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living the coastal life

West Coast Living in Ahousaht, BC

Whalecome!

Lennie and I are a water-loving couple in Ahousaht BC. Ahousaht is on Flores Island – a 35 min boat ride north of Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island. We have a very unique living experience here. No grocery stores, no gas stations, wolves roaming our streets and a water taxi ride to get in and out of the village.

I’d like to share some of my experiences here – Both the every day and the extraordinary and showcase a little bit of what life is like for us on the coast. Please shoot me questions and comments! I would love to feature topics you are interested in!

Featured post

Another Tragedy on the Water

When disaster strikes on the water, we think of the Coast Guard. However, what happens if the Coast Guard isn’t there for you? The village of Ahousaht has come to rely on their own in an emergency. That’s not to say the Coast Guard isn’t involved, but more often than not, they request any available local boats to assist anyways. And that’s how it should be. All vessels in the region need to be notified of a mayday emergency so they can respond if possible.

On Sunday, April 30th, that didn’t fully happen. When a 8.5 meter catamaran fishing vessel, carrying 5 people began taking on water in outer Clayoquot Sound, the Coast Guard put out a call for assistance on Channel 16. Boats that were scanning or monitoring ch. 16 on their VHF heard the call, but many did not. The Coast Guard has the option of, and has many times in the past, put out an all station broadcast, which redirects all radios to Ch. 16 for the emergency broadcast. These all channel broadcasts aren’t particularly uncommon. Not too long ago, one went out for kayakers in the Sooke region, requesting available vessels to search for them. No all channel broadcast was put out for the vessel on April 30th, leaving many boats unaware of the emergency and unable to offer their assistance.

It leaves me wondering if that all channel broadcast could have changed the outcome and whether having more boats respond immediately would have widened the initial search pattern.

What is the Coast Guard’s criteria for all channel mayday broadcasts? Why does one emergency receive one and not another?

Our local rescuers and Coast Guard did an amazing job and assisted in every way possible. But I can’t help but wonder if additional lives could have been saved if more boats had initially responded and the search pattern therefore expanded exponentially.

 

Ahousaht in Bloom

Last fall I received a Neighbourhood Small Grant for a flower planting project in the village of Ahousaht. This spring, the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, the organization who awarded the grants in our region, was given a grant of their own to film the results of the grants within our area. I was asked to attend the film premiere and possibly speak about our project in Ahousaht.

Ahousaht is a small village. Our population sits around 1000 people. There is no road access as we are on a small island off the west coast of Vancouver Island. It’s about a 35 minute boat ride from Tofino, on a good day. Weather systems regularly impact our travel and shut down boats. There are no grocery stores, though some essentials are stocked across the harbour at the “general store” and fuel dock. Few shop there regularly though.

We have enough of a youth population to have our own schools – Both an Elementary and High School. Most teachers are from other areas and stay for 2 or 3 years. The high turnover creates an inconsistent environment for students. However, we have several teachers that have stayed for years now, and are beginning to have more locally trained and certified teachers available!

A doctor visits the village 4 days a week and health nurses about 3 days of the week. Any medical emergencies or appointments outside of the doctor’s regular hours requires travel to Tofino or a larger city. In some severe weather, our water taxis are unable to make emergency trips and at times the Coast Guard has come in to transport patients to the hospital.

Everything takes just a little more effort in Ahousaht.

In general, that’s ok. It’s part of the vibe that goes with this location. But there’s one area where I can’t accept a delay in help, transportation hang-ups and lack of service – Mental Health supports. I can’t accept that we only have a counsellor available once a week, and a clinical psychologist once a month (I might be wrong, this is just what I understand at this time). I despise the fact that there are no formal after hour supports for mental health crisis. Not everyone has a landline to call a crisis support hotline. None of this is Ahousaht’s fault though. These services are government funded and are limited based on remoteness and population size. Remote, Indigenous populations tend to be more vulnerable to mental health issues, however, and the services are needed more than ever in these distant areas.

Recently we had a series of meetings with various officials and it sounds like we may be getting an increase in services. It’s nowhere near enough, but at least people are listening. In the future, perhaps more local residents can be trained and employed in these fields within our community.

But, back to the flowers….

I wanted a way to help. To improve mental health without getting wrapped up in the politics of available services. Flowers have been shown to improve mental health and the simple act of gardening does as well. I wanted to encourage people to garden in their own backyards and provide some colour in a public space that the community would see on a regular basis. I received permission to plant daffodil and crocus bulbs in a grassy area between the school gym and the road. It’s a high traffic area that will expose the flowers to many community members.

The key to dealing with a lack of mental health services is to not need them in the first place. That means we need to deal with prevention rather than responding as crisis’ arrive. Gardening is just one way to help prevent mental health crisis and it is by no means a cure-all. But it helps. Seeing the smiling faces of children working with their mothers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles, I knew a small difference had been made. And when spring arrived and those same families were planting flowers in their yard, I knew an even bigger change had been made. Each year it will multiply and grow, like the bulbs we planted along the road.

My goal is to get all of Ahousaht in Bloom. I started a Facebook page to arrange workshops, share educational information and inspire others to garden. I hope to create a flower planter next grant season near the community hall or Administration building. It saddens me that you can’t see a single flower from these areas. Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were always flowers in view, no matter where you were? 17426327_1814144082172130_1733531300813175870_n

Coastal Bliss

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I admit, I haven’t gotten out into Nature as much as I would have liked this winter season. Laziness or the weather, or business, there’s always been an excuse to stay warm and dry indoors. I think when we are surrounded by nature on such a frequent basis, it becomes the norm and we forget what an amazing gift it is. We end up taking it for granted. If we lost all of this tomorrow, how much would we regret not spending every possible moment with sand in our toes and wind in our hair?

Photography can help bring a greater appreciation of the outdoors to viewers inside the comfort of their own home. It can inspire them to get out there and see it themselves. Photography transcends boundaries. It breaks down walls and screens. There are no barriers that can keep it bound in today’s electronic world. If I need any further inspiration to get outdoors, besides the outdoors themselves, it should be to bring the outdoors in for those who haven’t seen it for themselves lately. Even those who are surrounded by it and have grown too familiar. Photography can wake you up to re-appreciate the finer details again.

And on that note, here are a few of my favourite images from the past months.

 

A Celebration of Spring Birdwatching!

Hummingbirds are such a wonderful sign of Spring! In Ahousaht, Anna’s hummingbirds stick around year round. We have had anywhere between 1 and 3 birds at our feeder each day through the colder months. Just this week, the rufous hummingbirds have made an appearance and there are two individuals competing for the feeder. I’ve found that the rufous hummingbirds are flightier and more timid than the Anna’s who have been around all year. Perhaps with time the Rufous’ will get used to me too!

I also had a gorgeous group of purple finches show up at my feeder this week! Rather than a purple colour, they appear as if they have been “dipped in Raspberry juice”. A rather apt description I think! They prefer moving around the middle of trees, closer to the trunk, so it took a lot of patience to get this shot on an exterior branch of the cedar tree while this individual vied for position at the feeder.

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Ahousaht is always a phenomenal place for birdwatching. But I don’t think you would have much success if you only visited for a day. Ahousaht has it’s own pace. Indian time, people joke. The birds have their own time too… I find I have my best sightings when I’m not looking – Usually while I’m having coffee in the living room. My hummingbird feeders are visible through one window and the birdfeeders and large Spruce and Cedar trees out the other window. There’s a small Spruce tree straight out the front door that the hummingbirds like to sit in between their turns at the feeder. And of course, there’s our little Baltimore Oriole that came right up to the porch railing throughout the winter!

My advice for birdwatchers coming to Ahousaht, Stay a while! Enjoy the community and what is has to offer. Get to know the locals. Walk the trail and beaches. Sit for a while on the docks or pick out your favourite driftlog to perch on. The birds will come in their own time.

When Depression Takes Over

 

I don’t like to admit when I am falling into a depressive funk. It makes me feel broken and weak. I feel like it’s my fault as if I actually could have stopped it from taking over.

I avoid it for as long as possible but eventually I have to admit it’s happening. When my fiance begins asking if I am ok because I am so quiet and not my usual bubbly self, I have to give in. Even if I don’t admit it to him right then, I admit it to myself. The tears come easier. My breathing is more laboured. I’m tired and emotional. I want someone to be with me but at the same time, I want to be alone and wallow in my own self pity. I want to get away, yet stay in the comfort of my home. Sleep doesn’t come easily at night, but my eyelids are heavy all day.

Depression eats you from the inside. It’s a shadow no-one can see that follows you like a storm. Your personal cloud of darkness. You can never run fast enough to get away.

I am not on any drugs. I don’t think I am a “bad enough” case to need them. Another denial or the truth? I can’t even step back far enough to tell. Nature helps, when I can get up the energy or determination to even step out the front doors.

As I write this, my vision is clouded by tears. There’s no reason for them. They’re just there.

I was seeing a counsellor who came into our village once a week. She was my age and we connected well. Together we explored cognitive behavioural techniques with some success. I was able to step back and evaluate my depressive thought patterns, allowing me to start correcting them on my own. Unfortunately that counsellor has moved and there isn’t a replacement yet.

At my lowest point, I would be collapsed on my classroom floor at recess, or even in one instance, the computer room floor while my class continued working next door, balling away like a  baby. Whether teaching in my school caused my depression or only exacerbated a previous unknown condition, I will never know. My situation may have been different in a different school or community but I will never know and don’t want to know.

I am happy with where I ended up in the end. My fiance and I have a simple and loving life. Just like me, he struggles to understand my depression and that’s ok, because we’re both learning together.

Sunrise from Radar Hill

Some sunrises are so memorable that they light your entire day, or week, with the same first that they illuminated the sky with. I was so lucky to be able to stop in at Radar Hill on my way to the Organic Master Gardener course in Ucluelet last week.

The stunning variety of textures, hues and tones gave so many opportunities for different angles and photographs. I kept zooming in on little details in the massive expanse before me. From the Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, my view encompassed everything the west coast stands for.

I couldn’t believe that I was the only person blessed with this view. On a Saturday morning, no one else was soaking in Nature’s beauty. Then again, I was thankful for the peacefulness. No engines, no voices, no footsteps. It was some of the purest Nature I have experienced and I am so thankful to have witnessed this event.

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And a couple bonus shots from Long Beach, where I was not the only person blessed with this view:

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T68B’s and T68C’s with a New Calf!

What a joy to spend this evening with the T68B’s and T68C’s!  On January 2nd we received the tragic news of J2 – Granny’s death. Within an hour, we had a report of orcas in Clayoquot Sound! Later on that evening we went out to find them. We almost turned back when we saw the tidal slop in Bedwell Sound, but I am so glad we stuck with our plan! The wind bit through your clothes and my fingers were frozen to the camera shutter, but it was worth every second.

We found them at Bare Bluff heading back out the inlet. Right in the midst of the pod, sticking close to mom, was a tiny orange baby! Later confirmed to be T68B1’s calf, this newbie was deemed T68B1B. The circle was complete and with Granny’s passing, new life emerged from the sea.

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We stuck with the pod until they got to Welcome Island. The sun was down and there was little light to follow them with. Night was here, and it was time for us to return home. As always, we reported our encounter to Strawberry Island Marine Research, who shared the new calf photos to Jared Towers.

Scroll through to see the complete set of images from our encounter.

~Marcie

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The Little Oriole that Could

His brilliant yellow plumage caught our eyes immediately as he landed on the hummingbird feeder. This juvenile male Baltimore Oriole was a long way from his winter range in Central America. It took a bit of time to get a confirmed identification on this bird but after 3 opinions all weighed in with Baltimore Oriole, it was settled!

Three days in a row he has visited our porch railing. Soon after he arrived I put out sliced oranges. It took a while for him to transition from the hummingbird nectar to the oranges, but once he did, he wouldn’t stop! This spunky little bird had found his favourite food.

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Watching him feed, you can see the Baltimore Orioles characteristic feeding method – inserting his beak, spreading the fruit and then drinking the juice that flowed into the newly created hole.

When the wind or rain got to be too much for him, he would shelter on the rafters of the porch or in a nearby spruce tree. But it wasn’t long before he would be back on the railing again, eating away! Despite the cold temperatures and less-than-tropical environment, this Oriole seems to be doing ok.

This little variant has gotten a lot of attention in the birding community. This appears to be the 8th confirmed sighting of a Baltimore Oriole in the Vancouver Island region. There has been lots of interest in travelling to Ahousaht to see him, but the long journey seems to have held off the flood of birders. Sitting in my living room, sipping tea or coffee and watching him feed, I can’t understand why. I am so lucky to have had him find me! Soon we will see it he will show for a fourth day – He typically arrives by nine am!

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A Mountain that Symbolizes a Nation

Catface Mountain is a symbol of the Clayoquot Sound region. It has been a part of the skyline for thousands of years. From the Nuu-Chah-Nulth village of Ahousaht on Flores Island, it dominates the landscape and is visible from nearly every vantage point. From Tofino, it stands alongside Meares Island’s Lone Cone Mountain – Brothers in stone, literally, as these two mountains are made from the same subterraneous chunk of rock.

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In the early 1800’s, there was a great war in this region that lasted for 14 years. The land where Ahousaht now is, belonged to the Otsosaht people. There were many battles and stories of the war. One of them goes like this:

The Ahousaht’s put their women, children and chiefs high on Catface Mountain where they would be safe during the fighting. Here, the warriors also prepared for battle. They cut down massive trees and carved them into canoes. The trees had been fallen so they pointed downhill. When they were ready to be launched, smaller logs were placed crossways beneath the canoes and they were rolled downhill to the sandy beach at the base of the mountain. From here the warriors paddled to the east side of Kutcous Point and under the cover of darkness they attacked the Otsosaht tribe. Many were beheaded and those who survived were sent south and they ended up settling in what is now Washington State.

The heads were put on stakes around the island as a warning to others who might try to take on the Ahousahts. Kutcous means – heads cut off, in warfare. One story tells of how the river here ran red with blood for 3 days after the battle.

This war was for resources, just like in European cultures and the wars still happening today – Land, water, fuel and food. The Otsosaht had control of the salmon rivers and clam beds. The Ahousaht people wanted their share.

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Catface Mountain protected the Ahousaht people and prepared them for battle. It gave sustenance, shelter and the means of transportation.

At the base of the mountain are a series of rocks that jut out into the water. Here is the most dangerous part of our modern commute to and from Tofino. During calm weather, boats may take a shortcut through the rocks. Kelp and submerged reefs are are a very real danger to even the most experienced captain. Only the most nimble of boats can make it through the gap. In rough weather all boats go around the rocks. Large swells and more hidden reefs present further dangers. At night, or in rough weather, family and other boat drivers listen out for the call that a boat has “made it around Catface”. They aren’t home yet, but the greatest danger has passed.

Catface Mountain will always be a symbol of strength to the Ahousaht people of Clayoquot Sound. We awake under it’s shadow as the sun rises behind it and we go to sleep as it glows pink as the sun sets. It is and always will be a symbol of home.

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*Marcie moved to Ahousaht as a teacher in 2014. Here she met and become engaged to Lennie John, an Ahousaht man whose home was nicknamed “Mountainview” in honour of the stunning view of the regions mountains, including Catface.

**The stories surrounding the Ahousaht-Otsosaht war have many versions. This is just one account. Other versions may have different details.

For more information please see:  http://www.guidethewildside.com/resource/kutcous.pdf

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