A taste of history on the Grease Trail
Following an old trade route of one of Vancouver Island's most important commodities was a memorable way to connect with the land and its past.
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Randy, who seemed to be waterproof, cheerfully pointed out various items along the trail. Here was a "culturally modified tree" – i.e., a cedar that the Namgis had stripped of its bark. There was a bracket fungus that could be used either as a fire starter or a tea.Skip to next paragraph
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Once we returned to the truck, the rain, as if on cue, stopped. We followed a road that meandered along the shore of Woss Lake. A few years ago, Randy said, his truck had broken down not far from here, and he'd had to trek 25 miles in the middle of the night. Not that this would happen again, of course....
At one point he stopped and studied the lake. A strong wind was whipping it into a frenzy. "I'm afraid the boat portion of the trip is out," he said. "With this wind, we'd capsize."
"Well, I've already seen some very nice petroglyphs," I said, trying to conceal my disappointment.
As the rain started up again, we continued to drive south along the lake. The road grew more and more muddy. Toward the southern end of the lake, we came to a sudden halt: an avalanche blocked our way. For a moment, I thought that Randy might try to drive his truck over the mountainous clutter of rocks. But he didn't. We had no choice but to turn around.
The rain was now coming down even more heavily than before. I hoped that the truck would be equal to the task of getting us back to Port McNeill. Minutes later, however, I heard the telltale sound of a flat tire.
Randy began rummaging under the seat. "Someone seems to have taken my jack," he announced. Recalling the story of his 25-mile hike, I had visions of hiking back to civilization while being pummeled to jelly by the rain. Randy noticed the despairing look on my face. "Trust in serendipity," he told me.
"Where are you going?" I yelled after him – for he'd begun walking briskly down the road.
"To get help," he shouted back.
Meanwhile, the rain was beating a vigorous tattoo on the roof of the truck, sounding now like buckshot, now like machine-gun fire. I felt as if I was being attacked by a hitherto undocumented army of Vancouver Island guerrillas.
You can imagine my surprise when another pickup splattered up to Randy's half an hour later. Randy himself climbed out and flashed me the victory sign. Another man also got out and approached our vehicle with a jack. It wasn't long before the stricken tire had been replaced by a new one.
As we were driving back to Port McNeill, I said, "So how did you know you were going to find help?"
"I trusted in serendipity," Randy said. "Also, I'd seen my cousin's truck parked at the store in Woss, and since he's got a cabin down here, I figured he'd be coming this way."
Back in Alert Bay, Randy offered me more smoked salmon, on which I smeared more eulachon grease. This time the grease had a different, somewhat better flavor, as if it were somehow imbued with the primal elements that are such a dramatic presence in this part of the world.