Well, it hasn’t felt too much like June this week, with chilly winds, rather short sunny spells and unseasonably low temperatures. Pretty dry, although the weekend forecast predicts that will change!
We usually see bears out and about when we’re out and about, certainly as May heads into June, but I hadn’t seen a single one until last Monday.
A favourite bear spotting site, or bear sighting spot, is from a little one way bridge heading into Hitacu. The bridge and road pass over a shingle, grass and mud patch, a smaller inlet off the bigger inlet, with a tidal zone that entices bears out of the forest fringe. For the past few weeks I’ve glanced over in hopes of seeing a bear or two, and was disappointed each way every day. Until Monday afternoon!
It was one of the rare sunny spells and feeling quite warm just after midday – not necessarily prime bear spotting conditions, but there s/he was, on all fours, head down and munching contentedly on whatever was good to eat. Result! A happy PlaidCamper, since I’d been getting a little concerned. Fewer bears or deteriorating vision?
On the way home a little while later, the same bear, or a twin, was still there, moved up some but foraging away in the afternoon sun.
I’ll be spending more time in and around Hitacu as June warms up and the summer rolls in. Early mornings are a good time for spotting bears, so I’m hopeful I’ll catch a few more glimpses of a furry favourite along the shores.
I’ll keep this brief – bearly a post – thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!
Things of a medical nature have been all over the news cycle the past few months, and particularly the last week or two. A helicopter for an ambulance? A healthy glow?! Immunity! Don’t worry, this won’t be a PlaidCamper rant about miracle cures and inequalities in health care as personified by mango-hued tax dodging toddlers. Although it might have been, had the last sentence run on any longer.
No. No ranting. This is a post full of true and nearly true stories. Almost cinematic, full of visual poetry, and likely requiring a Terence Malick, Jane Campion, or Peter Weir to capture the moving intensity and subtle dreamy drama. A tale of a man at a crossroads in life. Cue voiceover: In a world…
Cut! Too much? Ok. Cut. Take two. This will be a post full of the brave exploits of a young-to-early middle-aged PlaidCamper, a potential boon to the medical world if only he would consider yet another mid-to-very-early life crisis, and switch careers. Montage! A white coat? Nice. A stethoscope? Yes please. Rugged calmness in the face of death and disease? Oh, yes doctor. Cut! Stop! Enough of this.
Sorry, I don’t know what came over me. I almost swooned, understandably enough, at the thought of me in a white coat. Imagine a cross between George Clooney and Dr. Fauci, only many decades younger, and you’d be close. No? Assisted by soft lighting, and no close ups? And a wig? Not even? Where were we? Poor scriptwriting on this one. This is like Apocalypse Now, but medical. Let’s start with basic training.
Did I mention I participated in a Wilderness First Aid course? A week of skills and scenarios, designed to replicate real life situations, complete with all too convincing fake broken bones, buckets of blood, and stick on wounds and injuries too disgusting for The Walking Dead. All in a rainforest setting, and directed by a first aid trainer who looked nothing like Francis Ford Coppola. I think a young Martin Sheen, slightly too old for the part, yet fortunate enough to bear a certain resemblance to an OldPlaidCamper, will play me in the following scenes.
Cut, cut, cut! Sorry, Martin, we won’t be needing you. Haven’t you heard, PlaidCamper? Cinema is another victim of the virus. And Martin at any age looks nothing like you.
In truth, my never entirely realistic dream of becoming a doctor soon evaporated in the heat of simulated medical battle. I’m not a particularly good first aider, certainly not compared with how well our young participants coped in testing situations. They’d be elbow deep, or at least, gloved hands on, treating the injuries while I was still reciting lessons and trying to remember how to tie a sling. Fluffing my lines. Let’s just say I won’t be in any reboot of ER…
…unless it is in the patient role. I excelled! Lie down and grumble about aches and pains? Check! Fake a heart attack? I’ll do it! Food poisoning due to mushroom picking stupidity? I can fake that! Make up a medical history to confuse trainees? No problem! Wander off, pretend to pee in the woods, be startled by a bear and shoot myself with bear spray? I did that! Pretending, not for real. I was meant to do this! I’m a natural.
I really have had a near miss with bear spray, and know what it feels like. Method actor, that’s me. I search for the truth in stories and inhabit the characters I portray. I have to get under the skin of a role. Or under the skin of anyone nearby.
You’d like to hear my bear spray true story? One of Nature, red in tooth and claw? A terrifying tale of one man alone in the wilderness? Nope, it was none of that. I was in a supermarket parking lot, and walked round to the passenger side of the car to get my wallet out of a backpack. The pack was in the passenger footwell. I pulled on it to pick it up, when a strap got caught under the seat. Instead of slowing down and releasing the pack gently, I simply pulled harder, somehow breaking the trigger guard on the bear spray attached to the pack, delivering a dose all over the car radio and hand brake. Customers in the parking lot were treated to my first performance of man almost shoots himself with bear spray and scrambles backwards on all fours. If you’ve seen The Exorcist spider scene, you know how it went. Like that, but faster and with more swearing. It made my head spin, and some of the onlookers too.
It took weeks to clean and remove the remnants. I’d be driving along, sipping a cup of coffee and changing the radio station, and a few moments later get a bad burning sensation around my mouth. It wasn’t how I made the coffee. A few particles of weeks-old bear spray really pack a punch…
Fascinating insight into the craft, don’t you think?
Yes, I brought all my experience to the patient role. I certainly tested the patience of fellow first aid participants. I drew the line at letting them volunteer me for staging a drowning recovery after falling off a dock incident, although it was kind of them to think of me. It’s an honour just to be nominated.
I got an email from Francis, our first aid trainer, just the other day. Imagine my surprise that it contained confirmation I passed the course! It was like winning an Oscar. If I had them, I’d like to thank my manager, my agent, the producers, my personal trainer, personal chef, accountant, my personal trainer’s personal trainer, the wig maker, George Clooney, Dr. Fauci, and the bald one in ER. Also, commiserations to Martin, but come on, only I could play me in this movie…
Oh, the monstrous ego. Cut! That’s a wrap. I’ve got to wait by the phone, be ready to take the calls from Hollywood. Fade to black.
Monstrous ego indeed. Enough of that guy. I’ll finish by acknowledging how well our young participants did in the WFA course, and how safe we’ll all be out on the land in the future. They learned so much in a relatively short time, and showed real leadership and an ability to act and think clearly in stressful situations. Nothing fazed them!
Well, thankfully none of the plotless nonsense you’ve just read will ever get a theatrical release. Are you still here?! Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!
When I think about it, maybe theft isn’t quite the right word. I otter know, because I was a witness to the alleged crime. With that said, if gang related incidents cause you distress, it’s best you stop reading.
Not so long ago, we were sat up on the sun deck at The Eagle’s Nest, enjoying the view across the bay, and enjoying a glass of Tofino Blonde. I think our reason for an early afternoon beer was that it was sunny and early afternoon. We’d been out for a wander around the harbours, had sat and observed a bear foraging along the far shore, and perhaps thought we’d better sit down some more somewhere else.
Anyway, from the deck you can observe the small craft coming and going, keep an eye on the bald eagles flying to and fro, and witness the total bird commotion caused when a fishing boat, large or small, passes by with a catch. There’s a small processing station just in front of the pub, and it was here the crime took place.
A fisherman was taking care of his haul, and it looked like he’d had a pretty good day, with several fish in a cooler by his feet as well as the one he was dealing with on the table. Gulls were taking a keen interest in his work, and perhaps they distracted the poor chap. While he was looking over at the gulls, a river otter popped up onto the dock, enticed by the catch in the cooler. Bold as you like, the otter grasped a large fish in its jaws and pulled it across the deck towards the water. The fisherman caught sight of the movement at his feet, and hesitated, one hand on the fish at the table, and the other holding his filleting knife. This hesitation – was he concerned the gulls would pounce as he dealt with the otter? – proved costly, and when he took a step towards the otter, it was too late. Splash! A few ripples and then nothing. The fisherman smiled and shrugged, put a lid on the cooler, and went back to filleting his catch. He did stop every now and then to take a look over his shoulder.
I don’t know much about gang life, I’ve heard of the Bloods and the Crips, and seen motorcycle gangs out on the highways, but the Ucluelet River Otters are a whole different kind of notorious, particularly around the docks of Ucluelet. You keep your bait and tackle box closed when these fellows are about, and maybe don’t go down the gangways by yourself.
As we finished our drinks, we saw the otter come back up onto a different floating dock behind the filleting station. Was he going to have another go?! Then another otter popped up, and another, and another. The whole gang was there! They scurried towards the cooler and then back, testing to see if the fisherman had noticed them. Oh, he was wise to their ways, and quickly completed his tasks and made off home, one fish lighter than he’d hoped for. The Ucluelet River Otter Gang loitered for a few more minutes, looking tough and territorial, before slipping back into the water. They were probably cruising round to check out the Inner Harbour…
We sympathized a little with the fisherman, but mostly we were rooting for and applauding the opportunism and silky skills of the otter. If we’re called to testify, we’ll say we saw nothing. I’m not messing with the River Otter Gang.
Sounds spooky, and Hallowe’en is weeks away. What’s going on?
We had plans to hike up a good stretch of Long Beach last week, starting from the Kwisitis Visitor Centre, and continuing until legs or snacks gave out. Unfortunately, a large black bear was wandering back and forth across a narrow section of beach, and Parks Canada were there to ensure the bear was left alone, and our walk was cut short. Instead, we opted to mooch about on Lismer and South Beach, and Scout attempted to dig her way to the southern hemisphere. Time well spent.
Yes, yes, all quite lovely, but what about the surf ghosts? I can’t hear you cry.
We returned to the same beach a couple of days later, and the weather was warm, but very foggy along the shore. Bear warning signs were in place, and we were a little reluctant to head out, because we wouldn’t be able to see the bear in the mist. When we stopped to think about it, mist, fog, rain or shine, we rarely spot bears because they’ve already seen/heard us and moved along. That said, we prefer a longer view and a bit of distance where possible.
Great. The ghost surfers?!
We decided to wait out the fog, believing it would lift as the morning wore on, and start our walk with a clearer view. We settled down on a log, broke into our snack supply, and saw a couple of surfers emerge onto the beach and head to the waves. They made an interesting sight through the veil of mist. Before coming to this part of the coast, if you’d said anything to me about surfing, I’d think of Hawaii and board shorts, and a beach bar serving drinks with an umbrella in. That, or my sad and exhausting attempts at surfing off the coast of the Isle of Wight (southern UK, frigid English Channel waters) many, many years ago. If there was a bar serving drinks with an umbrella in, I didn’t see it…
Our ghost surfers were kitted out in wetsuits, sensibly enough, and took to the waters without hesitation, appearing to have a fine time in the surf. They played for nearly an hour, and when they finally came back out of the water, I hope they had something warming to drink, no umbrellas.
Eventually, the fog cleared enough for us to head up the beach, and we had a pleasant walk, spotting shore birds and no bear. After an hour, the next fog bank rolled in, and we retraced our steps back to the parking lot. As we approached the visitor centre, we saw more ghost surfers emerging in the mist. I admire the surfers out here. They are a committed bunch, and clearly appear to enjoy their passion. So much so, they even come back as ghosts…
We’ve been enjoying our time in Ucluelet, and were excited to be here for Ukee Days, a celebration of community in this little corner of the west coast. The weekend kicked off properly with a parade, and excitement was in the air. Especially from the young children who had experienced a parade here before. They knew each parade participant would be handing out candy to the young ones lining the route.
It was a noisy and colourful affair, and likely the only time we’ll see a muscle car behind a police vehicle get away with burning rubber on main street…
Parks Canada, Inland Search and Rescue, local mum and toddler groups, the Wild Pacific Trail Society, Ucluelet Aquarium, various local stores, some fire trucks, police ATVs, an ambulance and other participants made a fine spectacle.
We’d planned to meet friends from Canmore arriving to camp nearby for the week at the evening show. Unfortunately, they missed a ferry and ended up getting to their campsite just as it was dark. They were rather tired from waiting three hours for the next boat, a two hour crossing with a seasick dog, and then a longish drive across island with a puking dog on the latter winding stages, and two teenage boys getting greener each time Fido threw up. They missed the evening music and beer.
It was a good line up, particularly the headline set by Band of Rascals– guitars, drums, a bass, and a lead singer giving it all, with the volume turned up to 11. As it should be. When the light faded, and the fog rolled in, the proceedings were perfumed – heavily – by a sizeable chunk of the audience figuring they’d get away with breaking the no smoking policy under cover of darkness. Weed was in the air. Certainly added something to the atmosphere, a little extra haze and daze. We were happy enough with the Tofino Session ale from the beer garden. Quite enjoyed being carded too – I think I look as though I might still be in high school…
We did catch up with our friends in the following days, and they slowly began to unwind and relax into Ukee time. They surfed a bit, hiked a bit, ate good food and drank good beer a bit, and loved having a beach bonfire each night right in front of their campsite.
They weren’t quite as excited about the bear that had gotten into a nearby tent early one morning (to scavenge for candy a child had left in a sleeping bag) coming back when they were out and tearing a hole in the side of their tent. Sadly, the bear may have to be put down. Doesn’t seem remotely fair to the bear when it is only trying to be a bear…
It takes time to find the time to wind down and follow island or small town pace of life. Once you do, the trick is to maintain it, try to hang on to it even if you have to move on. Small isn’t dull, and slowing down doesn’t hurt – put yourself in a small town daze!
We’ve heard from various sources that parts of North America and Europe are suffering some extreme heat. My brother returned home to the borders of sultry summer WV and Maryland earlier this week after a great visit with us. Well, we thought it was great, but I swear he was muttering something about Canadian cold weather and asking why he couldn’t have had mist or drizzle, but not mist and drizzle? Is there a distinction? He got to hug a mountie – no photos, I wouldn’t do that to him – and that must have thawed him out a little?
On our various trips out and about, he saw a fair number of black bears from the car. Just as well, because on the bear sightseeing tour we took out of Tofino, for a long stretch of the trip it appeared that bears were not going to make an appearance. My brother huddled inside the bright red Canada hoodie I gave him, looking the picture of happiness (again, not a photo I dared to take) and staring out at the blissfully cool (cold?) conditions we’d been blessed with. OK, it was throwing it down, and a bit chilly with the viewing windows open, but if you won’t wear the proffered toque (he still has hair to worry about) how can you stay warm?
Eventually, bears were spotted and the rain eased enough to get a photograph or two. My brother shot a short video of a bear running along a log to cross a small channel that he’ll enjoy showing to friends and other family. I’ve no video, but here is that bear:
I love heading out on the bear spotting tours – not a patch on an adventure we had a couple of years back with Wayne at Tofino Photography, but always fun, rain or shine. The trees, the water, the mist, the mountains, the bears and eagles, are a delight every time, and a chance to soak up the special atmosphere and sense of place this corner of the PNW has.
Once my brother was safely perched at a bar counter after the bear trip, he was a happy boy. He returned the unused toque, and the rain heavy hoodie that had soaked up a fair bit of atmosphere – it was dripping with it – and asked why we were sitting in a place called Wolf in the Fog? “How would you know there was a wolf? Should be called Is there a Wolf in the Fog? It’s too bloody foggy to really know!”
He’ll just have to come back for another visit, and we’ll look that much harder. The hoodie will have dried out by then…
This coming weekend, many Canadians will be celebrating Canada Day (July 1st) and feeling fortunate to be living in the True North.
My US brother is still with us, and he has been experiencing the cool and rainy coastal temperatures. They are a far cry from the sunny, hot and humid conditions he insists he enjoys in his Maryland/West Virginia home. I’m just as adamant that not too hot, and a little (!) cloud and rain is perfectly fine. Sibling rivalry, and completely absurd, as if we have any say in the weather of our current homes.
Brother PC has enjoyed bobbing about on (cold) water, taking long (chilly) hikes on the beaches and forest trails, and sitting (shivering) on a trip out of Tofino to spot bears wandering the shore. His closest bear encounter was from the safety of the Jeep last weekend, when we took a bumpy and juddering series of muddy forest roads to Mussel beach and Salmon beach. After seeing the bear strolling and browsing along the road, he was a little less insistent on needing to stop the car and pee behind a tree…
He has enjoyed his time here on the coast, and we’ll be sorry to see him board the little plane that carries him off on his lengthy journey home. Before then, he has this coming weekend to enjoy the Canada Day celebrations in Ucluelet. He is a trifle concerned that if more than several people take part in a parade, who will be left to watch it and cheer it on? I’ve given him an old red Canada Olympic hoodie (apparently, it was a tad chilly earlier) so he can line the streets singlehandedly, and wave people on, clad in the red and white. (There won’t be a parade exactly, more a small yet warm gathering, but I haven’t the heart to tell him. We’ll give him a flag to wave…)
If you are Canadian, know some Canadians, are in or near Canada, or prefer real beer over Bud (yes, we covered that) then Happy Canada Day, and have a wonderful weekend!
Sounds painful, but it really wasn’t. This piece includes a Western (Canada) tale about a man who is tall in the saddle. Or a man telling tall tales. And there’s a saddle.
We were on the Saddleback trail a little while ago, and it is a fine place to be. Searching for some outdoor peace on a crowded January weekend near Lake Louise, we watched where most folks were heading from the parking lot, and then went in the opposite direction. We are wily PlaidCampers…
That was a good decision. The Saddleback is a bridle trail in warmer months, and they can sometimes be very muddy and rutted for hikers. In the winter though, they are often wonderful snowshoe trails, and so it proved to be along the Saddleback. The snow was deep on either side of the path, but previous snowshoers had created an easy enough set of tracks to follow – I know, we are contrary PlaidCampers, wanting a quiet trail but happy enough to benefit from previous users. Contrary? Or wily?
With the narrow track winding through tall trees, there was an almost tunnel like effect at times, with branches overhanging the trail and dumping clumps of heavy snow if we disturbed the dangling limbs. Dump clump? Well, alright! Ahem. The heavy blanket muffled most noise, so there was a real stillness and quiet to the forest.
Plodding along and enjoying the walk, I got to thinking about taking a trail ride in the summer. Would I enjoy it? The few horses I’ve ever ridden always appear to have a tremendous time. They’ll take a route under the lowest boughs, and close to rough trunks simply to see if I can hang on. I can. Last time out, I slipped just a little in the saddle. Or from the saddle. My butt was lower than my knees but I think that’s a riding style. A slight twist on side saddle? Definitely didn’t fall off. It’s not falling off if you don’t touch the ground.
Maybe I’ll stick to hiking. Supposing I’m out riding on a narrow mountain path and we meet a bear? The horse would rear up, I’d fall off – the last couple of feet or so, being close to the ground already – and then there’d be headlines. Nope, sticking to hiking. I’m a wily (and news shy) old PlaidCamper.
We enjoyed the Saddleback, and would take it again. It’s a quiet spot in a sometimes crowded part of Banff National Park. Recommended, certainly in winter, and if you’re a brave soul, perhaps you’d enjoy it on a horse in the summer?
Thanks for reading this tall (short?) tale from the trail. As always, please feel free to share a story or comment, and have a wonderful weekend!
…that we received way back in the summer, and I’ve been saving to share this week.
When I wrote about some of our wonderful summer highlights, I deliberately left this one out, wanting to write about it in the depths of winter, close to the solstice and this time of seasonal sharing.
One July evening, we met up with friend and fellow blogger Wayne, as he had kindly offered to take us along on one of his evening shoots. If you haven’t seen Wayne’s work, then head over to Welcome to Tofino Photography – you won’t be sorry!
Wayne was patient as his two “helpers” assisted with moving his Zodiac from the boat shed and down onto the water. I suspect it is all rather easier without our assistance…
A new boat for Wayne, it’s maiden voyage under new ownership, everything was fine until it started shipping a little water. Problem solver that he is, Wayne soon realigned the outboard motor to prevent any further water intake, and I stopped eyeing the distance to shore and fiddling with the lifejacket.
What an absolute thrill it is to be skimming across the waves (when the swell or waves are light – the choppier water gave our nether regions an unspeakable pounding), zooming up and down channels, past rocky islets on the lookout for wildlife in, on, by and above the water.
Seeing and hearing a floatplane take off and fly overhead from on the water made this little boy laugh. Is it a buzzing, droning, whirring or roaring engine? Maybe all of the above. I love it. Most of us don’t see and hear that everyday.
The further we travelled from Tofino, the fewer signs of human habitation we saw. Salmon farms, a houseboat or two, the occasional dwelling on the edge, and a few boats plying the waters. When the engine was cut and we drifted, gently bobbing up and down, the near silence was magical. A breath of wind, a small splash or two, and it was perfect.
I don’t know the waters, but I have a chart, and the names are evocative. Deadman Islets – now there’s a story, surely? Ask Wayne… What about Strawberry Island?
What a place to explore! Fortune Channel? Indeed. What a trip we had. Along Browning Passage, through the Tsapee Narrows, past Warne Island, into Gunner Inlet, and being tranquil all the way, this was a fine evening. Experienced and with an eagle eye, Wayne was quick to spot wildlife. We saw some harbour seals, a few bears, including a mama and clambering cub (so beautiful), and breathtaking landscapes and cloudscapes in the fading light.
We stopped in Gunner Inlet for a few minutes – snack time – and I’ll never forget the peace we experienced there. The silence carries weight, but it isn’t oppressive. Wild and remote, a gift within a gift.
I’ll keep this short, and let the photographs convey some small measure of our wonderful evening. Wayne is a modest man, preferring to be behind the camera, but I’ll thank him publicly here for what was an exceptional adventure. Thanks again, Wayne! Go check his website! (Allow some time for this, because you won’t want to leave…)
A summer highlight as we cross the winter solstice and start to move towards longer days and what I hope is the promise of further adventure for us all.
Thanks for reading, and all the best for the holiday season!
On the day this piece is posted, there’ll be ten teaching days until the winter break. I won’t count today, because that’ll mean eleven days, and I just can’t handle the truth. Definitely snowed under at work, and it’s been like that for a while, so last weekend we needed to go and find some snow. The real stuff.
Meteorologists have forecast a cold and snowy winter for our little corner of Canada, and that prediction has warmed an old PlaidCamper’s heart. Contrarian! A real winter? Yes please! I felt shortchanged by last winter when there were too many Chinook winds and too few flakes. Snow flakes.
As we set off for the mountains last week I was feeling flaky, maybe slightly anxious with my high hopes for some real snow – the bright blue skies and a warm westerly wind didn’t add up to winter. Still, it was the weekend, we’d made our plans, and I’ve tremendous faith in weather forecasters. Also, if I only step on the white tiles (not the blue ones) along the hallway from my classroom to the exit, then the snow will fly. Scientifically speaking, this only works on a Friday afternoon, and I must be wearing my favourite toque…
The science behind the white tile approach to meteorology is very hard to explain, and I struggle to understand it – it is enough to know that it works every time (except for the times it doesn’t) – and it worked once more last weekend. The deeper we traveled into the mountains, the lower the temperature dropped. By the time we arrived near Louise, reasonably heavy snow was falling, and it continued to snow well into the next day. Yup, it had to be the white tiles.
We opted to take a hike, taking delight in leaving fresh tracks across the first snow, all along Baker Creek and down to the Bow River. The snow wasn’t deep, but it was enough to change the landscape and create something new. What a relief to be out in the snow, tramping back and forth along the river bank, and recharging instead of feeling snowed under. Snowed under? No, no, we were under the snow! Winter is almost upon us, a season to embrace, and it’s almost always a perfect time to take a hike. Feels good.
I’ll keep this short, and, like the snow last week, not at all deep. Thanks for reading, avoid the blue tiles, and have a wonderful weekend!