October 4, 2015
We were getting some beautiful fall weather. The sun was shining, the water was calm, and the environs were accented by fall colours. The urge to go on the water was irresistible, not just for James and me, but for my neighbour across the street, retired school principal and very keen kayaker, Polly Steele. Polly was loading up her kayak in the warm October sun the same time we were. Just like geese, who start their migrations in response to certain cues in the environment, as soon as the sun comes out on a fall day, kayakers head to the water. Polly spends a lot more time on the water than we do. Very often, if you look onto the water on a calm morning and see the tiny shadow of a kayaker, it is probably Polly. It is amazing that there are not more kayakers on the inlet in the mornings. If you are a seriously addicted kayaker, Port Alice is the perfect place to live or own a vacation property, not just because the inlet is sheltered from the waves and winds of the open ocean, but because the water is easily accessible from civilization. If you get the urge to kayak, you can have your butt on the water in no time! You don’t have to load up your vehicle with a bunch of camping gear and drive for hours and hours to find a beautiful quiet place to kayak.
We went down to the Marina; Polly arrived shortly after. While James was unloading the kayaks, Polly and I talked about the election. It is funny to think back to that conversation, and how neither one of us had a clue about the big surprise that was due on election night.
Because she had a fancy dansy kayak rack, Polly unloaded her kayak lickety split and was off on the water and gone while we were still unstrapping ours! I took “Tigger,” the fast bouncy kayak, and James took “Eeyore,” the slow steady kayak. We went around the breakwater, then headed for the Frigon Island group. It was easy going. There was no wind; the water’s surface was like a mirror. Going in between the two islands, a sea lion barked at us. We looked around. We saw him just as he surfaced and then dove into the water. He was huge, at least a couple of metres long! We could tell, by the menacing sound of his barking, that he didn’t like having us around. In spite of his territorial theatrics, he didn’t bother us after that. He was just letting us know how big he was, and that he was keeping an eye on us.
The water was especially clear, as the mill had been down for a while. Although pulp mills have to conform to very strict environmental controls these days, they still have an effect on the water. It is a stark contrast to what the mill was like in the 1980s. People tell me that the air back that was thick with smog and that the water was virtually devoid of aquatic life, with all kinds of strange coloured substances floating in the water. People who protested the mill back then coined the name “Neurosis Inlet” as a way of voicing their objections. Oddly, today, the locals seem to still call it “Neurosis Inlet”, not realizing or not caring for the subtle difference in pronunciation between “Neurosis” and “Neroutsos.”
We noticed an abundance of jelly fish. They came beside our boats, one after another, doing their weird little swim. Either there were a lot of jelly fish, or they were purposefully coming by to check us out. We passed a reef by the islands and saw a multitude of starfish having a starfish party! As we were paddling around the starfish, Polly came by. She and James chatted about how clear the water was, and about the recent abundance of sea lions and whales. I was being obsessive, trying to get the absolute best shots of starfish. I was having a hard time getting a good compositional arrangement to photograph because, as soon as I had a good one, the kayak moved and altered it! I became flustered, trying to paddle to the perfect spot for a photo and then snapping it fast enough, worrying that I might end up dropping the phone in the water. After a while, I snapped photos nearly indiscriminately, hoping that I incidentally got in a few good shots. Eventually, James ordered me to curb my frenzied photography. I complied, simply because I was getting frustrated. Polly took off and went to the south part of the island. James and I went across the inlet to check out a river.
Jellyfish. A starfish party! James and Polly having a neighbourly chat. Gimme that camera!
After eons of coughing out rocks, boulders and wood into the inlet, the small sparkling river created a huge underwater mountain. It made for a wide stretch of shallow water for us to walk in up to our ankles, as well as a habitat for seaweed, sea onion and sea asparagus. With massive pieces of driftwood lying around, the sand bar looked like a graveyard for monster trees from Lord of the Rings. We stopped and took a bunch of pictures on a big snag. Chloe posed for pictures, looking like a hero dog in an animal adventure series. I took a bunch of photos of James hopping on the giant piece of driftwood—which made my knee cringe!
The underwater mountain “top.” Chloe the super kayaking dog. James on the giant piece of driftwood. Log with seaweed. Sea onion. A dog’s boat is her castle.
Back at the kayaks, we walked in shallow water for quite a distance before hopping in. We were contemplating a picnic, but decided on having one on the Frigon Islands instead, as there weren’t any dry comfortable places to sit. James tried to paddle up the river, but, with the tide going out, he wasn’t able to get very far. On the way to the islands, I commented that the water’s surface seemed convex: that shortly after we left shore we seemed to sink down a miniscule amount and go lower as we got closer to the centre of the inlet.
South view from the Frigon Islands.
Sitting on our blanket and eating on the sand bridge between the Frigon Islands, a crow protested that he wasn’t invited to our picnic. We threw crackers and grapes at him. Sometimes he ate them right away, other times he carried something off to a hiding spot. We had to throw our givings a good distance. If we didn’t throw them far enough, he wouldn’t come close to get them. Casting off for home, we drifted by an Inuksuk on the south island. In the last couple of years, there has been an mysterious invasion of inuksuk’s in Port Alice. They appeared in healthy numbers by the kayak launch, on the islands and on the shores of Neroutsos Inlet. Some would crumble back to the elements, then more would appear. They were the talk of the town for quite a while, as people tried to figure out who their creator was. One day, I discussed this mystery with one of Port Alice’s resident professional photographers, Darrell McIntosh, and he confessed it was he who made them. Since he often makes calendars of his nature photography to sell, I suggested he make one with his inuksuks. He hummed and hawed about it at first, but, eventually, he did it! That was already a couple of years back.
Chloe stared at the inuksuk like it was a real person or animal. She even barked at it! There’s something about Chloe and sculptures! When we were in a car rental agency this last Christmas 2016, she became very distressed by the presence of a carved wooden Santa Claus they had in the front lobby. Talk about the power of art! Even animals can have a sense of it! James took a picture of Chloe looking at the Inuksuk. I told him to take a picture of the Inuksuk too, but—tired of all the picture-taking—he protested. When he paddled around the island, he got a change of heart. When I finally caught up to him, he confessed that he ended up taking the picture anyway. I have to thank the gods for that intervention! This story would have been sorely incomplete without it, and James later had to agree.
Chloe staring at the inuksuk. The inuksuk. Chloe afraid of Santa.
And this, folks, is the end of the story for our 2015 kayaking season. By the time I finished writing this post (January 2017), there have been a few changes in Port Alice thanks, I believe, to our town’s various web promotions, including portalicelife.ca, vancouverislandhiddengem.com, and chloethekayakingchihuahua.com. Though this is hardly quantitative, many of the locals have been commenting that there has been more tourist activity in Port Alice. One more concrete sign of this is that the local grocery store, F.P. Foods (now called Port Alice Family Foods) opened its doors from 8 to 8 in the summer! The latest I remember them staying open is 7 pm—and that was when the mill was open!
I think kayaking is a very good way to spend our time here on Earth, and even a good way to enliven our economy to a degree. It’s great physical activity, keeping us healthy and fit—even for us oldies with bad knees! The activity itself doesn’t require oil or gasoline, and doesn’t churn up the water or introduce hazards that affect animal life the way motor boats do. We need some of that oil and gas to make kayaks, but they can last a long time. One kayak can last a lifetime, and maybe even a couple more after that—unlike most cars! Kayaking provides us with more opportunities to interact with our animal and fish friends, promoting more awareness of and empathy for our ecosystem. It’s hard to take care of nature’s creatures if we are not even aware that they are there, and that they have intelligence, personalities, and that they even like to be funny sometimes.
Kayaking also helps us to explore those beautiful idyllic settings that are just around the corner, that we may have lived near all our lives and not really seen or appreciated. Who says you have to spend a bunch of money to fly for hours in a plane to a place considered to be exotic? We have oodles of exotic, peaceful and beautiful bodies of water to visit right here in Canada, some of which rarely see people. Canada has over 30,000 lakes larger than three square kilometres—that’s a lot of places to kayak! Whether they are in the west, the east, the far north or in a municipal area, there is something magical about all of them! Mother Nature is an artist who doesn’t skimp on quality.
Our societies’ focus on buying and selling things has gotten out of hand, and we need to change course. Instead of being addicted to buying stuff that, half the time, we don’t need and that just ends up in the land fill, I think we would be better off spending our money on generating “positive experiences.” We can even base a vibrant economy on such “ephemeral” things. It doesn’t have to be primarily based on the exchange of solid, material objects.
I have a pact with James and my son. We exchange gifts at Christmas, a little reluctantly, but for every other occasion, we celebrate with a nice dinner or a night out. We have to eat or be entertained anyway. We don’t end up with a bunch of junk that we have no place to put. There is a limit to how many gadgets a person can actually use. In fact, in many material-object-based industries, like the fashion industry, products have to be regularly destroyed to keep up demand.
The best thing about kayaking, is that it can be a spiritual experience. We can miss so much of what is going on in “reality,” as the TV slowly and insidiously reconstructs our perspective. Kayaking teaches us about various other “worlds” out there, from the worlds of plants and animals… to the long lost cultures of First Nations people (who have maintained this planet for millennia without bringing it to the brink of destruction)…to that space in the silence of nature that helps us be more creative—and that just might provide us with the solutions to all our problems.