Just when I thought winter was over, I looked up this morning and saw it was snowing a full blown blizzard again!
It has been a long, cold winter and we have been burning through an awful lot of firewood. These days we keep warm cutting, splitting and stacking fresh firewood, filling in the large gaps in the woodshed, replenishing the stash for the coming year.
Despite the on-going snowy conditions, I know winter is almost behind us. Spring is pretty much here, stretching out ahead with too much to be done! I have just one more apple tree to finish pruning in the orchard. C. has pruned the raspberries but I still need to trim the blueberries and the currant bushes.
There are some perennials to be divided; rhubarb and daylilies. The vegetable and flower seeds need to be sorted, some need to be started. A young blueberry bush and a dwarf cherry tree, both in pots, wait to be set out somewhere in the garden. All of a sudden it is the busiest time of the year!
I was feeling overwhelmed by it all, not really knowing where to begin, when last Saturday morning something really special happened.
We were eating our breakfast at the kitchen table, just finishing up our poached eggs and toast. C. was looking out the window, binoculars in hand as always, when he spotted the big white spumes of whale exhalations, a couple of miles away, down the channel close to the shore of the island across from our place.
It was a beautiful morning, all blue and grey, pearly with streaky patches of mist. The stormy looking sky was dissipating. Tendrils of remnant clouds burned off as the sun rose higher, making its way around the corner to light up the mist and the calm waters of the channel. Multiple plumes of whale spray exploded in the distance.
Sometimes you just have to jump up, ditch the chores and get away from it all!
We hurried up from the breakfast table, abandoning half-finished pieces of toast and marmalade, to go and have a better look. I grabbed my cell phone to use as a camera, not first class but better than nothing! We quickly pulled on our floater coats and warm hats before heading down to the dock and the waiting skiff.
Out across the water we motored, up-channel of the oncoming whales. We didn’t want to get too close, nor to disturb or impede them. We did want to be well ahead of the whales so we could shut off the outboard engine and just sit and wait for them to swim past.
It was a wonderful show, based on sheer numbers alone. Sixteen or more killer whales were travelling up the channel, migrating north for the summer, or perhaps just hunting, on the prowl for prey. Who can say? I don’t know the individual local orca well enough to know whether this was a resident group (salmon eaters) or a pod of transients (marine mammal eaters) but I suspect they were a group of transients because of the large number of individuals. The orca show up here at this time of year, along with many other marine animals and birds, all attracted by the arrival of the soon to be spawning herring. Here on the coast, the herring are one of the most important food fish near the bottom of the marine food pyramid. The killer whales are at the top of that pyramid.
The large group of orca swam steadily, rhythmically breaking the surface of the calm water with their large black and white bodies. They swam, breathing and blowing, exhaling loudly as they came barrelling up the channel, leaving the sea awash with their wake. They swam straight toward our skiff, their tall, black dorsal fins cutting easily through the water as they surfaced with every breath.
There appeared to be three separate groups within the pod. There were several very large males, as well as females and smaller males of all ages and sizes. A young baby, a new calf for the group, swam energetically alongside its mother, so close the pair were almost touching.
We watched in awe as the largest group of about ten whales swam strongly towards our skiff. When they were about 100 yards away, they dove deeply to pass underneath, reappearing further up the channel as they continued on their way. Another splinter group swam around us, farther away, closer to the shore of our home island. The entire group was spread from one side of the channel to the other at the point where it narrows a bit and is dotted with several small islands.
The final group of three or four large orca, swam from across the channel towards us, coming close to where we sat quietly in the skiff. We held our breath as their big bodies, white bellies visible, swam right under the hull of the boat. They looked up at us as they passed by.
The pod of orca swam on. We watched them go, rising and falling steadily, noisily blowing out plumes of misty spray, loud as gunshot, as they carried on up the channel and beyond, into the distance.
This was one of those moments when I knew for certain why we live as we do on this relatively remote island on the west coast, despite the endless list of chores; it beats the hell out of being stuck in commuter traffic, watching daytime television or going down to the mall for entertainment!
©Claudia Lake, claudlakeblog, Island Time 2017.
©Frieda Humphreys, killer whale photos, 2016, used with her permission.