I'm an Ontario boy by birth, and an islander by choice. I've lived out here on the west coast for ten Christmases now, and I've spent four of those on this island. In Ontario, my favourite time of year is the fall. Starting in October, the leaves begin to turn, and the air grows crisp and clear, the November rain come, cold and sometimes choosing to fall as snow and then December rolls in, less windy and wet, and the frost settles in and the snow starts to accumulate. Sometimes the cold snaps arrive too and the air grows dry and everything grows brittle and frosty. In my genes, that is what Christmas weather feels like.
So today, i have to say that I'm no in the Christmas spirit much. My soul is really tied to the weather, and right now that weather is blowing a classic Pineapple Express. We are in a heavy rainfall warning expecting about another 35 mm of rain on top of the 30mm that has already fallen. The winds are gusting to 70kms, which they hit last night a couple of times and the air is warm - 8 degrees at the moment. I was chopping wood in my shirt sleeves this morning which is as improbable a state of affairs as you can imagine.
If you have a peek at the weather map you'll see that the cause of all this is a series of lows out in the north Pacific. Three lows are lined up in a triangle. with one south of us and one way offshore. This is pushing the jetsream further south and as a result, it is picking up warm wet air from the tropics and delivering it on the west coast. Pineapple Express systems are characterized by a "tap" that streams moisture onto the coast beneath the jet stream. That tap is lying a little south of us at the moment, across southern Oregon and northern California, but even though we are dryer than we could be (avoiding 100mm rainfalls), the winds are relentless and the air is warm and the snow is gone from the mountains.
We've had some great weather this fall, with fog, cold, sun and snow and now this, on the first day of winter. It doesn't make me feel very Christmasy, but I'm in awe of this weather even still, of the last power and the wildness of it. My spirit says I should be in line with the season, but the wind and rain battering my house calls me to rest in the storm instead.
A quick update on this incredible weather we are having.
in November, the local weather station here recorded 91 mm of rain which is a virtual drought for this time of year. Most years we get that in a day. The weather has been clear and cold, with heavy frosts at night.
Last night was exceptional. It's a full moon and very near solstice, and I had to come back on the water taxi. The moon is directly overhead and the tide is exceptionally low around midnight. The gantry from the government dock down to the float was so steep, I had to literally walk down it like you'd walk down a ladder. Once on the water I rode outside on the Cormorant and the view was incredible. The moon shone down from Taurus, the Big Dipper, standing on its handle, rested on top of the Brunswick Range to the north east, Mars shone well above us to the south, and the snowfields and glaciers at the head of Howe Sound glimmered in the moonlight. It was bright and calm and cold on the water, and outstandingly beautiful all round.
I haven't seen them yet, but there is a pod of transient killer whales hanging around Bowen this week.
The first I heard of them was from Alison Morse, who lives on the south side of the island. She and her husband watched them in the Strait for a half and hour on Monday mornings. Then friends Karo Johnson and George Milligan had a stunning encounter with the pod at Bowen Bay. From the beach they watched as the pod cornered a Steller's Sea Lion and then broke it's back and proceeded to tear it apart. Most of the dirty work was done by three of the whales although the heavy lifting was done by a huge male who lurked on the edges until there was a need to make the kill. Steller's Sea Lions are huge, and Karo estimated this one at one ton, easily.
Yesterday I got another report of the whales off the west side of the island from Ellen Hayakawa who was out paddling in the Collingwood Channel and spotted the pod off Paisley Island. They got close enough to them to be surrounded and sprayed with whale breath, although that's a hell of a lot closer than I'd want to get to a pack of sea wolves.
Transients are not unknown in our waters, especially at this time of year. They wander solo or in pods up and down the coast all year and are the only ones that eat mammals like seals and sealions on a regular basis. They are skilled and vicious pack hunters and pursue their prey up on to beaches if need be. The resident pods of killer whales are tamer in comparison. We don't have any in Howe Sound anymore, but there are some in the Strait and they are occasionally spotted from the ferry. These ones eat fish and following the salmon and herring around. They linger all summer in the Gulf Islands and the San Juans and are usually the ones who see photos of.
I'm going to try to get over to the west side to see if these whales are still about. If anyone else is looking for them, try to get a picture of their dorsal fins. The Vancouver Aquarium would probably be interested in knowing who these guys are, and they can identify them from the dorsal fins alone.
Every three years, since 1999 we have held elections for a municipal council. Every three years we have what can only be described as an "inaugural ball" in true Bowen fashion. Tonight was a fantastic example.
The evening began with a singing of Oh Canada, a blessing from a Squamish minister, and invocation from the Island padre, Shelagh MacKinnon and the official swearing in of the new mayor and council. Mayor Bob Turner missed his cue on his oath of office prompting past mayor (and councilor) Lisa Barrett to express concern that maybe he had had a change of heart. From there on in, it was all fun. Council made it;s first two decisions - to send Peter Frinton and Alison Morse to the Islands Trust, and to borrow some money so we could conclude a long time process and buy some green space right in the village. Each of the councilors said a piece with Alison Morse topping it all for me with a comment that she spent 30 minutes this morning watching killer whales feed on herring off her south shore property.
After that, the artists took over. Pauline LeBel offered a couple of songs and bestowed rocks to each members of council, Wendy Merkley, dressed as "Ricardo" and Mad Mabel passed out awards and ribbed and mocked and brought every one back to together and then present the official trappings of office for the mayor: a pair of size 12 gumboots, a sou'wester and a golden scepter made out of a spray painted plunger. Adorned in these robes of office Bob introduced me for a rousing chorus or two of "Our Island's Ours Again" and we adjourned to eat cheese, drink wine and pass a merry hour while Brenda Reid and Teun Schut gamely lilted standards in the background.
This is an inauguration unlike any that happened across this province tonight. It is a uniquely Bowen event, combining the sacred and important legal stuff with the ribald hilarity and high spirit that really represents this place. I hope to God we never lose this sense of fun, and that our municipal politics never strays from the honest good fun of tonight. If they ever should do so, may they always remember to come home.
It has been snowing a fair amount this week. Unusual for Bowen Island, to get snow so low down in November, but Bruce Steele says it's going to be a long winter, and who am I to argue with Bruce?
Finn and I climbed up Cates Hill today, through the new subdivision, up to the top where Tir na nOg Theatre School is. There is a new field up there and it's great for toboganning. He and I slid for an hour or so and then we did something really daring and stupid...we slid all the way down the road all the way back to the Cove. The road wasn't completely slick, so we kept a nice controlled speed, but we nevertheless had a great luge down the whole half mile or so, stopping at the bottom for coffee and grilled cheese and soup at The Village Baker.
following that, we boogied over to Phoenix Photo, our island toy store, and Finn tried to get all the tops in the shop spinning at once while I chatted with Alison and sipped some tea.
It was a great islandy, father and son Canadian snow day.
Bowen Island is 20 square miles of rock lying two miles off the west coast of Canada. It is home to 3700 people, three mountains, two valleys, four lakes, about 15 beaches, two species of salmon, one village and me and my family.
"To chart this land hanging over ten thousand inlets and a distant mind as of many narrows, an impossible thing - no music sounds as many changes with such common theme."