I stand at my kitchen door looking out at Boundary Pass, off the south coast of South Pender Island.
It’s not long after 6 am, but the bird life has been active since long before consciousness began seeping into me. I lay for a while in bed listening to the family of ravens yelling at each other in raucous squawks. The parents may be giving a flying lesson to their two little ones. Or a landing lesson. Or the discovery of some bounty on the rocks below.
Siskins, chickadees, robins, finches offer a more musical backdrop to the morning hour. The family of Canada geese, paddling in single file past Craddock Beach, are silent, their progress almost leisurely, but I know they are on the hunt for food.
A southerly breeze passes through the arbutus tree outside the kitchen, rattling the leaves and scattering a few yellow-brown ones over the lawn. The leaves of the Garry Oak rustle, too. It’s twisted form on the hillock beside the house is a testament to the harsh weather it endures in the winter. It thrives, even though its roots grasp at little but bare rock.
It’s easy to sense the morning’s stillness, but there is much happening.
A precision plummet
An osprey perches on one of the oak’s topmost branches, surveying the shallow waters of the beach. Through the binoculars, I catch a glimpse of its fierce yellow eye, highlighted by the black stripe that sweeps across its face and down the sides of his neck. It never stays long. In a moment, he’ll spread his sleek wings, fly back to the edge of Craddock Beach. He’ll find a spot and hover a hundred feet in mid-air, searching for the slightest movement in the shallows. If something catches his eye, he’ll make a dramatic, precision plummet into the water jutting out his talons an instant before impact. Only once have I seen one of these birds emerge from its dive with a squirming rockfish.
The water is still, close to shore, a mirror reflecting the rugged cliffs and fir trees. Further out, currents texture the surface of the sea with swirls and upsurges. A breeze scatters small waves out towards a patch of bull kelp. A lone seagull circles over the rock in the western part of the bay.
I walk down the to the gorse bushes that line the cliff’s edge. The lawn is already brown, but I feel dew on my bare feet. We call this part of the property “the prow,” and we can watch the freighters and pleasure craft move between Stuart Island and us in the quiet afternoons. The barnacled rocks below look like enormous boulders that were shaken down from bluffs behind us many millenia ago. A mink skitters across the seaweed, carrying something in its mouth. A piece of crab, a sculpin?
A blast of steam
On a lucky day, I might hear a sonorous hiss, a blow of air, the telltale sound of Orcas passing. I scan the waters out past the bull kelp looking for a black dorsal fin cresting the water. Two or three may appear, or sometimes as many as ten spread out across Boundary Pass. It is always dramatic when they do appear, with an explosive blast of steam.
At this early hour, the whales are alone. Come the afternoon they’ll be harassed by an entourage of whaling boats, loaded with tourists, chasing and cajoling the whales into tight packs. I imagine them tense and unhappy among this grotesque mob of engines and bullhorns. Right now, though, they’re spirited, seemingly joyous as they surface and dive at a great clip past the awakening island.
The sun lifts over the point to the east, and the rocks of Craddock Beach take on its full yellow glare. The treetops on Stuart Island are golden, the sky to the south still carries pink wisps of cloud.
This year, I found myself a little wistful as winter ended. I had enjoyed the sleepiness of the land, the way the trees huddle against the cold, the spirit of the birds and animals that persist through the frigid season, the wind and rain and long nights.
The world anew
But now, as summer begins, I look forward to these quiet mornings, the abundant life, the colour of the garden, the pleasure of an early evening swim. The warmth of the days.
The sunrise has made the world anew. As I walk back to the house, I feel the solidity of the earth beneath my feet. I am filled with a sense of the connectedness of all life, its rhythms, its perils, the great spirit that runs through it all, and our profound dependence on the vitality of nature.