We have young mothers out here. And young mothers everywhere like to take their kids on outings. It is part of parenting. Kids need to be exposed to different things. It’s good.
Sal used to take our kids to Stanley Park, the Science Centre, various semi-distant, out-of-the-neighbourhood events and, in the summer, off camping and things. She was a great mother. Still is. But young island mothers, when going on outings, often take their kids into the city. They go shopping, swimming and that sort of thing.
And sometimes they do it in the winter.
Not long ago, two off-the-grid, island mothers took several kids into town for the day. A good time was had by all. So much, in fact, that they were a bit late disengaging from the last activity. They were about 30-40 minutes behind as they bundled into the car and headed down the logging road. And it had just snowed heavily.
By the time they got to their boat, they were definitely a bit later. It was dark-ish and getting darker. And it was still snowing. By the time they cast off, it was definitely night-time. The snow made it a white dark. They were blind.
The mother on the helm is good. She knows her stuff. But part of knowing your stuff is making sure you don’t get caught out in that kind of thing. She was not happy with the situation. Nor should she be. Still, she knew her route, her boat was good, the compass worked and she had GPS. She began heading home slowly and carefully. There was a lot of wood debris in the water and, even tho her boat was made of heavy aluminum, no one wants to hit a log.
Her challenge – if the one I just described was not enough – was that she also had to navigate through two sets of rapids. And she had a long way to go. The rapids are from the currents that swirl through constricted passes and can top nine knots. It is just as hairy going against them as with them when you can’t see.
GPS is good. But not that good. The passes she had to navigate are as narrow as 75 feet. Imagine her situation: it is dark, the current is running. You can’t see a thing. And the water is setting you sideways and turning you off compass all the time. And you have children aboard in a very inhospitable environment. It is very dangerous.
But she kept her head about her.
In fact, she had to stick that very same head out the side of the boat as she went. Snow on a windshield in the dark and on the water inhibits all vision. Sticking your head out the side doesn’t make it much better but, psychologically, it feels as if you are doing all that you can. And so she did.
She did good. She managed to get home. They arrived at their further-out community dock an hour or so later. Everyone was relieved. And so there was no drama. No tragedy. Just the tension.
And it is a tension everyone out here has faced at one time or another. Worse, we have often felt that tension even after having made a promise that we would never put ourselves in that kind of position again. Why? Sometimes we think: “Well, I am late but the seas are OK. My compass is good. I should be fine…..” And so you go. You stretch the safety envelope. And 99 times out of 100 you are fine.
Sometimes you just ‘have to go’. You don’t think you have a choice.
I once left our building site in a raging storm late at night to pick up Sal who had worked in town and left Vancouver late. She caught the last ferry at 10:30 pm and I was picking her up at about midnight after she had hiked down a remote forested trail with groceries and supplies. No cell-phone sevice for miles. Had I not been there, she would have waited in the forest for a long time before probably curling up in the car. She had no choice. And I had no choice. So I went.
I went with the storm as I headed out. It was blowing about 25 and the seas were high but I was going with it to get to the pick-up point. Piece o’ cake. Almost fun. I was in a small 12-foot inflatable and the fun was kinda overshadowed by the terror.
And that terror held centre stage when we started back and had to head up coast and into the teeth of it. It was black as pitch and howling. That was crazy! The seas were insane! We were soaked within the first 30 seconds. We got home about two or so hours later, pretty rung out.
That was just one of the times I made the promise, “I will never put myself or anyone in this position again.”
And I have probably made that promise at least ten more times. And broken it. My guess is that the young mother I described had made that promise a few times herself. I know the feeling and I know that she renewed the promise-that-is-impossible-to-keep one more time.
It is the promise that will be broken.