November 9, 2010 § Leave a comment
It’s 6:15pm on a cold dreary and dark West-coast evening. I’m sitting at the Pacific Rails train depot in Vancouver waiting to board the train that will carry me across the country over the next four days.
My mom just dropped me off in her new white Westfalia camper van. The day after she got it, I asked her if she’d like to take it for a drive down through the Fulford valley in the South end of our Island to the picturesque Fulford harbour. I made a thermos of hot black tea with milk and off we went.
Forty-five minutes later we were pulling up to the sea-side road that hugs the shoreline. There were two young men fishing for salmon in the still harbour waters. BC salmon have come back to spawn in droves this year. There are more salmon in the waters than recorded since the turn of the 20th century. From where we were parked, we watched the small ferry, the Skeena Queen, rounding it’s peaceful way through the bay to dock on the other side of the harbour. Sometimes, though not on this particular afternoon, a family of white majestic swans come to feed in the blue harbour.
We opened wide the camper van doors, swivelled around the front seat and set up a little table. We watched the two fishermen in the water, wading in deep, casting their lines methodically then pulling them back. Thick salmon threw themselves into the air every once in a while, creating sharp ripples in the tide.
Sitting in the van like that the world outside became a stage.
Suddenly, a heavy salmon snagged one of the lines. One of the young fishermen tugged hard on the line with a wide smile. Slowly, he reeled the fish towards the shore. The fish was thrashing in the water, and it seemed to take forever to bring her to shore. “He’s playing him,” my mom said, watching the fisherman pulling on the line, gently reeling her forward. “It’s kind of sad, isn’t it.” I noticed a painful thought cut through the beauty: “How cruel this peaceful salmon trying to spawn in the nearby stream, so close to her goal, now has to be ripped out of the water by a hook in the mouth. What a drag.” I felt my heart sink a little, but tried to talk myself out of it. “Don’t be ridiculous,” I told myself. “He’ll have a fresh salmon on the barbecue this evening!” I thought back to some of the fun times I had spent fishing for trout with my cousins at Blackburn lake and snagging cod in the Cranberry Inlet when we were kids.
The fisherman brought the salmon to shore. My mom and I clapped and hollered from inside the van. It was a sight to be seen, the way he lifted the twisting slippery fish out of the water, held it in childlike amazement in the air for us to admire. His fishing partner took a photo and there was laughter all around.
And then, a few moments later, something unexpected happened. The fisherman quietly waded back into the bay with the big fish in his arms. He held the still salmon just under the surface of the water. “He’s putting her back?” I asked my mom. The fish floated to the top of the water and I was sure she had died. But then, after a few seconds, she began to sway her tail back and forth. Then she kicked fiercely, and off she went, into the deep, back towards the stream.
Today, driving into Vancouver with mom, sitting in the passenger seat of her shiny new van, I kept the memory of what we had watched from the same seats the day before. Because we were still in the van, our perfect afternoon, the beautiful harbour and the fisherman’s unexpected mercy, felt closer to me than the big-city lights and traffic we were now driving through on this rainy day. And I suddenly realised that travelling in a van is kind of like being in the world, but not of the world. Kind of like a spiritual goal in action.