It’s very calm this morning and still a dark grey overcast at 7 a.m. The offshore islands are shrouded in mist. There’s no sign of human habitation right across the southern horizon. No rising plumes of chimney smoke are visible. No boats or tugs and booms are passing. And it’s cold in the house. Time for the morning fire.
Last night, I filled the kindling box with dry cedar, and the adjacent wood bag is stuffed with split Douglas fir and hemlock rounds. Behind them is an aging stack of newspapers awaiting the job of kindling the kindling.
I open the fireplace glass doors and sweep last night’s ashes into the open trap door beneath the iron grate. Next, a fire is quickly laid and lit. The burning paper ignites the cedar, which in turn ignites the Douglas fir and soon a blazing fire is warming the room.
Out front, I hear a whoosh of rapidly expelled breath from a passing Steller sea lion. For a moment, I wonder if it’s a blowing humpback whale. Last week, there were five of them breaching and tail-fluke diving just 500 metres off our rocky beach.
The visual presence of the Steller convinces me that it’s not a humpback but I still scan the waters up west towards Thunder Bay.
In my mind’s eye, I can see the total air breach of one of last week’s whales as I took an early-morning conference call in my favourite chair by the window. The adult humpback rose clear from the water, seemingly hovered for a second in mid-air and re-entered the ocean with a thunderous splash. I immediately and emotively reported this to my teleconference mates. God knows what they thought.
A large flock of common mergansers wheeled around the point and skid-stopped on the flat waters of the bay. I counted more than 170 before they quietly paddled around the next point and out of sight.
Three bald eagle immatures cried at one another as they circled and dove, legs and claws outstretched into a passing school of herring some distance offshore.
As all of this was happening, an airborne conspiracy of ravens talked to one another in mocking or perhaps judgmental tones. They’re definitely the resident gossips at Skelhp. Nothing passes their gaze.
As the house warms and morning light returns, my mind begins to itemize the daily chores. I quickly make tea and toast. There are Christmas lights to hang, soggy maple leaves to rake, decks to sweep free of pine needles, eavestroughs to unplug, wind-blown boughs to gather and take to the burn pile, a pickup truck to clean, more kindling to split, a Christmas turkey to order, floors to vacuum, windows to wash, bathrooms to clean, sheets to launder and a final round of gifts to buy.
I also had to go for a quick hike to locate the best prospect for 2018’s Christmas tree somewhere up the gravel road to the gate.
This is kind of how it works every Christmas at Skelhp.
It’s home to a far-flung extended family. This Christmas, members are jetting and ferrying in from Notting Hill, Paris, Burnaby and Vancouver. Annual visits ‘home’ are being combined with dental checkups, visits with Granny (who has just turned 96), touching base with childhood pals and sleeping through jet lag.
Meanwhile, there are rounds of familiar communal tasks, like cutting and decorating the Christmas tree, preparing the Christmas dinner (to say nothing of preparing and cleaning up after all the dinners), maintaining and stoking the household fire, playing endless rounds of board games (some new ones are promised), and organizing outdoor hikes and excursions.
We’re dealing with one major change in our Christmas routine this year: for the first time, Granny can’t make it up the coast from her Vancouver home. Everyone hoped it might be possible, but the rigours of flying to Skelhp in a small plane, getting in and out of a pickup truck, climbing steep and slippery flights of steps, and navigating a strange house at night have finally become prohibitive.
We all understand. But we will miss her and the centring family Christmas spirit she radiates. God bless us every one!
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