How to piss off a Great Blue Heron

This is one of the many things I learned during a few days spent on Salt Spring Island, one of the handful of Southern Gulf Islands between Vancouver Island and the mainland. Don't have too many photos of the good bits of this story since most of it happened after dark. You're gonna wish you could see a photo of the hippies but I didn't take one. 

So anyways, the trip was a relatively spontaneous one. The day before I left, I was planning to head south into the North Cascades in Washington state- but I called my friend Chloe up to see what she was up to for the weekend, and she told me she had this bike trip planned to Salt Spring. She and her sister Ava had been traveling around for the past year, and had just purchased a car, which they were planning to live out of, more or less. Unfortunately, its head gasket blew the second week after they bought it, leaving them short on dough and long on broken plans. They’re not the types to get down on that type of thing, though, and Chloe had recently bought a great touring bike— panniers and all— that she was keen to try. 

So I loaded my bike into my van and got in the cue for the South Gulf milk run ferry that services Galiano, Mayne and Saltspring Islands. I made it onto that old ferry by the skin of my damn teeth. Adults make reservations, apparently.  It also costs an extra 18 bucks to be an adult, apparently, and I'm too cheap to afford adulthood. Anyways, I'm not complaining here- I was having a great old time. It's a spectacular part of the province and I was discretely enjoying some sudsy refreshers from my enamel chalice, chatting up people on the ferry, and soaking in the beautiful summer evening. I spent the majority of the crossing on the deck taking in the sunset over the mountains and sewing up a little denim cover for a throw pillow that’ll go in my van. I also people-watched some pretty gnarly hippies that I’d chatted with in the ferry cue. About 20 of them had spilled out of an mid-80’s Westy, a baby blue chevy camper, and an old Volvo wagon— the kind with the runged head rests.

They sure were having a party, singing “this might be the last of our days” together, strumming on a banjo, and not giving a care about anything in the world. They may have been the only people on the damn ferry for all they knew. It was something inspiring. They were pretty nice and offered me some of their joint and all. 

I finished stitching together the throw pillow cover right before we hit Saltspring, and found my way to a boat launch on the north arm of the island where I was going to camp for the night. On the way I stopped at this restaurant to see if I could get some food— I had gotten pretty hungry— because all I had in my van at that point was some rice, some popcorn kernels, some trail mix, a sweet potato, and some instant coffee. The restaurant’s kitchen had closed, but there was this drunken couple probably in their mid thirties on the patio who really wanted to chat with me. I doubt they were from the island. “I’ve been in love with Tim for 6 years, and he’s loved me for half as long,” she said over tinny din of the Bruno Mars catching grenades for us from her iPhone on the table. I didn’t know how to interpret that, and I was hungry as hell. “Whatdaya think,” she continued, “Should we get married?” Tim, with his back to me, still hadn’t turned around. I was getting a little annoyed, but mostly because I was hungry. “Well,” I started, but then she interrupted me, blurtign out, “You’re cute, I love your van, does it have a bed in it?” Well, then Tim turned around, I’ll tell ya, pretty unimpressed. He had one of those barbed wire tattoos wrapped around his arm. OK nice, Tim. “Yeah you should get married,” I chirped, “nice chatting with ya!” I almost stuck around just to get a rise out of old Tim. But I was hungry and it was late. All of the sudden I felt like I was about 12 years old. Marriage eh. Jesus. I'm not mature enough, it would seem. 

Anyways, the boat launch was this steep concrete ramp— about 30 degrees I’d reckon— off the shore road, down onto a gravelly tidal flat. It was about midnight and the tide was on its way up, so I was careful not to park too far out on the flat. I knew the water wasn’t going to get too deep at high tide because it was a tidal flat, but salt water can’t be too good for a van even if it’s only lapping at the tires. I poured myself a good few fingers of whisky into my mug and happily teetered around the shallows in the moonlight, singing to myself. It was so quiet out there; strangely I didn't feel alone at all. 

The moon was pretty much full, but not bright enough to reveal a sleeping heron that I nearly walked right into. We damn near scared each other to death, that heron and I. It awoke when I was about 3 feet from it, beating its wings violently and making these raunchy squawking sounds. My heart was pounding in my ears, which is really something since I don't hear that well. I’d spilled just about all my damn whisky, and I was having a hard time not falling over because I was treading barefoot on all these crusty barnacle-type shells that covered the rocks. I’d only known herons to be these zen-like, slow-stalking, sensei of-the-shallows type creatures. This encounter was anything but zen. No one likes being woken up by a stranger in the middle of the night, I suppose.

It was a beautiful starry night, and I nearly pulled the mattress onto the roof of the van, but I decided against it. I hit the sack after playing little mandolin up there, lying on my back in the dew and getting my fix of the sky, of those old hanging lights. They've entertained us humans since we had the ability to wonder about our own existence. How many young dudes (and dudettes) have looked up there and thought about the same things as me? That's the thing, you think all these thoughts you have are so unique to you, but they're really not. Most of your thoughts are ancient thoughts, whether you're excited to be on your first solo adventure, whether you're scared someone's gonna sneak up and get you in the dark, whether you're lonely, waiting for your lover to turn up in your life. No matter how difficult the thought, and no matter how alone it makes you feel, someone else is thinking it too, right at that damn second. Someone was thinking it yesterday, someone was thinking it a thousand years ago, and someone's gonna be thinking it when you're dead in the ground. I think there's comfort to be taken in the collective experience of living. We're in it together, we really are, even though we don't like to admit it to ourselves. 

I packed it in, but left the tailgate open to get some good salty seaside air flowing as I slept. Middle of the night, I woke up and there was water lapping around the rear tires of the van. Boy that tide rose high. There wasn’t much I could do at that point, and I figured the water couldn’t come much higher based on high-water lines of shells and seaweed I’d seen on the beach earlier. If my van ended up getting stuck there, at least Chloe was coming to meet me on that tidal flat in a few hours. I thought about what she'd think to find me there, stuck in the mud. I rolled over and went back to sleep.