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.

Vintage

Some people love vintage cars. Not me. I’ve had enough old cars and trucks to last me the rest of my days. The only kind of vintage I want in my life now comes in a wine bottle.

This post is a continuation of one I wrote about five years ago. You can find Part One here. https://wordsfromanneli.com/2014/07/31/deflated-2/

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The same vehicle I am talking about in that post, was part of my life for too many years. We were frugal then, by necessity. Here is the truck as it was in the early 80s. My sister Sonja was visiting and as I took her picture, the truck happened to be in the background.

Back in the 70s the Captain bought a 1967 Chev 4 x 4. We drove that truck for years and used it to haul our few belongings to the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1975 and then back to Vancouver Island again six years later. The six years in the Charlottes were hard on the truck. Severe storms are the norm up there and the salty sea air eats metal, but the Captain kept the Chev running.

After moving to Vancouver Island in the early 80s I wanted a newer vehicle so badly, but it was still hard times and we were stuck with the old Chev.

I was driving the truck into town one day. It was summer and I had the window rolled down so I heard it “loud and clear” when the driver  behind me stuck his head out his window and yelled at me, “GET THAT PIECE OF SHIT OFF THE ROAD!”

Still, we drove it for a few more years. One day we were coming down the logging road off our nearby Mount Washington and the truck was rattling rather loudly. I looked out the back cab window into the box of the truck and said to the Captain, “Is the box supposed to be moving separately from the cab of the truck?”

We slapped a “For Sale” sign on it. In no time at all, a young fellow bought it “as is,” and drove it away happily.

Great Blue Heron

Wouldn’t it be nice if all birds could be friends? But that’s not how it is in nature. Crows rob the nests of songbirds, cowbirds lay eggs in the nests of other birds and then fly off, knowing the surrogate mother will bring up the cowbird baby that will crowd out the original nestlings. Owls and hawks will kill other smaller birds. “World bird peace” is pretty much hopeless.

Two of the larger birds, great blue herons and bald eagles, live side by side on the west coast of British Columbia. You rarely see bald eagles killing a heron, but it does happen. Turkey vultures, crows, ravens, black bears, and raccoons are all nest robbers that will clean out a heron’s nest. Eagles will do the same but they also predate on great blue herons in every stage of the heron’s life. The eagle has great grasping talons and a beak made for tearing flesh, so what chance does a heron have?

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Photo, courtesy of Ken Thorne.

Many years ago, I saw how herons escape from eagles. While living on the Queen Charlotte Islands, I was standing in my backyard one day when I heard the croaking call of a heron in a tall tree nearby. An eagle flew in and the heron lifted off. I thought the heron would fly away as the eagle went after him, but instead, the heron reached up with both of his wide-spread wings and pumped air downwards. He flew higher and higher in a tight circle going almost straight up.

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The eagle also pumped his wings and pursued the heron, circling higher and higher after him. The heron went so high that he was a mere speck in the sky. Many meters below him, the eagle soared in circles but was no longer gaining in altitude. I think he had gone as high as he was able. The two birds circled at their respective heights for several minutes, and at last the eagle gave up and flew away. The heron came down after a while, to go about his business for another day.

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The great blue heron is the ultimate stalker. He is patient beyond belief, and will stand absolutely still for so long that you might wonder if he is alive. Then he moves one leg up out of the water and hesitates. After a moment he puts the leg down, just a little closer to the fish or frog he is stalking. His folded up neck reminds me of a boxer holding his fist close to his chest, ready to fling out his arm to throw a punch at the right second. The heron’s sharp grabbing beak is his weapon for securing his dinner. His patience usually pays off and he scores a snack for his dinner.

I saw this fellow today at the shore below my house. I also took the picture of the eagle soaring over the trees beside my house today.  I sure hope these two can keep out of each other’s way and both settle for a meal of fish instead.

Competing for Fish

When you’re commercial fishing or even sport fishing, there’s always competition for the catch. These trollers are hoping to catch a few chinook (spring) salmon (King or Tyee to the Americans). The salmon have been given so many names in hopes of confusing those who would like to catch and eat them.

The trollers are anchored for the night and who comes along looking for supper, but a killer whale. Oh, sorry. For those of you who are easily offended, let’s call him a less harmful name – orca. He usually comes with the whole “wolf pack” for a more certain kill.

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Not only do they hang around the trollers to try to catch a salmon but they check out the sporties too.

Photo courtesy of Fern Handy, Haida Gwaii.

If the killer whales don’t get the salmon, there are always a few sea lions around looking for a free lunch. Looks like this one got it. That’s a nice fat spring salmon in its jaws.

Photo courtesy of Fern Handy, Haida Gwaii.

And only moments earlier you thought you’d be having salmon for supper.

The Mystery Photo Revealed

Thank you, all those who were brave enough to take a guess at the photo in the last post. I loved the imaginative answers you  had! If you look in the bottom left of the photo,  you’ll see the section I cropped for the mystery photo. If you click to enlarge it, you’ll be able to get a better look. I loved the squiggles in the picture. Nature is a pretty good artist, don’t you think?

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Taken near Masset, Queen Charlotte Islands, now renamed Haida Gwaii.

If you didn’t guess right, don’t worry. I really liked all the ideas, and all of them were great thoughts.  You were very brave to volunteer a guess. Even the Captain, who took this picture (some time ago) couldn’t guess what the mystery photo was.

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Photo Courtesy of Ken Johnston

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.

Photo Courtesy of Ken Johnston

“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?”

“An outboard.”

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.”

Photo Courtesy of Ken Johnston