Canis Lupus

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As the skiff rounded the rocks into Harlequin Bay, we saw them. Two wolves standing together on the rocks near shore. At a distance, they almost looked like German Shepherds: sandy and cinnamon colored with darker spots at their necks and tails. They seemed a bit smaller than what I imagine a timber wolf to be, and we momentarily considered that they might be adolescent pups. They stared at us, and we stared at them. We were so stunned that we didn’t have the presence of mind to kill the motor. They watched us go by in the skiff and we watched them head away from the water into the woods.

We had heard that there were wolves on the island, and indeed on many of the small islands that dot the Queen Charlotte Sound here in British Columbia. They can go from island to island, swimming, looking for prey. They also are known to be resident on these islands, many of which no longer have a deer population, the typical prey for timber wolves. We have been told about seeing wolf prints and scat, and about the sounds of howling, but never sightings on the island. I was awestruck.

I’ve seen wolves in the wild twice before. Years ago, on a cross-country ski trip in the back country of Yellowstone National Park, a group of us watched a pack of wolves stalk elk at dawn. Several years ago, in Banff National Park in Alberta, driving on a side road at dusk in mid-October, I saw a very dark animal trot across the road about 100 yards up and head into the woods. I remember it vividly, and even then yearned to see more of it. I thrill to see these wild animals and birds: I get excited with every eagle sighting, although there are many each day, and with each harbor seal and every otter sighting. (Admittedly, I’m not so taken by sea lions, in part because I’ve had some exposure to them both above and under water.) I am awed and excited by and interested in seeing all these creatures in their natural habitat, much the way I catch my breath each time I see a hummingbird outside our place in San Francisco. It just never gets old. Admittedly, I am in a remarkable part of the world right now, surrounded by natural beauty. Still, I am filled with wonder and amazement at what is often right in front of us if we look.

Back at the house, I geeked out a bit online. There are 40 subspecies of wolf– canis lupus -in the world, including the Australian dingo (canis lupus dingo) and the domestic dog (canis lupus familiaris). I learned three important facts about local wolves:

1. A Canadian study completed in 2014 showed that island-based wolves in British Columbia had enough different DNA to be (potentially) considered a separate subspecies from either the timber wolf, the Vancouver Island Wolf (canis lupus crassodon), or the British Columbian wolf (canis lupus columbianus). They don’t interbreed much.
2. First Nation people have long considered them separate: they speak of sea (or coastal or marine) wolves at the coast, and timber wolves inland…
3.  Sea or marine wolves have evolved to lead permanent lives on islands and near the shore, hunting salmon, digging for clams and mussels, and eating the occasional seal or sea lion.

So it is highly probable that the two wolves we saw are sea wolves, permanent residents of Hurst Isle. And when we saw them, they were most likely out looking for something to eat at the shore.

For readers interested in geeking out a bit more, here are several links:
• A link to the story about the DNA research and First Nations’ knowledge of marine wolves (it is a quick read):

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/wolves-on-b-c-s-islands-mainland-genetically-different-1.2669964

• A link to a CBC story about a National Geographic story on sea wolves that includes some great (composite) video footage of the animals:

National Geographic puts spotlight on B.C.’s enigmatic sea wolves

And last but not least for even more amazing pictures and video of the sea wolf as well as bear, orca and other marine life, a link to PacificWild.org, a Canadian non-profit that does great work to protect and preserve the BC coastal environment.

http://www.pacificwild.org

The sea wolf that lives in coastal British Columbia doesn’t yet have its subspecies designation or latin name. So today, I’m taking the liberty of bestowing a proper name in honor of the two we were lucky enough to see: canis lupus mare reginae charlotte, also known as the Queen Charlotte Sea Wolf.

With love,

Susan

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We otter go fishing…

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The wind and waves had settled down, as had the rain. The sun could be seen behind the occasional lifting cloud. David and I donned our wet weather gear and our personal flotation devices (PFDs) and loaded ourselves and the fishing rod into the skiff. We were headed out for rockfish, the only allowable catch other than halibut in our zone at this time of year.

We zipped west across the channel to the coast of Balaklava Island, looking for kelp that would indicate rock mounts far below the surface. My job was to sit in the front of the skiff, looking out for logs and other detritus that we should avoid hitting. The water up here is replete with huge drifting logs, pushed and pulled by current and wind, headed eventually to some shore. Drawn to investigate one large rusty propane tank floating ahead of us, we noticed a very long log nearby. We decided then and there to lasso the log for firewood! Our skiff is about 12 feet long, and the log was probably longer than 20 feet. We first tried to tie the log to the side of the skiff, but it was unwieldly and kept swinging sideways back toward the outboard motor. So we settled for tying it off the back to drag it home. It wasn’t exactly Moby Dick, but it proved to have a pull of its own in the water as we wrestled with tying it up, and as we resumed our fishing expedition.

We found our kelp near a spot called “George’s Rock.” We – and the rod – bobbed up and down while drifting out into the deeper channel, and then we returned again and again to the kelp, log in tow. Our lure was a multi-color plastic squid about 2 inches long… nothing I would have fallen for, mind you, but fish are clearly different. An exciting moment later, the rod bent strongly toward the bottom, and we began to reel in what we were certain was a fish. We joked about all the fish it might be that we’d have to throw back, hoping it was in fact a rockfish. We were close but not quite: it was a rock, complete with attached clam! No fish to be had: after the next cast got snagged on the bottom, and in spite of clever boat maneuvers to free it, the line snapped, complete with weights and ugly lure.

Just then, we noticed a marine mammal – sea lion? seal? – heading our way. While fishing, I had been trying to identify with unsteady binoculars what I thought was an otter close to shore, lying on its back with head the feet up. And sure enough, it was the otter that surfaced not far from us, lifting its head and upper body out of the waves to see us. This was no small creature, and it took a few beats to recognize it as something different from the sea lions, with their pointy heads, and harbor seals, with their big eyes and round heads, that are more common. It was a large, very healthy and very curious otter! We have seen more and more of them in these waters over the past few years, albeit at a distance. It is both heartening and exciting to see the otter population rebound. After his quick investigation while I fumbled with my camera, he dove and disappeared.

So instead of fish, we caught a fish-stick, and a glimpse of an otter!

When we got back to God’s Pocket, we wedged the log onto the rocks near the deck as the tide was receding. An hour later the log was well out of the water resting on the rocks at low tide. We took the chainsaw down to turn it into firewood.

Intentions and Practice and Harbor Seals

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One of my intentions for the last few years has been to create a morning routine and to build in enough time for habits and practices that expand my morning, deepen my daily experience and awareness, and therefore my day. I’ve never been very good at waking up without an alarm if I need to be somewhere – like work! So in mid-2015, about six months before I left my job, I started to add some practices into my morning as best I could. I wanted to begin now this life I was imagining, and also build a bridge into the void that I assumed leaving work would create. I knew I didn’t want to wake up the day after my last day on the job and think about all those “shoulds” that had stacked up, the “shoulds” that were really my wants, and not know where to begin.

On a good day, I took five or ten minutes to gently wake to the day, to orient myself to a positive outlook and the possibilities of the day, anchoring my intentions before I was overwhelmed with the urgency of my to-do list. I would follow that with ten-fifteen minutes of yoga, breathing and stretching and grounding myself in my body, my physical self. At some point, later in the day, I would meditate. On a different sort of good day, I’d throw myself out of bed in time to dress and get to 6am bootcamp, and return an hour later feeling awesome and ready for the day. On some days, I tried to follow the bootcamp hour with some intentions and yoga stretching. Different practices, same desired outcome: full presence in the day ahead.

In my day dreaming about this time here at God’s Pocket, the time away from schedules and work and obligations, I imagined something yet more layered: intentions, yoga, meditating all first thing, followed by writing, journaling and drawing. That would be the perfect morning! I read Danny Gregory’s wonderful book “Art Before Breakfast” (dannygregorysblog.com) and realized how simple and important a few minutes of daily practice with art was to my desire to be more creative. Substitute drawing for writing (or drawing and writing) and the idea is the same. I’ve heard this referred to as “ass power”: put your ass in the chair and get to work!

I’ve tried to build my perfect morning each day that I’ve been here – all seven days! Is it still a morning practice if it happens in the afternoon? The idea of the morning practice is to have it to oneself before the demands and distractions of the outside world set in. As of last week, I have none of those distractions (okay, a few).  I have the luxury of having all day to have a perfect morning… But I noticed yesterday that cabin fever was setting in. Up here it’s not hard to be house-bound and to like it: the wood stove makes the room cozy, and the view from the warm, dry space is almost as good as from the outside.

And yet a primary intention for this gap year is to experience it fully, and it is time to more fully embrace the island and all it offers, and get out!

So this afternoon we hiked over to Harlequin Bay, which is due East of the main house on the other side of the island. We left in the rain, and walked the tight trail over slippery roots and small pooling swamps of water. I was grateful for my rain pants even though they are about 4 inches too long. We arrived at low tide, and picked our way around a few coves. A huge bald eagle flew across the bay a few times, alarming the gulls, and then settled on a tree just barely within view. To my surprise, two harbor seals that bobbed up to look, their bald heads just breaking the surface, turned into four harbor seals, all facing us, clearly curious.

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Eagle sightings for the day:
Golden eagle x 2
Bald eagle x 3, including once when two eagles danced across the mouth of our cove

Something we learned from Bill, one of the owners here: sometimes you can’t tell golden from bald eagles when they are at a distance or at height. A trick is to watch how they fly: golden eagles are pure power and own the sky and air currents; bald eagles seem too look like they’re just waking up or are a bit drunk or otherwise not quite together… check it out next time you see either one.

Tucked Into God’s Pocket

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We drove out of San Francisco during a break in the rain on Sunday, January 10, and arrived in Port Hardy on Vancouver Island, British Columbia on Wednesday, January 13, our car so full we couldn’t see out the back. Just how much gear and food do you need for two people for more than a month by yourselves on an small island? Certainly the rain gear will come in handy!

We’re tucked into God’s Pocket (here), a scuba and kayak resort in a Canadian marine provincial park, closed for the winter. Except for the day we arrived, when the sunset sky was streaked with pink and purple, the clouds have been low on the water and rain has been frequent. I have dreamed of this time for several years: time to find my own rhythm, to sleep as long as I need or want, to read without deadlines or guilt, and to eat clean and to move as my body asks. I felt sure that after my last day of work on January 8 that sleep would overtake me; I was ready to be bed-bound for weeks. And while we are cozy in the main house, feeding a wood stove, and taking our time about everything, we are also slowly finding some routine, some structure in our days. The generator has to be run twice a day, we check that the docks are all still tethered daily, and have decided that our mornings feel best after yoga.

As I transitioned from from my last career, a decision five years in the making, I was surprised that the gremlins of self-doubt still came around occasionally.  Sometimes they called me to doubt my contributions at work and my decision to leave. Every so often, they seemed to be especially mean, mocking my vision of a more creative, heart-centered life and profession. Then the whirlwind of packing up my office, saying goodbye to colleagues and friends, and organizing that darn car full of stuff overtook the gremlins: too little sleep and too much to do to doubt. All good, right?  I’ve had this idea for a blog about my transition and this journey for more than a year, and yet just today have I found some courage in (maybe) getting out my very first post…I wanted to believe that way up and away here, with few responsibilities, no formal role to play, no people to please, that the gremlins would lose their wind and be calmed. Gremlins, indeed, follow you where ever you go — noticing them, however, does seem to rob them of their insidious power – as does recognizing their role in urging us forward. So here it is, my first post on Dancing On The Way Home. Apparently, I’ve been dancing with the gremlins all day!

Time now to go outside and see which water fowl are paddling the waters near the dock, count the number of cormorants on the breakwater, and see if I can spot the great blue heron that has made the cove his favorite hangout before I scare him into flight.

With love,

Susan

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