The Paradise of Haida Gwaii
By Melonie Shipman | June 12, 2016
It started with sound. The Canadian Customs officer asked what was bringing me to Canada. I excitedly replied that I was joining eight other woman to kayak in Gwaii Haanas with Wild Women Expeditions. “Ah, you are going to paradise.”
Accented Voices in greeting indicate our home ports: French Ottawan, New York, Midwest, Georgia, and English-speaking Canadian. Each voice indicates a different origin, a different history, and different concerns about the trip. Our inner voices; “Will I be able to handle the kayaking safely?, How will I fit in with these other women?” The sweet taste of a maple leaf candy shared by our Canadian friends melts in our mouths and starts melting the cultural curtains. A hearty French toast in a cup at the Seaport B&B assures us we will start out well-fed. Inner voice; “Will there be enough food?, Will there be food that I like? ”
The magic moment ; the feel of paddle slicing through water, stroke and glide, stroke and glide. Follow the gentle suggestions of the guides and the strokes become more power, less pain for the many day trip. Tent mates sorted out, our graceful paddling is replaced by the usual first night contortions of “How does this tent go together?” Another trip lesson learned, watch out for slight slants and pick your tent mate well as you may find yourself sleeping nose-to-nose when gravity ultimately decides who sleeps where in the tent.
Every morning there is the energizing odors of coffee and oatmeal deluxe as we choose from 15 unique toppings. Every meal is a bountiful feast of unique and unexpected flavors such as avocado, havarti cheese, venison, fresh fruit, hummus, quinoa, and salsa. Inner voice;” We have great guides and great cooks. No going hungry here.” At nearly every campsite, we see a garden of tall pinks, purples, and whites; wild foxglove.
We see a steady stream of wildlife companions throughout the trip. Here a seal , there a seal, every day a seal. A small squid propelling lets go a stream of ink as it realizes there is a strange object in its way; a wild woman in a kayak! The bald eagles state their opinions in screechy voices. Three river otters race up a shore as we approach for evening camp. A whale spout brings a surge of anticipation. Sitka-black-tailed deer share island walks and camping areas. Black oyster catchers call from their offshore nest sites. Sometimes we kayak tight to shore viewing many meters down through crystal clear water to see sea stars and anemones at home under the tides.
New sounds enter into the mix. There is a soft “swish” as our arms hold “the box” and torsos turn in increasingly effective power strokes. The cadence becomes, stroke, swish, glide. Kayakers switch places and tell their stories, share their interests, and ask their questions of new paddling partners. With familiarity increasing laughter threads its way through the pod. The musical trill of the varied thrush is balanced off by the shrieks of swimmers stepping into chilly waves. Canada Day and the 4th of July lead to singing the Canadian and U.S. National anthems.
A duet of French paddling songs draws us into a sense of history. It is song that gets us through carrying the semi-loaded kayaks, every day, up the beach, then down the beach; camping songs, rock and roll, a Christmas carol. But the constant for carrying the heaviest double is a marching chant. The boat is fondly known as Ungawa for the rest of the trip. We team lift and carry our boats over small rocks, large rocks, and of course through kelp. Squish, squish, slip-squish, squish, slip-it slides underfoot and between our toes. Beautiful when you can see it waving in a forest dozens of feet below your kayak, less appreciated when it overlays the rocks you are trying to move a kayak through.
A feeling that is appreciated is the thick moss carpet under the tent. It forms an excellent exercise mat when a warm, sunlit level becomes the sight of an impromptu yoga class. However, the moss blanket becomes tricky when it covers a buried forest so a walk in the woods is more of an obstacle course over, under, and around massive remains. As the watchmen point out the remnants of ancient villages we see the moss reclaiming its own. We hear a wealth of stories in a rich, unhurried Haida accent. Each village has something unique. The villages have in common living as one with nature both in life and in passing. The last village visited we return to the beach. The rocks are tiny, sun-warmed, and conform to our bodies like a massaging nest as we lay back and listen to the lapping water easily lulled into peaceful afternoon slumber completely at one with nature as the ancients were.
We have lived comfortably only in the moment day after day. We never felt unsafe or stressed. Swish-stroke-glide, swish-stroke-glide. Laurel reminds us that we can do more than we thought we could. She refers to it as being in “flow” when our natural abilities and nature line up. We have flowed past the basic sensory elements of sound, taste, touch, sight, and smell. Our spirits have come to flow together with each other, with loved ones who have passed and the ancients of Haida Gwaii. It ended in touch, hugging in one last expression of shared spirit. Inner voices, mirrored by outer words; “I’ll be thinking of you as you go through that challenge back home.You added so much joy to this experience for me. I hope we meet again.”
As the world outside once again assumes its louder role in our lives, our spirit will always whisper “You can do it. You have friends. You have been to Paradise. ” This is why you hand your passport to a Canadian customs officer and say, “I am joining other woman to kayak in Gwaii Haanas with Wild Women Expeditions.”