July 4th: Victoria Ferry to Sayward Canada
The Port Gamble S'klallam tribe pulled to Port Angeles a week ago, a three day pull that was filled with good weather, exceptional tide timing and splendid views of puffins, eagles and deer. It was a pull that readied the canoe family for the longer pulls to Bella Bella. And after taking a week off for financial reasons, we were so ready to start pulling. Logistically, however, we needed to catch up to the other tribes, who were located in Sayward, Canada.
Some Shots from Fort Flagler to Port Angeles
So it was at 8 o'clock in the morning that all pullers and our very small ground crew packed their dry-bags and totes into the trailer and headed out in two vans to catch the Victoria Ferry in Port Angeles, Wa. Spirits were excited in anticipation for our upcoming journey, but there were also many nervous pullers. For many of the crew, this journey will be their first time stepping out of the reservation and going on a trip out of the states. There were also many in our crew who would be leaving children, grandchildren and parents behind for more than two weeks. I shed tears leaving my preschoolers behind for the journey and fought with myself for a week before deciding to take the entire pull to Bella Bella, so I could really connect with those who were anxious and homesick from the beginning of the journey. Even so, after picking up Bridget Young at the Gliding Eagle gas station, we said goodbye to our home and started our very long van trip to Sayward. 1
The trip to Port Angeles was sleepy and uneventful. The Victoria ferry was a much shorter commute than I imagined it would be, and lightened my homesickness. The youth and Georgie Sparks sang enthusiastically the entire journey to Victoria, much to the amusement and pleasure of many of the Victoria passengers. The singing put my heart in the journey a little more, and I felt very thankful to be among such culturally enthusiastic pullers.
Being obviously white, I was also amused to be approached, several times, by tourists asking, “Are those real Indians?” I didn't know how to answer that, so I said, “As opposed to fake Indians?” I'm not sure my sarcasm was taken well, but I like to score one when I can. Anyway, I eventually answered that they were pullers for the Port Gamble S'klallam canoe family, and that mostly just got me raised eyebrows and confused looks, so I think my first answer was probably fine.
As fun as the trip on the ferry was, and as interesting as the trip through downtown Victoria was (narrated, the entire time, by our favorite back seat narrators: Dean and George), we soon found ourselves on a very long car ride in misty, gloomy weather. The van seemed to fall asleep as soon as the rain started to fall, excepting our front seat comedian, Bridget, and our van driver, Kelly Sullivan. I needed to take notes for posterity, so I, too, stayed awake.
I am going to indulge in a little side note and say that it was pretty awesome to see the town of Duncan again, as it is the town immediately next to the Cowichan tribe. Since my honeymoon was with the Port Gamble S'klallam tribe on the Journey to Cowichan, 2008, it made me very happy to see something familiar in all that was unfamiliar.
The trip was not a short one, and with one van sick passenger (sorry we put you in the back seat, Ryan), we were never more happy than we were when the van got to Sayward wharf. That is, until we realized that our trailer of supplies and tents had yet to get there. Sayward was drizzly, but very lovely. It looked, to me, like an Irish moor. The fog hung onto the middle of the distant trees and a light mist covered everything in sight. If the mist had stayed and the rain had held off, it might have been romantic.
Unfortunately, the mist turned into a heavy downpour and we were putting our tents up in the rain, around 9:30 p.m. I immediately sought out the high ground and quickly put up my tent, with the enthusiastic help of Paul, one of our additions from the Jamestown S'klallam Tribe. I attempted to help Dean and George with their humongous ten person tent, as well, since I could see no reasonable way they were going to two-person that job. We all rallied tolerably well, and put our tents and camp station up in the rain-drop dark.
We were told to get warm and as dry as possible in the case that we were to pull to Adam's River in the morning. There were rumors that the winds might be too high, but Laura Price, our skipper, wanted us prepared for a pull just in case.
Some Snapshots from Victoria Ferry and Sayward
July 5th: My 30th Birthday, A No-Pull Day in Sayward
I woke to the sound of bears in the tents (as Sonny from Elwha poetically calls the rolling snores of our campers). I turned to get more comfortable in my sleeping bag and realized that everywhere I turned there were puddles gathering on the inside of my tent. Not the most fun way to start a birthday, but I figured the puddles were a sign that I should get up and make some effort to clear my tent of puddles before it soaked into my journey clothes. Sonny, our chef extraordinaire, made a tasty breakfast of oatmeal with nuts and berries. We tinkered with our new propane coffee pot, and I rustled up some paper towel for a filter so that the wetness outside could be put off for a bit with something hot to hold. Joe said it only tasted a little bit like paper towel, and mostly tasted like coffee, so I called it a success. I opted for hot tea in lieu of paper towel coffee, not trusting my make-shift coffee filter.
I was so thankful for our skipper and for Bridget today, as their forward thinking in buying international plans for the journey allowed me the chance to call my family and hear my kid's voices on my 30th. I will not lie and say that I didn't contemplate hitchhiking home for my birthday, but, in the end, my loyalty to the canoe family (and the disagreeable weather) kept me at camp. Had it been a sunny day, you may not be reading this epiblog.
Thinking about missing my birthday, my anniversary, and my son's second birthday started to break my heart a little, so I got my bath stuff together and went to the showers. As any canoe journey goer knows, a hot shower on the journey can make you feel like the richest person in the world. And being able to shave made me think that I might be strong enough for the journey, after all, so I rallied my spirits and made it back to camp, where a lovely rendition of “You Thought We Forgot It Was Your Birthday,” sang by Sonny, made me feel very special.
Having tasted my questionable coffee, Laura thought it might be good to have an outing in search of camp necessities--specifically filters and vegetables for our lunch stir-fry (as we were not allowed to take veggies from the U.S. into Canada). We stumbled across a weekend farmer's market just down the road, and we all got out to look around. We cleaned out a local gardener's stall--unloading all of his snap peas and broccoli. One indoor stall also sold coffee, sans paper towel, which, I guess, is fine, if you like that sort of thing.
Because we are pampered, we decided to keep driving in search of filters, so we made our way to a local gas station, where I quickly purchased camo duct-tape, in order to fix the only pair of sandals I had brought with me on the journey. Don't judge me as unprepared. Those were 8 year old sandals, so I just figured they had more life left in them. They broke the first day. With the help of my camo tape, I figure they have at least a journey's worth of life left. Tad found filters, Laura found ice and Eric found candy for Nazoni to get hyped up on, so it was a good run.
Before lunch, I took a nice walk with Tad to the wharf. Along the way, we got to share some slightly horrifying but hilarious camp stories. Tad's “pee in the jar” story takes the cake over my “thought we were camping but were actually homeless” story any day. We met up with Gina, Nancy and Linda and escorted them to our camp for lunch. At camp, Sonny had made a chicken stir-fry that almost made me forget I was married. I wanted to take him home right then.
I was also surprised by a couple impromptu gifts after lunch. Bridget gave me a delicious dark chocolate bar and Paul gave me his brand new pair of water shoes, so that I would not have to trudge around on duct tape shoes all journey long. I am feeling pretty fancy, indeed, and very thankful that there was another camper who had feet as big as mine. I hear tell that there will be salmon for dinner tonight, graciously provided by some west coast tribes, and, if those tales are true, I can see this shaping up to be a perfect birthday.
*Later on the 5th*
We did have salmon! And fry bread, and salad, and fruit and soups and clam chowder. Still drooling a little. It was tremendous. All present tribes sang a thank-you song to our west coast hosts for their delicious, extravagant meal. I was given a closer place in line because Bridget is the sweetest lady in the world and wanted me to get a quick meal on my birthday.
After dinner, my canoe family did the impossible: they embarrassed me throughly, which is pretty hard to do when you're born as ungraceful as I am. They herded me into the middle of a semi-circle, and called attention to my three decades of existence in front of the community of tribes eating their dinner. I insisted that I was 29, again, but no one listens to me. I attempted to hide my blazing red face, but Georgie sweetly removed my hood from my face and chided me for trying to hide.
After making me feel simultaneously uncomfortable and loved with the very public “Happy Birthday” song, we prayed for tomorrow's journey as a circle. I miss my family today, but the generous support from my canoe family has made me feel that this is one of my best birthdays. I can see my blessings acutely, and I pray that I can remain positive, even when longing for my family tugs at me. We live in a vast and beautiful world, and I cannot wait to see more of it. I hope we pull long tomorrow. I've heard Alert Bay is breathtaking, and I feel so lucky to be able to see it for myself. My canoe arms are itching for a workout.
July 6th: Alert Bay (Namgis Tribe)
We had a not too early start today, as our family planned on leaving around 7 to pull. Sonny, however, was up before the sun and had the help of Scott and Kathy, Jamestown, in making some exceptionally good breakfast burritos. I'm have been trying to stay on my paleo diet, but I can see that's going to be impossible with such a great cook around. Oh, well, we have high hopes that today will be a heavy pulling day, and that we will work it off. I sure hope so because I had seconds.
We left Sayward at about 7:30 a.m. and I was chosen for first crew, thank goodness, because I was so ready to warm up after being soaked by the morning rain. We were a crew of 9 women strong and Jeromy, who only just barely passes as a man. It was a wet pull, against the current, but we were hauling it. Our captain told us that we were moving fast and steady, despite the current. I think it was Gina's chant that made us pull harder. I can't recall the whole thing, but it was a “pump you up” type chant. There was, at one point, a phrase about “a crew of nine women strong, and Jeromy, who is not a sheep or a she or might be a chief.” As you can tell, some of the chant got lost in translation, so Jeromy ended up being called many things, the poor guy. We sang our hearts out to the “Women's Warrior Song” and tried out hands at singing “The Blackfish Paddle Song,” since we were really eager to see whales.
Though it was rough, we pulled for two hours and were disappointed when we had to switch crews, since we felt like we could pull all day. But, the second crew was itching for some exercise and the wind was changing directions, which was perfect for sailing. Lucky for Laura, she put Tad on second crew, since he is our resident sailor. Those lucky pullers were going almost 6 knots with the sail up! It was actually really fun to watch, and, I am sure, more fun to do.
Eventually, the weather started to be more unpredictable and the wind was so high that the sail was blown out of place. Tad got minor injuries when it knocked him about, and they had to come in out of the waves. They came in fast towards the Curlew, the wind making it hard for skipper to steer. The bow of the Nookayet could have been severely damaged had Dean not been the heroic seat one that he is. He pushed off from the Curlew as hard as he could, and ended up with a minor hand injury (probably from getting it wedged in between the boat and the canoe). Thanks to him, we have a much less damaged bow in the Nookayet. There was a small crack from the impact, but it is small and fixable. Needless to say, we decided to tow the canoe for a while, so that we could save our pullers and the Nookayet from further injury.
We towed past the big waves, taking turns steering the canoe through the waves, and pushing it back with poles when the waves pushed it too close to the Curlew. I am sure we looked ludicrous, like rouge dog catchers, only with a pole and noose for catching a canoe instead of an animal. Paul, Bridget, Vicki, Tad and I are now experienced canoe tamers, however, and have some great pictures to prove it.
First crew got to go out again, when the waters calmed, and we pulled a good 1.5 hours, with the help of Tad and the sail. Sailing was phenomenal! We felt so light an fast. I need to learn to sail better so I can claim a seat for longer pulls, like Tad. We were pulling against the current, so the sail really saved our arms. It was a rocky ride, going over small swells against the tide. The waves and bumps did no favors to my canoe butt. I foresee a sore pull tomorrow. We had a slow switch when we changed crews, and are working on making the transition between crews faster, especially in rough weather. Gayle tried to fall in during the switch, but we got her in the Curlew before the small swells could have her. It's tough switching when the boat and canoe are unsteady, but we get better every time.
The Curlew pulled into Alert Bay as the sun started to come out from behind the mist. First crew removed several layers of wet clothing and watched as second crew pulled into the shore on Alert Bay and back to the Curlew, after asking permission to come ashore. It was a small greeting by the Namgis Nation, but I hear their Big House and performances are second to none. I hope the museum is open because I've heard some wonderful things about their displays. I'm nerding out very impatiently, right now, as it is precarious to dock the huge Curlew, and it might take a while.
We were able to find a place to park our huge vessel on a questionable looking dock, which was caution boarded off, and hailed as unusable. Here we were using it, though, since there was no where else to go. I had to escort poor Gayle over broken boards, protruding nails, large gaps of water, and over to the safety of the well maintained portion of the dock. We all survived and I was highly amused by Gayle, clinging hilariously to me and muttering about not wanting to die on the docks at Alert Bay.
We beat our tents to camp, so Tad and I took to wandering, again, as is my habit to do, and is clearly something he is also game for. We walked past an old boarding house, which was decorated with signs reminding visitors of the harsh conditions Natives faced in these culturally oppressive institutions. It was chilling and in your face, and I couldn't help but think about what a powerful form of survivance it was for the Alert Bay community to call their past what it was, to showcase the good and the bad and to overcome it. It was awe inspiring. We walked the beach afterwards, and then headed for the boardwalk, which was impressive. The walk was very new and had several outlooks facing the bay, scattered throughout. Each outlook had an impressive carving hanging over the entrance. The art here is so different from our community, very colorful and free form.
Speaking of different, we passed a house that had a good sized totem pole in front of it, that made us both stop and look twice. It was hard to tell whether the man on the carving was riding, killing or doing something unsavory to the whale he was on. Either way, it stayed with us, and was certainly different from anything you'll see on the Port Gamble rez. Alas, the museum was closed and dinner was calling us back to the Big House, so we made our way back from the ferry dock to our camp, a very cool walk in my favorite stop thus far.
The Big House was breathtaking. Huge totems sat on both sides of the Big House. A large painted canvas was situated in between the totems in order to close and open the floor in between performances. Leaving and entering a Big House is taken very seriously here. Performances are treated as sacred, and the blazing fire in the middle of the Big House is a beacon for the performers; it fuels them and is kept burning throughout.
Dinner consisted of dishes of salmon, halibut, smelt, herring eggs on seaweed and hickory, and salads and soups. I could have stayed here for good, and gorged myself on good food and amazing dances. The Namgis tribe, our hosts, followed the meal with the most memorable protocol performances I will ever see. Masked dancers with intricate stories, elders in regalia moving in time and perfect rhythm, young children pulling and dancing as gracefully as fully grown adults...I will never forget this protocol for as long as I live.
My favorite dance from the host family was the dance that involved the abandoned canoe puller, who turned into something beastly in order to survive. It was chilling the way in which the dancer shied from the other dancers who rushed to shoo him away. He squealed and rocked his head menacingly. It raised goosebumps along my arms, and I could not stop watching the display. I felt I was watching something ancient and secret.
After the host's dancers had finished, they invited all tribes to participate in some social dances. Francine waved me over, and I cannot say “no” to an elder, so I took my duct tape shoes off and stepped onto the powdery dirt floor of the Big House. It was, actually, a lot of fun to dance near the roaring fire, alongside my cousin and so many enthusiastic dancers pressed up against each other, laughing, sweating and moving by the warmth of the fire.
I'm a crowd wary person, but I felt pretty comfortable. It was nothing like dancing next to strangers in a club. It was about shared passion, spiritual camaraderie. It was uplifting and I must thank Francine for urging me to come, since my wariness of crowds would have prevented a spiritual experience, otherwise. The only downside is that I learned that Francine is a MUCH better dancer than I, and that any grace of spirit I have does not translate to grace in my steps. It was a a transcending day, to say the least.
But, I am showered and well worn. Sandwich crew is calling, as we will need our strength on the waters tomorrow, so I should probably go help with that before dropping off. It is supposed to be a shorter, 20 mile, pull tomorrow, and I hope the sun continues to shine on us. I brought plenty of sunscreen.
July 7th: Fort Rupert, Tsaxis Kwakiutl Nation
The morning was misty when we woke, but we could feel that the sun was shining just out of reach. We packed our damp tents and camp, and were given our pulling assignments. I was given second crew, this time, so that we could take turns landing.
We were confused as to the number of miles were were pulling. We heard anywhere from 12 to 20, but we figured it ended up being closer to 20, since it took us a good 6-7 hours to get to Fort Rupert. Though it was windy, the waters were not good for sailing. When sailing was suggested, Tad said that the sail would only be helpful if we wanted to end up back in Alert Bay. I was still hoping to see the museum, but everyone else wanted to get to our next destination, so we did without the sail. It was a wind-heavy but sunny day. The currents were not in our favor for most of it, but we pulled almost all of the way, towing only when our destination was in sight but the current would not allow us to get any further.
The electrical in the Curlew had a glitch, but our awesome first mate, Dick, fixed it up, so we didn't have to resort to a pee bucket for the rest of the journey. Thanks, Dick! We like being spoiled. I dropped a pee bucket in the water last year, and I never want to repeat that exercise again.
The landing at Fort Rupert was very welcoming. Jeromy Jones was very brave in speaking for his tribe, and we were all proud of him. I hope the practice helps him to be less nervous, as I truly think he could grow to be a great youth leader, with the right amount of confidence and guidance. I was very proud of my little cousin today. It's nerve wracking to represent your entire tribe, I'm sure, but he did wonderfully.
The Tsaxis Kwakiutl Nation sang us to shore, and we were given the task of helping to haul the canoes to higher ground. I hadn't done some real hard-core canoe hauling for a long time, so I jumped at the chance. After about 7 canoes, though, my enthusiasm waned and my new shoes had a new hole in them, so I left it to the remaining canoe carriers to pick up my slack. I earned a large shoulder bruise carrying an immense blue dug-out canoe, to go with my conglomeration of arm, back and leg bruises, so I'm starting to look pretty tough, or, in the very least, low on iron.
The best part of the landing, though, were the nearly ten eagles just flying, sitting and resting on the Fort Rupert beach. They were so abundant and so large that all our crew could do was stare. It's nice to see one or two eagles flying around Point Julia, when we are lucky, so seeing so many in one place was awe inspiring for us all. The youth immediately started feather searching, and so did I. Eric even found a feather that day, the lucky guy!
The Tsaxis Kwakiutl Nation provided pullers with salmon sandwiches and fresh vegetables for a snack, and had a dinner of roast beef, soups, salads, breads, pastas and halibut. If every stop we go to has halibut in Canada, I might be moving.
Our campground spot was well set up when we got to it. I chose the perfect spot for my tent, facing the water. Just past a little rope swing, I could see our landing site, the beach and the canoes in the distance. The waters were a heart rending teal green. My tent flap faced paradise, so when I heard there were no showers in the campground, I shrugged my shoulders and stared out at my temporary slice of heaven. If these waters, those short, rolling green peeks are my good morning, I can do without a shower.
Speaking of showers, Vicki and I were feeling, as she put it, a little like a salt lick, so we decided to improvise. We warmed some water over the camp stove and had a little hair washing session in the large sink of the camp bathrooms. It takes a true companion to wash your hair, so I'm feeling very close to Vicki now. After we were cleaned up, Vicki and I got our hair styled by our camp hair stylist, Nazoni Price. We both looked pretty lovely when we were done, and, thankfully, Nazoni did not listen to Tad when he suggested that I would look good in corn-rows.
To get him back for that one, I suggested that Tad needed his hair styled too. Curiously, it took about ten minutes longer for Tad's hair to be done, and he got a full cup of water poured on his head in the process. It was hard not to compare the end result to Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber, so I think it's safe to say that he got his for his snark. Nazoni knows how to get what she wants, though, and she even squeezed a tip from our Mr. Sooter. Well played, Nazoni. You're gonna grow up to get exactly what you want in life.
Paul, Vicki, Tad and I walked to the Big House together for protocol, and witnessed a small portion of Nisqually's protocol, which was really fun. We were happy to have not missed the social dances, but also happy that our canoe family did not know were present, as they could not ask us to dance if they did not know we were there. We felt relatively safe from being called out, and were able to watch as Gina, Bridget, Fran, and Kathy did a partner social dance. Kathy picked a young, handsome partner, and Vicki and I gave her props for knowing what the dance was all about.
Our tribe came up in protocol very quickly, as three tribes were not present when called to perform. There were a smattering of Port Gamble Canoe Family members present, but we were not the normal protocol singers and many of those present were from different branches of the S'klallam tribe, so we were a little nervous about being called to sing. But, thanks to Sonny, the fast thinker, we were able to pull something beautiful off.
He sweetly suggested that we honor our host's recently fallen chief by singing a prayer song. It was a song we had just learned a few nights back, and Francine was to lead it, since she knew it best. We were all quickly coached by Sonny, and figured we were as ready as we could be. Sonny announced that he wished to keep our portion of protocol short, but that he wanted to acknowledge the hosting tribe's loss. Our voices and efforts combined, we were able to sing a lovely prayer song, and were honored when the crowd stood to hear it. It was very much like the Shake. My body felt the need of the departed's family and friends, and the song came forth more from spirit than from memory, since I did not know the song well. It was a beautiful experience, and I wish that all of our canoe family could have been present. I was thankful that Francine, Denita, Gina, Tad, Bridget, Sony, Vicki, Paul and Kathy were all there to help lend their voices.
I felt even more saddened that our canoe family could not be there when we passed them heading our way, by van, to protocol. They were almost on time, and I could see the disappointment in Joe's face, and on the faces of our young men and women. It is clear, to me, that protocol is Joe's joy and that he is joined in that by many of our youth and by Georgie Sparks. I know there will be other protocols, but I couldn't help but feel let down with them.
The walk home was a fun one, with Paul, Vicki and Tad. I made Tad recount his “pee in a jar” story and Vicki and Paul surprised us with a story that was eerily similar. I cannot believe I got to hear to “pee in a jar” stories on one journey. Some of us finished off the night by sitting by the campfire and talking. I slept so well that I had only one dream, and it was of my canoe family. I am homesick, but my heart is clearly in the present moment.
Snapshots of Alert Bay/Fort Rupert Camp, Just Before My Camera Died
July 8th: Fort Rupert, 2nd Day/Gwa'sala
Today was designated as an “off” pulling day. Laura very seriously considered pulling to our next stop, as they are willing and gracious hosts and are providing us dinner and lunch. They are also a designated traditional stop, one that was scheduled in 1993, as well. It was an emotionally wrought decision for Laura because the waters were still supposed to be rough, and she did not want to risk our safety. In the end, she was very sad to choose to stay put for the day, but I think she made the decision in our best interests, and we will be attending the dinner hosting later tonight. Laura has so much on her plate, as our only skipper on a very long journey, and I respect her decisions and can see how much they weigh on her. I hope to learn to bead so that I can properly gift her for all the hard decisions and the efforts she put forth for us, both on and off the water.
Since it was an off day, and I wanted time to write and proofread my book, I decided to offer my services as the camp launderer. Tad, Denita, Gayle and Georgie opted to help with laundry duty, so Ryan drove us to Port Hardy. Half of us unloaded at Port Hardy Marina, which was very busy, so Gayle and Georgie were sweet enough to take half the laundry to a laundromat up the road.
Once there, Tad downloaded some of his gorgeous pictures, while I tried to locate an empty washing machine, but there were at least three other tribes doing laundry, so it was a process getting it all washed and dried. Tad was sweet enough to use his Canadian currency to help me shower (since the local bank would not give me Canadian currency). In reality, I figure it was only half selfless, as no one wants to be around someone who hasn't showered in days. Either way, thanks, Tad. The Port Hardy Marina showers are my favorite showers so far--private, clean and HOT. I turned the knob to scalding, and luxuriated for a while. We will soon be aboard the Curlew for a few days, as the next few stops are sans campgrounds, and showering will not be an option, so I made this one count.
Journeys really make you count your blessings. Things like showering and sleeping on dry land are luxuries, truly, and it make me see how very spoiled I am at home. But I'm also seeing how much I have been longing for the unknown, an adventure, unpredictable and new. Being a mother of preschoolers, unplanned and unpredictable just aren't on the menu, so I really appreciate the excitement of every day on the journey. I don't as much appreciate the smell of untaken showers, but it's a small thing compared to the unfettered feeling that this adventure gives me. Routines are wonderful for my littles, but momma is a nomad at heart, and I didn't know how much I needed to be free to roam until I was let loose. I am up for anything, at this point, even doing laundry one washer at a time and showering every four days.
July 9th: Port Hardy/Fort Rupert/Gwa'sala
We had a very busy, interesting night last night. We went to dinner and protocol, located in the Gwa'sala gym. I was taken by the generosity of a tribe, who clearly have much less than many of the tribes around Washington State. But they gave all they had, and treated pullers with reverence. In the Port Gamble S'klallam Tribe elders are always fed first, but the Gwa'sala tribe escorted all the pullers from every tribe to the front, even removing themselves from the line in order to make room for us.
They had fish stew, hamburger stew, various meats, salads and breads. A great meal from a tribe that gave all they had and more. The protocol was short, for the most part, but I was really touched by the speech a Squaxin man gave on the floor. He asked for silence in the gym, and respect for the Gwa'sala tribe. He iterated that wherever Nations come to sing and pray together is a Big House, a spiritual place, and reverence and respect must be given to those performing.
He spoke of protocol in respect to the Shake: a spiritual exercise. Having participated in the Shake, I could see how the Big House ceremonies were certainly similar, and it was nice of this man to remind everyone that no matter where we gather to sing/pray it is sacred. It was particularly important for the Squaxin Tribe to be heard, since many of them were going home that night, afraid for their crews and support boat in the rough weather to come. The open waters leading to Bella Bella are dangerous, and it is clear that they took the dangers very seriously, but that their hearts were heavy to make such a hard decision.
I was able to participate and learn two of our dances, which is unusual for me, since I prefer to sing over dancing. I tried my best not to look like a rube doing the paddle and owl dance, but Nazoni and the twins, Mariah and Karrin, out shined me with their grace, which is as it should be, I suppose. We sang about four songs, though, and I truly enjoy singing. I was humbled by the appreciation of my canoe family for my voice. I do love to sing, and am happy that my voice is a welcome addition to my family's protocol.
After protocol, a bus took us to the marina where the Curlew was located, and we readied loaded our camp stuff onto the Curlew, in preparation for our time camping on the boat. Crews were divided and I was, again, placed on first crew, which I was thrilled about because me and my crew would be having a night pull, taking the Nookayet to the Curlew. My arms and mind were ready for the exercise. And pulling at night is exactly the kind of adventure that seemed to appeal to us all.
We got the Nookayet in the water, thanks to the help of some head lamps and some strong volunteers at the beach. We pushed out from the shore in front of Fort Rupert, and put our paddles in the water. We were soon even more elated to be in the canoe at night when we discovered a phosphorescent star stream glow following our paddles through the waters. We paused in the middle of the pull to run our hands through the phosphorescence.1 We played for a few minutes, in the brilliantly lit waters, trying to capture a magic that we would never be able recreate with words. I was a little sad that we had not chosen to keep our photojournalist for this pull, since it would have been nice to have it photographed, but I am not likely to ever forget our magical night pull to the Curlew. I think we all felt that our night pull was a good omen for the days to come.
I was one of the lucky women who got to sleep in the inner quarters of the Curlew, and was blissfully warm for the first night in a few days. Those who braved the cold of the deck have my eternal admiration and thanks. My blood was not well suited for ocean air, even though my whole body longs for it. I slept very well for a few hours, but the lifting of the anchor soon woke me. We were awaiting a few members from the Kyuquot tribe, who lost some of their support before Bella Bella, and took off as soon as we had them boarded.
We were happy to take a few people on board our Curlew, though the quarters were tight with more than 30 of us roaming around. I was personally excited to see that one of the women who came to the sleep quarters was a very nice lady I met in the showers at Alert Bay, Mary. It was a full-circle effect, and I felt it was meant to be that she and her husband, Tony, whom we had already talked about in the showers, had come to board with my canoe family. Mary, Tony and boys, we loved having you aboard the Curlew. Thanks for sharing our vessel and your stories.
We went as far as Port Hardy, where Tony docked the Curlew and where we were able to get a few more hours of sleep. It was where we were to stay for longer than we had anticipated, due to reports of high winds on the open waters.
When we woke, we were told that today would be a no-pull day, much to our disappointment, but that also meant that many could shower and wander. Since wandering is one of my favorite things to do, I was not too upset by our circumstances. I got my shower stuff together an trekked a few miles to the Port Hardy Marina, where my favorite showers were housed. I was greeted like an old friend by the woman who ran the till at the Marina, which was sweet. After showering, I walked back towards our dock and came across the Guido Cafe, which, I noticed on passing, had a good amount of books available for browsing.
I bought a chai tea and sat down next to Francine, who had found the most comfortable seats in the cafe, located conveniently by a large bookcase. Francine, however, had a heavy spirit, upon hearing some sad news from home. She had just learned of the passing of a friend. So I sat with her, in silence. There is not much one can say when life is taken or worn out, but I feel that companionship can help ease the pain a little.
While at the cafe, Fran was taking advantage of the wireless of the Guido Cafe, and she inadvertently stumbled across something that revived our spirits: a meme about boyish haircuts on women. It was a “What I think I look like” vs. “What I look like” meme. The short cut image of some famous, beautiful stars (what I think I look like with short hair) was contrasted with the image of Jim Carrey from Dumb and Dumber (what I actually look like with short hair). The image reminded us both of Nazoni doing Tad's hair, and we had a pretty good laugh about the coincidence. It may have been a coincidence that made our day brighter, and we were both thankful for the levity of stupid memes.
Fran soon decided to head back to the Curlew, and Tad took her comfy spot, since it was next to a power strip, wanting to charge his computer so that he could download his beautiful images and work on his blog. (For far better pictures than I could ever take, visit Tad's photography site, for this journey: http://tadsooter.smugmug.com/Other/Tribal-Journeys-2014/). He was very kind to offer me the use of his computer for what was supposed to be my journey blog. However, we were told to pack light, and Tad takes that mandate more seriously than most of us, so he forgot to pack the charger for the computer. I told him not to worry about me, and to work on his pictures, as they were far more interesting than my writing anyway, and that I would blog about the journey when I got home.
Tad, however, reminded me that I couldn't rightly call my writing a blog if it did not occur in the present moment, and I had to concede that he was right. It was then and there that the “epiblog” was created, and I only wish I could take credit for said name. Alas, Tad was the genius of that word play, and I must give credit where credit is due. Tad and I sat in silence, involved in our various artistic pursuits, except to talk about the shape of Alert Bay (just look it up) and the book selection of the nearby shelf. I picked up a really awesome tiger book, thanks to his recommendation, and will have something to read on the way home, and to gift to my husband when I return.
It was nice to have a day to pursue my writing and reading, but the adults had some mishaps that had to be dealt with. We, unfortunately, had to send a youth home, and hearts were heavy among both the youth and the adults. It's not easy to have discord and we hope that a good resolution will be reached. We love all of the youth, and it is the responsibility of the adults to look out for them as parents. That is not always easy to do, and it was particularly difficult for Gina and Laura to make the decision they made.
Later that night, the entire camp went to catch a bus for Fort Rupert, where a few tribes graciously offered to sponsor dinner, since most tribes could not pull due to bad weather. Having spoken to our meal planner, Linda, I know that it takes months to plan to host a meal, so it's a pretty big deal for any tribe to do so last minute. Unfortunately, attempting to catch the bus was harder than we thought. Having more than 30 people in our camp made it impossible for the local bus driver to pack us all on, due to local regulations and due to the weak suspension of the small bus. In the end, all but five of us could fit on the bus, but Bridget took charge and insisted that the twenty odd people on the bus should stay, and that we would find a ride. And when Bridget says she's gonna get a ride, she always seems to. It's actually amazing to watch that woman get what she wants.
Sure enough, after not even a half mile of walking, Bridget and Gina hailed a mini van that looked to be headed in the right direction. We all know what a journey van looks like, because it's covered in window paint and looks sad and overloaded. This was exactly the type of van the girls called to a stop, and it happened to be a Squamish tribal van. Hat? nungsen, Squamish, for the lift, and for sparing your suspension for fellow pullers.
We rode five deep (Denita, Georgie, me, Gina and Bridget) in the back of that minivan, the smell of burning rubber and the faltering squeak of the suspension following us the entire way. I held a fairly good core workout, since I was hovering over some beautiful paddles that I refused to sit on and break. Holding a squat for ten miles makes a girl hungry, and I was ready to eat by the time we pulled up to the Fort Rupert gym. The Squamish tested the structural integrity of their van for us, and we will be forever grateful because the ten minute drive would have been a good two hour walk.
After an impressive dinner that took the volunteers all day to make, we were asked by Saul to help gift the tribe that hosted dinner, and we could not agree more that they deserved it. Gina brought out one of Brian's prints to give to our dinner hosts. I hope that having his art cross the boarder will help him in his endeavor to be a full time artist, as he is, hands down, one of the most talented Native artists in Washington state. It was kind of him to donate his prints, and the print we gave at dinner was very well received.
We were humbled by the kindness of a Vancouver Island van and of the Suquamish tribe in agreeing to take us back to the Curlew after dinner. Thank goodness for the kindness of cousins and strangers. We all settled on the Curlew for the night, and were pretty worn out from a day of logistical, emotional, and transportation issues.
July 10th: Port Hardy/Fort Rupert, still
We are in Port Hardy again, and my muscles yearn for the pull. We are all eager to get closer to our destination, though, so I am not alone there. I miss my kids so much, and having the time to think about it makes me sad. Every baby I see, every fair headed kid that strolls into Guido Cafe makes me tear up. I decided to keep my mind occupied by staying busy, so I opted to run around with Paul and Tad, who were given the job of locating a specific tow line for the Nookayet. We went to three stores, but finally hit the jackpot at Reddenet in Port Hardy, where they had every kind of line imaginable. We were also looking for a specific washer to help secure the eyelet for towing. Paul called the washer a “wedgie washer,” but he should have called it the illusive washer because we all searched for that damn thing for hours and not one store had it. It was a very long day of walking for Paul, Tad and I, but it was nice to be occupied, and I love spending time with both of them, since they are both pretty great guys in my book (or epiblog, as it were).
I took another awesome Port Hardy Marina shower, which was worth the extra couple of miles. I talked with my favorite Port Hardy Marina workers, and said “goodbye” for what I hope will be the last time. I am wilting now that I've showered. I must have properly worn myself out looking for the “wedgie” washer. Hopefully we will pull tomorrow, or, in the least, tow, now that we have strong tow line. We walked our wayward youth to the greyhound station just down from the dock this morning and said goodbye. I pray that our spirits, and his, are lifted soon because it was a sad occasion. Hopefully, there will be no like glitches in the future, and we can focus on being positive for the remainder of the journey.
*Later that Evening*
Some of us decided to go to dinner for a pot luck at Fort Rupert, which was a brilliant undertaking, and ensured that the responsibility of dinner would not fall solely on one or two tribes. I went not for the food, but to see one of my favorite stops for the last time. Getting to the dinner was even more of a production than yesterday, if that's possible. Bridget, in her usual fashion, found a ride for some of our family in a van headed that way. That left Laura, Paul, Vicki and I to hitch a ride on the local bus, which we figured would be a piece of cake, since there were so few of us. Wrong again. We got to the bus and the driver informed us that he was not headed to Fort Rupert today, but that he could drop us off at the park and ride near a trail, a ten minute walk to Fort Rupert.
We figured that was better than nothing, so we paid the grumpy driver and took the bus to the park and ride. The driver must of thought himself a fine comedian, on top of being the least helpful human alive, because he warned us to “make a lot of noise on the trail” before speeding off. I imagine him laughing manically about his reference to the local wandering bear as he closed the doors in our faces, but I've been told my imagination is a little colorful, so it may not have went that way.
To keep our minds off being eaten, we talked loudly and picked huckleberries and salmon berries down what looked to be not a trail but an abandoned two lane road. It was a little eerie to be walking down a two lane road that was flanked on each side by dense brush, but we managed to get to the end of it and find a sidewalk that led us into town. I would like to mention my genius here, if I could. I was given charge of the halibut we were to bring to the potluck before leaving the Curlew, but when I saw that Bridget would probably get there before me, I decided to hand her the bag to take. I have never been more happy I was not carrying deliciously fragrant halibut in my life. If I had been, the walk may have ended in me being eaten. Or Paul. Vicki was planning on pushing me over to save herself, but I was doing the same for Paul. I can't push my skipper, and I'm sure Vicki could take me, so he was the last resort for bear bait. Sorry, Paul, but nice guys finish last. And you're super nice.
On our walk through Fort Rupert, Laura pointed out that the new shoes Paul had given me seemed to be worn, and I told her it was from moving canoes when we landed. This spiked a lively demonstration on proper canoe shuffling from Laura, so as to avoid lost or damaged shoes. She made the shuffling motion, laughed and said, “It kinda looks like a dance move,” which brought on our best idea ever.2 We decided that Port Gamble needed to have a comedic dance for protocol, and that it would be “The Canoe Carry Shuffle.” Vicki, Laura, Paul and I were in hysterics coming up and acting out the moves. Let me give you a little taste of what you might see for the Paddle to Nisqually:
The Canoe Carry Shuffle Dance Moves:
1. The duck and stumble
2. The canoe shuffle
3. The LOG! LOG!
4. The Damnit, my sandal fell off!
5. The slide and switch
6. The On the shoulders! or Waist High!
Needless to say, the song will have a fast, shuffling rhythm and the singing must be accompanied by a few gasps, groans and yelps. I can't help but think that our dance will be an instant hit, once perfected.
We ate dinner, and were surprised when some of our youth dropped of a bag with a cooked crab in it. We have some awesome youth in our camp. I don't know where they got the crab, but it was so good and reminded me of home. The Suquamish, again, escorted us back home and we are so grateful for their generosity.
Once aboard the Curlew, we were given the news that we would be leaving Port Hardy tomorrow. We are all in such high spirits with the promise of a pull, that we all started singing. Dawn, Jeromy, Dean, Karrin, and Mariah started it off by singing a song that came to one of our youngest pullers, Dawn, and it just kept going all night. Dawn, your song is beautiful. Thank-you for sharing it. I went to bed long before our singers on the bow did, but I have to admit that falling asleep to the sound of their voices has become my favorite lullaby.
July 11th: Open Bite, Wuikinuxv Nation
Writing this epiblog entry a day late, since it doesn't matter anyway (you would have never known if I was not the honest type), and since yesterday was a busy day. We towed in the night through the Charlotte Straits. The waters were so rough that half of our crew was up during the night getting sick, especially those sleeping (or rather, being tossed about) on the bow of the ship. I was not seasick, but I was directly in the walking path of those who were getting seasick, so I did not sleep well, either. Some of the crew (Laura, Skipper Tony, Captain Tony, Dick, Paul, Tad and a few others) did not sleep at all, but were up keeping an eye on the canoe and the rough waters. And so it was with much enthusiasm that we stopped for lunch at one of the most glorious places I will ever see in my life: Open Bite.
Our skipper was finally able to put her head down to sleep after a rough night, when we pulled into Open Bite, but the pullers aboard the Curlew could not wait to make it to the beautiful shore of Open Bite after the rough night on the water, so we asked Skipper Tony if he would be willing to let us pull with him in their tribe's canoe to go get lunch for everyone. At this point, we thought that the tribe hosting our landing and lunch, the Wuikinuxv (Oweekenoo), were going to have a simple lunch that we could bring back to the boat. We were wrong, but I've never been happier to be wrong. We ate like royalty on that white sand beach: traditionally cooked salmon (which I helped prepare!), sandwiches, salads and drinks were all unloaded from their reservation to the beach. They did this with so little effort and with such good spirits, that I have to think that they are used to being on boats and out of the way.
Before we ate, however, we stepped out of the canoe and onto the silkiest sand my toes have ever encountered. When my deck worn feet hit the ground of the beach at Open Bite, I felt like a thousand, warm, tiny angels were giving me a foot massage. This effect could have something to do with simply being happy to not be on a rolling boat, but the result was a spring in my step. I ran in circles around Nancy and Francine like a crazy person for a bit, then went off wandering. I was looking at some berries and contemplating whether they would poison me or not, when I looked down at my feet and saw a lovely long feather. It was a female eagle feather! I picked up the feather and proudly brought it round to the other pullers, who immediately started combing the beach in search of their own feathers.
After finding the feather, I felt justified in more wandering, and found myself looking at tide pools and anemones that made their home there. I walked the warm, teal waters of the shore and did a little more tide pool searching on the far end of the shore, where I found Karrin holding a few hermit crabs in her hand. I looked underneath a few large rocks and noticed that there were hermit crabs everywhere! Open Bite was both beautiful and rich in wildlife. My mind was blown, and my spirit was completely at peace. The spirit of the pullers who pulled an all-nighter must have been at peace, as well, because Tad, Vicki and Paul quickly fell asleep on the silky warm sand.
Denita, in her wisdom, decided that a sleeping Tad is an easier Tad to take a picture of (since he's usually on the move). Also, he looked adorable holding his camera protectively against his chest while he slept, so she really couldn't help herself. She was writing, “Hi, I'm Tad” in the sand next to our photojournalist, when a brilliant idea hit me. She took a picture of “Hi, I'm Tad” and then made way for me. I quickly wrote, “I love camera” in the sand next to our sleeping photographer, and the way in which he held his camera made for a fit of quiet laughter and a picture that I will always love. Several photographers stopped by to take a picture of our little prank. If said picture becomes a meme, Denita and I are sorry ahead of time, Tad. It was too perfect.
The splendor of the day was topped off by the Wuikinuxv Nation asking all present tribes to flotilla up from the shore, and do a circle of the waters. We were happy to see that our skipper, fully rested, filled the Nookayet with Captain Tony, Greg and Carol (of the Sea-Ya), some pullers who had opted for rest in the Curlew and a young man from another tribe. So, she was able to join the flotilla and bring the Nookayet to the shore for landing. The landing was spectacular. The beauty of the beach was coupled with the grace of the welcome from several elders and a chief of the Wuikinuxv Nation. I will never forget that landing.3
The evening of the 11th was just as magnificent as the afternoon. Tony had a brilliant plan to get us both exercise and keep us out of the wind for the night. He suggested we pull to a nearby inlet, a couple of hours closer to our destination, and stay there for the night. All of us were thrilled to be pulling again. Being first crew, I was sad to give up my position after only an hour of pulling, but my sadness lifted upon seeing the inlet.
A shell covered beach faced our anchor position. It was so beautiful and inviting from the deck of the Curlew that we begged Laura to explore it. Some of us even got our camping gear ready, in hopes that it would be a good place to stay the night. Those of us who came ashore made our way to a rocky hillside to watch the sunset. The pinks, oranges and yellows of the sky were set against the greenish-black backdrop of high hills in the distance, and the dark blue of the open water stretching out in front of us. Paul, Laura, Denita, Bridget and I sang in quiet reverence to the setting sun. I felt I was thanking God for one of the most perfect days in existence. There was nowhere I would have rather been at that moment, and I know I will only have to bring that beauty to mind if I ever feel sad, and it will brighten my day.
A few of us loved the inlet beach so much (or loved the idea of sleeping off of the Curlew so much) that we decided to sleep under the stars. We could tell that a tent would be impossible due to a high tide, but we thought we could huddle together, up high and be relatively safe from it. Just for good measure, Paul walked us to a fishing cabin higher up in the woods. It looked to be recently used, if a little creepy. But, to Paul, it was full of memories. He remembered the cabin from the 1993 Journey to Bella Bella and recounted his memories of staying there with his crew 21 years ago. The memory was so dear to him that it endeared the cabin to me. It would have been a good option, but some pullers were not convinced that it was not the start of a chainsaw massacre scenario, so we opted for sleeping under the stars.
We made it back to set up our bags for the night, and some of the crew from the Curlew came to the beach to sit around the large fire that Paul, Dean and Tad stocked. My mind and body drifted as I listened to the sound of my fellow pullers sing by the fire. The tide was quickly approaching and the mosquitoes were out in full force, though, so they eventually said their good nights and left Bridget, Nancy, Paul, Tad and I to sleep on the inlet. Paul was a dear and stayed awake a lot of the night, keeping an eye on the tide, but I fell asleep with my head deeply in my sleeping bag (hiding from mosquitoes). I think I tried to steal Tad's mat and Bridget's pillow in the night, but I can't quite remember, as the night was a blur of watching the stars, listening to the approaching tide and hiding from mosquitoes.
July 12th: Bella Bella, Heiltsuk Nation
I woke to Paul, Bridget and Nancy cheerily singing to a very sleepy looking Tad. I think that the 6 a.m. “Happy Birthday” was taken pretty well for the 28 year old man who had yet to have his regular five cups of coffee. The three cheerful adults woke up to search their surroundings, while Tad and I decided that hiding from mosquitoes and trying to get more sleep was a better option. We all eventually got our stuff together, though, and Bridget handed out some granola bars that she had stashed in her bag in order to attract bears to our sleeping spot. Okay, maybe that wasn't her agenda, but the surprise food left us feeling lucky that we did not get any nighttime visitors.
A few people greeted us in the morning and brought us back to the Curlew, where Francine, Vicki and Linda outdid themselves with a delicious salmon hash for breakfast. We circled up to sing two renditions of “Happy Birthday” to Karrin, Mariah and Tad (19, 19 and 28), and I think we all felt that it was pretty lucky to have so many special people come into the world on the same day. I hope Tad and the twins feel as appreciated and loved by their canoe family as I did on my birthday, a few days back.
I was first crew to pull, but I was not eager to do so this time, as I was heavy hearted leaving our little inlet. It was like saying goodbye to one of my favorite memories. I hope, twenty years from now, that I can return and brave sleeping next to the tide again. My spirits were soon rallied by the enthusiasm of my fellow pullers, however. We would be in Bella Bella before the night was done, and I would soon be reunited with my babies and husband. We are all praying we see whales today, as a fisherman we passed in the inlet led us to believe that it was a very good possibility.
After our pull, Vicki and I made an impromptu apple/coffee cake on the Curlew for the birthday man and young women. Neither of us had experience cooking in an oil stove on a boat, during rough-ish waters, so I think it turned out pretty good, considering. We didn't have a lot of materials to work with, so I was impressed that our Bisquick cake was pretty delicious. I was also able to finally charge my phone today, which died a while ago. Yay, pictures!
It was a long day of some pulling and a lot of towing, but no one had a longer day than Tad, who pulled with the Quinault canoe for 12 hours. Happy birthday to him! Quinault, you are a very dedicated pulling crew. Tad left us a birthday boy and came back a birthday iron man. We were so happy to see that Tad survived his pull, that we sang a very loud and off key “Happy Birthday” when we saw the Quinault canoe come in to the soft landing in Bella Bella.
We met up with our long departed ground crew (Joe, Sonny, Nazoni, Kathy and Scott) at a red house on the Bella Bella reservation. Our hosting family, led by the generous matriarch, Phylis, was wonderful. They gave us use of their house, their facilities and even fed us baked bread, halibut and spaghetti upon our arrival. Thank-you so much for being so generous, host family. The Port Gamble S'kallam Canoe family loves you. Sleep was easy, as my heart was light, and my tent was dry.
July 13th: Bella Bella Landing Day
I woke to the sound of eagle whistling. They were so insistent that I wake, that I had to peek my head out of the comfort of my tent to look for them. I did not have to look far. One male was resting on the stair railing to the house and one was on a telephone pole above our tents. Still another, young eagle was whistling in the tree behind Adam and Ryan's tent. I don't think I would ever get used to such a magnificent sight.
I decided to take myself off of the landing crew, due to my very white complexion and the fact that so many of our youth wanted to land. I think it's important that the young ones that worked so hard to come to Bella Bella be there to represent their tribe. Laura keeps trying to tell me that I'm not “Just as Spouse,” and, certainly, I am treated like family, like a member of the Port Gamble tribe, but I still think it's important that the young tribal members experience the landings first hand. Don't worry, though, skipper, I feel just as loved and respected as any of the Port Gamble pullers. Bridget, Paul, Denita and a couple of the youth also opted to stay on firm ground, to watch the Landing. Bridget and I were given the task of finding half-n-half for Captain Tony and getting a hold of the Pink Paddle flag, if we could, so that our canoe could honor our promise to land with the Pink Paddle flag displayed.
And when Bridget has a mission, she gets it done. There was no half-n-half to be had in all of Bella Bella, so we bought whole milk and creamer (and smore fixins' because yummy) from the local store and made our way back to camp. We were close to camp when we saw a group of lovely elder women in intricate black and red regalia get off at the wrong dock, so Bridget and I escorted them to the next dock over and down the hill to elder's seating. They were so full of joy and thanks for us, and so excited for the landing that their happy spirits were contagious. We felt lighter by simply being around them.
We got our supplies back to camp, and faced the next challenge: getting to the Curlew and the Sea-ya who were anchored away from the docks. This little inconvenience was nothing to the amazing Bridget, though, and she soon found us a ride with a very helpful man named Jason, who was more than happy to take us to our boats. Thanks, Jason! Here's a tip when you want something done: send good looking ladies to do it. There are few people who will say no to a nice, good looking lady. Bridget and I had a wonderful brunch with Tony (who loved that we tried to find him half-n-half), Dick, Greg and Carol (on their boat, the Sea-Ya). Then, we lifted anchors and made for the landing site.
*Bella Bella Landing*
The landing at Bella Bella was the most amazing landing I have ever witnessed. There were anywhere between 30 and 50 canoes (depending on who you talked to), and they created a huge flotilla just a mile from shore. The pullers on the canoes took turns leading in songs, and Bridget and I sang along from the Curlew and the Sea-Ya, trying to lend our voices and our spirit to the celebration from our place in the water. We were able to get our Pink Paddle flag to the Nookayet just in time for the final landing procedure, so Bridget and I could sit back and relax, having accomplished our tasks.
The canoes circled the waters and the shore, ending up mostly in order of region, facing the welcome of the Heiltsuk Nation. Dancers, singers, chiefs and elders were in full regalia on the shore, and behind them were immense planks painted with the Quatuas festival symbol. People coming in and leaving the festival walked under huge, cedar planks, painted black and held at attention. A young boy waved the Bella Bella flag from the very top of a hill on the shore. The whole gathering was elegant, regal, and worth every mishap, sore muscle and sleepless night.
The Heiltsuk Nation made signs for each canoe family represented in the landing, which were held up when the canoes introduced themselves and asked permission to land. It was such a clever, lovely gift. It was nice that the three bands of S'klallams pulling with us (Port Gamble, Jamestown and Elwa) all had a little canoe sign of their own to take home. There were so many elders and fully grown adults speaking of the 1993 Paddle to Bella Bella and the significance of that journey, then and now. The word survivance2 kept tugging at my brain, listening to the heart-felt stories from each canoe, the thanks they gave the Heiltsuk Nation, and the importance of the cultural exercise to everyone. Pullers, skippers and elders spoke of how the canoe culture has created a resurgence in their ancestry, keeping cultures alive with ferocity and forward thinking.
The Quatuas festival means so much more than pageantry to the Native pullers, elders, ground crew and to those who couldn't make it to Bella Bella, but were there in spirit, watching it on the tv, and following it online. It means that they were kicked but not beaten, not decimated. And not only did they get back up, they rebuilt themselves, reinvented themselves using the very tools that were often forcibly and brutally taken from them: singing, pulling, dancing and telling stories in a way that was prohibited for so long on both American and Canadian soil.
It was a perfect, sunny day, a day made for celebration, and everyone was in the mood for just that. The Quinault canoe family were gracious in thanking Greg and Carol of the Sea-Ya for seeing them to Bella Bella safely and for the Port Gamble S'klallam Canoe family for helping whenever we could. Marcus' voice was strong, proud and booming. He thanked the present tribes that pulled, to Quinault last year, and was a wonderful representative of the Quinault nation. Laura was proud and clear in announcing our family, our crew, our support. I hope she feels how very much we lover her and appreciate her tremendous efforts in keeping us safe and seeing us to Bella Bella. She is such a blessing. I could hear Karrin and Mariah sing from the canoe, miles back, without the aid of the microphone. Those girls can sang, and they represented the Elwa S'klallam with grace and poise, as they always seem to do. I know Sonny must be very proud of his daughters.
The landing was so full of emotion and meaning, after such a long journey that I was filled with an overwhelming pride. I can't think of a better honor than pulling with the Port Gamble S'klallam Canoe Family. It's in my blood now, even more than it was after my first pull to Cowichan, in 2008. It is my hope that I can continue to pull yearly, helping to instill the importance of my children's culture in them from a young age. Knowing that my family, Mike Sr. Mike Jr. and Rhonda Jones, pulled this journey in 1993 just made the landing all the more significant for me. I hope that I represented the Jones name well, as it was a privilege to carry it back to Bella Bella in my family's stead. Bridget and I sang “The S'klallam Love Song” to our canoe family as they passed by the Curlew and Sea-Ya. Seeing them smile up at us, I felt confident that my canoe family could feel my abundant love for them and my pride in what we accomplished together.
We did other things on the night of the 13th, but I want to leave this entry off with the landing.
July 14th: The Island of Opercula
It was an early 4:30 a.m. when I heard Bridget's chipper voice waking me for breakfast duty. It was a surprise to our tribe that we had to host breakfast today, since we planned for the 15th, but it is what it is, and some of us were to be awake for it, so I rolled out of bed, as Bridget urged the snoring Georgie to get up. Bridget, Laura, Vicki, Georgie, Tad, Linda and I got to the kitchen around 5 a.m., but didn't get to start set up until around 5:30, when we were let into the gym. It was an eventful breakfast. We couldn't figure out the lights, turn on the electrical sockets to make coffee, or cook more than one batch of potatoes in our small camp deep fryer at a time, but we managed to get breakfast out, eventually.
I began to feel superfluous, after initial set up for breakfast, so I took a trip to the showers to wake up, and made my way back to the gym just as breakfast was finally being put on the tables, much to the joy of the gathering breakfast crowd. Of course, Tad (who had also just showered) and I were chosen for deep fry duty, so we added the musk of greasy potatoes to our scents just to spice things up a bit. But we were a good team. Tad bossed me relentlessly (he has been getting snarkier since turning 28), and I kept myself from flinging grease at him, so i think we made it work.
Joe helped amuse us when we were done frying potatoes. We wanted to save the grease, but were told just to dump it on any offending sticker bushes we could find. Joe pointed to one up from the water and said, “How bout we just shove oil down a salmon's throat.” The image was disturbing, but I giggle when I wake up too early, so a fit of tired laughter ensued, followed by a guilty feeling, followed by more laughter. Tad and I opted for a sticker bush that looked particularly offensive, away from the bay, and only hoped that, come tomorrow, it would not be a spot of interest for local bears. We wanted to recycle it, but we were outnumbered by a tired kitchen staff with no room and no need for used oil, since they had no fryer. So many people came out of the gym, praising the meal and thanking the morning hosts, that I felt okay smelling like greasy potatoes. It was worth it to see so many happy, well fed people. It's a nice feeling, knowing that we gave back to tribes that had already fed us so graciously.
When I got back to camp, I was told by Laura that the Curlew was leaving today, and that I should pack my camp bags, since that was my ride home. My heart did a funny thing upon hearing those words: it lifted, then immediately sank. I was so happy to be getting back to my family (as my son's second birthday is only 2 days away) while simultaneously being crushed to leave my canoe family, my new best friends and the beauty of Bella Bella. But, Laura rallied me with the chance of one last adventure before leaving--searching for opercula with a full crew of some of our pullers. Linda, Nancy, Tony, Greg, Carol, Big Sonny (Elwha), Little Sonny (Quinault), Gina, Tad, Laura, Bridget, Nazoni and I made our way to the Island of Opercula, as it shall henceforth be known.
The little island that Tony found was surrounded by little sea otter heads, which is a good sign, since an operculum is left over after sea otters eat turban shell clams. They don't digest the opercula, so it is easy to find near their dens or eating places. Upon landing, Gina immediately found a piece of operculum (which looked exactly like a large, flat on one side, discolored tooth) for those of us who had never seen it. After looking at it, we all knew what we were searching for, and then we all had at it. It was a rocky little island, littered with clam shells, but the opercula were plentiful and I found five right away. Even more amazing, to me, is when Paul handed me an abalone shell. He is such a wonderful gifter! I quickly switched tactics from finding opercula for Brian (Gina said he will use them in his carvings) to finding both opercula and as many abalone shells as could fit in my pockets.
Thanks to Nancy's keen eyes, I was able to find at least 20 opercula in the forested area above the beach. Tad and I simply had to stand close to Nancy, and the opercula came forth. Or, as Nancy so poetically put it: “I can't believe how the opercula just sits on top of the ground up here and winks at you.” Perfectly put, Nancy. It winked at us all. I was also able to find a jackpot of abalone shells, the biggest of which I commandeered from Tad, who handed it to me, and simply never got it back. He said I could have it, after the fact, but I'm pretty sure I had already stole it by then. Thanks for the sort of stolen gift, Tad. I will treasure it. Nazoni swam and searched and hoped around the island like a pro. She makes my heart so happy with the life and confidence she bears on her little shoulders. Joe and Laura must be so proud.
We all loaded into the canoe, thanked the Island of Opercula for its treasures, and pulled back to the Curlew and Sea-Ya. Many of us gifted our opercula to Brian, as I did, since he will surely make good use of it in his carvings. We circled up on deck and thanked Tony for all the hard work he put into our crew, into our safety and for the extra fun tid-bits he added: the stories, the laughter, and the sights he shared with us. We sang a bone-deep honor song, led by Sonny, and Gina gave him a couple of Brian's prints. Tears and hugs were spread liberally.
We said goodbye to Greg and Carol not long after our treasure hunt, as well. I would just like to take a moment to thank you both: for your open invitation to visit your vessel, for always being willing to sing and dance and eat with us, for supporting the Quinault tirelessly, and for all the little conversations we had together. You two are amazing people, and you are well loved by our canoe family.
After an unforgettable treasure hunt, and our farewell to the Sea-Ya, we took the Nookayet to the Stillwater dock, where a wonderful man stayed after hours to help us load her onto the Curlew. I just have to say, here, that Laura Price is my heroine. That skipper stayed in the Nookayet, as it was being lifted by straps onto the Curlew, making sure that no extra bumps, cracks or dents occurred on her watch. She got out of the canoe only when it was safely secure on the Curlew. She is such an inspiration. Thank-you, Skipper, for all you have done for us.
I made a sacrifice of my yoga mat for the safety of the Nookayet, in honor of Laura's daring strap ride. We didn't want the tie-downs to injure the canoe, so I asked Tad to cut my very cushy mat to pieces, and it was perfect for the job. Hey, we all make little sacrifices on the journey. Laura and I thanked the mat for giving up its young life and for its service to me when I slept on the hard ground, and to the Nookayet, in the end of its days. Then, Laura stuffed that bad boy unceremoniously under the straps holding down the Nookayet. Loading finished, we celebrated with sugar and cold drinks, thanks to Gina and Little Sonny. We then posed for a picture with our Nookayet, one last time for this year's journey.
I hate to write about what happened next, but all good things must come to an end. So must all great things. Bridget and Gina, in their forward fashion, flagged down the Canadian Coast Guard, who, by the way, are super awesome, helpful, and polite. They not only helped keep the flotilla from floating off during the Bella Bella landing, they gave advice to our Skippers and Captains about safety in Canadian waters, then were eager to help us get our crew from the Curlew back to the shores of Bella Bella.
I hugged my canoe family, every one, and leaked a lot. I will miss you all so much, and only hope that our next pull together is not in the too distant future. I leaked even more when they had to turn around to retrieve little Sonny's hat. I hate saying goodbye once, but saying it twice hurt all the more. I love you, Port Gamble S'klallam Canoe Family, and enjoyed every one of you so much. I didn't get to say goodbye to all of you at my journey's end, but I want you to know that I thought of you.
When we circled up in our campground at Fort Rupert, I mentioned that every one of you has a gift you bring to the family. I will leave off my Paddle to Bella Bella epiblog by sharing with each of you, what you contributed to the story of my life narrative and the story of our journey:
Laura: “Canoe Shuffle” co-creator, canoe sling rider, Skipper, roughs it sans sleeping bag, up-all-nighter, Bear trekking warrior woman.
Tony: up-all-night and day, Captain/Skipper of Curlew, coffee with half-n-half and 1/4 teaspoon of sugar, bright smile, spanking spider monkey story teller, island finder extraordinaire.
Dick: 1st mate, jet tea lover, kid spoiler, cod fishing pro, up whenever Tony can't be, mid-drift sporter, takes my picture far too often, but gets away with it.
Joe: drum-beat steady, booming voice, perfect rhythm, stuffing salmon with oil, loving daddy, ferry waiter, cedar plank holder.
Sonny: fantastic cook camp, camera in hand, ferry waiter, song and drum always ready, story and song sharer, makes me cry in circle
Linda: short stack, Quinault helper, not-an-elder so don't give her that sh*%!, receipt haver, mullah handler, nervous breakfast sorter outer.
Nancy: Mosquito Island survivor, opercula winker, youthful heart, wandering body, great climber, laundry mama
Francine: prayer, social dancer, likes phallic island jokes almost too much, uncomplaining puller, knows just about every song in existence, whale singer
Scott: potato fryer overseer, steady feet canoe walker, ground support, water carrier, ready smile, helpful spirit
Kathy: potato fryer instructor, ground support, lovely hat weaver, wonderful co-chef, organized mind, museum lover
Vicki: hair washer with camp water, Nazoni styled, proud grandma, Bisquick cake on the Curlew maker, denim blanket, is in her thirties according to Jeromy
Paul: shoe giver, line finder, wanderer, salmon berry tea maker, finder of abalone, firewood gatherer, tide watcher, cabin lover, friend maker
Gayle: sincere, emotional, mourning, kid helper, task giver, Big Perm, hamburgers/hotdogs, likes chip pictures
Gina: makes up chants, thinks Jeromy is a she/sheep/chief?, teen herder, Quinault canoe helper, Curlew deckhand, raccoon eyes after landing, opercula finder and giver, Orca whale spotter
Bridget: I-can-do-it helper spirit, van hailer, boat ride moocher, chocolate gifter, loves to attract bears to camp, Mosquito Island survivor, perky morning spirit, extra pull hoarder
Denita: halls hoarder, song sharer, awesome picture taker, Curlew bow sleeper, strong and lovely singer (when the cough finally passed), graceful dancer, iron-arms puller, sweet momma to a way too cute lil' guy
Devlin: tricky smart butt, towel borrower, hates to be caught lily dippin', ready smile, eager singer, tiny tent haver
Tad “Scooter”: sailing master, “pee in a jar” story teller, He Love Camera, scared of sheep monsters, Mosquito Island no-sleeper, firewood finder, stride matcher, picture taker, camera licker, birthday iron man, canoe tower, line tier, a useful dude, a quick and constant friend
Ryan: Curlew hater, backseat van bad/front seat good, drives us around town, ferry waiter, friend to the youth, land lover, sunburned head
Dean: leader spirit, warrior seat one, takes his hits to save the Nookayet, leads the canoe in song, many blessings on your day, quick to help, quicker to compliment
Adam: sleeper-inner, loyal friend, steady seat one, found his voice, silent and uncomplaining
Eric: helpful deckhand, stubborn, loyal and strong, a rare but lovely smile, ready with advice, helps even when he's hurting
Jeromy: over-shares about his bowels, seat one singer, warrior among women, splash addict, power pull lover, knows how to compliment Vicki, winks super creepily
Jared: Strong voice, loves his Weelas, proposes marriage to Bridget on a daily basis, great huger, steady seat one
Karrin: glasses and onesie wearer, graceful dancer, beautiful voice, eager singer, card giver, birthday girl, girl who cried eagle, giggle fit haver.
Mariah: sunglasses and black, ham for my camera, strong singer, song sharer, birthday girl, giggle fit haver, Mosquito Island campfire singer
Dominique: Please don't talk to me when I'm with my friends, friend to our little stow away boys, gets soaked sleeping under the hatch, eager singer, loves her sister
Cheryl: gets canoe cold shivers, loves her sister, shy but sweet smile, under the hatch sleeper
Dawn: carry me out of the canoe, Hannah, I don't want to get my shoes wet, taker of Canadian currency, purple hair dye on wet canoe clothes, selfies with bandanna, song inspired, please act like you don't know me when I'm with my friends, Hannah.
Nazoni: hair styler, Tad admirer, island hoper, wants to pull like the big girls, picture maker, graceful singer, playful spirit, great swimmer
Thank-you, all, for making me feel like a part of something bigger than myself. For a short time, I was your sister, best friend, singing partner, long walk companion, and fellow puller. You all hold a sacred spot in my memories, now. My journey to Bella Bella is done. Gina, Tony, Dick and I are escorting our sturdy, well worn Nookayet back home. Know that I already feel your absence acutely. If, in 20 years, I have the real privilege of seeing Bella Bella again, I will take you all with me, whether you can go or not.
With love, on her way back to Washington State in the trusty Curlew,
Hannah M. Jones
-puller for the PGS Canoe Family Paddle to Bella Bella 2014
*Having meant this experience to be documented as a blog, but not having the opportunity to actually blog during the trip, for various Internet and power cord related reasons, the clever Tad Sooter suggested that if I were to post this after the fact, that I should at least call it what it is: an epiblog. Since that's word play at it's finest, I am rolling with it, and giving you this, my first epiblog.
1 Do not say phosphorous. It angers our photo journalist, and he's usually so calm.
2 This dance is in copyright mode, you all, so don't even think about stealing our awesome dance idea. Or do, since I'm lying about the copyright thing.
3 I would like to insert a cautionary tale at this point. When staying up all night watching a canoe being towed, please do not operate expensive equipment the next day; like, say, a camera. If you do operate a camera, do not lick the camera and dunk it in the water without its waterproof casing. I'm not mentioning names, here, but I think there would have been more pictures of paradise had a certain photojournalist (who “love camera”) gotten more sleep the night before.
4 See Gerald Vizenor for more on this term.
Bella Bella/Landing/Crew Snapshots
A moment can extend
beyond the restraints of time
bolstered by significance,
These precious few adventures
Joint love and joint suffering
This is yours and mine--
H.M Jones is the author of B.R.A.G Medallion Honor and NIEA finalist book Monochrome, its prequel Fade to Blue, the Adela Darken Graphic Novellas, Al Ravien's Night, The Immortals series, and several short stories.