Photo: View from the Ignace's window at Hesquiat Village
"Winds light, increasing to NW 10-15 in the afternoon" was the forecast for the day. Perfect for a trip to Hesquiat. This Native village sits on the east side of the long low Hesquiat Peninsula, open to the south. From its shore you can look out over the ocean - to nothing. Anchoring there feels as if you are anchored in the middle of no where. Winds from the north shriek across the low-lying land and winds from the south bring heavy seas. Add to that a poor holding ground for anchoring and a breakwater deep enough for dinghys only - and only at high tide and you can see why the conditions have to be just right.
We first visited Hesquiat for its history, the site of the first mission on the west coast of Vancouver Island, but now return to visit with the Ignaces, the only family living in this isolated place year round.
Blue skies, warm temperatures and a light breeze marked the day. We tacked north along the shore, admiring black stone bluffs cut with arches and sea caves and topped with fringes of wind-swept cedars.
Off the village our anchor bounced across boulders before finally grabbing. Ashore, the tide was just filling in behind the breakwater. We tied up the dinghy and turned to greet Danne Ignace who had walked out to greet us. Dressed in shorts and a T-shirt with her gray hair tied back in a single braid, Dianne looked like the no-nonsense hard-worker she is. Not a Native herself, she has embraced the isolated life in this remote Native village of her husband Dave, home-schooling their four children and adopting a subsistence life-style. (I'm using subsistence in the positive Alaskan sense, meaning using natural resources to support your life.)
As we walked ashore on top of the breakwater we discussed the last time we had stopped here. "It must have been in 2006," I said.
"Yes," said Dianne. "When you gave me the book [Voyages to Windward]. It had that picture of me in the dress that I burned right afterwards. Four pictures in four books in the same dress was enough!"
In their house with its stunning view of Hesquiat Harbour, Dianne served tea and coffee. The tea was already hot, kept in a pot on her wood-burning stove. We were joined by Dave and their daughter Coryanne (sp?), recently graduated from high school and taking a class in photography. Coryanne showed us pictures on her computer of bears and wolves taken from her bedroom window. "I've got everything but a cougar so far," she said.
Dianne told us about their latest project: building a boardwalk out to Village Lake where seaplanes can land. In the winter they can't land a boat on the beach for weeks. The boardwalk will be big enough to carry a stretcher out in an emergency. They are building the boardwalk of hand-split cedar from driftwood and today Dave and their son Jeff were repairing their Boston Whaler boat so they could go out and retrieve logs from the beach.
"We always have people here in the summer," Dianne told us. "I counted more than 30 young people who have spent significant time here. People send us teenagers who need to get away from bad influences or who just want to experience the traditional lifestyle."
Dianne has been writing a book: "Thirty years at Hesquiat." "At least that's what it started as," she told us. "It became 32 years at Hesquiat and then 33 and now something like 37. I've been in five books so far, but I haven't gotten a penny for it." Her comment made me wonder if I exploited them by writing about them but she has always been so welcoming. It's certainly something I need to think about.
The tide was coming in over the breakwater and it was time to leave. We said our goodbyes and returned to Osprey. We still had time to get back to Hot Springs Cove and have hot baths.
Dianne at her wood-burning cookstove where t he tea kettle is always on