Barefoot on Broken Glass
By Regis Auffray
Those who love nature will enjoy this article by Sha'Tara, a local writer and friend.
Barefoot on Broken Glass
My Yearly Harrison Lake Kayak Run – Late June 2010
It was not an auspicious beginning for this yearly kayaking run to Harrison Lake and back. In the early morning the sky was quite grey and although it was not raining, it looked like it sorely wanted to. We've had a rather wet and cold spring and now it's summer but still quite undecided. If the days are warm, or sunny, it's almost unbearably muggy. If it's raining, it's also muggy—or it's cold. Today was all of it, but amazingly there was little or no wind! Winter or summer, I've never been out on the open waters of Harrison bay, or the Chehalis delta, without a stiff breeze blowing and white caps tossing the kayak around and washing over it. Good thing for me today, as you will read later.
The run itself is challenging, taking place on many different types of water surface. First two miles are on the Hope river, and that's pretty mild. Then north on the Fraser River and as far as current conditions go, that's the most challenging part. When the waters are at their peak as now, I can choose to paddle at least part of the upstream jaunt through flooded islands, following the swollen streams that are dry gravel or sandy gullies the rest of the year. You encounter pretty tough currents here too, but less so than on the open River. These woodland channels are full of smells, sounds and colors. It is worth putting up with the mosquitoes and branches that slap your face or grab the kayak as you thread the needle through overhanging boughs of willows, blackberries and red-osier dogwood that sweep over, or dance in the flowing waters.
As the clouds dropped ever lower it became so dark in these streams that I could not see anything except the swirling brown water, the shrubs on the edge of the streams and the ever-present flitting swallows. I thought of the jungle of the Amazon, or Mirkwood forest of Tolkien lore as I heard deer stomping and crashing through the bushes and beavers (and possibly bear cubs) trudging away from the shore, disturbed by my passage. Periodically a wood duck or mallard female would do its broken wing or wounded bird routine to draw me away from the young perfectly, quietly, camouflaged among clumps of swaying grasses along the banks. As for the colors I mentioned, they became quite muted in this strange "legend of sleepy hollow" semi-darkness.
While the weather has not been conducive to the return of large numbers of birds to the area this year, I did see a few of the regular ones, and certainly heard their calls: cedar waxwing, brewers and red-winged blackbird, black-headed grosbeak (my favorite singer), marsh wren, song and white-crowned sparrow, solitary sandpiper, blue heron, bald eagle (very raucous today: young ones must have just come out), osprey, turkey vulture (buzzards for you Americans of the wild West—and interestingly every year we get more of these), common loon in its usual haunts on the Chehalis river delta, common merganser, and… since it was raining: vaux and white-throated swift. If you've ever seen a white-throated or a black swift shooting over the waters in the rain, you'll know why they call them "swift"! Amazing acrobats. Before I leave off about the birds I must mention that I saw the highest flying blue heron ever. He was so high he was just a speck in the sky, but you can't mistake the curved wing pattern and wing-beat of a blue heron even at that distance. No, definitely not an eagle. Eagles circle at high altitudes but a blue heron's flight path is straight. Heron with a goal in mind.
After about eight miles of tortuous meanderings pushing through head-on or cross-currents and interminable whirlpools; after crossing the River (again!) you "gradually" enter the Harrison river at its T-junction to the Fraser. This is an area of powerful currents as these mighty rivers crash into each other and try to make peace of the chaotic waters each brings to bear against the other. The Fraser is a brown river, carrying mud and silt from half-way up the province as it cuts away at its banks and its tributaries bring in their contributions from clear-cut mountain areas. The Harrison is a clear green river as it drains Harrison lake through an area of broken stones from volcanic activity and a bed of very coarse dull white sand.
I always steer clear of the main conflict area between the Rivers as the whirlpools created there would swallow my kayak as easily as a piece of grass. Once past that foreboding place, I am now on the Harrison proper. Almost anywhere now you can see clear to the bottom through icy-green waters. Unlike the Fraser, the Harrison is a silently flowing river, rather predictable (if not always friendly) along its entire length. The fast parts are fast, the slow parts, slow and always the same. You don't encounter the changing "violence" of the Fraser. I usually refer to that part of the journey as "the boring stretch" although the boring applies only to the paddling. The areas surrounding this river are anything but boring. One could write books on the geology alone, more if one were a geologist! And the beauty of it is beyond words, and even beyond the ability of a camera to record.
This river has many "moods" and changes radically from place to place, depending on the time of the year. Now, of course, it is in flood and stretched out all over, from Harrison bay all the way to its restricting mountain wall channel that finally leads to the lake. Here it can only go up or down, not sideways or every-which-way!
On the way north you pass under a CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) swing bridge, then past a provincial park with a beach of yellow-white sand. Young families and older folks frequent this park in the summer. Although sparsely populated today due to inclement weather, there were children playing among driftwood logs brought in by the high waters.
Now an anecdote to the "people part" of my journey which I must relate. During the last few years they have developed a kind of high-powered jet-pump type boat fishermen (I call them fish-snaggers or fish torturers) have been buying. They are perfect for these creatures: ostentatious, hard on gas, noisy and positively ugly, to go with their similarly endowed crew-cab pickups. There were few of those out today because the fish, surprise, surprise… is gone. But as I rounded up the last leg of the park's small beach, three of these boat, operated by the usual brain dead types came roaring up from the south, tearing up near the beach and throwing up a serious wake. There was a little girl sitting on a dry log near the water. She was staring at the water when the waves hit the log and drenched her. Her mother was near by and caught her as she lost her balance.
Of course the ignorant louts in the boats were too close to shore—but there are no buoys to keep them off, so why not show off their stupidity, ignorance, and crass materialism? "Hey, look at me, I can make noise with my machine, and it's powerful and can throw up water on your beaches. I can wreck your environment, pollute your air, even drown your kids given half a chance. I represent the best this society has to offer. Admire me!" I realize, of course, they could not think that: they don't have the brains for it. They truly are the blind, deaf and dumb; the mentally deficient in a dying civilization. They have no idea that what they do is detrimental to everything they touch, including themselves because "we are having fun" and "if it feels good, do it!" So this society plunges deeper and deeper into its inevitable demise day by day. It's observable, it's palpable. To me, it's not even sad anymore: at this point, it could not happen fast enough.
Past the park, now turning east, another "boring" stretch of water with log booms tethered to pilings on both sides of the river. This is a log dump and sort area. Then you pass under another bridge, the Harrison River bridge, also a swing bridge. They built these bridges to open during high water so fishing trawlers (remember when there was fish in the rivers?) and tug boats hauling log booms could pass through. After the bridge, you pass the fancy Sandpiper golf course and for a time, a hiatus from displays of Earthian stupidity. Now comes the broad expanse of the Chehalis river delta, flooded gravel bars covered with hardhack, dogwood, willow and a variety of grasses I can't identify. They are beautiful, that's all I know. One could paddle around all day in this veritable paradise, and had I not had a specific purpose in mind for passing through I would have explored it.
The mountains close in somewhat in this area, squeezing the clouds in and predictably it began to drizzle. I had to put on the spray skirting, wool toque and rain jacket. As luck would have it, the elastic band on my skirting broke and I could not anchor it down. I just laid it on top to fend off the rain and carried on. Had it been windy… ah well, nothing for it: I would have had to turn back and hug the shores to avoid being swamped by waves. From a steady drizzle, the rain turned to pounding downpours, shower after shower. The kind of rain that pounds the surface of the water and creates bubbles on it, then seems to amuse itself by bombing each bubble to create a new one. The hammering of rain on the tensile surface of the water is loud, but this is a natural sound and rather pleasant, unlike the man-made machine noises we are assaulted with daily amongst the you-know-whos.
I am two-thirds of the way to my destination now. I can give up and return home, or I can continue, getting soaked and cooled down to borderline hypothermia (I know that from experience). I choose to continue simply because I can. This is not something I am forced to do, it's something I can truly choose to do, and on my own terms. I paddle through the delta, past a newly erected wildlife observation blind conspicuously sticking up out of the waters, then push through point after point of flooded grassland, choosing to thread the kayak through the grass to avoid the faster counter-currents on the open waters. When I finally arrive at the shore line and boat launching area of the Chehalis Indian Reservation, I stop for a short break, to stretch, chew a granola bar and take a drink. It is more comfortable (and gives quicker rudder response) to kayak barefoot, so I'm walking around in the washed up debris, branches and broken tufts of grass when I realize I'm walking on broken glass as well.
As I look around more closely (I had to take off my glasses earlier because they fogged up in the rain) I see the area is littered with garbage, much of it beer cans and collapsed cartons. Around my feet I see shattered glass and shot-gun shells all over the ground. Ah, I think, another piece of "man world." It never ceases to amaze how diligently the fun-seeking types make it their duty to ruin and spoil everything they touch. Here I am, standing in one of the most beautiful places on this planet, and guess what the local Earthians choose to do to it, with it. No, I did not cut my feet. They are quite tough, and that is certainly not the first time I've been barefoot on broken glass. Spiritually and mentally my entire life has been spent thus: barefoot on broken glass. This planet has become a place of broken glass. Broken hopes and broken dreams. Anyone who comes here thinking to make a good life will fail. Either they will land in a place where oppression, extortion or genocide is "in" or else among the types whose sole purpose in life (if they could construe of such a thing as having a purpose, that is) is to destroy anything that could be called "good."
Soaked and getting increasingly colder, I finally make it to my destination: Harrison lake. I head for the one place I can land the kayak for another break, stretch and eat my apple. It's a tiny little beach jammed between two cliffs, and not much beach left at high water. I had always thought of this place ("Whippoorwill Point") as a kind of natural preserve, where the people who come to Harrison Hot Springs for the beaches, hotels and bars, could take nature walks through the old trails, past the sulfurous smelling hot springs to land's end where the lake empties into the Harrison river. Well, no. There's a large billboard there now stating "Private Property. Future development by Kinga Developments – 116 acres" And it shows a map that takes in the entire point. When it comes to a choice between money and people, guess what wins? But then, the "people" deserve what they are served. They don't care, and invariably, some way, they buy into the money thing and will continue to do so until it won't mean a thing. Then, what's left of them will tumble or stumble onto other things, equally mindless. I think of planet Earth as the sinking rat ship. The rats on this ship have a problem however: they can't abandon their ship because there isn't any other ship nearby to invade and despoil, nor is there any shore they can swim to. I am thankful for that.
The rest, as they say, is history. I turned back and a trip that took over six hours to complete against the various currents was done in reverse in just under three hours. The rain was so insistent and heavy that I took very little time to admire the scenery on the way back. My neck muscles were screaming and my arms just didn't want to push/pull that paddle shaft any longer.
Wish there was more time to describe the beauty of the late spring flowers along that varied shoreline, or the sweet scents that filled the air everywhere. But this is already way too long!
"Every man and every woman has a course, depending partly on the self, and partly on the environment which is natural and necessary for each. Anyone who is forced from his [or her] own course, either through a lack of self- understanding [sic], or through external opposition, comes into conflict with the order of the Universe and suffers accordingly." [Aleister Crowley)
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