Entering the Primordial Forest

Primordial: “existing at or from the beginning of time” (Oxford Dictionary).

Although our friends have assured us that this forest may have sprung up a little more recently, it is easy to imagine we are walking (unsteadily) in the footsteps of our prehistoric ancestors.

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We have just spent four glorious days with our friends Dave and Nancy at their hidden-in-the-woods cabin about a half-hour boat ride up the Sechelt Inlet.

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If you’re running from the law, you need go no further: no-one is going to bother you up here.  And the 20-odd families who have cabins here want to keep it that way. Not that  any of them have criminal intent. They are an eclectic, interesting group of people who share a love of pristine nature, but still enjoy happy hour with their neighbours. They borrow tools, swap stories and look out for one another. But the remoteness and the absolute quiet is the draw.

Dave and Nancy bought their place more than a decade ago and come here every chance they get.  They have invited us to visit a number of times, but until very recently (when they bought a boat), it was a long and difficult a journey to get here from Nanaimo ( car, ferry, car, ferry, car, water taxi). We are so happy we finally made it; now we know what they’re talking about.

This strip of cleared land along Sechelt Inlet is home to a small number of cabin-owners, a quarry and a fishing camp. Everything else belongs to the bears, the lynx, the owls, and the seals. High mountains covered with thick forest fold down to meet the water. A few hardy humans have carved out small spaces for themselves out of this wilderness – you have to be here to understand what “off-grid” means. Wifi and cell service does not exist.

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Until just a few weeks ago, Dave and Nancy depended upon a generator, propane and batteries for power. And then, with a little help from family and friends, voila…

…solar panels that generate the equivalent of 30 amp. service.  This allows Dave and Nancy to bake a cake, read by electric lights, and enjoy a hot shower.  Lanterns, flashlights and candles are still in use, for atmosphere and old time’s sake, and the only source of heat is a wood stove. That picturesque building in front is a room with a view – a pretty loo, minus the Eaton catalogue. (there is also a regular bathroom with flush toilet in the cabin.) Just to the left of the solar panels (out of sight in this photo) is a roomy bathhouse with plenty of hot water.

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To step back for just a moment, we met Nancy and Dave many years ago at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, where we worked together.

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This summer we were finally able to coordinate a visit. They timed their errand day in Sechelt with our arrival and we headed up the inlet on their boat for a scenic 30-minute ride.

The inlet view has been hampered by smoke, as has much of B.C. this summer. Normally those mountains are sharply defined and brilliant in colour.

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It is a breathtaking passage, with cool, clear water that goes several hundred feet deep and layer upon layer of mountain ranges.

We pulled in and dropped anchor here. There are no docks – locals bring their boats as close as possible to shore, then drop their supplies on the rocks, drive the boat back out to drop anchor and row back to shore on a small rowboat. This is not the easy way to “get away from it all”, but so worth the effort.

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Supplies are then brought up from the water’s edge on a dirt road to the cabin by ATV and trailer. Everything that comes in has to go out ( garbage, recyclables, laundry). This is no country for the disorganized.

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Dave and Nancy put their tasks on hold while we were there, but there is much to do to amuse yourself – hiking, swimming, paddling. Stephen went in for a heroic 8:00 a.m. swim every morning, and was the first one out to the raft each afternoon. Swimming is bracing but as the old saying goes – “once you’re in…” Cool, clean enough to drink (almost), clean enough to see bottom, and so alive. Nothing like an ocean immersion.

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We went out on our second day to check the prawn trap and we were in luck – thirteen prawns! Four hours later, we enjoyed a succulent appetizer – about the freshest spot prawns we have ever eaten.

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The forest is so rich and overgrown and magical that a simple walk becomes a whimsical adventure. One of the cabin-owner’s daughters, Emily, spent her childhood summers here, and with the help of her mother, Lynn created an Enchanted Forest. Painted rocks lie at the base of many trees along the path.

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Signs point the  way to “The Point”.

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We met Emily’s parents at an early evening get-together.  Emily’s mum Lynn, on the left, and another cabin-owner, Suzanne, on the right.

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Now would be the time to tell you our “small-world” story. When we were travelling through South East Asia two winters ago, we met a lovely couple, Doug and Suzanne, in Laos.  Stephen and I were sitting in the lobby trying to capture the spotty wifi, when Suzanne burst into the room and exclaimed,”You speak English!” Apparently, it had been a while since they had met other English-speaking tourists, and this was the ice-breaker.
They are also travelling extensively, without a real home base (although Vancouver is where they touch down, and their cabin is home for a couple of months a year).

During the course of “getting-to-know-you” stories, we discovered that we were all friends with Nancy and Dave. We knew sooner or later we would see them again and luckily for us, this year they were up for the month of August.

Interestingly, they are planning a similar trip as we are this winter (Baja and the southwestern U.S.), so we will undoubtedly cross paths again soon.

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Among the many endeavours Nancy and Dave have taken on over the years, they were one of the first to run a kayaking business out of Thunder Bay on Lake Superior. They are accomplished paddlers in white water and excellent teachers for the novices as well.

Nancy and I went out one morning on a tandem kayak, and since I had only paddled three or four times before, Nancy went over the basics with me, (dip the paddle on the right, push with the left), snapped a photo and we were off.

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One perfect outing on glassy water, and I am hooked! What a joyful experience it is to glide along on quiet water and feel a part of the surroundings.

We headed out to the island and then paddled around it for our return trip.

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Just beyond the island is Skookumchuck Rapids, known among the locals as “Skook”. It is an incredible force of nature that attracts extreme surfers, as twice daily when the tide changes and the water flow reverses, it creates a massive system of waves and whirlpools with water level differences up to nine feet in height. We didn’t venture to Skook on this trip, but I’ve added this link  to give you an idea of what some people’s sons do for fun.

Locals travel the Skook to get to the town of Egmont on the other side of the inlet, but only during the slack between tides.

We stuck close to the island and pulled in to see the sea life clinging to rocks – starfish, sea urchins, anemones, crabs, sea lettuce, kelp beds.

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We cleared the top of the island and as we were making our way back, we startled a family of seals, who made a noisy dive into the water and surfaced again several metres away from us. We slowly crept along, hoping a seal would pop his shiny head up beside the kayak, but they stayed far away.

A couple of minutes later, the same thing happened – a family of seals leapt off the rocks into the water, but with far different intent. They had a pup with them and two or three of the adults kept a very close eye on us. When we lingered to watch them, they circled in and actually escorted us out of their area. No argument from us – we paddled away and they followed for quite a distance.

We pulled in closer to shore to watch a huge flock of sea birds, and as we approached, they also took off.

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Some final images of this little piece of heaven.

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Forest bathing.

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Sun setting over Doug and Suzanne’s deck.

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Sun setting over Dave and Nancy’s lower deck.

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A wonderful way to begin to wrap up summer – seeing old friends, re-acquainting with new friends and discovering yet another magnificent part of this province.