On day 7 of MikeandTobyTravels, here at Cassiar Cannery, my wildlife count so far: I’ve seen giant fish leaping in the low water of the tidal banks (“shedding the sea lice,” Justine tells me) three bald eagles, an osprey, millions of barn swallows, woodpeckers, robins, squirrels…. and no bears.
This is worth noting because I don’t want to see bears.
Mike left for his long exciting day fishing on the gravel banks of the Skeena, (an area we’d passed and assessed yesterday as a good fishing zone) and is going on a boat trip to a bear sanctuary. I woke up at a leisurely pace and experimented with the mysteries of the highly caffeinated (I hope) loose leaf Irish tea that I bought in Barkerville. The cottage came with an electric kettle, an invention I discovered when traveling with Holly last summer.
The kettle here is squat and utilitarian, without any sort of button or lid. I fill it directly into the spout from the water dispenser (the water from the pipe being somewhat peat-colored) and plug it in. I dump a goodly amount of loose tea into the pot (cream colored with green flowers) and when I hear boiling, pull the kettle plug out of the wall.
My first cup of tea, poured so the leaves settle on the bottom, is delicious and I drink it out on the deck, listening to nothing but the trickle of water from an outfall pipe under the house, the buzz of bees, and British Canadian songbirds, filling the air with trills and riffles that echo across the glassy morning water. A hummingbird, which we don’t have in Hawaii, comes by to investigate my bright hair. I’m officially in heaven.
My second cup of tea, thirty or so minutes later, is so strong and bitter it’s nearly undrinkable, so I make another pot, pour off the first cup, and then pour the rest into another pot for reheating later, leaving the leaves behind. I feel accomplished. I’m adjusting to being a mandatory tea drinker due to my coffee allergy. It’s still not my favorite, but the Irish breakfast definitely has more of an effect than a Lipton tea bag.
I go find Justine and Mark, who are working busily on one of the cottages while Nicholas is at daycare. Mark is putting in tile and Justine’s painting, and I ask about disposal of the smelly crab leavings from last night, where to do our laundry, and if it’s safe to take a walk down the long country road through the forest.
“Do you have bears here?” I ask. “Do they come into the grounds?”
“We definitely have bears,” Mark says. “But the dogs keep them away. They have an understanding, the bears and our dogs.” I look at Betty and Veronica, the husky-wolves, with their long legs and slinky way of trotting. They have husky markings but short coats and very long legs. They lift their heads, constantly scenting the air, and seldom make eye contact. Their barking is punctuated by songlike howling. They are so dignified and close to wild that I feel honored when one of them deigns to touch my hand.
I’d run away if Betty and Veronica wanted to chase me off, just like the bears.
Mark offers me bear spray for my walk, and I happily accept. “I usually take the dogs and a shotgun,” he says, “to make noise, you know.”
I nod like I understand, and he gets me the bear spray. It’s reassuring to see that it’s dusty from disuse, and he blows the dust off. “I think you twist this thing here, point it at the bear and shoot. But they say to be sure to shut your eyes, the stuff is nasty.”
I mentally picture being able to have the mental wherewithal to twist off the safety cap and point the canister at the bear with my eyes shut and can’t quite manage it, but I do feel more confident setting off with the bulky canister protruding out of my pocket.
Mark reminds me of Mike in his younger years, a tall capable man who never stops moving. “I can’t wait to use my Father’s Day gift.” He points to a pile of firewood logs, with a shiny new axe protruding from one of them. I grin at the sight. An axe—the perfect British Columbia Father’s Day gift. He disappears back into the cottage, from which emerge the smells of varithane floor sealant and paint.
The road is gorgeous, lined with bushes just beginning to ripen with sweet, tart, orangey red fat berries like I’ve never seen before. A bald eagle flies over me, so close I see a patch of missing feathers on its snowy breast, and emits a croaking sort of cry as it lands on a nearby pine. I pick a handful of berries and wander on, but I can see crushed-down trails through the flowers and ferns that make me think of bears. Yes, there are bears here, and they’re foraging for berries that aren’t ripe yet, and the salmon aren’t running so they must be hungry….
I pep-step back. I’m beginning to be annoyed with myself for being so timid, but I come from a place where there are no natural enemies out in nature (other than sharks) and nasty fellow humans are the only real things to be concerned about.
Safely back on my deck, eating a yogurt sprinkled with what Justine tells me are “salmonberries,” a delicious natural BC crop, I settle into sitting. And it feels amazing.
I spend the day reading and writing and looking and doing stretches and pep steps now and again,and it’s perfect. Mark, Justine, and baby Nicholas invite me for a boat ride to visit friends on one of the far banks on the river, a little old settlement only reachable by boat. Mike’s still gone when I excitedly don my life preserver and climb aboard the sturdy aluminum craft. Justine and I sit on either side of Nicholas, all of us bunchy and thick in life preservers, as Mark takes the helm. He tries to tow a log out from where it’s caught on the pilings, and there are a few minutes of excitement as we weave back and forth, the rope tied to the giant floating tree humming. But the roots are caught in the pilings, and Mark says he’ll have to chainsaw it loose at low tide.
Freed from the log, we race down the river, the wind in our faces, trees and olive-green water as far as I can see. Turning into a tributary area, we dock and are greeted warmly by the residents. Everyone comes down to exclaim over Nicholas, and we trek along a boardwalk over verdant, swampy ground to the French’s house, a small cottage being majorly renovated.
Mr. and Mrs. French, who’d owned the house all their lives, are finally retired and are building on a second story, and everywhere is the smell of fresh-cut cedar as Mr. French, sixty if he’s a day and someone Mark says respectfully “works like a machine,” is milling his own lumber to build it with.
They show us around inside, where there’s a flatscreen TV and lovely leather furniture, and I ask, “How’d you get that big couch out here?”
Mrs. French rolls her eyes. “On the boat. Like everything you see here. It was funny at the time, the couch strapped across the back of the boat.”
They ply us with wine, crackers and Mr. French’s homemade smoked salmon, ruby-red slices of flavorful deliciousness, and we talk about Maui, which they all love to visit, and eventually whiz back down the river to the dock, where the dogs are howling and distraught, and Veronica, who Mark calls a “drama queen” demonstrates her devotion by leaping off the dock and swimming out to the boat. Betty goes in halfway, and then trots around sensibly to meet them at the boat tie up.
Mike is back from his adventure, sunburned, tired and happy, visiting on the deck with our neighbors from the other cottage, and we drink more wine, eat dinner watching the resident bald eagle perching on a nearby log, and call it a very good day.