MEGIN RIVER 36″ x 36″ 2011
The Megin River reaches the ocean on Shelter Inlet, at a place where the sea reaches twelve miles back from the open Pacific, turning around the north side of Flores island. The river comes out between two massive shoulders of rock, disguised under the forest.
If you arrive there close to the time of the high tide, it is possible to paddle effortlessly into the forest and float upriver on the high water, until you reach the first broad sweep of gravel bars that mark the upper limit of the tidal water. At high tide the water percolates back into the lower reaches of the cedar forest in hundreds of little marshes and channels. Back from the shore, cedars eight hundred years old reach upward from a floor of ferns and moss.
The water level here rises and falls twelve feet or more within the tidal cycle, about every six hours. At low tide the entrance appears as a deep cleft between the rocks, running fast but still deep enough that the ocean seems to connected to the dark of the forest. When the tide is at its height the entrance rocks are partly submerged. The entry becomes wider and absolutely calm, slowing the outflowing current.
I first came to the mouth of the Megin about twenty years ago. It is an unusual river because the estuary and up-river valley have never been logged. I had read about the Megin in a book written by Mark Hume in 1991, which included an essay about the river. Thirty years ago there was public opposition to the proposed clear-cut logging of the river valley which in 1985 culminated in demonstrations at Sulpher Passage – across the water from the mouth of the river. The Provincial Government eventually stopped all logging in the valley. I made a trip to the Megin by kayak in 1994. We spent a night at Ahousat and paddled north from there. By chance we arrived at the mouth of the Megin at high tide, and so we glided into the lower part of the valley.
I went back to the river in 2011, again by kayak. We came around the north-west side of Flora Island, and east down Shelter Inlet. Before this recent trip I found a small guidebook which mentions the Megin. It cautioned that at the mouth of the river on the low tide, “the outflow may deny entry”. We approached the vicinity of the mouth of the Megan in late afternoon. It took some time looking up and down the shoreline before we could locate the entranceway.
Just inside the entrance, an islet of tangled forest appeared to block the way – a stand of ancient growth with broken limbs from winter storms, and other giant trees uprooted with massive, intricate mazes of roots facing the sky, and logs washed down the river on the spring high water cast up into gravel banks. The bed of the river turns sharply to the right.
High tide was not due until the early evening. We took our boats in between the rocks at the entrance, believing that because the tide only had another hour and a half to go, we might be able to make our way upstream. But the river was coming out of the forest and around the corner with a strong, smooth sweep. When we turned the corner we were stopped by the current.
On the left side of the entrance the river curled into a kind of cu-de-sac, a tidal marsh bounded by sea grass, reeds and thickets of spiny trees. The dark pool led back into the forest and appeared to circle the central islet on a floodplain, but we could not penetrate the watery forest. For a while our boats slowly circled in the current. Massive cedar roots looped down the banks.
We turned and rode the current back out into Shelter Inlet. Although the weather was good, night was coming. We found a beach on the outer shore.
The next morning the tide was too low to get back into the river by boat. Instead we walked into the valley by crossing a neck of land on the east side of the entrance that separates the outer shore from the path of the river. The land around the entrance is First Nations territory, a summer fishing site. It is a place of great beauty, the inlet on one side and the river valley on the other. You can see newer growth that has overgrown former meadows, making a brighter green of leafy trees. Vines, nettles, thorns and thickets of salal close around a footpath from the beach to the river. The path was steep, pitching uphill and down and crawling over fallen trees. After crossing this little isthmus, we had to make our way through the water below a stretch of the riverbank that was impenetrable because of steep banks and heavy branches dragged downriver by the tumultuous spring flow of the river. To get around those obstacles we waded a few hundred yards, up to our waists stepping around the boulders and along the pebble and sandy bottom.
We walked all day up the river valley, passing along the gravel shore and wading across the lips of shallow rapids that separate the long, deep pools. At the crossing points the strong current, clear as sunlight, curled around our knees. In its run from Megin Lake to the sea, a distance of about ten kilometres, the river drops only twenty metres. It is a subtle and gentle descent. Above Megin Lake, it is gathered in creeks that come down from the mountains, from rainfall and the snowfields.
At the end of that day when we returned to the mouth of the river, the tide again was high. It was so high that for the last quarter mile we found our wading path along the bed of the river too deeply submerged. We swam into the river and floated down the current until it carried us to the smooth rocks at the entrance.
Mark Hume, The Run of the River: Portraits of eleven British Columbia rivers, New Star Books, Vancouver, 1992.