Islands of the North

That first glimpse of a destination always sends a shiver down the spine. 

That first glimpse of a destination always sends a shiver down the spine. 

Suddenly awoken by the sunlight streaming through the small window of the plane I find myself struggling to put the pieces together. 

Last night’s mad dash to pack up a week's worth of foul weather gear and accompanying surf equipment didn’t begin until the latest round of advertisements had been submitted to various magazines. Its pre-Christmas chaos in every office and I was behind schedule. Thankfully getting outside is a team sport at our house and with the (patient) help of my wife everything was packed properly and a ride given to the airport. 

The light that awoke me was shining across the snowy tops of a chain of dark islands that rise from a dark roiling sea. Home to giant trees, clean waters and the rich culture of the Haida. My destination was specific but just to arrive and breath the air, heavy with the scent of the sea,  would be reward enough for this journey. The searching for a place to surf would begin with the  next sunrise.

Ravens: From the Nahanni River to Haida Gwaii their voices transport you to prehistoric times.

Ravens: From the Nahanni River to Haida Gwaii their voices transport you to prehistoric times.

Haida Gwaii, a name that caused my stomach to lurch with wonder long before I had the chance to stand in awe of this land.  A land of totems, of Emily Carr and of inspiring First Nations leadership. Even now, on a now annual sojourn, the sight of these islands causes my breath to shorten, trying to inhale the energy of a truly wild area. I was returning to these lands hours before the largest storm of this young winter was to make landfall. The lines of swell could be seen making the long march from that cradle of storms, the Gulf of Alaska.  As the plane banked towards the small airport, buffeted by winds at the Western edge of the Hecate Strait, there was a sense this was going to be an interesting few days as the full fury of a North Pacific storm was unleashed on these wind-worn isles.  

Dried salmon, eulachon grease, and chanterelles: beyond your usual staples. 

Dried salmon, eulachon grease, and chanterelles: beyond your usual staples. 

Adventure aside, the culinary wonders the sea provides are reason enough to visit the Haida homeland. The abundance of rich salmon, dense, sweet halibut and the salty nutrients of dried kelp often catch the majority of the attention but less well known dishes abound. Eulachon grease, harvested from the rivers flowing from the Sacred Headwaters, provides a potent source of energy, herring roe is harvested from the waving fronds of a kelp forrest, dried and bagged providing protien and mirco-nutrients for the whole year. The Eulachon brings the ocean to your breakfast of eggs and toast with the herring eggs on kelp couldn’t be a better snack with a cold ale at the end of the day. Ending a day on the water with a pairing of scallops and with venison was just another opportunity to eat a celebration of life and the wonder of an intact marine ecosystem! 

A high pressure system pushed in after the storm, dropping the temperature, leaving the beaches white with snow, the skies a brilliant blue and reminding us that we where truly in the North. 

A high pressure system pushed in after the storm, dropping the temperature, leaving the beaches white with snow, the skies a brilliant blue and reminding us that we where truly in the North. 

Having now returned to my winter existence, far to the south of the magic of Haida Gwaii, I feel recharged. While I give thanks for the comforts of home, a return to the north rekindled that spark in my soul that faded since the end of the tripping season and a return to the urban world. I have come to believe this is the natural response to visiting people who see the natural world as central to a life well lived. A place where it is understood that the act of giving to others ensures the support that you might someday call upon. A nation where renowned leaders are approachable and humble - where even the most energetic of youth pays heed to the instructions quietly shared by the wrinkled elders. A land that blends the past with the future and holds lessons for us all. 

Háw'aa to the people of Haida Gwaii. 

Yours in adventure, 

Joel