The commercial fishing season in the Queen Charlotte Islands was over for another year. Gary and I had several days of travel in our fish boat before we would reach our home on Vancouver Island. One afternoon we dropped the hook in the estuary of one of the rivers that flow from the Coast Mountains down to Grenville Channel. Not a soul around, and the scenic beauty called us to go exploring.
Leaving the fish boat anchored in deeper water, we launched the skiff and motored partway up the river beside a huge expanse of tidal flats. Gary looped the skiff’s small anchor about two feet off the ground, around the gnarly wood of an uprooted tree. The estuary was like a meadow except for two things: the grass was long, coarse and yellow, most of it lying down from the rush of the tide over it every six hours or so, and the “meadow” was crisscrossed by ditches where the tide carved out trenches each time it flooded and ebbed.
The power of nature was awe-inspiring. A herbal aroma, mixed with the salty iodine smell of low tide, wafted over the estuary. I felt small and alone against the backdrop of mountains. We tromped across the tidal flats, high-stepping over the humps and bumps of the grassy knolls and leaping over muddy ditches. I thought about nature shows I’d seen where people surprise grizzlies who are feeding in some low spot out of sight. When I saw a huge footprint in the mud, I wondered how alone we really were.
“What if we surprise a grizzly?”
“Naw! They’re all up in the mountains.”
“But that footprint …”
“Just a dip in the mud. Don’t worry about it.”
We walked until we were close to the edge of the trees at the foot of the mountains, commenting on the birds that thrived in this marshy place and noting the evidence of small animals that had fed on shellfish.
After about an hour, Gary said, “Tide’s starting to come in. We’d better go back.”
The sun was sinking lower in the sky. Soon it would drop behind the tops of the hills on the far side of Grenville Channel. We’d had a beautiful afternoon and a chance to stretch our legs after being confined to the fish boat for so long. We looked forward to a good night’s sleep after so much fresh air.
Many small trenches were now filling with water. We jumped over some and waded through the wider ones. We were still about ten minutes’ walk from our skiff when we came to a wide trench that now held water just deep enough to go over our boots. While we looked for a way around the ditch, and found none, the water continued to pour in and was soon thigh high.
“You stay here, and I’ll go across and bring the skiff up the river to pick you up.”
“No,” I said. “I might as well come with you.” Truth was, I didn’t relish being left behind as grizzly bait. I was still convinced that the footprint I saw was from a bear. “But listen! Hear that?”
We waited and sure enough the sound came closer. A man wearing dark green raingear pulled up in his skiff and waved to us. He pointed. “That your skiff down the river there?”
“Yeah. Tide cut us off. I was just going to wade across and bring it up here to pick up my wife.”
“Just wait there,” the man said. “I’ll go back and tow it up here for you.” He spun his boat around and took off.
We stood on the grass at the edge of the rising water and smiled. “How lucky was that?” I said. “But where did he come from? There’s no one else for miles and miles around here.”
We waited as the sound of his motor faded. We waited. And waited. “What if he just went home, wherever that is? Was he really here? Did he really say he was going to get our skiff? Did we dream it? I don’t hear his motor at all.”
The light was fading and the back of my neck was starting to get prickly at the thought of being stuck here. Visions of grizzlies looking for hors d’oevres flashed through my mind. This was traditional grizzly country. But they were all up in the mountains, right?
“Maybe we should go for it while we still can,” I suggested.
“I’ll go,” Gary said. “It’s waist deep now and ice cold. No sense both of us getting hypothermia.”
Again, in the nick of time, we heard the sound of an outboard. The man in green pulled over to the river’s edge and delivered our skiff to us. We were saved. We thanked him profusely, explaining that we do know about tides, but we sure hadn’t expected it to move that fast.
“Oh, it’s bad in here because it’s flat for such a long way. Sorry it took me so long but your skiff’s rope was four feet under water. Took me a while to get it undone.”
“We’re sure lucky you came along,” Gary said. “But where did you come from? There’s no one around here.”
“I have a barge at the old cannery, across the channel,” he said. “Running a little guiding operation.”
“For sport fishing for salmon?” I asked.
“No. For hunting grizzlies.”