First Days


Chris Williamson, From Bella Bella, BC
May 2006

First Days tend to hold a special place in our minds. The feelings, whether they are excitement, nervousness, or anticipation, burn a lasting impression in our brains that can be recalled with a vividness rarely achieved by any day thereafter.

Among the First Days etched most deeply in my mind is the First Day I saw and fell in love with the Great Bear Rainforest, and, most recently, the First Day of this field season.

This particular First Day stands out for two reasons. One, Raincoast’s First Day out each year is a unique opportunity to see how the long winter has transformed the landscape. Two, for some reason the “eye” that usually only my Heiltsuk field assistants have for spotting bears, wolves and deer, was also with me that day.

This was the beginning of the second season of the greatly expanded juvenile salmon migration project and, while establishing study transects for this project was the main objective, there was a much greater purpose to that day. Simply observing.

Spring was in the air. Flocks of Canada geese, Goldeneye ducks, and even elusive Sandhill cranes littered the sky and filled the airwaves as they made their way north for the summer. A lone, light-colored, male wolf blessed us momentarily with his presence on an equally lone island before ducking into the towering old growth forest. Up at the top end of Bullock channel, a family of migrating humpback whales feasted on massive balls of herring. Down Spiller channel, local Heiltsuk people participated in their sustainable “spawn on kelp” fishery and laughter could be heard far across the water. Throughout the Great Bear Rainforest, spring had arrived, and life was rich and intense.

A few weeks have now passed since that First Day, and the little salmon are flooding the channels and bays by the millions providing us with critical data in our quest to answer the when, where, why and how of their heroic journey. The herring have moved on, leaving the next generation to incubate in the crystal clear water along the shoreline. Similarly, the whales and birds are continuing to make their journey northward to continue their cycle of life which evolution has so finely tuned. The strong scent of skunk cabbage is now drawing sleepy bears out of hibernation to begin a new season.

While each day offers new and amazing experiences, that First Day stands out above the rest. After a long winter of analysis and preparation, it was a clear reminder of exactly why everyone at Raincoast is so passionate about preserving this amazing place that so many plants, animals and people call home.

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Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.