Kayaking with the Beagle

Tofino Pale Ale : Tofino Brewing Company : Pale Ale
Vancouver Island Victoria Lager : Vancouver Island Brewing Company : Lager

Our guide Ray explains the spiritual preparedness necessary for a whale hunt, the deep time spent in isolation, the birthing sense that endeavor puts your life at stake as well.  A member of the First Nation located in the bay waters of Tofino, he knows what’s involved, even though his particular tribe hasn’t whaled in these waters in over a hundred years.  But several years ago, Ray rode the dugout with Washington state tribe when they conducted a controversial hunt, ten or so people rowing in a traditional boat, drawing the ire of the international community.

“The whale must offer itself by exposing its heart to the harpooner.  Besides, any other way and the whale just gets pissed off.”  Risky? “Yeah, with traditional boats and all, but all this would be backed by support boats, high speed boats and 50ml harpoon gun, manned as a place of honor by either myself or my brother.”

Ray talks as he guides us across the cedar plank path that winds through Big Tree Walk.  His tribe owns this island and they promote this excursion on the remote island as a way to promote taking back the eco-system across all the bay’s isles.  Through the forest, we step around other visiting groups, stop to lean back and listen as Ray explains each tree’s story, how it is rooted in the uniqueness of the land.

“This is old growth.  Everything here is only because nature grows it this way.  The lumber company, they talk about replanting the forest.  ‘Let us cut the old wood and we will make the forest new again.’ But this forest is always new again.  And the second growth forest…” (like the weird plantings we saw advertised on the hillsides winding to St. Helen’s) “… they plant only the most desired trees, and so tight that the canopy blocks any growth underneath.  It is only barren darkness on the floor.”

We climb back into our kayaks and row gently across the now misty harbor waters and, sea legs back on land, head out for, of course, oysters.  And beer.

Comic books stapled to the ceiling and the tin toy airplanes dangling: an experiment in frustration for the younger set.  Fortunately Ben enjoys the pork dumplings and the shrimp sushi is good as well.  The oysters only adequate.

I order the local, really local, since it is made across the street here:  Tofino Pale Ale.  The taste immediately convinces me of the adequacy of all beers.  Not overwhelming, this pale still fields refreshment solidly and aligns itself as a nice session beer, or if you are only drinking one, then a growler’s worth.

While the beer drinks nicely–another, why, yes; I deserve it after all that rowing–the kayak big tree walk raises more complicated questions in my mind.  Enjoyable, but it felt like the tour was as packaged as a deliberate glimpse of a particular style of environmentalism, one that exists sacred, but almost under glass.  These big trees challenge me with thinking about the how the human relationship to nature is conceptualized.  (It is the informing concept of many great writers  like Melville, Conrad, Crane, Hemmingway; and while I don’t walk in that company, I can at least sit down in my mind and have a conversation with them over a beer.)  I wonder with concern if the big tree nature walk was anything different than a green Disney tour or the First Nation version of the Kansas Creation Museum.  Obviously there must be more, but…

Ray’s tribe traditionally strips only enough cedar bark to meet their needs, all without harming the tree.  Would these sustainable practices continue if their populations grew exponentially?  Free-range picking, instead of planting for product:  is there really a sustainability mindset supportable outside this isolated bay?

Our Western relationship to the environment is an essential characteristic of our psychological make-up.  While Ray says that he believes he is of nature, our civilized fear (woven tightly since the very history of cities) has lead us to the mythology where we name the beasts.  We dominate; we exploit. But even the First Nation’s animistic approach (and that of other aboriginal people around the world) smacks of ironic entertainment.

Time in the physical universe may be transitory and our return destined to the spirit world, but even these ideas seem to ignore the raw power of the natural world (or at least attempt to harness it to a native mythology).  The wolf spirit, for example, is not here to guide one in the principles of family relations or to teach the virtue of responsibilities to elders…. no, none of that.  Wolves are a wild element and anthropomorphizing stories own them back into a human consciousness, another device of control that is essentially foreign the nature of being a wolf.  What’s missing from this wolf/spirit perspective? Ask the parent whose child was attacked by a cougar or the dog ripped apart by a wolf’s pack…is that a spirit guide?

Yes, please another…no, wait.  Let me try the Vancouver Island Victoria Lager, please.

This issue explains the horribly-compelling vision of Darwin’s understanding of nature.  Evolution locks man directly into the rules of nature: the product–as with to all the organic life surrounding us–of the rol(l)(e) of evolutionarily beneficial changes played out over eras.  This is why the theory of evolution is so repulsive to so many, whether or not they realize it.  Their anger rises not because the idea simply goes against scripture, but because Darwin brilliantly and firmly plants humans as creatures within the wild rules of nature.

Now all science needs to do is find the genetic explanations for consciousness, intelligence, compassion. and, of course, spiritual wonder.  And when that’s in place, we only have watery lager left to try to enjoy…

Rating Tofino Pale Ale : 71%
Rating Vancouver Island Victoria Lager : 43%

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One Response to Kayaking with the Beagle

  1. JW says:

    I see you have a few more yarns to tell than just the Camp Hill variety. Well done.

    Btw, are you sure this is a beer blog? Just asking.

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