How Long Is A Minute?
Easter Sunday found me strolling through feral industrial wasteland and around old farms by the mouth of the Cowichan River. The paths are on former rail beds and have no steep hills. They’re great for geezers with gimpy pins. It was a day when rain squalls were interspersed with thin shafts of warm sunlight. Little birds flitted and sang through blossomed limbs. Much bigger birds honked and splashed in the flooded fields. In the distance, I could hear the wail of a steam locomotive chuffing in circles for the visitors over at the Cowichan Logging Museum. The sound was far enough away to have an echoing quality. A childhood familiarity with the howl of train whistles brings rushing memories. Even I have become a bit incredulous that such sounds were once a taken-for-granted part of my life and I suddenly feel very old. What a wonderful haunting sound! I watched the old film ‘Bullit’ (1968) a few days ago and was bemused when Steve McQueen kept calling his partners on rotary dial phones. I wonder if anyone forty years or younger would even know how to use such a device.
I recall my career as a travelling salesman when I spent hours every evening in a motel room dialing, dialing, dialing on one those damned phones. Rural phone services required you to listen that the ‘party line’ was clear before dialing. Some folks found entertainment by listening in to other people’s telephone calls. There was a special technique required to pick up your telephone without making a tell-tale click during the other person’s conversation. Each party on the line had their own coded ring, for example one long ring, two short ones and you soon knew who got the most phone calls. There may have been six or more parties each with their own unique code. At three in the morning when, for example, the phone rang one short and two long, you simply rolled over and went back to sleep, unless you were nosey and wanted to listen in. It doesn’t seem so long ago that to make a call from a boat or a camp up the coast required using a marine VHF radio. Even if you asked for privacy, when your side of the conversation would be bleeped out, it was easy enough to listen in and get the gist of what was being said. It was standard entertainment in the wheelhouse to have one VHF tuned to the telephone channels. Ashore, phone booths were everywhere, a local call cost a dime. The Old BC Tel service required that you deposit your coin after the called person answered. That was often interesting.
A friendly comment from a friend about my last blog accused me of being so old fashioned that if I had my way I’d be found clinging to a lurching Royal T’gallant high in a wind-swept sky and singing some sea chanty, probably with lyrics about “Baltimore whores in their purple drawers.” Yep, probably. I didn’t have a warm and fuzzy childhood so there is little comfort remembering things from half a century and longer ago.I am, however, amazed at how things change so quickly and routine facts of life are forgotten so easily. Every person who has lived through even one decade has passed through an end of an era. Our culture changes that rapidly.
There was once a time when a person’s grandparents could reasonably expect to understand the world which their progeny were growing into. If your father was a blacksmith, chances were that you’d become one too. Skills were passed down and the oral histories of the family and the culture were ingrained at an early age. Folks had a sense of belonging. Not any more Dorothy! Now little value is placed in what our elders can teach us and the family is devalued and…I slap myself back into the present and wonder if any child still cooks and dyes Easter Eggs, like I once did. In times past you were able to buy egg colouring kits complete with dye and little wire egg holders but someone probably decided the food colouring was carcinogenic…I know, I know, I’m a freakin’ dinosaur!
Now that Easter has passed, the back to school weather is clear and warm; of course. March truly came in like a lion and went like a lamb. Seven days after I began this blog I’m sitting askew at my desk with a leg propped up on a chair. I’m just back from hospital where I had a big hard lump on my left ankle removed. It is a result of a cliff-climbing accident over forty years ago. (I was a free-climber long before it was cool…) I rattled down eighty-five feet of cliff and smashed up my left leg. Years later, I fell three feet and ended up with half a plastic heart; go figure! I’ve had plenty of surgeries before and didn’t reckon how painful this little gig would be, but then we seldom pay for our sins in advance. So here I sit, with warm blossom-scented spring zephyrs wafting in through open windows with shafts of golden sunlight. Hummingbirds and bees zoom outside the glass. Mourning doves coo out their lovely music. Here I sit, bloody shore-bound! A trail of crutch tip hickies on the floor mark the perimeter of my little world. My grandfather, who was a very active fellow, had a stroke in his mid-seventies. He lay and stared at the ceiling for the next seven years before he was finally able to slip away. I can only imagine how long a minute can truly be. What a cruel fate! How do people endure such miseries?
I’ve spliced up some new prawn trap lines and done as much writing as I can stand for the moment. Now the computer has decided to lobotomize itself and my world slowly gets squirrelier. Apparently I have found my way back to the era where I “Committed fatal errors.” My wife is just back from checking on ‘Seafire’ and that’s as good as it gets. But! I’ll be up and break-dancing before I know it. (never could before!) Hiking the shorelines of Mexico will be that much closer, a very pretty motor sailor that looks a lot like mine will be anchored in the clear waters of a cactus-fringed bay beyond. South! Soon damnit!
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.