At first, there is nothing. Just shades of gray. The grayness brightens in places only to dim moments later. Some lighter patches rise and merge, darker ones swirl and fade. They are enveloping and saturating, seeping into every pore of my exposed flesh. I glance down at my hands clenching the side of the boat. They appear solid, but feel cold and damp, and look drained of color.
Ahead, a darker shape precipitates out of this gray soup. With no reference points, it is hard to judge the scale – is it a smudge on my eyeglasses or an enormous mass looming ahead? The put-put-putting of the 90-horse outboard motor is almost inaudible in the thick fog as our 20-foot fiberglass fishing boat rides the glassy swell toward the obscure form ahead.
“Echachist!” Joe Martin announces behind me, his voice muffled by the thick fog, as the shadow condenses into the recognizable shape of an island. I hear Enchanted! instead. Suspended above the ocean—like Laputa, the flying island of Myazaki’s “Castle in the Sky”—Echachist is swaddled in the rolling waves of dense morning mist. The fog has enveloped us since early this morning when Joe first pushed his boat away from a dock in Tofino—a nature lovers’ mecca.
The town’s small resident population swells tenfold as the whale watchers and anglers, surfers and bird watchers, kayakers and storm trackers flock here throughout the year from around the world. Like a kid lingering in bed, pulling the quilt over her head when it’s time to rise and get ready for school, Tofino is always reluctant to get out from under the cover of morning fog. But later in the day, the summer sun often burns through the mist, and the light throws land- and seascape into sharp, vibrant relief. Joe is certainly counting on that today.
From under a full head of thick black hair with only a few streaks of white at his temples, Joe’s penetrating dark eyes quickly scan the distance between the boat and the emerging coastline. Standing behind the navigation console, his sinewy frame wrapped in a bright red flotation jacket, Joe slowly turns the boat’s wheel, cautiously guiding the vessel around large rafts of bull kelp toward the island, its craggy coastline now in full view. In a few minutes we reach a rocky point on the island’s southeastern shore that forms a natural breakwater, sheltering a sandy beach on the opposite side.
Several feet from the rocks, Joe kills the motor and nimbly runs to the front of the boat to grab a mooring buoy bobbing on the surface among the bladders of the bull kelp. With few slashes of his fishing knife, he clears a patch around the boat from the kelp’s large blades and stipes, or stems, to make it easier to secure the boat to the mooring line with a few deft knots. Joe jumps onto the rocks and holds the boat for me to climb out. “Welcome to Echachist, the home of Tla-o-qui-aht people,” he says and then adds grinning, “And my home!” Where Echachist’s ancient forest reaches the beach, stands a house that Joe built over 20 years ago.