Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day Came And Went, And We Shed What Was Left Of Our Summer Skin 

“So if you’ve any questions, you come ask me. Sometimes I’m up here, sometimes I’m on the lower deck. Nothing important to keep me here, so you just ask away.
At 9 o’clock that’s a California sea lion. It’s the only sea lion which barks like a dog, so if you see a sea lion at the circus and it’s barking, it’s a Californian. No questions yet? Hey, that’s OK. I’m just the guy nobody wants to talk to, but I’m cool with that.
There’s free coffee on the lower deck, where Nicole is taking breakfast orders. Nicole used to talk to me, but not anymore it seems.
You’ll notice a lot of pleasure craft in the bay. Salmon fishers mostly, note the long rods. They drop their lines very deep. Today is Labor Day of course, so lots of these large boats are returning home after the summer, a lot of traffic today. Still no questions?
Two o’clock! Another Californian sea lion! What sound do they make? Woof! That’s right. Woof!
I miss our little chats, Nicole. It used to be me and you versus the rest of the crew, but now it's like I don't exist.
Okay folks, we have a question! How long do orcas live? I’m sorry Ma’am, I don’t know the answer to that question. I’m not sure I even care, Ma’am. Yes Ma’am, life is very long, isn’t it? Too long sometimes. Did you hear that Nicole? Life is very long! The days drag without you. Woof!”

Another day, another ferry.
When we boarded the 7:45 Victoria Clipper to Friday Harbor, St. Juan Island, we weren’t expecting a sightseeing trip with lonely guy commentary. But it passed the time, and we learned this delightful fact: the male puffin cannot distinguish between male and female puffins.
The only way it can tell is to present a fish to another puffin, and if the fish is accepted, then the puffin is female. I thank the Lord I’m not a puffin. The days must amount to one dismal humiliation after another:

1) “It’s not you. It’s me. I’ll eat your fish, but no way am I breeding with you.”
2) “It’s not me. It’s you. Your breath stinks of salmon.”
3) “I’m a lesbian. Sorry. Now go away.”
4) “I’m a vegetarian. And I’m also the same puffin from 3). Now really - please go away.”
5) “I’m a gay male. You don’t need to know that yet. Fish? Ooh, lovely! Do you work out?”

Deception Pass was invigorating, and I felt a compelling yearning to set up home in Useless Bay. Can’t imagine why. This man made me think of Buddha.

At Friday Harbor I persuaded a woman to hire me a car. It wasn’t easy. Her body language said “You look high risk” and she charged us accordingly. Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.
We set off in search of our inn - drive on the right, drive on the right, drive on the right - but I missed our turn, so we did a complete loop of the island, thirty miles or so, and I nailed it at the second attempt.
St Juan Island is what I imagine the outer Hebrides must be like: just a few quiet roads, a handful of farms, and two small towns. It felt terrifically remote. On that first loop we saw two separate car smashes being attended to by the emergency services - the first vehicle was down a ditch in a “Shit, that looks serious” kind of way; the second had blown up and managed to set the road alight in the process. I was wondering if we’d landed on Boy Racer Island. It explained why I’d just paid six months salary for car insurance.

We picked up beer and stuff in Roche Harbor, then settled into a rather grand suite at the Highland Inn. It was all a bit posh by our standards and we were frightened of knocking things over and breaking them. Helen the innkeeper was terrifically nice and explained how to operate all the equipment at considerable length and at such a pace that we panicked and couldn’t remember anything at all. This only made us more nervous.
After our technical briefing, we stood on the balcony - and boy, was it some balcony - and within no time at all saw a pod of five orcas casually passing by, doing the breaching thing and enjoying their tea. We watched them for over an hour and it was simply amazing. Orcas, or killer whales, aren’t whales at all of course. They’re just dolphins with big bones, and thankfully, the particular pod that passed before us wasn’t the hooligan type that duffs up seals for laughs. The last thing we needed now was violated seal trauma.

We stayed out on our swing while the sky darkened, completely enchanted. Victoria twinkled across the Haro Strait, where the 49th Parallel - the Canadian / United States border - hits the coast, loses it’s straight lined inhibitions and goes all wonky for a bit. I’m sure you would too in the circumstances.
Five million birds partied in the surrounding shrubs, and it was heavenly.

My Turn To Cook Dinner Shot: Beer, nachos, San Juan Salsa.

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