Hunting chanterelles in Canada

Hunting chanterelles in the forest of Canada was only one of the interesting activities of Day Three of our vacation in British Columbia.

I see the men off for their fishing adventure, which consists of me bumbling into the kitchen for hugs and more hugs and then falling back into bed. I sleep extraordinarily well here, deeply until 8:30 or so in the morning, unlike my habit of getting up at 5:30 on Maui…come to think of it, with the time difference that’s about the same! Still, I maintain that the room’s coolness, the blackout curtains, and the extraordinarily good linens and mattress Justine supplied the cabins with have all contributed to sleeping like a hibernating possum.

It’s raining, a pleasant pattering tattoo on the lichen-covered roof, and while I enjoyed the bright sunshine of yesterday, I’m just as happy with the silvery water robing the valley, decorated with feather boas of cloud that catch on the dense conifer forest cloaking the nearby hills. Noonish, after leisurely tea drinking, I take off on a walk with Lisa, Veronica the husky wolf and Kuma the bear dog. A pocketful of treats provided by Lisa assure that our two chaperones pay good attention to me as we set off down the road, past the first mudslide site.

It’s clear from the road what caused the mudslide: the side of the hill is veined with granite shear that was covered with soil and trees, but the roots could not go in past the rock layer. Enough water, and the roots and soil gave way in a great dirty wave. In the wake of it, a trickling waterfall runs down the granite scar into the mountain of broken trees at the base of the cliff, a morass that didn’t quite reach the road at this particular spot just past the Cassiar gate.

Kuma dives into the ditch running with water and squeezes through a culvert underneath to emerge, panting and triumphant, shaking her massive coat as we laugh and a Stellar’s jay, big and bold, dive bombs her. The road is lined with the salmonberry bushes that, last June, were thick with thumb-sized, orange-red berries and tunneled with bear burrows, but now are molting and rusty with the last of summer’s leaves. Skunk cabbages line the trickling ditches with their large, glossy leaves, and road unwinds before us, a long, undulating, perfectly empty ribbon.

We reach the second mudslide, and have to turn back: the backhoe is parked square in the middle of the roadful of black slurry. A giant log is pinched in the jaws of a grip on the backhoe’s bucket as the workman, dressed in rubber raingear and waders, chainsaws the log.

There is no one else around.

One guy, one backhoe, and a chainsaw, to clear that massive occlusion in the road? “That looks pretty dangerous,” I say, as the log swings in the grip of the backhoe and the workman bears down with the screaming chainsaw. My lurid writer’s imagination can think of way too many ways for this to go wrong and I turn around so I don’t have to look at him anymore. “Let’s go back.”

Lisa is the daughter of a fisherman in the area, and has worked for three years as a general helper around the place. “I’ve learned to be ready for anything when I get out here,” she says. “Anything could be happening with the weather, the guests, the equipment, the power.” She started reading Blood Orchids last night and says, “it’s a good read!” So I tell her about how the books got started, and what I’m trying to do with them and my social work background: i.e., spotlight issues in a non-positional way through an entertaining story.

We do several laps on the forest road, with Kuma, easily overheated, swimming in the ditches and submerging herself in a culvert while Veronica looks on, cool and supercilious. The dogs both stalk rodents the way wolves do, a behavior Veronica has taught Kuma: spotting a vole or mouse in the grass, going very still, then pouncing with a powerful jump from above. “Something I’ve never seen a husky do, but that wolves do in the wild,” Lisa tells me. Watching big, clunky Kuma try it is a little sad; “she doesn’t get lucky often, though Veronica killed and ate three rodents on our walk yesterday.”

I learn a bit about the plants around us, and then ask Lisa if she’d like to look for mushrooms. She’s game for it, and already wearing a pair of knee-high, bright green wellies, so we take off on the spongy, ferny, mossy and utterly delightful path along the riverbank, almost immediately finding a surfeit of the yellow chanterelle mushrooms Shane brought me. We use a big skunk cabbage leaf to collect them, and roam along, seeing many different kinds of mushrooms and fungi as well as draperies of Spanish moss, blooms of algae, lichen and toadstools, and some white fabric boxes containing some sort of biology experiments which I surmise are insect-related from the fragility of the traps and dangling, plastic baits.

We carry our mushroom haul to Shane to identify. He’s working in Mark’s vast boat barn on some arcane project involving piping and hammering, but stops to positively identify our loot and nix the one big white mushroom I brought along that looked likely. “Definitely no on that one.”

“Where’s your rock music?” I ask, gesturing to his solitude and the echoing space filled with nothing but boxes of parts and junk—whatever Mark has him working on, it won’t be completed anytime soon, and appears to involved the maze of piping way up near the ceiling. “This kind of project calls for some serious old school rock, maybe even Guns n’ Roses or Metallica.”

“My speaker died,” he groans, and I tell him my trick (learned from my daughter) of putting my phone on top volume in a glass bowl. “I never use a speaker anymore it works so well.” We find him a paint bucket for his phone and leave him to it.

I bid Lisa goodbye for the day after making her promise to take Tawny and I out again tomorrow when she takes her walk, and Kuma and I go onto the deck. Kuma has decided I’m definitely a-ok now that I took her on a walk and gave her snacks, and I fix myself a peanut butter and honey sandwich, and sit down to watch the river.

The tide has a huge range here, up to twenty-four feet within every six hour period. The silky, silty olive-green water is brackish with nearby ocean, mud flats and estuary providing a vibrant coastal ecosystem. The tide is fully in this afternoon, lifting Mark’s metal boat high at its floating dock and filling in all the way into the grasses under our deck. A vee of geese fly by, and several ducks motor about the sunken pilings, and a clutch of seagulls bicker like fishwives over something they’ve caught.

Later in the evening I pick up our daughter Tawny in Prince Rupert at the now-familiar bus station downtown. Hugging her brings tears to my eyes at the firm, familiar feel of her arms.  We walk to nearby Zorba’s Taverna, offering: “Greek, Sri Lankan, South Indian, East Indian, Steak & Seafood, Pizza and Pasta, Take out, FULLY LICENSED”

It’s almost nine pm on a Wednesday, and we are the only people in the place. A short, balding, elderly man, Zorba, presumably, is sleeping with his chin on his chest. At the tinkle of the bell, he wakes with a snort and makes a gesture: “Sit anywhere!”

Feeling self-conscious, we choose a table and order a variety of Greek food (just to keep it consistent, digestively speaking, although we have a several continents’ cuisine to choose from) and the cucumber salad and tzatziki is downright delicious. We catch up on everything from her latest work issues to her move to a new house. I have to get up and wake Zorba again to request our check, feeling bad at disturbing his slumbers.

“Take your time, we open until midnight,” he says. “You girls sit, you drink wine, you talk all you want!” I have to insist we’re tired and want the check and that we don’t want more food, and I tip too much because I feel bad for waking him up to cook and wait on us, and that he has to stay up until midnight.

Outside in the deserted main street of downtown Prince Rupert, we wonder why the taverna is even open until midnight—there’s no one around! There’s no answer to be had from the pair of huge, fat, lumbering porcupines we have to stop in the road to let pass on our way back to the Cannery.

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