Text & Photos by William Thomas
The invitation is compelling: join good friends to view the total eclipse of a rare “Blood Moon” from Grassy Point. Then back to Misha's place to compare impressions. Then a
Very tempting. But if I cast off now, I can ride the last of this breeze and daylight down to Heron Rocks, settling in before tonight's big show. I scuff a seaboot against the float. Sniff the wind. Knowing I will have to let go of the choice I don't make.
Off the ferry landing I unfurl the candy-cane sail and let the canoe follow the boom's swing south. Chivvied into low corrugations by the final shove of a massive opposing tide, wavelets slap the Grumman’s aluminum hull and randomly garland the outrigger, chuckling at the cheekiness of such a low-slung sled making for deep water. Resting my hand on the gunnel with the tiller nested in the crook of my arm, anyone watching might see Li Po hunched under a broad white hat in the stern of his scudding sampan. Savouring hot sweet tea from the thermos, I pretend I'm a Chinese boatman poet trimming a single sail to unwind ink-brushed mountains.
Just past Ford Cove, the breeze fails at the turn of the tide. Switching to solar-electric power, I risk the shortcut across a drowned peninsula. Electra skims over a white sandbar studded with gemlike stones. I turn down a jade-tinted channel. Or the boat turns herself. Like a blind man's cane, the pivoting leeboard feels for ghostly boulders slipping past below. We do not stumble.
The sun is plummeting toward jagged peaks when I turn into my favourite unfamiliar cove. The moon’s close approach has transformed this indentation into an immense, rock-studded lake. I set the miniature anchor off the stern in soft sand, jerking the canoe to a stop. Should be deep enough. I unroll the sleeping bag beneath the arched centre thwart and cover it with a faded shower curtain to ward off the dew that will soon descend like rain. Sitting on the forward crossarm, I next fetch the cook sack from beneath the hinged foredeck. The butane stove fires instantly. Tonight's menu is not elaborate. After camping near Comox, I’m down to a single can of baked beans and a pair of energy bars.
Garnished by hunger, the meal tastes gourmet. I wash the pot, fork and wooden bowl over the side, stow the table, and stuff the galley back into its waterproof sack. Punctured by serrated summits, the skewered sun rapidly deflates. I pull on polar fleece.
They must be seeing the main event from Grassy Point.
Who pulled daylight's circuit-breaker? Surprised stars blink on, exploiting Earth’s absent satellite. Over on Denman, dogs begin to howl. Someone guns a powerful engine: Hurry up with this eclipse, already. The dogs shut up. The motor stops. A woman laughs, deepening the mystery. Someone has stolen the full moon.
Feeling robbed, I burrow deeper into welcoming down. Across the cove, up on Olson's pasture, the resident gaggle nestles beneath their own goose feathers. One goose eventually looks up. Squawks, That’s so not right.
What? honks a companion.
The moon, says the first goose. Look!
Swivelling like periscopes, heads on long necks lock onto that dim blood-red disk. Just one spooky sliver shows.
Holy crap! another goose shrieks. Someone's stabbed the moon!
And then the entire flock is honking in confusion and alarm. Their panicked scramble carries clearly across the water. For a long loud moment, the darkness is filled with the wingbeats of 20 or 30 big birds invisibly ascending in max performance climbs.
The flock banks hard right. Towards me. I can't see them. I'm tracking their sound. They must be flying on instruments. The din drops lower. Lands? Where? How? Scattered honks punctuate the night.
Closer to hand, some dude starts serenading that orbiting fragment of primordial Earth. It's off-key. But the singer compensates with volume and enthusiasm. Though I can't make out many words, the melody seems an appropriate mix of wine-fuelled longing and rejoicing.
The moon bleeds out, expanding towards useful illumination. With the sky restored and the vocalist's bobbing flashlight moving off the beach into the trees, the avian commentary settles into disgruntled profanity. I snuggle deeper into my cocoon, my retinas still burning with the afterimage of that alien planet. Lulled by Ma Ocean's slow rocking, I must've slept. Suddenly I'm awoken by a heffalump.
At least it sure sounds like one. Piglet would've freaked. And I'm not doing so great myself. Some Very Large Animal is mouth-breathing. Quite Loudly and Very Close.
I've heard that snuffling snort before. On Big Trib.
“Snuffy!” I shout into the night. “Is that you?”
The heavy breathing bellows uninterrupted. Squinting under moonlight now bright as headlamps, I can see distant rocks rising from the sea like ruins. But I cannot make out that shape-shifting sea elephant.
“Pipe down!” I call out. Or words to that effect. As if offended, the huffing splutters and finally stops.
I slip back into the dream I’m note sure I left. Only to awaken hours later with that strong sailorly certainty: Something's wrong. I reach up and give the leeboard a trial shake. It doesn't budge. It's stuck vertically in the sand. If I let the boat dry out, we'll be here until noon.
In an instant, I'm clambering over thwarts. In a series of practiced pirouettes, I feel for the rudder cord, jerk the steel blade up, retract the leeboard, switch the battery selector to “2”, recover the two-pound hook, and switch the little trolling motor to slow ahead.
All this takes seconds.
Unseen blades churn the water. Is she moving...? Silently, nearly imperceptibly, the encroaching shore recedes.
This time, I anchor in deep water on an eyeballed cross-bearing between Chrome Island light and ghostly Heron Rock. The tide's half-departed, so I should be fine.
Two hours later, that inner alarm honed by a Pacific circumnavigation hauls me again from restless slumber. Lying on an air mattress on the floorboards of this much smaller craft, I have only to turn my head to be nearly at water level. I am startled by the ocean's proximity. And amazed to see a bright white seashell decorating the moonlit sand, close enough to grab. We must be sitting in six or seven inches of water. Max.
The heck with it. With low water so near, the boat can ground gently and float off within the hour. The shell loom closer. If I stabbed my fingers into the seafloor, I wouldn't wet my wrist.
Surely, we're aground. Sighting a star above the rudder, I watch... until... it moves! Somehow, the boat swings, caressing the sand. I consider going for a moonlight stroll. But I'm too sleepy to stir. I consult my watch instead.
What d'you mean it's only midnight? Already the unstoppable hydraulics of the incoming flood are levitating my waterbed.
I doze again. Wake with the certainty of being observed. Dark shape against dark water... I can just make out the head of a curious seal right alongside the outrigger. Is he coming aboard? Like a mummy rising from the crypt, I sit bolt upright. “What's happening?” I inquire. The shocked silence is broken only by a splash.
To the east, some ambitious arson is setting the entire sky aflame. Nearby, small birds are resuming yesterday's gossip. Seagulls are quarrelling over landing rights and breakfast. A shadowy heron flaps past like something out of the Pleistocene, complaining loudly over the unfairness of it all.
It's cold kimosabe. I'd prefer to rustle up some hot oatmeal and tea. But the ebb's already starting to run against us. If Electra and I don't get moving right now, we'll be stuck here until this afternoon. And I've got important stuff to do. Like sleep. In a bed. I don my seaboots along with my tattered Li Po persona. And head back, carrying the dawn to Ford Cove.
-John Struthers photo