Water, Part 1
August 6, 2010
by Julia DeWitt
As an archipelago in the northwest of North American, this land is about the water.
Even though we are closer to the Alaska panhandle than we are to the Canadian mainland, the sea is Caribbean in its turquoise hue, and tropical in its clarity. But the color itself also has a unique density and depth to it that makes you always want to look harder at it, to get your face closer and closer to the surface as if something as yet unknown is about to become clearer, but never quite does.
The water is beautiful as well as functional for island residents. Recently, I was sitting on the beach that was also the back yard of a family who was generous enough to invite this stranger over for fresh lingcod and home-grown vegetables. One son came buzzing up in their boat, back from a day of hunting and fishing, with two crabs the size of my head to share around. This, he explained, was a fruitless expedition.
I was overjoyed with their bounty, but apparently it didn’t compare to what people usually can draw from these waters. People depend on it, and indeed the water delivers much of the nutrition that sustains Haida Gwaii residents. Since then, fresh seafood has come across every doorstep that I have sat on. Crab and salmon are an everyday, and scallops, sea cucumber, sea asparagus, abalone, and huge lingcod are close at hand. People literally hand out top-of-the-line fish to anyone that hasn’t been out fishing that day because they can’t eat everything that they have caught. When I first caught on to this habit, I mentioned that I might get a crabbing permit to a new friend and come by with a few if he would like. He politely declined. “We have crab traps set just off the back there,” pointing to his small yard that drops off into the bay. “People around here aren’t exactly hurting for seafood.”
One can see why the Haida were so prosperous. As islanders, naturally they were a sea-faring people. They were known then and now for their impeccably designed and decorated canoes which they took to trade and plunder up and down the west coast of North America. Some say that they may have even made it as far as Japan.
Haida sea-craft is all the more impressive when one remembers that these are also tempestuous waters, a fact that our kayakers to the south are dealing with as we speak. It has been sunny and sixty-five, exceptional weather for this region that I have been warned against getting used to. But down in Gwaii Haanas the Northwesterly has been up, and funneling around, under, and beside smaller islands to create conditions that one park ranger said he had never seen in his twenty years in the park. Word on the radio is that they have been taking their time and playing it safe, but they most certainly will not make it to their original destination of Rose Harbor. No doubt they have done a lot of exploring instead. They will certainly have stories to tell when they arrive back on Saturday.
by Julia DeWitt