Thursday, 26 September 2013

Island Trek - Part 2

I've just spent the last hour or so going through the many photos I took on my recent trip to Vancouver Island, reliving memories before they fade. I can almost hear the crashing surf, feel the ocean breeze on my face, the sand under my bare feet, and inhale the wonderful smells of the wild west coast.

Crescent moon over Mackenzie Beach.

I visited the Pacific Rim National Park for the first time when I was 16. At the time I was awestruck. It was easily the most beautiful place I'd ever visited despite having grown up in a part of the world where natural beauty abounds. I was hugely impressed by the place itself and also by the wonderful amenities of the park. It was like entering a bubble dedicated to not only preserving a unique and precious ecosystem but also to educating visitors and enhance their appreciation of it.

Some aspects of the park have not changed, namely its timeless beauty, but others, to my sadness, have deteriorated. It's been five years since my last visit, and I was immediately struck by the shabby feel the park now has. Judging by the amount of peeling paint, the signage has not been changed in the 30-odd years since my first visit, and a stop at one of the public washrooms contributes to the overall feeling of neglect. All park users must pay a fee to enjoy the park, whether they're there for an afternoon walk on the beach or a longer stay, and it's well worth it - particularly if those dollars go directly to the park's maintenance budget. However, I'm disturbed by the fact that this wonderful park that draws visitors from all over the globe doesn't appear to be better cared for. I'm certain Federal Government cutbacks to the national park system are the root cause, and I have to question the logic of these cuts when tourism is such an important aspect of our economy. In my mind, tourism is about more than the private businesses it supports - the five-star hotels and eco-tours - it's about showcasing our natural wonders and allowing visitors to experience them in a meaningful, accessible (i.e. inexpensive) way.

I suppose that whether the Pacific Rim Park is well maintained or not, visitors will come, but I personally would like them to leave with a sense of just how much this precious park is valued by our country's citizens and that we demonstrate our pride by properly caring for it. It makes me more than a little ashamed to see it so rough around the edges.

But all that aside, my stay there was everything I had hoped for, even though the shorebirds I had dreamt of seeing were scarce. This little plover was one of the few who put in an appearance.

The bird's typical pose is reminiscent of a silk painting of mine of another plover - a killdeer - that was an award winner a couple of years ago.

No trip to the west coast would be complete without a glimpse of the region's iconic bird, the bald eagle. This one posed majestically on a branch of a weather-beaten snag visible from the Wild Pacific Trail near Ucluelet.

My coloured pencil drawing of a bald eagle.

I was also pleased to catch a glimpse of one of my favourite birds - a species at the opposite end of the avian spectrum from the bald eagle - a tiny Winter Wren (aka Pacific Wren) that scooted out from the underbrush just long enough for me to capture a quick photo.

My coloured pencil drawings of a
trio of Winter Wrens.
Good things must come to an end and all too soon it was time to pack up, leave the cabin and head back to the mainland. Waiting at the Duke Point ferry terminal, I leaned against the railing in the sunshine and gazed across the inlet towards the bluffs of Gabriola Island. Below in the water I spotted the familiar head of a harbour seal. But I could not have dreamt I would witness the following Wild Kingdom drama play out:

A harbour seal - and what's that in its mouth?
It's an OCTOPUS, and a big one at that!

Down the hatch... sort of

Getting there...

Just a couple of inches of tentacle to go.
A seal with a very full belly.

While that particular sequence of photos isn't likely to inspire me to produce any artwork, it was interesting to observe and reminded me that these "cute" seals, with their big, sweet, soulful eyes, are actually fierce predators capable of killing, dismembering and devouring a giant Pacific octopus.

And what better way to end the journey home than with another glimpse of orca whales from the ferry. It was at quite a distance but I was still able to make out the dorsal fin and distinctive markings, and the signature puff of spray from his/her blow-hole.

A fitting conclusion to my Island Trek.

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