Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017 @ 7:40 pm
I arrive in Prince Rupert to dense fog. The plane circles and hesitates before landing, the ceiling frighteningly low. By the time we emerge below the clouds, we're already skimming the tops of the cedar trees.
The airport is located on an island. Most of the passengers file onto the buses waiting outside the airport. The windows immediately steam up. Onto the ferry. Off the ferry. Into town.
I step off the bus and into a depot that's straight out of the 60's.
I wander away from the station, trying to decide if I go straight to my hotel or if there is decent food near the depot. The man that I sat beside on the plane pulls up, rolls down his window. Do you need a ride? he asks, in a nice way, and it's not creepy. He recommends for me to head north to the touristy area. When he drives away, I head east to the non-touristy area. Far more interesting.
I walk up and down the old main street. More than half of the storefronts empty, dried up flies scattered in the window displays like a handful of tossed jacks. The retro signs promising chow mein, hamburgers, and milkshakes.
I pass one place with the most incredible sign. The sign is a full story tall, in orange and yellow, with a comic book Chinese font: "WEST END CANADIAN AND CHINESE FOOD." The interior decor original, as is the clientele. Hunched shoulders, balding shiny heads, trousers and shirt sleeves. A row of elderly men sit at the counter eating grilled cheese and sweet and sour pork. I blink. What year is this? Where am I?
Rain falls lightly. I become hyper-aware of my high end rain jacket. I feel exposed and affluent. It makes me feel uncomfortable here. Groups of natives loiter around various corners. Broken glass in the gutter. Huge murals of spawning salmon, beady-eyed bald eagles, a regal raven. I peer in the window of a new yarn store. Take photos of the tiny old houses left scattered amongst the commercial buildings. Everything here weathers quickly, the interminable fog and the salt.
Later, I sit alone in the outdoor ocean view hot tub at the hotel. Soaking in the hot froth, ravens heckling from the wires down at the waterfront. The sun emerging below the cloud cover as it slowly sets, and the sky lights up with streaks of pink and orange.
In the morning, I walk down to the ferry dock. I'm an hour early, and it's already chaos. Boxes of groceries are stacked shoulder high. A sea of assorted coolers sealed closed with duct tape. A pile of hockey bags.
I check in with the ferry master. Is that all you've got? he asks, gesturing to my small backpack. You're brave.
On the ferry, backpacks are stacked on every bench. A pile of children play at the front. A woman nurses a baby. Someone has balanced a plastic fish tank containing a Siamese fighting fish on the window ledge. A child eats from a bag of Doritos. The entire Tim Hortons menu can be found amongst the passengers.
There is nowhere to sit. I panic.
After sizing everything up one more time, I determine that there may be one seat at one bench. I perch on the edge of it, looking around for disapproving looks or other indication that the seat is taken. My heart is racing, and I'm absolutely terrified.
Eventually my seatmates arrive - an couple of Italian wildlife photographers - and there is a spare seat.
Four hours later, we pull up to the community. I've studied this place from photos, so at least I have my bearings. Standing on the dock, waiting for my bag to emerge from the bucket-brigade style of boat unloading, I realize that I don't know who I'm supposed to be meeting. All I've been told is that there will be a room for me. I stand there trying to trust the process while a pile of dogs wrestle at my feet.
Is Shannon here?
YES! Oh my gosh. OK, so there is order to this chaos. I have no idea how this has worked, but it has.
You are staying at E's house. See, that one there. And he points to a dilapidated house just up from the dock. The front porch is rotting off at an angle.
My bag is passed down the line, and I catch it at the end. I walk up to the house. Open the door. And it's totally fine. I mean, it's well lived in and would not make any money on Air BnB, but it's fine. I actually kind of like it. That worn in feel. Smells like a family lives there - a sort of boiled milk and shampoo smell. Stained carpet and crochet throw blankets, a stain in the sink from a leaking faucet.
I spend the afternoon working. Meeting the contractor, walking the project sites. Pointing at things, discussing them, making notes on a set of drawings.
The next day disappears in a blur. Meeting people. Eating communal meals in the hall. Watching TV with the guys after dinner. Reading in my twin sized bed at night. Flannel sheets in August. *shrugs*
On my last afternoon, I meet up with the Italian couple, and we walk up the trail to the lake. Slippery boardwalks, six foot tall skunk cabbage. A rushing river that humidifies the forest. The sunny spots radiant with the incense of Sitka spruce.
I walk back from the lake alone, wanting time in the forest to myself. To breathe. To think. To be present in all of this wild majesty.
I come across an elder and a youth, walking together and picking berries. He is telling her things about the land and the plants. I eavesdrop. They offer me a handful of bunch berries. The berries are lightly sweet, soft like watermelon, a small prick of a seed inside. He turns over the leaves of the Labrador tea to show me how it's not yet ready to pick.
At night, they serve us huge slabs of spring salmon. It's poached and oily and I eat everything including the skin, which they assure me is excellent for my complexion. She says their kids fight over it.
I'm sitting out here now, the sun setting on a rare sunny day on the coast. It was the first day back at school for the kids, and a group of boys is playing cops and robbers on the boardwalks with water guns. They come up to me shyly and say hello. Ravens calling from the forest. Gulls from the marina. The drone of an outboard motor from a boat offshore.
I arrived terrified. I am leaving with so much peace.