An ode to Autumn on the Salish Sea
In our travels so far, I can say with confidence we have not discovered a place better suited for cruising than the Pacific Northwest. While I can’t complain about the warm water and cheap tacos of Mexico, I miss the lush cliff sides and tangled kelp beds, the abundance offered by the sea and the navigational challenges offered by the tides. As I reflect on this past year, I am inspired to pay tribute to this incredible place, our sailing training grounds, our home.
I wrote this ode as I pondered what a beautiful place we left last year. It was published in September, abut the same time we returned to the PNW enjoy a few months of a fading fall before returning to Mexico.
It’s my favorite time of year in the Pacific Northwest. The days are getting shorter, but the weather is crisp and refreshing. The frenzy of summer is subsiding in the city, but the woods and seas are alive with winter preparations. This time last year, we were soaking up our last days in the PNW as we sailed around Vancouver Island (much too fast), taking advantage of mirror-like anchorages, hiking through old growth forests and overeating salmon at every opportunity.
This place calls to us. It speaks to us as we drift along the shore and as we bash against the wind and driving rain. We hear the summoning in the howl of the wolves and the caw of the ravens. The landscape breaths, whispers, shouts, sighs, and we listen well – we absorb all we can.
The ancient towering conifers tell us stories of the humans that came before. That came 10,000 years before. The ones that stripped their bark for baskets and clothing, leaving deep perpetual scars. The ones that made weirs from sticks and stones to catch the fish flopping by in the millions. The ones that honor their ancestors with intricate grave markings, sacred islands and weeks-long celebrations.
The current prattles tales of heartache as the pull of the moon drags a world’s worth of water between cliff-lined islands, wearing down even the most domineering rock faces. It tells tales of secretive rocks, soupy fog and furious winds. It is an inexhaustible trainer, perpetually driving the water to run, tackle, spin, return and repeat.
The rock faces, worn apart by the tide’s tales, guard inner sanctuaries, bays so protected no hurricane has tines long enough to disturb them, and reveal the entrances only to those patient enough to duck and weave the tumultuous rapids and arrive on time.
The fog settles in, like an old woman at the end of a long day, to whisper legends passed down through the decades. To listen you must be still, be calm. They are stories you want to hear; stories of life beginning, of ice receding, of earth trembling, of creatures surviving.
The kelp dances in the swell, limbs swaying in the rhythm, blissful and vibrant, sharing the music that moves them. The creatures below – fish, turtles, seals, crabs – are grateful for the tangle of protection, embodying the harmony as they weave through their web in peace.
The rain speaks the loudest, drowning out the kelp’s hum and the fog’s whispers, dominating the stage with dramatic shows of power and effusion. But nobody complains; with these outbursts she brings the lifeblood, the sweet nectar of fresh wholesome water to replenish streams, sprout leaves, spread roots, hatch eggs, invent new shades of green. She is the foundation of this exceptional place, and she knows it.
The waterfall at the back of an inlet calls us in to bear witness as a persuasive flame erupts and begins to consume the hillside. The wind assists and the flame leaps from tree to tree, never satiated. Humans intervene, different than the ones that encouraged the young flame, ones that fly in mighty machines. With the help of the waters of the lake, the flying humans quiet the voracious flame and the waterfall sighs in relief. We sail on, awed and humbled, and give thanks to the water that surrounds us.
The dolphins are our guides, leading us through the waterways, encouraging our progress. They speak quickly, excited to share tales of adventure with those that follow them. Their bodies are sleek and efficient, their eyes knowing and playful.
The wind freshens, reminding us to utilize our unique mode of travel, but this wind is fickle. He shows love in teasing puffs of perfect conditions, but bores of this game quickly and turns to bursts of forceful gales to test our grit and fortitude. When the day ends, we shake our heads at him, exhausted and bruised, full of smiles and new stories, and he is proud.
The sea, a vast body quite literally connected to the entire world, to every stream, every continent, every shoreline, a strong resilient old man with eons of wisdom and memories. He breathes life into every being here, liberal with his nutrients and his love. His is the backbone of the region, and we all rely on his generosity. Not a day goes by we take for granted his support – for safe passage and bountiful sustenance.
Of all the creatures, all the stories and the gossip shared, it is the whales that bond the closest. Living underwater lives, they keep eyes on us at a distance, protective and motherly. The distance doesn’t last, though; we have too much in common not to share this journey. A mother introduces her young calf; a boastful male shows off his growing dorsal. A family feeds in our cove, displaying their ingenious bubblenet tactics to capture dinner. It is with these creatures we feel most at home, connected to this world around us that lives and breathes and speaks.
This place calls to us. All we must do is find stillness, and listen.