"The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough." ~ Rabindranath Tagore


Bamfield Sounds

Vilaiwan Fernandes maintains a diary of a field trip researching eelgrass at Bamfield in Canada. She writes: "I swam with seals and I studied eelgrass and took care of abalone... and I lived for a while."

I'm here... I'm here at last! I'm at Bamfield. Anne Stewart brought me up from Victoria in a station jeep on a logging road. We stopped for a squirrel in the middle of the road, on the way up. I think the rumbling of our gargantuan mass sent the little life into shock and it froze right in the middle of the blooming road! I wonder if it closed its eyes the way I do whenever I decide that it's too late to act and that I'm going to be hit by a car or going to hit one (it's happened too often). We discussed logging in the ancient ways of cynical biologists as we passed through the re-growth and looked up at hills that seemed to be having haircuts. Some of the land was depressing... and the re-growth (soon to be chopped down) is far from a "decadent" forest.

Seattle I Know
Arabian Nights & Dates
European Diary
South by Virginia
Land of Rising Sun
Holiday in Bhutan
Peek at Peaks

Anne was kind enough to introduce me to the social hierarchy of the station. She said that the undergrads are considered lowly, the grads are decent, the docs are next to godliness. And the post docs... well, I forget exactly how special they are but I believe that they probably emit a frequency of light that a mere high school graduate (if even!) like myself is blind to. I think she noticed my nervous smile and said, "Don't worry, you'll be fine... just tell them you're a post doc from India". I laughed... I wish!

The sky is so glorious right now... blazing and fiery. The sun is glowing behind the trees across the inlet and there's loud music resonating from the other side. I hope I remember this moment... the sounds, the scent... Colour like never before...Ocean and sky... ocean and sky.

Day 2
The tide was coming in and after sloshing in goo and water I realised that the water level in my boots was higher than the water level I was standing in. Oh well...

All the undergrads are in their last 2 weeks here. One block has exams on Friday and the other on Saturday. They all look serious and mournful... I long to tell them that I'm done with exams for a couple of months at least. I've occupied the tiny table just past the salad array in the cafeteria and I eat by myself. I'm intimidated by them, I suppose it's normal for the lowest occupant of the social totem pole.

The sun is setting and I know there's something I'm missing because I am who I am. Hildegard's music was made for this... perhaps we make music to compensate for what we cannot hear...

Another glorious sunset...I feel like such a little earthling standing with my camera... it feels like I'm being taken on a tour on ...oh Tralfamadore with Billy Pilgrim! And me pulling on a green arm asking, "Can you make the sun set slower please? I want to catch this with my little camera so that they'll believe me when I'm back on earth."

Day... oh I dunno... Today!
I was a boat tender with James ("Mr. Safety" as he is fondly known) while Megan and Dan did a dive near a dredge site. Dan is comparing invertebrate colonisation of dredged sites to those that aren't. James is British and he speaks the English that I do. On the way back he let me drive the boat until we entered the inlet... I tried hiding my smile for a while but after abortive efforts, quit. It's now my aim to get a boater's license before a driver's license.

Zostera marina is quite an amazing little plant... well everything of the ocean is but I'm falling in love with it now, perhaps due to the high per capita of obsessed biologists.

Oh horror of horrors!!! I flooded the whale lab! Shhh... no one knows. They think it was a minor mishap because of the arrangement of tanks in the water table... and it was... it was... but perhaps reducing the water flow would have caused a slower flood. AHH! Only I am capable of such catastrophe?! The one day that I'm left alone... one day! And already I've flooded the whale lab! *Breathes* I mopped it up and by Monday, when everyone is back it should be dry and cleaner than before! Hmm... everyone's done horrible things like this (they MUST have!). Why, even Jenny confessed to murdering her amoebae when she left the microscope light on 'high' for over an hour... no this isn't that bad.

Good god! 2 abalone are missing! I can't find them anywhere!!! How could I lose them?! Tried calling Kelley but she's never home!!!


I spoke to Kelley and was about to fall on my knees and beg for forgiveness when she said "Oh... ok... don't worry they're probably in the water table somewhere. I've had them crawl out and not make it to the water so the poor dears dry out." Phew... she's done it too!

Monday (week2)
The weekend's gone by and apart from the momentary flooding of the whale lab and loss of abalone all has been at peace. Claire arrived today and wants to be a dolphin researcher. Liz also arrived today. She's writing an "unbiased summary on the effect of sea otters on local fisheries". All she does is read and read... and read and occasionally eat a gummy bear and offer me one.

I wish I didn't see the similarities in my dreams 2 years ago. Will I always look back and never be satisfied with who I was?

"Team Eelgrass" has not yet found salmon... they have one more day and then a presentation. They've been reduced to fishing off the docks with a line. All they get are rockfish. I tried it too... rockfish aren't very smart- I caught the same fish thrice without any bait.

I feel sorry for them and all of this seems to scorn science and the clean arithmetic definitions. All their beach seines have not found salmon, their traps have got nothing- they think it's the bait. It's funny to see them so calm and cheerful... I'm being disillusioned about the certainty of science... perhaps certainty in general.

It rained today... the grass had sparkling pearls of water suspended on them... spider webs look beautiful while weighed down by crystal. The air is thick with moisture and suspended calmness.

I walked on the main road to Megan's place today by myself. I enjoyed the walk... "There are volumes in the forest no one reads aloud." (Conor Oberst)

The forest is alive with a life that I feel blind to... I wish I were something other than human.

"The fog came in again this morning. It's so placid and haunting... even the West Side can't be seen across the inlet. One can't help staring at it wondering if someone will walk out of it magically... mysteriously... lady of the lake? Lady of the inlet? Hah... the water here looks like a big lake... the mountains fall straight into the water with a few bare pebble beaches and maybe one or two sand beaches... the shore line is so young. I like looking at the pine trees left dry when the tide is low- the lower boughs drooping from salt with ribbons of eelgrass flying in the breeze...

Back to the fog- it vanished by 10 and the sun began beating down... I like the way the fog rolls off the roof of the whale lab. After a week of groggy weather I needed to warm my bones. We decided to go out to Wizard.

"See that patch of grey..." Liz said while on the boat, "head for it."

The patch turned out to be a group of harbour seals basking. We shut off our motor and Liz rowed us into the tiny channel so that we wouldn't disturb them. And just after we said, "What good seals! No one got into the water" they all dived in as if to spite us...


The place looked so tropical, it made me want to dive in but I had no spare clothes and the water was around 10C. The scene is so deceptive to my eyes.

We stepped onto Wizard and anchored the boat. The oyster catchers were going wild and though they look nothing like it, they remind me of plastic rubber ducks that can be squeezed to squeak.

Gosh... I have one week left. It can't be... maybe I can beg Anne again and tell her that I'll scrub floors with my own toothbrush.

Everyone reminisced over the times when they had all met only a few weeks ago but felt as though they'd lived with each other all their lives. Some places do it to you.

Another sunset I cannot believe... I'm getting better at watching this. I remember to remind myself to breathe after the first few coughs.

The elements are contriving and the gods do not wish me to see Brady's beach. I went to Wizard again instead of Brady's. Again I followed the oyster catchers and smiled at the seals. I found a gull's nest and then an oyster catcher's nest. Although, they have bare nests (if even)- just eggs on rocks and MAYBE a few tiny shells or stones. The females have duller beaks. We also saw a bear cub on the way there...

This dark cold ocean is teeming with emerald life. The shores have fountains when the tide is out- clam squirts. I find them comical. Megan loves kingfishers, she thinks they sound like spoiled brats. I agree.

Monday (week3)
That's it! I had abalone dreams! Abalone dreams... they were crawling out of their beakers and had somehow got to another room in a house and I had to rush between rooms to save them from drying to death! The floor was slippery and I had to run or skid fast! Abalone dreams! Abalone!

We explored a new site this evening by the broken group and just around Flemming. The 7mil wetsuit wasn't needed; the water was warm... oh well. There was beautiful eelgrass. It wasn't a good low tide so the grass was standing tall- at least 2m. The epiphyte growth was minimal and it made us happy.

It's odd, the way I used to think that studying a plant would be boring. It isn't. Anything, anything can be loved and everything is beautiful if you look at it close enough and make it a part of you. Perhaps that's what we should aim for...

There was macrocystis growing around the edges of the bed... I've never seen giant kelp in the water- it's hard to believe that they're just macroalgae. They looked like creatures from an Enid Blyton fairy tale... like medicine men with flowing coats within which secrets deep and profound were held. When I swam through a tiny congregation, some of their secrets crawled out slowly lifting their yellow claws at me- kelp crabs.

I must draw it sometime.

The next cove around was taken over by sargassum... there are so many introduced species that are taking over. Primary grazers seem to be lacking in certain areas and urchin barrens are just depressing.

Today was tiring. The morning was an adventure...

The weather was so wonderful and we took our lucky cope to Diana and past the Huu-ay-aht camp. We began running out of fuel and the sky was displeased with the petty humans on a tiny boat. The ocean, lover of the sky, seemed angered too for her waves rose and clapped against the rocks. I'm truly the "fool fears none" type of person... I volunteered to jump in the water and dislodge the anchor. After much thinking Megan agreed and in I hopped in a 2mil wetsuit (I learn slow, don't I?). Visibility was just a bit over 2 feet and my body was freezing. How deep is the anchor... oh about 3-4m. Can I duck dive? Erm... sure. Megan had to keep the motor running so that we wouldn't hit the rocks and so they let out all the line and moved as far from me as possible so that my head wouldn't get knocked off by the blades. She was afraid and her fear worried me more than my own. I'm not sure how but eventually I got the anchor undone and I scrambled onto the cope breathless and freezing.

I thought we were heading straight back but we ended up doing a site check just off Brady's looking for eelgrass.

I hugged myself as I turned into a human Popsicle in the water. Poor visibility; the water's not supposed to be this cold. Did I really volunteer to do this? It's surf grass not Zostera, why are we here?! 2mil wetsuit and 7C water, one minute longer and I swear my jaw will lock down and I will bite off these studs. Get distracted... sooner or later I won't feel this anymore. Go numb...what is heat? What is warmth? This is life. Go numb... look at the beauty. Look at the beauty... beauty... pushing in. No warmth... no cold... just now. Purple ribbons and green dancers in surf are billowing up; Pirch and pycnopodia; I have wanted to die like this... have my body go numb and my thoughts explode into the ocean of forever. How can I be worthy of such beauty?

The evening can be depressing and lonely but I'm learning to deal with it... Claire and I finally went to Brady's. She rowed us across. The sky hung up its curtains before the show had ended but it was beautiful. My heart was warmed when I heard the waves of the beach. Emanuel was talking of the Juan de Fuca trail the other night. He spoke of how beautiful the rolling of pebbles along the shore sounded. It's still alien to this tropical fish. I miss the sand and the strong warm waves. Brady made me smile because it was in my terms a "beach", it had sand and I could hear the ocean before reaching the water. Maybe someday I'll accept pebbles... maybe.

Megan asked if I wanted to go snorkeling one last time and I could only nod vigorously. I dressed appropriately this time and we went off to Wizard again. Matt signed out the boat under "Research", he was supposed to collect worms for his work.

The seals were there and they entered the water. Matt's amused by the seals... so am I. They looked so comfortably obese and "huggable" basking- living the life: eat, sleep, drink and make babies! There were a few that didn't enter the water, they stayed on, stretched their plump necks and looked around confused. Matt pretended to read their minds, he said, "Hey man what you gettin' in the water for? Stay cool! Stay cool! It's just them humans! They can't do nothin'! They're stupid! Chill man! Stay cool... you seen them before, comin' here in their boat. Stay cool! Stay cool!" I laughed uncontrollably and smiled the same way. Megan and I got in while Matt walked around in his orange rainwear on shore. The water was murky and green but I didn't care, there were seals only a few meters away! And then slowly it happened: black bobbing heads formed an enclosing circle of curiosity slowly closing in.
"Did you see that?!" screamed Megan
"No!?" I wailed
"He just approached us... about a meter away!" she said with overflowing excitement
I put my head in and he swam by me... grey with black speckles and big beautiful brown eyes. If only I could have swum fast enough to stay there by him staring into his big beautiful brown eyes... nothing would have mattered. I was so positively buoyant in the 7mm suit and I had no weights, I rolled with glee on the surface and frightened the sea birds on the exposed side. They flew up in an explosion of white dots over me and I lay flat on my back staring at a blue sky with moving white spots. This is the life!!! This is the life! This is what a sea otter must feel like! To stare at the sky forever while sleeping in the arms of an ocean, never missing any of the shows, any of the magic... this is what it feels like!

Matt got into the boat and I swam out to them, there were shoals of tiny silver but visibility was too poor to identify them. As it got deeper, the bottom fell away and the fish turned to silver flashes of light that I could carve by moving my hand toward them... I was a magician and this was the closest I'll ever be to telekinesis.

Big white body under me... in front of me. He's so huge! Oh my god! He's so huge...
We surfaced at the same time and stared at each other. Hello Mr. Seal...

Good bye Wizard
Until we meet again...

We got back around 9:15 pm and the sun was setting on our way back. The mountains were purple and the water metallic euphoria through my delirious blind eyes. I remembered my last delirious evening on the beach at Turtle Bay near Mangalore... this is right up there.

"I love the time and in between
the calm inside me
in the space where I can breathe
I believe there is a
distance I have wandered
to touch upon the years of
reaching out and reaching in
holding out holding in
I believe
this is heaven to no one else but me
and I'll defend it as long as I can be
left here to linger in silence
if I choose to
would you try to understand"
(Sarah McLachlan)

Must I leave? Bye Megan... Bye Liz... don't cry Vilaiwan... force a smile.

"Hi... it's me."
"Viloo, are you ok?" He asked
"I don't want to leave..."
"Aww... don't cry. You'll be back." He said over miles of copper from somewhere other than here.

"Can anyone give me a ride into town around noon?"

West Coast Trail bus- Logging road again... bumpy again and my handwriting looks worse than usual. There's a Texan with a strong accent behind me, every time he moves my seat belt gets tighter. Country twang over the music system... damn, I'm out of batteries. Who are all these people in this van heading for Victoria?
I'm Vilaiwan. I swam with seals... I swam with seals and I studied eelgrass and took care of abalone... and I lived for a while.
If I choose to would you try to understand it?

Photo Credit: Vilaiwan Fernandes

Home | Back | Top | Feedback

Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.