In the Cove

It has been over 40 days with no rain, and I am walking under an old tree canopy towards the cove—the last remnants of the native forest that escaped the surrounding developments. The trees follow the road, which follows the swale in the land beneath Minnie Mountain, an ancient pathway lined with 60-foot Arbutus trees, their limbs reaching back for centuries.

Descending, I emerge onto the smooth pebbles of the beach, in a horseshoe-shaped cove, guarded by rock outcrops on either side. The water is calm and still like the clear sky, reminding me of extreme heat. Over my morning coffee, I read of a fisherman who was no longer fishing, he has turned to rescue thousands of salmon fry trapped in dried-out mud pools. He is standing with his bucket in Swift Creek, where only a trickle of water runs from one pond to another. Beside this story was a photograph of a farmer tilling his soil, he wears a particulate respirator as he moves through the cloud of dust.

Walking along the gravel, my thoughts are interrupted by the circular formation in front of me. The staves of a gunpowder barrel emerged after a hundred years, the remnant of the 1895 explosive factory. The locals say it has some relationship to the pig wars and the US attack on the San Juan Islands, leading to their loss.

I look up at the surrounding homes, such a different world from the factory and the small farm of 1895. On the rock outcrops, mansions sprawl commanding views of the strait beyond the mouth of the cove. But why has the barrel emerged?

Circling the remains, I walk till I reach the rocks at the far side. I am alone except for a couple who stopped to rest on a log. Under a canopy of Arbutus and Garry Oak trees that weave around the rocks, I, too, move erratically on the rocks. Their dance becomes my dance.

My thoughts returning to the mega-fire pyrocumulus clouds in the interior. Something people believed could only occur during a severe volcanic eruption, now the fires are sending smoke and particulates into the stratosphere. It’s a tipping point that scientists warned would rapidly deepen our environmental crisis.

Turning back toward the beach, I run across the emerging pylons of the old dock and mention it to another on the beach. He stops, looks at me and then tells me of his 40 years of watching over this cove. He points to the large smooth rock that emerges from the beach and the bay. “Those rocks were under the beach.” Up until 2015, people came with pickup trucks to get free gravel, so over the years, the receding beach’s ecosystem has waned, and the sea has moved inland, eroding the heart of the bay. He points to the signs at the entranceway and says that point of land used to be where the rocks have emerged. The keystone species for the salmon that once thrived here are almost gone.

I am lost in my thoughts as he talks about our disconnection from nature. The dynamite factory and its explosion did not destroy this ecosystem, but over the last few decades, an ecological desert in what looks like a pristine environment. He talks about visitors who wonder why the seaweed is not cleaned from the beach, a critical component of nutrients swept back in the cove to nurture new life. This is the disconnect that eroded the ecological harmony of the cove.

Now smooth stones are trucked in every year, temporarily preventing the sea from seeking its old angle of repose. As I turn to walk back down the beach, mulling over my new understanding of the cove, readings percolate again: ecologists that study live ecological system are now coroner’s recording its death; the wildfires that at midsummer have burned more than twice the forest they burned all of last year, and the story that hit me hard. Top scientists of the world warning that multiple tipping points are “imminent.” Imminent, I am already see tipping points all around me, the destruction of the very ecological systems that give us clean water, air to breathe and food to eat. They are here, and we have entered the unknown; what else could it mean when the ice melted on Greenland in one day this summer was enough water to cover Florida with 5 cm of water, or the whole continent and Southern Europe is covered with smoke altering the sunlight to a sickly yellow.

I look out onto the water. Noticing the distant green buoy that marks the drop-off point to the deep water where the shipping lanes send coal and our forests overseas. Lanes that will carry the tripling of the tar sands and LNG. Through this lane and out into the world, we are contributing to the collapsing ecological systems of the world. Only a few understand what has happened to this cove, and so we seem to carry on. The tides that rush from the deepwater still swirl into the bay, bringing nutrients to feed the ecosystem. The natural systems are at work and are turning against us.