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living the coastal life

West Coast Living in Ahousaht, BC

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Watching your Husband Almost Die Via Facebook Livestream

The last thing you want to hear when my husband, Lennie, is driving a boat, is swearing.

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Lennie and I run a water taxi company and he often travels to and from Hotsprings Cove to transport tourists and locals to the springs and village site in Refuge Cove. To get into the Cove you must round the infamous Sharp Point. The Point is fully exposed to the fury of the sea – wind, tides and swells from the open Pacific slam onto its rocky shore. There is nothing to soften the blow.

VHF Radios from this area can’t really be heard well in Ahousaht unless someone from high on the hill in the village relays. Our home VHF will pick up certain ones from the village. Lennie and I devised a system so I can tell what’s going on when he rounds the Point and I can rest easy knowing he has made it around safely. Lennie has attached a suction cup mount to the front window of the boat and before he approaches the larger swells of open water, he turns on Facebook livestreaming so I can watch his journey live. Thankfully there is cell service in Hotsprings. They have their very own cell tower there!

Yesterday, there was a large swell coming in due to some consistent high winds hitting the coast lately. Video always makes waves look way smaller than they are (Why can’t it do that to the human body too?), so when it looks kinda rough on video, you know it’s really rough. It certainly looked rough yesterday. The boat plowed through the swells, rising and falling over the crests. Thankfully they weren’t breaking. That presents a whole other issue.

Unable to see anything except the straight foward view off the bow of the boat, it can be hard to judge how far around the Point he has made it but by watching the horizon and changing mountains, I had a pretty good idea.

Suddenly I heard Lennie go “Oh, Sh*t” and my breath caught in my throat. Lennie only swears on the water if things are about to go wrong. The boat swung around and we were looking at open ocean again. When a larger wave comes, sometimes it’s necessary to swing around and face it head on, rather than let it sweep under you from behind. This is what he had done, just before a large one tried to catch him off guard.

I knew he would be sitting and counting the sets, but he was doing it in his head. Slowly the boat turned as it rose and fell, and eventually we were staring straight at the rocks. I began to wonder if his motor had died and he was on the back of the boat working on something? Why wasn’t he saying anything? It was probably only 10 seconds of waiting but I was getting panicked (and sitting at work watching this, unable to actually do anything).

Livestream has a handy feature that any comments you make pop up live for the one streaming the video, so I asked “What the heck are you doing?”. “Just counting the Waves” came his reply through the video. “Just checking you were ok” I typed back.

Soon enough he started to move again and once he was around the Point and just before he passed into the annoying dead spot where his service always cuts out he said “All good there Marcie. I’m around and safe.” He knows me too well.

So he didn’t almost die, but I guess he could have if something had happened in those conditions. Our boat drivers risk their lives every day. Lennie has an inflatable life jacket he wears, especially if he is ever alone on the boat. But if something goes wrong in rough seas, there isn’t always someone nearby to rescue you. I’m thankful for technology, but if something really did go wrong, I wouldn’t be watching online – I’d be sprinting to the dock and yelling for the boats to head out to save him.

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Orcas at Sunset

A couple weeks ago I got to spend some time with a large mixed pod of Transient orcas in the outer waters of Clayoquot Sound. The T109s and T11s were all present and slowly working their way up the coast. We joined up with them around Cox Point and left them at Wilf Rock as the sun slipped below the Pacific horizon. There was lots of action along the way. One youngster was constantly chasing birds across the water, surprising them by lunging up from the depths below them. Others gave a sneaky sea lion a heart attack as it held onto the rocks amidst oncoming swells with all of its might while their slick fins passed by just feet away.

 

Some of these photos are featured in my upcoming 2019 calendar which can be found here.

 

How Can I not Make a Post Celebrating Last Night’s Sunset

Since my work hours have shifted and I am working until 6pm every day, I have been treated to some amazing sunsets over the waters of Clayoquot sound. I commute by boat – a 35+ minute ride between the Village of Ahousaht on Flores Island and the town of Tofino.

By the time I close up the shop, buy any odds and ends we need, and head down to the dock, the sun is just starting to cast a golden glow over the landscape and play with the mountain’s shadows.

On the ride home I often sit on the port (left) side of the boat so I can take photos along the way. My favourite shots are when the sun is just behind a cloud or island, as it adds a whole other dimension to the photo!

Macintosh Island on the north corner of Vargas Island is my favourite spot to snap a pic as there is a certain angle where the islands are all silhouetted separately against the coloured sky!

The first three shots are from last night and the rest are an assortment from recent weeks! Which is your favourite? And more importantly, where’s your favourite spot to photograph a sunset?

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Catface Rocks
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Flores Island
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MacIntosh at Vargas Island
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Vargas Island
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Ahousaht Harbour
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Catface Rocks
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Catface Rocks looking towards Flores Island
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Flores Island
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My Favourite angle of the MacIntosh Islands

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Shelter Inlet

Small Town Trauma

Tofino has had it’s share of trauma in the past years. It is something that I believe small town communities handle better than cities, yet it affects small towns more, when tragedy does strike.

The trauma of what Tofino has gone through is still very raw. I don’t want to touch on personal details, but rather how the community pulled together and how disjointed many of us felt as we put on our brave faces to serve the tourists as they continued their vacations, oblivious to the heartache we were all feeling.

Being at work is hard when you are experiencing a personal tragedy. Normal people would take the day off. Yet how does an entire town shut down in the peak of tourist season when that tragedy affects everyone? You don’t. You wear a mask. You feign joy to keep vacationers happy and fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day, a wreck of jumbled emotions. On your days off and before and after shifts, you help where you can. You search, you bake and cook, you make donations. You do what you can to ease your guilt of not being there, while working shifts you can’t get out of.

Or perhaps your way of helping is to cover someone’s shift who is closer to the tragedy. You are helping. No matter how much you want to be on the front lines and assist. You are still helping.

Small towns pull together in tragedy so well BECAUSE everyone is so close. When the Coast Guard and RCMP and SAR all know the families involved, they go all out, as they always do, but with extra heart. The pain is their own too. The community steps up. Dinners are prepared for those on the front lines. Extra hugs are given in the aisles of the Co-Op Grocery. We hold each other up.

This summer in Clayoquot Sound has been especially hard. The Ocean who provides for us has taken far too many. Media articles don’t begin to touch on the real stories. I can’t in writing either. It is for those who are Present to know. Those who come to understand this place and what she demands.

Moving forward, we continue to support each other. A cup of coffee. A smile. A lunch date. Culture. Grief begins to be put into words  РA strength I admire beyond anything else. Our healing journeys advance at different rates and we recognize that within each other. We check in with each other. A touch on the shoulder says more than words can ever express.

Coastal small town life is a realm of its own, and one I will never take for granted.

Hummingbird Magic

Every day I marvel at the tiny masterpieces flitting around my porch, bickering about who gets to feed at which perch or who gets the largest flowers. Rarely do I have time to sit in the yard with my camera to document their speedy travels, however, recently I took a break from my morning routine to nestle myself in the grass and patiently wait for them to forget about me again. Within 10 minutes it paid off and 2 juvenile rufous hummingbirds were competing for the rich, ruby red bee balm blooms a short distance away. After a while, they seemed to reach some sort of settlement amongst themselves and began to tolerate each other’s presence.

I find natural flower based hummingbird photos more aesthetically pleasing than ones with a plastic feeder in them. They can be harder to plan for, but a garden with a few of their favourites will create a plethora of unique photo opportunities for you! Typically hummingbirds are attracted to bell-shaped flowers, in red if possible. Bee balm has been a successful attractant for every garden I have seen it in.

In general, the greater the variety of flowers in your garden, the more success you will have with hummingbirds, butterflies and bees! The greater the biodiversity in your yard, the healthier the ecosystem you create will be, and isn’t that something we would all love to strive for?

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 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

The Perfect Breakfast Date for a Rainy Day

Furniture deliveries in the small community of Ahousaht are a big deal. They involve hiring a truck from town, travelling by boat to Tofino to meet the truck, chartering a boat back to Ahousaht and hiring another truck. Usually there’s a couple hour wait in there too, as the delivery window isn’t any narrower just because we have to travel to meet them. For Lennie and I this process left us with 3 hours to kill while we waited for our delivery slot to arrive.

Our first stop was Tuff Beans coffee shop. Their 4th St. Wrap is our favourite on the go breakfast available in Tofino. Stuffed with eggs, sausage, bacon, ham and hashbrowns, it’s an all-round meal not to be missed! With a quad Americano and creamy hot chocolate to top our order off we jumped in the car and drove 20 min. to the Incinerator Rock parking lot at Long Beach. On an early Saturday morning in December, both the village and roads were deserted. Incinerator Rock is our parking lot of choice because you get a stunning ocean view without leaving your car. On a rainy day like this, that’s exactly what we were looking for!

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When you’re done breakfast, don’t just pack up and leave. Take some time to really watch the waves and patterns of the sea. Enjoy the present moment. It was while we were enjoying that moment that we got a call about our furniture delivery – They wouldn’t be making it afterall! More time for us I guess… (though no couch to sit on when we got home!)

Remember, whatever the weather, there’s always a way to enjoy Tofino!

The Final Hurdle

The boat soared upwards, plowing through the mountain of water surging in front of it. Lennie, the skipper, pulled back on the throttle as the reached the crest of the wave. There was a pause. Then the 20 ft long boat, began sliding down the back side of the swell into the looming maw of the trough in front of them. Over and over Lennie guided the boat through the everchanging roller coaster of water below them. Finally came the wait. Lennie had to time the waves before cutting across the point of rocks jutting out in the the sea.

This is the final hurdle to get into Hotsprings Cove – Home to about 70 full time residents, the tiny community is home to the Hesquiaht First Nations band on the remote western coast of Vancouver Island.

Most tourists don’t see Sharp Point at it’s worst. They experience scenic boat cruises on calm seas or fly into the inlet on a sea plane. The locals have to brave these rough winter seas near daily in order to carry on their everyday life. Doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, basketball tournaments all happen outside of the community and residents must take a boat around the Point to get there.

On the third wave Lennie made his move. Turning broadside to the waves he charged along the backside of the swell. He repeatedly checked over his shoulder to see what was coming up alongside and behind the boat. A simple miscount could send them hurdling over in a whitewash of breaking water. When he was clear of the rocks, he turned the boat and rode into the inlet on the back of the swell. The timing had to be perfect. Both the wave in front or behind them could break. He had to match the speed of the swell and stay balanced on the back of the swell in front of him.

Eventually the waves lost their force as they travelled deeper into the narrow cove. Lennie could relax – for now. He had made it safely to the dock. But now he had to load up with passengers, and do it all over again.

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Sharp Point on a calm December day, 2016

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