Legends of Myself 128

Posted on January 5, 2020

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128. The Boneyard, 1965. Before the Season

The paths to and from our cabin had been encroached on by bushes, weeds, ferns and other greenery since the month-or-so that we’d been gone from the Boneyard, and we needed our machetes the next day to make them wide enough again so that we weren’t soaked in dew and rainfall every time we passed through. The cabin had kept dry amidst its cellophane wrap and beneath its shake roof, and it needed only a fire in the stove to dispel any lingering sense that we’d been gone at all. We did that. And put our bedding down and slept.

The day after coming back to the cabin–or very soon–my father started preparing for the fishing season, while the both of us returned to the irresistible routine of improving our squatter’s paradise in practical and/or aesthetic ways, day by day.

While not really working too hard in the rain and when it wasn’t necessary, thank you. There would be plenty of hard work when the fishing season arrived.

With an ax, we cleared the little patch above and behind the cabin to make a yard. My father wanted a lawn for that yard, and in the course of the summer scouted out some grass to plant there.

Driftwood lumber sometimes floats up on the beach, and there might have even bit of unclaimed lumber that could be scrounged from Haysport, but I suspect that we made more than one trip to Brown’s Mill to get most of what we used. For instance, for my father to build sawhorses for our yard, and also, to construct carefully-fitted, lidded compartments along both sides of the skiff for holding fish, so that we didn’t have to wade in fish while fishing.

My father also fashioned a roller to the back of the skiff to ease letting out the net.

As I mentioned, our cabin was located in a dark part of the tracks, with trees on both sides, so that when we emerged onto the tracks from the path, trees still blocked a clear view of the river. Past those trees, seen only from certain angles or from the side, was a patch of seagrass with a number of logs amidst them stranded on the beach. My father scouted those logs (anchored in place by roots dug into the beach) as an ideal place to construct mending racks for nets, which is what he did.

Unfortunately, when summer came, the same location was plagued by no-see-ums, difficult to see individually, each one capable of a bite, difficult to ignore because they presented not individually but in clouds. At first, when mending nets, my father had to depend on breezes to drive them away. Eventually, when we had enough money from fishing to go to town, we were able to purchase gloves and beekeeper head-nets, and they worked very well, although, I always thought, appearing a little incongruous and alien, too, out there on the beach.

Before the fishing season officially launched, my father started to slip his gillnet into the water in order to catch us fish to eat. I think in fact we were running out of money. It doesn’t cost much to live in the woods when you don’t have to pay rent, heat or electricity, when you can supplement your diet with all the salmon you can eat. But it costs something. And my father’s last paycheque had been, as far as I can reckon, at the end of January, and we were in the midst of May by then. Eventually our entire diet consisted of fish, and while salmon fried up in a pan is a gourmet meal acceptable to kings, dogs, Hollywood celebrities and squatters on the land, we both of us soon reached our limit. I remember walking along the tracks one afternoon to where a fishboat was anchored near the shore, and my father negotiating with the owner, an acquaintance, I guess. The result was a loaf of plain white sliced bread, the sort of commercially-manufactured culinary atrocity that in these days I couldn’t be forced to eat.

And after too many weeks of salmon, that loaf was the finest thing I ever tasted.

I think it was an early morning not too much after that that my father shrugged into his backpack and left for the day, walking the ten miles or so along the tracks to Cassiar. Cassiar was the company whose rented fishboat he had detoured down to Vancouver two or three years before, abandoning it there. That act hadn’t been a crime, since my father was legitimately in possession of the fishboat, but he could have been sued for the detour—if it were actually worthwhile to sue folk as broke as my Dad. Which any lawyer can tell you it wasn’t. My father owed a debt to them that they would’ve otherwise had a hard time collecting. So maybe it made sense to bring my father back on.

For the investment of a few groceries overpriced at the company store—no fishboat or fuel costs, this time—they could have my father contracted to sell all his fish to them, and out of what was owed my father for the fish, they could pay themselves.  While collecting interest at the company store.

I don’t know what my father said in that negotiation. He could have used me and what had happened with me as his alibi, and that would have been legitimate. Or he might have left me out of the conversation, and let the logic of the situation speak for itself. Regardless, I remember him coming back at the end of the day, walking down the tracks.  I was out there on the tracks waiting for him. His pack was full. We were fishing for Cassiar again, and we had coupons that we could cash at the company store.

And I’m pretty sure that we didn’t have salmon for supper that night.

It was nearing the start of the fishing season on the Skeena. One afternoon we could hear the motors of the gillnetters as they started to enter the river. We saw them dropping anchor far away, or mid-river, or close to shore, heard their CBs squawking, talking back and forth. By night the river was thrumming with the combined sound of hundreds of motors, and the lights made the river a city again, the splendid Skeena metropolis that I remembered from my previous summers.

My father and I went out on the railway tracks to look out at the bright lights on the river, always worth seeing.  The city come calling.

The next day, at the designated hour, all the little boats from Haysport would motor over to the Boneyard, and my father would row over there, too, and the gillnetters on the river would all start their motors and begin trailing out their nets in the water, unwinding them from their drums, and fishing season on the Skeena would begin for the year.