Ephemeral revelations of ice

Along Spirit Lake Trail Haida Gwaii

Winter sun in the rain forest along Spirit Lake Trail Haida Gwaii

Seeing as how today…this morning actually… we are still frozen in the polar vortex here on Haida Gwaii, I think I’ll take advantage of the topical opportunity to tell you about another winter anomaly that I came across recently… entirely by chance.

It’s always inspiring to be wandering around in the forest and stumble upon things that startle, surprise, amaze. At my age, I find those OMG moments even more of a world-class thrill than they once were, and I barely have to leave home to find them.

Even in a time when we fear so much for nature and the wild, a trek into the forest nearby reveals grand archipelagos of life-affirming discovery. The mildest curiosity can reveal new reefs of understanding to haul up onto and look around to see just how creative and astoundingly innovative the natural world is.

Taking a walk is always a good idea. And I often do… into the forest at Spirit Lake in Skidegate where the uphill trail is gravelled and graded and a good morning’s exercise.

The forest path follows alongside, and wooden bridges cross over, a fast-moving creek as it cascades down from Spirit Lake toward the nearby ocean shore. The orchestrated leitmotifs of falling water fade in and out of conscious hearing as the path wends its way upwards. Pale winter sunlight slants through the branches of the cedar, spruce and hemlock forest, making the shadows deeper and bluer on the forest floor of last year’s leaves and fallen branches. The ferns flourish everywhere alongside the trail and upward on the side hills.

Light and dark make dramatic contrasts here where shadows and shades dance in the winter blast of north-easterly wind.

DSCN5344So it was a small but vivid patch of purest white lying upon the greys and browns of decaying leaves and rotting branches beside the trail as I made my way downhill that drew my attention. I stopped and looked at it, and then got down on my hands and knees and looked at it again because it seemed so odd, so white, and so still lying there. Like a tiny shroud on the corpse of a tiny shrew, to tell the truth. Was it a fungus, a mold of some kind? Had somebody spilled something here? Had some kind of fibre or hair become caught up or entangled in the branch on the ground?

I smelled it, and it smelled as pure as snow, although there was no snow at all on the ground on this frigid February day.

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I picked up the branch on which the white silky “something” was attached and puzzled away some more. And eventually I touched it with my fingertip and it melted.  This delicate structured formation was … ice!  On my warm fingertip the graceful threads of white transformed themselves from ice to water instantly and the tactile sensation was as gentle and delicate as a melting snowflake.

Hair Frost Spirit Lake February 2014

Hair Ice Spirit Lake February 2014

Hair Frost Spirit Lake February 2014

Hair Ice Spirit Lake February 2014

Well, that was my first step on this little voyage of discovery. And it was no more than noticing enough to take a photo or two, and continue on my way home to enjoy a hot cup of tea.

It wasn’t until a week or two later,  when I was cruising around the WWW on the subject of frozen lakes singing that I happened to find this.

All of a sudden I was excited to see that I had stumbled on something unusual, fascinating (to a lot of people, mostly scientists) and that there was a whole wellspring of knowledge associated with this small, beautiful but humble manifestation of ice.

The delicate formation of the winter morning was something called hair ice and here is how Jan Thornhill in her science blog describes it:

“Though you might think at first glance that hair ice is some kind of peculiar frost – it’s not. Frost forms when moisture in the air freezes on objects. Hair ice, on the other hand, starts from the inside and moves outwards. Moisture in a stick or twig is exuded through minute pores on the surface, and when this moisture hits humid sub-zero air the result is very fine filaments of ice that can grow up to five centimeters in length – filaments that look just like hair. It’s an uncommon phenomenon, and not just because weather conditions must be absolutely perfect. Here’s the real glitch: the appearance of hair ice seems to be dependent on, of all things, fungi.”

She continues, “Recently though, Gerhart Wagner and Christian Mätzler from the University of Bern …theorize that the living mycelium of various fungi within the wood (i.e. Exidia glandulosa or Tremella mesenterica) continues to metabolize at near freezing temperatures, producing heat and gases that force moisture outwards. When this moisture escapes through pores and comes into contact with humid below-freezing air, hair ice grows.”

So there you have it…what I had discovered was a wonderful, complex, ephemeral revelation of ice caught in its own perfect moment in an ordinary winter morning.

For me, a life-time first for my Life-Long List of Firsts! And I didn’t even know I was missing it, until I came tripping along that trail on a February morning.

There are many other sources of information about hair ice to be found on the WWW. But one of the coolest is this set of pages by Dr. James Carter, a former professor of geography-geology at  Illinois State University who, in his retirement, has taken up the study of ice formations. He has put together a set of amazing papers, with lots of photographs and more information sources about frost and ice. Here is the link.

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Songs of a crystalline lake

Mayer Lake Haida Gwaii

Mayer Lake Haida Gwaii                          – photo C. Davies

“Now I will do nothing but listen” – Walt Whitman *

This was the day as you see it. Air clear as crystal, and a wind sharp as a knife gusting across the lake. The distant and winter-low sun glittered on frost and the whole world glowed in deep shimmering shades of elemental blues – sky blue, sea blue, indigo, ultramarine, sapphire, cerualean, cobalt. The surface of ice on Mayer Lake shone purest lapis lazuli.

We often come here to this small boat-landing on the long narrow lake to hear the wind as it skims across the water, to see how light glimmers and glitters across the riffled surface, how the wavelets swish and lap on the little stretch of sand and pebble beach. In summer the near shore is green and gold with water lilies.

But it’s winter now on Haida Gwaii. Toward the end of January and the beginning of February this year we had some cold, cold weather.  As most people know our climate is usually characterized by water in its rain, rainy and raining form. We do get cold spells in the winter, and in some years we get snow. And this was an unusual year as the nights were so very cold, and there was no snow. On Mayer Lake ice formed clear across the lake, and most unusually, with no snow, the gleaming surface was absolutely smooth and transparent as glass.

Mayer Lake in January 2014, Haida Gwaii

Mayer Lake in February 2014, Haida Gwaii – photo C. Davies

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– photo C. Davies

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Winter frost on grass  Mayer Lake Haida Gwaii                       – photo C. Davies

But, on that day in February, it was sound that literally tuned me into place. At first I wasn’t sure about what was going on around me. For a few moments I felt a bit confused, slightly disoriented. And then the neurons in my brain got themselves organized and I realized, with surprise, that it was what I was hearing that was disturbing my usual, expected pathways of perception.

A deep, complex array of sound was emanating from the icy lake and resonating in the air all around me… so eerie and other-worldly that I was stunned into stillness.

There was a lot of cracking and creaking and the oddest laser-blaster kinds of sound, beginning in a loud high pinging note followed by a full cascade of notes descending at speed into deep sonic basses, over and over again, and from everywhere on the lake.

Alongside the snapping and groaning, there were also episodes of long sustained hoom-ing notes travelling across the entire tympanum of ice and echoing from all sides of the lake. As I was standing very quiet, it felt as if great columns of air were advancing and retreating and encircling my head, and enveloping my whole body. And then fading and sinking mysteriously in such a way that I felt still physically reverberating within a musical tone, but wasn’t sure if I could actually hear it or not.

I have been to Mayer Lake many times, in many seasons and have seen its many variable moods of water, wind and light. But I had no idea that this kind of symphonic extravaganza was always (and is always) an immanent potentiality of this place…waiting only for the transformation of water into ice, and the passage of warmth and cold across the surface of the lake for its manifestation.

Ah yes, frozen lakes do sing …in the geophony of the earth; the sounds of earth, wind, water, fire and ice.

Here is a video which captures some of what we heard – with thanks to MKTL for making the best of what could be found in my video clip.


*(via Murray Shafer The Soundscape: the Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World.)

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January morning in the sun Haida Gwaii

Well, it’s definitely a blue sea sky day today. After days and days under the “pot lid”, the fog has lifted, the skies have cleared and it’s glorious. The air is about 9 degrees C  (48 F) Balmy! The sky is a brilliant blazing blue and the birds’ songs have a lilting rise that sounds like spring.

Skidegate Inlet looking west.

Skidegate Inlet looking west.

This morning there is barely a breeze from the north, and the tides are running from a high of 6.8 metres (22.3  ft) at 11 this morning, to a low of 0.8 metres (2.6 ft)  at supper time. The moon is on the wane. The air pressure is at 1021 hPa. We are under a High. Nice!

It has been a surprisingly mild winter this year: very little cold weather and very few storms. Not much drama so far. If it should all take a dump and turn for the worse now we are all going to be shocked – me, my neighbours, the sprouting tulips, and the chirruping sparrows!

Therefor, I went out for a walk. It’s the same short walk along the same path that I have been doing for some 20 years.

I walk along the side of Haida Gwaii’s only highway where it curves around and through Skidegate Landing where the “big” ferry and the “little” ferry dock.

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Skidegate Landing looking east.

The “little” ferry is the Kwuna passenger and vehicle ferry that makes the 20-minute run across Skidegate Inlet between Graham Island in the north, and Moresby Island to the south. The “big” ferry is the vessel that makes the 6- to 7-hour voyage across Hecate Strait from Prince Rupert, either the “Northern Adventure” or the “Northern Expedition.” The ferries, of course, are vital transportation links to the Canadian mainland and proposed cut-backs in their schedules by BC Ferries are hot topics in Island communities.

The comings and goings of the ferries and their traffic mark the hours in the passing day where I live. Coming up to the hour I hear the ferry pulling in to the wharf and as the hour passes, the ferry heads back toward Alliford Bay on the other side of the Inlet.

Over the years, I have come to judge quarter-to the hour, or quarter-after by how far the ferry is across the passage. For my need to keep time, this is generally sufficient.

Past the ferry landing,  I meander either down to the beach or out to the The Point to take in The View. It’s always the same view, of course. But it changes everyday. And as has been usual for the past couple of months, this large group of sea lions are lolling around just off The Point.

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Sea lions in Skidegate Inlet – photo C. Davies

I cannot imagine how much food there must be in these waters. The Point is known as a high energy zone and this large group represents a lot of tonnage feeding in a relatively small area. They cruise back and forth along the coast all packed up together alongside each other, huffing and puffing away. They have been here for weeks and weeks. They were in this same spot for a long time last year too.
I often hear them at night – coughing, snorting, sneezing, barking and haaruuum-phing. The Sea Lion Chorus.

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The sea lion chorus. – photo C. Davies

There are other signs of spring too – here are the snow drops down under the Old Oak Tree.

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Snowdrops (Galanthus) in the morning sun, Jan. 28, 2014 -photo C. Davies

Apparently in Great Britain (and in Canada too, I imagine) there are a group of people called galanthophiles, who, about this time of year, become more than a little unhinged about … snowdrops. There are snowdrop galas, and snowdrop parties, snowdrop prizes, snowdrop sales and even snowdrop thefts. The frenzy must be something like the tulip craze in the Netherlands in times gone by.

In today’s Telegraph, Val Bourne reports:
“Virescent snowdrops (ie green-tinged), are the current must-haves and ‘Green Tear’ (a fantastic snowdrop discovered by Gert-Jan van der Kolk near Zutphen in The Netherlands) is the Holy Grail because most can’t get it. One bulbhas already fetched £300 on eBay and last year another single bulb went for £360.”

Who-leeee. Who knew? I don’t think I’ll be trying that one at home.

And for those still heavy laden with ice and snow beneath the Arctic blast here are the very beautiful harbingers of hope for the spring.

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A scratch and splatter affair

I was barely five when I went to kindergarten – and a proud new graduate of  Sunnyside Nursery school. My nursery school memories are fragmentary… but vivid enough. My favourite crayon colour was brown. It was usually the least-used colour in the box, fresh and new and not “naked” – meaning it still had its paper wrapper clean-and-sweet attached. Maybe that’s why I liked it.  I covered whole sheets of paper in brown lines and swirls and shapes and I loved the effects of… brown. Judging by everyone else’s reaction to my artistic revelations…in brown…maybe this was the first indication, at least as I perceived it,  that I wasn’t exactly going to “fit in”.

And I was scared of the story book in which some great large man with a really gross enormous belly gobbled up a lot of people and their sailing ships (for some reason or other that I can’t remember) and then barfed them all out again. To this day there is a picture in my mind, a weird facsimilie image, of a great blue sea swirling with the voluminous aftermath. Terrifying. I haven’t much liked the colour blue since then either.

So, my first week in kindergarten, I only had a couple of days to watch the other kids mess around in the sandbox, and secretively check out the condition of the brown crayons in the art-ing supplies. This new experience was tense enough, but the anxiety level went way up when I confronted my next challenge –  being sat down at a kid-sized desk to do a paper and pencil test that involved reproducing a diamond shape in the neat and enclosed square beside the perfectly proportioned neatly printed example in the left hand box.

At five years old, getting anything to fit into The Box was difficult, but making four straight lines drawn at separate angles to meet up the corners wasn’t going to happen. As I tell the story, I failed that question, and have, to this day, concluded that I am a spatial moron. Ask me to assemble anything in two dimensions and it’s a totally dicey call if I’m going to make it. Three dimensions are a total fail! Honestly. This is not an exaggeration.

And usually I manage to get by because (thank gawd) somewhere else in my brain, my neural networks are wired for language, if not for space. So generally, I can fake it if I can get to read the manual.

Apparently I passed The Test (probably in the word skill section) and I was immediately promoted from kindergarten to grade one.

In Sydenham school, the grade one classroom was up a flight of old creaky wooden stairs, which led down a hallway with an old creaky wooden plank floor, to a large high-ceilinged classroom. There is not a lot I can remember about the classroom itself, except that the windows were very high, with many panes of glass through which you could see all the passing moods of the sky and the clouds in their sail-pasts … hour by hour.

Which was a good thing, because I had a frustrating time learning to write – not with reading, but with the problem of actually making the words appear on paper as they were supposed to. Most of my primary school experience with this activity was both upside down and backwards.

Which might explain a lot, actually as I sit here remembering the feeling of b‘s and d‘s and p‘s getting drawn out all wrong. And numbers were even more agonizing … as I got hold of that big thick kid pencil with the big thick black lead and drew as carefully and thoughtfully as I could on the dotted line… upside down and backwards. And I wanted so badly to get them right, to have them turn out on the page the way they were supposed to. No go, folks.

Fortunately, I had an unusual teacher during those first three primary years in school. Her name was Miss Hubbs and she was what I think of as a vocational teacher, dedicated in her work with us kids, and attentive to how we were learning. I made it through and by grade 4 I could mostly make the letters and the numbers the way they were supposed to be made – the way all the other kids could make them.

Except … in those days… after you finally learned to draw letters and numbers neatly in pencil, pen and ink were introduced. This is so long ago, it was just before the arrival of ball point pens and the thinking then was that you should learn to write with “traditional” writing implements – a nib pen and an ink jar. Which was of course another disaster in the making.

Those inch-log nibs that you dipped in and out of the ink wells sunk into the corner of the desk were an absolute nightmare. I’m left handed. Left-handed and nib-pens do not fit together. Mind you, this was the time when schools were still forcing left-handers to write right-handed. And that didn’t go well either.

My writing style, which had just emerged from upside down and backwards was now  scratch and splatter. It was awful!
The rest of my schooling might well be called a scratch and splatter affair altogether. There were good days and there were bad days. There were teachers who were mean and smacked me in the head when I got caught day dreaming, or mocked my errors, or were tone-deaf to my best efforts.

But there were (and are) also teachers who managed to draw me back into the learning together with my dreaming, who engaged with my curiousities on-topic and off-topic, and who met my best efforts with both challenge and encouragement.  Those are the teachers who inspire my life!

A long time standing - built in 1837 Sydenham School Kingston Ontario 2011

A long time standing – built in 1853  Sydenham School Kingston Ontario, still an elementary school in 2011

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A Noticeable Whiff of Betrayal

The Joint Review Panel decision on the Northern Gateway pipeline was announced Dec. 19 in a fragmented, quite bizarre live-TV broadcast from the National Energy Board in Calgary.

Getting all tuned up for the final episode in the Joint Review Panel series (see previous posts), I got the right channel lined up on my news feed at the announced time and sat myself down. And waited, and waited. And waited, staring at the grey computer screen.

“Live stream starting shortly.”

And more later than sooner, the live stream began with the usual scene – reporters fuddling around wiring up and plugging in  microphones and … waiting. After awhile the NEB spokesperson materialized behind the podium facing the cameras. After a fluster or two and some jittering around composing herself, the communication officer faced the cameras and intoned from the script.

“The Joint Review Panel for the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Project today recommended that the federal government approve the project subject to 209 conditions. Based on a scientific and precautionary approach to this complex review the panel found that the project if built and operated within the conditions set out in its report would be in the Canadian public interest.”

And that was it. The announcement took less than 30 seconds

A few stunted questions were lobbed forward and deflected as needed and the screen faded to grey.

“Thanks for watching. “

The whole thing took less than seven minutes.

As the character in American Splendor, portrayed by Paul Giamatti, moans while  brooding upon the image of his own face in the bathroom mirror each morning, “Well, that was a reliable disappointment.”

After two years and how-many thousands of individual, group, government, scientific, corporate and communal presentations and discussion, this was the whimper at the end.

Oh, and a 400-page downloadable PDF and 209 “conditions” as consolation.

What I hear is that familiar big fat sucking sound of transparency and accountability disappearing, as our trust is yet once more vaccuumed up into the maw of the Harper government.

The Northern Gateway report is obviously about a lot of issues with enough legal, scientific and  economic implications to challenge us all. But, in the name of just good ordinary common civility, for all those who came forward, prepared presentations and spoke to the three-member panel in the past two years, can somebody please give me a good reason why as citizens we should not be accorded the common courtesy of their thanks and presence when the outcome of their assessments of our interests is announced.

For many, at least where I live, these people where the faces, the presence and the process of governance in our midst. These three people came in their quasi-judicial and official capacities, if not as our advocates, at the very least as our intermediaries with our government. Sheila Leggett, Hans Matthews and Kenneth Bateman came to Haida Gwaii several times during the months of the Review. We met them with willingness, courtesy – and trust –  to be heard.

And then, at the end of the day, they don’t have enough respect to show up… at all. Writing a tome does not make up for personal witness and visibility in the quest for believability, confidence and trust.

What’s left for me is a void, as if the presence of real people is of no matter at all… either here where we live, or there were decisions are made.

After dropping their load – these people drift off into some faceless void and behind follows a fog, and a noticeable whiff of betrayal.

What the heck was that all about?

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Assertion of such

Looking back from Naikoon to Tow Hill and the northern coastline of Haida Gwaii.

Naikoon is a distant place and uncertain to get too—a long, long spit of sand reaching out from the north east tip of Haida Gwaii. The spit, as it dwindles its way northward, parts the waters of Dixon Entrance on the west side, and Hecate Strait on the east. It’s a wild and windswept place, where the forest cover ends, and the land juts out, a great drama of shifting sand and dune grass, sketched out over eons by the force of endless storms roaring in from the North Pacific, and by the eternal surge of tides from all points on the compass.

Naikoon is a phenomena of landscape, geography, and mythology; a place that by its raw and elemental nature is so spacious that it becomes something else entirely—a floating spacelessness barely grounded at all in the vastness of sea and sky, reaching out, and reaching out for miles into the northern ocean.

Thus, they say, it’s one of the places where it all began, where first humans emerged from a clam shell and looked all around them at the beauty of creation which is Haida Gwaii.

In the distance Tow Hill rises, a distant murmur of myth and ancient memory. Beyond are the barest sketches of land, a blue tracery on the distant horizons: Graham Island and North Island to the west, the islands of Alaska to the north, and in the east you can see, far away across the ultramarine brilliance of the sea, the snow-capped mountains near Prince Rupert.

The day we went to Naikoon, it was one of those long vivid August days that we sometimes have. Days that make you feel you have travelled to a different country, or a different planet even, because the world looks so altered from the low cloud skies and grey seas that we know most of the year.

Dune grass on Naikoon spit shining in the August sun.

It’s not an easy place to get to. In my earlier days, I have walked to Naikoon but it’s a long way—some ten miles from where the local road ends at the HiEllen River. So this time we drove in a small family convoy.

You have to choose your tides carefully to careen down the beach where the sand is hard-packed and then bump up onto a rough track by the tree line to avoid the pea-gravel patches where vehicles can get deeply mired and have to be abandoned to the tide, as happens from time to time.

It was one of those rare summer days when the sunlight bolts out of the heavens in great brilliant shards reflecting the landscape sharp and hard-edged and makes you squint tight, even with sunglasses and hat visor.

The rolling waves of dune grass shine shoulder-high, cresting deep green as a field of grain, but oh so much tougher, with sharp edged, pointy blades and preternaturally tenacious roots holding fast to the sand. The wild strawberries, (now long finished for the season) white-flowered yarrow, and feathery tansy lie in low and sweet-smelling carpets facing the sun. A few sheltered beach peas are still in mauve and purple flower.

On the northwest side of the spit, the fair-weather wind blows quite fiercely, but on the leeward, east side, it is sheltered and calm.

We pulled up the trucks and ate our lunch of hard-boiled eggs, and jarred fish, and salami on a bun, and made tea on the tailgate camp stove. The kids ran and hid in the long grass. And we wandered on the beach, searching intently for agates and the kids found a bucketful.

Ah… yes, that is just so: the wandering and the searching.

Remembering now, in the hazy days of September, back into that vivid August day, it’s the wandering and the searching that I recall.

The track in the sand trickles onward out to the very end of Naikoon, Dixon Entrance on the left and Hecate Strait on the right.

Naikoon is the kind of place that entices awareness. Who am I, here in this place, meandering through the dune grass in all this spaciousness of mind?

On these islands, every nuance of the land— rock, hill, promontory, mountain, headland and bay—is history, sign, and lesson in Haida life and culture. All is named and known and conveys in its every nature both identity and meaning.

And, although this is not my land and not my story, I have lived here a long time—and things happen when you live here a long time—even if you are one of the yatz xaaydaGa (iron people).  I have done a lot of wandering and wondering, it seems. And eventually, the forms of the landscape have begun to assert themselves on my sense of time and place…and point the way into a very different kind of geography.

Who am I here? Am I only another dark shadow passing on the this bright shore? Am I the faintest blue smudge of another island on the horizon? Or am I accreted here like a grain of sand entangled in the roots of the dune grass?

And how do I know where my place is?

Reaching out into the sea and sky is that long spit of land, we call Naikoon, visible and invisible in the movement of the waves and the tide, shifting and moving always, all pearly and white shining foam in the summer sun. And I follow there, in that direction, where the trail in the sand leads, all the way out into the distance where I come from. Which is another sea, another island.

And, as all the bright green-ness fades into fall and winter approaches, it becomes so clear to me: neither could I see, nor comprehend, nor make my way at all, if it weren’t for being and seeing…here.

And so, on that bright, sun-flooded, summer day, we came away from Naikoon. We thumped our way back along the sand track, and wallowed through the pea gravel and went singing out along the long beach, skirting the foaming waves of the incoming tide, riding toward the brilliance of the sun coming low over Tow Hill.

The great North Beach on Haida Gwaii. Naikoon is ten miles down the beach as far as the eye can see, reaching out beyond the treeline seen in the background of the photo.

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In the footsteps of ants

Other than the scary time once, when I got lost, I don’t know that bogs and wetlands are noted for drama of any sort. It’s the silence and the solitude of bogs that I seek, not the adrenaline highs of extreme adventure or any excitement of the chase. A visit to the bog is not the kind of item I can see anybody adding to their bucket-list  Nor are the bogs I know destination locations for either traffic or tourists on Haida Gwaii.

The landscape of a bog is inscrutable, really. The scrubby trees and endless hummocks of sphagnum moss rise and fall in all directions the same, a mantle of yellow-green and sepia across a glacier-scraped land form.

Sounds here are distant, muted and ephemeral. The murmur of a passing car starts way off in the distance, circles around in all directions and then drifts off, upwards into the sky and fades to nothing.

I have read that there are very few places in the world now where you can find silence from man-made noises for more than 20 minutes. On Haida Gwaii there are bogs I have been too, where if you walk in for awhile, on a still day, the silence soon becomes so entire and profound that I swear you can hear the footsteps of the ants.

On a grey day with no sun, the whole world becomes silent and directionless. When I go any distance into the bog now, I mark the way, Hansel and Gretel-like…for fear that I may find myself lost once again and wandering forever on a never-ending Argonaut Plain.

Last week we headed up to the area around Gold Creek on the road between Tlell and Port Clements. The bog there is easily accessible (for most people) and I wanted to see what shrubs and flowers are blooming. So off we went, parked the van by the bridge and scampered  down over the rip-rap rocks on the slope and forged our way into the sedgy marsh at the edge of the creek. Actually, to be truthful, while some people scampered, I clambered with hands and feet…carefully.

I tend to be a bit clumsy at the best of times, and with increasing age, my vision and co-ordination aren’t exactly improving. So, as I was marching through shoulder-high grassy sedges along the winding channel of Gold Creek, I tripped over a half-submerged, invisible log, and found myself in the midst of a slow-motion, gentle but total, smack down. Disappearing from the known world, down I went deep into the all the spiky greenery, coming to a stop in full-body contact with several inches of cold, brown gurgling bog-water.

Oh dear! Time and motion came to a halt, as me and the cold goo were integrated as One.

Some people study bogs… like go to university for years to learn what-is-what in a bog. These people have a firm footing in systems of ecological classification and elegant descriptions of all things to do with swamps, bogs, marshes and fens. Obviously, I am lacking a firm footing in anything at all.

My tumble in the marsh was a sense-ational experience of bog, a penetrating experience of bog in its most bog-like qualities of soft, wet, clamoring ooziness. It was a moment when the pretense of thinking I know what I am doing at any given moment abandoned me entirely. Me and the bog…we had one of those deep relational encounters that change everything. And I am reminded, as I ought to be, of the true nature of my faltering footsteps on this broad earth.

And so, I picked myself up, very, very slowly and with careful and detailed consideration, figured out exactly how waterlogged I was. Which was thoroughly. I looked a mess. I was a mess, and a wet one at that.

At first, I felt like a little kid wanting to whine and wail all the way home. But, I was having a brave day, apparently, and the weather was grey, but neither windy nor cold. So onward I traipsed through the jungle of sedges and onto firmer ground along the creek edge.

And I found what I had been coming to see. Blooming all along the creek were masses of sundew, and trailing cranberry, almost invisible in layers of moss and sedge. The Labrador tea shrubs were in full and fragrant blossom and even the swamp laurel had a few beautiful purple-pink flowers remaining.

The creek wandered through the meadows in many snaky S-bends, reflecting sky and trees and green, green grasses. The birds sang from afar in the forest, and the stillness enveloped us.

Notes to self re: clothing protocol for bog walks.
Buy gumboots.
Do lot leave them in the van.
Carry rain gear, pants and jacket in backpack.
Put them on before getting soaked!

(All photos by C. Davies.)

Labrador tea about to bloom.

The flowers of the tiny bog cranberry trailing through the moss.

The last blooms of the swamp laurel for this season.

Lingonberry in bloom.

A macro view of the carnivorous bog plant, the sundew, in sphagnum moss.

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