Aboard the Aurora – Day Five



In terms of trying to share the scale of ancient growth trees, Mark’s video follows a tree from trunk to top, and his video works better than my words.

As I close out my blogs written aboard the Aurora Explorer, I feel guilty having experienced so much and shared so little. My days were spent on the deck – watching the water, watching the shore, watching for wildlife, and drinking coffee. Happy Hour began at 4:30. With no Internet connectivity, I was out of touch in every sense of the word. I took a few notes but noted nothing in detail. Maybe it was the fog or the mist sinking in through my skin.  Without looking at a map, I cannot tell you what day we boarded or where we went. I turned my life over to the very able crew and vegetated.


(The word ‘vegetated’ reminds me of my very best Halloween costume. I was seven months pregnant, and I went to a party dressed in a long-sleeved, purple tee-shirt and tights. Green felt leaves atop my head completed my resemblance of an eggplant. At the time, long before flaunting your ‘bump’ was fashionable, my costume was (much to my delight) shocking. Obviously years and years before the Annie Leibovitz photo of Serena Williams – seriously pregnant and nude on the August cover of Vanity Fair.)

Our visit to tiny Yorke Island was an interesting slice of history. Watching war clouds gather over Europe in 1937, the Canadian government decided to build a fort on Yorke Island to defend the west coast. The purpose was to protect the cities of Vancouver and Victoria. In 1942 the original 4.7-inch guns, which would have been ineffective against a hostile submarine, were replaced with more modern 6-inch guns.

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Remains of the Day

Being posted on a small, 136-acre island which had no fresh water, no flush toilets, no buildings, no willing women or pubs was indeed hardship duty. Instead of ‘build it and they will come,’ the posting was more like ‘come and build it.’ Once in place, the soldiers were were isolated – a penal colony of sorts. It was only after one conscript committed suicide that the government thought that occasional shore leave might be beneficial to the soldiers’ mental health.

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Windswept and cold

The second stanza of John Mansfield’s poem “Sea Fever” seems to catch the tone of life on the water: I must go down to the sea again, for the call of the running tide / Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied:/ And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying , / And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea gulls crying.




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Aboard the Aurora Explorer – Day Four

Gliding through the relatively calm waters, I see mountains in deepening shades of watercolor gray. Light gray in the foreground, darker gray in the middle distance and then on the horizon, Little Red Riding Hood dark. The colors are indistinct blobs in the mist as seen through dingy, nylon net curtains covering dirty windows. Closer up, I see thick stands of trees that look like Colorado trees. But leaving the boat… standing knee-deep in bracken and ferns and broken tree detritus (I think it’s called ‘duff’) I look up. And up again – my head at-risk of snapping off my neck.

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These towering trees are nothing like puny Colorado trees. These trees are primeval. Their size intimidates and Sasquatch comes to mind. I look over my shoulder… just in case.  The trees’ longevity make a person feel small and insignificant. We humans think we are so important. Ha! If we don’t indiscriminately cut down the trees or climate warming doesn’t do them in, they will have the last laugh.

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Building on these rocky islands is a challenge. For this reason, most construction rests on log rafts that rise and fall with the tides. I like the romance of being one with nature. I like the small logging camps. I’m not so keen on the small, picture postcard colonies, festooned with flowers… seemingly populated by summer, yacht folks. The British word ‘twee’ comes to mind. The hamlets are beautiful – but a bit too manicured and insular to my taste.

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Having just finished reading THE BEET QUEEN by Louise Erdrich last night and starting  THE CASUAL VACANCY by J.K. Rowling this morning, I’ve been swept away by their multi-faceted, Everyman characters – none of whom would fit in a homogenized, moneyed community.

I love these flawed characters. I know every character devised by Erdrich and Rowling. Always a reader of reviews, I read the reviews at the front of the Erdrich book. A reviewer for The Milwaukee Journal wrote, “The Beet Queen is a slowly gathering storm shaking every belief you hold about the limits of your ability to love.” That review is perfect.

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If you live in a city, it is easier to stick to ‘your own kind’ than it is in a small town where everyone knows (or thinks he knows) his neighbor. Politics are local and passions run high. Gritting your teeth and biting your tongue is called for when dealing with those you disagree with and whom you will meet in the produce aisle of the only grocery. Smile!

When issues are particularly divisive, I retreat and soothe my savaged soul by repeating, “We are all wounded.” Which, of course, we are. Visualizing myself walking among the walking wounded makes me remember that I have more in common with my neighbors than I would have thought.

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Aboard the Aurora Explorer – Day Three

After a chilly morning of heavy mist and rain, fog and raindrops had coalesced on the windows to approximate dotted Swiss – which made me remember how much, at five-years-old, I had yearned for shiny, patent leather shoes to complement my dotted Swiss dress. (It is probably time to forgive my mother who kept me in tie-up Buster Browns “so I’d have good feet,” but 70 years later I find myself still picking at the scab.)

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Prior to lunch, someone took a squeegee and wiped the windows clean, and the previously shrouded landscape came into view. Norway came to mind, and Norway made me think of herring and onions and black bread. It’s the kind of day that isn’t particularly cold, but nonetheless, the damp weather makes me wish for a fire, the smell of wood smoke, and a dog curled up at my feet.

The Inside Passage is a big landscape and calls for big machinery. Yesterday we held our collective breath as we delivered a Brontosaurus (in size and shape) to a logging camp. Watching the giant machine lumber down the ramp with maybe six inches leeway on a side  left me breathless. The dinosaur-like machine is multi-purpose. A neck protrudes from the body, and to the head, you can attach tools specific to the task. In this case, a giant pile-driver tool was attached. And when the machine left the ship’s ramp and met the log interface between the ramp and solid rock, I stopped breathing entirely as the pile driver tipped dramatically to the left. I fully expected the machine to tip into the water and crush the driver.

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The task at- hand was to build a dock. But first the pile driver had to bore a hole for the dynamite. Once the dynamite was set, our ship and the loggers’ boat made for open water. And then the blast. And the splash. Once the mission was accomplished, the pile driver trundled back aboard. Again, expertly threading the needle.

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Working in a lumber camp is not for the faint of heart. Giant tractors with crab-like pinchers pick up individual logs – first one log and then another and then another (does anyone remember playing pick-up sticks?) until they have a whole mouthful which they take to the edge of the cliff. Multiple trips of clutch after clutch and the logs begin to tower. When the turret is complete, the logs are tipped down a skid of sorts.  Splash and the whole lot are in the water to be sorted – sort of like cattle, according to size into corrals.

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I watch the small tug boats and admire the captain’s skill. Sometimes the tugs move individual logs; other times they move bundled logs – bundles so much larger and heavier than the tug boats that the back ends of the boats are below water.

In my parenting/working years, I often fantasized about joining a nunnery. Not as a novitiate – more as a visitor on retreat. I would have preferred a silent retreat… maybe with nuns quietly singing in the background. When not singing, I would only hear the meditative walking… the scuffing of their soft -soled shoes and the clicking of their rosaries. Incense would waft through the air.

But in my maturity, I have come to realize that I don’t have it in me to “be in the moment.” I’m a doing kind of person. Walking past the galley, I want to ask if I can peel the potatoes or the beets. Or maybe I could rise or dry some dishes? For several days now we have not left the ship. I am antsy. Although I do not have Internet connectivity, I do have my computer, my notebook and my books. I also have the amazing landscape, the ship, and my fellow passengers.

It is not enough.

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Aboard the Aurora Explorer – Day Two

2017 08 19 nwtrip 024Is it really Thursday? And the date… what is the date? I look at the day’s route on the whiteboard – 3:15 depart; 07:00 Fanny Bay; 13:00 Frazer Bay; and 23:00 Pott’s Lagoon. I find the whiteboard, updated every morning, very helpful in terms of orienteering. Living a mostly retired life, it is not unusual for me to not know the date and to struggle recollecting the day.

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A month ago, I went to our local clinic for a basic mental acuity assessment. Was my memory, I wondered, worse than that of other people my age? A physician’s assistant would administer the test. Before leaving home, I checked the calendar to learn the date. I knew that I would be asked the day and date – better to bone up on the answer. Walking to the clinic, I repeated the date several times, as a mantra of sorts… just so I would remember.

Thanks to cramming for the test, I remembered the day and the date! I did well, and the P.A. assured me that I was not only average for my age, but I was above average! How I puffed up! And then… like a dog shaking itself free of bathwater, I shook myself back to reality. Let’s be honest: I practiced. Not only the day and the date, but reading an article on Alzheimer’s, I knew that I would be asked to spell a five-letter word backwards.

I think the sample word in the article was WORLD. I tried spelling ‘world’ backwards and found the task nearly impossible. I tried and then I tried again.  Once I was past the first two letters, I was lost. I visualized the word, but after saying the D and L, I struggled. What was the middle letter? Knowing that this question would give me trouble in the doctor’s office, I spent days thinking of five-letter words and attempting to spell them backwards. TRAIN… THINK… CLOUD…COACH. For weeks I focused on my task. Periodically, I returned to spelling WORLD.

Imagine my surprise when the P.A. asked me to spell a five-letter word backwards, and the word was WORLD! My weeks of practice came in handy. I spelled the word correctly… automatically without thought or recollection. The P.A. assessed that cognitively I was holding my own. Ha! Little did she know that I had cheated. My mind is not as nimble at my score suggests. That said, if I knew enough to practice and cheat, does that not indicate that I’m still reasonably competent?

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A embroidered sampler that I photographed in Billy’s Museum.

Choppy seas last night, and the cook said that the Aurora Borealis was playing in the sky. He needs to wake me next time. This morning I sit in the stern behind the wheelhouse. A stiff breeze is to my back, but I’m bundled up in a shirt, vest and fleece. The sun is on my face. The thrum of the ship’s engines soothes me – the sound of the boat’s wake is lighter and plays on top of the engine’s bass notes.

A day aboard the Aurora is quiet. I can do without the Internet and a phone, but I miss my morning coffee that typically, like bacon and eggs, goes with NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

Sometimes I wonder if unseen forces have put me aboard the Aurora as a form of De-tox. Despite the gorgeous scenery, the breeze wisping my hair, and the sun warming my face, I feel a bit institutionalized… against my wishes. Each day unwinds – punctuated only by breakfast, lunch and dinner – all three meals fabulous, but I wonder if the crew (I’ve begun to think of them as the hospital staff) is quietly sedating me. Part of the healing process I suppose.

The crew is weaning me from my unhealthy addiction to streaming news and tension inducing tweets. Will I make a full recovery?

Time will tell.

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Aboard the Aurora Explorer – Day One

I try to remember if smugness is one of the seven deadly sins. I know that pride is a sin, and smugness is born of pride, so I guess I’m failing. As sinners do. I’m not meeting a high moral standard, but any guilt that I might feel runs like water off a duck’s back.

Looking at a passing cruise ship, I can’t stem my satisfaction. As one of twelve passengers aboard the Aurora, a working ship that also accommodates paying guests, I feel privileged. With a 30 – 35% rate of return passengers, Marine Link Tours must be doing something right.

True, we don’t have a swimming pool or a spa. We don’t have a theater, and with only two dining tables, one table seating only four and the other seating eight, I can’t imagine where the captain would sit. It is just as well. I left my cocktail dress at home.

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I guess I’ll (dressed in the same clothing that I have worn the past four days) will just have to go up to the wheelhouse and have some one-on-one with the captain. He led us through the lifeboat drill, and I found him accessible and engaging. The water running between Vancouver Island and the mainland is cold. After talking about life preservers, the captain says that if we should find ourselves in the water, we should clasp our knees to our chest to preserve body heat. We passengers, all in our maturity, have a bit of a laugh. Our knees to our chest? In some cases, fat chance!

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The crew of six is open and friendly. If I have a question, I only need to ask. You might think of the Aurora as a UPS truck on water. We deliver goods: heavy machinery, drilling rigs, groceries, gasoline and must-have luxury items demanded by those who can afford to own their very own island. Given that the islands are not linked to land, the Aurora is it.

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Built in 1972, our 135-ft ship began its working life doing seismic surveys in the Northwest Territory. If you’ve seen photos of the WW II landing craft discharging soldiers on the beach at Normandy, you can visualize the Aurora with its landing ramp at the bow.  The ramp is up when we are under power but is lowered for deliveries. The design is perfect for off-loading goods at remote inlets and sites without docks. I write about delivering, but what comes in, must go out, so in addition to delivering, the Aurora takes things away. This morning we picked up giant crates of aluminum cans destined for recycling and porta-potties… on their way to be flushed clean.

We boarded just north of Campbell River, mid-way up the west coast of Vancouver Island. As we worked our way between Vancouver and Quadra Islands, we learned that years ago, Ripple Rock was particularly dangerous with peaks just nine feet below the water’s surface. The problem was solved in 1958 when the channel was cleared by the world’s largest non-nuclear explosion. Tidal wave warnings went out, but the wave never materialized despite an estimated 700,000 tons of rock and water reaching 1,000 feet in the air. The channel’s depth now measures a safe 47-feet below the surface and, thanks to the blast, allows cruise ships to travel up the Inland Waterway.

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Our ship travels north with stops dictated by deliveries. The irregular fiord-like coast is rugged with a narrow, rocky beach below cliffs. Above the beach, mountains loom – packed with trees, pockmarked with clear-cut scars and shrouded in clouds .Travel is in tune with the tides and the threat of riptides, whirlpools and rapids at low tide.

2017 08 16 nwtrip 068This afternoon I sat behind the wheelhouse – out of the wind and in the sun. The water in our wake glistens. Squinting, I see a thousand points of light. The wake itself is opalescent, mint green and foamy white. It looks like spearmint gum tastes. To either side of the wake, the black and navy-blue sea appears walk-on-water solid, as heavy and beautiful as watermarked satin. I should be looking up at the landscape, but I’m seduced by the sea and lulled by the hum of the ship’s engine.

I write from the womb.

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Some Like It Hot

I must say that the waterfront city of Victoria –  the capital of British Columbia – is the most beautiful harbor city I’ve ever seen. Overlooked by impressive stone parliament buildings, the harbor basin is chocked with float-planes, yachts, kayaks, and whale watching boats. The harbor is a water boulevard of action. Add to the unscripted action, a water taxi ballet choreographed to the music of Tchaikovsky, and you have a happening.  The water taxis are small and bring to mind amusement park bumper cars. Watching the “silly” little boats do their Blue Angels routine is a lighthearted moment after a day of museum going.

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2017 08 13 nwtrip 056The Royal BC Museum is a must-see. One exhibit explores what constitutes family and a second examines the impact of climate change on the environment, Both exhibits are well worth a visit. Prior to visiting the museum, I photographed a statue of Emily Carr, a noted artist, native-born in 1871. A faithful dog stands at her side and looks at her with adoring eyes. A monkey (dressed to impress in clothing) sits on her shoulder. Seeing the statue, I thought of how pets do indeed constitute family.

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Emily Carr, a ground-breaking artist, a woman before her time. “Autumn in France” 1911



And then visiting the exhibit on family, I saw the human/animal concept underscored. This was particularly true looking at the vast array of First Nations’ totems which represent the ancestors and the supernatural beings with which they interacted.

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Needless to say, families come and go: babies are born and the “Ancients” pass on.. A year ago, Mark and I bought cemetery plots out at Rosita – a grand site sheltered by pines and next to unoccupied plots owned by neighbors. (Joking that once we two couples are interred, we will meet them for Happy Hour.) Much to our surprise, our – I’ll call it ‘forward thinking’ – has been met with dismay. I think a lot of people conclude that we are depressed or if not depressed, that we are dark. Not so. We are just looking ahead. Not in fear or anticipation, but as the end-game of a life well-lived.

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Interactive museum exhibits always grab my attention. In the B.C Royal’s exhibit on family, viewers were asked to write down a kernel of wisdom that they would like to pass on to the next generation. “You are at a point in time. What lessons will be your lasting legacy? What words of wisdom would you like to tell future generations?” Given the prompt, viewers were encouraged to write their comments on a green paper “leaf,” and the museum staff would add their leaf to the “tree” arching overhead. Standing under the “tree,” I felt nurtured by collective wisdom overhead.

Which was good, because the global warming exhibit was bleak. For some minutes I stood in front of a computer that screened a time-lapsed spread of pine beetle over the past 50 years. Driving the Rockies and for Westcliffe folks just driving up the Hardscrabble, you can see that the Pine Beetle has devastated huge swaths of forest in Colorado, but watching the affected area spread, bigger over North America with each successive decade, was a sobering experience – especially since we won’t see temperatures cool or the beetles slowed any time soon.


Gone are the days.


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Trailing the Oregon Coast

For all my backroads readers, I must recommend driving Highway 20 west through the Cascades and then taking Highway 101 up the coast. In contrast to hwy 20 that has very few cars, hwy 101 has many, but you can find empty pockets, and the quality of the road is silken.

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9:30 a.m. and the fog along the coast has yet to clear.

Following the coast calls for serpentine roads, and the curves call out to motorcycle riders and sports car fans who test the limits of their vehicles and their driving skill . The coupled logging trucks are fearless. Meanwhile, as you drive west from central Oregon, deciduous trees join the firs. Below the trees a thick ground-cover brings poison ivy to mind, and mentally, I start to itch.

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If you are a coffee drinker, a coffee kiosk is only a couple of miles down the road. Oregon must have more coffee drinkers than any other state in the nation. As for decaf… don’t ask. Ask for decaf, and the locals abruptly say, “No!”  Their tone suggests that if you don’t want real lumberjack coffee, you should probably go home.

Seagulls complain ceaselessly, “Me, me, me!” The forest alternates between clear-cut and dense. Pine beetle devastation is evident as are many signs of forest fires.  From time to time the smell of smoke lies on top of  the briny smell of ocean and  fresh seafood on ice. Oregon has done a spectacular job in terms of pull-offs, scenic overlooks, historical markers, and forested paths leading down the cliffs to beach access.

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Love it!

As for roadside blooms, here on the Pacific coast, white Queen Anne’s Lace and Shasta Daisies hold court. Sweet Peas, Asters, rambling roses, and Fireweed attend the queens. Unable to identify great swaths of pinkish-purple blooms, I had to look up the name. As it turns out, the flower is aptly named ‘Fireweed,’ and it is the first flower to bloom after a fire. In London, following WW II, the same flower was called Bombweed.

I’m nor sure why seals are so appealing, but they do pull at your heartstrings. The way they use one another’s bodies as pillows is sweet. The way they cuddle one another is very pet-like. I want to take one home. We could snuggle on the couch. Seals also have a lot to say – most of it harsh. The seals in the photo below are hanging out on floating decks in Newport.

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