Desolation Sound, BC - Grant Lawrence

My sacred waters can be found in Desolation Sound, British Columbia, which is about 5 hours north.

You’ll know if you’ve been to Desolation Sound that the only way you can get here is by boat. There are no roads, there are very few people—just towering mountains, beautiful trees, and dark, deep green ocean water.

My family has been lucky enough to have a cabin up there perched on the rocks like a kelp crab for 30 years. And when I was a kid I kind of liked the place, when I was a teenager I deeply hated and resented the place, and as an adult, I have realized what a special and incredible oceanic wilderness it is. There have been several moments on the ocean that have made me realize this, and here’s one of them.

When you’re going for prawns on the west coast, what you need is about 300 feet of water below you. So that is like taking a skyscraper in downtown Vancouver, turning it upside down, and straight down into the darkened abyss. And so that’s where your prawn trap sits, it’s about the size of a crate of bananas, with black mesh.

It’s a midsummer’s eve in July and I’m pulling that prawn trap up and it’s feeling pretty good, it’s heavy. Now, heavy usually means about 75 to 125 prawns. So, I’m pulling, I’m feeling the trickle of sweat down my back of my neck. And the ocean releases the prawn trap with this righteous splash. I haul it up into the boat, and usually on a good haul, the prawn trap is alive with these pink sea monkey-like things going crazy. This time the prawn trap was one red oozing mass, like a living lava lamp. I had no idea what was in the trap until this one yellow eye rolled up against the mesh, staring right at me.

Now, here’s where I made my mistake. In a panic, I wanted whatever this thing was ‘out’. I released the catch of the prawn trap, and this thing slid out like spilled Jell-O into the bottom of the boat and then spread out. It was a Great Pacific octopus. The largest that I had ever seen, the first one that I’d ever seen in the wild. I’d only seen that one that’s all scrunched up in the Vancouver Aquarium. And now here’s one, in the haul of my little ten-foot aluminum boat. Not wanting to relive ‘Life of Pie’ with an octopus, I decided I wanted the thing out of the boat.

I’m up at the bow, the octopus is back near the outboard and I’m thinking, “what do I do now,” and the octopus is thinking the same thing—gills flaring like an accordion, glaring at me with those yellow eyes. One tentacle goes out to the right, starts feeling around like you do on your bedside table looking for your glasses, and finds a wrench that I use to bang-start the outboard, and the octopus grips the wrench. “No, no this isn’t happening!” And then another tentacle goes out to the left, starts feeling around. There are beer cans down there, there’s fishing line—what does it grab? My fishing knife! So, this octopus is arming itself and if you’re counting it has 6 legs to go!

I look around the bow and I grab an oar. Now I’m a lover, not a fighter, I don’t want to kill this amazing creature. So, I fashion it not like a cleaver, but like a spatula. I get ready, and I plunge it under the octopus, it looks at me wide-eyed, drops its weaponry, and wraps all 8 legs around the paddle, like a little boy hugging his daddy’s leg. I hoist the paddle up into the air and time freezes, the red octopus was so brilliantly contrasted with the July, BC, sky. But the octopus was staring down at me, so I thought, “Ok, enough of that moment.” I plunged the octopus into the ocean, and with perfect synchronicity, then it released with all 8 legs, and propelled itself back, to its octopus’s garden beneath the waves, while letting out this black cloud of ink in its wake. Now I stood up and looked around at the oceanic wilderness around me, not another human being to be seen. And I knew that I was going home empty-handed, but I had a story to tell. And that is my Watermark.

Fraser Riverkeeper
Julia Pepler
Grant Lawrence

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