Shingle: coarse rounded detritus or alluvial material especially on the seashore that differs from ordinary gravel only in the larger size of the stones
Spit: a small point of land especially of sand or gravel running into a body of water
Shingle Spit is a place that has played prominently in my life. It’s always “been there,” and with that comes the assumption that it always was there, and always will be there. Time scales are funny. As humans, we have our own narrow perception of time, which can warp our sense of importance of what’s happening now. We can fool ourselves into thinking we are permanent because what’s around us in terms of geology seems so “forever.” But, it’s not.
Walking into the wind on Shingle Spit on a stormy day in September
About 10,000–20,000 years ago, the area of what we call Hornby Island was under ice. As that ice melted and receded, it would have shifted, and ground rock and debris. When the ice was completely gone, the general sea level that we now experience established its place (it apparently did vary at times, since then, but not greatly). This spit of land, with its shoreline covered with shingle, has been in its current state, give or take, for about 10,000 years.
Despite the solidness of rock below, the shingle on top does shift on much smaller time scales. From season to season it appears to move. For example, after a year of intense storms from the south east, the wave action will throw a lot of the shingle northward. A photo of the Spit taken from above one year may look very different from the next. I’ve always thought of it as a finger waving in Lambert Channel. So, the shifting Spit, and shifting time, are the backdrop to a life spent at, or very close to, this place.
Shingle Spit from Mount Geoffrey. In the distance, Denman Island and Vancouver Island
The verses tell of the birth, life, and death of the spit. It was home to Indigenous people (it’s located on the unceded traditional territory of the K’òmoks First Nation) who may have lived on it year-round, or seasonally. As a result, it is a large midden*, and very likely contains the remains of some First Peoples. In the middle of the 20th century, the white settlers—who had started inhabiting the island in the mid-19th century—built a resort with a campsite and rustic cabins that would be inhabited for a week or two during the summers by people from away. My family was one of those who rented them in the early 1960s.
What does the future hold? We don’t really know, but with global warming and rising sea levels, I suspect the Spit could look very different by the end of the century. This song is my little ode to the passing of time, and what we think of as permanent.
* Midden: A midden is a waste dump, and, in the case of the spit, it’s from discarded clam, oyster, and mussel shells.
“Shingle Spit” by John McLachlan / Video courtesy of Scott Smith
I am the Spit, the shingle and the shore
I’ve been here a while, I’ll be here some more
Ten thousand years since I heard the roar
The ice left me on the oceans floor
Wind and rain, storms on the run
Waves and currents, centuries of sun
Back and forth, since it’s begun
I’ve been swaying through time and it’s never done
You are like shingle, you shift and you flow
You think life is solid, how little you know
This way and that way, the wind it will blow
But time rules your life and you go when you go
Out of the dawn they came one day
Paddles in the water, they landed in the spray
Fires in the night, they were here to stay
Making love in the darkness where they lay
A thousand years, the time it did fly
Then one day they were gone, I don’t know why
Bodies and bones of those who had died
Left in my ground to the raven’s cry
Big shiny boats blowing smoke in the wind
Let people off who had white coloured skin
Grass-roofed houses and boats made of tin
They stayed here for summers to fish and to swim
The years have rolled by and not much looks new
My shingle is wet in the cool morning dew
But something is changing and here is the clue
The water is warming but there’s nothing I can do
Now, who knows just where I will be
When the waters rise and cover me
No longer will I wave like a finger in the sea
I’ll be drowned in the mists of history
© John McLachlan (SOCAN)