Cycles of the seasons
Whenever I see salmon in our local streams or in far-away wild places, it reminds me of the endless cycles of the seasons that often seem to go unnoticed. It’s changing from fall to winter bringing big winds and rain. Leaves from the maple trees have all blown down, and the trails are muddy from the fallen leaves trampled into the soil. When the rain and the wind come to my home, I know that soon the chum salmon will too. And along with them, bald eagles and people will appear along the banks of our urban streams. All these things have come to symbolize to me that another cycle for the David B has ended.
Fall and winter are a busy time for us. Each year in October our trips are finished and it seems like spring is impossibly far away. I drive around town picking up parts for the boat, the mail at the post office, and doing other off-seasons tasks. I often go past Whatcom creek, a small salmon-bearing creek that empties into Bellingham Bay. The in-town anglers line up, elbow to elbow along a retaining wall for their chance to catch a fish.
The other day when I saw the crowd of fishermen it reminded me of a day few months earlier in mid-July when I was kayaking with some of our guests in Alaska — Cannery Cove at Admiralty Island to be specific. It’s one of the most scenic anchorages we visit — almost unbelievable in it’s beauty. From our anchorage, the 3800-foot high Bear Pass Mountain rises right from the edge of the cove. Between the water’s edge and the top of the peak an ancient forest covers the side of the mountain. The boughs of those old-old trees seem to cling to the slowly rising wisps of clouds. Ravens fill this basin-like cove with their throaty “kwork-kwork,” calls while eagles whistle from their high perches atop of impossibly tall trees. Multiple waterfalls are visible as they tumble down Bear Pass Mountain forming cold and snow-fed salmon streams. Here the chum salmon run earlier than those in Washington state.
On that day in July we kayaked to a spot where I’d seen a brown bear the week earlier. I figured I might as well check it out again, and sure enough, almost as if on cue, a bear ambled out onto the beach. It was, like the scenery in Cannery Cove, almost unbelievable. My guests followed and we watched the bear eat grass, dig a little around the beach and walk along the water’s edge. As I held my kayak in place, dipping my paddle into the water and pulling back slightly, I focused my eyes into the shallows below my boat. The water was clear and I could see a deeper dark-bluish-green channel that lead through the tidally-submerged mudflats at the head of the cove. Something caught my eye. It was a school of chum salmon swimming purposefully through the deep channel. These fish were nearing the end of their life-cycle. Their bodies already showed the changes that salmon go through on their way to spawn in freshwater. No longer were they the sleek and silver salmon of the Pacific ocean, they were now greenish with distinctive purple tiger-stripes. If I’d been able to scoop one of them out of the water, I’d have seen that their mouths were developing a hooked snout and canine-like teeth. These changes were in preparation for their final stage in life — migration up their natal stream for their chance to spawn and to end one cycle while beginning another.
Our cyclical lifestyle is defined by our sailing season and our off-season. We’ve finished with our wilderness adventures on the David B for the year, and we’ve prepared it for winter. We’ve finalized our project list, and put a winter cover over the boat. Is it the beginning of a new cycle? Or the end of the old? It’s hard to know and it doesn’t really matter where the line is. What does matter is that during this part of the cycle we get to reconnect with past passengers who are planning to return to the David B, and connect with new people who will travel with us for the first time. In a few months the David B will emerge with fresh paint, new varnish, and upgraded systems. Soon after, we will set off for new adventures. And a new cycle.
The gift of experience
Everyday I think to myself how lucky Jeffrey and I have been able to run the David B as a tour boat for the last nine years, and that we’ve been able to share with our passengers the most spectacular places in Southeast Alaska. As we move deeper into the holiday season and I’m constantly bombarded by the advertisements to buy more and consume more, I think about how much I enjoy my experience-based business. On days where I have to reluctantly go to the part of town with the big mall and its traffic, or I listen to people talk about the drudgery of buying gifts, I always wonder why more people don’t give the gift of an experience? Maybe it’s a small thing like a day trip to a nearby nature preserve, hotel stay, dinner at a special restaurant, or something really big like a trip in Alaska on the David B. I know my favorite gifts have all been the ones where I’ve spent time with the people I love and the memories I have from those experiences.
Here’s one of my favorite memories from our 2014 season. We were cruising near Admiralty Island and we came across a couple dozen humpback whales feeding. They were spread out far from each other. The weather was calm, the skies were clear. We stopped. Jeffrey shut down the engine, dropped an underwater microphone (hydrophone) in the water and just listened and watched. Soon two humpbacks surfaced nearby the David B.
Iceberg goes for a ride
Every so often we get a chance to see something a little unusual. One day while hiking at Fords Terror, we stopped to watch the reversing tidal rapids when a medium sized iceberg got sucked through.
Untrammeled By Man
[pix_dropcap]O[/pix_dropcap]ne night in July as we pulled into a little cove on Admiralty Island we noticed a small camp on the shore of our intended anchorage. There was plenty of speculation on the bridge-deck as to who the group might have been. One thought was that they were kayakers hauled out for the night, another thought was that they were locals out camping. The speculation ended when we were hailed on the radio by a familiar voice. It was Kevin, a Forest Service employee who we’d met several years ago when he was a Wilderness Ranger who patrolled Tracy Arm/Fords Terror wilderness area by kayak. He’d seen the David B cruise past a peek-a-boo opening in the cove. As he talked with Jeffrey, we learned that the group on shore were all volunteers who had come to Admiralty Island as part of a program of invasive weed eradication. The weed was hemp nettle, a European plant most likely brought to Admiralty decades ago where a cannery was once in operation. We also learned that Harry, our US Forest Service permit administrator, was also on shore, which was exciting because in all the years of running the David B in Alaska, we’d never actually met face-to-face.
We anchored in the unnamed cove which separates Good Island from Admiralty Island. We decided that our evening activity was going to be kayaking and that I’d take our guests for paddle around the cove, while Jeffrey would skiff ashore, chat with the rangers and offer some cookies to the volunteer weed-pullers.
The paddle was pleasant. There were ravens somewhere out-of-sight, but their deep”kwark-kwark” calls were unmistakable. We looked for sea-stars in the shallows and watched salmon jump. A couple of seals followed us at a respectable distance. When we returned, Jeffrey was already back at the David B. He had arranged for Kevin and Harry to come to the boat the next morning to talk about their work, the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Tongass National Forest, and Admiralty National Monument.
The morning broke unusually sunny for Southeast Alaska, and the rangers arrived shortly after breakfast. Kevin began the discussion by talking about the Wilderness Act, pointing out that we were celebrating its 50th year. He recited from it. It’s some of the most beautiful language in any piece of legislature anywhere:
A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.
The words were penned by Howard Zahniser, an activist with the Wilderness Society, and after Kevin read those words we chatted about the beauty of the phrase “untrammeled by man,” Certainly the scene around us fit that description. The forest was thick with tall spruce and hemlock trees, and a deer cautiously walked on the shore of Good Island, while an eagle soared overhead and another perched high atop a spruce. We talked a long time that morning, maybe longer than we intended, but our guests were genuinely interested in the wilderness and had many questions.
Time past quickly as we continued our discussion about the nuts and bolts of the old act signed into law fifty years ago. Kevin was talking about how the Act affects us all, when suddenly my eye caught something shimmery — a huge school of salmon. I couldn’t help myself but shout out, “look, look!” Alaska never fails to outdo itself. We all stopped to watch school swim close by the David B. The salmon were on their way to spawn and continue the cycle of life. There was nothing more to be said. Mother Nature just had the last word.
Four Great Days in the San Juan Islands
We just got back from our first trip of the 2014 season. It was a lovely 4-day cruise with wonderful family of six on board. We left Bellingham and motored to Stuart Island. Along the way we found a bunch of Steller’s sea lions lazing on Spieden Island’s Green Point. They made a few guttural grunts, but otherwise they took little notice of us.
When we arrived at Stuart Island’s Reid Harbor, our guests went ashore for a walk to the Stuart Island School House. While they were away, I spent the early evening making a Coq au Vin for dinner and a fresh berry parfait for dessert. While I cooked, I listened to the calls of a family of osprey that nest in the harbor.
The next day we went kayaking and slowly paddled along the shoreline to look for sea stars, crabs, and anything else that we could find. While we paddled, two bald eagles came flying in pursuit of an osprey. It was a little like those World War II dog-fights. The osprey eventually gave the eagles the slip and soon returned to its nest. The eagles flew off to the other side of the island.
After we returned from kayaking, we raised anchor and cruised over to Roche Harbor on San Juan Island. Our guests went for a walk to the McMillian Mausoleum. Jeffrey went up the dock with them and I stayed on board to prepare a special Mother’s Day dinner. I noticed that it was taking Jeffrey a long time to return to the boat and I wondered what happened to him. When he returned, I discovered that he joined our guests for an ice cream treat from the Roche Harbor General Store.
Later that night we anchored in Garrison Bay. The highlight for me was watching a bald eagle swoop down from a tree and catch a fish. It then took the fish to the beach and was joined by two patient crows who waited from the eagle’s scraps.
On the third day of the trip, we motored back to Roche Harbor. Our guests had arranged for a special side-trip to Zip San Juan for a zip line adventure. The zip line folks met our guests in Roche Harbor. They were gone for about three hours and when they retured, they raved about how much fun it was to fly through the woods.
We left Roche Harbor and cruised up President Channel to Sucia Island. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon. Once we were anchored, Jeffrey took everyone ashore for some beach combing. When they got back, they reported that they’d seen a family of river otters.
Sometime after I went to bed, the wind picked up a bit. From my cabin below deck, I could hear the wind in the trees and the lapping of tiny wind waves on the hull. I loved the sound and tried to stay awake longer, but soon I fell asleep.
In the morning the wind was still blowing, but I didn’t think about it too much because it was Croissant Day. I love making pastries, but I really, really love making croissants and pain au chocolat. After they were out of the oven, they (the croissants) didn’t last long.
Once breakfast was finished, we took the kayaks out once more. There were tons of purple sea stars and leather stars. We paddled for almost two hours before returning to the David B.
On our way back to Bellingham one of our guests, an eleven-year old steered the boat with me and Jeffrey. I think he spent most of the way back at the wheel. I enjoyed watching him and answering his questions. It was a fun way to start a new year on the David B.
A New Season Begins
Traveling When You Were Young
Over The River and Through the Woods
Last summer Jeffrey and I were standing on the back deck talking with one of our guests. He said to us that one of the best things about the David B was how much being aboard the boat reminded him of all the comforts of being at his grandma’s house. We’ve been thinking about that this winter. Here’s the first part of a series that we originally published in our newsletter.
If you can’t see the newsletter below here’s a link to the newsletter.
More Faster Backwards Gets a Blue Ribbon
Earlier this summer my book, More Faster Backwards: Rebuilding David B won 1st place in True Adventure from Chanticleer Book Reviews! We were in the middle of our cruising season (I had just dropped the anchor in Alert Bay, BC. when I got the news.) and so I couldn’t attend the awards ceremony.
Just recently I received a beautiful blue ribbon and a very nice review from Chanticleer.
Read an excerpt of More Faster Backwards…
Here’s a list of places you can buy More Faster Backwards: