Mallards are unsentimental creatures.  The flock through which I had to wade to get to the Pacific couldn’t care less about hygiene, so my first mouthful of salt water had a rather feathery backtaste.  Where did this custom come from, anyway?  This proved just the first of several initiation pranks my vacation destination held in store for me.

In planning this west-coast expedition Tony included a day for a tour of Vancouver.  First up was his favourite spot, Deep Harbour.  I had to agree with him on this choice,  for this calm harbour has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth.  The trees, the plantings, the floating marina in mid-bay, all combine to make the place perfect for the photographer.  Tony took me to the memorial bench the family have established to commemorate the fondness his father, mother, and uncle had for this spot.

We also had to try Trolls, his favourite fish-and-chips restaurant in Horseshoe Bay.  The double portions of halibut were delicious.  From the elevated dock across the street I spotted two young men weighing live prawn, so I made a death-defying descent down a long ramp (low tide, eh?) and relieved the fishermen of a kilo of live shrimp.  The guy dumped them into a bag which they promptly made into a net with repeated puncture wounds from legs and spines.

The next lesson the west coast offered: no impulse buy goes unpunished.  Tony reminded me that we had to complete our tour and get the prawn home in the back of a borrowed Cadillac without getting prawn-scent on the upholstery.  Off we went shopping until we had come up with a bag of ice and a Styrofoam cooler.  Turns out the Caddy has a cargo net in the trunk which might have been designed in answer to this question.  It held the cooler in place and no upholstery was injured in the making of this column.

Today I discovered what it’s like to fish on a river which flows at a minimum of twelve miles per hour.  Dean Werk owns Great River Fishing Adventures.  He took Tony’s sister Sharon and niece Amy with us in his Customweld jet-driven riverboat.  Powered by a 6.2 litre supercharged GM engine, the thing felt as if it could out-accelerate a 737 up to fifty miles per hour.

The first time Tony sent me a picture of a sturgeon he had caught with Dean, I accused him of photo-shopping the shot as a prank.  There was no way he could casually hold a 150 pound fish in his arms in the water like that.  He decided that at first opportunity he’d get his own back by watching me deal with a beast which tried to tear my arms out of their sockets on a strong and unpredictable run.

And unpredictable the sturgeon proved to be this day.  While eight of them picked up the baits tethered to the bottom by lead weights behind the boat, none took the hook.  But they weren’t especially shy.  Several did noisy rolls on the surface and one monster blasted out of the water right at the stern of the boat.  I bit my tongue out of tact.  It was Tony who muttered:  “We gotta get a bigger boat” in tribute to the Jaws moment.  Nine hours later when we were too numb from the cold to care, another jumped so close to the bow of the boat that it almost landed in the chain locker.

But the day was in other ways quite a success.  The Fraser River provides the photographer a wonderful look at the mountains which surround it.  These aren’t hills:  they’re the real deal, mountains.  Even though they are covered with inviting green foliage, everyone I asked agreed that you couldn’t climb one.  The vegetation is too dense to move through it for any distance.  It’s a jungle on a 45 degree angle.

I easily confirmed this estimate of one mountain’s slope just by looking out the window.  It was easy to trace the mountain’s line diagonally across a square window panel.

The first thing I had done upon awakening on my first day in this time zone had been to go outside and hug a tree.  This turned into a very interesting session, squishing around in the rain among the towering cedar trees on the property.  Cedars here look very much like eastern white cedars in Leeds County, except that these western variants have had long, wet seasons and no frost to inhibit their growth.

I noticed fewer species here than at home, but they grow in rich profusion.  Wild blackberries, for example, are so successful here that highway departments have hired brush-cutting machines to clear the roadsides of the thorny fruit-bearers.  Too many berry pickers have come to grief by falling from cliff faces onto busy driving lanes, or parking unwisely on tortuous mountain roads.

But the evergreens rule in B.C.  They’re huge, tall and straight.  They dominate the landscape and comfort and enrich its inhabitants.

Tomorrow we’re off to Masset by 737, then over to the Queen Charlotte Lodge by helicopter for five days of salmon fishing.

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First B.C. tree hug

June 18, 2011

9:30 a.m. EDT, 6:30 PMT

The first impression is of great lushness and a limited variety of species growing in profusion out of a loose, petey soil.  Each massive cedar tree has a dark, sheltered circle under it of about 30’ in diameter where the soil is very soft.  It’s nice in the still darkness, out of the rain.  Outside the cedars’ canopies, ferns grow in great profusion.  My next impression is that a large bear could be very close and one wouldn’t see it.  Scent would probably be the best way to detect it.  I can see why people wear bells on their knapsacks and carry pepper spray.

Faced with the challenge of planning wardrobe for my first walk into the unknown, I gravitated to the extreme end of the clothes I packed, with a large all-weather rain parka and hood.  The hood came off right away:  it blocked vision without keeping the rain off my glasses.  Next came the Souwester.  Glasses went into a pocket.

Regrets that I left my rubber boots at home.  They’d be perfect.  Topsiders don’t provide the grip on the soft soil and slopes.  A slip and I came back in to switch to hiking boots, wet or no wet, and sample the coffee.

Overall, the view from the guest-house in Abbotsford is one of green and gray, and striking beauty.  The Fraser River flows strongly to the left.  It’s about a mile wide, and fifty feet from my feet.  The trees tower over the house.  I don’t know what they are.  They have leaves like the eastern white cedar, but flatter, longer, and huge.  They grow in such profusion that the trunks grow together and apart, shooting off branches everywhere, creating the overall monolithic appearance of the triangular shape you see in pictures.  Only where the branches have been trimmed back do you get the tall, straight, hydro-pole shape.

I like the old-growth profusion much better.  Weeping willows don’t get much of a chance in this cover, and are reduced to shrub status, covered with a strange moss on persistent branches.  A flowering shrub on the driveway is rampant with large red flowers.  Don’t have a clue what it is, but it’s very nice in a rain-forest sort of way.

The guest-house is low and rambling with a lower story I haven’t explored yet.  Large windows don’t open.  Patio doors provide the ventilation.   No flow-through ventilation seems to be needed, and not much effort has gone into to energy efficiency in the design.  It seems to be a gentle, lush climate.  Considerable effort has gone into the design of rain gutters and drainage around the garage, however.  It must rain a lot.

The exterior’s designed with rot resistance in mind.  Concrete and aluminum, cedar siding which has either been replaced recently or weathered very well.

It’s just sprinkling, with virtually no wind, but as I watch everything is soaking wet.

First priority for shopping today will be the purchase of rubber boots.

As I sit here in the dining room overlooking the river, the wool shirt and jeans seem way too hot.  Time to get outside again.