Continued from Legends of Myself 49
50. Port Essington, 1958: Playground Essington, Part 2
I’m not sure when running shoes became the definitive footgear of youth. They had nothing to do with the footwear of Port Essington, 1958. We wore either leather shoes or gumboots. And the sound of these on wooden sidewalks must have been my everyday experience there, although I spent scant time paying attention to it. Still when Art and Reynold and myself passed by, three pairs of leather soles or rubber gumboots thumping an arhythmic wooden drum, our passing could not have been secret. Boardwalks would give us away everytime. However if we wanted to hide, these same boardwalks could have provided hiding place in every corner of Essington. All you had to do was duck below.
I remember this technique being used by Artie and Rainie’s Uncle Stewie. Uncle Stewie was little joke my cousins told to me, although it was a fact as well. “Here’s our Uncle Stewie,” they said, laughing. I was unclear on how that was possible for a five year old. He was in fact their mother’s youngest brother. Where a mother and daughter’s reproductive years overlap, sometimes our notions of uncle get a little twisted up as well.
I remember the three of us together with Stewie hanging out one day on the beach, tossing rocks as far as we could out into the mud. Art as the eldest almost inevitably won such contests and I inevitably lost, and, as between the three of us, that’s what happened on that occasion also. But Stewie convincingly outthrew us all. For a five year old to toss a stone farther than a ten or nine or eight year old was remarkable, and I always thought that if ever there was a Cy Young or Olympic award for rock-tossing, 5-year-old division, Stewie was your boy. He gave pause to my eight-year-old self for sure.
But he was still only five years old. Thus on that other day alluded to above, when he ducked under the sidewalk to hide from his parents, five-year old logic prevailed. He happened to hide near a creek, and it was his own self-produced sound effects, “Gurgle gurgle, gurgle gurgle,” somehow necessary, he thought, which gave him away.
The boardwalk that led from my cousins’ door down to the Skeena—called on the old maps Wellington Street—met the boardwalk called Kitselas Street at the river’s edge. There was a float located at that point, not much used since the top end of it stood on the mud at low tide. I am certain it was the same float I visited with my grandmother in 1954 in one of my earliest memories, when a floating store was tied up there.
A left turn on Kitselas Street would quickly push you past the edge of the village proper. Continuing on, the boardwalk went past the old, fenced-in neglected graveyard, and beyond that into a path through the tall trees. There were few really tall trees in the village site itself, at least no stands of them, even if the entire coast is famous for them. Perhaps they’d been long since cut down or maybe it was not a suitable place for them to grow.
I remember going so far along Kitselas Street only once, where Essington segued into rainforest, and I remember the sound of woodpeckers rattling and a mystery that I have never satisfactorily explained. Somehow a tree had sprouted directly under another tree and pushed it out of the ground so that the roots of the tree above bearded outward 30 or 40 feet in the air. The trunks of both trees were thick, fully developed, but that could not have been true for the tree beneath when the uprooting began. Yet somehow it happened.
If rather than left you turned right on Kitselas Street, it brought you shortly to the main corner of Essington, where the store was, where the hotels, already defunct, still stood, and where the main float was. By then Kitselas Street had joined with Front Street, and it widened up to form a plaza overlooking the float with its pilings and tied up fishing boats. Only near Front Street did any buildings block a direct view of the Skeena, mostly old defunct cannery buildings which I remember exploring with my cousins. The machinery and anything useful had long ago been removed and our explorations revealed little but empty rooms and empty lofts.
At the geographic point where the Ecstall River meets the Skeena, a rocky peninsula juts out into the Skeena flow and shelters the boats from the more extreme currents. It’s what makes a dock possible at that point. At one time a cannery had been built on that rocky point, but all trace of it was gone by 1958. My cousins called the place Blueberry Hill and we went there in the spring to pick, yes, blueberries.
By the time I lived there, Port Essington was much shrunken even from my own father’s day. I suppose many of the houses I wandered by everyday were not in fact occupied, but it was difficult to tell which ones unless you knew the occupants. I suppose the adults knew.
But the rainforest is a weedy place. I remember being in Egypt and seeing the vegetation cease to grow six inches away from the Nile River’s edge, but on the northern British Columbia coast, vegetation will grow anyplace you neglect for a week. Without the clues of lawns, gardens and middle-class pretensions, it was difficult to tell an occupied house from an unoccupied one. I don’t remember exploring even one house with my cousins.
Still, playground Essington was wide enough, I suppose, even though I didn’t get to examine every corner. I would gladly return if there were such a place anymore.
Continued @ Legends of Myself 51