Splitting Wood and Other Second Chances

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I successfully split two fat logs into stove-size firewood this afternoon. This is no small accomplishment for me. Last year, when I recognized the daily “nut” of firewood that the wood stove required of us in order to keep the house (and us) warm, I gave it a try so David, my husband, wouldn’t have to do it all. However, first, I was afraid of the axe. I had been warned to watch my swing so that the axe didn’t miss the log and hit my shin instead. Second, I didn’t leverage my body in the swing because see Number One. Third, the log didn’t break into pieces with one of my whacks like it does in the movies, so I assumed that I must be doing it wrong. Two whacks and I was done.

Today, with the possibility that David might go off island for family health reasons, we both decided it was time to give it another go. What I learned was that firewood doesn’t magically split, especially if the wood is wet or damp, and if the log is fat. Splitting wood is about dropping the axe with momentum – which is where the power comes from – on the wood until it cracks. That can require any number of swings, creating tiny fissures in the wood. Eventually, the log will have several cracks, and a whack or two later, it will split like it does in show business.

So many lovely lessons in this afternoon’s work. And maybe life gives you a “do over” now and again when you’ve been a doofus. Or more kindly put: when you weren’t yet ready for the experience in front of you.

We’ve hiked more in our few weeks here this year than we did the entire time last year. And I’ve allowed myself to be more adventurous, stepping in to my qualms and realizing they make excellent company when you bring them along rather than arguing with them. We attempted a hike the other day to the highest point on the island, Meeson Cone, which requires scrambling up and back down several steep hills, over and under fallen trees and including a few spots with rope assists. It was mostly fine, if a little sketchy in a few spots, and I realized how much I was enjoying the experience. It’s like I was remembering that I love to move and I love adventure. I felt more right about being out than I had before we left the house, qualms gently placed in the backpack along with the water and emergency radio.

The biggest “second chance” so far has been our trip into Port Hardy. Last year we had wanted to take the hour long boat ride to town, David for adventure and me for a few supplies (okay, the truth is that we were out of bourbon and chocolate). But we never made it as the weather didn’t cooperate and water looked too lumpy. Oh, and I was afraid and very resistant. Last Tuesday, we braved the very cold, clear air and flat waters, and took the skiff into Port Hardy without incident. We saw a pod of dolphin in the distance about halfway there, but it was otherwise uneventful.

Once in Port Hardy, we enjoyed lattes at the little upscale coffee shop-book store near the Canadian Coast Guard pier where we tied up. I bought Liz Gilbert’s “Big Magic – Creative Living without Fear” which I’d been wanting to read. We ran some errands for our hosts, Bill and Annie, and then shopped at the Save-On for groceries. A few hours later, we loaded up the skiff, and headed back to God’s Pocket. As we neared the islands, we saw a large otter, which dove under as we neared, and a seal pup with large eyes which didn’t, clearly inexperienced with motor boats.

Last year, when we saw wolves on the shore of Harlequin Bay (on the backside of our island) and I hopped online to do wolf research, I found PacificWild and fell in love with the organization’s work and website. I became an admirer of the Executive Director, Ian McAllister, for his leadership and work trying to protect the habitat and wildlife of the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia, for his photography and his books. Several weeks later, our hosts returned to God’s Pocket to begin preparations for the 2016 season, bringing with them two dive scouts and the cook. Overwhelmed by the sudden influx of people after five weeks of quiet with David, I snuck out to our room after dinner.  What I missed that night, a year ago, was a visit by Ian McAllister of PacificWild with the catamaran Habitat, along with a friend Paul Nicklen, a National Geographic photographer.

Apparently, I got a do over here, too. Yesterday afternoon, we had a lovely and rare visit. The Habitat docked at God’s Pocket and Ian McAllister and his team of three came up for a visit. He was in the area diving and filming underwater for his Imax film; one of his crew, Tim, was the caretaker here at God’s Pocket after the season ended last year until Christmas. We offered tea and chatted for a while before they went out, with David, for a dive just outside the Bay.

I got to tell Ian that I needed a “fan freak” moment about his work, his books and photography (I have one of his wolf pictures hanging in our guest bedroom/my office in our condo). (Click here for the gallery of gorgeous wildlife photos, videos, and documentaries.) He blushed a few times, but once I got that out of the way, I told him I was “done fussing” and we resumed our more relaxed chat. They came back up after their dive and dinner, and he gifted me a book of poems and photos, “The Wild In You,” that he collaborated on with a Canadian poet, Linda Crozier.  And as he left, he invited David and me to visit them on Denny Island, where he and his family make their home, and where PacificWild has its organizational base in the Great Bear Rainforest. We had made a new friend: in my book, that’s not a do over, that’s a do better!

For the last few days, we’ve had snow on the ground, and intermittent snow fall. Big floofy flakes have been swirling over the water and the deck, and resting gently to welcome more. Our coterie of birds and animals leave tracks in the snow and carry on with their routine not seeming to mind. I am filled with wonder, and gratitude.

Love,
Susan

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Under Observation

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We arrived on Sunday at God’s Pocket for our week of scuba diving. After a glorious week of sun and fishing at the Cluxewe near Port Hardy on Vancouver Island North, we arrived to learn of a very low water supply on the island.  Surrounded by water and not a drop to drink! The universe has since provided: it has rained every day this week, sometimes torrentially.

The diving goes on in all weather, gale force winds or 3 meter seas excepted. I chose not to dive this week, but planned to go out on most of the trips.  Humpback whales have been common sightings, and I yearned to see more otter, seals, and especially, wolves, all possible from the boat.

On Monday, as the divers suited up on the deck, I felt myself tense in empathy: diving is an equipment intensive sport, and diving in cold water require layers of clothing – thick neoprene wetsuit or, more likely up here, sealed canvas or crushed neoprene dry suit with fleece body suit underneath – which is then layered with a hood, buoyancy vest, mask, etc. Getting ready to “get wet” can take up to 15 minutes, and by the time one is ready, the boat may not be. It gets hot and claustrophobic waiting for the signal to jump in the water. And then I relaxed with the realization of how relieved I was not to be on deck, suiting up.

I am an observer this week, not least in the context of diving, and I’ve mostly been fine with that.

David surfaced on the first dive of the week, the check-out dive, with air leaks in his buoyancy vest. Then his computer malfunctioned too. In assessing potential solutions for his diving, we both realized that he could use my vest and my computer. The universe provided: we had one vest and one computer between the two of us, only a good scenario if one of us wasn’t diving.

I have come to God’s Pocket for scuba diving six times over the last 12 years, and I remember the experience of many of the dive sites in this unique environment. As the divers surfaced, I could again empathize, this time with their descriptions of their experiences, their joy in an interesting, good dive. I have had brief moments of envy, of wishing I had chosen to dive this week, remembering the fun of being under the surface, reveling in the remarkable experience of breathing underwater.

This week has also been more people intensive: our charter consists of 12 vacationing people, many of them with large personalities.  The owners and crew add five people, so meals are talkative and loud, and the clubhouse is frequently full of people chatting, trying to be heard over each other. I have enjoyed skimming the surface of these gatherings, and escaping to the quiet of my room with a book.

My yearning for peace and quiet, so strong that I wrote about this vacation as a “misery” a month or so ago, is still palpable. I so want to be home, with the cats, not worrying about restoration and workers and dust, returning to a bit of routine, exercising with my bootcamp peeps, eating clean and eschewing the daily cocktails and wine, and, well, just being home. I have enjoyed our two weeks in British Columbia, but also know this week, with all these people in close quarters, has again pushed against my introversion and need for quiet and calm.

Today is the first of September, not technically fall, but still the path to shorter and colder days is well established as the rain on the roof now affirms.  My gap year is nearly three-quarters done… mostly not at all what I planned, and certainly not what I had envisioned. Still, I have an abundance of observations and insights to guide me and to inform these next four months.

Love,
Susan

I usually post about once a week, usually on Wednesday or Thursday, but sometimes later…  Get regular updates via email from DancingOnTheWayHome by clicking the “follow” button (on your tablet or pc screen – the mobile screens somehow don’t show it!). And thanks for reading!

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Melancholy and Magic

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I had stepped away to our cabin after dinner for a few minutes of quiet. The guests, a charter of kayakers mostly from the United Kingdom, started to convene around the fire pit where David had staged the logs for a burn. I could hear them laughing, telling stories, and eventually, singing. As I listened, I felt my sadness growing, punctuated by the sounds of people, strangers to one another just days earlier, creating friendships. I knew I would be welcome if I went down to join them but I couldn’t imagine how to get there from where I sat. I just felt so sad. And alone.

David came to check on me, and gave me hugs. He wanted to know what I was feeling. This place I sometimes go is very difficult to explain, and it’s not at all intuitive for an extrovert. For my part, I’m still surprised when my melancholy sneaks in and takes over, even though it has been a familiar visitor over the years. I know that when I am tired, over-extended interpersonally, and haven’t had quite enough quiet, meditative time, my balance is disrupted. In spite of my outgoing personality, I am an introvert, and my reserves get depleted occasionally without me noticing.  I told him, in that moment, that I sometimes felt I didn’t know how to find the on-ramp to joy.

“Don’t believe everything you think” is a saying I associate with the lessons of a meditation practice. It makes me laugh because it is so true: we really shouldn’t believe everything we think! When you notice and allow all the wild and chaotic thoughts that your mind in “monkey” mode can have, you also notice that all your thoughts aren’t created equal. They don’t all deserve your attention, and they shouldn’t all be followed. I can know this, and recognize the melancholy-dipped lies my mind is telling me. I can know all this and still not easily shift to a different mood.

The antidote for this sort of cloud cover is to get out, shift my body, and so my perspective. Last night, I felt so stuck that I knew my only other remedy was to turn off the light and sleep. A good night of rest and the dawn of a new day would help lift the darkness.

What is wonderful about the transition from one day to the next are the possibilities born in the new day:  grace, redemption, joy, and sometimes, what can only be described as magic. This day can stand in stark contrast to yesterday, and moments of transcendence can emerge and be held.

This morning, I woke up late, and David let me know that the guests were all going on a morning boat ride to look for whales and otter. We both decided to go along, and had an extraordinary time. The guests are delightful and adventurous – several of them stayed out on deck in the rain for the three hours we were out.  We saw numerous humpback whales on our way to a sea-lion haul out, a small island covered in sea lions.

And then magic happened. Just on the other side of the haul out, we stopped the boat because a humpback whale was right in front of us in the narrow channel. As she surfaced near the shore, we saw she had her calf alongside her. They surfaced with a slight delay to one another, one blow half the height of the other. Rather than the more concerted surface-dive motion that adults make, the mother and baby seemed to float up and down between breaths. They were so close to us, and to the shore. They rounded the point of the island, and made their way into the wider pass where we eventually lost sight of them.

We then headed over to a small cluster of islands where Bill had heard that otter had recently been seen. As we neared, we saw over a dozen otter, most of them mothers with little ones on their chests. They scattered a bit as the boat slowly approached, but stayed nearby, giving us a chance to observe them swimming with their young. They observed us back. On a large rocky outcrop just past the otter group, we noticed seals draped on the rocks, well camouflaged by the match between their fur color and the shore. As the boat navigated around the rock past the otter in the water and the seals on the rock, we saw several seal mothers with their pups.

Within just a few minutes, we had the extraordinary experience of seeing three species of mammals with their young in their natural habitat.

Bill, the captain, decided to take us home through Browning Passage, one of the most spectacular channels in the world for diving. The Pass is a quiet place, especially today with the steady rain and low cloud cover. The channel is deep, and although there is shore on the east side of the Pass, the west side has a rocky, vertical drop into the water to depth. Both sides are lined with trees and dense forest. The boat progressed slowly down the passage and all our eyes were trained far ahead on the eastern shore, looking for wolves before the boat noise might spook them. Suddenly, we saw two wolves trotting in our direction along the high-tide line. They stopped as we neared, and then trotted up into the trees, out of view. Everyone saw both animals. It was exhilarating, and we laughed and chatted giddily.

The boat continued through the passage, headed for a spot near the end of the channel where hooded nudibranchs are often found. Known locally as ‘hoodie nudies,’ these members of the slug family have a translucent appearance, like jelly fish, and when out of the water are known to smell like watermelon jolly rogers.  Nature can be so unusual sometimes… When we came around the point, instead of hoodie nudies we saw two more wolves. These animals were harder to see than the ones we’d seen at the high tide line on the other side of the pass, as their colors matched more closely the stones and beach sand. They were also much less concerned with our approach: one of the two stood for a few minutes looking at us before turning and walking toward the tree line.

We came back to God’s Pocket that morning having seen six of what I call “The Big Seven” animals available to us in this area: humpback whales, bald eagles, sea lions, otter, seals, wolves, and the missing seventh, orca. The eighth animal is bear, rarely seen in this neighborhood. We were all a bit wet and cold, and yet our energy was high, excited about what we had seen.

Seeing so many of these animals and their young in the wild waters and on the islands of British Columbia anchored a special day of fellowship and shared experience on the boat. For me, it was a reminder that I am both small in the universe, and yet still an important part of my ecosystem. My melancholy may visit, but my world is full of magic and miracles if I can let myself see through the mist. And when I can’t, I can let today go and trust in a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow will bring new possibilities, including grace and magic.

Love,
Susan

I post about once a week, usually on Wednesday or Thursday, but sometimes, like today, on Fridays… Get regular updates via email from DancingOnTheWayHome by clicking the “follow” button (on your tablet or pc screen – the mobile screens somehow don’t show it!). And thanks for reading!

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Driftwood

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It has been a quiet afternoon here at God’s Pocket. The sky is overcast and low, and we have the cozy feeling of being “socked in” by the fog and mist. Our hosts, Bill and Annie, who are the co-owners of this scuba and kayak resort, left mid-morning for what we have affectionately called “boat-a-palooza.” They are transporting a Grand Banks motor yacht belonging to friends who live in Bellingham, Washington from God’s Pocket to Bella Bella, BC, where their friends will pick up their boat. We are caretaking God’s Pocket until July 2nd.

It has been a bit of transition, with comings and goings, and now the quiet. I have had a sense of needing to relax and float a bit, and move with the tides like driftwood. We had a kayak charter for most of this week: 12 kayaking guests and two kayak guides. Bill, Annie, David and I shared the work in running God’s Pocket with help from the guides, both of whom had been here many times. The guests were all from Alberta, and relished their time in the area in spite of the frequent showers. They were a diverse and interesting group, and just very nice, warm people. We told them they fit perfectly into our general experience of Canadians (very nice); they asked if we were considering moving here given the political scene in the US…

I am enjoying being here in BC, and appreciated the daily routine of the charter and teamwork with Bill, Annie and David. Still the world news has (rightfully) intruded: I have been preoccupied with the Brexit vote. I did think the vote would be close but hoped that the “Remain” vote would prevail. As I have with the tone of the US presidential campaign, I have been stunned and dispirited by the xenophobic rhetoric that marked the British decision to leave the European Union. As much as I see and sympathize with the dislocations created by the global economy, and appreciate the terrible repercussions of income inequality, I can only think that facing inward and away from other nations and people will not result in the change that many are calling for. I fear that the same feelings are very much at play in the US.  Sigh…

So I am “low energy” this afternoon, not that there’s a call for my energy to be high! I’ll be washing the room sheets and remaking the beds over the next week (we can only run the drier when the generator is on, which puts laundry on a staggered scheduled).  A little bit of structure and focused activity works for me, enhancing the choices and experience of the downtime. While we have a few other chores to prepare the resort for the next kayak charter which starts on July 3rd, we are mostly at liberty to relax and explore.

We’ve had rich wildlife experiences lately. We have seen humpback whales out front in the pass most days, sometimes several times in a day. (I’ve attached below a link to my Instagram account post of a short video of a whale swimming past us as we sat in the skiff one evening). We’ve seen several individual otter, floating with their flippers out of the water, the telltale sign that they aren’t a log or driftwood. I saw two minks this morning, one ambling across the deck, and another a few minutes later, making her way from the water line at low tide with a crab in her mouth.

We headed into Port Hardy yesterday to get provisions for the week, leaving at low tide, and I said we should look for wolves who might be hunting at the shore during low tide. No sooner said, we saw a lone sea wolf on the rocky shore.  Stares were exchanged, deepening the thrill of the sighting, and then he turned and made his way up into the bushes and disappeared.

This afternoon as we stood on the lower dock, we heard a few short, high pitched wolf howls. On a lark, David howled back. The response was several longer, more pronounced howls, one which seemed to come from our island just across the cove, and one which seemed to come from across the pass from Balaklava Island. (The low cloud cover is excellent for transmitting sound.)  Wolf howls are magical: rare, haunting and beautiful.

I have been nurturing an idea for building shelves out of driftwood logs and planks for our condo, and want to explore the potential. As if on cue, the universe (and the ocean) delivered overnight to just under the deck an extraordinary, weather- and water-worn cedar log. It must be over 20 feet long and 20 inches in diameter. David tied it up to the dock and we’ll wait until high tide to pull it near the rocks on one side of the cove.  At low tide the log will settle, as if on rock sawhorses, for examination and some potential chainsaw activity.

Tomorrow we’ll take whatever the weather brings – a break in the rain might be nice – and head off in the skiff across the pass to Nigei Island. There’s an inlet there called Port Alexander, perfect for hiking and beach combing. It is a treasure trove of logs and driftwood, and the occasional wolf.

Love,
Susan

PS – Here is a link to my humpie (humpback whale) video (36 seconds long) on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/BGvjriAqM6W/?taken-by=dancingonthewayhome

I post about once a week, usually on Wednesday or Thursday, but sometimes on Fridays, or like today, Saturdays… Get regular updates via email from DancingOnTheWayHome by clicking the “follow” button (on your tablet or pc screen – the mobile screens somehow don’t show it!). And thanks for reading!

Follow me on Instagram (dancingonthewayhome), where I post whatever catches my eye. Leave a comment or send me an email at DancingOnTheWayHome AT gmail dot com; I’d love to hear from you.

 

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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