Friday, August 29, 2014

Lighthouse Keepers Save Lives

One gigantic reason to keep the keepers living in the lighthouses is that, from time to time, they pull drowning people out of the water. They give aid to injured hikers. They save lives. Humans. Animals. They are the eyes and ears of the ocean. First responders. They safeguard our waters. And, they are there when you need them 24-7. Don't believe me? Watch this recent news clip:

I was living at Entrance Island this time last year.

Harbour Seals

and a California Sea Lion

I lived in that big tall house

And the sunsets were spectacular!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Trail of Graves

Cast up by an angry sea, lying haphazardly on the beach, is a rusty propane tank, detritus of the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan on March 11, 2011. Approximately 1.5 million tons of debris are still floating in the Pacific Ocean. This tank is a testament to the nearly 16,000 lives lost in the event. A rusty reminder that the Earth is alive and we two-leggeds are not in control. 

Beyond the undulating pebble beach, protected by a pine windbreak, lies the graveyard trail. Cemeteries captivate me. I dragged my daughter all over Ireland, stopping to marvel at names and dates on stones, colossal Victorian crypts, the flowers (tended and not), the weather-beaten toys. This is a human need, this marking and remembering. Even our Neanderthal kin buried their dead with precious bits of life some 250,000 years ago. We need to know where our loved ones lie. We ask that their remains come home. We ask that we be buried together. 

This is a peaceful place, swept by the sea breeze, carpeted by verdant plants. It is private, yet public: the path hikers tread as they begin or leave the Nootka Trail. 

The graves are marked in various ways: etched stone crosses overgrown with moss, piles of beach stones, hand-tied sticks. One bears a carved totem taller than me. 

Twentieth century dates...1919, 1946, 1965. 

The name “Margaret” appears often. 

I am connected to this name, Margaret. When I trace my father’s ancestry back to the Eighteen Century, Bolton by Bowland,Yorkshire, Margaret and Stephen are the two names that appear most often, rippling through successive generations. The name gives me pause.

Margaret “derived from Latin Margarita, which was from Greek μαργαριτης (margarites) meaning "pearl", probably ultimately a borrowing from Sanskrit मञ्यरी (manyari).

Saint Margaret, the patron of expectant mothers, was martyred at Antioch in the 4th century. Later legends told of her escape from a dragon, with which she was often depicted in medieval art. The saint was popular during the Middle Ages, and her name has been widely used in the Christian world.

Was the first Margaret given this name by a priest, or when she went to Residential School?

One thing I know. All of the Margarets died young, too young. The oldest of four was only 31 years old. 

There is a tragic beauty to this place that makes me think of those who once walked here, as I do. These women...these pearls.

Further up the trail are several cabins--one that hovers between the sea and an inland lake where the whalers once bathed before venturing out to hunt. From the veranda, you can see these fabulous pine-topped rocks. 

At low tide, starfish and urchins appear between intervals of rushing water.

One of the cabins has a notice: Jewitt Lake is a sacred place. Do not go there. 

The English blacksmith, christened The White Slave, perhaps by his publisher close to a century later, was adopted by a Maquinna in 1803. His journals publicized this place, these people, and their culture. Now, he is immortalized in the land. 

I wish it were summer, and I could swim here in the pine-swept lake.

The cabin smells like a cedar sauna, and can be rented.

Perhaps, one day I will. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mystery Plant

I spoke with a couple of local women today who say that this plant is fantastic for healing wounds. It grows in shady woods, low to the ground, and has a stalk of delicate white flowers. I come from Ontario and thought we called it coltsfoot there, as it looks like a hoof. Does anyone know the name for it? I'd like to know more about it. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Adventures and Misadventures

This has been quite a strange week. It may have had something to do with the Full Moon in Scorpio, which appeared mid-week, bringing a new set of extremes: low low tides, extraordinary social activity, and sleeplessness. Last Saturday, kicked it off. 

I’ve fallen into a routine here at Nootka over the past seven weeks, but last Saturday everything I usually do, I did just a little differently. This, I expect, contributed to my misadventure. To begin with, the 7:30am weather had me stymied. I stared around at the dense fog that enveloped us like a horseshoe, and up, at the clear blue sky above, and thought, where are the clouds? Eventually, with time pressing, I settled on X- (partially obscured) and a remark that I could actually see 15 miles to the south.

After the fog cleared, though I didn’t feel like going for a walk, I went anyway. I’ve been hiking and rock-climbing in my clunky rubber bogs for the past seven weeks, but decided to wear my grey running shoes. I don’t wear them much. I don’t even like them. In fact, I’ve almost given them away a few times, but they’re asics and waterproof, so... Moral of the story: always trust your intuition.

On the way back, I detoured to chat with a lovely Nuu-chah-nulth woman and a biologist, who had overnighted on their sailboat, with her son and their dogs. We photographed this sea otter, who was lunching in the cove, and then a flotilla of kayakers disembarked on the beach.

On my way home, I was halfway across the driftwood log, that I cross several times a week, when I realized I was still holding my wolf stick in hand. I turned back and stashed it, then started across the log again. Almost at the end, distracted by the kayakers, my left foot caught on a root and CRASH! I got up, shook it off, chatted briefly with the kayakers--who saw me fall--and climbed up the rock to the lighthouse.

The rest of that day and the next is a blur of ice packs. I walked around in a sleep-deprived haze for a few days afterwards as sleep was a challenge. Still, I was thankful.

Two other women fell out here on the coast this week and needed a medi-vac. This is not the place to get hurt. My wound, which was quite swollen to begin with, settled down with the ice. It was not painful, and I could walk. I’ve been using my new essential oils all week: first melaleuca (tea tree) on the open wound, and then lavender, and today frankincense. All three heal skin irritations and wounds. 

One week later. The bruise is 8.5” x 3”, and the abrasion is healing well. No doubt, I'll carry a Nootka scar forever.

We were inundated with visitors this week. The Uchuck III made a surprise stop on Wednesday. They were carrying a class of students from Napanee, Ontario, whose school partners with Gold River. The ship released its passengers and left for three hours. Mark and I sat out, soaking up the brilliant sunshine and chatting with folks who ventured up the rock. We swapped travel stories with a lovely couple from Ottawa, and met a young man from Holland, who’d just completed his MA in Forestry at UBC (five years) and secured a job in Rochester, NY. The world is a strange place, indeed. I managed to sunburn, just my left arm, but slathered aloe on it, and it too has recovered.  

The next day, we were surprised again by the arrival of a chopper. Craig, from Grizzly Helicopters, brought two young technicians from Environment Canada, who spent hours checking our weather books and equipment, and installed new max and min thermometers. Hurray! The weather was perfect, the rhododendron exploded into bloom, and we sat outside swapping stories, again.

Then, last night, we were surprised a third time, by a visit from Tom, Anne, and Brian of the Coastal Messenger. This is a group of dedicated people whose mission is Christian outreach, up and down the Pacific coast from Olympia to Alaska. Anne gave me a goody bag, and I’ve already cracked the grape jam, and had it for breakfast this morning on my toast. Yum. Thanks so much.

With only six days left at Nootka, I am back into my routine--it's safer that way. I still have things to do: get back to the pebble beach and explore the inland lake. The weather looks promising and so does my shin. Let’s hope there are no more misadventures. Oh yes, about those grey runners...

Monday, May 12, 2014

The White Church (Part 3)

The steep cracked cement steps are caked with moss. A mottled brass plaque inside the wooden doors reads:

This church, dedicated to Pope St Pius X, erected 1956 to the Glory of God and in memory of Padre Magin Catala, OFM, first missionary to Friendly Cove, 1793 and in memory of the historic meeting of Capt. George Vancouver, RN and Commander Bodega Y Quadra of the Spanish Navy in Friendly Cove, 1792, and the Nootka Convention Treaty, was sponsored by His Excellency, Bishop James M. Hill of Victoria, directed by the Rev. F. Miller OMI Parish Priest, assisted by Rev. T. Lobsinger OMI with the approval and assistance of Chief Ambrose Maquinna and his band at Friendly Cove.

So many to acknowledge, and yet the actual people, who have lived here since time immemorial, and on whose territory the church stands, barely make it to the last line. In the vestibule are stained glass windows sent by Spain, framed yellowing photographs, and a model of a longhouse. 

The hall itself, I am pleased to say, has been reclaimed by the First People of Yuquot. Their art, their totems, and their symbols now inhabit this space.

The only symbol that remains of the Spanish church, apart from the cross atop the steeple, is the large Latin/English bible that rests on a wooden table.

Flanking the table are carved and painted poles.

The historical presence at Yuquot was rather brief, yet remarkably intense. In the 1780s, Nootka Sound was the most important anchorage on the Pacific Northwest coast--contested space, sought by Russia, Britain, and Spain. Thousands of Nuu-chah-nulth families lived here in scattered communities, as their people had for millennia. Of course, that didn't stop the Europeans from trying to "claim" the territory or exploit the people for their resources. It never did.

The historic meeting and treaty mentioned on the plaque were the result of a crisis in 1789, fueled by a hot-tempered Spaniard named Martinez. The story goes something like this:

In 1788, John Meares, a Brit, builds and launches--with the help of many Chinese workers--a 50 ton barque, North West America, in the cove, west of the village. (The first Spanish church is later built there.) Martinez, who has established a fortified post in Friendly Cove, seizes the ship, along with three others: Iphegenia, Argonaut, and Princess Royal, and sends them off to San Blas, Mexico (the centre for Spanish operations). During one skirmish, Maquinna’s relative, Callicum is shot and killed--again, this involves Martinez. As tensions escalate, Martinez requests 200 infantry. Before they can arrive; however, he abandons Nootka Sound.

With no Internet, this news does not reach anyone of consequence. The King of Spain had issued a Royal Order on April 14, 1789, requiring the establishment at Nootka to be maintained. So, Flores, the Viceroy of New Spain orders the First Free Company of Volunteers of Catalonia, under Alberni, to move north. In 1790, Alberni’s soldiers reoccupy the fort, under the command of Eliza. The Catalonians rebuild and enlarge Fort San Miguel, and the settlement, Santa Cruz de Nuca.

Things stabilize somewhat. Maquinna’s trust is regained, and trading goes on.

In 1792, Quadra is sent to command the base and the famous Nootka Convention Treaty (mentioned on the plaque) is signed with the British. George Vancouver represents England.

Santa Cruz de Nuca has barracks, a hospital, and fantastic gardens. Quadra is respected by the Yuquot people; in fact, Maquinna often stays overnight at Quadra’s residence, and enjoys his famous silver plate banquets, wines, and brandies. Life is good.

The first missionary, El Padre Magin Catala, arrives in 1794, and assimilation commences. 

(These two paintings were donated by the Government of Spain in 1957.)

But, within three years, the Europeans abandoned Nootka Sound. 

Maquinna tore down the fort. What followed for the people of Yuquot was a time of tension and declining wealth, due to the lessening fur trade.

All that remains of the Spanish are names on a map: Quadra, Flores, Alberni... 

At the back of the church, carvings hang from the ceiling, a testament to Nuu-chah-nulth reclamation. The eagle resembles the carving that adorned Chief Maquinna's burial site (1902).

The church/museum feels lonely this time of year. Come summer, when hikers hit the Nootka Trail and the Uchuck III begins its tours from Gold River, it will fill occasionally with curious tourists. The old buildings have sunk into the moss, and the people have all but gone. I wish I could hear them...singing, dancing, laughing, explaining what all of this means, and telling their story of this place.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Moving with the Sun

With perfect weather yesterday, I decided to challenge myself, and go exploring. With my fearless companion, I headed out across the rocks at low tide. Here, Lucy strikes a pose, while waiting for me to hoist her down the rock.

We saw brilliant starfish nestled in amongst the kelp-strewn stones.

After crossing the rocky cove, we had to scale a rock wall. This might look easy, but I had to find solid handholds and toeholds, and be careful not to fall or twist an ankle or knee, or slip on a dodgy rock. I always carry a handheld radio, but I don't ever want to have to use it to call for help.

Spring flowers are popping up everywhere. Nestled in cracks, or riddling a grassy area, they shoot up and bloom wherever they can. This "Indian Paintbrush" found a rock depression right at the edge of the cliff.

I'm not sure what this plant is, but it's a lovely wine shade. I think it's a type of lily. If you know what it's called, please leave a comment.

From the top of the hill, where the Spanish fort once stood, we gaze back across to the station. 

Rather than go back the way we came--which would take us to the right--I decided to go left at that log jam in the central depression. We edged our way across those dark rocks and then crossed another logjam on the east shore of the island. Lucy scampers across the logs--I wasn't quite that nimble.

Chasms and gorges cut through the rocks. Unfortunately, we came to a dead end, and had to backtrack in order to climb our way out and up to the station.

When we arrived back home, our first group of hikers was relaxing on the patio. The lightstation is usually the last landmark on the trail. This group had come in via Air Nootka aboard a floatplane and were waiting for the rest of their party to arrive before boarding a water taxi back to Gold River. They'd chosen a great week. Excellent weather, even a couple of bright hot sunny days! Experienced hikers, they'd also hiked the West Coast Trail. This trail, they agreed, was shorter (only 4-5 days), but more technical, and more rugged (less facilities, like toilets). For a taste of the Nootka Trail, read this article. It wasn't written by our hikers, but the writer had a similar experience and took fabulous photographs.

Beginning in late June, the Uchuck III picks up hikers at the dock below the lightstation. For more information on making connections while hiking Nootka Sound, check Get West.

Courtesy of
Just now, I was visited by two guys who were kite-sailing, and had camped overnight on the dock. I don't know much about this sport, but gather it looks something like this:

As the days grow longer, and the sun shines stronger, more and more visitors frequent this giant ocean playground. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The White Church (part 2)

The weathered church that stands today in Friendly Cove was erected in 1956, for the purposes of “educating” the people of Yuquot. In the vestibule, old plaques and photographs are displayed, memories and keys to the significance of this place. One article in particular captured my attention. It tells a familiar story; one of loss, and betrayal, and exploitation.

In 1904, the entire Nootka Whalers’ Washing House, a 5x6 metre building, plus its contents was “purchased” from two elders and spirited away under cover of night. It was whaling season, and most of the community was off at work. A shady deal, no doubt, that the whalers would have objected to had they known. George Hunt, working under the famous anthropologist, Franz Boas, orchestrated the deal, which reportedly gained two men $500.00 but lost a community something sacred and precious. It ended up in the American Museum in New York, and has stayed there, in the basement, for the past century. This is an image of the contents:

What follows is a partial transcript of a framed article hanging inside the church. “Reviving Dark Forces” was written by Mark Hume and published in the Vancouver Sun, Saturday, May 25, 1991.

The shrine includes 60 carved human figures, 25 human skulls and two wooden whales. Native legend says the prayers and rituals practised by shamans gave hunters the magic they needed to find whales; it also made the sea send dead whales to the beaches around Nootka Sound.

What the magic was, and how it worked, may be beyond comprehension today, but Inglis says that looking on the faces of the shrine it is easy to believe it once had immense power. [At the time of writing, Richard Inglis was Head of Anthropology at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria.]

The people of Nootka Island who used the shrine believe it still has that power. One of the native concerns now under discussion is whether such dark forces should ever be brought into the open again.

“It’s incredibly powerful stuff,” says Inglis of the magic attributed to the shrine.

“One of the issues is whether you want to bring that power out again.”

The shrine, a magic house that was considered “a great treasure” of the Nootka people, was in continual use for 300 years before it was collected by the American Museum in 1904.

Generations of Nootka whalers performed rituals at the shrine which at times drew its black magic from human sacrifice and grave robbing.

Inglis, who has been researching the monument for several years, says the native community has mixed emotions about the shrine.

Some want it returned to Yuquot, to be shown in a museum or cultural centre. Others think it should never be put on public display again. 

European mariners turned whale hunting into a deadly, highly mechanized science that brought world populations to the verge of extinction. But in the native world, during the shrine’s centuries of power, killing whales was a dangerous job that required the help of spirits.

Anthropologists say the Nootka developed the most spectacular sea hunting techniques on the entire Pacific coast. Travelling in large, ocean-going canoes, they killed whales with harpoons that had cutting heads made of mussel shells; sealskin buoys were connected to long lines made from animal sinew.

The techniques for hunting—and the magic—were cherished family secrets passed down from chiefs to their sons. In addition to the hunters, the Nootka had whale-ritualists, shamans so powerful it was said they didn’t have to hunt whales at sea, but magically drew to shore those that had died from natural causes.

Tsaxwasap,a man with great shamanistic powers, was one of those who first used the shrine. He intensified the power of the magic house by bringing dead bodies to it, and live infants stolen from their mothers. When Tsaxwasap inherited the shrine it had only four human skulls.

In her book, From the Land of the Totem Poles, Aldona Jonaltis, of the American Museum, says Tsaxwasap kidnapped infants and robbed graves to build the shrine’s power.

“He began removing from graves the skulls of men who had been long dead and then placed 40 skulls on the right-hand side of the shrine, 40 skulls on the left-hand side, eight skulls atop sticks on the right side, eight skulls atop sticks on the left, and four in front of the house to serve as watchmen. Then Tsaxwasap found 12 dried up corpses of people and placed them in two rows in the centre of the structure facing the door. After this, he kidnapped 120 more infants and placed them, in their cradles, in his house. This magical house served its purpose well, for many, many whales came to Tsaxwasap.”

The shrine, which dates back to 1700 and could be much older, was used by at least eight generations of whale ritualists. After the third generation of use, wooden figures were substituted for human skeletons.

There were only 14 skulls at the site when it was collected in 1904.

The wooden figures appear in the photograph above. I suspect the 25 human skulls may be all that remains of the crew of The Boston, killed by Maquinna's warriors in 1803, but who knows? Friendly Cove was once the most important point of anchorage on the Northwest Coast.

As far as I know, the items in question are still housed in the American Museum. An article in the Vancouver Sun, April 2013, states that the museum has tentatively agreed to repatriate the shrine. One challenge is financial; moreover, what should the community do with the shrine once it is returned? This is a complex issue. The Nuu-chah-nulth people hope to build a Cultural Centre here, but to do so takes a great deal of money. Also, the cove is only accessible by boat or floatplane. Still, it makes no sense to me that this powerful, sacred treasure should be crammed in the basement of a New York museum. What do you think?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

It was a Rough Night

“Some say, the earth was feverish and did shake” (Macbeth II.3)

It was a rough night. Aye. Last night, I was lying in my comfy bed reading when the bed began to move as if several people were holding it, and shaking it. My first reaction was to get out of the bed and stare at it. (I can hear you laughing, Tara.) But, my immediate thought was of paranormal activity. I kid you not.

The last couple of days I’ve been thinking about the people who lived and died in this cove. Maquinna’s people decapitated twenty-five sailors and placed their heads on sticks around the cove, in retaliation for prior injury done to his people. What happened to their bodies? Do their bones lie crusted with algae and kelp beneath the waves, or did they burn with the ship? And then, there are countless Mowachaht/Muchalaht people, who died here over the millennia due to various reasons, and suffered through diseases like smallpox. And the sailors and fishermen whose boats have capsized and sunk beneath the waves.

And so, my first thought was of spirits. 

Then, I heard a voice mention earthquake. A real voice. On the radio. According to this morning’s Victoria Times Colonist, I had just experienced a 6.7 magnitude earthquake. I don’t know the accuracy of this map, but that red circle is just northwest of us. We are in the cove just above the 7.

My bed-shaker was not supernatural. She was natural.

As the night wore on, the wind roared and rain pelted the windows. I laid in my comfy bed, in my comfy house, which is perched on the edge of a rock, and did not sleep.  Two vessels had taken refuge in our snug harbour for the night, and I began to wonder what it must be like to try to sleep through this raging rain in your boat. Until, at last, I dozed.

In the early hours, I awoke to an eerie calm quiet. Nature, here, is a very real, vibrant force. This week, as we celebrate Earth Day, remember she is very much alive all the time: Mother Earth, Gaia, Isis, Danu. From time to time, she rocks us in her arms to remind us.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The White Church (part 1)

Emily Carr is a woman I admire. Passionate and true to herself, she rejected Victorian decorum to explore the world. This was something that young women just did not do at the turn of the century. She travelled to San Francisco, London, and Paris to learn her craft. Heavens! She even dared to ride horseback like a man.

courtesy of
Fearless, determined, and open-minded, Emily is so much more than her art. Travelling by boat and canoe, often with only a guide and her wee dog, she explored the West Coast, sketching and painting Haida, Salish, and Nuu-chah-nulth villages. Like a west wind, whispering and screaming with paint, she drew our gaze to vanishing peoples and cultures.

An independent women, Emily supported herself as best she could by teaching art, and running a boarding house; though these chores must have stifled her creative process. Still, through it all she survived, and she painted. And, when she could no longer travel or camp or even move around much, she began to write.

In 1929, Emily Carr visited Friendly Cove. In a famous quote, she described the Nootka Lightstation as a “strange wild perch” on a “nosegay of rocks, bunched with trees, spiced with wildflowers.”

I do, at times, feel akin to the eagles who careen by my windows or perch atop the rocks.

She painted the original small white Roman Catholic church.

courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario --
The rows of crosses in the picketed churchyard speak to the devastation that engulfed this community. Between 1778, when Captain James Cook appeared in Friendly Cove, and 1900, the population of the First People living here was reduced by nine-tenths. Disease, carried by the European traders and explorers, was the main culprit.

Built in a cove at the west end of the village, the original church burned down in 1954. You can just see it (the small site mark) near the centre of this photograph.

courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario --
I’ve been drawn to that cove since I arrived—I can see it through my windows—and finally walked there yesterday with my companion, Lucy. I’ve tried before, but couldn’t get past the barricade of barnacle clad rocks. The tide must be very low. This is how it looks today. 

Emily's trees still hug the beach, and spring water cascades down the rocks between the driftwood logs. At the time, I didn’t know it was the space once claimed by the white church and the graveyard. Are the graves still there, crumbling beneath the trees? And the spirits? The energy was incredibly peaceful and comforting. It felthomey. Then, Lucy got distracted by something in the trees

I turned, and at the last second, realized it was Raven. 

Monday, April 14, 2014


Two Days of Brilliant Sunshine Spur Activity in Friendly Cove.
(Another Billy Pretty Headline).

I was excited this weekend to be able to record CLR, meaning clear sky, in the weather book. We even managed calm and rippled a few times too.

Early Saturday morning, the crew of The Bartlett appeared to refill our diesel tanks. It’s always exciting to have visitors.

It’s still cool here, even in the sun, but we stood outside, watching and chatting, as the tanks were filled. Later, we were invited to join the crew for an excellent shipboard BBQ. In the afternoon, Lucy and I walked the beach. You just can't pass up a sunny afternoon. By bedtime, 7pm, I was exhausted after a day spent outside. 

Sunday, the weather held. Mark went out to check his prawn traps and discovered that he’d caught another octopus. This one will transform into halibut--apparently, halibut love to eat octopus. Another link in the chain.

It was low tide, so Lucy and I decided to attempt a rock climb across the slick bracken shore, and up the hill to the northern monument. A gorge separates this part of San Raphael Island from the station. The obelisk is a favourite perch for eagles, and I was curious about it. A Spanish trading post called "Santa Cruz de Nutka" operated here from 1789-1795. One of the crew told me that a Spanish fort once stood on this rise, so I gather, this undecipherable etching is in commemoration of that fact. 

Lucy is a trooper. It’s a tough climb--I had to pick her up in one hand, and boost her a few times, while I clung to the rocks with the other. 

All the while, I kept thinking of Emily Carr travelling by canoe, and traversing dissolving villages with her little Griffon dog, Billie, in her arms. If Emily could do it, so could we. And we did.

I’m going to do a little commercial here for my "Bogs" boots. Solid bottoms and fabric tops, they keep me warm and dry, and are surprisingly comfie. As clunky as they look, I wade through seaweed and barnacles, and scramble up and down the rocks, as nimble as...well, as nimble as I could ever be.