This summer, my friend Jason Rolfe (who organizes the Writers On The Fly events) came out to the house and we spent a few hours talking. Somehow, through great questions–and skillful editing–he turned our conversation into the inaugural episode of The Fly Tapes podcast. Of course, I still cringe a bit when listening to myself, but it was a fun talk and I’m honored to kick off The Fly Tapes series. You can listen HERE or download it for free at the iTunes store. Hope you like it. And Jason, now we just need to go fish without the microphones!
Through the years I’ve talked to Bruce Hill on the phone more times than I can count, often at odd hours, about subjects big and small. Recipes for teriyaki sauce and salmon caviar. Conservation campaign strategies. Guitar techniques. Family. Personal issues and challenges. For so many reasons it’s been a steady comfort in my life to know that I could pick up the phone any time and he’d be there with wisdom, compassion and his own special brand of kindness.
When I was going through a particularly tough time, he was there, knowing when to keep it light, when to sympathize, when to make suggestions. He offered me the couch at the Hill house, which I have slept on many times, saying, “Just come up and we’ll fish and eat. If you start driving now, you’ll be here tomorrow. I’ll have dinner ready.”
Yesterday I woke up wanting to call my old friend Bruce, as I have so many times, and it finally hit me that he’s gone.
When I met Bruce, he was already a giant, a legendary figure in the conservation world for the campaign to protect wild steelhead in British Columbia, and for working tirelessly—often desperately—to save the Kitlope, the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world, from destruction. Along with his Haisla brother, Gerald Amos, he continued an incredible run of work, helping to stop Royal Dutch Shell in the Sacred Headwaters, keep the Enbridge Pipeline and it’s oil out of the Skeena, and most recently, prevent Petronas from destroying critical salmon habitat in the Skeena estuary.
As a father, I’ve always tried to make sure my kids spend time with the mentors who’ve helped me along the way. Perhaps it’s laziness on my part, but my hope is that their wisdom would rub off on the kids. Four years ago I brought Skyla and Weston to meet Bruce and Gerald. We took the Suncrest, an old converted halibut boat to explore the Inside Passage. We fished, hiked, snorkeled, cooked epic meals, fought the weather, gathered prawns and crab, laughed and sang. We made lifetime memories, and the kids learned valuable, early lessons on what it takes to protect the world we love.
When I think of Bruce, I see him playing guitar and singing with the kids on that trip. I think of him holding court at the Hill’s legendary kitchen table with friends and activists of all kinds gathered around. I think of countless long drives and boat rides and fishing trips and the stories that filled them. I remember the time Bruce, our friend Yvon, and I ate an entire salad bowl of salmon eggs in one sitting. I think of his life’s work, how he taught us to kick ass and butt heads, but to remember the human side of conservation. I think of how he could get angry and rage, then let it go and laugh and hug you.
Bruce has left the building, but he isn’t gone. The untouched Kitlope, now protected forever as a Provincial Park; the Skeena, flowing clean from headwaters to sea; the eelgrass beds teaming with salmon on Lelu Island, all stand as monuments to his work. His wisdom and teachings have fueled the next generation of ass-kicking conservationists, the Shannon McPhails, the Greg Knoxs, the Caitlyn Vernons of the world. His presence flows through his wife Anne and their two children, Aaron and Julia, who follow in his footsteps with a ferocious commitment to protecting our planet. And yes, his spirit rubbed off on my kids, Skyla and Weston, who carry the fight forward as budding activists. This weekend, as we joined the flotilla protesting net-pen salmon farms in our home waters, I could see that spirit in my kids. Perhaps that’s why I wanted to call Bruce.
He’s with us and all around us in the wild places that remain wild, in the rough-and-ready conservation spirit of the North, in the meals we cook and share with friends and family, in the kindness and generosity that made hundreds, if not thousands, of us who knew him want to be better human beings. I still need to come to grips with knowing I can no longer pick up the phone and hear his big laugh and welcoming voice, but I am happy—and honored—to have been his friend. Giants live forever.
For thousands of years, the Lummi people fished reef nets at ancestral sites throughout the Salish Sea. And today, for the first time in more than 100 years, the Lummis are once again fishing a reef net in the waters of Legoe Bay. This weekend, the kids and I were honored to visit with some of the elders and help record their stories for a little film project I’m working on.
That’s me hard at work, or as they say, hardly working, talking fish with (from left to right) Richard Solomon, Steve Solomon, Larry Kinley and Chief Bill James. So much knowledge in this group, I could have spent all day soaking up the wisdom.
The next morning, we were privileged to witness Chief James perform the First Salmon ceremony for the first time on Lummi Island in 100 years. It was so beautiful, and so heartfelt, I had goosebumps on my arms and tears in my eyes. One of the great experiences of my life, made even more incredible by being able to share it with Skyla and Weston.
When Richard Solomon waded into the water, carrying a sockeye salmon on a bed of cedar boughs, to the beat of a single elk-hide drum and the voices of four men singing an ancient song, I could feel the 10,000 year story of humans and fish evolving together. I could feel it in my bones, and felt lucky to be a part of it.
Just home from an epic three-generation family ramble through the Ancestral Homeland. Organized by my mom, 19 of us–aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, friends–started in the hectic frenzy of Tokyo and made our way by bus, car, foot and bullet train on through Nagoya, Kyoto, Miyajima (pictured above) and Hiroshima. What an experience. The country mice from Bainbridge were blown away by the sheer volume of humanity, pace and size of Tokyo (below). And we found quiet, gorgeous settings more like home as well, in Miyajima, Kyoto, and other places along the way.
Too many individual experiences to list, but visits to the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo and Nishiki Market in Kyoto, making okonomiyaki (a kind of savory Japanese crepe-omelet sort of thing) in Hiroshima, hiking up Monkey Mountain to commune with our more distant relatives, a whitewater boat trip, and watching Skyla shopping for a kimono with my mom, all stand out. We also spent a great day fishing the saltwater flats east of Nagoya (more on that in a coming post) with our friend Hisashi Suzuki.
For me, though, it was the day-to-day excellence of the food that really blew my mind. From high-end sushi (above) to the greatest katsu in the world, to simple bowls of ramen in a back alley of Shibuya (below), everything we ate ranged from great to excellent to top-10-meal-of-all-time status. In spite of averaging about 15,000 steps per day in hot, humid weather, I gained seven pounds in 15 days!
But even more than the sights, and yes, even more than the food, was the experience of watching my mom introduce her grandchildren to Japan (that’s the three of them settling into the bullet train for a 170mph cruise to Nagoya). And the time we spent traveling together with friends and family. I think we all made a lot of lifetime memories. Thanks, Mom!
Of the many things one can learn from our furry, four-legged family members, one lesson is certainly that greatness is achieved through doing what you love. Honey (our friend Smarty’s dog) and Halo (ours) are cousins–they share the same grandmother–and they love hanging out and playing together. But they are two very different dogs. That’s Honey, above, doing what she does best. Halo, on the other hand, seems to have missed the retrieving gene. She’ll chase a toy a time or two, bring it back, then stand by the door to go inside. Her special talents lie in kicking back, snuggling, and making sure her fur is on everything. That’s her below, in our bin of winter clothes, doing all three at once. See? Do what you love and greatness follows.