Nothing at all. That’s what I’m doing. It’s hard. The surf thunders on the beach beneath a cloudless sky. The long crescent of sand and shingle is miles long and we have it nearly all to ourselves. We are backed up to the driftwood at the top of foreshore at the Pacheedaht First Nations Campground near Port Renfrew. It looks out on the bay known as Port San Juan. Only a two hour drive from home we are in a different world here on the opposite side of the island. The sea air from the open ocean and the sweeping view are bliss.
Port San Juan looks directly across the mouth of Juan de Fuca Strait to Cape Flattery and then the entire Pacific Ocean. That is the Northwestern tip of the State of Worshington (As they say) and also that of continental US. Last night, just on the horizon I could see the instantly familiar rhythm of the Cape Flattery Light, on Tattosh Island which marks the gateway in and out of the straight. Considering the strong tides, it is perhaps more of a hinge to that long and deadly gate. This is an area known as the Graveyard of the Pacific where the bones of ships are littered, on average one per mile. I could see radio tower lights on the ridge above Neah Bay and the twinkle of stars overhead. An outbound deep sea vessel shows her green starboard light.
Tonight in this bay moonlight from a gibbous moon sparkles on the waves. A cold west wind subsided as the day’s warmth faded but I relished the heat of my small campfire. Of course I ached to be back out on the ocean, where I feel truly at home. I’ve anchored boats here when a trip along the outside of Vancouver Island met opposing tides and winds and seeking shelter here made sense. It is a rolly place to sit on the end of an anchor chain but the only option in consideration of the thrashing a boat would take out on the open sea. Being here now on the beach with my wife and two little dogs is enviable, especially in mid-week. This place is a mecca for surfers who come in droves and party hardy through the night. When the surf is right in the daytime they don neoprene suits and hone their skills in the bitter cold waters. They’re still working at the office in the city at the moment.
This certainly beats hell out of the small town environment and the strata-titled patio home where we live. That tedium and mediocrity is a fate worse than death. It is also the first time since Jill’s horrible health ordeal that she has been able to get out away from home base. THAT is something to celebrate. She is cold, cold, cold and I’ve given her one of my old fat boy shirts, which seems to help against the chill sea wind. We listen to the pulsing rhythm of the surf angling along the beach, there is a clatter of round hard stones which are first cast up the sloping sand then drawn back down; a grinding and polishing routine that is eternal. Sleep comes easily.
Morning comes sweetly and a day without an agenda unfurls before us in the rising wind. Campers leave, others arrive. It’s a campground after all. There is a field of monstrous logs and stumps cast up beyond the beach. The debris is scattered thickly for over a mile, a testament to the incredible power of winter storms at high tide. It would be a wonderland for children with all those spots and niches to hide and explore; a nightmare for parents trying to find their wee ones again. And there are goggles of sticks and stones for creative young minds to play with, no batteries required. What a place for children to roam, especially the city-bound, adults too! Down the beach someone flies a kite.
Despite the incredible ocean panorama most campers settle in by shutting their Rv window blinds shortly after arriving. I can’t understand but it’s none of my business. Then a young couple arrives in a small car which bounds over the bumps and huge potholes. They soon claim the furthest picnic table and strip down to skimpy bathing costumes despite the shrill chill wind. Minutes later my old eyes see these two enjoying a vigourous round of rumpy bumby up on the table. Despite the privacy of all those logs, where they could indulge in hours of afternoon delight, they are having sex on stage. I understand some folks find thrills in being exhibitionists. Part of me is a little jealous, part of me wants to find a big stick. I’m no prude but there are children on the beach as well as others who must find such stray-dog behaviour offensive. In the end, their hormones assuaged, they leave as quickly as they arrived. The surf rolls on.
Just before sundown, a burly bicycle trekker arrives wearing a huge flourescent jacket. She transports huge bags of gear and I wonder what possesses folks to indulge in such an ambition. I’ve done remarkable things alone in sailing boats and in tiny airplanes and I’d like to do a few wee trips on a motorcycle, but a bicycle! I’d rather walk and hitch hike but then who in the hell would stop and pick up the likes of me. They’d have to be more nutters than I am. This bicycle lady expertly erected a bell tent and disappeared inside. She was gone at first light.
As darkness falls a convoy arrives, parking trailers and motorhomes in a circle, pitching tents all around where their dogs roam free. The little community settles in for a serious party, but they’re quieter than expected. Sleep comes easily. Then one great farting Harley Davidson motorcycle arrives, touring slowly past each camping spot, looking for someone. I start thinking of that big stick again. Later, after midnight, I’m awakened again by brilliant white lights slashing into our quietude. Someone next door is out there at 01:30 erecting a tent and using their hiking headlamps. They mean no harm, they just want to sleep but their lights are annoying and so I lay listening to the surf until its zen rhytmn fades my senses into peaceful sleep; finally.
Next morning we return home on the same route through the abandoned remains of raped first growth forest. I used to travel this road before it was paved. One would follow as closely as they dared behind a massively loaded off-highway truck. The dust would billow biblically and fist-sized rocks would be flung up from the tires of the behemoth vehicles. Other vehicles would emerge out of the dust and appear in the rearview mirror. It could be terrifying. It was my first practical use for air-conditioning which pressurized my vehicle against the ingress of smothering dust. Now that it is paved the road is bliss although dips and twists make it a different sort of challenge to navigate. Morons in vehicles, both locals and transients, travel far too fast for the road surface and don’t understand why they should stay on the right hand side of the road. So, in a new way, the road can still be terrifying. The surrounding forest is the collateral damage left after the original timber were systematically levelled about a century ago. That decimation continues, now often in stands of second-growth which arose on their own, without any help, only to be cut down again.
Our forest industry has become a complicated issue. Many factions each demand to be given control of our vast forestlands. Few seem to know what the hell they’re really yelling about. Within less than two centuries we have managed to obliterate much of the original forests we marched into. We did it with the spirit of men who posed proudly beside the massive stumps they would leave behind as monuments to an age when making daylight in the swamp was a good thing. It is pathetic that so much of that resource, and its wealth, have been squandered at the hands of men who have probably never held an axe, let alone used one. A group has rallied against the logging-off a remaining stand of original timber at Fairy Creek. I don’t agree with all of their perspectives but what little is left of those pristine groves must be left in their natural state. They hold a value beyond anything monetary. So says someone who spent much of his life involved with various aspects of logging.
There is one remaining spruce tree along the roadside. Not all the old forest was comprised of trees nearly so big but it was certainly not the tangled mass of windfalls and thick debris left behind by loggers. It is excellent fodder for fire and at the moment a hard to fight conflagration has closed the road to Port Alberni. Traffic from the far side of the island is being re-routed along rough logging roads into the Cowichan Valley and back to paved roads and civilization. I can only imagine the urbane sensibilities of folks trying to navigate a rough, dusty, rocky trail in a huge Rv while dodging other Rvs and logging traffic. Hopefully no-one chucks their cigar butt, or joint, out the window.
“Forests may be gorgeous but there is nothing more alive than a tree that learns how to grow in a cemetery.”
― Andrea Gibson