Phase II of my 6,000 mile search for beauty took me on another road trip last week – to the Broughton Archipelago. This smattering of rocky islands between the west coast of British Columbia and Vancouver Island has been home to the Kwakwaka’wakw indigenous tribe for thousands of years. I was drawn to feel for their cultural presence, and to better understand their practice of cultivating plants in estuaries. Largely wild and uninhabited, the Archipelago and the adjacent mainland of deep ocean inlets leave plenty of room for the imagination to roam.
Nikki – a wild woman of her own kind who operates a guide service out of Echo Bay – dropped me, Dellie and my camping gear by boat on the shores of the Viner River estuary. (that’s the tip of her speedboat in the photo. Here’s more about her work) As she departed with the falling tide, I was left surrounded by dense spruce forest on one side and mud flats on the other. Equipped with a hunting knife and a can of bear spray just in case, I settled in, only slightly rattled by her descriptions of a cougar population on the upswing, with lots of hungry cats roaming the area.
Estuaries – where ocean meets river – are richly productive places. Through the night and into early morning, the rain pounded on the tarp that covered my tent’s inadequate weather-fly. I heard geese protecting a nest of young, herons squawking as they fished and the rattle of a kingfisher bird. After breakfast, I plucked up my knife and bear spray and headed across the salt water marsh until I reached the point on the river’s path where it began to transition abruptly into forest. In that narrow zone, I found a thriving patch of Springbank clover, mixed with Pacific silverweed. Had the clover, treasured for its delicious roots, once been tended by indigenous women? I knelt in the soft soil, listening. The wind scuffled the trees and the river tinkled behind me.
Walking at the river’s graveled edges for a while, I plucked at the sweet yellow and crimson salmonberries overhanging the stream. The closest I got to a bear was some scat I found along the way. A big cat never materialized, a source of relief for Dellie and me as we made our way back out of the Viner River estuary by boat later that afternoon.