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The place we used to call home.

9 Sep

If you read my post last time, you will be aware that we had visited Campbell River, but I didn’t really tell you much about the place did I?

We moved to Campbell River  December 30, 1987. We had friends who had moved there a few years earlier. This friend had started at the local mill and convinced us that it would be a good idea, employment wise, if we followed him.

It didn’t take that much to convince us, so off we went, kids in tow. Through a series of fortuitous events we ended up buying the place that had been our first and only rental. The owner of the house lived next door, and after 6 months of renting, he was transferred and needed to divest himself of both of his properties. We were only too happy to take him up on the offer.

Float planes of all sorts are common in Campbell River.

The house had windows across the entire front,  it looked east, out over Discovery Passage and across to Quadra Island. Every ship and boat that moved through the pass, including Cruise Ships, were visible from our front windows. Occasionally we could even see pods of Orcas or Pacific White Side Dolphins moving through. Bald Eagles wheeled and dodged (in such large numbers they were commonplace) nesting and perching in nearby trees.

The town was actually known to me since my Dad had visited it years before during a stay at Painter’s Lodge. All I knew was that it was a great place to catch fish and the waters were very dangerous. So, on top of the sheer beauty of the place,  the employment opportunities that were readily available and the need to allow our children to grow up in one place with no disruption, I added in a personal passion and I was sold. I was more than happy to “settle” down for a while.

Campbell River sits at 50 degrees 1’0″ N/125 degrees 15′ 0″W, on the east coast of Vancouver Island. If you look at a map of the Island, we sit on that pointy bit about half way up.  Right behind it is a backyard of logging roads, rivers, streams, caves, lakes, creeks, hills, trails, trees, lots of trees and mountains, some pretty big ones. Big enough to have ski hills on them. Mount Washington, for example which rises 5200 feet and has some of the heaviest falls of snow in all of North America. Damn nice place to ski too!

Painter's Lodge sitting on the north bank of the river mouth

I mentioned caves right? I was wondering if you caught that. This part of Vancouver Island is covered in Karst rock. Karst you say, what the hell is Karst? Karst is a distinctive topography in which the landscape is largely shaped by the dissolving action of water on carbonate bedrock (usually limestone, dolomite, or marble).

Now, to have a “dissolving action of water” one needs to have lots of water and does Campbell River have lots of water? Do bears shit in the woods? The average rainfall in the area is around 50 inches, with 50 more inches of snowfall. That’s the average, some years it rains a lot more than that and the further west you go the more it rains, hence the caves. It’s also the reason why everywhere you look, it’s green, pretty much all year long.

It was a great place to live, work and raise our kids. We boated, fished, caved, skied, camped, hiked and biked everywhere we could. All the while our kids were growing up in a town that was growing and changing as well. It had been a frontier logging and fishing town,  and it was still pretty rough around the edges when we moved there. As time passed, as in all things, the rough edges got knocked off and the town went through a sprucing up. The old girl certainly did clean up well.

Part of the Foreshore path on Tyee Spit

Personally, I think it started with the Fishing Pier. A group of volunteers got together and decided that the Salmon Capital of the World, needed a place where those who had no access to a boat, could wet a line and have a good chance of catching a big chinook.  The Pier was constructed and became an instant and raging success, starting the process that led to the beautification of the downtown, the foreshore path/park and it’s continuation from one end of town to the other, the reclaiming of the Tyee Spit from a run down RV park to a Green Space that’s accessible to everyone, and the Carving Contest that has added grace, art and yes, beauty to all areas of the city.

The back of one of many carvings all around the city

The other side of the same carving. Pretty talented carver, eh?

 

This is where my kids grew up, this is where Richard and I worked and where we all played but it’s no longer our home, not for any of us. I think like kids everywhere that grow up in a small town there is always that desire to get away and head for something bigger and better. Ours certainly felt that way and not long after they graduated they headed for the bright lights of Victoria. So, Empty Nesters we were and we were rather enjoying it, while we continued to work on our plans for retirement at 55 when fate played a nasty hand.  In 2001 my Mother has a “Catastrophic Stroke” leaving her hospitalized and completely incapacitated, 4 months later my brother-in-law died of Liver Cancer. April of 2004, my Mother finally died from complications of the stroke and a month later, my sister was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. She died a year later.

Richard and I retired the next year. We decided that all we were really doing at that point was marking time, waiting until we hit 55 so Richard could collect his pension. We crunched the numbers and figured we could make it.

So we pulled up what roots we had grown during our years in Campbell River and hit the road. It’s not like we don’t go back to visit though and for me at least, when we finally round that last corner of the old highway and Shelter Bay comes into view there’s something inside me that whispers “Home” and a strange combination of happiness, nostalgia, sadness and completeness comes over me. It may not be where we live now but I think in some ways it will always be “home” to me.

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JUST PART OF THE LANDSCAPE

6 Apr

Have you ever noticed the occasional roadside shrine at home? You know, the simple cross erected on the side of the road at the sight where a loved one has died in a terrible accident. Sometimes they have a few mementos like a photo or a stuffed animal. Down here it’s an art form and they are everywhere.

Up until recently, the roads have been narrow, and poorly maintained, with steep cliffs, and sharp corners. Not to mention no lighting or guardrails, plus moving targets in the form of large farm animals wandering across the roads freely. The lines painted on the road seem to be a mere suggestion as to which side of the road one should stay on and passing on blind, uphills is common. The laws requiring seat belts to be worn does exist, but enforcement is non-existent and the push to educate against drinking and driving has only just recently begun.

When shrines become this big, they become roadside attractions and it's not unusual to see picnickers, and others taking advantage of the shade. Sometimes they will even light a votive candle in thanks.

When we first started driving down here, we were amazed at just how many shrines we saw, now we barely notice them, unless they are something special or it’s Day of the Dead. A shrine here can be as simple as a metal or cement cross or as elaborate as a cathedral. We have seen ones ranging from plain to extremely beautiful, from comical; designed to resemble the tractor of the semi the man was driving, to macabre; displaying pieces of the wrecked vehicle, to outright kitsch.

This is what I mean by macabre. It's not unusual to see pieces of the vehicle the individual was killed in displayed with the shrine.

A lot can be told from the shrines, such as wether or not the dead individual was survived by loving family and what their financial situation was and if it’s gotten better or worse. If survived by caring relatives the original marker will eventually be replaced by a more permanent one, sometimes a much more elaborate one. There will also be a fresh wreath placed on it during the celebration of the Day of the Dead and any other personal family celebrations. Sometimes it becomes obvious that the dead individual was either not very loved or the family has moved away or died out. The marker never receives any new wreaths and gradually rusts away,  falls over or is vandalized.

This shrine has been vandalized and may be abandoned

Now, I must digress a bit here and explain what Day of the Dead actually is. It is part remembrance, part celebration and part appeasement of the deceased family member, and is a completely Mexican festival. The celebration covers 2 days, and is accompanied by special cakes, sweets and candies, many of which are shaped like skulls. Children are honoured on November 1st using white flowers and candles, while adults are remembered on November 2nd. The surviving family members, clean and tidy up the cemetery plot, and the road side shrine if there is one. New, fresh wreaths are placed, along with maybe a fresh coat of paint. Then at Midnight, the family will go to the cemetery and bringing food will set up a place to eat, making sure there’s a place set at the table for the deceased. Then they will commune with and celebrate their lost family members in a happy and colourful celebration.

 
In some instances these shrines become bigger and bigger as time passes. They start to incorporate bigger buildings with gardens and benches and take up more ground beside the highways. The biggest ones we’ve seen can be entered like small churches. The most amazing thing about these shrines is their immovability. They are never touched by road work and even when the Government is building new stretches of road or straightening out curves, the road will be built around them.

Here you can see the original cross with the name plate, and the newer, growing shrine in front

You can see the new shrine growing in front of the old one and new flowers in place. This one is well looked after.

There is an amazing array of things that are placed in these shrines, pictures, photos, baby shoes, teddy bears, money, cans of beer and or pop, locks of hair, silk flowers, crucifixes, crosses, statues of Jesus and Mary, articles of clothing, letters of loss or love, cans of food, strands of garlic and of course votive candles. All either as a loving memento, a remembrance or as something the deceased used or loved in life or can use in the afterlife. Just because the vast majority are Catholic doesn’t mean that a little of the primitive religions that where here before the Spanish arrived, hasn’t crept in.

This shrine has a fair amount of stuff in it, but we've seen far bigger ones that have so much stuff in them that you can't differentiate any of it.

I said in my last blog that the Mexicans really know how to party, well, they really know how to grieve and at the same time celebrate life and death as well! Unlike our placid, boring cemeteries at home, designed for the ease of care  by the groundskeeper, here they are a riot of colour, size and shape. When I asked why, I was told, “We love colour and variety in life, why wouldn’t we want to be surrounded by it in death?”
That my friends is a very good question!

 

Yoga on the beach

11 Jan

 
A couple we’ve come to know well, here on Rattlesnake Beach, is Klaus and Parvin, who’ve been coming to Baja for more than 20 years. Parvin ran her own Yoga studio at one time and down here on the beach she has been persuaded to head a group for those of us who are interested. Both are in their late 60’s but you sure couldn’t tell by looking, as the two of them are more active than a great many 30 year olds we know. Not only do they do yoga 3 times a week, they also guide groups on the 3 nearby canyon hikes. We’re not talking flat, easy walks here either; all of them involve a great deal of clambering up and over gigantic boulders, crossing almost sheer rock faces and squirming up rabbit holes, taking on average of 6 hours to complete. They’ve been known to walk 20 year olds into the ground.

 

Our Rattlesnake Beach Yoga group, Parvin is on the far right.

 
They also kayak and are well known by all the professional kayak guides who  often see them in the coves and on the beaches of Islas Danzante and Carmen. They leave our beach in the early hours of morning so they can be on the eastern side of Danzante to watch the sun come up. These 2 were also the reason we ended up buying a double kayak, after some very convincing arguments as to why it would be a good idea.

 

The other day, Klaus asked us if we would be interested in going in a group with 3 other single kayakers to Isla Carman, where we would do our yoga on the white sandy beaches of Playa Blanca. The weather was supposed to be good, with little wind and since we hadn’t ventured that far on our own yet, this was a great opportunity to go with experienced paddlers. We of course said, “YES!”

 

Up before the sun!

 
We were supposed to be ready to go at 8:30 the next morning and so of course were up at 6 and standing around waiting for everyone at 8. Watching the sky brighten and looking towards the islands we noticed splashing headed our way from Punta Coyote just north of us. We at first thought we were looking at pelicans tearing into a school of fish, but as it got closer we realized we were looking at a pod of about 60 Common Dolphins. “Let’s go!” Richard yelled and we piled into the kayak and started stroking out from the beach. 50 feet was all we needed to be right in the middle of them as they raced by us, leaping and splashing as they pursued their breakfast. The old time sailors believed that seeing dolphins before a trip was good luck and we certainly felt that way.

 

A very good start to the day!

 

 

As we sat and watched the dolphins disappear, the other paddlers slowly made their way out to us and once we were all together, we set off for the north end of Danzante and the very tight pass between it and Still Point Island. Still Point isn’t really a separate island as it’s joined to Danzante by a finger of sand and rock, but at high tide there is a narrow pass only big enough for a kayak. Without Klaus leading the way, we never would have found it and would have had to paddle quite a bit further to go around the top end, but some years ago, Klaus and Parvin had dug out the small passage that exists. Lucky for all of us!

 

Is everybody here? Then let's go!

 
After making sure we had all managed to get through the opening, we aimed for Punta Arena on Carmen. There is a lighthouse on it and it’s easy to see from a distance so we paddled leisurely towards it, enjoying the water, and weather, yakking with one another as the boats jockeyed back and forth.
Stopping at Punta Arena, for a quick pee break, we noticed that the sand on the beach was totally covered in Hermit crab tracks, and one of the paddlers, Lance, said they had counted more than 60 of them in about 5 minutes when they had camped here a couple of years ago.

 

Tracks everywhere!

 
These islands are part of a huge Marine park and are protected, so everyone who visits them must have a Park pass and obey the rules, one of which states that nothing is allowed to be removed. Consequently, those who visit here have a tendency to create these treasure piles. Places where interesting and unusual things are left for those who will come after, to see and admire. The Trigger fish in the photo is the biggest one any of us had ever seen, and you’ll notice that it was rock hard. Things don’t rot here as it’s too dry. Dead things may be predated on by Turkey Vultures but anything they can’t or won’t eat, simply mummifies and Trigger fish skin is way too tough for them.

 

A common sight on the islands

 
Heading off again, we paddled only for a few minutes more and made it to this beautiful beach called Playa Blanca, or White Beach. It’s easy to see how it got it’s name. Here in the warm sun and sand we did our yoga, led of course by Parvin, with Klaus taking pictures. The Sun Salutation pose was of course the first one we did.

 

Yoga on the beach!

 

 

Afterwards, we pulled our lunches out of our dry sacks and settled down for a lovely picnic, enjoying the warmth, and beauty that surrounded us, not to mention the great conversation. At one point, we all stopped to watch this yacht go by and speculated on who was having the better time, us or them. We decided it must be us of course!

 

Who's the lucky ones?

 
Eventually, when everything had been eaten and drunk and all were becoming drowsy in the heat, it was decided we had better move on, or we wouldn’t be able to. Everything was picked up, stuffed back into the kayaks, and we hit the water to paddle a little further down to the very south end of Carmen. There are 2 palm trees here that have, against all odds, managed to grow and survive and this is one of Parvin’s favourite spots, so we had to at least see it before we headed for home.

 

How's that for a glimpse of paradise?

After a short stop to look around and talk with another kayaker we had met up with, a decision was made as to which direction we would take to go home and off we went. Like horses headed for the barn, we started moving faster, with the double kayaks leaping into the lead and pulling further away from the singles with each stroke.

 

 

Hey! That's us!

 
Half way across, Richard and I noticed whale blow in front of us, along the shore of Danzante, moving slowly north. It’s path and ours looked like they might intersect so we paddled a little harder hoping to see what it was. There had been few whale sightings this year, so we were excited to see one. Almost across, we lost sight of it.  We gave up looking and applied ourselves to paddling as the wind had come up and the waves were starting to reach 3 feet, with the occasional one breaking near us with a startling crash. Suddenly the crashing sound changed in pitch and there, close behind us was our whale. It was the blow that we were hearing, so that gives you some idea of how close it was. It turned out to be a she, a large Sei Whale and her calf. We sat with them for about 10 minutes as they surfaced and blew, ignoring us completely as they headed up into the northern reaches of the Sea of Cortez.

 

Momma Sei Whale.

The waves continued to rise, reaching 4 foot and becoming chaotic. It was a good experience as we realized that our kayak was built for this, so we stopped worrying and just paddled a little harder. As we all finally approached our beach, a tired goodbye was exchanged with all.
So ended another day spent with good friends and filled with the wonderful surprises that we’ve come to expect here on the Baja. I wonder what tomorrow will bring?