Let Me Tell You!

 

I’m a red-shafted northern flicker. I happened to flick through the pages of Anneli’s latest book, “Marlie.” It took me back to a time when I made a return flight up to the northern coast of BC. I flew across to the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii), but the weather up there is something else, let me tell you! I nearly blew all the way to China in that windstorm.

On Graham Island near the fishing village of Masset, I ended up gripping a hemlock branch. In one wind gust, a lovely lady on the cover of Anneli’s book flew by and got hung up on the branches too. Since I was already gripping the branch, I grabbed it and thought, “How fitting!”  I’d read it before and it was  a gripping story.

When I read it, did I ever have my eyes opened. Let me tell you! Here’s Marlie, this lovely lady, newly arrived on the islands just like me, trying to make her way all by herself, just like me, and she ends up struggling not to give up on living in the new place, just like me.

I flickered through some more pages. Well! This smarmy artist fellow (I’d seen him around town looking like a charming beach boy – can’t stand the type myself), came onto Marlie. She’s a looker, let me tell you! But she’s too kind for her own good. Finds it hard to say no. And when she finally does say no – screams it, in fact (I heard her all the way to my tree in the woods near the beach) –  it doesn’t do her any good.

Now what?! She’s so much like me. She can’t go home  and admit she’s a failure. Like me, she just got here. We have to stick together. So when I found out what happened, I flew over to the dumpy trailer she was renting and imagined that I whispered in her ear, “Never mind. There are other people in the world besides those beach boy types. No one else knows what happened in the woods. Just do like me. Fly away and mend for a while. Maybe you’ll meet a friend. I know a fisherman. Handsome fellow and very capable. Good person.”

But, to be honest, I wasn’t sure they were suited. Marlie’s politics are a bit left-wing (government job, you know) and this fisherman, Brent, I’m sure is far right, being in business for himself. You never know, though. They say opposites attract.

“I’ll fly over to his fishboat in the Masset harbour,” I imagined telling Marlie, “and sit on the crossbar of his mast. I’ll get his attention, doing what birds do  in the rigging. I’ll drop some ‘e-mail’ down to him and when he looks up, I’ll tell him about you. Maybe I’ll drop the book cover image down to him so he can see how pretty you are.

“I’ll put a bug in his ear,” (Ha ha, I have some real juicy ones, let me tell you), “and then the rest is up to you.”

By the way, you lovely followers of Anneli’s blog, if you need a book to read during Christmas break (or any time) you can find Marlie on amazon (just type in the title) and on smashwords.com if you have an e-reader other than Kindle.

You will love it, let me tell you!  And so inexpensive. Less than the price of a hamburger, but fifty times as good, it lasts a long time and not on your thighs either.

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Thank  you all for indulging me. My book is just out and I’m a bit excited about it. I won’t hit you up about it all the time. I think I’ve got that out of my system now – for a while anyway.

I wish all of you a very happy Christmas season and hope 2018 is good to you.

See you in the next year or maybe sooner.

 

Get in Line

The commercial salmon troller (not to be mistaken for a trawler) is shown here in early June, all tiddled up, ready to leave for the summer fishing season in the Queen Charlotte Islands (now called Haida Gwaii). But now that the season has ended, the boat is a bit tired and ready for some TLC. Like every summer, it has taken a beating, pounding into the waves in bad weather. Rigging, fishing lines, gear,  equipment, and even other boats have rubbed on its hull.

The question friends and acquaintances most often ask after it’s all over, is “How was your season?”

The main thing is to survive the elements, stay safe from the many hazards that can befall a fisherman. Beyond that, it’s a case of trying to be in the right place at the right time and hook some salmon that happen to be swimming by.

Commercial fishermen work hard to supply us with fish to eat. Turns out though, that we humans have to get in line. No, I don’t mean the line in the grocery store. I mean get in line behind the more aggressive predators. Here’s how it comes to be that way.

This year, the Captain tells me, it has been an exercise in frustration. Yes, there were good days, but there were extra obstacles besides the ongoing bad weather. The blue shark below is one example. Often they are quick to take advantage of the salmon’s inability to escape the hook. This one was unlucky and bit the lure himself.

Sometimes the Captain might hook a salmon and before he can get it into the boat, a shark has helped himself to a meal.  Here is what’s left of the fish after the shark has taken a bite. I’ve blurred out the deckhand’s face for the sake of his anonymity.

And then there are the pyrosomes, a new phenomenon in northern waters this year. They are not really a jellyfish although they could easily be mistaken for them. They are really small creatures (zooids)  held together in a colony by a gelatinous substance. If they break apart, they just multiply and grow again. Soon we could be overrun … er .. overswum?? with them.

The deckhand holds the hoochie (a lure meant to simulate a squid), which has the hook hidden inside its rubbery, synthetic tentacles. Some pyrosomes are snagged on the steel cable and slide down to where the monofilament line is attached, while others are snagged on the monofilament line itself and slide down to the flasher or the hoochie beyond it.   A hook that is covered with pyrosomes won’t attract a fish, so the lines have to be cleaned off constantly.And then we have the same old deadly predators, the sea lions, who often follow a boat, lazily waiting for a salmon to be caught so they can snatch it off the line for their own easy meal.

With a lot of stress and frustration, the fisherman does his best to catch enough fish to sell to the buyers who will supply the stores to feed humans. Looks like we have  to get in line behind these more aggressive feeders and take what they leave us.

Herring Time

When the herring roe fishery happens each spring on the BC Coast, the seine boats and herring skiffs congregate close to shore because that is where the herring can be intercepted as they rush the beach to spawn. At night when the boats have their anchor lights on, it looks like a floating city just offshore.

Sea lions and seagulls and eagles patrol the area in hope of some tasty bites.

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Photo courtesy of P. Knettig

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It’s a bluebird day. Hard to believe it was rough and windy just a couple of days ago. Still it was fishable and the herring filled the seine nets. Then disaster struck as an extra heavy net caused a boat to list  and not recover. The fishing community lost a fellow fisherman. His brother is quoted on CTV News:

“They had a really big set. The boat was listing and Mel went down into the engine room to turn the pumps on, and while he was down there the boat rolled over.”

It brings home to all of us once again, how dangerous fishing is. While the fleet mourns the loss of one of their own, the fishery goes on, as it must. The pretty night lights, and the bluebird daytime sky and sea belie the sombre mood and the heavy hearts of the fishing fleet.

Starting Off with a Bang

It’s the first night of the new year and the old couple has been in bed since well before midnight. The TV shows bringing in the new year were duller than dull. 2017 would arrive whether anyone waited up for it or not.

In the wee hours of the morning a loud crash wakes up the old blister. She taps the Captain on the arm to wake him.

“Did you hear that?” she whispers.

“What?”

“That crash! … Obviously not,” she mumbles. “Just stay awake and listen for a minute.”

“The dogs would have barked.” He rolls over to go back to sleep.

“Maybe Ruby’s too scared with the wind.” She’s probably lying on her doggie bed, eyes bulging out of her catatonic body.

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In the morning, the Captain calls out, “I know what made the crash. Look on the woodshed roof.”
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No, that’s not a man in the middle of the woodshed. It’s a float, a fishnet, and a bunch of firewood. But the long branch on the left side is what came down from the skies last night to wish us a happy new year.

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You might say we started the new year off with a bang. A word of advice: if you go walking on a windy day, maybe stay away from tall trees, or wear a hard hat.

Showtime

After months of boat maintenance and haulout work and sanding and painting, the Eden Lake is ready for another season of salmon trolling in northern BC. It’s a good boat, well built in 1976 by the late Harald Christensen in Queen Charlotte City, BC.

It takes a lot of work to keep a wooden troller in good shape.This year, like every other, the Captain has the Eden Lake sparkling clean, safe, and seaworthy.

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Here is what the back of the boat should look like during a good fishing day, with the checkers full of spring salmon.

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For those who don’t know the difference between a trawler and a troller, a trawler drags a net near the bottom while a troller fishes individual hooks and lines — two very different kinds of fishing.

 

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The Captain is getting ready to untie the lines and leave Comox Harbour. That’s the very early morning sun you see on the side of the boat. The best traveling time today will be in the morning, before any breezes start up later in the day.

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In the old days, communication systems were not as easily available between the Captain and the fishwife left at home. A call from town when he came in to sell his fish might have happened once a week to ten days. Now, with satellite phones, the communication is much better.

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There he goes, leaving Comox  Harbour.

It will take the Captain a good six days of running to get up to Prince Rupert and another day to cross to the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii), but often it takes a bit longer because the weather is not perfect every day and sometimes you just have to wait.

I feel a bit at a loss for a few days until I get used to the idea that it will be late August before he comes home, but the Captain always reminds me, “I’m only a phone call away.”

Like a Lamb

This year, March came in “like a lion,” as any herring fisherman will tell you.

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They must have had some terrible days even in these relatively sheltered waters. I know I would be so seasick if I had to be out there.

But at the end of March I took some pictures of the same area and it was a very different story. It was early morning and the sun would be creeping over the horizon momentarily. Its warm glow already lit up the few stragglers of the clouds that had blown through overnight.

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It was still  early, but when I looked more closely, I saw a partial yellow globe.

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No, it’s not the sun. That’s the waning moon. The sun was rising far to the east of it, shining on the clouds around the moon. In the stillness of the dawn the sun sent poetry rays to me:

“Oh Moon, I guess you think you’re cool

To sashay round that cloud,

But keep on moving, you old fool,

While I shine warm and proud.”

The next day, also early in the morning (I’m out there because that’s when the dogs have to go out), the sun was rolling up its sleeves, ready to get to work and warm this corner of the earth. I welcomed it and told it to stay as long as it wanted.

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In these last days of the month, March truly went out “like a lamb.”

Herring and Other Delicacies

Near the end of February and into March, the herring congregate and spawn near the beaches of the east side of Vancouver Island. The arrival of the herring means the beginning of the fat time for other animals  who look forward to eating well, after a hard winter. Here, in a photo taken by one of my neighbours Paul Knettig, the seagulls and eagles await the arrival of the herring. But the eagles are not above preying on other guests at the same dinner table. Among the many seabirds who also enjoy the arrival of the herring, are the loons. It seems that loons are one of the favourite foods on the eagles’ menu.P1020586

Here are the wing bones and a few feathers of what I believe was a common loon. I found this wing under a tree in my yard.

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Here is a close up picture of it.

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Now, aren’t those feathers similar to the wing feathers of this loon in the photo below (taken a few years earlier). I had picked up the pieces the eagle had dropped from a tall fir tree in my yard, and put them together again in the shape they might have been in.IMGP0338

With dead herring lying around on the beaches, the eagles are eating well, but they still prefer to bring their food to a safer spot to be eaten. Sometimes they get clumsy and drop things. That’s why I found a herring head under this same tree where I later found the loon. Thinking I would write about it in a blog post, I picked up the herring head and put it in the empty wheelbarrow for safekeeping until I could go get my camera. Alas! When I arrived with my camera, the herring head was gone.

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And Emma’s breath had a distinctly fishy smell.

Emma 1“Well, you didn’t say not to….”