Marble River: Forces of Nature

June 13, 2015

When I write, I try to allow “other forces” to intervene in my final product. Perhaps it includes the subconscious mind, the collective unconscious, higher levels of awareness in the human brain, mind-controlling aliens or just plain old Mother Nature speaking through my laptop. I just let my thoughts flow freely and worry about editing later. Employing the technique of brainstorming, I can sometimes get little “treats” or little “coincidences” in my writing such as allusion, symbolism and multiple levels of meaning without any apparent deliberation on my part. The theme of ‘secrets’ in my Link River account only became apparent to me when it was in the final proofing stage. The ‘lost’ element in the Atkins Cove adventure naturally lead to a discussion of what to do if you are lost in the woods. The theme that seems to have emerged with this account seems to be the physical forces of nature, and how they can bring about changes in our surroundings and in our lives.

James had hankering for a camping trip, seemingly out of the blue. I, however, had some business to take care of on Friday, so we settled for a short two day trip “in our backyard” (it’s so nice to have such beautiful things in our back yard) at Marble River by the Salmon Hatchery at the northern tip of Alice Lake. For something that was “in our back yard,” the Marble River Campsite was not lacking in exoticness! In addition to the typical Vancouver Island trees that seem to reach to the heavens, there was thick shrubbery dividing the sites and creating a feeling of coziness and privacy—not that there were many people around that we needed to block out! There was the additional bonus of the soothing sounds of rushing water from the Marble River Rapids. We settled into site eight, near an embankment above the river. We were fenced in by tall coniferous trees that were spaced far enough apart to let in a good bit of sun in the middle of the day. We had everything: sun, shade, openness, coziness, lots of trees and lots of space all at the same time. Oddly, the centrepiece of this trip was the campsite, and how we treated it like it was our living room.

On Saturday we launched into the river from the boat launch by the bridge. We paddled leisurely on still water, enjoying the sun when it showed up from behind the clouds now and then, and talking about life. It was around here that James “casually” mentioned something about moving in together. We took our time dipping in and out of small coves and checking them out. We found a tall rock face and took numerous pictures, most of which turned out bad or blurry. I was pretty nervous about getting close to the rock face. The water below looked very dark, cold and endless. Paddling a little further we came close enough to point out the direction of the cabin we found on our trip to Link River. When the wind started to pick up and the water got choppy, we reversed direction and headed back to the campsite. We passed by one rocky island, getting some flak from some small gulls with black tipped wings. After checking our bird book later, we believe they might have been California gulls. Though we got a lot of noise from them, we didn’t get dive-bombed. We suspected that that would have been the case had we tried to land (not there was much of a place to land on the steep rocky edge of the island). We checked what we thought at first was a cove, but it turned out to be an island. As we paddled around it, we found some boaters relaxing on a make-shift dock. Chloe gave them her most menacing bark and they all laughed. When we landed back at the bridge, we contemplated leaving the kayaks there so we wouldn’t have to pack them all up just to drive a few metres to the campsite. We decided against it and went through our complete routine of putting the kayaks on our vehicles, which was a good thing since it ended up that we didn’t go kayaking the next day.

Marble River HatchBy the Hatchery. Marble River HatchClouds over Alice Lake. Marble River HatchUnder the rock face. Marble River HatchUpper view of rock face. Marble River HatchPaddling on dark water.

When we came back to camp we had smokies and my creation of a gluten free smore with bananas, chocolate and whipped cream. I made one for myself first, as I had never made one before. I sliced a banana in half, put chocolate in between and wrapped it in tin foil. I kept it on the fire just long enough to melt the chocolate. Once it was melted, I sprayed whipped cream on it and “voila”: banana smore! It worked, so James was willing to take a chance on one. We later bemoaned the fact that we didn’t bring the Yahtzee game, but managed to keep chatting into the night.

Marble River HatchMmm. Banana Smore!

I was allowed to go on a field trip with the school that I work for as a lunch supervisor on Monday, but was debating whether or not to go. We were feeling pretty cozy at Marble River. James wouldn’t have been able to go on the school trip with me because he wasn’t staff or a parent of one of the kids that go there. After checking out our map and finding a boat icon at the trail head, we decided to try to go to San Jo Bay on the San Josef River with our kayaks. When I did some research the following Tuesday I found out that, because it is a tidal river, we would have to time our trip with the tides. If not, we would have to portage a couple of times. That wasn’t so bad, but when we later checked the website for BC Parks, we found out that dogs aren’t allowed at Cape Scott Provincial Park because of problems with wolves! So much for that grand plan! When we go there, Chloe is going to have to stay with a dog sitter.

June 15, 2015

We decided to take a hiatus from kayaking and try out the Marble River Trail. I have an arthritic knee and was worried I wouldn’t be able to do it. We thought about doing it on our bikes together, but we would have had a hard time bringing Chloe along. She is not terribly good around bikes, and we couldn’t let her run loose in the park. James came up with the idea that he walks with Chloe on a leash and I take the bike so as not to add undue pressure on my knee. It was a nice idea... in theory.

We walked to the entrance of the campsite and took the fork that went up to the old campsite that is not maintained. As we walked by the sites, we saw picnic tables at various stages of sinking slowly to the ground and being consumed by moss and shrubbery. At the most northerly end of the loop, we found a gap in the trees and guessed that this might be the trail head. There were no signs, no nothing! I come from Alberta where signage is quite user friendly. It seems that when you get to the point when you are wondering if you are on the right track, a reassuring sign always seems to turn up. Major turns and junctures are usually very clearly marked in Alberta, so you can make an informed decision before embarking in a particular direction. In BC, however, it seems like you already have to know where you are going to get anywhere! Once you finally figure out how to get to your destination, through trial and error, a tip from someone or incredible powers of ESP, you will find plenty of signage! Finding the ribbon for the trail to Atkins Cove was a struggle; but, once we were finally on the trail after getting lost several times, there were ribbons everywhere, and, at a point when we really didn’t need them because we could see the water! What good is signage if it doesn’t give guidance to the lost! I’ve experienced a similar frustration with highway signs in BC too: certain needed signs are too far apart or only show up when I’m past doubt and nearly at my destination. Oddly enough, as soon as we started walking about fifty metres on what we hoped was the Marble River Trail, we not only found signage, but a huge plaque with information and history about the place! Go figure!

We walked along the first part of the trail with our heads tilted up, in awe of this forest of very tall trees. Though they were incredibly tall, they were not very wide—speaking of their relative youth. They were also very uniform, looking like they had been farmed. In December of 1907 this forest had been flattened by a hurricane, the catastrophe creating space for an inordinate amount of new growth all at once. Because of the trees’ uniformity, it felt like we were in a kind of real life diorama­—something that looks real but not quite. There was the occasional tall huge dead cedar left standing after the hurricanes, looking very archaic and full of character alongside it’s fresher, more nubile 108 year old younger generation companions.

Marble River HatchJames and the 108 year old youngsters.

I did pretty well on the bike at first, stopping occasionally to go up a hill or over some rough stuff. I was somewhat amazed at the narrowness of the trail, finding it tricky to maneuver between trees and over roots. It is definitely a bike trail for the more serious mountain biker. A couple of times James pushed the bike up very steep parts of the trail for me (he’s quite a chivalrous guy…a real keeper!). I ended up going down a fairly steep hill and, thanks to a root that was protruding a little too high, I did a face plant into some ferns! James said I did it all very gracefully, by not resisting the fall. Luckily there was some moss under the ferns to make for a soft landing. Chloe was concerned too, running right up to me to see if I was alright. After a while the roots seemed to be more prevalent, either because of my perceptions after the fall, or because they actually were. James told me to leave my bike and walk the rest of the way. I kept wondering if the trail would end before my knees did and, lo and behold, we found signs (at the end—where else!) One pointed to Emerald Pools, 1.2 km, and the other to Bear Falls, 75 m. It was a no-brainer so we took the path to Bear Falls, though we remained awfully curious about Emerald Pools. Oddly enough, at the end of the day, it turned out the walk (or the walk and bike ride) was good for my knee and it hurt way less than expected. The next day my knee felt almost normal. We might have been able to take on Emerald Pools. I guess it’s true, that exercise is good for arthritis.

Coming up on Bear Falls we were met with a powerful noise. The water from the Marble River roared as it cut and carved its way around the huge boulders before spilling into a wide tranquil pool lower down. Bear Falls is a natural fish ladder: the falls are like steps, making it a little easier for the salmon to leap up against the current. The water was rushing so hard though, they have quite a battle to face nevertheless! Because of this, places like Bear Falls are a popular place for bears to hang out in the fall and fatten up on fish. At the north side of the falls is a cement fish ladder built by Western Forest Products, giving the salmon a little more of a boost for reaching their destination and helping to increase the number of salmon that get born.

Not satisfied seeing it from afar, we crawled right on to the rocks, carrying Chloe. We sat in the sun and had a little rest and a snack surrounded by roaring churning water. James then decided it was time to jump into the pool under the falls! At first I thought he was kidding, then, I realized, he wasn’t! I told him he was crazy, but I knew there was little I could do to stop him. I joked that if he starts to drown I’m going to have to leave him there, because there is no way I’m going in that frigid water. So he jumped into the water, swimming around, hooting and hollering either in ecstasy or in pain or both as I snapped away with his phone. Not your average 55 year old! Well, he didn’t drown. He came back up with a big smile on his face. I couldn’t stop shaking my head. He said he liked it because it made him feel alive. He encouraged me to try it. I said no thanks and that I’ve experienced enough pain in my life to make me feel alive.

Marble River HatchJames in the middle of bear falls. Marble River HatchLook for a bald head in the water.

We headed back, finding my bike where I left it. By the end of the trail, I was starting to think more like a mountain biker and was riding more smoothly on the skinny trail. It seemed by the last few hundred yards I was in my stride. Chloe was getting pretty tired and protested several times by refusing to move any further. We ended up having to pick her up and carry her for a ways. James and I took turns carrying Chloe while the other rode or pushed the bike. Chloe would then walk a little more until she staged another protest. We realized that this 5 or 6 km hike was like a 30 km hike for someone her size. By the end, she hardened up too, and walked the last stretch herself. She probably sensed from us that we were at the end of the trail.

We spent the rest of the evening eating smokies (it’s a good thing our normal everyday diet is low in cholesterol) and banana smores and calculating James’ numerology with a book I brought. He’s overwhelmingly a 2 (he’s a 2 for his life path, destiny and personality number), which is about companionship and peace-making and suits him to a T! I’m largely a 3 which is about self-expression, which makes sense being that I’m an artist and a writer. An individualistic solitary “artsie,” I think if I wasn’t with a strong 2 like James, I’m sure there would be no hope for me at all! James is not just committed to a relationship with me, but to the idea of relationships in general! It’s been quite an education for me. His mind is set up to do everything in pairs. If he gets up to get a coffee, he always asks if I want one. One time I got myself a coffee just for myself and got heck for it. If he wants to go for a walk, then I should want to go for one too. If I want to buy an ice cream cone, then he does too. It can be a serious problem when it comes to eating though. He would like us to eat the same food, in the same amounts and at the same frequency, except we have different metabolisms. He can eat a zillion calories a day and not gain an ounce and I can gain weight just looking at food! He feels very uncomfortable eating to satisfaction when he knows I have to be a little bit hungry for the better part of the day. Very often he has refused to eat himself because I wouldn’t. It took a few indoctrination sessions, but he’s learned to help himself to a hearty late night snack (but looking visibly uncomfortable about it) while I sip my tea and look on. Every once in a while though, he forgets himself and tries to share! There’s no two ways about it: he’s a 2 through and through!

As darkness fell, we started a game of chess. James considers himself “pretty good” at chess and thought beating me would be a breeze. He did beat me, but I did make him sweat. Practically each time it was his move, he sat there frozen seemingly forever, thinking about his next move without even twitching. He just looked like a statue, while his brain quietly calculated away like a computer. The chess game lasted until it got very dark. We had to bring out all the flashlights and lamps we had and arrange them around our chess board so we could see what we were doing.

June 16, 2015

We spent a leisurely morning just hanging out. I was writing my recollections and James was reading the paper and his book and we were both just generally being lazy. Such a thing is quite a novelty for me, as I am juggling several part time jobs, volunteer work and writing and illustrating a copious amount of books. I originally came out to Port Alice hoping for a slower pace of life…it didn’t work! When it was time to go kayaking James wanted to dump just a little water on the fire. I had to give him my little Smokey the Bear spiel. Not too happily, he took a bucket and went down the embankment to get some water. I had to stand my ground, because I didn’t want us to be liable for a forest fire, financially or morally. When disasters happen like the Fort McMurray wildfires, you don’t want to be the one that started it, even if you don’t get caught! With major forest fire disasters, however, there is always a major investigation after where no stone is left unturned. Sooner or later, who or what caused it gets found out!

Sometimes it strikes me that humans are programmed for disaster as, it turned out, Pinch Creek wasn’t the only place we ended up putting out someone else’s campfire in high or extreme hazard in 2015. In fact, we had to put a campfire left by some campers a couple of sites down from ours during this trip! They made no attempts whatsoever to put it out and it was still producing quite a bit of smoke as they left. Perhaps this happens because humans have an unconscious desire for drama and emotional intensity. Maybe people are more concerned about escaping the authorities than the actual consequences of their actions. Perhaps this happens too often simply because people don’t have enough information on how forest fires work. Forestry ministries tend to give the public a stern message about making sure the campfire is out, sounding threatening and authoritarian and all that, without providing the nitty gritty. I think they should appeal to people’s intelligence, rather than trigger their propensity to be defiant. I think they would get better results with a little education, teaching people some interesting facts about fire behaviour. Since reading my write up about forest fires in my Link River account written this past winter, James has become much more cooperative making sure the fire is completely out.

We went kayaking by the salmon hatchery again under sunny skies, discovering little coves that we had missed the last time. In another cove, Chloe’s big antennae ears perked up and we knew something was up. Her ears directed us to a deer drinking water from the lake. In the same cove we came across some marsh marigolds and I did a little art photography (with a camera phone!). In another little cove, James felt himself rise up as he scraped logs underneath (or possibly a lake monster!) so we backed up and got out of there in a hurry before we ended up stuck and needing to swim (or getting eaten by the lake monster!) .

Marble River HatchChloe's ears perked up. Marble River HatchA deer drinking from the lake. Marble River HatchMarsh Marigolds 1. Marble River HatchMarsh Marigolds 2. Marble River HatchMarsh Marigolds 3.

We came around to a point that had a couple of docks, one old and weather worn with a couple of holes in it, and another newly built, both of which can be seen from the Port Alice highway. This looks like the locale for a future cabin or at least a hang-out for some campers as there was some human paraphernalia and garbage lying around. It was decided this was our snacking spot so we landed. As I stepped out of my kayak— much more gracefully than ever before— I felt my right foot getting sucked down! I’ve always had unusually fast reflexes that seem to really work for me in a pinch. Without hardly thinking about it, I somehow threw my body weight forward and landed in a heap on the beach! It was a fraction of a second of pure scariness! James must have thought I was having a seizure! When I told James about the quicksand he had to feel for it, the silly goose! He confirmed my suspicions.

Marble River HatchJames and Chloe checking out the docks.

After our snack and a few pictures taken on the docks, we headed leisurely back, talking about our exes, past relationships, open-relationships, committed relationships, dysfunctional relationships and those sorts of things. Being on kayaks in the middle of a North Island lake is a great place for in depth philosophical conversation.

Marble River HatchKayakers huddle. Marble River HatchIndian paintbrush by the bridge.

As we started to pack up back at the campsite, I was feeling very sad to leave. This was such a cozy campsite. I wouldn’t have minded spending a couple more days just “hanging out”…but we have schedules. My kitties were probably missing me too. I put my hand in the fire, and it was still a bit warm from the morning even though we had put quite a bit of water on it. It shows how persistent a fire can be in hot dry weather! James shook his head. He begrudgingly helped me as we dumped all the remaining water we had on it, plus a couple of buckets from the river. I shudder to think that, if I hadn’t put my hand in the fire, we would have been leaving behind a live unattended fire in extreme hazard! The Marble River trail could have had a whole new look in 2015!