Crossing the Inlet

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

It was only the reduced ferry service leaving two hours to kill before the departure from Earl’s Cove that finally convinced me to pull off the main road and take the driveway marked by the sign: “Iris Griffith Nature Centre.” I had passed it many times on our annual road trip from California to Lund, intrigued by what I imagined was a little old lady’s back yard with labels identifying plants. But that was never enough to get me to delay entering the final stretch of the three-day drive to our home away from home at the end of the road. This time, alone with our nine-year old grandson, Lucas, I decided to satisfy my curiosity.


The gravel track through the forest opened to a large clearing. Through an artfully designed gateway I saw a bunch of kids engaged in some kind of race on a groomed lawn, egged on by college age counselors.


Behind the lawn lay a wetland marsh and a small lake. In the background rose the vertical green wall of Mount Hallowell whose top disappeared in the clouds.

It took me a while to take in the features of a massive log building fronting the lawn: its posts and beams of flared cedar trunks, its large windows filled with displays of books and posters, its roof topped with an array of solar panels.

On the way toward the entrance doors I noticed a white haired woman in a bright pink and white top holding a bucket and pointing out items on a laminated chart to a group of older visitors.


Once inside we were surrounded by a spacious arrangement of displays about the natural history of the BC coastal ecology I had treasured since living here full time in the 1970’s. The displays were illuminated by a skylight in the central atrium supported by bright mortised log beams.



Still stunned by this splendor in the middle of the forest, we were approached by the lady in pink. She introduced herself as Lee Ann and led us to a reconstructed cross-section of the trunk of a tree with the tightest rings I’d ever seen. “How old do you think this is, she asked Lucas, ” and he ventured, “Two hundred?” “No it’s two thousand,” she replied. “This is from a yellow cedar cut at the top of the mountain out back.”


I expressed my wonder at discovering this place after so many years of ignoring it, and she offered to show us around. Passing engaging posters explaining their solar and wind energy and rainwater collectors she took us to the laboratory-classroom downstairs.



There she gave us nets, buckets and charts and led us out to a floating platform at the edge of the wetland, which she told us, had originally been created by beavers, then drained and farmed by earlier settlers, and recently restored as wildlife habitat.


She showed Lucas how to scoop up little critters, identify and study them with the help of the charts, and then add them to the aquariums in the lab. With a couple of passes he found water boatmen, a dragonfly nymph, a water scorpion and a leech. In this surrounding, even a leech was a precious find.


Lee Ann had to leave and welcome other visitors—it turns out she was the place’s Director—but invited us to keep collecting and looking around. We took the specimens back to the lab and then wandered along a trail behind the lake where Lucas discovered a big hole in a tree at eye level. Near the end of the trail a sign portrayed a similar hole and the pileated woodpecker that made it.


Back at the Centre we met Lee Ann again, and I plied her with questions. What’s the history of this place? Is it open all year round? How can it thrive so far from even the small towns of Pender Harbor? How is it financed?

She told me that it’s been in existence since 2005, run by a non-profit organization called the Lagoon Society. They are now well funded by private and government grants, but much of the artwork, the displays, and the design and construction is by local Sunshine Coast resident volunteers. Their mission is to learn and teach about nature and promote sustainable lifestyles and technologies that work with rather than against local natural systems. They run weeklong educational programs for the Sunshine Coast school system all year, and they’ve recently purchased a bus to provide transportation to and from the Centre.


I mentioned that my wife and I had run a summer day camp for children near Lund with similar objectives but on a tiny scale compared to this. I knew that the kind of environmental education they were providing was of great interest to people across Jervis Inlet in Powell River and asked if they had much communication with folks over there. She said no, there had been little connection, but they would be happy to use their bus to pick up people at the ferry and bring them to the Centre for all kinds of programs.

When I mentioned that I now work with a non-profit organization in California promoting sustainable agriculture at small local farms and educational programs for school children, she said their organization’s Executive Director had just arrived and asked if I’d like to meet him. She disappeared for a moment and returned with a jolly curly red-haired man named Michael Jackson.

IMG_2881 In response to my enthusiasm about this facility, he said that they were now engaged in a much larger project. The place-based mission they began with over ten years ago—“To preserve and enhance the natural habitat and wildlife of the Ruby Lake Lagoon, to facilitate local environmental education, and to assist in monitoring the ecological health of the Sunshine Coast”—has expanded to the “Sunshine Coast Biodiversity Strategy”—which “provides a coast-wide assessment of the many challenges we face in preserving and enhancing the biodiversity of our region and shows how we can begin to address the deficiencies.” One element of this strategy is to build a facility in Pender Harbor that will be a local aquarium and major teaching and research facility to be completed by 2020. They are well on their way to raising the $10 million needed to bring it to completion.

As we left I asked myself whether here at Ruby Lake, out on the furthest margin of the Sechelt Peninsula, it’s plausible that such a grand and transformative vision could be realized. Well, who would have believed in 1970 when we came to the Powell River area as back–to-the-land hippies and when the economic, social, and cultural underpinning of the community was the largest pulp and paper mill in the world, that today the area has become a center of artistic, humanitarian, and environmental innovation  as well as of hiking and biking opportunities  that draws people from the ends of the earth.

It seems like a good time for the mental gulf between Saltery Bay and Earl’s Cove to be bridged. People on each side need to know more of what the other has to offer and to join forces in their efforts to make the changes that the great world outside is still slow to adopt. One way is for travelers on their way to the ferry and curious about the sign saying Iris Griffith Nature Centre to turn down that road.

For more information: http://www.lagoonsociety.com/who-we-are/iris-griffith-centre/

Belize Expedition–Conclusion

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

Next morning is for departures.  As we cook coffee and oatmeal at our campsite, Ismael the volleyball coach,  guide, drummer and singer is solemnly raking the sand of the whole island compound.  He’s transformed the ceremonial space of last night’s fire and chanting to a clean white carpet. I ask him about the chants and he tells me that Garifuna compose songs for everything, fishing, cooking, loss of love, sadness—all come from the soul.

We will be taken by motor boat back to Dangriga to retrieve our stashed belongings and stand together for the last time.


From there Joe and I will go to the interior to spend two nights at Mommaloots, an ecoresort in the jungle where we encounter more fascinating people and memorable sights.  Peter, John, Lionel, Andy and Eban will remain in Belize for several more days, enjoying new adventures.

On the flight back to Houston I have a short conversation with a young man hardly 30 sitting next to me who’s just downed two little bottles of vodka purchased from the attendant. He’s returning from a five-day trip during which he bought a lot near the beach in a resort subdivision outside of Belize City for $230,000 USD. It’s an investment for his retirement, secure, he says, because of the way the place is growing. “Maybe,” I say, “though with the way sea level is rising, you never know.” As we fly over the Yucatan coast near Cancun, I ask where he’s from. “Saskatchewan,” he replies, “but right now I’m headed back to work in northern Alberta.”  “Tar sands?” I inquire. “Yep” is the answer.

Belize Expedition–Day 8

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

April 19

As I light the Whisperlite stove to brew a second round of morning coffee, Joe calls from where he stands offshore, “Hey Dad, would you bring my fishing gear kit from the tent?” I know from the quiet intensity in his voice that this is serious business.”


I shut down the stove and hustle to do his bidding. His pole is bowed and then a big shining barracuda appears on the end of the line.  He lifts it onto the rocks, carefully grabs its sharp-toothed mouth with his special fish pliers and removes the hook.


The creature thrashes wildly and Joe asks for a club. I cant find one, so he stabs it repeatedly in the head with his fish knife.


By now the whole gang is watching and cheering.


When the desperate gasping in the gills ceases, he carries it across the island to Fidel’s dock for cleaning.


The whole family is out to share the excitement. (more…)

Belize Expedition–Day 7

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

April 18

We strike camp and pack the kayaks, reluctant to leave the luxury of Cocoplum, but eager to experience what comes next. The manager shows up to see us off, friendly but vigilant, and discloses that the original owner of the island was a drug dealer.

The adjoining island to the south is another luxury resort, one less ecologically friendly, built with steel and concrete.  During the crossing of a wide expanse of water, Eman, who has adopted the solo kayak, confounds his elders by paddling only with his hands.

Joe discovers that the rudder on our boat isn’t working and we pull in at the first dock on the next Caye to see about repairing it. A young Asian woman approaches and anxiously says that we cant stop here because a guest party is about to arrive. They are paying $3000 per night and want the place for themselves.  Joe says we’ll be out well before her noon deadline, and she relaxes a little.  She’s from San Diego, and seems just like a Cal Poly student.


He finishes the repair, knotting some rope to replace the broken section of cable.


Back on course, we cross a new expanse of water and pass some less luxurious settlements. (more…)