Monday, June 24, 2019

A Summer Solstice story

I have written many blogs about my summer, and winter solstice rituals.  How my partner and I go into the woods or along the shore and make a fire on which to cook a small amount of meat from every creature that keeps us alive.  We add plants that grow beneath and on and above the ground, plus nuts and fruit. A wonderful feast with no cutlery but a pocket knife and no dishes but a bread roll as a trencher. We make tobacco offerings to nature’s forces before we start, and after we eat we offer pieces of venison from my drum making deer skins to the wild creatures whose home we are visiting.

But never have we had a summer solstice celebration such as this one,  with almost none of our ritual gestures. It even seems in alignment with this unusual solstice day that I have very few solstice photographs to add to this story, when usually there are more visuals than words in my posts.

Although we begin the day with our honouring to the sun, to each other, and to all beings seen and unseen, we decide to break tradition and have breakfast.  Usually we fast from the honouring until we are in the bush with our small campfire begun and the tobacco offered.  Yet because it is so frighteningly dry here on Cortes, we decide to have our solstice feast aboard our sailing sloop Pearl, using her barbecue rather than taking a risk starting a fire on land.  And if you know sailboats and getting underway, it takes much fussing with details--remembering and forgetting and going back before remembering something else forgotten—before everything is stowed on board.

Once underway, we decide to begin our festival meal with a small spiritually significant snack: we open the package of candied smoked salmon and add some exotic nuts. Although I appreciate this detail seems trivial at the moment, it figures much more prominently a little later. We have a beautiful late afternoon sail with the wind abaft the beam, which means the wind is coming over the back quarter of the sailboat, filling the canvas without causing the boat to heel or pound into the swell. A whale watching boat is off in the distance, and we can see the spouts of humpbacks moving along a distant coast. What a perfect moment in this island paradise.

We arrive at Von Donop inlet, our intended overnight destination. Quite a surprise to discover 18 other boats already there as this is a typical number for high season, and not the usual volume in June. Okay, time to begin our solstice feast.

I turn on the propane tank to begin heating water for a shower, best to have while the Sun is still warming the cockpit. A high whooshing noise greets me. This certainly doesn't seem quite right. I turn off the tank, pause, turn on the tank--a high wishing noise. I tried several more times, foolishly imagining that I am just imagining this.
“JOHN, would you listen to this? Certainly doesn't seem right.”
“Certainly is not right.”
Definitely mustard smell. Definitely not going to use the propane stove. We must subconsciously be considering  applying for the Darwin awards (individuals who have contributed to human evolution by selecting themselves out of the gene pool via stunningly stupid death or sterilization by their actions) as we discuss lighting the barbecue and heating water on that. We wisely decide not to blow ourselves and our closest neighbors up, since the barbecue is just on the other side of the propane tank, separated only by the stern railing.
“Now what?”
We could just carry on.  Many folks never have hot water to wash in and we do have fruit, vegetables from beneath, on and above, plus fancy bread trenchers. But what about breakfast? And the next two days?  This was to be a 3 day outing and we are both finding it daunting to picture about 60 more hours of vegetables increasing stickiness.

We turn around.  Good choice since it is only 6 pm.  Hours of light yet.  Summer solstice after all.

We slow down going by a fellow oyster farmer's remote workstation, wondering if we should raft up to his floats for the night and reconsider in the morning.  Reconsider what? The situation surely will not improve, and at least my attitude is likely to deteriorate. We go on.

Only moments into our reverse direction, I see a whale tail between Pearl and the shore. Close enough to see the striations along its edge. We turn off the engine as a gesture of respect, drifting for a time while intently gazing at the water. When the engine comes on, the humpback rises again to the surface. We repeat the engine off, the whale repeats the disappearance, engine on, whale rising. We are beginning to think that the whale watching boats are entertaining to them, and if they are not hassled they may come close to enjoy the attention. The whale swims with us, each of us keeping the measured pace of the other, for about 20 minutes. This is very exhilarating. What a perfect moment in this island paradise.

We begin to wonder about food, or rather, the lack of it. All of our solstice main menu items need to be cooked. But wait. We have vegetables, coleslaw, and leftover candied salmon. Quite a large, elaborate dinner salad soon emerges from the galley, complete with puffy bread rolls. With a shock of surprise and a sense of usual magic, we realize the only protein we have had on this special day is the one food that everything along this coast depends upon: the salmon.

We decide not to go into Gorge Harbour for the night, returning back home as if we had never been anywhere at all. Besides, Frank the house sitter has our truck, and rarely answers our phone, and so we have no way to get home. “Let’s stay at shark spit.” A sandy finger jutting from the uninhabited Island just off the shores of Cortes. Marina, for the mistress of Captain Cortes. Clever political commentary apparently has no time limit. We ignore the fact that twice before in those unpredictable currents we have drug our anchor. Nicely landed and well dug in, we take the dinghy to shore with our solstice pipe. Finally we do the tobacco ceremony at the end of a long unpredictable day, instead of at the beginning of a day with well practiced routines.

 We watch the sun sinking through an increasingly golden sky, saying to each other this is not what we expected, but perfect nonetheless.

As we amble back up the beach John comments that the only other boat at the Spit looks closer now to Pearl  We laugh at our nervous attention to slip sliding away. Back on board with beds made, its 11 p.m. and certainly time for sleep. John looks out the back hatch to say, “that boat is definitely closer.” We cannot just hope to drift by, not hitting anything throughout the night, as we drag our anchor.  Nothing to do but pull up, again, and leave. 

Just before midnight finds us motoring through the Gorge entrance, me on the bow with a flashlight shining a too small beam along the rocky cliffs while John is at the helm, hopefully being guided by my continuous flicking on and off  to save the batteries.  In a miracle of dumb luck and perfect timing, he grabs the mooring line with the boat hook in the dark, while I pause and reverse Pearl just before she hits our oyster skiff, left on the line for our return to shore.  It is so bedtime.

With a no breakfast, no personal hygiene morning we load the skiff and go in.   Standing in the grocery store like two elder homeless waifs, we of course find that Frank is not answering, and are dismayed to discover our closest neighbors are not home either.  An Island friend is working behind the counter, and she points out that someone will be in soon going in our direction. A woman we don’t know is purchasing groceries and asks if she can help. Of course she will give us a ride. Even though her home is in the opposite direction, she would be delighted.  She insists on taking us right to the top of our driveway, commenting that she is a new resident to the island and is always wondering what is at the end of these gravel roads.

So what was all that about? Two favorite quotes occur to me. The first by First Nations artist, Robert Davidson, who said “the only way to maintain tradition is to keep inventing new things.” Everything about this summer solstice celebration was different, sideways, omitted, adjusted. And yet the honoring happened in ways we will not soon forget. The way of the salmon and whale will become new traditions, however these take their form in the future.

The second is a Buddhist saying: Enlightenment is easy for those without preferences.

Happy Solstice from the Journey Oracle