Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Finding a new path. 3. All paths lead home

At the head of the bay I stop to photograph the massive arbutus trees that arc over the salal covered bank and rocky shore. The sun`s rays are still with me, angling through the last of Autumn`s leaves and setting them alight. This is like some great cathedral with its high timbered roof, its leafy stained glass windows and the sea lapping at the shore which is the mystery itself ebbing and flowing with the moon.

I walk toward the farm buildings and my road home along the rough path at the foot of the high cliff I stood upon a couple of hours ago. The walk today has seemed like an eternity, a life time at least, moving so slowly through the new landscape of the upper forest, the low-tide waves of sandstone shores and the memory of the spirit from the coastline I have just left.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Finding a new path. 2 - the shore

From the forest`s shade I keep walking straight ahead down the sun`s path, step across drift logs at the high tide mark and then down across sandstone slopes to the shining sea. Although it is a calm and sunny day the water rolls and crashes almost continually because all the ferry traffic between southern Vancouver Island and the mainland of BC must go around this point trailing their wakes behind them. It is low tide and where I am standing will be well over my head in a few hours, but in the meantime what a great and unusual perspective for my camera and me! I walk up and down big sandstone waves, stepping carefully over slippery seaweedy and wet patches. The heavy rains of last week have started little seeps that drip from the thin grassy soils above and run in braided runnels to the sea. They shine like silver wires.

There are so many interesting images; the old weathered grey logs and stumps that were stranded here over fifty years ago in a mighty storm, the vivid green of seaweeds welded tightly to the crevices in the bank, the trunk of a mighty Garry oak that fell one calm night while I was park ranger here and the wrinkled faces of the waves in the rocks. This is like a miniature Grand Canyon and my eye and camera are helicopters zooming along looking for interesting shots.

I reach the southern point, am forced by the deep sharp edged side canyons to step back up onto ‘dry land’ for a while and then back down to the water`s edge I go. The steep slopes here are clothed in low scrubby oaks that cling to the rock faces, and eventually I run out of sea shore and must climb with their help back up to the familiar trail above. This is familiar all right and very beautiful with its arbutus, firs and oaks. Somewhere, deep in the forest and up those sandstone slopes above me, must be the trail I was following down to the camping area. If I had become lost up there and slowed down I would have followed the sun`s arc and ended up sliding down to here.

This is holy ground for me. I remember guiding a group of Japanese High school children along this way on a nature walk. I had already had to hold them back from rushing at deer with their cameras held out in front of them and now they were talking loudly among themselves oblivious to the world around them. It felt more than a little strange for me, a Canadian, to stop them at a cliff edge and ask for silence. “Listen to the waves, the wind in the trees, the ravens and the seagulls calling. This is the voice of this land. If you can hear it with respect, it will respect you. You and it are not unrelated.” Surely there must be some Zen or Shinto in this, some point that overlaps their own cultural ways so they can understand that this foreign shore is no less sacred and due some honour than their own holy mountains and groves.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Finding a new path .(1).

I have spent a lot of time this summer and fall dutifully doing what does not come easily to me, - maintaining: rebuilding and cleaning up around our property. It seems that the thirty-five year mark is the point that all things fall apart. Now that all is bright and shiny again and ready for the winter rains it is time to take myself for some exercise, some re-creation, along the shores and trails of our island. Fall is a lovely time of year as nature itself strips down for winter action. Change is in the air!

One day I stroll along the familiar trail at Indian Point, stopping to re-photograph trees and shorelines I have photographed before. A different mind set, different angle of sun and misty air produces all new and interesting images. The next day I drive further to Ruckle Park and walk down across the valley, past the farm buildings and stop before I take the normal right turn down to the bay. Above me looms a rocky cliff half hidden in the trees. In all the years I worked here as a Park Ranger I never climbed up there. The whole central rocky core of my usual coastline circuit is terra incognita to me. Time for a change!

I am walking on my own because Heather is away for a few days looking after grandchildren. No one knows my trip plans, and indeed I didn`t know I was leaving the beaten path until just now. I have no cell phone if I should need help. Do I dare or not? My life experience gives the answer: yes, but with caution! At first I take a faint trail that fades to a wisp of a deer track as it winds up the slope behind the cliffs. Big firs, grassy meadows. As I climb I am thinking that I will simply find the top of the massif and then follow the path back to the road again, Simple, safe.

This is exciting, discovering new landscape, and eventually I emerge onto a large grassy hilltop, the highest edge of which forms the steep cliffs that I have seen all these years from the valley below. I gaze my fill and then cannot resist looking to see if the sketchy trail picks up again on the far side of the meadow. I look carefully over my shoulder to set my return path in my memory, and wander off down the slope toward the morning sun that indicates south-south-east and gives a slowly shifting reference point for direction finding. Way down there I find some yellow survey tape fluttering from some branches and beyond, deeper in the tangle of vegetation, is another. A marked trail or a false lead?

There is a faint and intermittent trail beneath the tape markers that trends toward the sun and so off I go ducking under Garry oaks and fallen trees. What I worry a little about is breaking a leg or twisting an ankle and needing to drag myself out of here. It is not going to happen but it doesn`t hurt to proceed with caution. After half an hour of following the marker tapes through masses of vegetation and mossy rock outcrops I have dropped altitude and can occasionally glimpse the sea ahead. Soon I am stepping out from the dark forest into the grassy and familiar camping fields beside the sea.

My little adventure has worked out fine, but how long is it since I have stepped off the beaten track? Once, while we were living the sailing life, there was no track and life was all discovery. Time, high time, to sniff some of that heady aroma of freedom again.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

How sweet the sound. Sailing Safari kati in Ganges Harbour

Easing down the narrow lane between boats tied two deep on the floats of the local dock takes some concentration this morning, but this is the forth time recently that Safari Kati has been out and all the old boating skills are seeping back into me. It is seven years since we sailed home in our big schooner Shiriri, five since she sold, and this new boat has been in a long refit to bring her back from an equally long period of neglect. She is not completely finished yet, but it is time to go sailing and get our confidence back!

Once out from behind the breakwater and into Ganges Harbour I raise the sails of our little 25` folkboat and hoist the outboard engine out of the water. Heather is aboard for the first time and is struggling a little with the tiller. Somehow it does not work quite the same as the wheel steering she was once so familiar with. The light northerly breeze wafts us slowly out of the harbour and I am glad for such a gentle re-introduction to boating for my wife. After arriving alive after a long difficult voyage home from Australia she has shown no interest in returning to the sea until now and I want this to be a happy experience for her. Going sailing alone is ok, but together is a whole lot nicer!

The wind dies behind an island, picks up a little in the outer reaches of the harbour and then drops again in the wind-shadow of Scott Point. Our outboard engine pushes us against the ebb current in Navy Channel, past Long Harbour and into a long bay on Prevost Island where we anchor and row ashore in the inflatable tender. We explore an old orchard, gather some apples and walk the trails until it is time to head home.

At anchor in Lyle Bay. Prevost Island
Once back in Ganges Harbour the afternoon sea breeze is kicking up whitecaps and Safari Kati heels a little more, fills her sails roundly and for the first time we hear her begin to speak. “Swoosh, aaaah”, she says as she rocks gently and presses the waves apart. Heather and I smile to hear this sweet voice of our new friend who has sat mute and abandoned for so many years.

Friday, November 12, 2010

All Hallowed Eve. The important festival at the beginning of winter

This autumn festival is the one time of year when we put aside our civilized veneer and step into an ancient European mind set. The night of witches and goblins and visits of the dead. Remarkable in our modern world, and yet obviously necessary or people would not go to such trouble. What was not so long ago simply a children`s dress-up evening is now full of adults in full Halloween garb. Scary, when you think about it, but perhaps as we all become more domesticated in our normal lives we need more extreme expressions of wildness and this old Celtic festival provides for that.

At the end of a dark rainy trail through the woods, lit fitfully by jack-o-lanterns and populated by ghouls and goblins that scream and grab at us as we pass, (with our little grandchildren in tow, this must be worth a few nightmares at least), is a bright bonfire with crowds of costumed lost souls drinking hot chocolate to fortify their ephemeral bodies against the Autumn chill. Leaves blow past with the raindrops, the flames flicker and sparks fly in the smoke.

In this little Vancouver Island community of Errington a lot of folks have worked hard to organize this yearly event and, judging from the many cars and people, many more have arrived to participate in it. This may be a clue to the popularity of this modern Halloween and of the original festivals held at the beginning of winter in Europe long ago. Before the darkness, cold, and snow arrives, before the ice demons stick their frozen fingers into us, our communities come together, gather around a big fire and prance around in the guise of those demons that inhabit hot places. One really good night of heat and light and banshee wails should last us until the midwinter festival when the nights will have already begun to shorten and the sun`s warmth is promised to return.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The gloaming.

 The nights are coming earlier and earlier each day now, the sun sets just around supper time and this will get earlier still as we climb closer to Christmas. Heather is away again looking after grandchildren and I realize that I am not tied to co-ordinate my activities with the usual supper hour. I grab my camera and head for Indian Point and a rendevous with sunset.

As I hike along the familiar coastline the shadows are already long with bright bursts of light angling through the tree tops to flash upon the water. The deep forest floor is dark too, speckled with tiny shafts of intensely bright light. The camera has a much more limited range than the human eye when it comes to contrast and this extreme light and dark is actually difficult to handle. I snap away anyway and keep walking quickly toward the still sunny shore facing the harbour. I have photographed so often along this trail that it is the light, at this moment so warm and generous, that interests me rather than the originality of the scene. It is light which reveals form and it is its subtle variations that open the mind.

The great arbutus’ burn brightly in the last rays of the setting sun as they lean over the reflective ocean surface and contrast with the blue shadows on the mountainous far shore of Fulford Harbour above which the sun is beginning to bounce from ridge to ridge. Time to turn around and follow the trail back through the woods before it is too dark to see. The sun touches the mountain`s rim at last and I click away as the light changes dramatically. The bright glare fades to a tiny pinprick before it vanishes and I catch its reflection, a string of jewels, on each smooth wave from the passing ferry.

I now begin  to photograph the gloaming. This is the moment I have been waiting for. The bright paint of warm light has disappeared from Indian Point and a much more nuanced afterglow now delineates the landscape. A man and his dog pass me on the darkening trail above the sea and I am quick enough to pan the camera along with their motion and catch an image on the fly. It will be streaked and blurry except for the dog, which is caught in a whirl of action beside his master.

 I stop along the way to record the beautiful light that changes and deepens minute by minute. Way out among the other Gulf Islands the sun is still shining but here in the shadow of the mountain we are sinking deeper into darkness.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Old Masters. The transcendent moment.

It is Clara`s birthday, I have been taking photos of the celebration which overlaps with the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. You know the kind required at this time; the new outfit, the opening of presents, the blowing out of the birthday cake candles, the host of family well wishers who share the responsibility for her development. I am happy to comply.

Later, as I do a sweep through the images that I have collected, I find one that seems to speak to a larger question about the arts. Clara is about to blow out her candles but one is smoking badly and Tim, her dad, reaches over and snuffs it out. It will be relit and the ceremony will continue, but the moment of surprise that I have captured, the expression, the body language, while not up to old masters standards, sets me to thinking about all those paintings that grace the walls of museums and are our legacy from the creative people of the past.

What my image has in common with the great ones, the Caravaggios and Rembrandts, is the dramatic moment; the point of change when something unexpected steps into her life. Those great artists have captured that point of revelation in a much more profound way and have expressed it in paint or stone. An amazing leap of understanding for human beings to make. Yesterday there was an overlap of sorts when I listened on the radio to the creation of another saint by the Roman Catholic Church. The man in question, Brother Andre, had spent his life as a simple usher in a large church in eastern Canada and over a lifetime had developed a reputation for miraculously healing the sick and also for giving people the grace to accept what could not be cured. He incorporated the transcendent which, like lightening, passed through him into those that suffered. And the artists who wrought those images that touch us today long after their own lifetimes, what was it that worked in their lives? How was it that, despite often personally difficult and less that stellar personal lives, they were able to achieve such imagery, the tipping point in people`s lives?

As I write this, the first rays of the sun are picking out the tops of the trees in gold, the air is glowing, laden with autumnal mist. Nature itself is revealing a transcendent moment in the transition from night to day. Dawn is a normal morning phenomenon, but this moment is highlighted today and I feel dawn as a special revelation, I grasp its splendor! A Zen moment, you might say. Those artists, those saints, they got that to a much greater degree and the trajectory of their lives changed and took them into a new way of seeing and expressing . They themselves became the light and we are left with the brightness of their passage.