Nine people on a small ocean sailboat for a week.
How do you spell PANIC ATTACK?
But there was no room to stow any claustrophobia once we’d stored all our gear into the best bunk on the boat. Only room for groceries and booze up in the head. Only smiles and light hearts carried in – and full hearts carried away.
Perhaps it was the wide open expanses of mountain and ocean among the coves and rocks of Vancouver Island’s inner passage. Perhaps it was the abundance of fish, crab, and prawns pulled from beneath our hull. But for sure it was the tone set by the gracious hospitality of our hosts Thomas and Elizabeth.
They invited us into their floating home with open arms and shared their way of gleaning a life from the coast’s treasures. They are nomads between Thomas’ boyhood home of Prince Rupert and Vancouver’s connection with children, grandchildren and all the rest of the world.
From port to cove and places between they carry plants and seeds – a garden greens in the cabin’s window shelf amongst GPS and binoculars and tidal charts. Encouraging friends and strangers made friends to try growing something new to chew on. Johnny Appleseeds of a sustainable food source.
With the seeds come germs of a message about how with generosity, ingenuity, persistence, good science and folk lore there is a way to live light and free and in peace with all kind.
My brother Ted knows Thomas from Church work and Projects rooted in the craft of community. When Thomas chucked it in for a home afloat, Ted’s heart followed the dream even if his feet still trod the hamsterwheel of our church’s corporate hope. Over the years he’s brought family and friends to this unique and heartening experience of hope afloat.
We circled with a passing Orca pod. Barked with a rocky court Sea Lions ruled by a massive king. Thrilled to the random play of white-sided dolphins sharing their stuff for the joy of it (and not some hand-held fishy pay in an aquarium).
We scrambled ashore to see a cedar older than the name of Jesus. All nine of us had room to stand shoulder to shoulder with room for more in its breadth. It had a tree of another species growing – and a good size too – growing from a crotch high overhead.
On a misty morning we entered an estuary in the Ahta Valley – the last untouched but clearcut’s scars. With half the party ashore and the other half on their way in, a grizzly emerged to let us know our every step was watched. We were not alone among the forest giants. A pair of bald eagles swooped in to see us chasing salmon in shallow icy pools.
Elizabeth picked huckleberries from branches and mushrooms among the mossy roots. Every time her feet hit shore her eyes were a-search for the next taste to add to pastry or dish. The captain stayed with the boat and tended to its routines; gathering rainwater, tending his traps, plotting tides and our next route through shifting weather and ancient rocks.
We visited a shore were for ten thousand years people thrived in the coast’s abundance until an empire drew sons and daughters into a cash economy. The salmon people, the cedar people, with a culture refined by cycles of harvest and time to play at the questions and expressions of wonder. Their carvings and stories celebrations of the curves, turns, tooth, claws and eyes ever near.
At Echo Bay we met a native fisher of these shores. His people, like Thomas’, came only in recent memory to join the ancient folks in pulling a living from the forest and deeps. Billy Proctor not only continues to fish with hooks and line instead of great greedy sweeps of net – but he’s put his people’s stories of living hard and light in the land on the page. He’s partnered with hippy scientists to watch and see and tell us all how the treasure’s being stolen from underfoot – prophets to warn and remind us and point a way ahead – if only ears will hear. www.salmonaresacred.org
Of all the wild creatures we encountered - of wind, water, and forest – the ones that touched me most were our two-legged hosts. The beauty of their spirits and the simplicity of their ways showed me a way to truly live with honour among the wonder of what the Maker presents.
And so, back in the flatlands of Ontario where trees grow only so tall, where memories are short, where eco-economy is all about the health of banks, it feels like in the shadows of Toronto towers there’s much that nature abhors. In this Sodom of Tomorra’s disaster we all know is coming there are warriors who battle and artists who say and tougher people than me that mine the systems for gems of hope.
What story, what spirit, what song can fill the ocean of bottomless want? Aren’t the corporate pirates only organisms that feed to gorging like the grizzlies who eat and eat when the salmon’s running because they can? If it’s nature way to give and take, ebb and flow, feast and famine…then maybe we’ll all be best served by the lessons of elders who remember still how to search branches and waters and dig deep to rely on brothers and sisters with two legs - and with feather, fur and fin - at hand?
The dolphin’s curve
Is the turn of a wave
It captures the edge
Of eternity’s cycle
And so seems to be
What turns deep in me
Out in wild waters free
Beyond reach it touches
The joy to see
It’s not alone
Within each curve
Is kin’s full circle
We curve and turn full round
Gone before the next surprising