Flash Back Fridays
P AUL ST. PIERRE SR.
Jim Boulding said, “We are going on a ghost hunt. We will be looking for old, old ghosts who have great and important things to tell us.” He is, as you see, a romantic who can make sleeping under a hollow log sound like a night in the Peninsula Hotel at Kowloon.
Jim and his wife Myrna run this Lodge, the only outdoor education school of its kind, with some of the stuff of Camelot in it. More, perhaps, than the harder stuff of profit.
They put together the 20 buildings on the shore of Campbell Lake while teaching school. Since 1972 they have operated here full time, selling instruction in such antique subjects as wilderness survival, white water canoeing, mountaineering, native B.C. life styles, outdoor winter camping, living off the land and log cabin building.
In summer they have a staff of about 30 instructors, all dealing in some way with challenge, adventure and a form of tribalism – the things which are scant or absent now in the cities where most of us are trapped. This ghost hunt was to last three days and two nights on the ocean face of Nootka Island. There, according to the school’s native life styles instructor, the Moachat Indians say that men first learned to hunt whales. That was in the days before the spirit beings and the human beings took up separate lives. The name of this legendary village was Tahsis and it was somewhere near the mouth of the river we named the Beano, just inside the reef which the Spanish explorers named Bajo.
So we set out three days ago from the big, new profitable and smelly pulp mill at Gold River, using a 24-foot lapstrake boat and a rubber Zodiac, 50-horse Mercury shrieking on the stern.
There were 13 in the party, Jim and two instructors, and the survival course students who included one real estate agent, just returned after 50 years in the business, one planning consultant and seven school teachers. Teachers pay on $100 instead of $200 a week for these courses because the provincial government subsidizes their studies here.
Almost everyone was soaked getting the Zodiac through the surf on Bajo Point so the first job was to make fires and attain that state of mild dampness which was to be our lot when not actually wet.
We divided into pairs and scattered along the beach to make camps for the night. The survival course took on some aspects of a holiday.
A survival course can last three days, a week, or a month depending on the teacher. “You can get an awareness,” he told his group. “You will learn things you can never ever learn by just reading books. You get to focus what I call your psychic energy. I can’t explain what it is but I know when I have it and when groups of people have it. Also these are precious moments.
He has a general theory that we and our civilization are being spoiled by the cities and by industrialization, that we have lost contact with the realities of nature and that those are the only important realities, that unless we can return and relearn what our predecessors the Indians knew we will lose our right to exist in this country.
We went looking for ghosts the second day. We waded the shallow Beano River to a site where maps show an abandoned Indian reserve. A quarter mile beyond was a small clearing in the jungle, set a few yards back from the beach. Either may have been the site of the legendary community of Tahsis or it may lie swallowed up completely by the dark, dank mossy forest.
There was a deer on the beach, wolf tracks in the sand, eagles overhead and crows constantly complaining about our intrusion. There were acres of mussels we dared not eat because a red tide warning was out, heaps of mussels, scallops and abalone shells, rock plants which we ate and plants poisonous which we merely observed. Also along the beach old ropes, plastic containers, bottles, bogs of tacky bunker oil from ships and from Japan, one glass fishing float and one child’s rubber ball.
Immense weariness, some hunger and some cold but none of them overpowering. When we were leaving the vicinity of Tahsis a grey whale moved in beside the Bajo reef and cruised beside us for a time. He must have been old. His back had scabrous white spots.
Each time he blew the steam of his breath stood suspended, white and seemingly solid against the grey seas. Then it faded before the eye and was gone, like a ghost evanescent but persisting in memory.
Most appropriate to the place, as the man who teaches native life styles said and, as moments go, precious enough to remember in the long, cold watches of the second night on the beach.