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Mike RobinsonWhen you live a long way from town, off the highway and down a long gravel road, there’s no telling what novelties await when you return home after a trip out of the country.

Over the years, you become somewhat inured to the potential surprises: fallen hemlock trees across the road, fallen alders and wild cherries by the house, pamphlets from Jehovah’s Witnesses purposefully stuffed into the door jam, white lacings of raven crap splattered across the deck, white lacings of raven crap spattered across the windows, translucent dribbles of bat pee on the door glass, sudden armies of little black ants marching to the honey jar, drifts of pine needles settled in the roof recesses, ominous black rat droppings anywhere, cougar tracks in the snow. …

It takes a few days to learn what you really missed when you were away. And you really don’t have a good idea until you’ve had tea with your neighbour. That’s when you pick up on the true novelties. The things that only longtime residents notice as being out of the norm.

For instance, my neighbour just came up with the following: he was snowed in for 10 days because it really snowed, about 30 cm, an extremely unusual weather event this close to sea level in the temperate rainforest. Especially in February. “I was okay because I had lots of food but it was a bit much!”

He also was eager to point out a new bit of observed bird lore: “We have a visiting golden eagle that’s obviously trying to bump our bald eagles (a life-mated couple) from their niche on the waterfront.”

I had noticed the big new visitor on my first day back and he was certainly determined to act as if he owned the air zone right in front of our house. In fact, during the first day, the three eagles were often engaged in threatening swoop-dives and tail-bats right over our roof, even to the point of flying over the house and dropping almost down to the garden in the backyard. Their wings made sounds as they attempted to knock one another from the sky. So far, neither side is victorious. The daily challenges continue.

My neighbour also reported that the new Salish Orca BC Ferry is undergoing daily sea trials right offshore, as it readies for service on the Powell River-Comox run up the coast. At night, it ties up at the Skelp government wharf ferry slip, quite distinguished in its new paint and magnificent hull-long Salish Orca mural art. The designs were created by a local Coast Salish artist Darlene Gait, from Esquimalt Nation, and honour the original mariners of the Salish Sea.

What a departure the new vessel is from the previous generations of BC Ferry craft, many of which were second-hand purchases from American fleets, simply painted white with blue and black trim. The Salish Orca was built in Gdansk, Poland, is 107 metres long, and will carry 145 vehicles and up to 600 passengers and crew.

My neighbour had already been down to the wharf to inspect the ship and reported that it runs on natural gas, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 15 to 25 percent, and nearly eliminating particulate matter in its exhaust. The diesel-powered ferry fleet will soon be a relic of the old coast.

There was one more novelty that I had to inspect for myself. Before I went to Mexico in early February, some misguided soul had shot an enormous Steller sea lion bull, which washed ashore in an adjacent bay. We discovered the freshly-killed corpse before any predation or rot had set in, and it was sad and impressive at the same time. The body was easily three times my weight, putting it at something more than 270 kg. Its teeth were in good shape and the power of its ripping jaw was obvious.

We took a few photographs of the great bull and I wondered just where he was in the pecking order at the McRae Islets haul-out? Where his brothers and sisters bark and bray out in the channel. He definitely wasn’t the boss bull but he was on his way to power.

Last week, all that remained of the bull’s corpse was a white scatter of ribs and vertebrae along the tide line. And his skull. I took it home in remembrance.

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.

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on vacation

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