Broken promises


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.

6 thoughts on “Broken promises

  1. That is part of the attraction, is it not, of living viscerally on the edge by dint of skill, luck, and god knows what else to beat the odds without being too ill advised or too star-crossed. Are not these moments of peak mindfulness, and living in the moment two of the attractions of living remotely? Aversity concentrates the mind wonderfully.


  2. Well, yeah. Mostly. But don’t forget that that statement also applies to those who then proceed to expire! Mindfulness is one thing, terror quite another. Basically I agree with your observation but sometimes we tend to take it a step further than excitement and into fear. That’s OK. But sometimes fear goes into terror and that seems just a bit much. Scary fun was going with the storm. Terror was coming back.


  3. Well if one is in a dangerous situation has peak mindfulness be exercised? Terror is the good thing that whispers in your ear, “Do not walk on that moss covered log crossing over the raging gorge!”


  4. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Nietzsche figured it’s the hardship and danger you suffer that later enables you to feel true happiness. I think those occasions where we overcome a terrifying situation are what elevates our senses and enriches our existence.


  5. Well….I was the person in this story (the real version is a bit different, but close enough), and to be honost there have been a few different versions of this story over the years, there is the fog (which is like driving blind), the storms, the dark, the broken down boat in the middle of nowhere…..I’m sure all of us islanders could write a book about it. It is fine to walk ‘over that mossy log over the gorge, if you do it by yourself, but now you have other people who you are responsible for, there is where the terror lies, not for yourself, but for those who are dependend. Of course playing it cool along the way….Kids in these kind of situations make it a different story al together. And yes I should have stayed in town for the night, I am doing so on my next town trip, but sometimes we all make a bad judgement and all we can do is keep going, keep your wits about you and hope for the best……


    • I tend to make a few changes in details when telling a story about someone else to give them plausible deniability if it is needed. I like to think of that as artistic license. Or maybe self-censorship. I guess the word ‘lying’ works, too. But the intention is to get the basic story told without making it too personal – for the sake of privacy.
      I am glad R wrote. It is a good story and I think highly of her part in it. I’d go out in the fog with her anytime!


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