Thursday, February 20, 2003

Somehow the description "light rain" doesn't quite describe what is happening outside today. I prefer to term "herring rain." I seem not be the only one...

My first introduction to the west coast was in March 1989, when I spent a week on the west coast of Vancouver Island, at the north end of Clayoquot Sound in a little community called Hot Springs Cove. It is the home of the Hesquiaht First Nation one of several Nuu-Chah-Nulth First Nations sprinkled around the outer coast. The Hesquiaht people used to live north of the present day village site at a place called Hesquiaht Harbour, but the tidal wave from the 1964 Anchorage earthquake washed away the old village. The new community lies in a protected cove, reachable by an hour long water taxi ride from Tofino which ends by crossing almost open ocean before pulling into the cove.

I was there in herring season. The commercial fish boats were all gathered at the head of the cove awaiting the opening of the herring season. We dipped a gill net in the water, tied off of one of the fish boats at the community dock, and we took in a few hundred pounds of small silver herring, which we spent the following day gutting and butterflying. Butterflying is the technique used to clean and prepare a herring for the smoke house. To butterfly a herring, the first thing you do is cut a large incision from its throat down to its anus and open the fish up. Next you clean out the guts, dropping them into the water beside the government dock where the gulls fight over the floaters and the crabs race for the sinkers. After that you cut a hole in the herring's back near its tail and you twist the tail inside the fish and thread it through the hole. Now the herring is essenntially turned inside out and you can slide it on to a stick with dozens of others and hang it up in the smokehouse.

We spent the better part of a Saturday evening fishing, and most of a Sunday cleaning. All that time it rained a light rain, a thin coastal spring rain. It's hard to describe this rain except to say that it seems to combine the characteristics of the hard constant winter rains, with a certain lightness that makes it seems as if you can spend all day out in and never get wet. And the sky is not a dark grey, but a kind of radiant white, because the sun is a little higher than it has been and the cloud cover isn't as thick. And there is no wind, so the rain falls straight down.

This is what I call "herring rain" and that's what's been happening outside all day.

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