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.
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.
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.