Having gone from the Hamilton/Burlington evening straight to the airport, and having passed a short night, Graeme Gibson and I were off to Vancouver very early Friday morning. Alma Lee and Barry Auger met our late plane, and we rushed over to the south terminal and hopped onto a small Orca prop plane. The weather was bright and clear – the first such day they’d had for a month – so everyone was happy.
Once at the tiny Tofino airport (west coast of Vancouver Island, maps, pix, much more at: http://www.tofino-bc.com/ and also http://www.tofinotime.com), we were shuttled to the spectacular Wickanninish Inn, right on Chesterman Beach. I was first in this area – which also has Long Beach and Wreck Beach – back at the end of the sixties, as the hippies and their driftwood shelters were dwindling, and as the road to the Victoria shore was being built. Then, in the early 70s, Graeme and I stayed in the old Wickaninnish, which burned down shortly afterwards. Dr. Howard McDiarmid and his family – long residents of Tofino and this beach area, and instrumental in creating Pacific Rim National Park — liked the name so much that they used it for the new Inn, established in 1996. (See the pictures for a view of the beach, Graeme and I hadn’t been back to the beaches and Tofino. for a while, and were amazed at the many changes.
One of the first things we heard was that Tofino’s Peter Devries had just won the international Cold Water Surfing Championship, against steep odds and stiff competition, amid the rolling breakers we could see right from our window. Everyone was excited about that!
We weren’t there to surf, however – surprised? — but to participate in the Winter Writers’ Series, which has now been going on in Tofino for a couple of years. The presiding genii are Alma Lee, who gathers the writers together – she knows many, as she was the first Executive Director of the Writers’ Union of Canada, and then founded the Vancouver Writers and Readers Festival; Dorothy Baert of Wildside Booksellers (and sea kayaking, and espresso bar featuring Karma Vancouver-Island-roasted organic coffee, (http://www.karmacoffee.com/); Gloria Lorie of the Canadian Tourist Commission; and Charles McDiarmid, Director of the Wickanninish Inn (www.wickinn.com) . The Wick had special Winter Writers’ Series packages, Gloria leant support, Dorothy was chief go-to for the open-to-the-public event on Saturday, and then there was more…
Our suite was just as you’d hope: surf pounding, ravens croaking, Cocoa Camino organic chocolate bars and Café Pangoa in our room; and much fine carving everywhere around. (www.levelground.com/cafe_pangoa) The weekend kicked off with a Wicki reception for their guests and the writers (we behaved ourselves, mostly); followed by an exceptional dinner at the Pointe Restaurant, hosted by Gloria. On Saturday, after a walk through the rich coastal rainforest woods past Henry’s carving cabin, we went to the public reading, held at the Tin Wis (Calm Waters), (http://www.tinwis.com/), a resort on Clayoquot Nation land. This event was a fundraiser for the Raincoast Educational Society, where it was standing room only, and sometimes sitting-on-the-floor room. Graeme did his slideshow & talk of The Bedside Book of Beasts, and Alma Lee helped me open my session by joining in a singing of “The Holy Weeds,”for which she’d been practicing for a week. The audience was warm and attentive, and asked a lot of very good questions.
Chef Margot Bodchon put together some very inventive canapés, using local ingredients and incorporating Native traditions. Here are their names:
Organic Buckwheat & Roasted Root Vegetable Crepes with Cold-Smoked Pacific Wild Salmon & Cream Cheese
Baby Fried Bread with Hot Smoked Alder Wild Salmon and Parsnip & Potato Purée
Sundried Blueberry, Cherry, & White Chocolate Scones with Organic Chevre and Wild Berry Compote
Dutch Chocolate & Organic Espresso Mini Devils Cakes with Fresh Strawberries & Cream
Sweet Bannock and Lemon Chantilly Cream
Everything was delicious! This is why you gain weight on tours! Which we did, despite the long walk on the starfish-spangled beach that we took afterwards.
On Sunday, the day began with a brunch at Charles McDiarmid’s family’s house/cottage, built right on the rocks with the surf swirling up… The Winckaninnish chefs and staff prepared a tableful of treats, including more luscious cold-smoked salmon, home-made jams, local cheeses, a delicious quiche-like item… relaxing on front of the cozy fire, we were very spoiled. Then we all talked about writing, and told war stories from the early days of the Union, and wandered verbally hither and thither, into and out of the thickets of politics, animal behaviour, writing practices… This session, we were told, was a popular item, and Charles – never having done it before – plans to repeat it. Coming up: Yann Martel and his wife Alice Kuipers, February 21-23, 2010; Joseph and Amanda Boyden, October 2010.
At eleven o’clock, Graeme and I put on the gumboots and slickers provided by the Wick (“rain forest” = rain), and set out with the wildlife biologists: Bob Hansen, Peter Clarkson, and Adrienne Mason, of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. They took us to the calm side of the peninsula, an area of mud flats and eel grass, where we watched several thousand ducks, some shorebirds, and a slightly menacing eagle. We heard some stellar wildlife tales, reminisced about the days of fire and forest rangers, and talked about many things… Why did 9 million salmon just suddenly disappear this fall? Why don’t people get it that scraping off the sea floor is creating the equivalent of a desert down there and will result in a severe dearth of fish? More: local wolves are becoming almost marine — swimming in the ocean, digging clams, eating river otters. Cougars are appearing near towns because the replanting of clear-cut forests produces a cover so dense that deer cannot browse, and as they move into more open spaces, their predators follow. (Do not run alone in cougar country. You look like prey.)
Then Peter produced some stratospheric butter tarts made by revered Sobo Resturant (http://www.sobo.ca/main.html) baker, Jennifer Scott – see picture of them – and we ate them up, gaining yet more weight. Then Peter presented each of us with a very special Bird Band. Graeme’s was EH, a very Canadian call sign, eh? Mine was FO. Peter said he had been considering FU, but he had already used that on another occasion, attached to an actual bird. I think he gave me FO because he had a bunch in mind that he was kind of hoping I might say that to, sometime. Or maybe because of the sad fate befalling most of the human race in. As I often tell people, writers get to be spokespersons because they don’t have jobs as such, and therefore can’t get fired.
I put the FO band on my binocular strap, where it remains, awaiting deployment.
That evening – after Graeme and I and Alma and Barry and Dorothy had snorkelled up the SoBo’s picnic brought by Dorothy – I dreamt of a cougar-protection collar. Cougars typically jump on you from behind and go for the place where neck joins shoulder, so the collar would stand up around the neck like a sort of vampire-cape collar or old Mephistopheles outfit, and it would have shoulder and neck padding, and light but strong reinforcement, like the spider/goat thread produced by the hybrid splice in Montreal. With it, you’d wear a mask on the back of your head, like the ones recommended for tiger country.
I told this to Bob today, on the phone. He said it wasn’t a bad idea, and that local First Nations lore had it that if attacked by a cougar you should lie down (thus protecting the back of the neck) and keep your eyes open and looking at the cougar. I offer my collar-backward-face combo to anyone who wants to test-drive it. Not a mass-market item, but for local craftspeople, hey! Maybe a roaring business! As it were.