Kayaking among the Orcas/Killer Whales of British Columbia…

Kayaks belonging to the Sea Kayak Adventure group in the waters of Johnstone Strait, northeastern Vancouver Island.

Our sea kayaks wait patiently for us as we have lunch in a cove off of Johnstone Strait.

This is the first of my series of ‘oldies’ I am reposting from my archives to give new followers a taste of what they can expect to find on my blog. Peggy  and I made a trip to Vancouver Island, British Columbia in 2014 to go kayaking among the orca whales. The next post in the series can be found here:  https://wandering-through-time-and-place.com/2014/10/30/

I was nervous as we drove into the town of Port McNeill on the northeast shore of Vancouver Island in August. Peggy and I had signed up for a six-day sea kayak tour out of Telegraph Cove with Sea Kayak Adventures.We would be searching for orcas, which are also known as killer whales—as our son Tony, the Alaska Coast Guard pilot, reminded us. A little Jaws music, perhaps?

This orca was on display at the Whale Museum in Grove. I named him Smiley and addressed him as sir.

This orca skeleton was on display at the Whale Interpretive Center in Telegraph Grove. I named him Smiley and addressed him as sir.

“Okay, Curt, what have you gotten yourself into this time?” was bouncing around in my skull like a kangaroo on steroids. It’s a question I ask myself often.

I wasn’t nervous about the whales, however. I’ve spent my life communing with nature. Besides, these particular giants are gentle, relatively speaking; they get fat off the salmon in Johnstone Strait. They don’t need to eat people. But sea kayaking would be a first for me. The old dog had to learn new tricks, and that is always a reason to get excitable. Fortunately, Peggy and I had played around a fair amount with inflatable kayaks. We had even ventured out on challenging multi-day lake trips into remote areas such as Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan and Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota. So how hard could it be?

Aren't I pretty? There was no way I was going to make this skirt look good. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Aren’t I pretty? No? Maybe I wasn’t meant to wear a skirt. This skirt is designed to fit snugly over the cockpit of the kayak and keep out the water.  It’s so snug that you really have to stretch it to fit, which isn’t easy— particularly around the back. My skirt and I had several discussions while I was learning how to make it behave. It learned new words. Ask Peggy. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I confess I was more nervous about the idea of being on a tour. I am not much of a tour group person. This is a strange statement coming from someone who spent over a quarter of a century leading backpacking and bicycle fundraising treks for the American Lung Association. But the truth is— I am an independent cuss. I like to go where I want to go and stop when I want to stop. On an organized tour, I would be expected, even required, to adhere to the group schedule and itinerary. This isn’t a complaint. It has to be that way on group outings. Common sense and liability demand it.

And then there were the people. We’d be living closely with these folks for six days under potentially trying conditions. What would our guides be like? How about our fellow tour group members? Would we get along well? Would they be strange— even stranger than I am?

"Could I interest you in a cracker?" The tour promo promised good food, but it failed to mention the presentation. This is Nick, one of our three group leaders.

“Could I interest you in a cracker?” The tour promo promised good food, but it failed to mention the presentation. This is Nick from New Brunswick, one of our three group leaders. Note the sprig artfully shoved into the cheese.

Quy, another of our guides, is a gentle soul who in his other life works as a computer geek in Vancouver. So what is he doing with this knife?

Quy, another of our guides, is a gentle soul who in his other life works as a computer geek in Vancouver. So what is he doing with this knife?

Julia, our third guide and assigned trip leader, may use Quy's knife on me for this photo of her toes, but I couldn't help myself. And no, I don't have a foot fetish. My fascination was that these bare toes could run over sharp rocks. The last time I had feet that tough I was ten years old.

Julia, our third guide and assigned trip leader, hails from Germany and is quite charming. She may use Quy’s knife on me for this photo of her toes, but I couldn’t help myself. And no, I don’t have a foot fetish. My fascination with her toes was that they could run over anything, including  rocks. The last time I had feet that tough, I was ten years old.

And how about our fellow travelers? David is a psychologist out of LA. How much more strange can you get?

And how about our fellow travelers? David is a psychologist out of LA. How much stranger can you get than creating this mustache? Well maybe someone who kisses fish…

Well, maybe someone who kisses fish??? "But he was so beautiful," Lindy told me. He was dinner, Lindy,. Dinner.

“But he was so beautiful,” Lindy told me. He was dinner, Lindy. Dinner.

Regardless of how nervous I felt, the trip was simply too much of an opportunity to pass up. Like how could I not go on a sea kayaking adventure out among the orcas in beautiful British Columbia? As for Peggy, she is always up for adventure. When our friends Edie and David from Anchorage, Alaska called and asked if we would be interested in going, we gave a resounding yes. It turned out to be great decision. The guides, our fellow tour group members, and the incredible views were delightful. Even the orcas cooperated.

Today marks the beginning of my series on the trip. I’ll start by exploring the quaint town of Port McNeill. In my next post, we will climb in our kayaks and push-off from Telegraph Cove. The orcas are waiting. Let the adventure begin.

Harbor in Port McNeill on northeastern Vancouver Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

While the main source of employment for the people of Port McNeill is the timber industry, the town also has a charming harbor. Note the yacht in the background. It had its own helicopter.

I loved this guys sense of humor.

In case anyone was wondering. I loved this guy’s sense of humor.

Dolphin statue at Port McNeil on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Peggy, David and Edie pose in front of a dolphin statue that faces the harbor. Edie went to high school with Peggy in Ohio and runs a tax accounting firm in Anchorage. David is an Alaskan bush pilot who works on the North Slope, and is a published poet.

You are looking at Port McNeill's pride and joy: the worlds largest burl. Can you imagine this thing growing on a tree? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

You are looking at Port McNeill’s pride and joy: the worlds largest burl. Can you imagine this thing growing on a tree? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Wicked Campers is now providing inexpensive travel vans and raucous humor in a number of countries.

Tourism is also an important industry for Port McNeill. Wicked Campers caught my attention. The company provides inexpensive travel vans and its raucous brand of  advertising in a number of countries.

We were also amused by Port McNeill's unique way of fund raising where bras are decorated and then auctioned off. Which of the following three would you vote for?

We were also amused by Port McNeill’s unique way of fund-raising where bras are decorated and then auctioned off. Which of the following three would you choose?

Given the ears, I am thinking Mickey Mouse was the inspiration.

Given the ears, I am thinking Minnie Mouse was the inspiration.

Bat woman?

Bat woman? Great eyes.

Dream catcher. Ouch.

Dream catcher? Ouch. This one would leave an impression.

Flowers at Port McNeill on Vancouver Island. photo by Curtis Mekemson.

The flower shop that featured the bras was closed so I couldn’t get inside to photo more of the entries. I did capture this petunia on the outside, however.

Mist in trees on Vancouver Island sea kayak trip. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Mist in the trees. A final photo to whet your appetite. Let the adventure begin.

Albion Manor: One of Canada’s Top Ten B&Bs… A Delightful Interlude

Gargoyle at Albion Inn in British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

We stayed at the Albion Manor in Victoria, British Columbia following our kayak adventure. This character was perched on top of our cabin, the Gargoyle Cottage. I felt he was representative of the unique nature of the B&B.

I was saving this blog for the end of our kayak adventure, which is where it fits. But Peggy and I are heading for the Bay Area this weekend for our book club. And that would mean no new blog until Tuesday or even Wednesday. Can’t have that, right? (The BSBC, or Bigger Sacramento Book Club, by the way, has been meeting for a quarter of a century and has read over 250 books. It consists of the same five couples who have been members since 1989.)

Welcome to the Albion Manor in Victoria, British Columbia. It is considered one of the top ten B&Bs in Canada. Our fellow kayakers and friends, David and Edie from Alaska, had made the arrangements for the four of us to stay at the Manor to celebrate the end of our adventure. We quickly discovered why it is so highly recommended. To start with, the inn is a beautiful Victorian, and it is located within easy walking distance of Victoria’s beautiful downtown. We found a colorful collection of house boats nearby. What really captured us, however, were the flowers and artwork. The story is best told in photos, enjoy.

An outside shot of the Albion Manor.

An outside shot of the Albion Manor.

Here are some of my favorite flowers I photographed at the B&B.

Flowers at Albion Manor in Victoria British Columbia.. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Flower at Albion Manor in Victoria, British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

 

Flower at Albion Manor in Victoria, British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Flowers at Albion Manor in Victoria, British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Flowers at Albion Manor in Victoria, British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Searching for dinner, a ten minute walk from the Albion Manor brought us to a village of house boats at Victoria’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Peggy took these photos.

Houseboat at Fisherman's Wharf, BC. Photo by Peggy Mekemson.

Houseboats at Fisherman's Wharf in Victoria, BC. Photo by Peggy Mekemson.

Houseboats at Fisherman's Wharf in Victoria, BC. Photo by Peggy Mekemson.

Art is located everywhere at Albion Manor, both inside and out. It’s humorous, offbeat nature, captured me immediately. Much of the work is done by Fernando Garcia, one of the two co-owners of the Manor.

The unique art of Albion Manor in Victoria, British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

African mask at Albion Manor in Victoria, BC. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

The fat lady sings. Art at Albion Manor in Victoria, BC. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Art at Albion Manor in Victoria, BC. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

I'll conclude with a photo of  Peggy snuggling up to one of the flowers at the Albion Manor. Next Blog; I will return to our kayak adventure off of the northeast coast of Vancouver Island.

I’ll conclude with a photo of Peggy snuggling up to one of the flowers at the Albion Manor. Next Blog; I will return to our kayak adventure off of the northeast coast of Vancouver Island.

 

 

Who Needs A Barber When You Have a Starfish? British Columbia Sea Kayak Adventure: Part 3

Starfish pedicellariae can clip the hair off an arm. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Quy bent the starfish over my wrist, and it clipped hair off my arm while I took a selfie of the process.

I’ve never been much of a with-it type guy. When there is a fad, I try to do the opposite. But I confess I’ve tried a selfie or two. And I just had to take a picture of the starfish clipping hair off of my arm. When Quy picked up a starfish on our six-day, British Columbia sea kayak adventure and offered to demonstrate pedicellariae at work, I was the first to volunteer. Pedicellariae what, you say?

While you are probably stumbling over the word like I did, I’ll explain how it works. Starfish have a defense mechanism for destroying tiny parasites that land on their skin. They have tiny claws that cut the bad guys in half. If you put these claws under a microscope, they look like your worst nightmare. (Check this out.)

Quy, however, assured us that while the pedicellariae would define our hairs as enemy invaders and clip them off, there would only be a slight pulling sensation with no harm done to us. Easy for him to say, right. But that’s what happened. Quy bent the arm of the starfish over my wrist and I felt the pulling sensation. When he removed the starfish, my arm was bare. Peggy was up next.

Here is the starfish happily at home in Johnstone Strait before Quy picked him up to clip hair.

Here is the innocent starfish, happily at home in Johnstone Strait before Quy picked him up to clip hair.

And here, the starfish goes to work on Peggy. Is that a smile or a grimace on her face?

And here, the starfish goes to work on Peggy. Is that a smile or a grimace on her face?

I expected whales and striking scenery on our Sea Kayak Adventures’ trip, but hair-removing starfish, no way. The pedicellariae were only a small part of our second day, however. We kayaked from our campsite on Hanson Island to Compton Island on Blackfish Sound. Along the way we watched humpback whales and were once again awed by the beauty of the region. At Compton Island, we got to play with our food….

Sea Kayak Adventures provides a hearty breakfast to its sea kayakers.

Coffee would be waiting when we got up each morning— to be followed by a hefty breakfast. Here, our guide, Nick, whips up French toast in the make-shift kitchen.

Fishing boat in Johnstone Strait off of Hanson Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

After breakfast, we had time to go for a brief walk. A fishing boat moves between islands on  Johnstone Strait looking for salmon.

Limpets and snails are exposed by low tide on Hanson Island British Columbia off of Johnstone Strait. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Low tide exposed theses limpets and snails.

Green waters of a small bay on Hanson Island on Johnstone Strait off of Vancouver Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

We peered in to the green waters of the small bay we were camped on.

Sunlight illuminates a very green forest on Hanson Island in British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

And were dazzled by the sun illuminated green of the forest.

Sea Kayak Adventure group works its way around Hanson Island, British Columbia in the fog.

Morning fog greeted us as we worked our way around Hanson Island and into Blackfish Sound. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Seals and seagulls on an island in Blackfish Sound, British Columbia.

We checked out these seals and seagulls on a small island. Or were they checking us out? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

By the time we had worked our way around the end of Hanson Island, the sun was beginning to peak through. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

By the time we had worked our way around the end of Hanson Island, the sun was beginning to peak through. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Sea Kayak Adventure kayaks roped together in small inlet on Hanson Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

I took this picture of our kayaks at lunch. They were roped together so they wouldn’t stray.

After lunch, we followed out trip leader, Julia, out into Blackfish Sound. As you will note, most of our on-water photos are taken by Peggy. I was busy paddling. (grin) (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

After lunch, we followed out trip leader, Julia, out into Blackfish Sound. As you will note, most of our on-water photos were taken by Peggy. I was busy paddling. (grin) (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

A whooshing sound caused us to stop and search for whales. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

A whooshing sound caused us to stop and search for whales. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Peggy Mekemson prepared to photograph whales in Blackfish Sound, British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

I took this photo of Peggy poised to capture a picture of the whale with her telephoto.

Thar she blows! We spot the tell-tale spume of a humpback whale as it surfaces. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Thar she blows! We spot the tell-tale spume of a humpback whale as it surfaces. That’s a kayak paddle on the right.(Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The humpback, brought in closer by Peggy's telephoto, dives back under the water. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The humpback, brought in closer by Peggy’s telephoto, dives back under the water. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I liked the watch the waves distorted the reflection of Quy in the water. Edie and Dave look on. The other kayakers are watching the approach of a cruise ship. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I liked the way the waves distorted the reflection of Quy in the water. Edie and Dave look on. The other kayakers are watching the approach of a cruise ship. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The cruise ship. You can imagine how big the ship seems from the perspective of a kayak. You do not want to get in the way. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The cruise ship. You can imagine how big the ship seems from the perspective of a kayak. You do not want to get in the way. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Sea Kayak Adventures group relaxes on beach at campsite on Compton Island, British Columbia.

Our group, having safely navigated through the whales and the cruise ships, relaxes at cocktail hour in our campsite on Compton Island. It was right about then that a fishing boat approached the beach.

"Would you like a salmon?" he asked— and to our enthusiastic  yes, threw it overboard.

“Would you like a salmon?” he called out— and to our enthusiastic, yes!, threw it overboard.

Coho salmon caught in Blackfish Sound, British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

The ever energetic and vivacious Lindy retrieved the salmon and handed it off to Quy.

Quy was happy to pose with the salmon, until...

Quy was happy to pose with the salmon, until…

Sea Kayak Adventures guide reacts to wiggling salmon he thought was dead.

… it wiggled.

The true hero of the day was Dennis who now lives in Idaho but has fished extensively off of Alaska. He offered to fillet the fish.

The true hero of the day was Dennis, who now lives in Idaho but has fished extensively off of Alaska. He offered to fillet the fish.

Here, Dennis goes to work.

Here, Dennis goes to work.

A filleted coho salmon displaying roe. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

And displays the rich red meat, roe, and innards of the salmon. The salmon made a delicious lunch the next day, easily feeding all of us.

Photo of barnacles off of Compton Island in Blackfish Sound, British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

It was after all of the salmon excitement that we discovered the starfish, and these barnacles.

Members of our group enjoy a quiet moment at the end of the day, hoping for a whale to appear. Next blog: we kayak to Berry Island and hear a tale about Bigfoot.

Members of our group enjoy a quiet moment at the end of the day, hoping for a whale to appear. Next blog: we kayak to Berry Island and hear a strange tale about Bigfoot.

A Gorgeous Sunset and a Breaching Killer Whale… British Columbia Sea Kayak Adventure: Part 2

Sunset at Sea Kayak Adventure's campsite on Hanson Island in Johnstone Strait. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

As the day ends, one of our kayakers takes a moment to enjoy the sunset from our campsite on Hanson Island.

A post-card-glorious sunset marked the end of Monday, our first day of kayaking on Johnstone Strait off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island. Morning seemed long ago and far away— and my body spoke to just how long ago and far away that was. It had passed 71 earlier in the year and was wondering when the fabled golden years were going to start. “They are here,” I told it with a grin. It grumped. My mind and body aren’t always in agreement.

The guides and group, including Peggy and I, were in high spirits. We had successfully completed our first day of kayaking, seen stunning scenery, and watched an orca breach. We were in a beautiful setting. Our guides had just fed us a gourmet meal, and our tents were set up, promising a good night’s sleep. What was there to complain about?

We had all met for the first time on Sunday night. The session had started with the usual meet and greet. “Tell us something about yourselves.” We half listened as we composed whatever we were going to say. There were the Canadian guides, a contingent from Idaho, three mid-westerners, one Californian, and our friends David and Edie from Alaska. Peggy and I are from Oregon. We also had a family of Asians until they figured out they had come to the wrong meeting. Everyone had at least some kayak experience. David and I, along with our child brides, were the elders.

Our guides gave us an overview of the journey and then distributed dry bags and rubber boots. I debated between size 13 and 14. The 14s were a little loose, the 13s a little snug. I went with snug and wondered how my large feet would work in the tight confines of the kayak. Carefully, I presumed. Peggy and I retired to our rooms and begin the packing process— what to take and what to leave. Sea Kayak Adventures had recommended a lot and our guides had suggested less. Everything had to fit in the boats. There were important decisions to make.

Rubber boots issued by Sea Kayak Adventures.

My size 13 boots, clearly marked for all to see. I wondered how they would relate to the small rudder pedals in the Kayak.

The next morning we were up early, went through our gear for the umpteenth time, had a quick bite, and caught the taxi hired to take us to Telegraph Cove. It was time to break out the cameras.

Telegraph Cove started life as a lumber mill. Nowadays it is an eco tourism center. A couple of hundred thousand people visit in the summer for whale watching, kayaking, fishing and checking out grizzlies. In the winter, its population drops to 20. The town has done a great job of preserving historical buildings from its past.

This sign, featuring an Orca, grizzly and salmon welcomes visitors to Telegraph Cove.

This sign, featuring an orca, grizzly and salmon, welcomes visitors to Telegraph Cove. Also note the impressive drift wood. We were to find some on our trip. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Old Dodge Truck at Telegraph Cove on Vancouver Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Part of the appeal of Telegraph Cove is its preservation of the past, as with this old Dodge truck. I think the truck was confused about where its lights should be. Or maybe it was so old it needed bifocals.

Telegraph Cove is all about water as this photo suggests. Here we see the Whale Interpretive Center, a fishing boat, and kayakers. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Telegraph Cove is all about water as this photo suggests. Here we see the Whale Interpretive Center, a fishing/tour boat, and kayakers. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Empty docks at Telegraph Cove suggests all of the tours and fishing expeditions are already out on Johnstone Strait. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

The empty boat docks tell a tale. We would not be the first to leave Telegraph Cove that morning for the Johnstone Strait. Our route took us right down the row and made a right at the Whale Interpretive Center.

Once our taxis dropped us off at Telegraph Cove, it was time to get busy. There were kayaks to pick, gear to load, life vests to fit, and last-minute instructions, such as which side of our paddle was up.

Sea kayaks wait for the next Sea Kayak Adventure tour group in Telegraph Cove.

Our guides, Julia, Nick and Quy, had been up  before dawn getting ready for us. Kayaks, life vests, and sleeping pads were waiting. Group gear had already been packed. Our first chore was to pick out our kayaks. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The white boats are more stable, the guides told us. Being the oldest, David, Edie, Peggy and I decided we could use the most stability. What the guides failed to mention in the fine print was that the white kayaks were also the largest, the heaviest, and could carry more of the group gear.Translation: they would be slower and harder to move.

The white boats are more stable, the guides told us. Being the oldest, David, Edie, Peggy and I decided we could use the most stability. What we failed to think through was that the white kayaks were also the largest, the heaviest, and carried more of the group gear.Translation: they would be slower and harder to row.

Kayaks are placed in the water at Telegraph Cove. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

And then the moment arrived. It was time to put our kayaks in the water and start paddling. Put in and take out were always a group effort.

Heavy fog hung over Johnstone Strait and along the shore. We moved slowly, keeping each other in sight and waiting for the fog to clear. Large boats, including cruise ships, use the Strait. You want to be damn sure you can see them— and that they can see you. At one point, Nick, who was on rear guard duty, decided my seat needed adjusting. I was too laid back. By the time the adjustments were made, the other kayakers had disappeared into the fog. They waited patiently. We stopped and had a leisurely lunch. Then the sky turned a bright blue and we were off across the Strait. Orcas were waiting.

Kayakers work their way through kelp beds and fog in the Johnstone Strait of British Columbia.

Kelp beds and fog slowed us down. Here, we maneuvered our way through the kelp. Some of our group had almost disappeared into the mist— and they weren’t that far away. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Vancouver Island cast on Johnstone Strait near Telegraph Cove. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Working our way along Vancouver Island, Julia decided to stop for lunch and wait the fog out. The bright sun was already creating a patch of blue.

Sun illuminates forest during kayak trip on Johnstone Strait, BC. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Everywhere we went, the beauty of the forests matched the beauty of the waterways.

Lunch on Sea Kayak Adventures tour on the Johnstone Strait in British Columbia.

“Come and get it.” Julia and Nick announced that lunch was ready. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Peggy Mekemson searches for Killer Whales while kayaking across Johnstone Strait off of Vancouver Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

With lunch over and the fog lifted, we made our way across Johnstone Strait. Peggy searched the water for orcas/killer whales.

Kayakers with Kayak Adventure Tours raft up on Johnstone Strait in British Columbia when seeing a Killer Whale.

The distinctive whoosh made by a whale when it surfaced and blew caused our group to raft up, where we held on to each other’s kayaks. Edie gave us a smile while we waited, hoping to catch sight of the whale. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Orca breaches in the Johnstone Strait.

And were rewarded by one breaching in the distance. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Sea Kayak Adventures campsite on Hanson Island in the Johnstone Strait, British Columbia.

Having also been slowed down by a pod of dolphins, we finally made it to our first night’s campsite on Hanson Island. The camp is to the right of the rocks, back in the cove.

Sea Kayak Adventures leases its sites from a First Nation tribe. Each site is chosen for its beauty and its natural setting.  Camps are pre-set up with tents, a cooking area, and a primitive but comfortable and private open-air restroom. We carried our kayaks up into the camping area, selected tents, packed away gear, and then went for a hike. Afterwards it was time for cocktail hour and dinner. We finished off our evening watching the sunset— and a gorgeous sunset it was.

Sea Kayak Tours sets up comfortable tents for  guests to use while on their tours.

Peggy and I stand next to our home in the woods for the night.

Sky and clouds meet forest on Hanson Island in the Johnstone Strait of British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Our walk provided this fun photo where the sky and clouds met the forest…

Urchin shell found on Hanson Island in Johnson Strait. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

We found this jewel of an urchin shell…

And this rather odd shell/skeleton that our experts debated over. Considering this post is going up on October 30th, I am going with Happy Halloween.

And this rather odd shell/skeleton that our experts debated over. Check out the buck teeth. This guy would put a beaver to shame. Considering this post is going up on October 30th, Peggy, the creature, and I would like to wish all of you a Happy Halloween.

Back in camp, I got a happy, toothy grin from Dennis...

Back in camp, I got a happy, toothy grin from David…

And a shy smile from Julia.

And a shy smile from Julia.

Sunset over Johnstone Striait off of Hanson Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

We finished off the day by watching the sunset over Johnstone Strait. Next blog: We kayak onward to our next island.

The Murals that Saved Chemainus… The Vancouver Island Adventure

Homeowner and muralist Dan Sawatzky painted this 3D steam engine chugging out of his house/studio in Chemainus on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The Number 3 engine was used for hauling logs and is symbolic of the town’s historic lumber industry.

This is another reposting of an earlier Vancouver Island blog. Again, Peggy and I still involved in our kayak trip among the Orcas. I know many of my followers enjoy murals and Chemainus has some great ones. I’ll catch up on comments when Peggy and I get back home– before we zip off to Burning Man. –Curt

“You have to visit Chemainus and see its murals,” the woman from Qualicum Beach urged. We were on the Black Ball Ferry between Port Angeles, Washington and Victoria, British Columbia. While I hunkered down and read, Peggy made new friends. Fortunately, one of us is much more social than the other.

Qualicum Beach is next to Parksville, which was our destination. A thirty-minute conversation generated a long list of restaurants to visit and places to see. I was yanked out of my book to take notes.

Chemainus is an excellent recommendation. This thriving community is located in the Chemainus Valley on the east coast of Vancouver Island about an hour north of Victoria. In 1983 it came close to dying. The primary place of employment, a lumber mill, shut down. 700 of the town’s 4000 residents were thrown out of work.

This is the point where most communities give up. Business and political leaders spend their energy assigning blame instead of seeking solutions. Not so with Chemainus.

“Let’s cover the walls of our town with historic murals,” Karl Schultz urged. It would capture the community’s history, develop local pride, and hopefully encourage tourism. As always, there were naysayers, but Karl’s enthusiasm won out. Today Chemainus is world-famous for its murals and tens of thousands of tourists visit the town annually.

Since it was on our way and we had the time, Peggy and I decided to stop. Good decision. First, I love the story of the small community that has adopted the motto of  “The Little Town that Did.” Second, I really like murals. Following are some our favorites out of the 39 (and increasing). For a complete tour visit www.chemainus.com/arts/murals/Chemainusmurals.htm.

A colorful 1948 view of Chemainus looking down Mill Street toward the bay.

Hong Hing arrived in Chemainus in 1915 and opened his waterfront store. Over time his store would serve as a laundry, grocery store, second-hand store, bootlegging establishment and gambling den. Declining business led him to close his store in 1950 and return to China where he married a younger woman and produced an heir. Black Cat, by the way, is an extinct brand of British/Canadian tobacco.

This mural captures the Chemainus Hospital in 1904 along with two nurses and the hospital cook.

What’s not to love about a band concert?

I’ve included this mural because of its history. In 1939 Chemainus celebrated its 50th anniversary. The float entered by the local Japanese-Canadian Community won first prize. By 1942 all of the community’s Japanese had been removed to Internment Camps. It is one of the darker pages of Canadian (and US) history.

Tent houses provided quick, inexpensive housing for the early loggers, fishermen and miners of Chemainus. When I was growing up in Diamond Springs California, one of my mother’s friends lived in a tent house. As a seven-year old, I was jealous.

This big guy’s face captures both the simplicity and the power of the mural art in Chemainus.

Dressed in their Sunday best, these early residents of Chemainus reflect a time when horses competed with ‘horseless’ carriages as the primary mode of transportation.

This Chemainus mural of First Nation people captures both the original inhabitants of Vancouver Island and their renaissance today. Peggy and I were both impressed and moved by the quality and quantity of First Nation Art during our visit to British Columbia. 

First Nation Totem Poles… North to Alaska

The totem pole of Thunderbird and the Wild Woman of the Woods found in Duncan, British Columbia on Vancouver Island.

Third times a charm. Right? Peggy and I are out kayaking among the Orca whales up off the northern tip of Vancouver Island as this blog is posted. Or I should say reposted for the second time. It’s appropriate given our trip, however. We are in First Nation country and we once again drove through Duncan. And, as many of you know, I am a big fan of First Nation and Native American art. –Curt

Dzonoqua comes sneaking through the woods, hands outstretched, red lips pursed and whistling, “ooh, ooh” to attract small children who have wandered into the forests. Some stories say she eats the whiny ones. She is also known as the Wild Woman of the Woods or Mrs. Bigfoot. Her large, dangling breasts capture the spirit of Salmon. Thunderbird perches on her shoulders. His wings crash together and make thunder; his eyes shoot out lightning.

Peggy and I, along with our friends Ken and Leslie Lake, visited Duncan BC on Vancouver Island to check out the numerous totem poles carved by First Nation artists and placed throughout the town.

The close relation of First Nation people to Bear, Eagle, Raven, Whale, Owl, Wolf, Beaver, Salmon, Otter and other animals stretches back to ancient times. Families would adopt particular animals as their totems and then carve these animals into totem poles. The poles would serve to both protect and instruct the families. Some families were even known to shape shift into their totem animal. (Jacob, morphing into a wolf in the Twilight series, is a modern example.)

The arrival of whites in the Northwest had a devastating impact on the people and culture of the First Nation tribes. Disease wiped out whole populations. The practice of native religion and the carving of totem poles were prohibited. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the art of totem pole carving was revived.

It thrives today. Native artists continue to carve traditional themes but they have also extended their interpretations and honed their skills. While the totem poles and masks still serve as important mythic symbols to First Nation people, they have also become a source of pride to all who live in BC and the Northwest. I might add they have also become an important attraction for tourist dollars.

Duncan BC and native artists have done an excellent job of displaying totem poles representative of the north coast. Visiting the town, located on the Trans-Canada highway halfway between Victoria and Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, is well worth the stop.

To enhance your visit, I highly recommend stopping by the Visitor’s Center and picking up the book, “The Totem Walk of Duncan” written by Joan Chisholm and illustrated by Crysta Bouchard and R. Howe. For more information go to: http://www.downtownduncan.ca/duncan_totem_tourNEW.html

Thunderbird in flight. I loved the bright colors of this totem pole in Duncan BC.

This totem pole in Duncan BC shows the spirit of the First Nation artist in the eagle’s chest. Eagle rests on Whale and has Wolf carved on his flukes. Both Whale and Wolf provide powerful protection for the person resting his hands on the flukes.

This photo provides a detail of the totem pole above. Note the fine detail of the carved fingers.

This totem pole was meant as a thank you from one chief to another. Raven perches on top and delivers the pole. Eagle is under Raven and represents the power of the chief, a member of the Eagle Clan. The chief’s son is next. His open hand symbolizes “thank you.” Raven, like Coyote of the Southwest, is a trickster. Both are among my favorite mythological animals.

Most totem poles are highly symbolic. This is a heraldic pole. The frog on top represents wisdom, the bear below power and courage, and the seal a spiritual being that can travel easily between spiritual and physical realms. The red and black mean strength and protection. I see it as one pole accomplishes all.

The bear’s tongue and wide grin caught my attention in this Duncan BC totem pole. I thought at first he might be sampling the guy he is holding in his paws. Apparently it means he is about to shape shift.

I am struck by the sheer power captured in some of Duncan BC totem poles. This eagle is an excellent example.

A different perspective on Bear. I enjoyed looking at and photographing the specific faces seen on the Duncan BC totem poles.

If it weren’t sacrilegious, I’d name this totem pole face smiley.

And finally, a Duncan BC totem pole I simply couldn’t resist. How could anyone say no to a pose and eyes like this?

NEXT BLOG: We cross the border into Canada and are reintroduced to the delicate art of carving with a chainsaw.

Beautiful Victoria BC… The Vancouver Island Adventure

Anybody who has ever been to Victoria BC on Vancouver Island comments about the grand Empress Hotel overlooking the Inner Harbor.

The sun came out for us in Victoria. The city wanted to show off its treasures: its beautiful harbor, the grand old Empress Hotel, Parliament Building, flowers, interesting architecture, British flavor and First Nation art.

I’ve been to British Columbia’s Capitol several times over the years and am always eager to come back. This time, Peggy and I were able to share our experience with our friends Ken and Leslie Lake from California. It was the last day of our Vancouver Island adventure and an appropriate way to end the trip.

Catching the Black Ball Ferry back to Port Angeles limited our time so we focused on the Inner Harbor. I will let the photographs that Peggy and I took speak for our experience.

There are those who say Victoria BC is more British than Britain. To check out the theory, we visited the Sticky Wicket Pub for a pint, or two. Cricket, anyone?

 

The architecture of this Victoria BC building reminded me of London.

 

Two strange-looking trees dominated the grounds in front of the Empress Hotel. I thought they looked like droopy dogs.

 

The atrium of Victoria Conference Center, located behind the Empress Hotel (and connected to it), is definitely worth a visit.

 

Close up of Victoria Conference Center totem pole. Frog legs for dinner...

 

Large First Nation mask-like sculpture in Victoria Conference Center, Victoria BC. Peggy considered it her favorite among the masks we saw on Vancouver Island.

 

One of my all time favorite memories of Victoria and Vancouver Island is of flowers and magnificent gardens. We were a little early this year and we didn't make it to Butchart Gardens so these perky fellows will have to represent the flowers of Victoria.

 

Like in many historic communities, carriage rides are offered as a way to tour the city. I like the matched black horse, black carriage, and black clothes.

 

Parliament Building. Victoria is the capital of British Columbia.

 

Victoria BC's unique art-deco visitor center was once a gas station. It gives new meaning to the word recycling.

 

Yachts, sport fishing boats, and sail boats rest on the blue water of Victoria's Inner Harbor.

 

I can't resist putting in a final First Nation totem pole as I wrap up our Vancouver Island adventure. This guy rests on the edge of Inner Harbor and is surrounded by flowers, a suggestion that spring is finally arriving.

Leslie and Peggy hold hands with a bear dressed up as a Mountie. I grew up listening to Sergeant Preston of the RCMP on the radio. It was my introduction to Canada. Sergeant Preston and his faithful dog, King, always caught the bad guy. "On King, on you huskies!"

 

 

 

Port Alberni, a Seaport in the Middle of an Island… The Vancouver Island Adventure

Serious fishing boats are a reminder that the town of Port Alberni located in the middle of Vancouver Island, British Columbia is connected to the Pacific Ocean via Alberni Sound.

It felt strange to find a seaport in the middle of Vancouver Island. Our original goal had been to visit the Pacific Rim National Park but time and weather discouraged the trip. So we stopped half way at Port Alberni.

The town has a different feel to it than the Vancouver Island BC communities we visited on the east coast, more down to earth and less resort like. Saw and pulp mills once dominated the city’s economy but today the timber industry prefers to ship its logs off to China.

The good news here is that with the demise of the pulp mill the salmon returned and today, Port Alberni is the center of a major sports fishing industry. Like Campbell River, it bills itself the ‘Salmon Capitol of the World.” I suspect there are some interesting politics at work here.

The surrounding mountains, lakes and wilderness have also made the Alberni Valley a growing center of ecotourism.

We stopped at the visitor’s bureau to pick up tips on what we should see. And here it is time for an editorial comment. Canada’s neighbor to the south could really learn something from British Columbia about the promotion of tourism. Not only do most communities have information centers, they are normally very attractive, staffed with friendly, knowledgeable staff, and filled with information.

British Columbia and its communities do an excellent job or providing attractive, information packed, visitor bureaus. This bear welcomes visitors to Port Alberni BC.

These doors into the Port Alberni Visitor's Center feature a First Nation theme and are another example of how attractive and welcoming the centers are. The US could learn a lesson from BC and Canada about the promotion of tourism.

“You have to visit Harbor Quay,” was the recommendation for the short time we had. So we did. The Quay provided a beautiful view of the Alberni Inlet that makes its way out to the Pacific Ocean and provides Port Alberni with its seaport status. The presence of fishing boats reminded us of another major Vancouver Island industry.

After lunch, Peggy and Ken took advantage of a carved Thunderbird and eagle for photo ops. We visited small shops and downed some of the best cake donuts we’ve ever eaten. It was then time to head back to Parksville. Port Alberni and the Alberni Valley definitely deserved more time.

Alberni Sound leads out to the Pacific Ocean. Clouds and rain limited our view.

 

My friend Ken Lake bravely sits beneath the grasping talons of a plunging eagle at Port Alberni.

 

Peggy prefers to play peekaboo from beneath the wings and all-seeing eyes of a First Nation Thunderbird. The Thunderbird makes thunder by flapping his wings together while the eyes shoot out lightning.

Road Trip to Campbell River BC… The Vancouver Island Adventure

Once again, we were impressed with the First Nation art of British Columbia. I photographed this carved face of a First Nation man in Campbell River BC on Vancouver Island.

We stopped the car and dashed for the restroom. Our day had started with a 16-ounce cup of Serious Coffee and we had serious business to attend to. (Serious Coffee is Vancouver Island’s Starbuck equivalent, plus. We were impressed.)

16 ounces of serious coffee called for a serious stop on the road to Campbell River, Vancouver Island BC.

It was only after we reemerged into the world that we noticed the gorgeous view our much-needed stop provided. We were on a road trip following Highway 19 A from Parksville on our way north to Campbell River along the East Coast of Vancouver Island BC. Our eyes (and cameras) were drawn to the towering coastal mountains of mainland British Columbia, which were set off by the dazzling blue of the Georgia Strait.

One glacier carved mountain was particularly dramatic. Its side had been sheered off by ice and reminded me of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California where I have roamed for 40 years. Possibly one of my Canadian readers can provide a name for the mountain.

The dramatic coastal mountains of British Columbia as see from Vancouver Island across the Georgia Strait on Highway 19 A. The sheer face of the glacially carved mountain captured our interest.

Campbell River has adopted the name ‘Salmon Capital of the World.’ Sports fishermen, including Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, have been making pilgrimages to the area for decades.

We didn’t see any salmon but we did enjoy more First Nation art and visit the very impressive Museum at Campbell River (http://www.crmuseum.ca/).

This First Nation totem pole gazes out toward the water in Campbell River BC.

 

I found this carving amusing. Not sure the First Nation folks would agree but Ringling Brothers came to my mind.

 

Ken Lake poses on an old logging truck in the Museum at Campbell River. The museum features native masks and local history including logging and sports fishing. It is well worth a visit.

 

Cathedral Gove: Green and Sacred… The Vancouver Island Adventure

Looking up at the towering canopy of trees, one easily understands how Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island in British Columbia received its name. There is both beauty and a sense of the sacred.

An Episcopal Minister once asked my daughter why I wasn’t in church.

“Oh, he’s out wandering in the woods,” she replied. “He considers it a sacred experience.”

“You can’t get absolution from a tree!” had been his angry retort.

I suspect the man had never hiked in the wilderness and experienced the sense of peace and healing such an experience can bring. Maybe he should have checked in with St. Francis. As for me, I go along with John Muir who said, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”

I find any natural area, even a tree on a busy urban street, worthy of appreciation. But some areas deserve special attention. I’ve wandered the world to find them.

Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island in British Columbia is one such place. Ancient giants of the tree world call it home. This is a land of Red Cedars and Douglas Firs, some reaching 250 feet in height and dating back 800 years. It’s known as an old growth forest, which means it’s a rarity, one of the few forests to escape the relentless chainsaw.

This springboard tree attests to the fact that even a beautiful area like Cathedral Grove was subject to the woodsman's axe. Loggers cut the holes in the tree so they could put in planks to serve as a base for cutting the tree down. The bouncy nature of the plank gave it the name springboard.

Gradually we are learning to value and protect wilderness areas but it is a race against time. Driven by the desire to maximize profits and acting under the guise of job creation, timber interests continue to value forests primarily in terms of board feet produced.

As Peggy, Ken, Leslie and I hiked along the trails, we were struck by the beauty and greenness of the Grove. Hopefully my photographs below capture what we experienced. I found that http://www.cathedralgrove.eu/ provides a good overview on the Grove and the issues relating to protecting such areas.

An inviting path led into the green forest.

 

Ken and Leslie Lake, along with Peggy qualify as Tree Huggers.

 

Roots of a Cathedral Grove forest giant tower behind Leslie and Peggy. A sign at the entry warned that trees fall during wind storms and that visitors should vacate the premises. Sounds like good advice.

 

Reaching toward the sky, Cathedral Grove trees can reach a height of 250 feet.

 

Typical of Pacific Coast rain forests, moss covers everything, providing another definition to 'being green.'

 

Beyond the greenness, I also found the twisted shape of limbs interesting.

 

No imagination was required to turn this moss-covered limb into a forest sprite. Or maybe it was a forest sprite...

 

Speaking of sprites, it appears that Ken might be shape shifting into one in this photo of him along with Peggy and Leslie in a giant tree hollow.