Say the Names...

Al Purdy wrote a wonderful poem called "Say the names say the names" which celebrates the names of Canadian rivers - Tulameen, Kleena Kleene, Similkameen, Nahanni, Kluane and on and on in a celebratory song.

Enbridge is planning to build a dual pipeline that will carry bitumen and condensate across hundreds of waterways between Edmonton and Kitimat. Some of these waterways are rivers like the Parsnip (or what's left of it), the Nechako, the Morice and others are smaller creeks whose names are often known only to the folks who live along their banks or who fish in their shadows or who bend to wash or drink as they cross paths.

I want to collect the names of these rivers and creeks, to collect your stories, your poems, your songs so we can collectively give voice to the land living under the line Enbridge plans to draw.

People have also sent me copies of their presentations to the community oral presentations. If you'd like to add your voice, email me ( your stories and I'll post them for you. The copyright remains with you.

All the best.
Sheila Peters

Thursday, June 30, 2011


Sheila Peters

Between the tasks necessary to get a book ready for publication, wondering where our hummingbirds are hanging out this summer, and urging our reluctant garden to grow, we’ve been on the road a lot the past couple of months. And yesterday as I began writing on this posting, the washouts up Highway 97, just north of where Buttercup still waits in the willows for rescue, are beginning to make the Crooked River look like an efficient alternative to the haul around to Hinton and Whitecourt to get to Peace River country.

The book we’re working on. Sidetracked: The Struggle for BC’s Fossils by Vivien Lougheed, illustrates, in part, how concerns about erosion and sloughing put pressure on researchers trying to find the time and resources to examine the fossil record before it crumbles into the kind of rubble and silt that is blocking streams and road. Fossils, many of them found when geologists are looking in the landscapes for the carboniferous remains of ancient plants that give us coal and oil and gas. 

Whenever I close my eyes I see water pooling in hayfields, spreading through a tangle of willow scrub, flooding community beaches and leaving picnic tables to “float” on the water, their benches submerged.  At Beaumont Park on Fraser Lake, we watched a pickup drive out through the couple of feet of water flooding the boat ramp, drive out, back up, drive out, back up, the water spraying up and around his vehicle like a carwash. At McBride, the Fraser has risen over its banks to turn adjacent pastures into a lake. Turning south, we cross into the North Thompson watershed.  In the circuitous way of water, this spring’s rising star, a trickle can be deflected by a pebble into making a tiny turn that becomes, eventually, momentous. The North Thompson doesn’t join the Fraser until Lytton, hundreds of km south and west.

As we drive the rough road into Murtle Lake in Wells Grey Park, we cross mountain creeks that are white torrents. As we portage our kayak and gear down to the lake, the creeks we cross are in full flood. Several of the campsites are flooded, the park operator tells us. We’ve paddled up to Campsite #2 to find it a virtual island. On the map, he describes the options:  the fire pits are flooded here; you can’t get to the food caches here; the outhouse is across a small pond at this site. All the famous sandy beaches are awash. We stop at Sandy Point, where a tent is pitched on a tiny patch between the bush and the lake. 

We find room for our two tents at Arthur (#4) and spend three lovely days on North America’s largest non-motorized lake, watching, as all lake travellers do, how the wind can churn the lake into a wild ride in just a few minutes; how just as quickly the whitecaps can settle into a heavy liquid reflecting the grey clouds and patches of sun in a thousand pools of metallic light. The colour of iron.

Irony, an etymological reference tells me, has no connection with iron. It comes from the Greek and is used when “deliberately pretending  ignorance, particularly as a rhetorical device to get the better of one's opponent in argument.”   It has a more complicated meaning, of course.  It’s a kind of metaphor, really. Placing two things together in a way that questions the meaning each apparently has on its own. The road sign signaling danger that distracts a driver and causes an accident. The adulterous politician talking about family values.  The physician whose name is Butcher. Water and oil. 

And we use it to mean dissembling, that polite word for lying. Like oil producers saying they need to, they are obligated to, it is their duty to extract more oil to fill the world’s need for this product. 

As the Souris River rises yet again in Manitoba and thousands of people are evacuated, we watch water wash out much of the infrastructure we hold precious. Roads, water systems, power lines, homes, schools, bridges. After the fires that burned Slave Lake, the tornadoes that ravaged the US, it has become a tired cliché to talk about climate change. Extreme weather events.  How about pouring oil onto these troubled waters?

Speaking of irony, in Vancouver hundreds of youth rioted because of a hockey game, many of them wearing Canucks regalia. The price for jerseys starts at $85. They are made of 100% polyester, an oil product. They are all made in China. This is why Enbridge wants to build a pipeline to send crude oil to a port in Kitimat? So we can protect our right to work hard at lower and lower wages with no pension plans (“responsible labour settlements”) so we can buy our children plastic hockey jerseys? 

If you don’t get it, don’t worry. It doesn’t make sense. And we’re smarter than some folks think. The pipeline is not going to get built. Not for that. 

And now a mudslide has washed out the TransCanada highway down where the mountains close in around the Fraser River between Chilliwack and Hope…

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Crooked River Hindsight

Sheila Peters

Looking down the Crooked  River
I wrote earlier about our first day on the Crooked River and have been thinking a lot about our second day. Carlie Kearn’s stories about paddling the Morice River has spurred me to action. I think it was Edith Iglauer in her 1988 memoir, Fishing With John, who said she was a not very coordinated (athletic?) person who liked doing things that required, unfortunately, physical skill.  I believe she was referring to an incident when she was required to climb a very tall and slippery ladder from the fishing boat to the dock. Edith made it up the ladder. We weren't as lucky - we didn’t make it down the Crooked River to McLeod Lake as we had planned.

I’m not just looking for pipeline stories, I’m researching a novel which is partly set on this river and I wanted to smell it, see the way it turns, compare it to R.M. Patterson’s description from the book, Finlay’s River, which he wrote about a canoe trip that began here in 1949 and ended at the portage above the Peace River Canyon, not yet flooded by the Peace dams. Hilary had agreed to take us further down the river, Lynn and I in Buttercup and she in her kayak. We put in at a little forestry campsite at the 100 road, north of the previous day’s takeout. We’d arranged for Floyd to pick up our van, drive it to Kerry Lake where we would spend the night before deciding whether or not to go on to McLeod Lake.

Hilary and her kayak

Lynn and Buttercup

It’s a nice put in ­­– a long lagoon edged by wide tangles of scrub willow and red-osier dogwood. All the feeder creeks are buried in the willow – we never really saw one creek though the map shows several. Or at least that’s what we assumed. We’d forgotten to bring the map along. We paddled by a house up on the ridge, virtually beside the highway; we paddled past Bear Lake Park; and we paddled past Coffeepot Mountain, but because of the way the river twisted and turned, the mountain somehow shifted from being at our backs to being ahead of us.
I did think as we meandered along that we’d never make it to Kerry Lake at this rate. But I wasn't too worried. I liked the pace, the birds, the ducks rising in front of us, the way the train whistled in the distance, the way a moose crossed in front of us, the way Buttercup moved placidly through the water. We’d didn’t really know where we were, just that the highway was somewhere on river right and the 100 logging road was somewhere on river left. In the end, it turned out that our slow pace was not the problem – it was speed that would cause us trouble.

About 11:30 we came to Rip Kitchen’s place. In the 1980s Rip and Marion Thomson built a big log house on some flats beside the river, completely off the grid – no hydro poles, no generator, a long driveway only navigable in summer. As we pulled our boats ashore, eight Canada geese lifted squawking up from the big lower field, the grass flattened and streaked with mud and in some places still awash. Marion used to always have to wait to plant her garden, Hilary told us, because it takes a long time for water to drain away here.

Rip had been found dead in his house a few years ago when Marion was away visiting relatives back east, and she’d had to sell the place. Hilary didn’t know who’d bought it, but there was no sign of anyone around, so we had a wander while Hilary told us about the pleasant evenings they’d spent there in animated conversation around the huge dining room table, the only light from kerosene lanterns. Their first reception was not so friendly though; Floyd was helping search for a missing youth and when he arrived at the house, Rip greeted him with a shotgun.
Rip was raised along the river and Cherry Corliss said he’d told her he’d been hired one summer to help keep the river clear for traffic. He also wrote a column for the Bear River newspaper, columns collected in Crooked River Chronicles.

As we wandered around, peering in through the big windows to the huge dining table (he’d built all the furniture, Hilary said) and animal skins on the floor, at two typewriters facing each other on a desk in the bedroom, the chairs situated so the writers would each look out across the field and down to the river, one upstream and one downstream. A big four poster bed was visible, an enormous chimney and oh, what a book collection they’d had, Hilary said.
We all itched to open the door and poke around inside but restrained ourselves. Probably a good thing. While there were many signs of neglect – bloated insulation spilled out the open door of a shed, rocks tumbled in the pathways, the garden unploughed, the hot bed frames rotting and unplanted, dozens of stubbies stacked outside (Rip and Marion had made their own beer and wine), a tall beer bottle open on the table was a sign of recent occupation. We were later told the new owners most definitely did not welcome visitors.

Another of Rip’s passions was collecting old farm equipment; 13 old tractors were lined up along the garden fence – a beautiful lichen garden in itself – and old rotting cold frames – big ones.
It doesn’t look like he just died a couple of years ago – it looks like it’s been abandoned for years. But a mansion of sorts. I would have liked to stand inside and look up to see how the ceiling was put together, to see if there was an upstairs,  
It doesn’t look like he just died a couple of years ago – it looks like it’s been abandoned for years. But it feels like a mansion of sorts. I would have liked to stand inside and look up to see how the ceiling was put together, to see if there was an upstairs, or a high vaulted ceiling. You couldn’t tell, looking through the windows. All the while the geese croaked overhead, wheeling and turning.

We continued downstream from there, still pleasantly coiling through the newly greened landscape and past Livingston’s springs. It was there the river picked up speed and the lazy pleasure of the morning vanished. We tried to remember the lessons we’d learned the day before and managed to negotiate several turns, avoid a few sweepers and find passage through the rapidly braiding mess somewhere in the middle of which ran the true course of the river.
Hilary was moving faster than we were and disappeared ahead just as the current caught the back of our boat and swung us around to face upriver. I grabbed the willows and we both cursed as they clawed at our faces, but we collected ourselves enough (after carefully talking through our strategy, a couple of paddle strokes that would have come automatically to an experienced paddler) to swing back out and around another couple of bends to find Hilary again, waiting for us. Nothing for it, really, but to continue.
The river was running through back passages, through the willows, and you couldn’t tell what might be a log jam, what might be a beaver dam, and what might be just the river flooding into the bush. Then we heard Hilary say, “This might be tricky,” and caught sight of her heading into a narrow channel where the river split yet again. The route she had chosen was the fastest. Once more I grabbed the willows and pulled us to the side (I’d become fond of this maneuver) just in time for Lynn to catch sight of Hilary in trouble – first struggling to get her boat out of a jam of brush and logs that created a small churning island. Her boat, as far as we can tell, sank beneath her and she was left trying to haul herself onto the jam. We managed to tie the canoe, clamber out and through the willow scrub to the edge nearest her, all the time calling to her, encouraging her and wondering how we could help her. The water between us was deep and fast.
It took a while – probably fifteen excruciating minutes – but she finally pulled herself up and sat down for a few minutes to regain her equilibrium. I saw her paddle rise to the surface and float away downstream. Her rain jacket was snagged, unreachable, underwater.
During this time, Lynn scouted downstream and saw several nasty sweepers, a log blocking the whole span of the river and we realized, once Hilary was safe, that it was a good thing, really, that we didn’t get any farther. There was no river bank, no gravel bars, no access through the mess of willow to line the boat anywhere. And our hatchet was in Hilary’s boat.
We had a throw rope with us and managed to bring Hilary over to us where we had food, dry clothes and dry land a couple of hundred metres away. We were on the side away from the highway (which also turned out to be a good thing). After getting Hilary into dry clothes, we slogged our way out of the willow marsh up into the forest, leaving Buttercup and her paddles in the bushes, abandoned like poor Moses in the bulrushes. After much discussion, we decided to try to find the logging road; we had hours to wait before Floyd would know we were in trouble. And probably a night out before anyone would come looking for us.
After a bit of dithering and careful bushwhacking, we did find the big logging road, though not much chance of a ride because it was breakup and a Monday. Nine km back to our put in point and fewer, we thought to Davie Lake. So we headed north – the much longer way, we discovered later, but luckily, about four km and a black bear later, we were picked up by a couple of men on their way out of the bush. They dropped us at Bear Lake, where Hilary’s amazing daughter Brenda came to get us and took us to Kerry Lake where we were scheduled to meet Floyd and Cherry, just fifteen minutes before they arrived. In any case, even if we’d had the skill to manage the fast water, we likely wouldn’t have found our way through the flooded lakes and creeks between our inadvertent takeout spot and the planned campsite. The whole place was under water.
So we made it back to Summit Lake, happy not to be spending the night in the bush, happy not to have set a search and rescue mission into motion. Sorry about our boats. We drove home the next day without going downstream to the proposed pipeline crossing. Without reaching McLeod Lake. Without Buttercup. But very glad to have delivered Hilary home.

Some of Hilary’s friends tried a rescue last weekend, but couldn’t find either boat. Though disappointed, they were glad they went. “The river was wonderful and very dynamic,” said one of the crew, “and we are glad to have done it.”
To think of crude oil spilling into that dynamic web of willow, water, moose, bear, beaver and waterfowl – to imagine it could be cleaned up, is beyond laughable. It is appalling.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Morice River Stories

Carlie Kearns

When we moved to Houston in the fall of 1974 we had a bright yellow and blue rubber dingy with plastic paddles. It became our mode of transportation for exploring the Morice River that first year.
On Friday evening we would spread the dingy out on the townhouse floor and pump it up. In the morning we would put the dingy on the roof of our Gremlin hatchback and tie it to both bumpers. By the time we parked near the river the raft would be deflated from the cold air and we’d have to pump it up again.  We’d usually drive out the Morice River Road and float a stretch of the river, fishing along the way. The river was a pristine blue-green with darker pools, strong currents, and shallow riffles. It was absolutely glorious. We caught Coho salmon, Steelhead, Dolly Varden and Rainbow Trout and always planned to keep a trout or salmon for dinner. At the end of the day Les would walk or hitch-hike back to the car while I bundled up our gear and deflated the raft. 

Les had noticed a creek, Houston Tommy Creek, on the map and thought it would be a good place to fish. Early Saturday morning we drove up the Morice River Road about ½ mile past Aspen Park Campsite. We carried the raft and our gear down a steep embankment through the tangle of alder, windfall, and tall spruce. We launched the raft into the strong current and paddled like mad to get across the river before we were swept past the mouth of Houston Tommy Creek. It was terrifying the first time we did it. There was a nice open sandbar at Houston Tommy with a beautiful run for steelhead and a deep pool at the mouth of the creek.  Les was the keen fisherman so he fished most of the day while I relaxed on the sandbar or explored up the creek picking high bush cranberries. It was idyllic! The run downstream to pull out was a little less stressful and we could relax and enjoy the ride. We’d pull out on the rocky shore just upstream from Aspen Park and Les would trudge the ½ mile back up to the car while I deflated and bundled up the dingy. This became a favourite destination for many years. 

The following year we bought a 16 foot broad-beamed Frontiersman canoe. This was a huge step up for navigating the river. It was wide and stable and so much easier to handle then the raft, but still a challenge with our limited skills and the incredible changing river currents! We would often drift from Aspen Park to By-Mac Park, stopping only at Knapper Creek (Gold Creek) to fish and have lunch. Les usually lit a campfire so he could have hotdogs – a favourite!  The current on the corner just upstream from Knapper Creek seemed treacherous but we enjoyed the challenge! 

Our other adventures those first years on the river were with Sam Wright in his motorized river boat. Once we camped at Morice Lake where the Morice River starts, enjoying a great evening of fishing for steelhead and telling stories around the campfire. The next day we went in his boat down to the Gosnell. That was the first trip for us on that section of the river and it was awesome! There were sections of ferocious turbulent current followed by gentle stretches of calm clear water over deep pools and shallows with hundreds of spawning spring salmon. We stopped at a small creek and fished for Dolly Varden – catching one with a vole in its stomach. I don’t remember The Morice West Road or bridge – perhaps it had not yet been constructed. The only sign of civilization I remember was the cable across the river about a ½ mile downstream from Morice Lake. Those camping and fishing trips were wonderful wilderness experiences.

When our daughter was about 5 years old we camped at the Morice West Bridge. The following day we canoed with friends from there to a pull-out where guides launched their boats upstream from Owen Flats. The girls were on the bottom of our canoe beside the yoke and Steve was with Cheryl and Jim in their canoe. It was a beautiful sunny day and we were floating and paddling along not paying a lot of attention when we saw the swirl of current indicating a large rock near the surface a few meters away. Jim and Cheryl were ahead of us and saw that we were potentially in trouble so they turned their canoe and watched in horror as the stern of our canoe caught the rock and some water sloshed over the gunnels. Fortunately there was an open rocky beach just downstream and we were able to paddle the canoe to the shoreline. The only damage was a scratch in the fibreglass and the loss of one of Les’s shoes that he’d taken off to be more comfortable. We were very lucky we didn’t capsize. We were all shaken up and felt fortunate no real damage was done – except for our embarrassment about being so careless.  

Another year floating from By-Mac to Barrett Station Bridge, with Glennie and Marie, we had a neat experience. The day was glorious with fall colour and sunshine and the river was a beautiful placid mirror. Just upstream from Jaarsma’s fields we heard some rustling in the bush and a loud crack and then a splash behind us – a huge cottonwood tree fell into the river. A beaver must have chewed through the tree just after we floated by! 

Barrett Station was a wonderful place to camp and fish. Late one August, we camped for a few days when it was blistering hot. The girls had such fun playing in the backwater and the mud just downstream from our campsite and the train bridge. Les spent most of the day fishing the stretch of the river from the trestle down to Emerson Creek, sometimes walking up across the trestle and along to Emerson creek so he could fish the mouth of the creek from the west bank. At night you could hear flocks of hundreds of cranes flying over for hours. There was a full moon and it was so peaceful with the sound of the river, the crackling fire, and the cranes. Often there would be flocks of geese as well and sometimes trumpeter swans. It was an idyllic ending to the summer.

Last year, in 2010, when driving along the Morice River Road in late August I was astounded with the number of boaters and fishermen in the Morice River. There were folks in pontoon boats, canoes, kayaks, and jet boats visible all along the route!  In the spring of 2000, the Jaarsma’s had locked the access to the Barrett Station camping area and lent keys to folks for using the camping area just to limit the number of campers and traffic through their grazing land. The Morice River has become a very popular destination for tourists and locals who love to fish or enjoy the outdoors.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Fritillaria camschatcensis

Lynn Shervill

June 7, 2011
Down on the floor of Driftwood Canyon, about 15 kilometres east of Smithers at the foot of the Babine Mountains, it’s understandably colder and darker than up on the canyon rim. In winter we can get as little as two hours of direct sunlight a day, depending on the month, and in summer, even on the longest day of the year, the sun drops below our horizon at 5:30 p.m.

Still, by the end of the first week in June, the birdsong starts at 4 a.m., the sun is coming through the windows by 5:30, there are harlequin ducks on Driftwood Creek (known to the Wet’suwet’en First Nation as C’ide Wi’ kwah which translates as “it flows into it”) and the sweet smell of the cottonwoods fills the air.

And there’s something else in the air, something one horticulturalist from York, England refers to as “poo-filled smelly socks.” Fritillaria camschatcensis, also known as the chocolate lily or northern rice root, is a bulbous perennial with lance shaped, glossy, light-green leaves and pendent, cup-shaped, dark black, purple, green or yellow flowers.

In Plants of Coastal British Columbia, Pojar and Mackinnon say the chocolate lily “is pollinated by flies attracted to the flowers by their colour and the smell of rotting meat or faeces.” It’s not surprising then to learn that the plant is also referred to as the skunk lily, dirty diaper and outhouse lily.

Despite its smell, which occurs when the flowers bloom and is short-lived, the chocolate lily was a staple in the diet of virtually all of the Indigenous northwest coast people of British Columbia and Alaska. The bulbs, which resemble tightly packed clusters of rice, were cooked immediately or partially dried and stored for winter when they would be eaten with eulachon grease or ground into flour which could then be added to soups or stews.

According to some, the bulbs have a slightly bitter taste which can be reduced by soaking them overnight. Others say the bulbs taste like baked chestnuts.

This is a plant that likes the wet. It grows on moist tidal flats, in meadows and open forests, on rocky beaches, stream banks and coarse grained soils of glacial origin. It can be found in a geographical arc which runs from Japan, Kamchatka, northeastern Siberia and into Alaska, British Columbia and as far south as Oregon.

Unfortunately, it has become much less common than in previous times due to the loss of salt marshes, estuarine wetlands and freshwater wetlands. It is also threatened by timber harvesting, trampling, hydrologic changes and collecting.

Such is the concern over the loss of this iconic food plant that the Squamish First Nation, north of Vancouver, is working with a researcher from the University of Victoria to create an experimental plant garden in the Squamish Estuary with an eye to establishing a population of chocolate lilies “high enough to sustain a certain level of food harvesting in the future.”

Closer to home, there is also reason for concern. One of the healthiest populations of the chocolate lily can be found in Old Man Lake Provincial Park, 326 acres described by BC Parks as a “significant complex of small lakes, marshy shorelines and wetlands … known for wild rice (Fritillaria camschatcensis) and wild celery” 20 kilometres east of Houston. According to BC Parks there are plans to drastically reduce the water levels in the park by removing an old dam, which could put the lilies at risk. The park is also in an area of intensive logging and is located about 20 kilometres north of the proposed Enbridge pipeline route.

Meanwhile, back in chilly Driftwood Canyon (there was frost last night), we are putting wild onions in the stew, eating breaded morels fried in butter, making a Spring tonic with the nettles and wondering if this year we should try the outhouse lilies. Blue cheese, after all, isn’t that appealing until you try a piece.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Buttercup goes to the Crooked River

Sheila Peters

Another watershed and thirty people gather at the Crooked River’s outlet at Summit Lake. It is Hilary Crowley’s birthday and Floyd and Hilary’s anniversary. They have been part of this community for over forty years and are one of the few families still living at the lake year round. The sun is shining and twelve canoes and two kayaks splash over the first riffle into the river. Grandparents and grandchildren, fathers and sons, husbands and wives, young friends. It is the second trip of 2011; the first, a month earlier, travelled between banks of snow. There’s plenty of water in the river, even for this time of year.

We’re back in country we camped and hiked in 25 years ago, back in the place that first really made me think about watersheds. Nothing as dramatic as the Columbia Icefields where the scale of the landscape declares itself as a power spot, a place where weather is made, where great psychic and geographic shifts are inevitable. Driving north of Prince George along Highway 97, the land flattens itself into fields and black spruce swamps, and the only visible mountains are called Teapot and Coffeepot. The nine-mile Giscome Portage that marked the crossover from the Upper Fraser to the Parsnip/Finlay/Peace passes through this unremarkable terrain to Summit Lake at an elevation of about 2330 feet, one of the lowest points on the continental divide.

Summit Lake has a venerable history in river freighting. Up into the 1960s, until the completion of the highway north through Pine Pass, and of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam which flooded the lower reaches of the Parsnip River, it was the main route for freight into Finlay  Forks, Fort Ware, Fort Graham and all the trappers, prospectors and First Nations people calling that country home. Special 40-foot long river boats were designed and built to navigate the shallow water and dramatic turns the river takes as it searches out a downhill trajectory in a terrain that can’t seem to make up its mind. The resulting wetlands are rich and protected country for birds, fish and wildlife. Old cabins, the remnant wing dams made when the freighting traffic worked hard to keep the river clear, the brushed in trails and camping spots speak of a disappearing history. Cherry Corliss, whose father, Dick, was one of the foremost of these river freighting men, is with us on this trip, skirted into a tiny kayak.

The low hills also hide the relentless clearcuts and pine beetle kill on the land just beyond the willows. As we slip into the river, we are afloat, half our own height above the waterline and as close to being part of the river as we are able. Buttercup, our yellow canoe, is glad to be afloat. She has been neglected for Mango, our long tandem sea kayak which rides like a Cadillac on ocean swells but would lumber and wallow in a river like the Crooked.


We had taken Buttercup down to the lake earlier and she is a flighty thing – moves so much more quickly than Mango. She is light and lovely and you don’t thunk down into your seat, you perch or kneel, you, too are more sprightly. We paddled around Corning Island, which belonged to Cherry Corliss’s grandmother and where she still has a place. The sun, hardly any bugs, smooth water, lots of summer cabins up here – A-frames with large, solid docks, lawn chairs out on them, a place to drink morning coffee.

We have never paddled in moving water before, we tell our companions. 

We get instructions:
  • If you’re heading for a beaver down aim straight for the V and, when you go over, the person in the front leans back to keep from tipping.
  • When there’s a log jam, hold onto the reeds at the side until Floyd clears it.
  • When there’s a sweeper, duck.
We are told not to worry, and we do find we can make those turns, Buttercup does ride right over those submerged beaver dams without a hitch, and sometimes we can find the dark V of water and follow it down the little rapids. We begin to think we know what we’re doing. 

We don’t. 

How do we stop? I ask as Buttercup bumps into another canoe waiting for us to catch up. It’s like the way I used to stop when at the skating rink – by crashing into the sideboards. The expert looks at me, not really registering the question. “Paddle backwards or just go to the back eddy,” another paddler says. Brilliant.

Many of the paddlers with us enjoy the faster water, but we are happiest when the river widens into a lagoon and we can look around a bit. Enjoy the sunshine, watch for warblers in the willow thickets, and visit with the others. Many of them are avid canoeists and have paddled northern rivers for years: the Fraser, Driftwood, the Nahanni, the Spatsizi, the Skeena, the Morice, the Stikine, and the Nechako.

When the ice finally goes off the Nechako, one woman says, I can’t wait to get on it. It feels like I’ve come home. I don’t realize always how much I’ve missed it. 

About 20 km downstream (as the crow flies) or 28 km as the river twists and bends, the proposed Enbridge pipeline will cross somewhere downstream of Caine Creek, Alford Creek, and Little Dell Creek. Near the upstream end of Davie Lake, upstream of Angusmac, Chuchinka, Redrocky Lake, Redrocky Creek, Kerry Lake, and McLeod Lake, the site of BC’s oldest colonial outpost. It takes a cognitive shift to think of downstream being north. North and east. 

And on the country stretching west between Davie Lake and Fort St. James, the pipeline would cross a landscape threaded with creeks and a scattering of lakes, hundreds of them -- Merton Creek, Slender Lake, Muskeg River, Mossvale Creek, Salmon River, Teardrop Lake, Great Beaver Lake -- until it found its way across the Necoslie River.

We make it to the takeout spot, the old BCRail line to Tumbler Ridge jammed between the river and the highway. Only two fellows tipped out of their boat on the way down, mercifully behind us, so we didn’t notice until we were past that tricky spot. We gather back at Hilary and Floyd’s for dinner and birthday cake. People tell stories of how and when they met Hilary, who came to Canada from Britain to work as a occupational therapist forty years ago. For a short visit. She loves England. She loved Montreal, where she spent her first year. She had mixed feelings about Vancouver and took a locum in Prince George. A three-week stint was all she planned. Like so many of us, she surprised herself by staying. She waters her garden with water drawn from Summit Lake, with water from that threshold opening into the Arctic. Summit Lake water may be upstream of the proposed pipeline crossing, but the river doesn’t move in only one direction. The river is as threaded into the landscape as Hilary herself.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Lucy Island - Important Bird Area (IBA)

Sheila Peters

There are two main threats to the over 20,000 breeding pairs of rhinoceros auklets (Cerorhinca monocerata) on Lucy Island, according to a report written in the mid-eighties: recreational boaters and oil spills. The island, or group of small islands, is about 21 km west of Prince Rupert and sits in Chatham Sound at the east end of Dixon Entrance. Its sandy beaches are protected and low tidal mudflats connect the islands one to another. It’s too far for rats and raccoons to cross and demolish the colony. The eagles and crows are fat though, and grey feathers litter the forest floor.

A boardwalk has been built to cross from the anchorage to the now unmanned lighthouse. Our walk showed little sign of anyone tramping through the hundreds of burrows at the roots of Sitka spruce and hemlock and in the tussocks of grass on the steep cliffs. The campers mostly stick to the beaches, building fires from driftwood, making sweats with heated rocks and even swimming in the chilly water.

Depending on the route tankers might take, Lucy is one of the hundreds of small island clusters in Hecate Strait that could be affected by a spill. It also happens to be home to over five percent of the world’s population of rhinoceros auklets. It is loved by sea-faring residents of the north coast. It is a crumpled heap of rock, sand, and just enough soil to grow huge trees and a carpet of Maianthemum bifolium or May lily. The inter-tidal zone is crammed full of life – seaweeds, barnacles, mussels, octopi, crabs, starfish, limpets, moon snails, and all the phytoplanktons that thrive in the temperate marine soup pot, sucking up carbon and producing oxygen for all of us. Trying to clean up a crude oil spill here would be futile.

Swells rise out of apparent flatness, gather themselves and crash against rocks, the lines of foam forming and reforming as the water recedes from the surge and leaves seaweed all shades of green, brown, purple , red, and gold dripping, coating the barnacles. Starfish, orange and purple, deep in crevices.


Seals haul out glistening in heaps on a rock above the suck and crash of water, the smell of salt and seaweed, the smells of heat: a neoprene spray skirt, sunscreen. The water rippling, flattening, boiling and the great strands of kelp – they grow three feet a day – their odd bobbing heads nodding, nodding, they hold back their long rippling skirts in this curious dance, a macabre ritual that ends in death at low tide, children swinging them around and around, running down the long strand of sand screaming their pleasure at the power of centrifugal force whirling above their heads. But now, the kayak hulls rumble thunk thunk thunk over them, over the sudden rocks taking shape beneath the surface, the scrape of barnacles breaking open the reflection of the sky.

Lined up on a log on the low tide beach, the great gawky young eagles, brown and speckled and fat with auklets, barely able to lift off as we approach. Otters bob just offshore; an eagle flies overhead dangling something from its talons, its reverberating screech and chitter unsettling.

In the distance, the deepening shades of blue as the islands recede and blur into Tugwell, into Pike, into Digby, into the Tree Nobs, into Melville, into Rachel, into Stephens.

Up close, on the beach, each receding wave leaves a trace, a fragmented line of Sitka spruce and hemlock needles, shell fragments, salt foam, a ragged message, an exhalation of the ocean on sand and even the sand is not really sand but a melee of pulverized rock, shells, bones, wood and old glass. It comes here and it goes from here. The shifting face where land and sky and water intersect, where each solid particle creates a place for something to take hold, where each piling of one particle upon another creates altitude, creates land, and the water rushes in and out. Each particle its own universe, each shift its own quake, each trickle its own ocean, all, at this moment, becoming this place we call beach, we call island, we call Lucy.