Last weekend, some old school friends and I visited three creeks close to our house near Powell River. All had chum schooling offshore, in their lower reaches, and pairing up in the spawning gravels.
The forest floor at each site was covered with the carcasses of spawned-out fish that had been dragged from the rushing waters over the gravel bars, up under the canopy of overhanging cedars. Here they lay, offering choice pieces of protein to black bears, cougars, ravens, blue herons, bald eagles, herring gulls, and sea ducks of all descriptions. The pre-winter feast is on.
Just as important, the freshly laid and fertilized chum eggs are lying in their nested gravel hollows, oxygenated by rushing creek waters recently fed by November’s relentless rains.
In our part of the world this is a time of reckoning. A good spawn brings the promise of future protein for the diets of all the creatures that eat chum; it also promises to replenish the nitrogen cycle in the adjacent forests as decaying carcasses feed the soil.
A visit to Lang Creek right now is a ritual for many local families. It reinforces the cycle of life, visually parades death and rejuvenation of the salmon, and gives humans a sense of the power of nature when things go as planned.
It also provided one elderly couple with a place of sanctuary. As I walked back to my truck in the gathering rain after spending the better part of an hour photographing the spawning fish, I noticed a sad looking man in a green toque and raincoat walking with his wife. She wore a white canvas jacket, and a damp scarf covered her black hair. I guessed them to be East Indian, and perhaps in their late 60s. As I approached them on the trail paralleling the banks of Lang Creek, I felt a palpable sense of sadness.
I stopped and said, “Hello – isn’t this a wonderful place to be right now?” The man raised his imploring face to me and said, “We have come here to find some peace after the election of President Trump.”
His wife nodded in agreement, and I could see they both wanted some confirmation by me of their unease with the world. I found myself saying, “We live in a different country – one moulded in many ways by our collective reaction as Canadians to American culture. We mustn’t be afraid of their dysfunction. When they are weak, we can be strong.” I don’t know where these words came from – they just poured out.
“But what if it comes here to Canada?” he said. Once again, I found myself saying that, “We are a different people historically, and right now our differences are in stark relief. We won’t go down their path.”
I sensed an easing of tensions, and an upwelling of tears in our three sets of eyes. Behind us, the tails of spawning chum thrashed in the creek gravels. Ravens swooshed overhead under low scuds of grey cloud. The woman looked at me and for the first time smiled. I smiled back. “I truly hope that you are right,” she said.
As we parted, I walked along the path to the gravel parking lot and rejoined my two pals who had accompanied me on the trip. “It was impressive how you engaged them emotionally. Good for you,” said one. From my perspective, I had no choice; they were in pain.
As we discussed this over the weekend, we all were touched by the immediacy of the older couple’s worries and discomfort. We too were in pain. This has been a difficult week.
I wonder how Donald Trump would have spoken to my trail mates in that rain forest had he encountered them. I am sure he doesn’t realize the anguish he is causing in so many hearts and minds.
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.