Kathryn Willcock and her sisters grew up in logging camps on the coast of B.C. in the 1960s when children were set loose to play in the wilderness, women kept rifles next to the wood stove, and loggers risked their lives every single day. The author's tales of grizzly bears, American tourists, and a couple of terrified gangsters, along with the wisdom of Indigenous elders, pour off the page like warm syrup on a stack of cookhouse hotcakes.
About the author
Kathryn Willcock was born in Vancouver and spent her early years in logging camps on the coast of BC, particularly Bute Inlet where she and her sisters spent their days playing on the banks of the Orford River, an area considered one of the world’s best locations for viewing grizzly bear.
Excerpt: Up The Coast: One Family's Wild Life in the Forests of British Columbia (by (author) Kathryn Willcock)
Chapter One: Flying In
I can see the water far below from the cockpit of the bush plane. I'm sitting up front with the pilot. He says I won't get in the way like some of the big sons-of-bitches he flies into camps, and I can understand his point; I'm eight years old. Behind us, the seats are taken up by my mum, my two older sisters, Suzy and Wendy, a drunk logger (who dumped his case of beer into the empty seat next to him so he could enjoy a few inflight beverages), and an Indigenous man who is going home after a stay at the hospital in Campbell River. He still looks sick to me, but maybe he just hates flying, and we are having a bumpy ride today. The pilot said the winds were "blustery" when he was talking into his radio receiver. At least that's what I think he said because we can't hear much over the roar of the engine.
The dashboard is right at my eye level, and there's lots to look at, like all the round dials with arrows that shake like the drunk logger in the back. One of the dials is smashed, and I wonder what it was for, but I guess it's not that important. The pilot looks exactly as he should: khaki shirt and pants, aviator sunglasses, and a handsome face. He smiles but he's like a doctor, doesn't want to get too friendly. Though he did make a joke about gassing up the plane before we took off, something about how he hoped he remembered to refuel. I bet he tells that joke all the time.
There's no hold in the plane so everything gets packed inside the cabin. Way at the back in the tail of the plane there's an outboard motor with a tag on it that reads: "Repaired for Joseph Charlie, Squirrel Cove," and a few life jackets are back there too with some of our suitcases piled on top of them. The biggest suitcases are in the aisle. The last item in the plane was the pilot's fishing rod. He threaded it between the passengers and luggage and hooked it up above the windows on one side. I know he will stop somewhere on his way back home to fish off the Beaver's pontoons. But first he has to drop everybody off, just like a bus driver. Our family will be his last stop because we are going to Orford Bay, way up Bute Inlet where my father lives most of the time. He's a logger.
Out my side window, the forests go on forever and inlets run in every direction, slicing into the coastline and leaving islands scattered along the way. Everything is green: the water, the land, and today, even the sky. Looking down, I see a fishboat with its net out in a big circle. I wonder if it's Uncle Floyd's boat. He fishes when he's not working in our camp. We fly over independent outfits run by loggers who live in their camps year-round, getting by on meagre incomes, government cheques, and canned food. It's easy to spot those camps from the air because there's always lots of broken-down equipment all over the place. Some of these guys drink too much, especially after their wives leave for good. We spot a tug towing a boom of logs and nudge each other, pointing at the logs and smiling because this is the one and only sign of success in this part of the world; logs in the water mean money in the bank.
A few minutes later, I see a camp like ours: two-room houses bought at government auctions for fifty bucks each. Like Dad, the loggers in this camp live here during the logging season, then go home for the winter, either to a seedy hotel on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside or a new bungalow in the suburbs. Dad says it all depends on good luck, hard work, and not being stupid with your money.
The Beaver lands to drop off the drunk logger at a small camp, and he has a hard time getting down the steps of the plane. We all know he's going to be fired on the spot. Nobody wants a drunk logger. I feel sorry for him. Other than the case of beer, he has a small cardboard suitcase and his boots are tied together by the laces and hang around his neck. Next, the Indigenous man is dropped off. I think the whole village was on the dock to greet him. He looked better once he was out of the plane.
The Beaver is lighter now, and I think we are going faster, heading straight up Bute Inlet. I'm excited and press my cheek against the window, trying to see what's up ahead. I know our camp will appear any minute now, but I'm not prepared when the plane banks hard to the right and the undersides of the pontoons are skimming along the cliff face on the north side of Orford Bay. I lean away from the cockpit door, afraid that it will pop open and I'll drop out as the Beaver continues in a sweeping arc round the valley behind camp before levelling off and heading back towards the inlet. Our camp whizzes by underneath the belly of the plane, and the whitecaps come up fast to meet us. The pontoons hit the water hard, "Bang, Bang, Bang!" Then the plane rolls from side to side in the choppy waves. The pilot radios the airport in Campbell River to say we've landed, and he turns the plane around and taxis to the log float out front of camp.
There's our house on the left, then the tool shed. Next is the cookhouse, then the bunkhouse, and after that the house where our cousins Ruby and Donna stay when they come for the summer to be with their parents, Aunty Patty and Uncle Floyd. I'm looking for any sign of life but there's nobody around, not even Franky who is usually outside roaring around in his speedboat. He and I are the same age, and I like him but he's usually in trouble because his mum isn't around to smarten him up. His dad is Kurt Wankel, my father's business partner. I can see Uncle Floyd way out on the boom and I notice Aunty Patty has painted a big Thunderbird on the side of their house. She's always doing stuff like that. The Beaver turns again, and the cliffs over by the river come into view, but I can't really see anything, and I suppose the pilot can't either. That's good because it's a secret and we aren't supposed to talk about it. Anyhow, I don't care about that now because the pilot got out and he's tying the Beaver up to the float.
There's Dad! He's walking out our front door to meet the plane, and right on his heels is our dog, Smokey, excited and wagging his tail. Dad shakes hands with the pilot and I hear him say, "How's it goin', Dave? How's the fishin'? Get yourself a cup of coffee in the cookhouse." Then we hear Dad's caulk boots scraping along the pontoon, and he reaches up and pulls open the passenger door and says, "Well, isn't this nice. Here youse all are, eh."
It's 1960 and this is where my story begins--except for the story that comes before it.
Praise for Up The Coast:
"A cheerful and sassy recreation of vibrant up-coast scenes from the author's childhood in her parents' logging camp at Orford Bay, within the grandeur of Bute Island."
~ Judith Williams, author of Cougar Companions
"Like the eight wandering arms of Jules Verne--the octopus who lives under the float--Kathryn Willcock's stories in Up The Coast delve in every direction. Told with humour, honesty, and charm, the author depicts Orford Bay's memorable cast of characters as well as experiences both bizarre and everyday."
~ Meaghan Marie Hackinen, author of South Away