Sunday, April 27, 2003

Just spent the weekend on Saltspring Island, which is a very different place from Bowen, but which shares many similarities, not the least of which are my favourite Gulf Island markers: twisty potholed roads that are named after the places they take you.

Not for me are the straight, numbered and well ordered blacktop streets of Vancouver. Nah. Give me potholes and frost heaves and sealed surfaces and the pleasure of coming to a freshly graded dirt road after a mile or two of pitted washboard. And instead of grid numbers and the names of dead royalty, give me destinations like Bowen Bay Road, Fulford-Ganges Road, Sutil Point Road, Mount Gardiner Road, Hood Point Road and Smuggler's Cove Lane.

How sensible and evocative and eminently practical is that?

Thursday, April 24, 2003

From a new addition to the noosphere links to the left, comes Marian Bantjes' collection of views from her house in Tunstall Bay.

Her blog covers a bunch of stuff, including her design work and her life in Vancouver, but also references her ongoing renovations of the Bowen house, which she gets to do on weekends.

A remarkable poem that captures what it feels like to air the place out as spring settles in on the island.

If You Get There Before I Do

Air out the linens, unlatch the shutters on the eastern side,

and maybe find that deck of Bicycle cards

lost near the sofa. Or maybe walk around

and look out the back windows first.

I hear the view's magnificent: old silent pines

leading down to the lakeside, layer upon layer

of magnificent light. Should you be hungry,

I'm sorry but there's no Chinese takeout,

only a General Store. You passed it coming in,

but you probably didn't notice its one weary gas pump

along with all those Esso cans from decades ago.

If you're somewhat confused, think Vermont,

that state where people are folded into the mountains

like berries in batter. . . . What I'd like when I get there

is a few hundred years to sit around and concentrate

on one thing at a time. I'd start with radiators

and work my way up to Meister Eckhart,

or why do so few people turn their lives around, so many

take small steps into what they never do,

the first weeks, the first lessons,

until they choose something other,

beginning and beginning their lives,

so never knowing what it's like to risk

last minute failure. . . .I'd save blue for last. Klein blue,

or the blue of Crater Lake on an early June morning.

That would take decades. . . .Don't forget

to sway the fence gate back and forth a few times

just for its creaky sound. When you swing in the tire swing

make sure your socks are off. You've forgotten, I expect,

the feeling of feet brushing the tops of sunflowers:

In Vermont, I once met a ski bum on a summer break

who had followed the snows for seven years and planned

on at least seven more.

We're here for the enjoyment of it, he said,

to salaam into joy. . . .I expect you'll find

Bibles scattered everywhere, or Talmuds, or Qur'ans,

as well as little snippets of gospel music, chants,

old Advent calendars with their paper doors still open.

You might pay them some heed. Don't be alarmed

when what's familiar starts fading, as gradually

you lose your bearings,

your body seems to turn opaque and then transparent,

until finally it's invisible--what old age rehearses us for

and vacations in the limbo of the Middle West.

Take it easy, take it slow. When you think I'm on my way,

the long middle passage done,

fill the pantry with cereal, curry,

and blue and white boxes of macaroni, place the

checkerboard set, or chess if you insist,

out on the flat-topped stump beneath the porch's shadow,

pour some lemonade into the tallest glass

you can find in the cupboard,

then drum your fingers, practice lifting your eyebrows,

until you tell them all--the skeptics, the bigots, blind neighbors,

those damn-with-faint-praise critics on their hobbyhorses--

that I'm allowed,

and if there's a place for me that love has kept protected,

I'll be coming, I'll be coming too.

-- Dick Allen, from The Day Before

Via riley dog

Killer Whale (this one's in Alaska)

My friend Chris Robertson lives over in Grantham's Landing, which is on the other side of Howe Sound from me. We work together a lot, and one of my favourite things to do is meet with him in Horseshoe Bay at Trolls for eggs benedict, coffee and chatter over ideas, plans and projects. That's what I did this morning, taking a leisurely 8:35 boat to meet him coming off the 8:20 boat from Langdale.

If weather had names like paint swatches do, then today's was "classic west coast spring." The rain was light but persistent, a steady herring rain. The winds were calm and the sea was flat. Clouds hung low over the mountain tops and fog swirled about in little patches. On the morning boat ride to Horseshoe Bay, I had the strange sensation of expecting a killer whale to pop out of the glassy gray water at any minute.

It turns out that this could have actually happened. There used to be a pod of resident killer whales in Howe Sound, but they are long gone, chased away by the pulp mills and the leaching of copper, cadmium, iron and zinc from the old Brittania Mine. But there are lots of transient killer whales on the coast and they often travel solo, migrating constantly, feeding mostly on marine mammals like seals and sea lions. Four years ago, Caitlin saw one in the fall off Second Beach in Stanley Park, but we haven't seen one since moving here.

However, I'll have to pay more attention. A friend on the return boat at noon reports to me that an orca has been seen from our ferry in the last couple of weeks. If it's true and it's still around, that would be a thing to see. A killer whale back in the Sound, if only for a momentary snack of seal, would be a lovely sign of hope.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Penny Scott quotes Kathryn Thompson, a Bowen friend who showed up at our Choral Evensong last week and wrote an article about it for The Undercurrent. Kathryn very kindly says this:

On Sunday I experienced something extraordinary – a choir of angels was singing in the United church. This choir must be Bowen Island’s best kept secret but this intimate music is too inspirational to be kept a secret for long.

The music is contemplative, consisting of plainsong (Gregorian chants) and hymns. The vocal harmony is beautiful – each voice responding to the others with great sensitivity, even delicacy. The simple service combines candlelight, silence and scripture with these simple chants to help build awareness of Spirit in our selves and in community. Alison Nixon explains “The chants are meant to be sung for at least seven minutes and ideally for 15 to 20 minutes. It takes at least that long for the chant to penetrate the heart.”

William Allen, Cantor of St. Barnabas Anglican Church explains Gregorian chant this way: “the vision of creation expressed in by this music is one in which the life of humanity is ever more surely becoming the divine life. It’s sound is unified, loving and merciful, pointing to healing and wholeness.”

As I listened to this music, I experienced a deep sense of the sacred and a mood of stillness and reverence. T.S. Eliot contemplated this experience in Four Quartets: “To apprehend the point of intersection of the timeless with time, is an occupation for the saint…for most of us there is only the unattended moment, the moment in and out of time, the distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight…or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply that it is not heard at all, but you are the music while the music lasts”.

Wow. Thanks Kathryn (and Penny for quoting it).

Monday, April 21, 2003

Easter arrived with it's characteristic warm weather and insane ferry overloads. Seems our regular ferry was deployed on the Langdale run and the smaller Bowen Queen was trying to handle all the traffic. And the combination of our ferry working elsewhere in Howe Sound, along with the smaller ferry handling long weekend traffic and a captain who didn't want to work past closing to get 28 more cars home, all that led to some miffed Islanders.

There is an eerie glow around the island at the moment as we have been carpeted by Douglas-fir pollen. The pollen is yellow and is coating everything, giving almost a sepia tone to the world at the moment. I don't remember this happening last year and I've never lived close enough to a lot of Douglas-fir trees to know if this is a heavy year or not. Maybe a regular reader will leave a comment...

At any rate, when it mixes with rain it forms a slippery gum that is really hard to get off the car, the deck and the driveway among other flat surfaces. Just bizarre.

Monday, April 7, 2003

Chip barges passing under the Lion's Gate Bridge

Feels like winter again. For the last 24 hours we've been living in the teeth of a stubborn Pineapple Express, hurling 70 km/h wind gusts and probably 40mm of rain at us.

I hopped the ferry into town this morning and it was pretty rocking out in the channel.

But weather aside, on the journey home this afternoon I noticed something really interesting. As we pulled out of Horseshoe Bay and turned into the Queen Charlotte Channel, off of our starboard bows I saw a tug boat carrying three empty woodchip barges, motoring out of Howe Sound. The rules of the road applied and so we had to take a course that took us around the back end of the assembly. To do so we chugged north towards Eaglecliff and then went around the back end of the three barges, before drawing our arc closed with a bearing on Snug Point.

As we went around the barges, we came quite close to them, and they are an impressive sight. Things that work on the sea are always much bigger closer up, and these big red barges with "SEASPAN" emblazoned on them are the epitome of the working coast. But as impressive as these vessels are, they weren't the interesting thing.

The interesting thing was that as we passed them, the conversations in the lounge sort of died away and everyone turned and looked at them as we passed, in a kind of silent awe. Someone whispered "look at that. Isn't that something?" Even the most jaded veterans of this place still get a little thrill from coming face to face with the big boats of Howe Sound.

Wednesday, April 2, 2003

Notes on seasonal emergence:

  • Salmonberry bushes get their flowers before they get their leaves. Most of the shrubs in the forest now have pink tinges covering their spindly branches and the light green hint of foliage following not far behind.

  • A eagle in the douglas-fir tress behind the house was sppoked by Finn and I as we were tramping around in the salal yesterday. The eagle, a young one, took off and skirted the edge of the forest. Seconds later it had a crowd of crows chasing it back to it's perch. It's nesting season.

  • Somehow the scarping call of the Stellar's Jays has left my memory. Whe I heard one the other day for the first time in months, I couldn't place it. later I realized it was a Jay. The robins are back in droves and singing their hearts out in the morning.

  • Skunk cabbage coming up now, painting yellow splotches of light in the muddy ditches around the island.

  • Joining with dozens of parents at 8am on a Saturday morning to register the kids for T-ball. Finn and I have been out thrwoing a Frisbee back and forth lately. He can really whip it. Not bad for a two year old.

  • Forsythia, tulips, snapdragon, lavender, osteospremum, and daffodils are in flower in the garden.