Winter Solstice Show and Tell

Happy Winter Solstice. A celebration day for me – a pause day. This is when it appears that the sun itself takes a pause and for a few days the days/nights stay constant and then slowly and surely the light starts to return and the days, minute by minute get longer. The “worst” is over. Ha! Easy for me to say now that I don’t live in Ontario anymore, where harsh weather in January masks the progress.

Looking at my post from a year ago, I’m doing exactly what I was doing then. I’ve finished up my painting and other projects, photographed and framed, tidied and cleaned The Bunkie Study to transform it into The Bunkie Guest House in anticipation of Steve and the grand dogs arriving for a few days at Christmas. Last year I showed and telled my geometric paintings (see A Compass, A Ruler and a Pencil…and Colour). This year, after some months of creative pause, I returned to them this fall. I never really know what kind of art I’m going to do next – one day I wake up and decide that it’s time to draw, or use acrylics, or loose watercolour, abstract or realistic, whatever, the urge just comes. But this new year I know will bring more of these geometrics as the idea downloads of pattern and colour just keep coming, often in dreams, and I have lots more projects in mind.

So here’s my Solstice show and tell. May you all embrace and enjoy your creativity, however it shows up for you, as the light slowly starts to return.

And a moon phase calendar gift for a friend who is as entranced by the moon as I am…

The Grizzlies of Bute Inlet

In late September I travelled up to Campbell River to take a boat trip out through the Discovery Islands, up the fjord of Bute Inlet to hang out with the Grizzly bears who were fishing on the rivers during the annual salmon run. This was the second time I’d been fortunate enough to get up close (well not too close) and personal with these bears. The first time was back in 2019 when we spent a few days at a floating lodge in the Great Bear Rainforest (see Hunting Grizzly Bears). It was August back then on that trip and the salmon hadn’t started to run up the river, but the run was only a couple of weeks away, and we saw lots of bears who were making their way down to the estuary, feeding on grasses while they waited for the salmon to arrive.

This time I was on a day trip with a tour run by the Homalco First Nations whose territory includes Bute Inlet. It was late September and the salmon run was well underway. I’d been on another boat trip with them earlier in the summer which was great and at that time Captain Ron suggested I might like to come back to see the Grizzlies. So that idea rattled around in my brain for the following month until I went ahead and booked it.

On the way to Bute Inlet we made a stop and disembarked at Church House, an old Homalco Nation village. It is abandoned now – the last residents left in 1984 and in the intervening time the houses have collapsed and been reclaimed by the forest. Only a few remnants of what was once a thriving village remain.

Aupe (Church House) village today,
only two ruined structures left visible from the boat entering the bay
Aupe (Church House) as it once was

It was a real pleasure to tour the site of the old village with our Homalco guide, Janet, who told us stories of what it had been like when it was a going concern. Her family was from there. Starting in the early 1900’s generations of Homalco children were taken from the village and forced to attend Residential Schools. Her own mother had been taken away at the age of 5, developed tuberculosis at 6, and remained institutionalized until 16. Janet described what she had been told about the Indian Agent and RCMP arriving in the bay without much, if any, warning to take the children away from their families. It was an unsettling experience to stand on the shores of the bay, and imagine those boats arriving. As with all indigenous people who went through this shameful experience, the Homalco describe it:

“The loss of these family units, culture and language and the traumas of abuse are issues that our communities still struggle with today.”

We walked through the ruins of the old village to the top of a ridge. Along the way various plants and trees were pointed out and we heard of how they have been used traditionally as medicines. I heard that Devil’s Club was prepared and used topically to treat arthritic pain among other things. Later the Grizzly Bear guide told us that bears get arthritis too and eat the plant. The following day I happened to find some Devil’s Club balm for sale in the gift shop of the Campbell River Museum. I’ve been using it on my hands ever since. It works.

At the top of the ridge our guide told more stories and drummed and sang a song in her language in tribute to the Missing and Murdered Women and Girls.

On our way back down to rejoin the boat I took lots of pictures of what little is left of the village. I seem to have a thing about ruins anywhere.

At one point, getting closer to the bay, I was lagging a little behind our small group. I heard very distinct footsteps close by on the path behind me. I thought “bear” but when I turned to look there was no one there. I looked at the group in front of me, and counted heads. Everyone was ahead. It was very eerie and I hurried to catch up. When I mentioned the footsteps, our guide was unfazed and said that there were lots of ghosts there. You never know.

On to Bute Inlet and Orford Bay.

Bute Inlet mountains rising straight out of the water, which in places is over 2000 feet deep,
one of the deepest fjords along the coast

Docking at Orford Bay we had lunch at picnic tables on the docks and then transfered into a small bus/van accompanied by the resident Grizzly tour guides. Other wildlife boat tours out of Campbell River also bring their guests up here for the Homalco bear tours. The Homalco have been doing this for 20 years – it is just recently that they have started tours with their own boats. On the day I went there were only five of us on the Homalco boat which was great (for us) as we could change seats whenever we wanted and move around easily. The boats were new and great – 12 comfortable seats inside and 12 outside.

The small buses and vans drive along the rivers to various spots seeking out the bears. We saw 5 that day – not all together but in five different spots. The rivers and scenery was so breathtaking and at the same time so peaceful.

The main event.

We’re pretty close, but not close enough to disturb, and the bears have zero interest in us.

It was a nine hour day, through the islands, up the fjord, along the rivers and back to Campbell River. I was grinning the entire time.

And bears weren’t the only treasures we saw. Seals, sea lions and humpback whales.

I’ve long ago given up trying to photograph whales. I miss so much behind the viewfinder. Best just to enjoy the show and let others do that.

On our return, a sunset cruise back to Campbell River.

It was the BEST day.