TAYLOR: The things that used to be

Phrasing immediately brands the speaker as an old-timer.

Several thousand tonnes of explosives blow up the hazardous underwater mountain at Ripple Rock on April 5, 1958. (File)

Several thousand tonnes of explosives blow up the hazardous underwater mountain at Ripple Rock on April 5, 1958. (File)

On the last day of this summer’s hiking camp, we hiked out to where Ripple Rock used to be, in the channel between Vancouver Island and the B.C. mainland.

“Used to be” immediately brands the speaker as an old-timer.

I recall the late Rod Booth giving instructions to get from the United Church’s lay training centre in Naramata to the high school in Penticton, about 15 kilometres away. It went like this: “Turn right where the riding stable used to be. Where the fruit stand used to be, turn left. Go straight until you get to where the packing house used to be…”

The room erupted in laughter. Long-time conference attenders knew exactly what he was talking about; newcomers were utterly baffled.

Anyway, we hiked – over rocks and roots — to where Ripple Rock used to be.

At one time, Ripple Rock was a major maritime hazard. Two great spikes of rock jutted up from the seafloor, right in the middle of Seymour Narrows, barely three metres below the surface at low tide. Tides raced in and out of what used to be the Gulf of Georgia, now the Salish Sea, at 15 km/hr. They created eddies and whirlpools that could spin smaller craft around and sink some.

Even big freighters could get swung off their path.

Official statistics claim that it wrecked more than 20 large vessels, well over 100 smaller ones, and took several hundred lives.

So in the 1950s, the federal government resolved to remove Ripple Rock forever. They drilled tunnels under the sea, then up into the rock’s twin peaks. They packed the tunnels with 1,400 tonnes of high explosives.

On April 5, 1958, they blew up Ripple Rock in the world’s largest non-nuclear peacetime explosion. Also, the first event ever televised nationally, live, on CBC.

When the shards and seawater settled, Ripple Rock was now 20 metres underwater.

The Pacific Ocean’s surge through Seymour Narrows now barely ripples the surface.

So we hiked to a viewpoint, to see a rock that used to be there, but wasn’t there anymore, and hadn’t been for 63 years, and that we couldn’t have seen even if it had been there, because it was all under the surface anyway.

As I think back, that hike feels symbolic of grieving. Since my wife died, I’m often asked, “How are you doing?” I usually answer, “Fine, thanks.”

On the surface, that’s true. I write my regular columns. I cook more than chicken strips. My dog provides company and takes me for three walks every day.

On the surface, life flows as smoothly as the sea pouring past the remains of Ripple Rock.

But underneath, there has been a lot of roiling and churning. An undercurrent of anger — that 60 years of togetherness should end this way. Also anger at pandemic lockdowns that restricted contact with the people I most needed contact with. A loss of purpose – for those final years, I knew exactly my role; now I don’t. And a sense of sitting under Damocles’ sword; if death can take Joan, am I next?

So much of life now is what used to be.

Ripple Rock was a thought-provoking way to end a season.

Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country: rewrite@shaw.ca


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