Posts Tagged 'books'

Sailing Fishing Boats

Tango loading lumber in Portland, 1942.

Not too long ago nearly all working boats sailed.  I keep this photo at the ready to remind myself of that. The year is 1942 and the magnificent six mast schooner, Tango, is loading its cargo at a Portland wharf.  Steam-driven passenger ships and new vessels with diesel and gas engines would be moored nearby.  But the War has abetted Tango’s longevity.  I like to think that Rosie the Riveter and her Portland girlfriends have walked past on their way to the Kaiser docks to build Liberty Ships.

This puts my life in a new pocket, a different frame of reference: I arrived on the planet shortly after the end of an age of sail.  As I exit, sometime toward the end of the short Age of Fossil Fuels, sailing working boats will likely have made their comeback.  At least, that’s what I’m thinking.

Along the bountiful North Pacific coast where so many souls fish and so many souls sail there are certainly memories of doing both at once. Joe Upton, a superb writer who fished commercially for decades, says that Alaska’s gillnet fleet was not allowed to use power until the 1950s. Regulations favor fish and motors do not. Somewhere in the minds of old fishermen lie the memories and knowledge of wooden boats rigged with both sails and gillnets.

Sailing fishing ketch Tora in Kake, Alaska

Halibut schooners are still around, though no longer operating under sail. There’s one at Sitka and we’ve chatted with the crew during their long hours of baiting hooks and arranging them artfully around the edge of the baskets (or are they plastic drums?) on top of the coiled longlines. While the schooner had been missing a mast, by this summer the bow spit – a magnificent 40 foot yellow cedar – had broken off.  But she’s still pulling her weight.

Michael Crowley fell in love with halibut schooners as an aspiring greenhorn deckhand in Alaska in the late 1960s. When the docklines of the 65-foot schooner Attu were being thrown off and its cook hadn’t appeared, Crowley began his first of many seasons on halibut schooners out of Seattle. Not a single one was built after 1927 and most came from Ballard where he says “they were shaped with adzes, slicks, steam-powered ship saws, and the brute force and ingenuity of square headed ship carpenters and designers.”

S/V Blue goes fishing

But I only started thinking about sailing and fishing after Tora caught my eye.  It was in the sleepy but well laid out harbor of Kake, Alaska.  What is that?   A sailing ketch with a trolling rig on the aft mast.  Wow!   That was on our northbound leg.  (Coming southbound, on the cusp of salmon season, we followed Tova out of Kake Harbor into Rocky Pass toward the famous fishing grounds off Prince of Wales Island near Point Baker.)

I doubt that it’s efficient to simultaneously sail and operate a commercial troll, which involves managing a couple of dozen individual hooks and handling each salmon with respect.  But sail boats are lightly powered and work well at the 4 knot trolling speed.

Blue with her long trolling poles

In any event, my eyes were opened.  I started to look out for these hybrids.  And Alaska revealed them (while British Columbia did not…probably having to do with commercial fishing regs).

Leaving Sitka – no one leaves Sitka without a smidgen of wistfulness – we spied a small sail wooden sailboat.  And lo and behold she was rigged to troll.   At Baranof Warm Springs, balm to all commercial fishermen, we saw S/V -F/V Blue raft up to a seiner at the dock.  We never got to meet the skipper, who must have headed for a high altitude hot soak, but we learned Blue has a female captain.

When our Aurora made fast at Craig on Prince of Wales Island, an attractive neighbor captured my attention.  Abundance is a triple whammy: a steel boat (I have a thing for steel boats), a sailing ketch and a fishing troller.   I hung around, making numerous trips along a very long float to Craig Harbor’s laundry, showers and restrooms, hoping to get a glimpse of the captain.  My heart sank when I looked up from my boat work to see Abundance leaving the harbor.

Abundance returns to unload her catch.

But the next day, she was back!  Not at dock, mind you, but selling the catch at Craig’s packing plant.  It must have been good because it took a while.  I know because I watched and waited, hoping to welcome Abundance back at the dock.  But the sailing troller just turned around and went back out to fish some more!

Sources:  The photo of the Tango is, I believe, from the archives of the Oregon Historical Society.  I got it from the Facebook page of the Oregon Maritime Museum, which is on the waterfront in my Portland neighborhood.    Joe Upton educated me about trolling and gillnetting in Alaska Blues and about the Alaskan crab industry in Bering Sea Blues. Michael Crowley’s story “Greenhorn” appears in Leslie Leyland Green’s wonderful book Hooked!)

Salmon in the Trees

How’s that?   Actually, I get it now.

Fishing Tongass Forest Salmon

Salmon in the Trees is the title of Amy Gulik’s recent collection of photos and essays by Alaskan environmentalists, which draw on the genetic science of the temperate rain forest. The name was borrowed for the art installation we experienced on our way to a noon chamber music concert deep in the woods near Sitka; hanging in the trees were yard long salmon interpreted by local artisans, native grandmothers, and child artists. And it was David Suzuki who helped me unpack this concept one lazy afternoon as I sat on the deck reading his Autobiography.

“Science,” he says, helps us “tease out nature’s secrets.”   Awed by its intricate, complex interconnectedness, we start to understand the folly of “managing” the environment.

Temperate rainforest supports far more biomass than any ecosystem on earth. Ours extends from Northern California to Alaska in a narrow band between the Pacific Ocean and the coastal mountains. Prodigious rainfall on the great trees carries nutrients away from the forest floor. How then does the forest continue to support huge red and yellow cedar, Sitka spruce, and Douglas fir once the nutrients are swept into the sea?

Summer reading included David Suzuki’s Autobiography.

Suzuki explains.  “Terrestrial nitrogen is almost exclusively 14N, the normal isotope of nitrogen; in the oceans there is a significant amount of 15N, a heavier isotope that can be distinguished from 14N.” The temperate rainforest is laced with thousands of rivers and streams and if the forest is clear cut, salmon die off. The shade of the canopy keeps water cool, tree roots keep soil from washing into spawning grounds, and forest creatures nourish young salmon as they make their way to the ocean. So salmon need the trees. And the trees need the salmon.

“Along the coast,” writes the Canadian environmentalist, “The salmon go to sea by the billions. Over time, they grow as they incorporate 15N into all their tissues. By the time they return to their native streams, they are like packages of nitrogen fertilizer marked by 15N. Upon their return to spawn, killer whales, and seals intercept them in the estuaries, and eagles, bears, and wolves along with dozens of other species, feed on salmon eggs and on live and dead salmon in the rivers. Birds and mammals load up on 15N and, as they move through the first, defecate nitrogen rich feces throughout the ecosystem…A single bear may take from six hundred to seven hundred salmon. After a bear abandons a partially eaten salmon, ravens, salamanders, beetles, and other creatures consume the remnants.”

Researchers at the University of Victoria have demonstrated this redistribution of nitrogen: years when there are large salmon runs produce wide growth bands in trees and increased amounts of 15N contained in them. Salmon hold everything together.

“Our fragmented human efforts at environmental protection pale in comparison. They do not respect interdependence.” Referring to his native British Columbia, Suzuki explains why.   “The whales, gales, bears, and wolves come under the jurisdiction of the ministry of the environment, and the trees are overseen by the ministry of forests. The mountains and rocks are the responsibility of the minister of mining, and the rivers may be administered by the minister of energy (for hydroelectric power) or the minister of agriculture (for irrigation).”

And the salmon? They come under the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for commercial fishing, under another department for the First Nations’ food fishery and under the tourism ministry for sports fishermen.

In 1992, years before all this was well understood, the co-founders of the fledgling David Suzuki Foundation went to Earth Summit at Rio with this Declaration. It captures my evolving awareness.

Declaration of Interdependence

THIS WE KNOW

We are the earth, through the plants and animals that nourish us. We are the rains and the oceans that flow through our veins. We are the breath of the forests and the land and the plants of the sea. We are human animals, related to all other life as descendants of the firstborn cell. We share with these kin a common history, written in our genes. We share a common present, filled with uncertainy. And we share a common future as yet untold.

We humans are but one of thirty million species weaving the thin layer of life enveloping the world. The stability of communities of living things depends on this diversity. Linked in that web, we are interconnected–using, cleansing, sharing and replenishing the fundamental elements of life. Our home, planet Earth, is finite; all life shares its resources and the energy from the Sun, and therefore has limits to growth.  For the first time we have passed those limits.  When we compromise the air, the water, the soil, and the variety of life,  we steal from the endless future to serve the fleeting present.

 THIS WE BELIEVE

Humans have become so numerous and our tools so powerful that we have driven fellow creatures into extinction, damed the great rivers,torn down ancient forests, poisoned the earth, rain and wind, and ripped holes in the sky. Our science has brought pain as well as joy; our comfort is paid for by the suffering of millions.  We are learning from our mistakes, we are mourning our vanished kin, and we now build a new politics of hope. We respect and uphold the absolute need for clean, air, water, and soil.  We see that economic activities that benefit the few while shrinking the inheritance of many are wrong.  And since environmental degradation erodes biological capital forever, full ecological and social cost must enter all equations of development.   We are one brief generation in the long march of time; the future is not ours to erase. So where knowledge is limited, we will still remember  all those who will walk after us, and err on the side of caution.

THIS WE RESOLVE

All this that we know and believe must now forever become the foundation of the way we live. At this Turning Point in our relationship with the Earth, we work for an evolution from dominance to partnership, from fragmentation to connection, from insecurity to interdependence.

The Happy Apparition of Saint Janet

We are tied up at Baranof Warm Springs. Just before 4 am I hear the Chatham winds off our stern collide with the powerful current of the roiling waterfall beyond our bow. The dock lines are moaning, rubber fenders whining, the timbered float itself protesting. I need retie and protect Rob’s ingenious dock ladder from finally meeting its match and being ground to splinters. I force myself from the berth, up the companionway and onto the dock and with a sad pang realize that the splendid Saint Janet is gone!

Last night as dusk was seriously setting in – it had to have been after 10 pm – a beautiful small wooden seiner had pulled into the bay. It was perhaps 45 feet with classic upward sheer at the bow and a low rounded stern. It was newly painted with a bright white hull with varnished woodwork. Fine Roman lettering in green with yellow highlights announced “Saint Janet – Lopez Island, WA.” A modern flybridge had been added without compromising the classic lines. So completely shipshape: rigging, deck fittings, lines – everything! With its bead-like white and yellow floats coiled carefully over piled nets, Saint Janet looked more like a floating jewelry box.

The seiner’s skiff was released and went ahead so that a man on the dock could receive the lines thrown by the rest of the crew. There was just the right size space at the head of the float. As the crew stood ready with lines, the skipper leaned out of a window on the flybridge and calmly told each member exactly what to do. With the rush of snow melt playing with the bow, coordination was of the essence. I’d guess that the three youngest – two men and a woman – were green and only the skipper and mate had fished previous seasons.

When all lines were around the toe rail and Saint Janet was edging in, I asked one of the crew how long they’d been fishing. “We started at 4am,” he said jubilantly. The warm soak in the hot tubs that their skipper has so carefully planned would be a fitting finish to their day. I bid them a good warm soak and went to bed. In the morning I hoped to talk about their beautiful ship from their beautiful island so far away.

The skipper of the Saint Janet is clearly special. All day I have been reading Bering Sea Blues, where author-commercial fisherman Joe Upton talks about skippers and their crews with these words:

“When the seiners came in to deliver their fish to the Sidney, there were always one or two skippers who wanted to know who had been the high boat for that day. If it wasn’t them, they were clearly unhappy. You also sensed in their crews that an unhappy Type A skipper often makes for an unhappy crew. And then there were others, usually good steady producers, whose boats and crews just seemed to be together and happy. It was almost like the zen of commercial fishing: you knew that it was going to be cold, shitty and dangerous, but there was an attitude, maybe even a consciousness, that would enable you to get through it easier.”

Soon three new seiners come into the bay for rest and recuperation. F/V Kalleste drops anchor, Archangel rafts to her starboard and eventually Sea Breaker ties up on her port side. Tethered alongside or at the stern are their three inboard diesel skiffs. So you have on one anchor a whole fleet, a fishing village of fifteen people, in this case all related first by blood, secondly by friendship. The skiffs come and go bringing tired crew members to the docks, either to soak in the tubs at the bathhouse or in the sulpher springs, hotter and higher up the mountain.

Suddenly in early evening, a commotion brings everyone out. Two young men have jumped in and are swimming toward the docks, a most unwise move as 50º waters cause rapid hypothermia. A skiff driven by one of the skippers follows. Shaken, the driver stops to pull in a nephew and meets a cousin at the dock. “I didn’t think they would do it,” he says. Both seem fine: we tell them to run for the hot tubs at the top of the dock: they seem to have forgotten about them, mental fogginess begin one of the sad effects of hypothermia. As they sprint off, we follow them with our eyes until they safely reach the bath house. Relieved, the skipper take the skiff back to get them warm clothes.

Although there are seine openings only on Sundays and Thursdays, these boats will be out for two weeks, rather than spending the fuel to return to Sitka. It looks like this crew will benefit from the time to learn, get into a routine and figure out how they will work together.


Vancouver Island Circumnavigation (in less than 10 minutes)

For an abridged version of our summer cruise, we’ve put together short slideshows. They feature music composed by Jack the Skipper, photos by the First Mate and words by both of us.

From Port Townsend to Cape Scott
West Coast of Vancouver Island

Daily Sailing Log – July 2 – 18

Sea otter applauds as we pass by

July 2  It’s still drizzling when we wound our way out of the narrow passage between the island with the Walter’s Cove public wharf and the mainland with the village of Kuyquot. Good visibility helped us dodge the rocky islets on the way to the main entrance of the spectacular and isolated Kyuquot Sound. We has just left Rugged Point on starboard when our engine alarm went off signaling overheating. It was a good sign that there was water coming out with the exhaust. We made a u-turn and anchored in a little cove off Rugged Point and set about checking for the problem. Since our engine is new and this had never happened before, we opened up Nigel Calder’s Diesel Engine Maintenance and Repair and worked our way though the checklist. After closing the through-hull we cleared a bit of seaweed out of the raw water strainer but found nothing like a jellyfish or the tenicle of one of those horrible twenty-legged starfish that kept getting stuck on the Walters Cove dock pilings at low tide. Next thing was to take off the raw water intake hose. The hose clamps were rusty and I managed to split the hose while taking if off. Then we cut up a plastic coat hanger leaving a small hook at either end and pushed it down the hose from the strainer and into the open through hull. To make sure there really was no obstruction we took the lead line from our [yet unused] crab pot and pushed about four feet of it out through the hull. Water now fountained up freely. So we dried everything off, unrusted the clamps with WD-40, duct taped the hose, put everything back together,reopened the value on the through hull, pulled up the anchor and set out again into Kyuquot Channel.

No more than 15 minutes later, the engine overheated again so we did another u-turn to Rugged Point and dropped anchor. While a bit discouraged at the prospect of spending more time in the engine room rocked by incoming swells, it was better than being in the open ocean. The next thing on Nigel’s [and everyone else’s] checklist is an impeller change, something we’d not yet done on the new engine. Sure enough the old one had feet going in different directions so with considerable effort, I removed it, and with considerable speed managed to slip in the new one. I take it back: none of this was done with speed. I moved very slowly, thanks to my Dramamine and sunset that would not fall until nearly 10 pm. In engine repairs, speed hurts; consider the trouble of using chopsticks to fish a dropped washer or nut out from unfit the engine or the longer term consequences of a bloody finger. Finally we motored up Kyuquot Inlet, now a thousand shades of grey, and about 45 minutes later turned into our anchorage. Dixie Cove on Hohoae Island consists of two small basins surrounded by old growth forest. A sea otter languishing on his back over supper in the second narrow isthmus stared at us as we passed and dropped the hook in the most magical, clam, secluded inlet we’ve ever experienced. Hungry as horses, we devoured a pasta supper and slept like logs on our laurels.

July 3  Finally a beautiful day. Coffee on deck talking to the sea otter and listening to stereophonic flow of fresh water springs on either side. At low tide the walls of the cove – orange (mussels), bright green (algae) and grey (granite) – became a kaleidoscope of phantasmic monsters reflected on the mirror of the waters. We have never never seen such a fabulous anchorage. We yearned to stay but a weather window was pushing us on to the next open water passage.

No sooner had we entered Clear Passage between the rocky barrier islands and Van Isle than the overheating alarm went off again, making a mockery of all of our valiant efforts. We had no choice but to turn off the engine and drift, which worked very well because it was extremely calm. So that’s how we got through the passage a bit of engine – a bit of drift. The coast was absolutely beautiful and it was wonderful to just sit there with nothing to do. Soon we’d be in the open ocean and as the wind had promised to pick up in the late morning, we could sail.

But the wind never came. It was the doldrums. We drifted. We enjoyed the sun and the view. We brought all of the last three days of wet clothes up on deck. After a long and pleasant day, a bit of wind brought us through the buoys marking Esperanza Inlet, past some Canada Day weekend sports fishermen and sea kayakers, and we sailed on into Queen’s Cove at the beginning of Port Eliza Inlet, which is an inlet not a port with any place to moor except where we were.

July 4.   A good night’s sleep and a day off. We sleep, we read, we do not worry about our engine not working. We are off Nootka Island, the second largest island on the BC coast, which snugs into Vancouver Island, the largest (on both the BC coast and all of North America.) Deep fiords around the island connect Nootka Sound, with the villages of Zeballos, from where a long gravel road leads to Port Hardy and Tahsis, connected to Campbell River by a shorter gravel road.

July 5.  Lift anchor. Motor out past reef into Port Eliza. The overheating alarm goes on. All within 5 minutes. We drift while Jack radios the Coast Guard. So efficient. They patch us ship to shore to the nearest marine services, inland up the fjords in Tahsis. Problem discussed. They will send a tow. Coast Guard and Westview Marine Services both remain on VHF while we enjoy big breakfast and good books. Finally small open – 19 foot – Pelican pulls into cove. Wade, missing front teeth, in orange survival suit, hands me 50 foot line. He doesn’t know knots but we figure out a bridle on cleats and tie his line on with a bowline. Off we go. He has no chat but…shows he knows. I join Jack in relaxation. After a good lunch, I read and take pictures, he stretches out in the cockpit. Up Esperanza, through narrows, up Tahsis, the clouds part, the sun comes out. I actually take off my sweater and am in a tee shirt. We get almost there. Jack coordinates on VHF with Wade and marina.

July 6   Cruising luxury: No real rain. First chance to do three weeks laundry. Internet: answer email and edit fact sheet for Sustainable Sanitation Alliance. Dinner on the dock grilled Salt Spring lamb. On CBC “Waktell on the Arts in the Summer” Robert LePage b. 1957 author of “Dragon Trilogy” about Canada’s Chinatowns allopicha malady where kids lose all their hair. Knows so much about China. When on NPR do we get an hour long interview that forces us to go to bed an hour later than planned?

July 7     Tahsis Inlet is long and beautiful. We put out the jenny and let the channel winds take us toward the ocean. On the way early morning anglers, the Uchuck III, sea otters, and clear cut lots filling up with second growth. We motor through the narrows, past a tug and log boom treading water. No other cruisers. As Tahsis broadens to Nootka, we put out the jenny and sail toward the Nooktka Light and Friendly Cove. This is the birthplace of British Columbia, if not of the entire Pacific Northwest. Captain Cook pulled in here to make repairs on Discovery in 1778, making contact with the Nuth Chah Nulth headed by chief, or Maquinna. In 1792, the great sea captains George Vancouver and Juan de Bodega Quadra met here, representing their countries in an eventually successful effort to stave off a world war. In 1803, as the fur trade picked up its pace, Captain Robert Stanley guided the Boston in the cove, inadvertently insulted Maquinna, and suffered the revenge of the Natives for a string of similar insults and indiscretions of white explorers and traders over the years. The entire crew of the Boston was massacred, their heads displayed on pols to be identified by the shop’s blacksmith, John Jewitt, who lived to tell the tale. And what a tale it is! The original 1815 edition of his Narrative, today issued as The While Slaves of Maquinna, is a page turner, a movie in print, a thoroughly engaging recitation of cultural context and historical fact.

The wind is blowing hard when we enter the small, exposed cove and pull up at the empty public wharf tucked behind the lighthouse and Coast Guard Station. As I am tying up in the wind, quad comes down the dock to meet us. It is Ray Williams, of the only remaining Mowachat family living in Yuquot, the village of Friendly Cove. He greets us warmly and invites us to come ashore, permission which is necessary to visit any Native land. His son Sanford, a noted woodcarver with a current exhibit at a gallery in Tofino, is at work in his studio on the beach. I say I’ll be up after lunch as Mr. Williams bids us farewell with “cho,” goodbye in his language.

Fatigue takes over and I fall into a deep slumber after lunch and sleep off the afternoon. By the time I get to shore, there’s a closed sign on the trail to Sanford’s shop so I do a quick tour of the rest to ensure it is accessible by scooter – and go get Jack. Behind the two-story house of Williams on the cove is a meadowed hill with a church, built in 1957 as a conventional Catholic sanctuary, later fitted out with totem poles. On the edge of the forest is Yacout’s burial grounds, a mix of granite crosses and totem poles. From the the bluff is the open Pacific from which we could see Estaban Point, our challenge for the morning.

Sailing from Nootka Sound around Estaban Point

July 8  Dressed and ready to go, Jack lets me sleep in until 5:30. The day is calm and clear despite Environment Canada’s prediction of 15 to 20 knot winds. As soon as I am awake – no coffee, one single Dramamime tablet – I untie all the lines and we’re off. Sports fishing boat from all over the vast Nootka Sound are already bobbing on the swells around Friendly Cove light as we head straight west into the Pacific. The Perouse shoals lie off Estaban point and even though we are off them, we are rolled buy swells off the portside stern. We tie ourselves into the cockpit and I take the helm to settle my stomach. Eventually Jack puts on the autohelm and I sit on the edge of the cockpit. The horizon is lumpy and I think I am seeing low-lying shoals so I watch carefully as they flatten. ‘The World is Flat! The World is Flat!” is my mantra, as I tell myself we will get to the edge. It works, even as we turn south and the swells give us a good rocking. On port, we leave the tall, shoal founded Estaban Light, the only place in all of Canada to come under attack during World War II, when the Japanese took a couple of shots of it.

The morning is beautiful. After passing the mouth of Hesquiat Harbour, we sail the jib until we reach Hot Springs Cove.

July 9    Forty years down. Going for fifty. Today is our fortieth wedding anniversary. Forty years ago we had just been married by the Khalifa of the Pasha of Marrakesh and an Andalusian orchestra was playing in the Hotel de Ville for all the King’s men gathered there. The next day we found ourselves in the brief-lived Republic of Morocco, a group of renegade generals having overthrown the King as he celebrated his fifty-sixth birthday, a move that would have been successful had the wily King not persuaded those tasked with finishing him off not to do it. The next two generations of Moroccan school children would not hear of the Skihirat (pronounced Ce qui rate) coup d’etat which made the story of our wedding much more fun to tell when we returned to live in the Kingdom many years later.

When we made it to thirty years – by then also seeing a future following Jack’s accident – we had another Marrakesh celebration. A hundred friends and family, including three of our parents who been at the original weeklong event, made their way back to mid-summer Marrakesh for a week of festivities. We are not prone to throwing parties but this really capped the three decades and left us thankful for the people who have made our lives so rich and those parents who raised us and would all pass away in the intervening decade, in their nineties.

We had every intention of having a big Waterfront Blues bash in Portland for the 40th but once we learned to sail, July 9 fell in the middle of cruising season and since no one showed up despite our invitations, our celebration was modest. On his way out to sea, a Native fisherman from the village in Hot Springs Cove checked his pots and delivered two enormous and very active Dungeness crabs to the public dock where we are tied up. Enjoying the drama of getting them into the pot – one at a time as they were too big – and the mess of hammering away with garlic buttered fingers, we devoured one for lunch and from the second saved more than a pound of flesh. Once we get somewhere where we can buy eggs, we’ll break it out of the freezer for crab cakes. Dinner was roast chicken with a fine Bordeaux Pierre had left in the bilge during our April cruise.

“Hot Springs Cove is one of the reasons cruising boats do the West Coast”, writes Bob Hale. “The challenge of getting to Hot Springs is sufficient to make the reward – a soothing bath in comforting water – worth the entire trip.” Indeed, cruisers have replaced planks in the boardwalk leading to the springs with intricately carved and illustrated planks bearing the names of their ships and the year of their cruise. Since we love BC’s coastal boardwalks – Hartley Bay’s is the best followed closely by Winter Harbour’s – we were disappointed to find that the the Hot Springs boardwalk has 803 up and down steps. So Jack missed his bath and I shared mine with a bunch of other people, some of whom had cheated and come up from Tofino by speedboat and floatplane. The quiet walk through two kilometers of old growth forest, under and over ancient nurse logs, was spectacular. When we get home to Port Townsend, we’ll go to Olympic National Park, where thanks to the ADA, ancient rainforest boardwalks are ramped.

July 10  Finally it feels like summer. Before the warmth can bring in mid-morning fog the way it did yesterday, we are around Sharpe Point and on our way up Sidney Inlet. Grace follows us for a distance; we are amazed that her crew is not taking a rest day after bringing their tiny ship so far through open waters. Sea Otters float past; we slow to admire one fellow on port and realize that a whole ragged raft of a dozen of them has floated past on starboard. I vow to never leave my advance warning wild life alert station at the mast, breakfast or no breakfast. We turn east into Shelter Inlet and take it to the very end. We pass though a narrow inlet and into an enclosed bay where snow capped peaks rise out of the virgin forest. Grassy headed Bacchante Bay reminds me one where we stopped on our way to Alaska and gives me hope that we’ll finally see bears. We anchor a bit too close to the shoal on the first try but on the next drop the sun comes hard out and Aurora remains motionless for the next 20 hours, her anchor chain and snubber both relaxed.

As are her crew. Apart from the distant sounds of a floatplane passing, there is no sign of civilization. We spend the day on deck in the sun reading. I finish John Jewitt’s narrative and pass it on to Jack who relinquished his Kindle, providing the ideal occasion for me to read Paul’s stories. What a wonderful book! Paul Rippey’s Cow of Gowdougou is to Guinea-Conakry what Jane Kramer’s Honor to the Bride is to Morocco. A rollicking, culturally astute literary penetration of the absurdities of another culture. I am in awe of people we can write this way, zeroing in on situations that are too crazy to be true but are. Now that I think about it, I hated Honor to the Bride when I first read it. It came out about the time of our own Moroccan wedding. This was Jack’s fairly sound idea for an event which soon moved completely out of our hands-intentions-responsibilities and into those of others. Jack’s friends not only filled the house with livestock and lined up all the necessary sorts of musicians, but stopped an innocent girl walking past a tailor’s shop and had her measured for a royal purple velours wedding kaftan – a surprise gift – because she looked to be about my size. It got more complicated when my friends arrived from the popular quarters of Casablanca and Beni Mellal. Women live for weddings. Amazing how complex a simple event like a trip to the public baths can get when it’s part of a wedding. No wonder celebrations can never last less than a week. Although no cultural stone went unturned, we survived and even enjoyed ourselves. But then to have Jane Kramer make jokes about a typical Moroccan wedding offended me. Eventually, my dour long-suffering hairy shirt Peace Corps disposition wore off. Today I love Honor to the Bride and Paul’s Cow is right up there with it.

July 11   We reluctantly pulled up anchor in Bacchante Cove under a brief rainstorm that was over by the time we got out into Shelter Inlet. We spotted two sailboats giants the short of the well-named Obstruction Island, which sits right where Millar Inlet meets Shelter. They turned out to be First Light and Reality so we waved to the folks from Port Ludlow we’d met in Port Hardy. Nothing was easier than getting through Hayden Passage at slack and around Obstruction Island and out into broad Millar Inlet. Unfortunately this part of Clayquot Sound has both struggling second growth and fish farms. But we delighted in the sea otters and spent half an hour watching a humpback crisscrossing the channel in front of us.

Finally we pulled into the narrow Mathilda Inlet and pulled up to the dock in front of the Ahousat General Store, which Bob Hale calls a “rough-and-ready place” It was a bit of a challenge to tie up on the rusty cleats home forged out of pipes and Jack found owner Hugh Clarke a bit grumpy when we purchased some fuel. So when I went up the ramp to pay and to pick up some eggs, I took the opportunity to sit in the empty plastic chair opposite the cash register and chat with Hugh and his sister. Their parents had given the 35 acre Hot Springs property to the Province to use as parkland. We talked about the long winter, the slow start to the season, and our nations’ respective party politics. The sister’s question “Which party is the nigger’s?” confirmed the backwoods hillbilly character of the place, magnified in my mind all afternoon by Annie Proux’s Heart Songs. These vivid and desolate stories of the last rural blue-collar folks in New England towns whose old houses become second homes of city folk resonate strongly here on the BC Coast. The difference is that city folks are not buying up properties. Oh sure, there are odd fishing outposts, be it a modest camps or an isolated fly in lodge. But there’s no run on land here. In fact, up and down the coast there are people like the Clarkes who have had their properties up for sale for years.

To be fair to Ahousat, the store is really a general store and the phone in the booth out front works. One hundred and fifty residents of the nearby Native settlement of Marktosis have postal boxes at the store. Nothing is more vital to a community with lots of small fishing boats and float planes than a fuel dock. In the evening, Native families stopped by; one with three little kids paddled up in an Old Town canoe and everyone had an ice cream. At sunset a couple of fishermen pulled up in a tiny boat and laid out an impressive haul of chinook, halibut, and white and green (yes!) ling cod. Hugh and a pretty young U Vic graduate student studying grey whales came down on the docks to chat while the the fishermen cleaned, filleted and zip locked their catch, before taking a room above the store.

July 12   West Whitepine Cove It’s discouraging to pass so many fish farms, the last one anchored way out in our path. But we snuggle into West Whitepine Cove at the foot of Catface Mountain. Inner cove looks better for watching bears but it’s risky with less than a fathom at low tide. I sit on the deck in the sun finally reading back issues of Pacitic Yachting. A letter to the editor from Friends of Clayquot Sound noting that the BC government has renewed the exploration permit of multinational mining company looking for copper and other metals on Catface Mountain and gearing for the fight should they apply for a permit to actually mine, and likely take off the top of Catface. Yikes. Clayquout is spectacularly beautiful. Perhaps twice the size of Puget Sound it has far less than a hundredth of a percent of its population. We need to get to Tofino and find out what’s being done to push back against clearcutting, fish farms and mining.

I’m astounded to see a large sailboat emerge from the inner cove. In Tofino we learn they have a pull-up centerboard and yes there were bears.

July 13  Getting into Tofino is hell. This is the place the Spanish should have name Sucia – dirty. Everywhere shoal, rocks, sandbars, crazy currents and crab pots. Red buoys are unnervingly to our left; I guess this is because we’re coming from the northern part of Clayquot Sound. How did this place even become a port in the first place?

The waterfront is impossibly busy: speedy fishing boats, a tug with tow, float planes landing and taking off, trollers, gillnetters, strangely rigged clamming and crabbing boats, big inflattables with tourists in red survival suits. We call the Harbour Master and get no reply until we are in port, or rather in the channel immediately next to it though which much of this traffic pass. At one point, Jack confesses later, we’re in a mere 8 feet of water (and we draw 6). But suddenly out of nowhere, the Harbour Master appears in an aluminum skiff with two huge dogs and escorts us toward a tiny space, jumps out of the skiff, introduces self and dogs, and grabs the bowline. No bad for one of the craziest ports I’ve ever laid eyes on: fishing boats rafted three abreast, a multideck cruiser tied up to a sailboat, crab traps and ice chests piled on docks, electrical cords and water hoses snaking around everywhere. Yep, Vince Payette knows his stuff – this chaos is managed with a remarkable degree of sophistication. And Vince is a world class talker and share interesting information. We learn oodles from him.

At Mermaid Tales Bookshop we pick up the freebies put out by the enviro groups and refresh our library with some good books after getting recommendations from the owners.

July 14   I awake at dawn to Mireille Mathieu’s rousing rendition of La Marseillaise coming though my Walkman headphones. Nice to have the radio after a week without any. Busy day. Laundry, boat cleaning, and provisioning because Terri, Tom and Midori are coming on board at midnight. Whew. But if our day was long, theirs was longer. They arrive at 1:30 pm cheerful and full of silly apologies for being tardy. I-5 and the “Tacoma Narrows”, customs, ferry to Nainaimo and Route 4 to Tofino, which unbelievably, has a caution sign announcing an 18% downhill grade. Yikes.

July 15   Everyone sleeps in because we are not even going to attempt the channel out of Tofino to the east until dead slack, which falls in the early afternoon. It’s raining. Hard. T and T have been trying to escape the rain all summer and have utterly failed. But we are all excited about Terri fishing and crabbing. They go off for net and bait.

Morning brings visits from Bob of Cool Change, which was moored near us last winter in Olympia, and Doug the DFO inspector whose working boat is rafted to his sailboat Vagabunda which is rafted to a geoduck clammer which is actually tied to the dock. We eat a hot breakfast and cook up a big pot of chili. Everyone and everything is wet; I scare up another $2.75 and dry out my clothes before our departure. By this time the women-crewed Voyager from Ladysmith, escaping from 50 knot winds on the outside, has tied half of its length to the bit of doc on our stern. Then a smaller sailboat rafts to it. By the time our departure time comes, it takes the crews of all three boats to get us out. Tofino is one of those places where helpful cooperation becomes a necessity.

Windy Cove where we drop anchor close to shore is granite walled on one side and old growth all around. It never stops raining. Terri’s out crab pot and pole and wonders if there’s something to cover the cockpit. Deep in the lazaretto we find the bikini and with the extra hands manage to get it up. Wow, what a difference. We sit out, watch the rain, pull up the pot to find lots of too small crabs.

July 16    Temperature up a bit so rain-with-cold has been replaced with rain-with-fog Leaving Windy Bay we get into some shallow water before the GPS can find its satellites. Here in Clayquot sound we’ve used the GPS on the iPad to actually navigate and need to remember to power it up before raising the anchor. Not the sort of thing you do in the deep waters with steeply descending coastlines on the Inside Passage. We continue around Meares Island to Quait Bay, a large place with a floating fishing lodge that is not in operation. Nor are we alone: Mytyme, the Nauticat ketch that come into Tahsis disabled is there as well. We put up the bikini against the rain and Terri sets to work. Just as we’re getting really hungry Terri pulls out of the trap two sizable males, one a Dungeness and one a Red Rock Crab. Thoroughly reenergized despite the constant downpour, she proceeds to teach us how to make Crab Head Soup. Stay tuned for recipe. The evening meal is an all-Crab fest in honor of Tom’s birthday. Terri brings in – literally no gloves – a huge Dungness for head soup and crabmeat while I thaw the crabmeat from Hot Springs Cove for crab cakes. Yum.

July 17  The rain finally gives up. After a leisurely morning we round Meares in semi sun, disappointed to not see the expected wildlife. We wrestle with shoal, springtide currents and crab pots in the channel and make our way back to Tofino. Jack and I prepare for our outside passage by turning in while Terri and Tom pack up their stuff for the long trip back, this time though Victoria and Port Angeles.

June 18  An absolutely splendid passage! Jack and I were both looking up for several great sightings. Shortly out of Tofino a grey whale launched himself entirely out of the water and landed with splash being enough to serious wake us had we been closer. Later another, a bit further off. The rocky coast interspersed with beaches makes great background for whales. All along shore we followed spouting, mostly humpbacks with one especially wonderful dive.

We stayed on LaPerouse Bank – it starts at Estaban Point – and had to get though forests of crab traps but the abundance of birds and mammals made up for it. The sun was bright by the time we turned into Ucluelet’s long inlet. Since we’ve been out nearly 45 days we needed to contact Canadian customs for a routine extention so we first pulled up at the customs dock. There I took a stupid, near calamitous fall which was a learning experience. Jack docked perfectly and I stepped off and secured the mid line with no difficulty. But when I put the sternline under the dock toe rail and started to put my full weight into it, the line caught briefly on the padeye on the boat toenail. So my efforts put me splat flat on my back across the dock where the base of my skull hit the chrome rail of a little outboard boat docked opposite and made me see stars. Just as I’m thinking, “Now, I’ve really gone and ruined this vacation”, a man rushed up, told me to stay put and tied up the boat. I wiggled to see that everything worked – it did but had I failed an inch more to the rear I could have broken my neck. The man looked relieved and as he turned to go I read Harbour Master on the back of his tee shirt. “Are you, Steve?”, I asked. Indeed it was Uclulet’s acclaimed Harbour Master Steve Bird. Jack asked about moorage in the small craft harbour and he went ahead to greet us there on dock D.

The Lesson Learned: After I’d tossed the bowline, Steve took the sternline out of my hand and said. “I don’t usually give guest guests docking advice but this may help. Put the line over the toe rail, not under it. This way you can stop the boat. It won’t tie the boat in the place you want it but it will stop the boat so you can decide what to do next.”

My random list of important or interesting details

Baggywrinkles Blog tends to go on about things that anyone can find on the internet.  Offline sailors need to make do with paper or pdfs for details they cannot pack away in their heads.
Here is a fairly random list; some things visitors to Alaska should remember and others that are simply nice to know.  The first four here are verbatim footnotes from Lynn Schooler’s (unfortunately unindexed) Blue Bear.
There are five species of Salmon in the North Pacific:  pink, red, silver, chum and king (also known as humpies, sockeye, coho, dog and spring, respectively).  In general (but varying significantly by area) the order in which different species return to their natal streams to spawn is king (in early spring), sockeye (early summer), pink and chum (midsummer) and silver (which run well into fall.)
Low pressure systems rotate counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and high pressure systems move in the opposite direction.  Thus the leading edge of high pressure system spinning from west to east across the gulf is usually heralded by the arrival of a north wind, and on a low-pressure system the wind will be from the south or south-west.  There are many exceptions to this, of course, but it is a useful rule of thumb.
The rise and fall of the tide can be plotted as a bell curve, with the greatest amount of change occurring during the middle.  To calculate the speed with which the water level is changing during a given period, divide the distance from high tide to low tide by twelve.  During the six hours of a diurnal change, 1/12 will occur during the first hour, 2/12 during the second, 3/12 during the third and fourth, 2/12 during the fifth, and the last 1/12 during the sixth.  Thus on a moderately high tide, say eighteen feet, the water level will rise or fall by four and a half feet per hour during the middle of the tide, which also makes the current during that period the strongest.  
Half of all bear cubs die during their first year, and the primary cause of this mortality is male bears.  Biologists surmose that this urge to infanticide is nature’s way of increasing the chances that the genes of the largest, strongest boars will be passed on, since a sow that loses her offspring will enter estrus, or a period of fertility, sooner than one raising cubs, and choose to mate with one of the more dominant males in her area-a system that seems rather clumsy at first consideration, since a boar had not way of knowing whether or not he’s killing one of his own cubs, but which in the long run gives preference to the fittest line of genes among the species.  
According to the Alaska State Museum, nineteen native languages are spoken in Alaska today.  The main coastal tribes are the Haida, Tsimshian, and Tlingit.  There are the tribes of inland peoples known collectively as the Athabascans.  Then there are Eskimos, peoples who live on the coasts from the Gulf of Alaska to Greenland.  Wikipedia  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaska_Natives also lists are two other coastal groups, the Alutiiq of the coast southeast of the Aleutians and the Eyaks, whose language loss and merger with the Tlingits is of interest to linguists.   Aleut (in their own language they refer to themselves as Unangan), Alutiiq, Athabascan (including Ahtna, Deg Hit’an, Dena’ina, Gwich’in, Hän, Holikachuk, Kolchan, Koyukon, Lower Tanana,, Tanacross, Upper Tanana), Eyak, Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian and Eskimo (including Inupiat, Yupik, Siberian Yupik, Yup’ik, Cup’ik, Sugpiaq, Chugach, Koniag).

 

Baggywrinkles Blog tends to go on about things that anyone can find on the internet.  This is because offline sailors need to make do with paper or pdfs for details they cannot pack away in their heads.

Here is a fairly random list; some things visitors to Alaska should remember and others that are simply nice to know.  The first four here are verbatim footnotes from Lynn Schooler’s (unfortunately unindexed) Blue Bear.

  • Spawning Coho

    Spawning Coho

    There are five species of Salmon in the North Pacific:  pink, red, silver, chum and king (also known as humpies, sockeye, coho, dog and spring, respectively).  In general (but varying significantly by area) the order in which different species return to their natal streams to spawn is king (in early spring), sockeye (early summer), pink and chum (midsummer) and silver (which run well into fall.)

  • Low pressure systems rotate counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and high pressure systems move in the opposite direction.  Thus the leading edge of high pressure system spinning from west to east across the gulf is usually heralded by the arrival of a north wind, and on a low-pressure system the wind will be from the south or south-west.  There are many exceptions to this, of course, but it is a useful rule of thumb.
  • The rise and fall of the tide can be plotted as a bell curve, with the greatest amount of change occurring during the middle.  To calculate the speed with which the water level is changing during a given period, divide the distance from high tide to low tide by twelve.  During the six hours of a diurnal change, 1/12 will occur during the first hour, 2/12 during the second, 3/12 during the third and fourth, 2/12 during the fifth, and the last 1/12 during the sixth.  Thus on a moderately high tide, say eighteen feet, the water level will rise or fall by four and a half feet per hour during the middle of the tide, which also makes the current during that period the strongest.  
  • Half of all bear cubs die during their first year, and the primary cause of this mortality is male bears.  Biologists surmise that this urge to infanticide is nature’s way of increasing the chances that the genes of the largest, strongest boars will be passed on, since a sow that loses her offspring will enter estrus, or a period of fertility, sooner than one raising cubs, and choose to mate with one of the more dominant males in her area-a system that seems rather clumsy at first consideration, since a boar had not way of knowing whether or not he’s killing one of his own cubs, but which in the long run gives preference to the fittest line of genes among the species.  
  • According to the Alaska State Museum, nineteen native languages are spoken in Alaska today.  The main coastal tribes are the Haida, Tsimshian, and Tlingit.  There are the tribes of inland peoples known collectively as the Athabascans.  Then there are Eskimos, peoples who live on the coasts from the Gulf of Alaska to Greenland.  Wikipedia  also lists are two other coastal groups, the Alutiiq of the coast southeast of the Aleutians and the Eyaks, whose language loss and merger with the Tlingits is of interest to linguists.   Aleut (in their own language they refer to themselves as Unangan), Alutiiq, Athabascan (including Ahtna, Deg Hit’an, Dena’ina, Gwich’in, Hän, Holikachuk, Kolchan, Koyukon, Lower Tanana,, Tanacross, Upper Tanana), Eyak, Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian and Eskimo (including Inupiat, Yupik, Siberian Yupik, Yup’ik, Cup’ik, Sugpiaq, Chugach, Koniag).
  • Phone Service:     North of Campbell River there’s almost no cell phone service except in cities.   In Alaska  there was no G3 service for our iPhones but slower, E service, was available in towns. 
  • Internet service along the coast is problematic.   Libraries have free wifi and some access to computers. However, many libraries have very limited hours and Juneau’s otherwise lovely library simply didn’t have enough band width.   Our northernmost recreational marina – Sullivan Bay – had free wifi on the docks.   Alaska tended to have wifi in bars but you have to be 21, so this slowed down Piers.  Very few coffee shops have wifi.   In Juneau, Heritage Coffee is an exception and the Silver Bow Hotel and Deli is simply a great place to hang out. Some libraries –  Hoonah, Prince Rupert, etc – leave their wifi on so you can access it anytime outside on the steps.
  • In terms of overall communications Prince Rupert was the best:    It just got cell phone service (Canadian providers) and it still has lots of phone booths.  And right on the waterfront is Cow Bay Coffee, PR’s community gather place, with great free wifi.    The tourist information center and the library also have good wifi. 
  • The Alaska Department of Labor has excellent information on Seafood and Fishing Jobs in Alaska:   job descriptions for fisherman and seafood processors, conditions, pay, crew costs, accommodations, and safety.  There are orientation videos and a list of community seafood employment specialists.   
  • Next year I’ll make a number of pdf files of the following since I usually can’t check facts or get info by Internet while cruising.  For example, this blog.   Alaskan and BC Fishing Regulations.  Selected pages from the National Parks Service Glacier Bay site.  

That’s one speedy little ice age!

 

The term ice age usually brings to mind a situation continental in scale, and a period millions of years long that ended at the dawn of human history.   What’s cool about Glacier Bay, however, is that it’s a product of a much shorter era that fits squarely into our historical past and our human future.
Officially known as the Little Ice Age, it didn’t really get underway until the late 1600s.  At that time the Hoonah Tlingit people lived in a broad valley that was in the place of today’s Glacier Bay.   Then the glacier at the end of the valley started to move down it, driving the Hoonah Tlingit south across Icy Strait to Chicagof Island, where the good ship Aurora is in their care today.  By 1750 the glacier was as large as it would get and extended 5 miles into Icy Strait.   
When the British explorer George Vancouver charted the area in 1795, the glacier had calved five miles into the newly created Glacier Bay.   John Muir visited in 1879 and in writings that inspired other visitors, described a Glacier Bay then 40 miles long.  
Today its 65 miles from the mouth of Glacier Bay to tidewater glaciers at the western end and those in the eastern arm known as Muir Inlet.  Many glaciers that recently calved into the sea, now end on land.  But as many glaciers retreat, a few are still advancing.  
We floated from the lush three hundred year old forests near the mouth of the Bay, with its spouting humpbacks, to the utterly barren rock faces of the upper reaches, newly scoured by tidewater glaciers, visited by the odd tufted puffin, we experienced the whole succession of geologic periods.   This speedy excursion through geologic history has left me feeling dreamy and speechless.  Hopefully a few pictures and an excerpt from  The Blue Bear will help create a vision for those who have not yet made this journey.
When a glacier retreats it begets rock as barren and bald as the moon…for a while – say ten or twenty years – life would remain an exceedingly small idea in this neighborhood; only lichens, moss, and a few other simple forms of life capable of grasping a a living from the minerals from the stones and the gases in the air are able to colonize such sterile rubble.  
In time however, the slow accumulation of organic material among the cracks and declivities would form something of a poor soil where seeds and spores borne in on the wind or clinging to the feet of birds would start to grow.  After a few spare pilgrims of grass and other flowering plants took root, more stingy soil would be formed, and after a half century or so, thickets of alder shrub would take the neighborhood by storm.  Alder contributes a rich detritus of rotting leaves and fixes nitrogen in the soil, enough so that after a few decades more, the seeds of [spruce] trees would begin to find their way in, take a firm grip, and send down roots to suckle at the soil.  If the seedlings survive, they rise into the light, exclaiming themselves above their bushy neighbors, until on a hot summer day a cloud of yellow pollen bursting from the ripened sex glands of distant kin drifts by on the wind and embraces the young tree.  Within days, seed cones clinging to its branches grow swollen, pregnant with the possibility of a forest.  Squirrels and jays move in, cutting, picking, eating, shitting, and scattering the gravid cones from hell to breakfast.  More seeds sprout nd more seedlings live, rising up to become saplings that eventually grow tall and large enough to touch branch tip to branch tip, casting a shadow over the alder, which then withers from the lack of light and dies.
Spruce needles are highly acidic, and for the next hundred years, those falling at the feet of the trees slowly alter the flavor of the soil from the alkaloid dullness of lime to a sharp bitter tang.  Ironically, spruce is acid-intolerant – it has no taste for its own waste – but hemlock and cedar are not.  These interlopers gradually mix and meddle with the hegemony of the spruce until they grow tall, rot and are thrown to the ground by fierce winter storms.  When spring comes, sunlight streaming through the resulting holes in the canopy ignites a riot of blueberry and dogwood.  After a gestation of centuries, a mature, proper forest is born.   

mouthThe term ice age usually brings to mind a situation continental in scale, and a period millions of years long that ended at the dawn of human history.   What’s cool about Glacier Bay, however, is that it’s a product of a much shorter era that fits squarely into our historical past and our human future.

Officially known as the Little Ice Age, it didn’t really get underway until the late 1600s.  At that time the Hoonah Tlingit people lived in a broad valley that was in the place of today’s Glacier Bay.   Then the glacier at the end of the valley started to move down it, driving the Hoonah Tlingit south across Icy Strait to Chicagof Island, where the good ship Aurora is in their care today.  By 1750 the glacier was as large as it would get and extended 5 miles into Icy Strait.   

Intermediate

When the British explorer George Vancouver charted the area in 1795, the glacier had calved five miles into the newly created Glacier Bay.   John Muir visited in 1879 and in writings that inspired other visitors, described a Glacier Bay then 40 miles long.  

Today its 65 miles from the mouth of Glacier Bay to tidewater glaciers at the western end and those in the eastern arm known as Muir Inlet.  Many glaciers that recently calved into the sea, now end on land.  But as many glaciers retreat, a few are still advancing.  

We floated from the lush three hundred year old forests near the mouth of the Bay, with its spouting humpbacks, to the utterly barren rock faces of the upper reaches, newly scoured by tidewater glaciers, visited by the odd tufted puffin, we experienced the whole succession of geologic periods.   This speedy excursion through geologic history has left me feeling dreamy and speechless.  Hopefully a few pictures and an excerpt from  The Blue Bear will help create a vision for those who have not yet made this journey.

next to upper

When a glacier retreats it begets rock as barren and bald as the moon…for a while – say ten or twenty years – life would remain an exceedingly small idea in this neighborhood; only lichens, moss, and a few other simple forms of life capable of grasping a a living from the minerals from the stones and the gases in the air are able to colonize such sterile rubble.  

In time however, the slow accumulation of organic material among the cracks and declivities would form something of a poor soil where seeds and spores borne in on the wind or clinging to the feet of birds would start to grow.  After a few spare pilgrims of grass and other flowering plants took root, more stingy soil would be formed, and after a half century or so, thickets of alder shrub would take the neighborhood by storm.  Alder contributes a rich detritus of rotting leaves and fixes nitrogen in the soil, enough so that after a few decades more, the seeds of [spruce] trees would begin to find their way in, take a firm grip, and send down roots to suckle at the soil.  If the seedlings survive, they rise into the light, exclaiming themselves above their bushy neighbors, until on a hot summer day a cloud of yellow pollen bursting from the ripened sex glands of distant kin drifts by on the wind and embraces the young tree.  Within days, seed cones clinging to its branches grow swollen, pregnant with the possibility of a forest.  Squirrels and jays move in, cutting, picking, eating, shitting, and scattering the gravid cones from hell to breakfast.  More seeds sprout and more seedlings live, rising up to become saplings that eventually grow tall and large enough to touch branch tip to branch tip, casting a shadow over the alder, which then withers from the lack of light and dies.

upperSpruce needles are highly acidic, and for the next hundred years, those falling at the feet of the trees slowly alter the flavor of the soil from the alkaloid dullness of lime to a sharp bitter tang.  Ironically, spruce is acid-intolerant – it has no taste for its own waste – but hemlock and cedar are not.  These interlopers gradually mix and meddle with the hegemony of the spruce until they grow tall, rot and are thrown to the ground by fierce winter storms.  When spring comes, sunlight streaming through the resulting holes in the canopy ignites a riot of blueberry and dogwood.  After a gestation of centuries, a mature, proper forest is born.   


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