postcard from the Surf Motel

Down Vancouver Island this morning after a terrific reading event last evening in Nanaimo, Wordstorm, with a generous audience (and a delicious Goan prawn dish first at the host restaurant, the Tandoori Junction). I said, as we drove, that I always know when I’m on the Island (where I spent most of the first twenty five years of my life, apart from some years in Halifax, Matsqui, Greece, and Ireland) because my skin feels as though it’s come home. I know where I am by scent. By the air. And approaching Goldstream River, I knew the salmon were there. We stopped and in pouring rain I walked out to see them, the chum (or dog) salmon my father used to take us to see each autumn. The salmon I’m used to watching now are sockeye and coho, both more colourful when they spawn, so it took my eyes a few minutes to see the silver bodies in the grey water. But I could smell them, a fresh smell, water and fish and rain. There were a few dead ones


and gulls whirling above, a kingfisher rattling in a cedar, and walking back, I was surprised to see blossom:


I thought of Michelle Shocked’s song “Blackberry Blossom” and it seemed so right to be humming it as I returned to the car where John was listening to jazz:

Can you tell me what happened to the blossom
Blackberry blossom when the summertime came?
The blackberry blossom, oh the last time I saw one
Was down in the bramble where I rambled in the spring.

Everything a piece, a part of my history, my memory, even stopping in to see the Mammoth exhibit at the Museum with Angelica and being reminded, among the mastadon jaws and the mammoth tusks and even Lyuba herself, 42,000 years old,


that one of my sons, aged about 4, used to say that he wanted to be Early Man when he grew up, having been entranced by drawings of hominini in my old anthropology textbooks, hairy people around campfires with mammoths lurking in the background. So time passes, rivers run, salmon spawn, boys grow up to be mathematicians rather than Australopithicus, and the breakwater at Ogden Point is now fenced for our safety. Still, the sealions pass in joy, a heron fishes from a clump of bull kelp, and the sea, oh the sea, is the same sea I loved as a child, the mountains of the Olympic Peninsula barely visible through cloud.

And now back at the Surf Motel where we stayed when one son (that son) was married to his sweetheart on Beacon Hill and where I walked on the breakwater very early on the morning of his wedding, remembering everything.

Early man, wish you were here.

Where we are in the year

The other day we stopped at Anderson Creek to see the chum salmon run in progress. These are Oncorhynchus keta, also called dog salmon for the hooked snout and canine-like teeth the males form during spawning. (The females develop a less pronounced version of this kype as well.) They are lovely fish, about 10-20 pounds, with green and dark purple vertical bars on their bodies.  I think their migration is the longest of any of the genus. When we stopped the other day, the water level was quite low — we’ve had a very long mild fall thus far, with only a little rain.

Today I went back, hoping to take a few photographs. All last night it rained hard and the creek was quite full. I thought how often I’d come to Anderson Creek on school field trips, all the children watching the drama of the living fish and the dead. Just beyond, Oyster Bay with its remnants of ancient fish weirs, and everywhere the scent of the season — leaves, rotting fish, damp ground.  I wish I could share the sound of the salmon pushing their way through cold water to find the right place to dig their redds and lay their eggs. It’s one of the best ways to know where we are in the year — bears fattening on the carcasses, ravens klooking in the cedars, eagles making their thin vocalizations that sound so eerie filtered down through rain and trees.

The light wasn’t good for pictures but I took some anyway and hope you can see the shapes of the fish in the water, under ferns, hovering with a chosen mate.