We set foot on the soil of Haida Gawii for the first time!

There are five main sites within the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, and to be admitted to the park, visitors must take a 1.5-hour orientation seminar (online or in person) and pay a fee (about $100 US for a year’s pass). The Park and its chief sites provide visitors with an overview, and some personal experience, of what the Haida culture is like now and WAS like before smallpox, with which, according to many accounts, the Haida people were deliberately infected by settlers so that their land and resources could be purloined, decimated the people of this archipelago. A population of many thousands (perhaps as many as 30,000) that had lived and thrived in the islands of Haida Gwaii for thousands of years was reduced to a few hundred individuals by the early 20th century. Their art and architecture were unparalleled worldwide; this has finally been recognized and they are now beginning to rebuild their lives and revive their culture in their homeland. The programs for the care of the Haida lands and artifacts in which the Park is involved are not perfect, but are a step in the right direction. If you’re interested, there is a huge amount of information about the Haida, Haida Gwaii, and Gwaii Haanas in books and on the Web, and I encourage you to do some investigation!

Walt and I had hoped to visit the southern-most of the five “Watchman sites” shortly after our arrival in the islands on June 4, but the violent winds and seas made it impossible for us to do so and we had to find shelter to the north. Each of the sites has a summer caretaker, or “Watchman”, whom one contacts when one is ready to visit a site, and they make sure that no more than 12 people at a time visit, that the historic sites are protected, and that questions are answered, and we were told by the Hotspring Island Watchman (we visited the island this afternoon) that the recent storm that had kept us hidden away in snug anchorages was the worst of its kind in ferocity, wind direction confusion, and “unseasonality” that he had experienced in over 20 years! So now that the winds are calmer, we are trying to visit as many of the five significant sites as we can.

Yesterday’s sun decided that shining for most of an afternoon was a very arduous task, and so a worn-out Old Sol spent today (Trinity Sunday, June 12) back in bed under a pile of thick clouds. We motored from Haswell Bay to Hotspring Island, famous for wonderful non-sulphurous hot springs from which bathers could enjoy a great view over the ocean. A major earthquake 10 years ago changed the hot springs’ “plumbing,” and only recently has there been enough warm water to fill a rock-and-cement pool at a different location. The Haida had a village on nearby House Island, and visited Hotspring Island to take advantage of the warm, healing waters, and visitors to Gwaii Hannas now do the same.

The island had a lot of visitors today (now that the long and awful windstorm has finally passed), and we needed to wait our turn to dinghy ashore. We anchored in a shallow bay surrounded by small islands, ate lunch, and waited for the Watchman to radio us that we could come ahead. Once Coracle was on the pebble beach and tied to a drift log (we were on land for the first time in 11 days and for the first time in Haida Gwaii!) we found, with some difficulty, the disco ball hanging from a tree that marks the entrance to a half-mile trail through the wet, green, mossy temperate rainforest to the site of the springs.

Notice the striking array of striped fungus clinging to the end of a log along the muddy clamshell-lined trail (can anyone identify it?).

Once at the site of the buildings and present hot pool, on the dry side of the island where there are few trees and lots of sedge and salal, we decided, since it was a very cold day and we needed to stretch our legs and there were a lot of people in the outdoor pool already, to walk on up the hill, past the site of the older pool, and down to the beach and the site of another mostly-defunct spring. In addition to the beautiful pebbles on the beach, we observed many powdery-white clam shells (both sides of the trails to the various Watchman sites are marked using them), shimmering abalone shells, and cream-colored barnacles, resembling tiny volcanoes, erupting from the surfaces of glossy black volcanic sea stones.

View over Ramsay Passage from the hill where the hot springs are. There is a minuscule black dot above the tree branch in the center of the photo that might have been an otter–who knows? It was NOT a large marine mammal!

Back at the site of the current hot springs, we enjoyed an excellent conversation with David, the Watchman, and his friend Michael. David showed us a huge Haida dictionary and a phrase book and pronunciation guide and provided good information pertinent to our upcoming travels. We enjoyed our walk back to the beach through the thickly moss-carpeted forest, returned to Braesail in a bouncy Coracle, and motored to our present anchorage, a large, quiet cove on Murchison Island that’s surrounded by rocks, reefs, islets, and larger islands. It remains chilly, but we’ve experienced only fine mists during the day today–amazing!

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