Snakes or Spiders?

Spiders don’t bother me; for decades I’ve been the designated spider slayer in my home. Naturally the designation doesn’t thrill me – those substantial arachnid intruders; the ones you can almost hear as they tip tap across the floor give me pause for a second – then it’s down to business, people are counting on me. To the dismay of the family, if at all possible I capture and release them outside. Assurances they aren’t hit men, have no vendetta, and are unlikely to make their way back inside do little to soothe the phobic nerves of my family.

Spiders are a fact of life, most are harmless, or at least not life threatening. Even the seven black widow spiders I’ve spotted, captured, or killed over the last year in my basement, don’t bother me as long as they stay downstairs.

Snakes are a completely different story; I’m incapable of applying the same rational thoughts when a snake is involved. Living in the heart of a major city in British Columbia, a snake should be the last thing to worry about. Or so I thought – “Daddy, please catch a snake for us” was the plea from our young children. We were on Vancouver Island, garter snakes were everywhere, and before I could scream “are you out of your mind”, we’re on the ferry home with a snake in a pail. The kids have already named it Mrs. Slithers.

Telling myself “hysteria” was a poor example for the kids, I made myself scarce as my husband set Mrs. Slithers up in an old aquarium. I even took the high ground when he assured me it couldn’t get out, and I was being silly. I didn’t “freak out” in front of the kids, I didn’t tell him he could deal with house spiders from now on, I even attempted interest. The next day Mrs. Slithers had 11 babies.

Kids love playing with baby snakes – kids love having all their friends over to play with baby snakes. Within a few days we were down to 7 or 8 babies. Attempts to convince myself the missing snakes were outside lasted about as long as a snowball in July. It was time for the Slithers family to move out – we made a day out of delivering them to the shore of Beaver Lake in Stanley Park.

What is it about phobias that make us lose our minds? Why is it that we trivialize the phobia of others as “silly”? Some studies suggest we are programmed to fear spiders and snakes as they could cause harm, while others contend these phobias are a learned behaviour – passed on by phobic parents. I grew up in a place where we were taught from a early age to watch out for rattlesnakes and black widow spiders yet snakes are the only thing that makes my skin crawl. When I think about it – I can’t come up with a single person I know who fears both snakes and spiders. Go figure.

Land of the Spirit Bear

I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer; for as long as I can remember the wind has carried melodies, certain trees protected on the off chance a fairy had made it her home, the night sky a reminder of endless possibilities. Never a Santa Claus or Easter Bunny believer; appalled by the indignity of slapping fairy after tooth – my spirit thrived and grew on the certainty that ancient people accomplished feats beyond explanation because they revered the world around them. Before Christianity and organized religion closed the minds eye, before worshipping the sun or seasons became a sin, and before pondering the stars resulted in  death on a fiery stake – mankind listened as the earth spoke.

I don’t want to debate religion – I want to ponder what mankind seems to have forgotten.

I find it so disheartening that technology, science, and religion have eradicated “wonder”. Wonder as in awe and reverence; not Godly rhetoric but honest to goodness, gob smacking, holy crap our world kicks ass wonder. Few people gaze at the stars – the cosmos practically invisible from artificial light pollution. We Google answers, opinion or solutions to questions without any attempt to solve them ourselves. Divisions insulate us based on religion or politics – both of which have agendas of their own. Media irresponsibly turns fiction into fact under the guise of “opinion”. Technology lulls us into a false state of invisibility, while our connection to the earth collapses under pressure. Instead of opening our eyes to natures signals, we genetically alter perfection – all in the name of the almighty dollar. Mankind is out of control – simply because we’ve forgotten how to slow down and wonder.

Children’s classics like Mary Poppins and Peter Pan capture the essence of my dismay. Children who could talk to the birds while very young, or never grow old in Neverland. Written as fading gasps for an inexplicable longing; sensing something was lost but unable to remember what it might be. Knowing an emptiness simmered just under the surface, yet never being able to put your finger on it.

My life is no different; despite my beliefs I’m caught in a hamster wheel just like everyone else. Sometimes something happens to shake my world back into perspective. If I’m lucky, when I least expect it – my world becomes crystal clear. Two days on Vancouver Island brought me back from the brink. Not 5 paces into the trail at Cathedral Grove, I stopped as the gently swaying giants whispered to me. I had entered the land of the Spirit Bear. My senses trembled,  years fell along the path;  each footstep taking me closer to wonder. My nose filled with the scent of cedar and damp moss, I heard sounds from birds in the canopy to moles deep underground. Nothing escaped me; I was awake and alive in a techno-colour dream. Aboriginal spirits danced in splashes of sunlight; their voices telling the story of how Raven created the Spirit Bear to remind him of a time when the world was covered in ice and snow. I made a silent promise not to forget that moment.

Port Alberni to Tofino

I’ve indicated my final destination as Tofino, to clarify – the Pacific Rim area is referred to as Long Beach or Tofino. Our hotel however, is in Ucluelet – 96 Km. from Port Alberni, 32 Km. south of Tofino.

From Port Alberni, it doesn’t take long to grasp the concept of “formerly a logging road”. My husband at the wheel, myself the gracious host in the back seat so our out of province guests could have the best view, delivered a totally new experience. Vancouver Island is rugged to say the least; forget meadows, sleepy valleys, or straight stretches – this is logging country. Mountains plunge into lakes without any concept of shoreline, the highway clings to hill sides – nothing short of an engineering marvel. The road is crowded; long lines of cars gather behind petrified tourists – one hairpin curve or 15% grade too many; shaking like a new born kitten – incapable of anything more than 30 or 40 Km’s an hour. Just past the half way point the road opens enough to allow vehicles to park along a river. Water levels are low,not much more than a stream, yet smooth tumbled rock is testament to the force of nature during spring run off.


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We reached the Black Rock Resort in Ucluelet around 7 PM – about 6 hours after driving onto the ferry in Tsawwassen. This isn’t our photo, but am putting it up for dramatic effect.


Photo by my husband – Ucluelet


Hanks BBQ Shack, Ucluelet – after 9 PM the only place open in the village, and well worth it.

After check in we toured the village which took about 5 minutes. Ucluelet has slightly under 1,500 permanent residents. We settled on The Princess for dinner; a former topographical mapping ship converted into a hotel on the harbour.  By chance, we had stumbled into trivia night at the bar. Calling ourselves “Team Alberta” in honour of our guest – we kicked ass. As in we took every prize – the hat, water bottle stuffed with rain poncho, first aid kit, flash-light, the whale watching, and $30.00 off our tab.

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The next morning we headed up the coast to Tofino. Only slightly larger than Ucluelet, Tofino boasts 1,600 permanent residents. That said, Tofino positively bustled after Ucluelet. Breakfast overlooking the harbour as float planes and whale watching groups danced in the rain. Only fitting it should rain – not a drop in six weeks, but the one full day we are able to get away. Poking about the shops for an hour or so, waiting for the skies to let up was fun. Tofino is hippie/surfer ground zero. With as many surf shops as local artisans selling crafts, an interesting place to people watch. I never saw any sort of public transportation but the “surf bus”, an old army transport vehicle moved surfers from one beach to another for 2 bucks.

Leaving Tofino our first beach was Chesterman. This is a rockier place than long beach, tidal pools full of anemone and urchin. Tiny crabs, barnacles, mussels, clams, waiting for the tide to return.

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Tomorrow I’ll finish my trip and ponder some history of our west coast.

Nanaimo to Port Alberni

A trip to the “the island” always starts the same way; stepping onto the steel deck of the car floors is like that moment when your airplane taxis to the runway. Ship engines complain noisily, forced to patiently wait as passengers park their cars. The deck rumbles beneath your feet, faint whiffs of diesel mix with sea air as travellers make haste for the upper deck. With no turning back, you can sense relief as the dock fades and ocean engulfs the vessel. Airplane passengers uncurl their toes, breath easily, and stop pretending to read a magazine – ferry passengers head for the cafeteria. Hungry or not, eating on the ferry is mandatory. With 38 nautical miles, or 2 hours until “the island”, a trip to the over priced cafeteria gobbles up half an hour. I usually lap the inner decks a few times – the gift shop with it’s local crafts, fridge magnets, and travel books; the wall of attractions and tourist pamphlets – without fail I stuff a handful of whale watching or promotional maps into my bag before heading to the outer deck. Even on a calm, sunny day stepping outside is a blustery proposition.


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Passing the lighthouse is our cue to head for the bathroom one last time –  the island is just a few minutes away.

Despite making this trip too many times to count, I’m struck with the same impression driving away from the ferry.  It’s as if I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole; vegetation is the same but slightly skewed, less rainfall, rockier, the highway lined with oddly twisted, pealing Arbutus trees. Nanaimo comes and goes as the road sways north towards the junction at Parksville. The 50 Km. or so between the ferry and Parksville gives me time to adjust to my surroundings. Every few minutes a logging truck punctuates oncoming traffic. Parksville/Qualicum Beach, a tiny retirement town on the inner coast, is the junction for our turn to the east. Now travelling across the island for 45 Km. to Port Alberni at the tip of Alberni Inlet.

The first few Km’s remarkable only for the industrial nature of businesses; auto wreckers, machine shops, a gravel pit – all without any obvious thought given to placement or planning. At Coombs, all that changes. The road leaves behind chaotic ramblings and climbs out of the valley, forest trades places with corrugated buildings; my heart beats a little faster as I know Cathedral Grove is moments away. Cathedral Grove, a Provincial Park protecting a tiny stand of old growth trees is magical. This place is the elusive elixir needed to restore our souls. Five minutes walking beneath these 800 year old treasures does more good than many 2 week vacations.


Next stop Port Alberni; a lumber and fishing town struggling to survive. The lumber mill belches smoke as you descend along it’s steep streets to the inlet. Business after business closed, boarded up or for sale.




Tomorrow I’ll continue the trip from Port Alberni to Tofino.

“Notes” on Tofino

Home again from an all too brief road trip – not so much a ponder, as a travel diary and completed assignment for Mrs. P. Mrs. P is one of my long time wordpress friends; after writing that I was Tofino bound, she sent a message asking me to be her eyes and ears on my trip. Having planned the same trip 30 years ago – circumstance prevented her from leaving the mainland. She made it as far as the ferry terminal; that is where I’ll begin my story.

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I could see “that look” cross my husband’s face; the poor man, we had barely pulled away from the dock when I realized my cell phone was still resting on the counter of the coffee shop back at the terminal. On some level, detecting his centre deflate as he braced for my meltdown; yet predictably staying the course to deliver his worst fears, I lost my mind for a few minutes before gaining the practical sense to locate the Chief Steward’s office. It was only after the Steward’s phone call back to the terminal allowed me to breath again, with news my phone had been turned in, that I explained source of my hysterics. He’s always been the photographer, and me the writer, he had no idea I was on assignment with my phone camera destined to be an integral part of my Mrs. P. project. On the same page, and with my dramatic over reaction in perspective he was on board – from that moment on, I called out “Mrs. P” and he took pictures for me.

I thought I could sit down and write this story but find myself overwhelmed with literally thousands of pictures.  To be a window shouldn’t be taken lightly, with that in mind I’m going to ponder my approach for a day so I can do justice to Mrs. P’s lost trip. For the moment; tired, happy, sandy, and a rather unflattering shot of my ass as I peer into a tidal pool, is all I’ve got.


Tofino Bound

A short trip is better than no trip; even a day or two away from “life” is often enough to recharge your batteries. My batteries are stone cold dead, so Tofino, here I come.

Tofino is a tiny village on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Situated next to Clayoquot Sound – the location of the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. Over 800 people were arrested in the summer of 1993 for blockading logging roads, and “hugging” old growth trees in an attempt to protect an irreplaceable old growth rain forest. This magnificent valley is now Pacific Rim National Park. I’m sure there will be a post about the power of peaceful protest in Notes future.

Back to my road trip – a relaxing ferry ride to Naniamo, followed by a 3 – 4 hour drive up, then across the island to Long Beach on the western shore of Vancouver Island. This place is crazy beautiful, nestled between Tofino and the village of Ucluelet, I can honestly state there is no place more lovely in all of Canada.

After three weddings in three days, ranging from a politicians daughter to tonight’s boisterous nuptials (for the first time in my 30 plus years in hospitality, heavy metal band Slayer was the head banging music of choice), I’m ready for an “old growth” getaway.