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On The High Seas With Bruno and Godfrey, Denman Island, Hornby Island, Catching Fish, Hiking, Swimming (And Shooting So Far 1500 Photos)

I don't know where to start, or if I can start. So much has happened since I set out on a photo-shooting trip 3+ weeks age, I've had dozens of rich and inspiring experiences, met and hung out with a whole bunch of remarkable people, and yes, got banged around by Mother nature to remind me who's boss. Plus got some photos that I love. It's a sunny, blue-skied day here on Hornby Island, and I am appropriately in designer/builder Michael McNamara's Blue Sky Design studio, looking out at dappled sunlight on the grass and trees of all types, connected to el mundo via wi-fi, and will try for an hour or so to touch on some highlights of this month on the road.

I took a boat trip up the coast with two remarkable guys. Bruno, who Godfrey once called "the ultimate guy," and is by-now a legendary surfer and builder of the west coast of Vancouver island. He's built dozens of homes and cabins, many of them out of hand-split-on-the-site cedar siding and roofing, built a homestead in the wilderness, and is as competent as they come AND Godfrey, wild-man artist, carver, builder of a number of wooden junk-rigged sailboats, friend of the Indians, lover of women, lover of life, and with us, on this trip, back on his beloved Pacific Ocean for the first time in a few years. Bruno's got a 17' aluminum boat with 65 hp motor that goes fast. Bruno runs a tight ship, you have to get things stowed and balanced and tied down. Well, Godfrey, Bruno's longtime buddy, is the opposite of organized. He shows up with a black garbage bag full of stuff that's spilling out and a basket of tools along with a beautifully carved miniature canoe he's working on.

Godfrey spends the first night getting drunk with his buddy Cal, so we're off to a slow start, but then things got progressively interesting. We visited a bunch of amazingly together and self-sufficient people, and all of them were delighted to see Bruno and Giodfrey. It was like a one-two punch, these two soul-guys of the area dropping in from the sea for a visit. And I got to tag along. I saw a bear with two cubs (are they cute!) in a grassy seaside garden and started to walk toward her and then thought, uh-uh. I found wolf teeth. We visited Godfrey's friend Hughie, long-time local who runs a general store and boat dock in a remote cove next to Ahousat, a native village of 1500 people, reachable only by boat. We left Ahousat late in the afternoon, and without telling Godfrey or me, Bruno decided to race 15 miles to the north, trying to get to our destination before sunset. We came around the point into open ocean waters and it was majorly choppy. We got pounded by the ocean, where the boat would get airborne and come down about every 4th time with a smack, jarring my teeth; if we capsize, I was thinking, do I rescue my computer or Godfrey? On the last day Bruno took his fishing rod and in less than ten minutes caught about 10 fish and took them into the beach and cooked them in butter over a wood fire for lunch. We slept on the beach one night, and spent the second night in a cabin at Hesquiat cove, former large village of Hesquiat Indians. We went up long long cedar trails (walkways of split cedar steps, which is the only way you can get through the dense woods) at Cougar Annie's Garden, 100 or so seaside acres so named after a gun-toting wilderness homesteader. Here's a slide show of this garden on the Wild Coast of Vancouver Island. We looked at the little hand-split cedar cabins Bruno had built, and Bruno and I went swimming in a large dark lake in the hills a mile above the beach. Bruno and I kept jumping into whatever water we could find. We got Godfrey to go in with us once.

Godfrey was in irrepressibly good spirits, even with a hangover. He was excited about what was around the corner, I think he sees the world in patterns and colors and shapes, and it opens your senses to hang around with someone who's in the right brain most of the time. This is wild country. Also fascinating. There are inlets and fijords, islands, coves, white sandy beaches, reefs, dangerous rocks, currents, waves, a lot more diverse a coastline than where I live on the Northern California coast. There are boats of every description, kayaks galore, and whale-watching power boats that Bruno calls "whale molesters." Tofino is the end-of-the-road jumping-off spot for this coastal wonderland. " Tofino is clogged with tourists in the summer,and it's got a lot of nouveau riche overblown rich-people houses, but it still has a core of locals and a lot of Indians. It's nickname is Tough City. There are lots of good places to eat, a lot of surfers, young people, music, caffeine, colorful characters, a great town bakery, beaches to wander…

Our trip was a classic. I've had only a few other trips that burned themselves in my memory like this one. Jeez we had a great time. Ate barbecued buffalo steak with stir-fried vegetables freshly picked from a beautiful garden, watched sunsets, hanging with these two guys who knew this land and the free-spirits so well. For them it was a journey back in time, revisiting places and people from the past, from a time when, as Godfrey said, "there were no laws." For me it was hanging out with a lot of people who shared the same spirit 30+ years ago.

After the ocean trip I left Tofino on a hot day and headed into the mountains to cross to the east coast. It was HOT and I stopped and jumped in a cold, clear rushing river, got re-energized and went into Courtenay (covered in earlier blogs) for rest and recuperation. I took the ferry to Denman island and spent a few days. Had a great time photographing the powerful and witty wooden sculptures of Michael Dennis (you photographers know what I mean, like you come upon a scene of visual power — it's a treat — click —click…), drank home-brew with around-the-world wooden sailboat adventurers Jack and Monica, slept two nights on the beach, had a killer waffle and fresh-roasted-beans latte prepared by a homemaker goddess at a funky little cafe with wireless internet, swam twice in a clear, perfect temperature inland lake, where the water felt like silk, man, do I love to move through water… Then on the 2nd ferry to Hornby Island, completely different sibling island, and getting some of my best photos yet.


Let's veer from the linear into the random here, OK? I feel like skipping around:

I walked into a clearing in the woods and about 10 crows started really hassling me. Crows in my garden at home keep a major distance from humans, but the ravens and crows in BC get right in your face. Their intelligence is up there with dolphins, I read (in Bird Brains: The Intelligence of Crows, Ravens, Magpies, and Jays by Candace Savage, a great book). No wonder they are the top animal in totem art…synchronicity is in overdrive on this trip…yesterday by pure chance I met Peter Schmidt, logger/fisherman turned artist/builder who said, about BC Indians: "Natives lived here for 10,000 years sustainably, giving them the right to carve their cultural story into old-growth cedar. We've been here 200 years and pretty well fucked it all up." It turns out some of Peter's structures are going into the book…Around 8 this sunny blue-sky morning a woman came up to the little outdoor capuccino stand and said, "Oh, another day in paradise, what are we gonna do?"…went to a solar-powered barbecue on the 4th of July, 150 people, all neighbors, near Petrolia, on "The Lost Coast," a lot of builders, homesteaders, people who "kept the faith." Hey, I like that expression, come to think of it. keeping faith, in life, love, beauty, treating the earth right, harmony…I read that a French catamaran set the world record for crossing from America to Europe: "…Bruno Peyron and his eleven men of crew completed the crossing in 4 days, 8 hours, 23 minutes and 54 seconds with average speed over 27 knots Orange II beats the previous record by 9 hours." That's 32 mph…Talking about the profusion of goods increasing from China, someone said "China's been the world's leading economy except for the last 300 years." Watch out!…How about The Scorched Earth Catalog — The Catalog for Global Warming? Title cooked up with Monica…I've got two blues harps, both given me by different people, I'm playing along with a jug band from the 20s CD in my truck, trying to learn how to bend notes…One day barefoot Rick and I take a walk up the creek in the woods and as we're hopping over logs, Godfrey starts reciting Rambeau (with his additions and subtractions):
"Far away from village herds and village girls, the Sabine women of the suburbs came and threw themselves on my neck…"
and on and on. Godfrey is acting the poems out, voice rising and falling, striding through the woods, rich imagery from a French poet, out of the blue…

Well enuff fer now I'm going out to shoot pix and take a swim.

A-rollin' and a-tumblin,' or Stupid River Tricks #2

I was in Courtenay, a sizeable town on the east coast of Vancouver Island last Thursday. I'd been on the road 3 weeks, and was exhausted after 5 days of high adventure on the seas north of Tofino (more of which later). A heat wave hit that day, between 90-100 degrees. After asking, I found the town swimming hole, a beautiful 100+ feet wide green river where teenagers jump off a bridge and people float down river on inner tubes. I swam in a deep part of the river that evening and talked to some young people who were just loading their innertubes into a truck. I asked if they thought I could go down river (the next day) with my inflatable boogie board and fins. Well maybe, they said, but they seemed doubtful. I thought about it that night. Why don't I just swim downriver, I'm a swimmer, I don't need the boogie board or the fins and so the next morning I go there and jump off the bridge (about a 30' drop, have to push myself to jump), hit the water, whooo! and stroke into the fast moving current. Fun! …for about 30 seconds, because the river then goes shallow and I can't get into a deep channel. I immediately am made aware that when the depth gets down to maybe 18" and the water is moving swiftly, a prone humanoid gets to the point where knees, elbows, shoulders are getting raked over cantaloupe-sized round rocks. Bam bam bam and I had one of those moments when I realized I might really get hurt here. The current's too strong, I'm getting banged around. The seriousness of it kicks me into survival mode and therefor determination and I slowly make my way towards the bank on hands and feet, scrambling, getting knocked down a few times, and get to the bank, thankful, battered, and with a lot more respect for moving water. It often doesn't look like the irresistible force that it is. Make my way back up river by forest trail, then since it's still hot, go back to the swimming hole and swim in the silky green clear water, thankful for just a sore shoulder and knee, no broken bones.

I've been swimming a lot on this trip, in a variety of places: beaches, coves and inlets on the ocean north of Tofino, in rivers (5), and lakes (2), and in the last few days, in the warmer-than-ocean waters of the Straits of Georgia, off Hornby and Denman Islands.