like Shiriri, we feel very much alive. Its easy to forget how recently sailors have had an engine to assist them and how much skill they once needed to navigate these waters under sail alone.

By evening we have slipped into the sheltered entrance of the Kennedy River, rowed Edith as far up river as we can get and eaten supper in the silent thunder of a red sunset. The next morning is all sailing as we run wing on wing before the wind and into Mosquito Harbour. How elementally satisfying it is to sail Shiriri into a narrow gap in a rocky shoreline and as we pass through into the hidden bay behind to smell the air change from crisp salty to the summer smells of warm rocks and coniferous trees. The wind eases as we enter the bay and we round up and anchor under sail without benefit of motor assist. We have made a sailor`s landfall and feel positively salty!. We wait here through the afternoon for the all important tide to turn and carry us through a narrow passage and around the end of the island. Its getting late but if we don`t go now it will be even later tomorrow before we can try again. It`s mid summer and the days are long so out we go and find the wind is now against us . After tacking frantically back and forth in the channel we admit defeat, lower sails and plod along to the very narrow entrance to Quait Bay, threading the needle in the dusk until the bay opens to a generous size. We have followed a small motor boat piled high with hay and wonder how many horse power he must have to feed, but find a big floating fishing lodge instead. Something is fishy alright!

We arrive back at our mooring near Tofino the next evening to hear that Heather`s operation has gone well and that she will arrive the following day. We feel a load slide off our backs that we have been carrying for so long that it`s only when it is lifted that we feel it`s absence. She arrives with Anne and all would be joy except that she brings word that my mother has had a worse stroke and is struggling. We decide that we have had enough of being at the end of a phone line while events are unfolding at home and sail quickly back down the coast propelled by those north westerly winds that had made travelling so difficult on the way north .We sailors move ashore to care for my mother so she can have a chance to recover at home.

Our summer sailing was cur- tailed like the dog of Beck Island but at least we had the experience of West Coast survival, Heather`s survival and now the opportunity to assist in my mother`s survival.

Lone Cone. Meares Island.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Shiriri Saga # 12 Survival Training.

Edith visits islet on outer edge of Barkley Sound.
Edith plunges into a deep trough and shoots up and through a breaking wave crest. We are exploring along the outer edges of the West Coast`s Barkley Sound where the Broken Group of Islands meet the open Pacific and its big swells. This is exciting! Dangerous too!

At anchor. Effingham Island.

Our little dory has been extensively modified since we found her abandoned on the hard beneath the equally abandoned wooden schooner that would become our own Shiriri. She now has foam flotation under the seats, a mast and sail, and a notch in her transom that will fit a small outboard engine, lead out anchor warps and provide a space for an oar to steer by. Most obvious are the canvas covered closed cell foam sponsons along the gunwales: scorned by a fellow boater as "training wheels,"they don`t add to her looks but are providing the extra buoyancy that lifts us up and through the breaking waves.

Edith. Modified for adventure.

We feel vulnerable in this beautiful but lonely wild place: we are pushing our limits. Shiriri is safe though, in a sheltered bay at Effingham Island, deeper in among the bigger islands and we have prepared ourselves carefully for these day expeditions in Edith. We are using the four HP outboard engine to give us speed and extended range, there is a waterproof bag lashed beside the bailer that contains everything we need if we have to camp overnight on an island. We carry all life saving gear, a waterproof chart, compass, VHF radio and we will keep adding to all this daily as we gain experience.

Barkley Sound. The Broken Group.

We keep a weather eye out for fog banks, stay upwind of Shiriri in case an engine failure ( we have spare parts for the engine as well) forces us to have to sail back to the boat. We handle Edith carefully wave by wave using all our boat handling skills. We are pushing our skill level with caution, teaching ourselves as we advance. This is just the training we need for sailing safely along this outer coast and eventually out into the Pacific.

When its time to move Shiriri to a new anchorage so we can explore the more protected islands deeper in the Sound, we proceed with equal caution, threading our way through a maze of reefs and islands. The girls and I develop a piloting technique that teaches us all and keeps us safe. Although I`m the one with the piloting courses, we find that if we disagree on our course, we stop until all agree and only then proceed. Not only am I fallible, but it is important that everyone on board has these skills.

As we thread our way into the next safe haven at Turtle Island we can`t help but notice that this intricate work close to shore is something we do well; all that practice in the tight rocky bays of our own Gulf Islands is paying off. What we can`t know yet is that the mental attitudes we are developing now will serve us so well in the future.

Taking a stern line to shore.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ducks Bellorum Est.

I keep running into ducks these days. When I step behind the studio for an armload of firewood they rise into the air from Big Pond with a wild flapping of wings. I call to them,"Sorry, I did n`t mean to be sneaking up on you!" At any time of day I can catch a glimpse of wings in the sky among the tree tops and turn just in time to watch them twist around a high projecting branch and drop almost vertically to a tiny pond on the forest floor. What amazing grace displayed so casually in the every day life of ducks.

The ripples in Lower Pond are caused by that same mating pair and this particular leads me to contemplate the larger more general picture. What is happening on my few acres must be spreading a thousand fold across our island. The ripples of multiple ducks expand wider up the coast and across the rugged landscape to the Rocky mountains. My mind has long since lost any ability to perceive such a magnitude and that`s only DUCKS! All that busy life in a billion variations going about its business outside of our human world.

The other night we saw some pictures of a town on the north shore of Lake Superior called Jackfish that had been abandoned in the 1950`s. Fifty years later this quite sizable town had been taken back by nature. Trees covered everything and, I like to think, its full of ducks. Ducks are such graceful creations, they would make a good replacement for us don`t you think?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Shiriri Saga #11 In the Eye of the Storm.

At Port Renfrew

We are feeling a little nervous as we point Shiriri`s bow away from the sheltered inland waters of the Strait of Georgia and out towards the open waters of the Pacific. We are motoring as fast as we can go up the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the misty light of a summers morning because the forecast is for thirty knot winds in our face if we cannot get past the rugged outer coast, around Cape Beale and into the harbour of Bamfield by noon. Shiriri plows along through the big swells and tide rips and if we look away from checking off the lighthouses that mark our progress, we can see the curved horizon of the open Pacific. We cling far too close to the reef strewn coast as if it would protect us from the unfamiliar world out there.

There are other reasons for our unease besides the great uncertainty that the ocean represents: Elaine, Gwyn and I have left Heather with Anne in Victoria to have the heart procedure done when her name finally comes to the head of the wait line and my elderly mother has just had a slight stroke. We seem to be travelling in the ominously quiet center of a dangerous storm that circles just over the horizon. We know that we need the experience of the open ocean that a voyage along the west coast of Vancouver Island will give us and we also know that the constant delay of our ocean sailing plans is sapping our resolve. We need to have this adventure to maintain momentum but are realizing that there are many different kinds of storms that must be weathered if we hope to even just keep our heads above water.

For the present however, we live in the needs of the moment and struggle around the final Cape into calmer waters and eventually to a mooring at Bamfield. A few minutes later the first fierce gust of wind whistles in our rigging to tell us that it is twelve noon on the dot.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Sun is a Luminous Shield.

The sun is a luminous shield that is carried across the sky each day by a god. Sounds improbable? Wait, there is something to think about here that tugs at our perception of reality. This way of thinking of the sun is more humanly accessible than the way physics describes it and variations of this version of truth exist in most cultural traditions around the world. The difference is that the traditional versions place the physical world into harmony with the imaginative world of people -makes it an active agent in their lives, while the scientific version does not. Which view is more functional? Carl Jung was once asked if he believe in God, Heaven, Angels an Afterlife and so on. His answer was cast in a similar manner - To believe or not to believe, which works best for you in your life? If believing in some form of higher power helps to integrate your life and gives it meaning then why would n`t you? The image of a greater power that places even the life giving sun in harmony with the world grasps an all inclusive truth and expresses it in an imagery that can be integrated into peoples lives.

The difficulty in accepting a more than scientific view of reality is made more obvious when we are presented with a myth that is outside our own particular culture story: it is a challenge, a stretch, to step into the culture story of another. Yet we are all from one root and the genesis of this story comes from that early time. I found the Navaho story of the sun`s journey in Joseph Campbell`s book Transformations of Myth Through Time and again in Wisdom of the Elders by David Suzuki and Peter Knudtson and decided to carve it in a special piece of red cedar for my daughter Elaine`s wedding present. It would be a companion to Moon Woman on the walls of their new house. I was pleased she wanted another one of my carvings!

My first little thumbnail drawings were crude and barely formed but useful as attempts to draw an idea out into consciousness. At this point I dared not be critical or the Gate of Beginnings would slam shut, so I kept absently doodling until eventually I combined a couple of ideas and added the hands called dusk and dawn that cradled the sun. I liked the way the final drawing showed the nose of the god slightly overhanging the disk of the sun to give a sense of depth. The image was still very rough but I did n`t want anything more refined. The carving needed lots of elbow room to create itself along the way.
A complication with this carving was that the piece of wood had a wildly convoluted grain: cut from the buttressed base of one of my cedars, the wood could not be carved with normal chisels. I used a router to cut the various heights and shapes and a belt sander to grind out the rounded forms. Only at the end did I use a very sharp knife to slice the final edges and details. This was such an industrial approach to carving that I was gratified to see the image taking charge and swimming to the surface in its usual mysterious way: the original seed still there, but now developed into a powerful presence. Glass beads gave life to the hands of dawn and dusk and the eyes came to life with their burning orange light!

I cringe now to think that at this point I considered using paint on this lovely piece of wood. That is part of the process though: to find a correct solution I must entertain every idea without prejudice and take what seems to my everyday self like wild chances. This is creation after all and I am in co-operation with mystery. After a lot of hand sanding, I soaked the carving in Swedish oil and in a flash of vision waxed the sun`s disc and buffed it to a bright luster. The depths of the convoluted grain now shone like the swirl of gasses deep in the wood and the surface reflected like a mirror.

When I visit my daughter now I catch a glimpse of my carving at the end of a shadowy hallway. The sun god gazes searchingly at me , the beads on his wrists glow from dark to light and light to dark, and, in a single shaft of light, the sun is a luminous shield.

* I took the title from a splendid musical composition of the same name by Imant

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Shiriri Saga#10. Winter Interlude.

Shiriri turned with the tide on a mooring in a narrow bay at the head of Long Harbour. It was snowing gently, it was New Years Eve and she was all alone. We had just moved back into our cabin in the woods for three months so we could stay warm and catch up with family visits. December had been stormy, like November only more so, and we had decided that while practicing handling our big boat was a good thing, wrecking it in a monster winter storm would be a stupid thing to do.

One day, Heather and I were moving firewood deep in the big woods when we noticed that Heather was taking lots of breaks while pushing the wheelbarrow full of wood. She was noticing a vague tightness in her chest. The doctor discovered eventually that she had a heart condition that would need to be tested and dealt with. Our first thought was " Oh no!" the second was " Thank goodness this did n`t happen somewhere in mid Pacific and far away from our national medicare system."

Our tendency to reach for the positive interpretation of a nasty situation had once again come to the rescue and allowed us to stay focused and plan our way forward through the months and months of tests, the angioplasty and long period of recovery time that followed. We would not be leaving Canada next summer that was for sure, but we never said we would not be leaving: we just needed to work patiently with the situation until it sorted itself out.

"Be brave, stay calm, and wait for the sign."

from The Dead Dog Cafe radio drama on CBC

A Winter hike on Portland Island.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Moon Woman.

I carved her many years ago, and our children grew up in her quiet presence. Now she hangs high on the wall of my daughter Elaine`s living room watching over her family. When asked what possessions she would grab if her lovely new home were to catch on fire she chose Moon Woman without a moments hesitation. Such a close relationship with a graven image!

In the beginning, she slipped under my poised carving knife and into the big cedar board just in time to slowly emerge and take form again after an absence of two thousand years during the Christian era . Moon Woman, a god of the Bronze Age peoples of Europe, once again had form, had eyes, was an agent again within our human lives. One can understand the Biblical stricture against the making of graven images, they take to life so quickly and could so easily divert people from the correct path.

Unlike an ink painting whose essence is lost if it is laboured over, a carving emerges slowly from the void of mystery, like a face shimmering slowly up to the surface of a dark pool. One would think that the carver would have time to think, to press his mind firmly into the wood at the cutting edge of the knife blade; to plan and execute that plan. I`m sure many do just that, but I suspect that for some of us anyway, the carving creates itself. We live in a society now, where rational mind is king and it disturbs people to have something from deep below our present world view float to the surface. In this modern era, we still automatically think "Beware of graven images." Even Christian imagery and what it represents is now often viewed with a skeptical eye.

And yet! And yet! She is so beautiful, so calm, she has looked over us so well through the years that I can`t help but question that stricture. What is so frightening here that we should close our eyes or look aside? By the way we choose to see the world we can build barricades of conventional wisdom around ourselves or we can stay open to the winds that blow and the rich imagery and enticing life that exists just beyond the castle gate.

Out here, Moon Woman looks kindly down on us from her home in the night sky. Out here, she can speak to us!