Up the north end of the Sunshine Coast where I live, it’s been an uncharacteristically wet fall. Vancouver’s statistics are more faithfully tabulated than ours, and the big city has experienced record rainfall, about 25 percent higher than normal for October and November, according to Environment Canada.
Local oldtimers are saying it’s wetter than they can remember, largely because we’ve only had five rain-free days so far since Oct. 1. The Sunshine Coast actually has a Mediterranean climate – warm, dry summers and mild winters. We are accustomed to fall rains, but not every day. And the norm is mild to moderate rainfalls, not squalls characterized by brutal sou’easters that loudly snap pines and hemlocks in half beside the house.
The abnormal rains are noticeably affecting bird and fish behaviour. The snow geese migrating from Siberia in October were demonstrably fatigued this year. Upcoasters noticed more than the usual number of exhausted birds dropping out of the passing ‘Vs,’ to gather strength on the ground before moving on to the marshlands of the Fraser Delta. The Canada geese that normally over-winter out front of our place have also recently disappeared somewhere to the south. The local resident bald eagles and ravens even seem to be flying lower right now, passing our front deck at eye level several times a day as they scour the inter-tidal zone for food.
The local creeks are overflowing, and the two biggest ones are still home to hundreds of spawning chum salmon. Even the smaller streams have a few dozen pairs of chums who are tail-scooping the gravels into nests for the laying of eggs. While the hot, dry summer proved really challenging for the earlier coho and pink spawners, the chum are benefiting from high water levels, cool temperatures, and no competition from late arriving coho and springs. They are having a record year on this part of the northwest Coast.
This in turn means that black bears, sea ducks, blue herons, bald (and the occasional golden) eagles, ravens, and raccoons are being very well fed. The forest floor at Lang Creek is festooned with partially eaten, spawned-out chum carcasses that have been dragged up from the creek bed by foraging bears.
This year for the first time we also have a new visitor near our house – a fully-grown cougar. Two weeks ago as I looked out the front window after dinner, I spied a sudden, feline movement at the base of our deck. I focused hard in the dark night and saw a huge cat-like form move left to right across the landscape. He slowly turned his large square head and caught my gaze for a brief moment before sliding by into the dripping forest.
I don’t go out the door now without thinking that I may be being silently watched.
Even the house is starting to react to this long period of rains. The shiny, corrugated metal siding is slowly acquiring a green slime patina. It comes off quickly with a pressure sprayer, but it re-establishes itself in a week. Left alone, I imagine the entire house blending right in to the Emily Carr grove of Douglas Firs that wrap around its western edge.
Up on the roof, a million pine and fir needles are raining down, and gradually sliding down the shingles into the gutters that plug themselves almost daily. Left alone, they provide an eaves-long waterfall. But I don’t leave them alone. At least once per week I am up an aluminum ladder with a hose, sluicing out the gutters. So far, I have resisted the nasty temptation to climb up on the sodden roof with a broom.
But there is a plus-side to all this wetness – we are able to catch up on our long neglected reading pile. A tall stack of books has grown on the living room coffee table over the summer, and now it is slowly being winnowed down. It is a country pleasure to sit in a water-tight house as the rain booms on the roof, and read quietly as the fire crackles in the fireplace.
A different set of muscles is being exercised right now, and it feels pretty good to once again wrestle with ideas and thoughts.
Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum and the Bill Reid Gallery. Mike has chaired the national boards of Friends of the Earth, the David Suzuki Foundation, and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. In 2004, he became a Member of the Order of Canada.