If it hadn't been for the nagging concerns raised by my bladder, I might not have noticed the heavy splatter of rain on the deck over my head in this morning's early hours. The patches of blue that had put in their appearance late the previous afternoon must only have been teasing, because I finally awoke to downpour. With that prospect to greet me, it was with some reticence that I threw off the covers and, anticipating a chilly day, pulled on long underwear under my jeans, longsleeve knit shirt, and woolen vest. Adding a nice, thick pair of socks to the ensemble, I finally stood in the galley to make breakfast. I balanced my external warmth's internal counterpart with a double serving of hot, steel-cut oats.
Loathe to venture out into the wet, I nestled down and let Cap Blanchett continue telling me of her adventures on the waterways of the Queen Charlotte Sound and Johnstone Strait. Looking up as I closed the book on its last page, I saw it was already 10 o'clock. Half the morning was gone and I hadn't yet had any adventures of my own, so I pulled on my rain gear and stuck my head out the hatch. My body followed obediently and together we climbed over the side into the dinghy and cranked up the outboard. Cozier than might be expected in pouring rain, I enjoyed a motor around the bay. Putting in and out along the swooping shoreline, I discovered ever new combinations of rock, moss, and tree that continued to fascinate. The woods were mostly quiet, though the occasional king fisher scolded from beyond sight and the trees and the bay chattered quietly to one another with the falling rain.
What lay beneath the water's surface was not easy to see, speckled as it was with splashes. Those splashes were fewer where the boughs of the forest reached beyond the shore, but the drops collected by the overhanging branches were bigger and left bubbles floating on the surface as evidence of their passing. I cautiously kept my distance from the shore, but occasionally a lighter green underwater shadow would loom ahead of me to warn of a boulder or stump, and I would swing further away. I apparently didn't have the good sense god had given most wildlife in these parts, because I saw no beasts and few fowl out in this weather. The occasional seagull standing watch on a rocky islet and the flotilla of mergansers I saw get passes on the good sense issue, ...they are water fowl after all. But the damp skies dampened my spirits no less than it did the birds' and I continued my shoreline prowl for well over an hour, sometimes twisting the throttle up to full to race to some feature of the inlet I'd spied far ahead.
The tidal rapids described in the Dreamspeaker guide had piqued my curiosity, so I retraced Mabrouka's course at top speed back across the expanse of Von Donop's lower bay, diverting at lower speed around the corner to the arm that springs eastward off the main inlet to form Von Donop Lagoon. It was pretty high tide and I understood the "falls" to exist only during ebb when the trapped waters of the lagoon had to rush over the rocks to catch up with the rest of the outward tidal flow, so it was with only a little caution that I began my negotiations with the narrows. The scenery had me well and truly distracted when the dinghy swung wildly to one side, the stern lifting noticably, and the outboard motor announced with shuddering jolts that my caution had been insufficient. I struggled against balance as I hurriedly reached to bump the gear lever into neutral, hoping to save damage to the prop. Now up on my knees, I could see through the water's reflecting surface to the rocks below. I drifted in with the current for a few seconds before it seemed safe to reengage the motor and give it enough throttle to turn back up stream, working my way through a safer channel and back to deeper water.
With my somewhat matter-of-fact attitude toward life, I recover from such hair-raising events fairly quickly and, once my pulse had slowed to only slightly above normal, my next impulse was to stop the engine and tilt it up to check for damage to the prop. Realizing that that would accomplish nothing except satisfy my curiosity, I decided instead to test the equipment with a speed run back down the bay that would give the dinghy it's earliest opportunity to commiserate with its big sister, Mabrouka, over the poor treatment it had received. I was pretty soaked by then, and hiding out in the dry cabin sounded like a good remedy for my own growing discomfort. I did hoist the motor and check the prop once I'd tied up. It had suffered a few dings, but nothing disastrous. Maybe that's why they call a dinghy and ding(h)y.
So, I was still left with most of a day's worth of self-entertainment to devise. Writing up yesterday's adventures filled the bill for a couple of hours, but when that had drawn itself to a happy conclusion, I looked up to see that the clouds had lifted and thinned out. With friends' exhortations not to miss the trail to Squirrel Cove in mind, I eagerly packed my camera and tripod and a rain jacket into my backpack and headed for the shore. As I'd noted at the beginning of my ill-concluded dinghy jaunt this morning, the trail head was only about 100 yards from where I'd anchored, though without the bold white letters of the park sign to announce its location, I never would have spotted it for a well-trodden path. The sign stood at the shoulder of a dank patch of gravelly beach that formed a soggy porch before a gloomy, almost forebidding cave of branches into the bayside forest.
Tying the dinghy to the base of the sign with a long line to accommodate the now dropping tide, I was a little startled by the notice I saw stapled to the post. It was a warning that wolves had been spotted in the area and offered a full page of helpful hints on how to discourage them from eating yours truly, John Q. Public. Determining after a few befuddled moments that I did not, in fact, have a thirty-aught-six stashed back aboard Mabrouka, I remembered the hiking shoes I'd left behind, so I motored quickly back to grab them. It was a last-minute inspiration to snag the air horn I use for signalling the bridge operators along the Seattle ship canal to open up. One of the techniques recommended by the friendly forest guides to prevent consumption by wolves was to make loud noises and wave your arms to make yourself seem as big and threatening as possible. Well, if you know me you know I've got big covered, so now I was equipped with loud, too.
I perched my little butt on a log at the foot of the trail to pull off my rubber boots and replace them with the trail shoes I'd just recovered from the boat, then hoisted my back pack across my shoulders. It was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, then, that I set off up a wide trail that was lit only by the alluring light that filtered through the trees. The rain had used this first stretch as a pathway to the bay, so it wore a freshly knitted shawl of bark and twigs around its shoulders while its muddy breast showed a cleavage laced with newly bared roots.
But I only allude to women in afterthought. At that time I was thinking of wolves. What, indeed, would I do if I came across one on this path. I would be miles from help with only two directions to go, forward or back. Wolves hunt in packs, right? So if I was confronted with one toothy grin ahead of me on the trail and, as the warning advised, backed away from it without turning my back, I'd be offering my blind side to its hunting partners who were surely arrayed in a lupinous phalanx behind me, ready to nip at my achilles tendons and take me down for the kill. If, instead, I did turn and run, ...after, of course, doing my biggest and loudest immitation of the terrifying Sailscrotch, they'd just run me to exhaustion like a doomed deer or wait until I tripped on some helpful root and pile on for lunch.
Well, these nightmares wore themselves out in pretty short order. I armed myself with a couple of stout hiking staffs to humor my silly fears away and convinced myself that, if I did become wolf food in the dank forests of Cortes Island, alone and friendless along the trail between Von Donop Inlet and Squirrel Cove, it would make a fine, no, a DAMNed fine blog entry ...for someone, anyway.
Fact is, I see very, very little wild life in these woods. You may recall that I described encounters with black-tailed deer in my entry from Blake Island some weeks ago, and the occasional raccoon has creeped into my accounts. But I expected no such luck for anything as dramatic as a groundhog, much less a wolf attack. No, the l struggles here are all in slow motion. Forests are all about that. They are an infinite crawl of life and death, birth and decay. Trees, growing and grown, topple by nature and are pulled back into the soil by tentacles of fern and moss that reach up at them like monsters from the abyssal soil. Mushrooms and fungi explode from the carcasses in white and brown, orange and red. I'll bet a time-lapsed sequence of just one photo a day spread over a year or two would reveal a writhing scene of life striving upward against the incessant gravity of death and decay.
Still, it is a verdant place full of bright green blankets and silver spears of light through the leafy canopy. I did see several beetles crossing the path that were built like large ants, inch long, six-legged Peterbuilts pulling big, brown semi trailers across the mud. And, of course, there were the ever-present banana slugs in their slimy black or mottled green and brown wetsuits, their antennae like snorkles, feeling ahead for obstructions, but more hopefully for food. I used to notice every one of them. Indeed, some are quite large, several inches in length, and demand attention. I'd hate to step on one of those behemoths where there was any slope to the trail. I'm sure my feet would good shooting out from under me with a great, squishing floop and I'd crash down atop the now pulpy mass, mashing it further into the soil with my backside.
But now I notice them with only a glance and let my feet figure out how to avoid them. I am more attentive to spider webs draped across the trail. They're usually just individual strands that have drifted on the breeze and found themselves slung between miscellaneous twigs. If I come across an actual web, I try to have respect for the investment the spider has made with its own, precious biomass and go around it. But if that can't be arranged, I apologize, offer advice that it would be wiser to string her traps where she won't snare prey that's just way too big for her to handle, then I brush the deadly artwork aside. Still, with my attention divided between foot path and the beautiful whispering trees around me, some of those semi-invisible threads escape my notice and I frequently have to stop to brush the tickles away from my forehead, face, and ears.
I'd stop, too, for occasional listening breaks. Besides the rustle of the trees in the wind, the silence contains sparks of sound: the sharp twitter of birds, bongo beats from distant wood peckers, the raucous chatter of squirrels. Those little imps are fun and display a broad array of abusive language used to yell at you about your invasion of their privacy. I watched one pair chasing eachother in spirals up and down the trunk of one tree, pausing to scold, then jumping from branch to branch. They'd called my presence to the attention of a small, dark grey finch of unknown variety, who came up with a soft, fluffy flit-flitty-flit sound in the bushes behind me. It came around in a flanking maneuver, cutting off my retreat back down the path, but apparently just wanted to observe my intrusion. The movement of forest birds are more like a series of snapshots that jump from branch to twig, twig to branch, punctuated by brief blurs that transition between one quick pose and the next. I humored the forest sentinals for a couple of minutes, imagining myself as Snow White, singing them a falsetto invitation to perch on my shoulders and outstretched, lily-white hands. The contrast between that image and reality squashed this hideous fantasy to a pulp in the briefest of moments, and I moved on. No dwarves appeared to troop along behind me.
This hike displayed every Disneyesque delight I'd had any right to expect, but the far end was a let down. After the dramatically ominous entry past the wolf warning and into the dark cave of trees, under the green-golden canopy and along the root-knotted path, ...after ducking spider webs and stepping carefully around careening banana slugs, to come out of the green and be faced with a yellow-striped, asphalt road was a bit of a shock. Half a kilometer back I'd heard the gattling gun chatter of king fishers ahead and anticipated stepping out onto some lofty view over Squirrel Cove, but it was not to be. My heels had begun to chafe and I expected blisters to greet me when I took my shoes off this evening, but it only took me a minute to turn around and begin the three kilometer trek back home. At least this time I'd have already cleared the trail of spider webs to forehead height and could give the slugs and beetles due caution. The half-kilometer trail markers went by more quickly while I enjoyed the hike from the reversed perspective. I stopped to watch a pileated wood pecker track down its evening meal of bugs-in-bark and the last spectre of wolf attack dissappeared behind me as I put my rubber boots back on and waded out to the dinghy.
While hiding from me above the leafy overhead, the sky had decided to expose broad expanses of blue during my walk. It was after 6 pm when I got back aboard Mabrouka, so I revved up the BBQ to cook up my remaining three sausages, prepared buns, gathered condiments, and settled in the cockpit to tend the grill and sip my rum and lemonade. Watching the darkening shore framed by the evening sky above, its duplicate reflected in inverted split-image on the bay around me made me think I was surrounded by a continuous green, black, and purple Rohrshach test. That thought put aside to wait its turn while I worked on reimagining the day's events for this blog, it has not made it out until now. It was after 9 pm when I climbed into my warm bunk for a long night's sleep, bringing a close to a good day.