The Salish Sea is a remarkable place. Comprising of Puget Sound, the strait of Georgia; American and Canadian Gulf Islands, Burrard Inlet (Vancouver); Howe Sound and much of the East Coast of Vancouver Island.
(Abby finally got Thor in for a dip)
What makes it truly remarkable – besides the resident orcas – is the climate. As I write, it’s 33 degrees Celsius (91.5 Fahrenheit). It’s humid, but not stifling; There is a breeze. I’m sitting in the shade with my sleeping new-born, and my daughter Abby is playing with the hose and the kiddie pool – she’s trying to coax my dogs to go for a “swim,” but they prefer to hide in the shade. While the thermometer climbs past 30 several times a year here, it is still a rare and momentous occasion every time. The streets are less populated, insects buzz; the odd lawnmower fires-up; young and old sit outside the store with ice cream; dogs lie on tiled floors, panting. And, while you can remind me that Canadians ask for heat all year, only to complain when we get it, here in the Salish Sea, it is a different story. The ocean – all encompassing and always just a walk away, never warms. It is always the salvation from the heat, (should you need it), and the generator of that calming breeze that seems to make these days so perfect.
If you dare to jump in the water here, as I always do, you will shiver. By July and August, on a calm day, the surface water will be comfortable enough to splash in or do a serious swim. Dive 4-5 feet down and have your breath taken away! Winter to summer ocean temps rarely change more than 4 degrees Celsius. The Saanich inlet, Desolation Sound and around Tent island do warm significantly, but I won’t elaborate because it’s still a bit of a secret.
(Odin and Thor at the beach in January)
We’re similar to a Mediterranean climate here. Relatively long, warm and dry summers, and wet, cool winters, that seem to “deep freeze” as seldomly as we hit the mid-30’s. What makes us more temperate, more “Canadian” and less Mediterranean is that we do freeze – on occasion – from November to March and, conversely, nights that stay above 10 degrees (50 Fahrenheit) occur consistently for less than a third of the year.
Gardens with summer-irrigation or deep running roots are lush and often accentuated with tropicals. Many people spend weekends on their boats – or friends’ boats – enjoying the protected waters and heavily forested shores and islands. Salmon, prawns and halibut are no longer plentiful (that’ll be a different blog-entry), but they still have enough of a presence to lure anglers off shore. Others take to the parks and forests in the summer to enjoy the cool trails under magnificent conifers. The mild rains of winter are equally beautiful, with an entire switch in the flora and fauna.
(That’s a giant ling-cod from Desolation Sound where the water temp was 71 fahrenheit yesterday)
The First Nations who call this home – the various nations of the Salish people- benefited from such a climate. Nations would spend years or seasons in areas before moving on to a new site. They would do this for two reasons: 1. To ensure their presence did not cause a permanent impact on the land and wildlife and 2. To follow the availability of food. The nutrient rich cold ocean and plenty of streams and rivers caused by heavy winter rains resulted in enormously productive salmon runs which, in-turn, resulted in greater numbers of wildlife. It also allowed for rich clam beds and oyster, mussel and seaweed laden shores. The mild winters resulted in conifers continuing to grow through much of the year. The biomass over millennia from fallen trees, branches and shrubs results in a humus layer so deep and sponge-like, that it is solely responsible for providing moisture to some plants during the hot, dry summers. Summers provide salal berries, snow berries and salmon berries, as well as nettles and other lush-greens below the towering canopies.
Perhaps most unique about this region is that the availability of food and the comfort of living was such that First Nations had little need to travel and communicate with one another. This is evident in the evolution of languages. While the rest of Canada boasts 6 native languages, British Columbia (alone) has several hundred. Some languages are as distinct linguistically as English is to Japanese, and some languages were geographically separated by mere valleys.
(I lion-king’d my newborn Abby at the first look-out of the “Needles” on Vancouver’s North Shore)
It’s a few days before the summer solstice, my favorite and most dreaded day. Favorite for the obvious reasons of longest and brightest day, middle of the growing season and beginning of “summer,” but worst because it starts the solar decline, which is so prominent here on the 48th parallel that I am often booking trips to sunnier and drier places by November. Without anything tying me down, and with the necessary resources, I am certainly the type of person who would travel to pursue the “endless summer.” But, looking west in the afternoon, across the pleasure-craft dotted, sparkling inlet, I am reminded that the warmth and growing season lasts until mid October and is highlighted by corn, pumpkins and cabbages. The rivers will be red with salmon, bald eagles will be sitting on the shore. In the next few months I will sail the gentle breezes between the gulf islands, I will hike the mountains for beautiful views, I will ride my bike to work, play soccer late at night but still in day light, and water my garden.
The Salish sea is abundant, comfortable and home.