Cut Off

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

The Prairie Cinema

“It is Tuesday, isn’t it?” I ask.

The local theater in this small Midwestern town looks shabby, dark, and uninviting. The October air is too chilly for waiting by the door, and yet Gary and I don’t want to give up so easily.  We sit in the truck to watch for other movie goers. Showtime is 7:00 p.m. Supposedly! About five to seven, a car parks in front of us and a young man gets out.

Gary jumps out to talk to the new arrival. “Do you know if the theater is open today?”

“Yes,” the young man says, “I’m just going to open it.”

It turns out he is the projectionist, ticket seller, ticket taker, usher, popcorn salesman … everything.

We expect worn wooden chairs, planked floors, and clapboard walls to match the exterior of the building. To our surprise, we are shown into a modern theatre with a red carpet and plush velour-covered seats.

“You can go on in and sit down,” the projectionist says. “I’ll turn the heat up a bit for you.” We exchange smiles.

It feels odd being the only patrons, but we shrug and settle down to watch the trivia entertainment until the previews come on. At this point, the sound becomes garbled.

“This isn’t good. Can’t he tell there’s something wrong with the sound?”

“I’ll go tell him,” Gary offers. When he comes back the sound problem is fixed. “Our young man was out in the lobby chatting with someone and hadn’t noticed.”

Three other people show up about 7:30, just as the main feature begins. Locals know how it works.

But with such a small turnout, how can the theater stay in business? I do some quick figuring.  At $5.50 each, the total take for the evening, not counting candy and popcorn, is $27.50.

And how ironic, that in this tiny hick town with only one bank, tonight’s movie is “Wall Street.”

After the movie, as we wait for the truck to warm up, we have a good look at the outside of the building.

“Look at the long-ago facelifts these outside walls have had,” I say. “And all from different time periods. Brick facing, vinyl siding, old dark brown wood shingles. Doesn’t seem to go with the new red carpet and plush seats inside.”

Gary points to the side of the building. “And look at these lights. The projectionist must have turned them on while we were inside.”

Last year’s flashing Christmas bulbs light up the sign welcoming patrons to the Prairie Cinema. They may not have been quite ready to open the theater for this evening, but they are definitely ready for Christmas.

Sailors’ Delight


The saying goes something like this:

Red sky at night,

Sailors’ delight.

Red sky at morning,

Sailors take warning.????????????????????




I’m happy to say this was the red sky at night, therefor, sailors’ delight.

Somehow, someone had figured out the weather patterns by the look of the sky. The old salts would have been very aware of the changes in the sky, just as the new salts are aware, although the latter have the help of modern meteorology and constant weather updates on their VHF radios.

Still, they hang onto the old beliefs. Some sayings, such as the one about the “red sky ” are wise and based on common sense, while others make about as much sense as an old wives’ tale.

Here are some other bad luck superstitions that fishermen still pay attention to (even if they don’t outright believe in them):

!. Never start a trip on a Friday.

2. Never open a tin can upside down on the boat.

3. Never whistle on a boat. You’ll whistle up the wind.

4. It’s bad luck to change the name of a boat.

5. Being followed by a shark brings a boat bad luck (I can believe that one, especially if I were planning on dangling my hand over the side!)

But a sailor at sea,

(though it’s not for me),

is something that many

would love to be


A blog that mentions sailing and superstitions of sailors can be found at Victor Tribunsky’s fabulous travel blog. Just click on his name. You’ll be amazed at the many places Victor has been and has told about. His photos are excellent.

Do you have any superstitions that nag you? Maybe you don’t really believe them but you still don’t tempt fate by going against them?

Sea Lions

The tiny community of Fanny Bay on Vancouver Island has a very small population (something over 800 people) but I think it would be half as large again if you could count the sea lions that have taken up temporary residence there. At first it was only a stopping place for the Steller sea lions but in recent years their smaller cousins, the California sea lions, have traveled farther up the coast following the food source.

At this time of year when the herring arrive to spawn near the beaches of Vancouver Island, the sea lions have decided they like the sheltered east coast of the island. Later, many of them will move farther north and also onto the west coast of the island open to the Pacific to chase the salmon in the summer, much to the annoyance of the commercial fishermen. The last thing they want to see is a sea lion following their trolling lines, eating every fish they are lucky enough to hook before they can even think about bringing it aboard.??????????

The photo above shows only a small fraction of the clusters of sea lions of both types that are now living here, quite close to people and boats. Some even try to get aboard.


Let’s go fishing!

I’m not sure I’d want to have my sailboat anchored so close to these guys. I suppose the side of the hull is high enough so they can’t climb aboard, but I wouldn’t be dangling that crab pot on the stern. Sea lions can leap up from the water high enough to make me nervous if I were aboard.

If you click to enlarge some of the photos, you may see that many of the sea lions have battle scars. The stories they could tell.


Sea lions don’t sound much like lions, but rather more like dogs — huge ferocious dogs with over a thousand pounds of weight pushing the deep vibrations out of their fat throat. “OW! OW! OW! OW!” they bark in their baritone voice. I couldn’t help wondering what they were saying.


The size difference is not always immediately apparent, but when you see the California sea lion (on the left, below) next to a Steller sea lion (the paler one on the right, below) you can easily believe that there is a difference of more than a thousand pounds between them (about 660 lbs. for the adult male California sea lion and 2200 lbs. for the adult male Steller sea lion).


They don’t seem to mind lying side by side on the breakwater, although none of them is giving up his spot, real estate being at a premium.

One thing I wondered about, is why they sit with their head thrown back. Several theories occurred to me:

  • they’re just enjoying the sunshine
  • they’re letting their last meal digest (since they swallow their food without much chewing)
  • their head is so heavy that by putting it back over their shoulders, they don’t have to hold up the weight and strain their neck.
  • they’re being snobbish
  • they’re trying to escape the smell

If anyone knows the real reason, I’d love to know.


The ones who are not lucky enough to get a place on the breakwater simply raft up together nearby. They seem to be relaxed enough, floating on their backs, noses in the air for easier breathing as they doze.

Their main enemies are humans, sharks, and killer whales. Safety in numbers.??????????

Another raft of sea lions. They seem to be everywhere.

A Steller sea lion in the photo below is quite content to rest his chin on the California’s backside. Cal doesn’t seem to mind. “Oh, Stella, Do that again. Yes, right there. Scratch harder. Feels so-o-o-o good!”



After a while, the uninterrupted clamour was enough to have me digging frantically in my purse for a couple of Advils. I suppose I could have done what this fellow did – book an island retreat and go for a soothing swim all alone, far from the madding crowd.

Spider Hideouts




Camped near a beautiful beach in Mexico, we often bought our fruit and vegetables from the produce truck.  One day, I lugged home three big bags of vegetables.

“Coming to the beach?” Gary asked.

“You go ahead. I’ll be down right after I clean these veggies,” I grumbled, slapping at the tiny biting flies. I soon gave up trying to work outside and brought the vegetables into the bug-free trailer to clean them in my little kitchenette.

Done at last! Now for the beach and a cool swim. I hurried outside to bring in my bathing suit from the clothesline we had strung between two coconut palms. I was about to step into it, when I let out a shriek. A brown critter about the size of a wolf spider was waiting for me inside the bathing suit bra.

Anyone passing by must have gawked at the bathing suit flying out the doorway.


I was late getting to the beach that day, and although the water was refreshing, I couldn’t relax. Other swimmers must have wondered at the woman who kept pulling away the top of her bathing suit to look at her boobs.

That evening, we sat at the kitchen table playing cards and relaxing with an Oso Negro gin and peach juice. I tidied up the last few things before getting into bed.

Gary had just finished brushing his teeth and as he came out of the bathroom he heard me GASP! His eyes followed my arm as I pointed to the corner of the trailer. There, clinging to the ceiling, sat the biggest spider I’d ever seen. The fuzzy dark brown visitor had a body the size of my thumb and could easily straddle a saucer. If I had been a screamer they would have heard me all the way to Mazatlan.

“And I’ve been sitting there playing cards all evening with that thing poised over my head,” I wailed.

I handed Gary the fly swatter. “If it gets away,” I said, shakily, “I’m not sleeping in here tonight and I’ll be on the plane tomorrow.”

“It must have come in with the vegetables,” he said, as he tossed its crumpled body outside.

And where had it been while I sat there cleaning them? I wondered. Hiding in the cauliflower leaves? How close had I come to touching it? Shivers ran down my back.


The next day we visited an open air market. I admired the handmade wooden cutting boards and picked one up to study the grain. Something ran over my hand. I threw the board into the air and squealed, “Una araña!” The vendor laughed and seemed unperturbed as I pointed to the gigantic spider running in his direction.

I was having serious thoughts of home. But imagine missing all this fun.

Colourful Evenings

The closest I can come to experiencing some colourful evenings in my own version of Fifty Shades of Grey is by looking at the colour of the sky on any given day of this past winter. We’ve had what feels like about three months of fog, cloud, wind, and rain in various combinations and every possible shade of grey.

Suddenly we’ve had a few days of clearer skies.

I had forgotten how beautiful the clouds can be when a few rays of sunshine are allowed to reach them.


Beyond my still “winterized” black walnut tree, I see a sky that looks as if it has been painted by an amateur watercolour artist. But what a lovely palette of colours the painter has.

??????????I feel hopeful that spring is just around the corner. If only I knew which corner it was, I’d run out to meet it.