Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Drive to Horsefly

It has been three years since we moved to the Cariboo District of BC. During that time, there have been a few forays into the area around where we live, but never enough...

Busy with renovations and building, we have not had as much time as we might have wished for sightseeing. But on a day when Sun shone strong and the Leaves on the Trees were beginning to turn gold, I had an intense craving to drive...just drive anywhere...it didn't matter.

And so we did.

We've driven to the little village of Horsefly once before, in the middle of Winter. There were large, blank, white spaces, all covered with Snow and Ice, then. This time, there were large Fields and small Lakes. There were herds of Cattle and Horses. And colour...there was so much Autumn colour! 

It's only about a 45 minute drive to the village of Horsefly from our place. Horsefly is well known for the artists who live in the area, along with ranchers and loggers. There are about 1000 inhabitants. But my primary purpose in going to Horsefly was to see the spawning Sockeye Salmon.

There was an unprecedented huge run of Sockeye this year. Fishermen took extremely large hauls at the mouth of the Fraser River for a period of time set by the Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans.

The Fish who managed to navigate their way through the fishing nets travelled up the Fraser River to their tributary spawning grounds. The Horsefly River spawning grounds are quite well known; after our visit, I realize why.

We stopped by the little, one car bridge that crosses the River. How lovely it was...as we stood there watching Salmon resting in the shallows, a Horse from a neighbouring farm wandered down for a drink from the cold, clear Waters. It was truly idyllic...I could easily have stood there by the Water for hours...

I wanted to see the provincial park at Horsefly Lake, so we drove on. It was not far before we came to the spawning channel and I knew we had to stop. Spawning Salmon remind me of my childhood; I grew up not far from the Fish ladders built in the River of my youth...Stamp Falls. Every Autumn I would find my way to the ladders just to see the brave, doomed Fish who fought their way up the Falls.

I had no idea how emotional I would become when I saw that channel loaded with reddish Sockeye which, through Sun and Water, shone golden. How beautiful they were!...even though they'd been battered and beaten by Rocks and Boulders as they fought their way up the Fraser River...still, I would swear at that moment, there was nothing more stunning than those Fish.

We spoke with a gentleman who told us only yesterday, there were enough Fish in the spawning channel that he could easily have walked across their backs to get to the other side. A man who has lived in the area for years, he said he had never seen anything like it.

As I snap photos here and there, over and over again, I idly wonder, once again, why there is such a huge Salmon run this year. Last year, fishing was closed to commercial fisherman because of lack of Fish...and this year, there is an unexpectedly enormous run? It appears no one really knows why, although there are many theories...

We walk a short distance up the small causeway towards the small pool at the end of it, where a pipe connected to the Horsefly River bubbles up. The Salmon, accustomed to fighting their way up a River, are confused...they are not used to going with the flow. I want to tell them, when they throw their bodies against the rubber, protective mat which stops them from congregating at the pipe area...I want to tell them how much easier it is, really, to go with the flow.

The Sockeye, some of them extremely large, were insistent on beating their bodies a little more. I imagine them thinking...How can anything in life be this easy?

But finally, they accept that, right now, life is a little less difficult; they reverse their course and follow that easy causeway back to the channel and then further on to their particular spawning grounds. I shake my head as I wonder at the marvels of it all. I am moved beyond words...

Along the River, corpses of Salmon who lost their fight to spawn and procreate litter the shore. Signs are posted warning of Bear, Cougar and other predators who show up for an easy meal or two, at any time of day.

It is a long and difficult journey Salmon must undertake at the end of their lives. It is filled with hazards. And yet, the call is unbelievably (to this human) strong to return home, to the clear, fresh waters of their youth.

And the colour of the spawning Salmon is unbelievable, as well. A beautiful Fish even when young, they become more so...Sunlight bouncing off those wriggling orange and red bodies make me think of Firelight...a dying Fire, as it turns out.

It is sad and stunning, all at the same time, the sight of these Fish returning home, battered and beaten, some of them.

There is a lesson in this for me, somewhere. I feel it, yet can't quite grasp it.

There was nothing that could beat the sight of the Sockeye in the little Spawning channel; we turned around and returned home, ourselves.

And as I watched the Firelight later that night, I was once again reminded of  the fight of the Salmon...not a fight to save it's life, but a fight to procreate. And the reward is...death.

I'm glad the urge to drive somewhere...anywhere...overtakes me, once in awhile...

Monday, September 06, 2010

Experience and Mistakes

When I began volunteer work with Hospice, I did not really know what to expect. I had taken a very comprehensive course on Hospice and what it's all about...it was experience I lacked. What would it be like to sit in silence for two hours with a dying patient? Or what on Earth could I say to people who have only hours to live?

I've made many mistakes. The one mistake I continually make is asking how a patient is feeling. And one day, one of the clients might just say to me...How do you think I'm feeling?

Or, I sometimes even go so far as to say...You look great today!...I want to take that one back as soon as it comes out of my mouth.

But there are times when a client is not conscious. During those visits, I sit and write. Sometimes I write about the client's life; tidbits gleaned from photos and books and belongings all gather together in my writing. Whether or not my writing is correct about all of it makes no difference...I write what I feel during what might be the last time I visit this particular client.

Long term palliative care patients have so many stories to tell! Living with Death as a very close partner cannot be easy; yet each client I have met mostly lives each day to the fullest, with as many jokes to tell as they can remember.

I was discussing marriage with one of them the other day. After looking at photos of the man and his wife in their car on the way to their honeymoon, I asked the man what he liked most about marriage.

Of course, as soon as I said that, I wanted to take the question back.  What if they had divorced, what if she had died and the gentleman in question was still sad about it, what if I had opened a can of worms?

And this is what it's like for me. I rarely know the clients well, I rarely know what their hobbies were, what their lives were like, do they like this or that? Do they like to be touched? Do they want to talk, or do they prefer silence? Do they even want me there?

But I know this long term palliative care patient as well as any. He loves to tell stories about his life; yet I rarely heard his wife mentioned in any of them. Which is why I wanted to take the marriage question back as soon as I had said it. Asking it felt a little like skating on very thin ice.

He thought about my question for awhile, looking into the far off distance. I held my breath...what had I begun? And then he nodded, as if the answer had just come to him.

He said...The best thing about marriage to me was that the house was always picked up. Yup...he said...that was the very best thing.

He was very serious when he said this. At first, I thought he was joking, since he loves to use humour. But he wasn't...and somehow I had to answer him without breaking out into a big belly laugh. I had to laugh inside instead, and mumble...Yes, that sounds nice...and leave it there.

I find arguing with a dying person intolerable, and won't do it, although given an answer like this to my question by a well person, I certainly would challenge it. There must be more to a marriage than a clean house! But not for Tom...

I visit a lady who is fully aware, yet due to a stroke she cannot form words. And much of the language she remembers is Native, which is very difficult for me to enunciate. I have a sheet of Native words; we practice them, she and I.  She smiles at the way I pronounce them...and yes, I have even heard her laugh. Once.

With this lady, I tell her about my week since I last saw her. I don't ask her any questions, other than whether she requires something to drink. I tell her how I miss the Coast, where my children are, I tell her about my garden and how it is not doing well. I read her stories, many of them posts done by my fellow bloggers. Blog owners of blogs like Enchanted Oak, Studio Lolo, Dragonfly's Poetry and Prolixity, Options for a Better World , Writing Down the Words, All Consuming and others have generously allowed me the use of some of their posts and art work.

With this lady, I will never know if something I've said is hurtful or out of place. When she gets tired of me, her body language tells me it is time to go. It may be after a half hour or five minutes...I no longer worry about whether it's because she's tired or decided she's had enough of my prattle.

But we have a relationship, she and I. With many of the clients, there is no time to form a relationship.

So many clients I have been involved with have died. When I began volunteering with Hospice, I thought I would remember them all. But, unless I look in my book, I cannot.

But when a client dies, I do a small ceremony here for them, by Grandfather Rock. He has absorbed much of my tears and sadness and even happiness, if the dying person was ready for the next journey.

It's the ones who are not ready who I cry over. The ones who have fought the inevitable, who insist and insist and insist it is not happening right until they become unconscious. And when the family is still in denial even at this stage...well, it is sometimes heartrending for me to see young people, especially, in tears at their terrible loss.

It is so much more difficult when death occurs without acceptance.

I will glean more and more experience with volunteering as the days, weeks, months and years go by. I know a volunteer who, by her very presence, can calm a whole room full of relatives of the just deceased. She's volunteered for years...there is not much she hasn't seen or heard.

She's the very epitome of experience and wisdom.

I strive for the same.

In just a few more years...

Work with Hospice is completely confidential. Therefore, patients I mention have been disguised or are a composite of many. Names have been changed.