East to West: 18th September 2013

I had a dream last night, in it I was a ghost, and I was wandering around a town that I knew. I came across a part of the town that was new to m e and I was surprised that I hadn’t seen it before. It was a bit rough and untidy, and bohemian in nature – and a bit wild, yet I felt comfortable there. There was a whole bunch of people who were dressed different: punks, goths, hippies; most with some kind of alternative appearance. I felt accepted and excited to join in and find my own original alternative appearance. I talked to a woman who looked tough but intelligent; she had body piercings, tattoos, and brightly dyed hair. She offered to change my hair, and I accepted. I can’t remember the outcome but it was very different from my usual boring style, and she gave me some hair jewellery! It felt good to feel comfortable with who I was, and to be amongst people who were all so colourful and different. I was accepted and accepting and the world was full of beautiful people, not anonymous look-alikes.

We are all different in some way and we seem to become more beautiful the more we accept ourselves and others – regardless of the differences. Accepting the difference in yourself means you also have to develop a kind of toughness to shun off the peer pressure which tries to tell us all to conform. Most of the time we don’t know who we are and we try to conform to some unspoken mold. “Bears know who they are,” an Indian told me once.

After replaying the dream to myself to help me remember I got dressed and climbed out of my tent to see the world afresh – it was 7am. Chris was up and had made coffee, bless him, and was now busy looking at the map for the next push. We were going to head south to see if we could get to the ‘super campsite’ on the west side of the lake. He smiled enigmatically when he used the word ‘super’. I raised an eyebrow to myself in anticipation of the nature of this super-site. Time would tell.

Looking around, I felt a little uneasy because I realised that we were camped on a beach. I felt uneasy because if you tried this in Orkney, or anywhere on a sea shore, you risk being washed away. Not so with a lake: there are no lunar tides to worry about. There are seasonal variations when increased rain and glacier meltwater add to the lake but that occurs over months, not twice a day. This sandy beach fooled my brain into thinking that there was a tidal change in ‘sea’ level – there wasn’t.
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The view was wonderful. I could see across mirror calm water to rising forests in the other side of the lake like a green furry carpet fading at it rose to the grey rock of the mountains. The peaks were sharp and jagged an d the tops were covered in snow. To the left, further south down the lake, there was a glacier in view that was cradled by the peaks of a high mountain. The glacier was not like the snow on the other peaks – it was more like a large tongue lazily drooling towards the slopes below. Guessing at the scale of the mountain itself, the glacier must have been huge, and hundreds of feet thick. There was a hint of a blue under glow to the ice. I’m sure it would have tasted minty if I’d be able to try it.
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It’s hard to look down surrounded by such scenery but when i did I found some new tracks in the sand of a young bear that had must have wandered along the water line during the night – probably looking for salmon that might wash up on the water’s edge. This is the time of the salmon-run where the mothers try to return to the place of their birth to lay their eggs. The weaker fish don’t make it and die on the way. These dead fish end up being washed up somewhere providing free meals for the first animals to find them. Indeed, There was a salmon skeleton further down the beach but the bear prints told me that it hadn’t stopped to feed. There were bird prints around, however, and they were the same kind that I saw yesterday. The heron must have returned and found the carcass in the night before the bear: it would have been a good sized meal for either of them.
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The fire was still glowing and was easy to bring back to life again to supply some morning warmth to the crew. We broke camp after warming our toes, having some coffee and breakfast, and then we set off South again – with no howling this time from Dancer. A part of me was hoping that he would turn up but I knew that it would be too dangerous for him this far from the campsites with wolves around.

With little effort we covered the some distance and a few miles down someone spotted something in the trees. we went to investigate. It appeared to be a platform made out of wood. On coming closer to the site we made out a table, benches, and other structures. We just had to land and take a closer look. What we found was astonishing: a fully kitted out camp, with tables, benches, wind breaks, even cupboards made out of deadwood. There was a fire enclosure and, stashed away under a tree, there was a frame for what seemed to be a teepee. There was also a pole set into the ground that looked like a totem pole – not carved but with interesting natural 3D patterns along its length. Near the pole was the cupboard with four or five carefully constructed shelves. On one shelf was a number of jars that contained candles, matches and a couple of handwritten notes.

(The notes referred to the camp as Beagle Point and Beagle Rock but Chris called it the Spirit Camp – I couldn’t find any reference to a Beagle Rock or Point so I will use the name Spirit Camp.)
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We all had lunch at the camp and enjoyed the scenery. I thought it would make a great camp site if we stopped here on the way back with ready made facilities – probably a ‘wash room’ here somewhere too. The wind started to pick up in strength a little so Chris ushered us back into the canoe and we paddled on. We aimed offshore towards the west side of the lake towards the next camp site: the ‘super camp’.

The growing became quite tough and the wind strengthened more making it quite a fight to get to the other side. Knackered, we found a sheltered spot and recovered for a while before setting camp.

It was a good campsite and decent weather. It was more sheltered on this side and the wind wasn’t noticeable as we sat around the fire and each retreated into our own activities. Some read, some napped, some just took in the scenery and chilled. Brandon started to Marilyn’s drum; he was drawing the outline of two bears: a brown and a spirit (or Kermode) bear.
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I played around with some twigs to try to remember how to make a trigger system for catching rabbits and other small animals – not that I was planning to catch anything. I keep thinking there’s someone missing; and, of course there is: Jenny.

It got cold as sun set and we all huddled closer to the fire. It was a little odd for me as there was the sound of waves but it was not the sea! There are no tides, no salt spray and you can Drink from lake, the water is so pure; I would only be wary of drinking from a creek if I couldn’t check upstream for animal carcasses.

Chirpy chipmunks chattered in the foliage of the trees and loons howled on the water. And I eventually drifted to my sleeping bag.

It’s was not the super camp but it was a comfortable resting point before the fight ahead tomorrow.

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Bear Tracks: 17th September 2013

My first morning on Chilko Lake – we had a relaxed breakfast before braking camp. As we were packing the canoe, Dances with Humans turned up again and said hello to me. There were some left-overs from last night so I gave him a treat. Alice told me that she heard a rustling outside her tent in the night and looked out to see the dog emptying the rubbish for us – considerate dog, I thought. Alice also said that she woke in the morning to find the dog curled up in the flap of her tent – it must have stayed through the night. He found a new pack for the day.

Bill, Alice, and one of the Raven Directors on hand while we pack the canoe.

Bill, Alice, and one of the Raven Directors on hand while we pack the canoe.

As we finished packing the canoe, with the help of Dances, the folk from Raven turned up to say goodbye and to swap contact details. With the last-minute hand shaking and photo ops done we set off onto the lake. Dances wanted to come with us of course but there wasn’t room and it would not be good to have to feed him and risk him bringing Bears back to camp. We had to leave him ashore looking forlornly at us as the distance between us increased. It was like losing a new friend and it was a sad moment. As we started to make for canoe point, beyond which we would not be visible from the campsite, Dances started to howl and ran down the beach to keep pace with us but we soon lost sight of him as we paddled around the headland.

It was cold at first and i was dressed in quite a few layers. this made it stiff to paddle but, at least I was warm. Canoe point is a high piece of ground with a cliff-like headland with no beach. About ten minutes further and we were looking up at the rock face and a face popped up from the top: Dances with Humans! He must have run through the forest to the top of the cliff to try to rejoin his new pack. There was no chance though; the distance to the water was about thirty feet below or more. We lingered for a while and took some photos but had to get on to the next campsite – the weather on the lake often makes a turn for the worst at around midday so we didn’t want to take a chance. We started to paddle away with frequent backward glances until even the rock face where he was howling became difficult to make out. It was a sad time and it left us wondering whether we would see him at the next camp. There was also talk of him falling victim to wolves if he did try to catch up with us.

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But with the full sun becoming very warm and the lake staying very calm, the journey soon became relaxing and enjoyable. It was 15 Km to next site and the distance passed easily.

There was a lingering forest fire on other side of lake which, according to the locals, had been burning for a while. The fire seemed patchy but persistent and left a thin line of smoke that traced out a graceful loop above the forest canopy.

The mountains on the West side of Chilko Lake with signs of smoke from the forest fire.

The mountains on the West side of Chilko Lake with signs of smoke from the forest fire.

We finally saw a creek in the distance, barely visible from the shimmering on the water surface made by the water flowing into the lake. we decided to St up camp there as we had made good progress and there was no rush. Besides the creek there were lots of animal prints: adult bear and cub prints, wolves, caribou, and deer. There were also butterflies shooting the breeze and signs of a large bird (judging by the large prints in the mud next to the flowing creek). We unloaded the canoe (same procedure as last year: hit land, unload, carry stuff to a dry place, set up tents, kitchen and toilet, relaxed, leaving the canoe anchored to a log on the shore.

I set up a fire only to move it shortly after to a better position and Brandon set things up for his meal of kebabs: steak and vegetables. The food was delicious! We lazed t he day away with conversation and diary writing. Bill tried some fishing, with great success catching three Dolly Varden trout. He let them all go unfortunately as Brandon had more than enough food for that evening. Out here, I think, it is only the FirstNation people that can use barbs on their hooks – so the fish don’t get hurt too much. Seems a crime to me, though, to catch fish and not eat them.

Brandon's kebabs on the fire with the west side of Chilko in the background

Brandon’s kebabs on the fire with the west side of Chilko in the background

At dusk, as the conversation faded and folk went to bed, a dark shape swooped at us: a large bird of some kind. it had a long neck and big wings so not a bird of prey. a heron, we thought. Later that night, from the comfort of my sleeping bag, I heard a loud croaking sound from above: a heron’s call. I went to sleep thinking of the dog and wondering if it would be curled up beside one of our tents in the morning.

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Dancing with humans: 16 September 2013

Chilko's Angry Chiefs

Chilko’s Angry Chiefs

We had our breakfast at Lee’s corner store – the same routine as last year. I had a Lee’s burger with fries – tasty. Lee’s Corner Store is a cafe and shop with hunting trophies and memorabilia adorning the walls from a time when hunting and gold prospecting was more common. Besides serving food, the store also sells lots of decently priced outdoor supplies: Almost anything needed to equip the budding stalker and outdoors person for a stay in the wilderness. There’s also quite a bit of local native crafts, and it’s quite interesting stuff: small statues, footwear, clothing, and all the other touristy stuff such as postcards, and pictures.

As we ate we were overlooked by more than stuffed deer and wolves, there was a television screwed to the wall and, as I munched, I reflected that this was the last barrage of advertising and peer-pressure that we’d be subjected to for a good few days. And, with that in mind, we all finished our self pampering and set off on the long dusty drive to Chilko. There was still a hundred or so kilometres of gravel road to negotiate before we got to the campsite. Chris’s truck. Should manage without trouble but Alice’s car was not suited to the brutal roads that were soon to come.

The road was mainly smooth for the first fifty or so k’s but the potholes became more frequent as we progressed and eventually we had to reduce speed to a crawl to avoid damaging the truck or Alice’s car.

The signs of humanity changed in other ways: post and wire fences were replaced by ones made with natural wood (looked like the wood was taken only from fallen trees) and the vehicles we passed became more robust and chunky. The arid climate also changed and became colder and more Alpine-like as we gained altitude (Chilko lake is almost 4000 meters higher than sea level).

Finally, the mountains began to dominate and the angry chiefs shifted their gaze to the intruders. Under their fierce gaze we had the first setback of the trip – Alice’s car had a tyre puncture. We only noticed when we stopped at the band office at Nemiah and one of the locals pointed it out. the damage was done way back on the incoming road – we could see that the tyre tracks of the blown tire  were different from the other wheels so Alice and Bob retraced the marks as far as they could but gave up after quite a distance and came back to the settlement. Alice never felt the blow-out and we realised how lucky we were that the flat was noticed just at the place which had the only garage for many miles. Even so, it seemed to me that it was a homecoming of sorts – this was my first return to the wilderness since last year and the cooling peace was starting to flow through my bloodstream.

We arrived at the campsite about two o’clock after waiting for the tire on Alice’s car to be repaired by the helpful, and skilled, chap in the workshop. As he was refitting the wheel he commented that to be safe on these roads tyres needed to have at least six reinforcing layers in the rubber and that the standard for locals was in fact ten ply. I think even Chris’s truck only had eight ply tyres – which would be fined guess, for occasional visits to back roads like these.

While waiting for the mechanic, we got talking to some interesting people in front of the band office; they were from an organisation called RAVEN (raventrust.org). “RAVEN’s mission is to assist Aboriginal peoples within Canada in protecting or restoring their traditional lands and resources, and addressing critical environmental challenges such as global warming by strategically enforcing their Constitutional rights through the courts in response to unsustainable settlement or industrial exploitation supported by the State.” At the time of our visit the local Chilcotin people were in a dispute with the Canadian Appeal Court over land use. Why is it that some of us think we ‘own’ the land? Surely we are a part of the land? Anyway, none of my business at the moment; we talked for a while until the tyre was refitted and then made our way down to the campsite to settle in for the night.

Chilko Lake from the beach

Chilko Lake from the beach

It was strange being back at this campsite – one which saw mw through so much soul-searching last year. I wept as I set foot on the beach; still not really sure why but it opened up a memory of the emotional releases I had previously. Such power, it seems, doesn’t dissipate easily: the almost exact combination of sights, sounds, and climate of the lake unlocked emotions uncovered last year and I felt like a rope that had just been untangled and I saw things straightened out again.

I made the first meal of pre-prepared pasta. As I was cooking, a beautiful dog came into camp. It was, I later found out, a Blue Healer – it’s coat was a kind of blue marl and it had one eye that was duel coloured – both blue and brown. It was very quiet and, at first, stayed at a distance. But me and Brandon sat down close to it and took some photos; while doing so, it came closer to take a sniff. And later, as my cooking progressed, it became more and more interested and friendly, in an aloof kind of way. As the evening light faded, me and the dog grew closer – I fed him, I think it was male, scraps at intervals to see what he thought of my cooking (he approved) and he kept me company while the crew were doing other things. I named him ‘Dances with Humans’ because he reminded me of the wolf in the film Dances with Wolves. I’m sure there was some wolf in this dog: he was quiet, attentive, and very aware of what was happening around him. I became aware that my connectedness with nature was beginning to come through again and I felt a little disassociated with human society; as last year. The same kind of melancholy separation was coming down on me, not as powerfully as last time but still there – the animal in me is coming out and it felt strange being, mostly, with humans. DW (Dances with Humans) kept me right though. Sad that I should let him down so badly tomorrow – but I was unaware of that at this time. Sleep came easily.

Dances with Humans

Dances with Humans

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Belcher Pond Campsite

Dawn in Pitt Meadows - packing for the trip to Chilko Lake

Dawn in Pitt Meadows – packing for the trip to Chilko Lake

We were up at 6am to get ready and pack for the trip up to the first campsite before Chilko Lake. The distance from Pitt Meadows to Chilko Is so great that we couldn’t comfortably get there in one day so Chris planned for us to stay at Betcher Pond, the same site as last year. It was a long drive and I dozed much of the way until we got to Hope and had a break at Tim Hortons for a coffee and bagel. I decided to try something different: a jalapeño bagel – it was very tasty and not too hot. I enjoy trying something different when I am away from my usual environment, and it makes a change from Tesco’s Meal Deals.

Eating on the move, we continuing North up the xxx. more energised from eating i notice more as we drive along wide roads with endless trees and a huge range of autumn colours in the foliage: from green to deep red.

The landscape widens and becomes more arid as we enter the Chilko plateau. The earth is more red than green here and the crops seem to need large scale irrigation – this is done with water pipes supported on a line of large iron wheels with sprinklers in between. I guess they are pulled into different areas to spread the water over different areas of the fields.

So far there is nothing profound, no spiritual awakenings, just the refreshing lessening of advertising in the form of billboards and brightly lit company branding. (Whenever I think of the word branding, I remember that the term is also used to describe the way cattle and horses used to have a hot ‘branding’ iron thrust onto their skin to burn the owner’s mark onto them).

Soon we come to “Hell’s Gate” an area known to be very hot, it seems (don’t know whether we were entering or leaving hell a felt to me like i was leaving – but we were passing through regardless). The road runs alongside a large river with rapids. Adverts for white water rafting temp drivers to take a refreshing dip in the name of enjoyment.

At William’s lake we stop at DQ’s (Dairy Queen) a fast-food joint specialising in ice cream, as well as the usual burgers etc. Here Bob joins the crew. We also take a pit stop to stock up on food and munches for the expedition. Little did I know how important my sweeties would become a few days later.

We arrived at Belcher accompanied by heavy rain and thunder storms. Putting up tents was painful in this weather. Me and Chris sympathised as we watched the other crew members toil with poles and tent pegs. for our part, We tied the large tarp to the back of the truck and over the picnic table, this created a dry kitchen area. Alice prepared the meal of melon, oregano, walnuts, and feta cheese followed b a pasta dish. So far the electronic cigaret was working fine and I didn’t feel the need for a real smoke. Me and Chris didn’t have any problems with tents – We slept in the truck.

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Introduction to Chilko Geography and first impressions, again. 14th September 2013

Chilko Lake is the largest high-altitude lake in North America. It’s about sixty five kilometres long north to south, and about five kilometres at its widest.

The lake is surrounded by high jagged peaks, some of which cradle large glaciers. The melt-water from these glaciers deposits fine rock particles (glacial silt or rock flour) that stay suspended in the turquoise lake water and give it a cloudy appearance: you can only see a few feet beneath the surface. Besides the fine particles,the glaciers also move larger pieces of rock and the landscape here is littered with a wide variety of stones – from small pebbles to house-sized boulders. From some vantage points, and on a clear day, it is possible to see a hint of the huge expanse of ice fields that lies beyond the South West peaks and can image the ice slowly eroding the rock beneath.

The high mountains that surround Chilko Lake also provide local effects on the weather which can be quite unpredictable; the winds can quickly change both strength and direction. To the South is a huge expanse of high altitude ice fields which cool the prevailing South West winds so that the air becomes heavier and falls onto the lake with greater strength than normal (catabatic winds). These winds will be redirected Northwards due to the channeling effect of the mountains, although the larger valleys, such as the Franklin Arm, will bring wind in from the sides.

To the North of the lake is the Chilcotin Plateau which is sheltered by the coast mountains South and West of Chilko Lake. The Coast mountains block the flow of moisture-laden air from the Pacific so the Chilcotin Plateau is drier and experiences greater extremes of temperature. Ranging from -40°C in winter to 20°C in summer.

We would have to drive through this variation in climate and pass through desert-like areas around Williams Lake and into the mountainous region of Chilko Lake. the temperature drops noticeably as you traverse the increasingly rough roads towards Chilko. And, at this time of year, snow will be visible on the imposing mountain tops and when first seen they seem like a gathering of fierce native chiefs waiting to pass judgement on all who travel there.

One of the first sights you get of the mountains around Chilko Lake

One of the first sights you get of the mountains around Chilko Lake

This time, there are eight of us to crew the Spirit Dancer. And, as you will find out, the chiefs will be tolerant of us, but only just.

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Return to civilisation

Greenland from the air

Flying over Greenland

Looking back on my blog from last year, I realise that it ended suddenly. The main reason for this is that I found the transition from wilderness to the human-dominated world quite traumatic. Prior to my return to normal society I was surrounded by the timeless and ancient environment of the Earth. There, animals and plants live in a balance of living and dying which has been in existence since the beginning of life on Earth. I found a great clarity in that world and much peace. Of course it wasn’t totally peaceful because there were dangers and the need to survive: the Earth is a dangerous place with forces that humans and other animals have to deal with if they are to carry on living. There is the wild weather and powerful cycles of tides and seasons, and there is the threat from other animals which need to find food; a category we humans fall into.

Out “there” this is very simple to see and to work around, especially with the resourcefulness and intelligence that makes our species so successful. However, on return to normal society all these processes of survival become unclear and,I find, very confusing. Returning to a world where it is more important to accumulate seemingly impractical possessions and comical mental habits than to simply be happy and healthy. Confusing and unsettling.

Eat well, sleep well, keep warm. That seems to me to be all that really matters. Oh, and having a good tribe or family to help bring this about is a bonus.

Then on my return to Orkney I find myself seeing everything from a different perspective. People are stressed by things that, to me, seem petty and unimportant: potholes in the road, how clean the car is, the high cost of Nike trainers! Why? These don’t add to our life experience, really. It seemed as if I was expected to partake in conversations about Justin Beaber or express concern about the driving habits of Orcadians. I felt like an animal in a cage of unbelievable complexity. So I drank to create an artificial shelter against all this foolishness.

With time, however, the calmness started to surface again and I began to realise that I carried the Earth’s lessons inside me and that I was still the animal that I had uncovered in Canada. A different kind of unease came with that realisation, or awakening: that I didn’t belong in this unreal and irrational society. Then I met Jenny, my mate. Together we made a shelter, warmth, and good food; and I had a family. We’re both pretty wild and natural and I found that a comfort, still do.

So, I was called back to the wilderness, thanks to Chris Cooper and the rest of my ‘canoe family’ in Canada. What follows is the account of the next stage of my education by Mother Earth. And it build on and strengthens the wisdom that was revealed to me last time I was out of the ‘loop’.

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Voice of the bears

23 September

I woke early from a light sleep where I was dreaming of being eaten bone by bone after my tent was shredded by sharp claws. A hint of daylight was in the sky and I went over cautiously to the stove to put on some coffee. I heard a crunching of footsteps on the beach and assumed that Reg was up as usual to suss out the lighting for some early photos. But then I realised that it was not the sound of a biped but a quadruped. I stood still for a moment and stood frozen to the spot as a dark rounded shape slowly appeared from behind a bush on the beach. It was a bear shaped shadow. It stopped for a moment and the nose shortened as the bear looked in my direction then carried on down the beach. As it disappeared behind another bush I moved stealthily towards the tin-can motor home, closer to the toy-like growling from the bear alarms within, so I was in range should I need to suddenly duck under its wheels. The bear reappeared but just carried on its loping stroll further down the beach and into the distance. Phew, definitely time for a coffee, a campfire, and more noise.

A mother and her two cubs feeding and playing in the lake

A mother and her two cubs feeding and playing in the lake

The camp, and the wildlife, slowly woke. Loons started calling, a juvenile bald eagle stood on watch on the opposite beach, and Reg appeared with his camera and his usual grin. Chris appeared and made pancakes with peanut butter for breakfast – yummy. It was a cold start but the sun rose above the hill on the opposite side of the lake and warmed the day up nicely. The domestic humans woke later after the rattling squirrels had settled their territorial claims. The humans demonstrated their own territorial claims with chainsaws, generators and sickly-sweet breakfast television.

Sushi

Sushi for bears

There were a number of bears wandering up and down the opposite shore eating up the dead and weakened salmon that had, hopefully, laid and fertilised the next generation before they became food. The dead fish here are sockeye salmon that have spawned. The new young fish, called fry, spend up to three years in the lake and then migrate to the ocean. They spend some time at the edge of saltwater to adapt and then spend one to five years in the sea before they start the cycle again and fight their way upstream to Chilko lake. To the bears, this spawning season is like a conveyor belt of food: the beaches are lined up with fresh fish a little like a large sushi bar. Although I prefer freshly cooked sockeye, I could imagine that this was a real feast time for the bears and other predators and scavengers on the lake. No wonder they were not interested in the less tasty humans – especially spare ribs; as I must have been classified.

The bears here, both grizzly and black, are largely habituated to humans and I saw a number of occasions where bears came close to people as the bears took their regular patrol down the shoreline for dead fish. Mostly the people got out of the way but there was one incident where a grizzly and her three cubs were trying to get down the beach but were blocked by the rope that tied a speed boat to a motor home. The bear made three attempts to get down the beach but were spooked each time by the rope. The fact that there were about twenty people watching from close by didn’t seem to bother the bears. This may seem nice and friendly of the bears not to be scared of the humans but once the fish run out the food inside the motor homes will be more attractive and the risk to both will increase.

A mother grizzly and her three cubs after finishing off stranded salmon on the pier

A mother grizzly and her three cubs after finishing off stranded salmon on the pier

A little later in the day we were treated to a demonstration of how humans can be incredibly insensitive to their environment. A number of fast motor boats travelled past our campsite raising quite a wake, however that was not the most sickening act. Their intention was obvious: to get photos of the bears from close up. The boats had a number of tourists with cameras on tripods that seemed to be fixed to the seats in the boat. The skippers sped by with no hint of respect or skill at approaching wildlife – they used brute force to get close to the bears as fast as they could take their, no doubt, wealthy customers to get their prizes. How would you feel if you were eating at your favourite sushi bar and a gang of paparazzi insisted on flashing their 200 mills at you? That’s what it looked like to us quieter back-to-nature folk. If our day hadn’t grown into a fabulous experience later then the witnessing of humanity in such an ugly state would have spoilt our time at this spot. I feel ashamed to be part of the human race sometimes. One of the most therapeutic and spiritual aspects of these trips for me was the absence of the evidence of man’s attempts to force consumerism down my neck. Out here I have benefited profoundly by the lack of electricity and it’s attendant evils: chewing-gum-television, beeps, flashing lights, ringtones, and ‘you have 75 new messages’.

Here, the tourists have the effortless camping with expanding motor homes and power gadgets that will do all the work for you: chop wood, start fires, keep in contact with your boss, move you rapidly across water, even tell you when to laugh. I wonder who wipes their bottoms? They have their fridges full of beer and their artificial grass outside their doors to maintain their artificial home.

I have always known that I am a primitive human: one who hasn’t the stomach to fit into a, what seems to be widely accepted as a more advanced, modern society. I have tried to fit in, tried to work 9 to 5 in a specialised field of expertise – and I do indeed have some specialised expertise – but it fails every time because I exceed my bounds. I am either too honest (read not an arse-licker), too troublesome (do things that are out of the status quo), too lazy (don’t like doing things that I think are unnecessary), or too unusual (read ‘thinks outside the box’). I used to hate the fact that I am an outsider but now – I feel lucky; and to hell with those who disagree.

I actually like the idea of living in a place where there are no shops, council departments, estate agents, etc. and have to look at my surroundings and the resources around me and use what I have. I like seeing and interacting with nature close up. Cooking with minimal technology, entertaining myself with building a camp, canoeing across the water using muscle power. I do admit that it would be much harder without supplies; factory made equipment (sleeping bag, knife, fishing rods); but not impossible in the right, fertile, area. And I know that it is a matter of balance – that I do live in a technologically advanced society and need the contact with others in that environment. However, I do not see the logic of bringing almost all of my home’s technology on an experience like this. I might as well invest in 3D television if I wanted to be like the owners of these motor homes.

This is where the magic of the large canoe comes in: it brings people to the past, to a point where humanity lived in greater contact with nature, where we survived without the need to consume huge amounts of resources, where we still remembered how to make fires and hunt. We have forgotten how to enjoy the present because we are constantly working for the future – for that day when we retire and can finally enjoy life. We do this because almost everyone else does the same and if they are doing it it must be the right thing to do. We are scared to do differently because we are frightened to be outcasts from the tribe, rightfully because that is what we would become – admired by a few (from a respectable distance) and rejected outright by the majority. But, would this, in fact, be a blessing? To be ejected from the claustrophobic world of the squeezed world of the majority? To have to live a life in solitude, blissful solitude? Perhaps I will be lucky to find others like me – I may have found one or two, perhaps I will come across more. Who knows? Who cares – I have found a great peace in being alone in my way of seeing the world and don’t really feel any rush to change that. I have found some great companions during my time in Canada – the best being the ones that sat beside me in a silence that communicated a bond beyond words.

We did, of course see more bears today, and, of course they added to my sense of peace and connection with the Earth. Coming close to a mother and her cubs I heard a voice – one that said ‘even a mother looking after three cubs was not a complicated affair: find food, eat, sleep, fight if need be; the rest of the time, if we are lucky with those four essentials, is play time. Death will come soon so all the other complications are incidental and unnecessary.’ That voice still speaks to me of other things now and then – now it says ‘you’re tired, sleep’.

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Were there any sardines in the tin-can motor home?

22 September

On our arrival at our next destination, the North end of Chilko Lake, the road was just as rough as the other campsite on the Eastern shore. Chris had to drive so slowly that some of us got out to walk ahead at a leisurely pace. Reg and Alice zoomed ahead to the site while I dawdled some distance behind. At one point on the track I glanced down to the water’s edge a few metres away from the track and saw a dark shape moving slowly in the opposite direction. I moved a little closer and looked down the bank at the shape – it was a large, but juvenile, black bear. It met my gaze and stood on all fours looking into my eyes. I decided, even though I felt no threat, to back off and join Chris in the truck. It was a moment of acknowledgement of sorts – a kind of mutual respect: ‘you’re okay, just don’t come any closer’.

Further into the camping area we saw a group of Indians fishing and a line up of tourists watching the Indians and the bear that we’d just passed. There were a number of motor homes lined up in the campsite with a collection of fold-up seats, barbecues, chain-saws, and more. There was even one with a generator going and a couple of mobile satellite television dishes placed on the grass on tripods.

We managed to find a spot to pitch some tents and a gap in the trees that led down to the water’s edge where we could launch the canoe. There was a fireplace, consisting of a metal cylinder with a grill covering a third of the top of the cylinder, a picnic table, and a nearby toilet. There was also a water pump near the entrance with fresh, we hoped, water. There were a number of patches of flat ground but we were pretty scattered with two tents next to a row of motor homes and two other tents and the truck next to one other motor home. The closest seemed to be made out of pieces of aluminium riveted together on the back of a pickup – almost like an armoured vehicle. The owner/occupier was a friendly man with three little dogs. Ah, bear alarms; I’ll pitch my tent near them.

Two of the bear alarms from the tin-can

Two of the bear alarms from the tin-can

There were a number of kayakers in the distance observing some grizzlies on the other side of the lake – about 300 metres away. Looking carefully, we could see another bear on the opposite shore – a lone black bear.

 

Chris in the canoe amongst a group of kayakers

Chris in the canoe amongst a group of kayakers

Once we were all set up, Alice started to cook while the rest of us attended to other tasks. Reg looked after his camera equipment and wandered off to take photos of people, scenery, etc. Marilyn wrote in her journal and me and Chris decided to go for a short paddle to join the kayakers and take a look at the grizzly. The two of us easily managed  to paddle at a sedate pace and were soon in the midst of the kayakers. We became the object of the kayakers photos for a while and we must have been quite a sight: two people paddling a 35 foot canoe with stunning artwork down the side. I’m sure that if the wind was blowing at any kind of strength we would have had trouble but on a calm lake and with no wind at all it was easy. When it got too dark to take reasonable photos we returned to camp and to a delicious meal.

A kayaker watching a grizzly bear on the lake shore

A kayaker watching a grizzly bear on the lake shore

The evening was only spoilt by the steady noise of the generator and the sound of canned laughter and applause from some cheap television show. I can’t understand why people feel the compulsion to bring their mindless entertainment to a place as stunningly beautiful as this.

I slept a little lightly that night and awoke many times to small dogs high-pitched growls warning of some unusual activity around the tin-can motor home. I thought to myself, ‘would the skin of a tent put off a bear or would it be like getting a birthday present that had been lovingly wrapped up?’

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Duff!

21 September

Another relaxed start at Chilko. I slept well last night and woke warm as toast. Because of the high elevation of the lake and the lack of cloud cover the temperature drops rapidly at night. I have taken up my trick of warming rocks by the campfire again: while the fire is burning, the rocks around it are heating up. If you select one, or two, and rotate them so that they are equally warm, the heat sinks into the centre of the rock. If you later wrap the, now hot, rock in a towel or fleece it will stay warm all night – much better than a hot water bottle. My rock from last night was still warm and I woke up to deliciously warm feet.

I got dressed slowly, getting back into my sleeping bag after each layer to rob the warmth from the bag and put it into my clothes. Finally with jacket, trousers, hat, and socks adorned, I ventured outside. There was almost a frost and the gentle breeze was a little icy. But I was comfortable as I went over to help myself to some coffee that Reg had made previously. Reg had the habit of getting up just as the light was becoming bright enough to take some photos. I tried this once or twice but gave up when I realised that I needed a tripod to take anything that didn’t look like a seventies sci-fi doctor who sea monster on a foggy morning.

Chilko Lake looking South

Chilko Lake looking South

With my first coffee of the day I usually suffer from bleary eyes and don’t have that much coordination so I just sit and let that half-sleep state take me on whatever lines of thought it happens to be wandering. This morning I was thinking about making fun of people. Why do we do that? Is it because the things we joke about scare us or challenge our way of thinking? Do we make jokes about gay people because we are scared of them or scared of the gay qualities inside ourselves; do we make fun of skinny, or fat, people because we are uncomfortable with their being different from the socially praised body type? Or is it a tribal thing left over from when we had to think and feel as a group mind in order to survive in a hostile world – one where an unfit member was a liability? Making fun of someone can be, or be seen as, a way of rejecting them or excluding them, even if they are not present during the fun.

Of course, making fun can so easily become ridicule and ridicule rallies the gang, tribe, party, race, or congregation together against a person or a type of person. Is that what happened to the First Nation people? Was (is) their difference a threat to a gang? Or a threat to a particular mind view? There is a kind of collective comfort in making fun of a person or a people – it cements the bonds of the group making the fun and the more tenuous the moral foundation of the group the more violent the fun has to be, it seems. And beware – if you don’t join in with the fun: you will become its next victim.

The start to the day was so laid back I didn’t really do much besides contemplate greater things until we all sort of ummed and arred and agreed to go on a short trip to Duff island. We were all keen, don’t misunderstand, but we were all relaxed and chilled out. Maybe it was the Indian ice-cream yesterday – such a sugar rush has to have a come-down eventually.

On the other hand it might be more profound than sugar: wilderness places have an effect on the mind if you let their spirits have their influence over you. As with the Prince Rupert to Bella Bella trip, there was an absence of any kind of media propaganda (adverts, soap plots, uniforms, brands…) to tempt one’s mind into a bubble-gum mentality: one that has long lost its taste. Out here, the world is full of taste, and texture, once you allow the mind to become still, and there is no need to rush to the next objective because it’s all here, now – nature is not a drive through, it’s eat in.

The water was still as we pushed the canoe into the water, and as we boarded our seats, and as we paddled in near harmony across to Duff Island. When paddling, there is little conversation and all of the crew are engaged in being there and, perhaps getting somewhere. I tried to not let my attitude drift into the arriving but to keep it in the travelling. Paddling is an activity that can be enjoyed for its dance, and it’s non-invasive nature, it is not only a means of transport but it is a way of being – not becoming, being. To be is to enjoy the trip, to become is to focus on the destination and thus replace the real world with the imaginary world of anticipation and achievement. I did not anticipate the island that was getting larger, I appreciated it, and the sensing of the water and air, and the movement…

Panorama showing the canoe and Duff Island in the centre

Panorama showing the canoe and Duff Island in the centre

The island got larger and more detail was apparent. There were a large variety of trees and shrubs lining the shore, more than on the mainland shore we’d recently left behind. Duff island has been out of bounds for a long time according to a discoloured sign in the campsite and so not many people have set foot on it. It was almost unspoiled by human interaction. So, our footprints were probably the first illicit steps that the island had experienced for quite a while. It almost felt as if the island was glad for the company. The sign warned of eagle nests but over the past few days we had seen no evidence of eagles anywhere near the island and no nests on the island itself. We didn’t cause any significant damage, just a few crushed plants and disturbed stones.

The Canoe from Duff Island

The Canoe from Duff Island

The beaches on Duff island were packed with driftwood – enough to build a cabin or three, albeit hurley-curley ones full of cracks. How I’d love to find an island like this in Orkney, my caravan would be complete, if a little bizarre; however, the words Orkney and Trees don’t go well together in the same sentence unless it’s a complaint about the strong winds so we don’t get much driftwood. There was so much driftwood here that in places you couldn’t see the pebbles for the wood.

Driftwood on Duff Island

Driftwood on Duff Island

There was evidence of deer on the island: tracks in the dusty soil between the low plantlife. It, or they, must have swam here because Duff Island is too small to sustain large animals for long – probably gone now.  The views from the high ground were stunning and I felt tiny in the grand landscape. Reg darted about with his camera taking photos with his expensive camera – and I did the same but with my more limited equipment. Its good to experience this place but I do like to capture what I feel if possible on ‘film’. A good photograph tells more about the photographer than the view – it’s as if you are looking at the world from inside his heart. Why does the photographer choose, or create, that moment, that framing, and that subject? Is it symbolic of the deeper self of that photographer? Me, I like to remember the feelings and insights that I have in certain places and my photos today will, I hope, contain some of my feelings on that island. A photo can be like a storage for emotions and when you look at the photo, there is a little of the emotions that were felt at the ‘click’ moment. On Duff Island I felt the warmth of the sun on my skin, felt the expanse and purity of the landscape, and I felt the warmth of the companionship I felt with the crew. And I felt not much else – and that’s significant. The not much else was peace, or the lack of worries, fears, anticipation, and other preoccupations.

The canoe in calm water from Duff Island

The canoe in calm water from Duff Island

By consensus we boarded the canoe and carried on clockwise round the island and left Reg there to enjoy taking photos. We slowly paddled round and enjoyed the rock formations, trees, water, and saw another beach with more driftwood. We stopped, took a look around, found the bones of a deer, then carried on round the island soaking in the scenery, the sun, and the now that words can’t convey.

Moving on

Taseko River: cream coloured water

Taseko River: cream coloured water

We packed up our tents and kit and loaded the truck and canoe and set off to the North end of the lake to see some bears. We had another stop at Lee’s Corner to have breakfast and then head to the campsite besides the Taseko River. I choose to stay low-key and take the opportunity to let my spirit catch up to my body after the long trip from Chilko to the site. I think of the injustices and how we humans can so easily and gullibly allow leaders and influential people to make decisions that oppress people who threaten the status quo – and how we unconsciously support that oppression with our own fears and gullibility. How can we so easily dismiss a person, people, just because they are different. How can we make judgements without evidence, without getting more information for ourselves?

It’s a peaceful spot but we have company of two other camping pairs – two couples in RVs (motor homes) are also encamped on the site. We chat to one of the pairs as the light fades and the other couple comes over to chat. Suddenly, the man says ‘there’s something I’d like to share with you guys’, and he goes all serious. I think to myself, ‘oh, no, not an evangelist wanting to give us his witness’. He lapses into some kind of story which I expect the words ‘and then Christ came into my life’, or ‘do you believe in god’, but nothing of the kind comes out. Instead he recites a folk tale which I think is Canadian. It sounded quite a good story but in my mind, the filters had gone up and I was waiting for the religious punch line so I missed the story itself.

I guess that we can judge people wrongly even if they are standing in front of us because of prejudices, expectations, gullibility and any number of other weaknesses. I would hope that the cure is to allow our minds to change and occasionally open up to unexpected perceptions. Guess I should have listened to the story with an open mind from the start, eh?

Mara in unrepentant corruption

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Future eaters

20 September

Today we planned to go a little way to see the scenery – some say that the views are even more spectacular when you get away from the campsite. However, our plans changed when we are notified that the local band invited us for lunch in their community so the trip South has been cancelled. It is such an honour when something like this happens – it is a sign that we have been acknowledged and respected for doing things with their culture in mind. The canoe has been such a focal point for the first nation people for hundreds of years: their trade, community, bus, transport. To see a large canoe being used respectfully must bring tribal memories back to their people. The native population have been systematically oppressed in Canada and even up to 1984 the state (led by the church?) has encouraged the taking of children from their parents and putting them into residential schools where the children were subjected to torture, sterilisation, and experimentation. [For more information see http://www.whale.to/a/annett.html ]

“The residential schools created two kinds of Indians: slaves and sell-outs. And the sellouts are still in charge. The rest of us do what we’re told. The band council chiefs have been telling everyone on our reserve not to talk to the Tribunal and have been threatening to cut our benefits if we do (Harriet Nahanee to Kevin Annett, June 12, 1996).

It must be hard for the native people to trust outsiders since they have been brutally treated by church and government, and even their own. Chris has the policy of not discussing negative issues but I don’t have that policy. I believe that to understand a person or people you need a balanced view and this means you have to hear the negative influences that have led to the current state of that person or community. In understanding their painful background I have a better understanding of their current plight. I am not saying that the native people should be protected or given special privileges, just that they should be treated as human beings with their own voice and their own distinct and valuable way of living. I have seen inside a few of the reserves over here in Canada and they reek of hopelessness. The people have had decades of oppression where their very world view has been attacked and, in many cases, destroyed or reprogrammed. The residual suffering is apparent in the widespread abuse of drugs and alcohol within the reserves and this is a problem that many native people have talked about. I believe that encouraging native communities to get their young people out of the rut – perhaps by involving them in youth exchanges with young people in other countries would help the whole community. Youngsters would get a chance to share their own culture and therefore learn about their own history. This would certainly be a positive thing and would hopefully help the youth to avoid the traps that the older members of their communities have fallen into. From what I have learned about the First Nation people, we have much to learn about how they live (or used to live when they had their culture) in the world. There is a book called The Future Eaters and, regardless of the content of the book, the title is very meaningful to me. So called civilized society is based on consuming, consuming everything – natural minerals, land, food, cultures that disagree with our own faiths. First Nation attitude seems to say ‘why grow more food than you need?’. Indeed, this seems to me a wise premise from which to base a lifestyle.

This invitation shows that the local First Nation community are open to outsiders that show a sympathetic attitude and that says to me that there might therefore be a way we, specifically I, can help. After my many encounters with these strong and peaceful people, I feel that I want to do something, and that I can. My skills with the internet may provide a useful service to these people – to help them to communicate with others and make links but not to take control, just to act as a bridge – and I feel that my future lies in such an endeavour. I feel that it is important not to do the work for them but to provide tools that they can use and help them to contact others who have done what they want to do. Any bridge has to connect two sides and I am rooted, reluctantly at times, in a modern mind view but am beginning to understand a little of the other side – a mind view that works as part of nature, whose very languages are based on how the people interact with nature. Perhaps a tall task but, hey, I’m skinny and so I look tall from a distance.

Anyway, back to the dinner. The crew drove up to the band office at the agreed time and we were initially treated to slightly hostile stares (I guess there is tension between First Nation people here and some white people – not surprising from what I am learning about recent history) until they realised that we were the canoe people, then their faces relaxed into warm smiles and their voices into friendly tones. We were invited in and given cups of tea and shown to a comfortable seating area. We were early and had the pleasure of chatting to a number of people, including one chap who was extremely knowledgeable about fishing and wildlife in the area. It turned out that he had been very influential in altering attitudes towards fishing in the area.

When all the hosts had arrived we were invited to the entrance of the eating area to wait to be officially welcomed. An interesting prayer/blessing was spoken before we were invited in to be seated – it was in their own language but they used the catholic gestures of the cross on their chests before and after the blessing. Someone asked if it was a catholic prayer but ‘no, it is our own’ was the reply. It would be interesting to hear a translation – I didn’t think to ask. Chris said a few words about who we all were and what the Spirit Dancer project was about then we sat amongst the local people and chatted and ate – both went wonderfully.

As with previous meals provided by First Nation hosts – the food was excellent and plentiful (even though the community invited us at such short notice today). Their people had come from all over the community and brought food to treat us with: rice, bannocks, sausages, dried salmon, fresh salmon, Indian ice-cream[i], home cooked soap-berry cake, and special tea. It was more than we could eat – and we were offered more. It was a culinary delight!

After the meal everyone made their way to the campsite and to the canoe – the community were going to bless the canoe and its crew so that we had safe journeys. Three of the youths, young girls, chanted for us and played their drums. These youths are ones that will carry on and spread the culture of the people for all to learn – this sight and the realisation warmed my heart: here was the future hope of the First Nation people. Chris responded with his very moving journey song.

Rocks

Rocks in the lake

Two of the women, elders I think, then blessed the canoe and crew in their language and using juniper twigs with the lake’s water to anoint each one of us. Again, I didn’t feel that we were seen as ordinary white people but were being shown special honour and respect.

Me and Marilyn took out some of the bravest of their community (all women I noticed) for a short trip in the canoe. On our return, the lake showed signs of a growing wind: the surface of the water lost its mirror-like quality about a mile or so away and this menacing line of disquiet was coming my way. I heard one or two of the men say ‘I’m not going on the water with that coming’ so I handed over the helm to Chris for the second journey. As expected, he had no trouble with the rougher weather and he brought all his passengers back safely – all grinning. If I had taken them out, they  might have been grinning but they might also have been very wet.

The afternoon started to wind down and people took photos, exchanged hugs and warm words and we were left alone to contemplate a life in harmony with nature. This has been one of the most active and progressive First Nation communities I have so far come across and I think that the youth here are particularly positive – they may be able to blaze a trail for the youth of other communities. The fact that even the young people here can speak their original language is a wonderful sign.

Driftwood on Chilko beach

Driftwood on Chilko beach

Back on my own – I did tend to stay apart from conversations, mainly because I wanted to absorb the environment here and didn’t want to dilute it with talk on more abstract issues – I looked around me and appreciated Chilko.

Glowing Aspen leaves rattling in the breeze

Glowing Aspen leaves rattling in the breeze

The crows were mocking overhead – perhaps mocking my long beard; flying and looking out for anything dead or discarded. The aspens trembled and glittered with the back-lit sun; their leaves mimicking the rattling of the pebbles in the gentle waves of ice-cold water. In the distance loons occasionally wailed away their sadness with the echoes from the high mountains. The fading sun played tricks with the light reflecting of the glaciers on the jagged peaks. The wind seemed to wander aimlessly and randomly like a huge beast guided, sleep walking, by the interplay of cold and warm air which climbed slopes and then returned to the lake by a different route. Each time it reached the water’s surface it left large footprints of waves where it had just been smooth. I could sense that it would be a dangerous beast if awoken – I remained still and quiet. The fish seemed to be doing the same and only slight hints of fin-trails showed on the water’s surface. Yellow butterflies wandered nervously in and out of the sunbeams between the trees following some invisible trail through the air to a potential mate or a meal of pollen. As the light faded the beast was left to sleep and even sound itself retired apart from the rattling of squirrels and the glow of their curious eyes in the light of the crackling fire. Then even those eyes closed, the fire died and the silence triumphed – and I slept peacefully.

Beast in the flames

The peaceful bear in the flames

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