Monthly Archives: November 2016

Winter Descending

Up into the gloom. Bella Bella falling away rapidly behind and below.

Up into the gloom. Bella Bella falling away rapidly behind and below.

After a few days south I’m back in Shearwater, cold and damp and tired at the end of my first day back at work. I miss my wife Jill and my old dog Jack. ( He rolled in some dead rotting salmon while on a walk during the ride to meet my return flight. I can’t blame him for being a dog, but then it was Jill who had to bathe him.) The sunken tug is now gone and the masses of people surrounding that grounding are slowly dwindling. We’re getting used to the idea of Trump, and all puckered up for what comes next. Snow is creeping down the mountains and I’m hearing folks making plans for Christmas. Some are moving south; permanently.

Out of the gloom. always at home in the sky, this old pilot always has a discomfort at not being at the controls.

Down and out of the gloom. Always at home in the sky, this old pilot always has a discomfort with not being at the controls.

A sign of home, a familiar sight. Atug tows three empty chip barges from Nanaimo to Port Mellon. Just on watch, the mate will be settling in to the wheelhouse, his deckhand cleaning up the lunch dishes. Been there, done that!

A sign of home, a familiar sight. A tug tows three empty chip barges from Nanaimo to Port Mellon. Just on watch, the mate will be settling in to the wheelhouse, his deckhand cleaning up the lunch dishes while the rest of the crew have their afternoon nap. Been there, done that!

Thar be home port! Beyond the Gulf Islands, Ladysmith Harbour sits in the afternoon gleam.

Thar be home port!
Beyond the Gulf Islands, Ladysmith Harbour sits in the distant afternoon gleam.

Nanaimo! Nearing the of the final leg,,, in the rain of course. Floatplanes are the quick, convenient, scenic link from YVR South to Nanaimo's inner harbour.

Nanaimo! Nearing the end of the final leg,,, in the rain of course. Floatplanes are the quick, convenient, scenic link from YVR South to Nanaimo’s inner harbour.

YVR... Belly button of British Columbian transport. Looking down I can almost hear the sirens and think of wolves howling from the quiet of the Great Bear Rainforest. This photo was taken from a Harbour Air Turbo-Otter floatplane, a wonderful way to cross the Strait of Georgia.

YVR… X marks the spot, the Belly button of British Columbian transportation to and from the rest of the world. Looking down I can almost hear the sirens of urbania and then think of wolves howling from the solitude of the Great Bear Rainforest. It is like two different planets. This photo was taken from a Harbour Air Turbo-Otter floatplane, a wonderful way to cross the Strait of Georgia.

I love this country, it’s people and it’s secrets and the wonderful light when the sun shines for a few minutes. That is a rare event at this time of year and when it occurs, the air is usually cold and drier. Being cold and dry is not much better than being cold and damp. There’s a chill in the air at all times and living in this California- built vessel is nippley, especially in the morning. I guess it is winter and when I hear the weather reports from the interior I’m happy enough where I am although Mexico is always on my mind. Jill will be joining me here for a few days at Christmas and I certainly wish for some rare fine days of calm and sun.

Watching the neighbour's cat. Now let's go to the creek and roll in some dead salmon.

“You’re back! You Jerk! Where did you bugger off to this time? I give what I get. Make an appointment! I’m busy watching the neighbour’s cat…. unless… you want to take me to the creek to roll in some dead salmon.”       Actually his rollicking welcome always instills an absolute sense of well-being.

Meanwhile dull daily routine is the course followed by dull evenings and long dark nights. Sometimes I can hear wolves howling in the surrounding forest. This morning, as i write, the last quarter of the super moon rises in the east. It is a thin scythe and accompanied by Venus, which I sometimes call the Muslim moon. At least the sky is clear. A thick coating of frost sparkles on the dock.

A week after I began to write this blog it is again Saturday morning. The docks are slick with a greasy pre-frost coating. After a long sleepless night, the cold-damp has seeped into my bones. My first sips of a morning coffee descend into my innards with a welcome spreading warmth. I’ve just reviewed a blog from friends in South Africa loaded with incredible wildlife photos. I wonder what the hell I’m doing here. Despite the beauty here, despite my sincere desire to be happy wherever I am, I ache for southern latitudes. Warm sand under my feet, palms rustling in a fragrant breeze…oh shit! This won’t help me make it through this day, here.

Back in Bella Bella again. Fresh snow on the mountains, the smell of it in the wind.

Back in Bella Bella again. Fresh snow on the mountains, the smell of it in the wind.

I’m building and installing a small air exchanger which will help dehumidify the boat and I’d best get to work. It is not raining, at the moment; no time to waste on a day like this.

Fidel Castro died last night. His passing truly marks the end of an era. I remember the Cuban missile crisis, the air raid drills and how we all expected to be nuked. My fundamentalist parents knew that he and Khrushchev were the Anti-Christ and that Armageddon was imminent at any moment. I wonder now who the fundamentalists believe is the devil re-incarnate. Trump the fornicator? Putin perhaps?

I’ll end this short blog by using a lengthy quote from a book I found on the shelf in the local laundromat. Isn’t it wonderful how the gems of life turn up in moments and places least expected and are often not realized at the time? This pocket book is called “The Wayfinders” by Wade Davis. CBC co-sponsors an annual series called the Massey Lectures. They are, in some ways, a fore-runner of Ted Talks. Their content is profound and cerebral. This series of lectures explored “Why ancient wisdom matters in the modern world.” Davis is an explorer who has travelled the backwoods of the world. He writes here extensively about the future of resource-based industry in his home province of British Columbia.

Environmental concerns aside, think for a moment of what these proposals imply about our culture. We accept it as normal that people who have never been on the land, who have no history or connection to the country, may legally secure the right to come in and by the very nature of their enterprises leave in their wake a cultural and physical landscape utterly transformed and desecrated. What’s more, in granting such mining concessions, often for trivial sums to speculators from distant cities, companies cobbled together with less history than my dog, we place no cultural or market value on the land itself. The cost of destroying a natural asset, or its inherent worth if left intact, has no metric in the economic calculations that support the industrialization of the wild. No company has to compensate the public for what it does to the commons, the forests, the mountains, and rivers, which by definition belong to everyone. As long as there is a promise of revenue flows and employment, it merely requires permission to proceed. We take this as a given for it is the foundation of our system, the way commerce extracts value and profit in a resource-driven economy. But if you think about it, especially from the perspective of so many other cultures, touched and inspired by quite different visions of life and land, it appears to be very odd and highly anomalous human behaviour.”

Phew! In review of my recent blogs about the local diesel spill, this book really hit home. We are all trained in our culture that our prime purpose in life is to make money and then consume voraciously. How do we de-program a lifetime of that indoctrination and learn tseparate need from greed?

The air exchanger is now complete and installed and running. It is intended to perform as a maintenance-free dehumidifier. Hopefully the boat will be cozier inside with drier air. By morning I’ll know.

My home-made air exchanger, shoe-horned into the rope locker. It is a simple device that removes the damp air from the bottom of the boat and draws fresh, drier air in. IT WORKS!

YES! IT WORKS! My home-made air exchanger, shoe-horned into the rope locker. It is a simple device that removes the damp air from the bottom of the boat and draws fresh, drier air in. I need to remove the rest of the muck from the locker on a warmer, drier day.

Finally, a note of inspiration. I’ve just listened to a report  about an incredible sailor named Jeanne Socrates. She’s made two attempts this fall to set out from Victoria on her sailboat for her next solo circumnavigation. Jeanne has already sailed around the world alone a few times. She’s had to turn in for San Diego due to heavy weather. That, in itself, at this time of year, is a considerable feat.  Her boat, ‘Nereida’ is a 38′ Najad, which can be a handful in heavy weather for a full crew. Jeanne sails alone. She is seventy-four. Her website is svnereida.com. As I posted the following photo, my weather station began bleeping out the latest gale warning. The barometer is at   990.6 mb and plummeting rapidly. Have a nice day.

As you read this caption, somewhere on a distant storm-tossed sea, a lone sailor waits through long minutes for an easing of the elements and the continuation of the voyage. A storm never ends, enjoy it while it lasts.

As you read this caption, somewhere on a distant storm-tossed sea, a lone sailor waits through long, long minutes for an easing of extreme conditions and the continuation of the voyage. A storm never ends, enjoy it while it lasts.

I think that a man should not live beyond the age when he begins to deteriorate, when the flame that lighted the brightest moment of his life has weakened.”

… Fidel Castro

Finally!

In Summary: The weather is relentless, Trump is in, Cohen is dead, the tug is still on the bottom out in Seaforth Channel. Remembrance Day has passed and I want to forget it all. It has been almost a month since Thursday, October 13th when the ‘Nathan E. Stewart’ rammed itself and an oil barge onto Gale Reef. It has been a long month.

A pair of Humpback whales swim past some of the equipment onsite near the grounded tug. ...Photo courtesy of Carmen Olinger

A pair of Humpback whales swim past some of the equipment onsite near the grounded tug.
…Photo courtesy of Carmen Olinger

The heavy lift crane -barge in position above the sunken tug Nathan E Stewart. Heavy weather drove the barge back to shelter several times before everything finally right. ...Photo courtesy of Carmen Olinger

The heavy lift crane -barge in position above the sunken tug Nathan E Stewart. Heavy weather drove the barge back to shelter several times before everything finally right.
…Photo courtesy of Carmen Olinger

Last Monday morning was one sleep before the US election. It was the first work day after the time was turned back from daylight savings. At 07:30 there was only a grudging yielding of darkness. I could faintly see the silhouette of treetops against the sky. The clouds were dribbling spastically between full deluges and there was a high wind warning up again. Bursts of that coming storm tested again for weak spots where the main force could rip and pry and tear a little more. The weather is expected to ease sometime in March.

Dorothy Ann. A beautiful double-ended Alaskan fishing boat. She was southbound. An incongruous joining of lines, even the aluminum dodger works. What stories there'd be if only she could talk.

Dorothy Ann.
A beautiful double-ended Alaskan fishing boat. She was southbound. An incongruous joining of lines, even the aluminum dodger works. What stories there’d be if only she could talk.

Sunday, the day before was clear, calm and warm, a wonderful respite to punctuate all the heavy weather. Perhaps it was arranged by the federal government. Our transport minister Marc Garneau, was here to look at our infamous diesel spill now three weeks old. There has been some indignation that Prime Minister Trudeau himself has not appeared. That night a gravel barge north of Klemtu flipped over and sank. There is little environmental impact, but the potential danger of marine traffic in the inside passage is underscored. Interestingly, a story comes on the radio as I wrote this, that the volume of of the spill is 110,000 litres, not the 200,000 plus litres as previously reported. There is no explanation, no apology. In the week before the media announced the discovery of a “Nuclear Bomb” in the waters near Haida Gwaii. Despite soon conceding that “Bomb” was a dummy weapon used on a training mission, headliners as far away as the BBC insist on referring to this story as one about a “Nuclear Bomb.”

I understand US politics even less than those Canadian. Both candidates provided clown acts with no parallel and I, for one, am happy that circus is finally over. A new one begins.

I made it! Poverty is a wonderful professor. One of my strengths is being able to recycle junk into something useful. Once a base for a satellite dish, it was cut and rewelded into a mobile stand for large outboard motors. They're very heavy and awkward to move around, now we can easily wheel one wherever we want it.

I made it!
Poverty is a wonderful professor. One of my strengths is being able to recycle junk into something useful. Once a base for a satellite dish, it was cut and rewelded into a mobile stand for large outboard motors. They’re very heavy and awkward to move around, now we can easily wheel one wherever we want it.

I wonder darkly about millions of people who wilfully elected an arrogant hateful clown who is a self-avowed maniac. It’s not the man so much as the country which elected him. Trump is merely a symptom of a woefully sick culture. Sadly, the 18,000,000 eligible voters who did not vote deserve what they get. They are clearly comfortable with things as they are but then, the defeated candidate, Ms Clinton, offered no more promise than the blather-mouth now swinging into the saddle.

As I write this morning, the weather is still unsettled. It is winter here. There will be a few hours of calm. Hopefully the sunken tug is finally being hoisted today and another wearisome dark drama will begin to wind down.

A week later, not a lot has changed. The weather is the same, the tug is still on the bottom, the world is trying to reassure itself that Donald Trump is the best choice and will be the saviour of the American world. Now the post mortem of the US election is revealing what a pathetic person Hilary Clinton is. Of course she is; she’s a politician. Damned media! A week ago it was bleating how she was the only logical choice. I’m actually finding a little comfort in being hidden away in this dark, dripping, wind-blasted jungle.

Breakfast Of Champions Vitamins, starting fluid and optional laxative.

Breakfast Of Champions
Vitamins, starting fluid and optional laxative.

One raging night this past week one man’s floathouse was torn from it’s moorings and flung up on a beach a couple of miles away. The bobbing abode is back in it’s place and all’s well that ends.

The Prodigal Float Shack Safely back in her berth, this would have been quite an apparition as it loomed out of the darkness in front of an oncoming boat. All's well that ends.

The Prodigal Float Shack
Safely back in her berth, this would have been quite an apparition as it loomed out of the darkness in front of an oncoming boat. All’s well that ends.

Violent winds continue and two storms were notable because of their violent gusts. A brief lull would be followed by a vicious slam much like being hit by a truck. Sleep aboard becomes impossible. Several times, these cannon blasts had me certain the boat and the dock had exploded. Weary after several nights of slam-dancing I plod through the puddles and mud to another long day at work. There are water spouts racing the length of the bay and the docks are beginning to tear apart.

George's Eye-splice It is challenging to make a good tight eye-splice around a thimble. George is a sprightly ten-year old boy. This splice is bigger-around than his arms. Well done sailor!

George’s Eye-splice
It is challenging to make a good tight eye-splice around a thimble. George is a sprightly ten-year old boy. This splice is bigger-around than his arms. Well done sailor!

At the head of my dock is a huge work area, used for storage and various industries. In the frantic efforts to attend the needs of the sunken tug, our freight barge off-loaded a cargo of morts. These are dead fish from local salmon farms being shipped south for processing into something useful. They are stored in large plastic boxes known as “Totes.”

The totes have now sat with their fermenting contents for a few weeks. The swirling wind brings some very unsavoury aromas, an oily sewerific tang filters through the thrashing tree tops. Some folks don’t want any more fuel barges; maybe we could start burning fish oil.

Lamma Pass. Northbound through the final gap in the pass at Dryad Point. Each square on the Alaska-bound barge is a sea container, one truck load. Meeting one of these in the fog looks like an imminent collision with New York city. Imagine one of these tangling with an errant float house!

Lamma Pass from Bella Bella. Northbound through the final gap in the pass at Dryad Point. Each white square on the Alaska-bound barge is a sea container, one truck load. When on a boat, meeting one of these in the fog looks like an imminent collision with New York City. Imagine one of these tangling with an errant float house!

Friends from Victoria are heading up into the South Atlantic on their sailboat. (See my link to Sage On Sail in the side bar) They turned back to Simons Town In South Africa with engine problems and I’ve been trying to help with suggestions by e-mail from half a planet away. That in itself seems strange to me. I’ve had no news from them recently and am assuming that is good news. I hope they’ve grabbed a weather window and are on their way to Saint Helena. Wherever they may be, my heart is with them.

A rare clear day in November. Looking West to shearwater from Bella Bella.

A rare clear day in November. Looking west toward Shearwater from Bella Bella.

Lenard Cohen died on November 10th and I suddenly realised how I love so much of his work. Oddly, he released his last album only a month ago. A line from one of those songs where he says, “Lord I’m ready.” That was shivery stuff. Then I heard a recording of him reading “In Flander’s Fields.” Wow! Suddenly it was again the poignant work it should be. Chastised for not attending the local remembrance day ceremony, I was inspired to write a new poem. It says that while we remember our war dead we forget that there are also fates far worse than death. There are thousands of veterans, both military and civilian, who endure a horrific daily nightmare in the aftermath of their war experience. We choose to ignore them.

Flotsam, whale bones and a dug-out canoe. In front on the Koeye Café on the beach in beautiful downtown Bella Bella.

Flotsam, whale bones and a dug-out canoe. In front on the Koeye Café on the beach in beautiful downtown Bella Bella.

Back on the subject of funky environments and the arts of forgetting, here is a local anecdote. I was doing some engine work on a fishboat. The deckhand has been living aboard. I finally told him that I could no longer endure the stench of dope smoke in the boat. He replied: Man I’m not smoking pot. I can’t. My pipe’s plugged solid!”

Tonight as I write, it is November 14th. Finally! The sunken tug was raised this afternoon, 32 days after it sank. I know nothing about recovering sunken vessels, but considering our ongoing weather it is a job well done. At present, our November full moon is being called a “Super Moon.” The last time the moon orbited this close to earth was in 1948, the next time will be in 2034. With that lunar event came extremely high and low tides. Combining those extreme tides and currents with violent winds has made the salvage operation extremely challenging.

Spring Flood High tide slack under the influence of a storm surge and the pull of a super moon.

Spring Flood
High tide slack under the influence of a storm surge and the pull of a super moon. Note the level ramp beside the float house. At low tide it can be nearly 45 degrees.

Sunday Evening, Super moon from Shearwater foreshore

Sunday Evening, super moon from Shearwater foreshore.

A few minutes later.

A few minutes later.

Surveillance. Department Of Transport surveillance aircraft. a poor shot through the window in my aircraft but I was fascinated with the observation cockpit on top of the fuselage. I assume the surveillance was of the diesel spill site.

Surveillance.
Department Of Transport surveillance aircraft. A poor shot through the my aircraft window but I was fascinated with the observation cockpit on top of the fuselage.
I assume the surveillance was of the diesel spill site.

Certainly there are no closed books. There will be months of clean-up and biological evaluation. Then years of litigation will begin which will involve the local first nations, various government departments, environmentalists and a few others we don’t know about yet. A lot of people have made a lot of money from this misadventure. Some have even earned it. Soon the mass of these characters will go away and leave this dark, dripping web-toed world to a well-deserved long winter sleep.

Cape Caution A view from above of the dreaded cape in a benign mood. The surf is from the last, and the next, storm.

Cape Caution
A view from above the dreaded cape while in a benign mood. The surf is from the last, and the next, storm.

The point is that you can’t be too greedy.” Donald Trump

Not A Drop

Storm Season Mud from our newly gravelled roads goes back to sea with the run-off from heavy rains at high tide. Note the tree branches immersed in the ocean.

Storm Season
Mud from our newly gravelled roads goes back to sea with the run-off from heavy rains at high tide. Note the tree branches immersed in the ocean.

There is no end in sight. The tug ‘Nathan E. Stewart’ still sits on Edge Reef where she ran aground three weeks ago. I took the opportunity of a sea trial on a water taxi last week and ran out to the wreck site for a quick look. That was an impromptu decision and I had no camera along. The seas were flat calm, there was barely any swell. There was also no diesel on the water, not a drop. I’m sure there is residual fuel along the beaches but the ocean was void of any evidence of fuel. Monstrous cranes are stationed nearby and hopefully the recovery of the sunken tug is imminent. I’ve had the notion that perhaps the tug should be left where it is and a beacon could be mounted on it’s superstructure to mark the reef. Of course winter storms would move the vessel into deeper waters but the humour of the thought did not elude me.

All things considered, this situation could have been very much worse. If the heading taken by the sleepy mate had been a bit more to port, chances are the fuel barge would have been rammed into the mouth of Gale Passage. Who knows what effect that would have had. This is an environmental disaster but it is far less compared to what this coast has known. This is diesel fuel which was spilled, it is light, evaporative and not nearly as insidious as crude oil or bunker fuel. There may be long-lasting effects but nothing compared to other possible scenarios. I am stunned at the hypocrisy of locals who cry loudly about the devastation of their axis mundi and at the same time have their arms wide open to the copious amounts of cash being showered on the event. The sums are obscene. Call it hush money if you like, but payback time will come, if only in people’s conscience. One water taxi operator said it like this. At the beginning of this event there were fifty to seventy-five clam-harvesters whose income had been affected by the grounding and the spill. Now nearly the whole village are clam diggers.

I repeatedly use Einstein’s quote about how you can’t solve a problem by using the same thinking which created it. The results of one greed cannot be erased with more greed. Imagine this scenario unfolding during the royal visit of a few weeks ago. Now the Heiltsuk are demanding Prime Minister Trudeau get his butt out here to participate in the show.

Fishing for the big one. This is the first heavy-lift crane barge to arrive and stand-by. It's been here for almost three weeks. Ca-ching, ca-ching goes the meter.

Fishing for the big one. This is the first heavy-lift crane barge to arrive and stand-by. It’s been here for almost three weeks. Ca-ching, ca-ching goes the meter.

And now for something serious! This beast can lift the crack of dawn. Allegedly it is the largest commercial crane barge on the West Coast.

And now for something serious! This beast can lift the crack of dawn. Allegedly it is the largest commercial crane barge on the West Coast.

Perspective. To get an idea of the scale of this machinery, look at the tiny blip beneath the port bow of the service vessel. That is a deckhand wearing his headlamp.

Perspective.
To get an idea of the scale of this machinery, look at the tiny blip on the barge beneath the port bow of the service vessel. That is a deckhand wearing his headlamp. Folks have challenged my report of a daily tally of around $1.3 million dollars. All the machinery, it’s fuel and crews and the local work force don’t operate on love… All of this because a helmsman fell asleep!

It is bemusing to hear of some of the efforts taking place at the site of the sinking. The derelict will have to be dragged across the bottom to deeper water where it can be successfully hoisted. It is sitting in a bed of precious abalone and so the creatures, approximately 120, were all cleared out of the pathway by being chased with a plastic starfish. Starfish and abalone are mortal enemies but with no live starfish handy, a sham was employed. What it cost is beside the point. I am also learning from on-site personnel of wildlife being harassed in an effort to prove the extent of oil contamination. I am disgusted at the determined and blatant determination to turn an environmental accident into an open treasure chest.

This grounding is a stern warning about the consequences of moving dangerous goods anywhere. We have to collectively take responsibility and look for ways to prevent similar and worse catastrophes. On that note I repeat that so long as we each rely on petroleum products, we are part of the problem. We, not them. If there is a demand there will be a supplier.

Happy Harry Heiltsuk, still smiling after his first year. A Fin whale vertebrae is tied on top of the sprit...think I'll make it into a necklace!

Happy Harry Heiltsuk, still smiling after his first year. A Fin whale vertebrae is tied on top of the sprit…think I’ll make it into a necklace!

Here at Shearwater, all is goodness and light…at least for the company. The hotel is full, the restaurant and pub are bursting, even the showers in the laundromat sometimes have waiting lines, the engine shop where I work is busy with maintenance and repair. This is probably the best fourth quarter at Shearwater ever. Fortuitously the weather has been relatively gentle, but the nights are just as long and dark and lonely as ever. I have plenty of writing projects sitting on the back of the stove but after a day’s work I just can’t get motivated to peck away at anything. There are overdue projects on the boat but the supplies I need are in my vehicle which has not yet been shipped from the company’s freight terminal in Port Hardy. Everything is displaced in the name of the spill. The only way I’m going to make it through the winter is to tighten my blinkers and live one moment at a time….and not look at photos of Mexico.

Smart Like Trock! Dah! No airbags. No Heater. no wipers. No back-up cam. Shearwater's illustrious old Pacific rock truck.

Smart Like Trock! Da!
No airbags. No Heater. No wipers. No back-up cam. Shearwater’s illustrious old Pacific rock truck.

So ugly it's beautiful. What character!Imagine the stories this old machine carries.

So ugly it’s beautiful.
What character! Imagine the stories this old machine carries.

This Sunday morning is presently windless and rainless. Fresh rain and condensation drops outside cover everything but this is as good as it gets. I’ll take my kayak and go explore nearby Shearwater Island which helps protect our little harbour. I’ve been told that a former WWII gun emplacement is hidden there. On the CBC radio, a famous author is being interviewed. The term ‘Human Stain’ came up and so I go to find a bit more of that stain. Shearwater was an RCAF sea plane base. I work in the old hangar and walk across the remains of the huge concrete apron. I can show you bomb shelters and remaining perimeter defenses.

Here is how the day went. I was donning my rain pants in preparation for the little trip when I looked out and saw that it was raining. Again! Goddamnit! “Rain or don’t rain, make up yer feckin’ mind!” I screamed to the Sky-gods. I’ll know I am a full fledged-local when I don’t notice these incessant cloud dribbles. I decided to take my little Olympus camera with me. Olympus tried to give it some sort of online upgrade yesterday, which didn’t work. Now I discover that the battery was drained flat. Bugga! Plan F: Go have a shower while the camera battery recharges. Shower uneventful, more cloud dribbles while walking back to the boat. Wash down the boat, fill the water tanks, launch the kayak. Still dribbling. Check e-mail; nothing new. Still dribbling. Off I paddle. Still dribbling.

A Military Evidence Remains of concertina barbwire, a standard perimeter defense from WWII. There are coils of the nasty, rusted stuff here and there around the old base at Shearwater.

A Military Evidence
Remains of concertina barbwire, a standard perimeter defense from WWII. There are coils of the nasty, rusted stuff here and there around the old base at Shearwater.

At the island there is no visible trail as described and I plunge into the jungle which hangs over the beach. The forest is rain-wet and tangled, with windfalls, holes, roots and thick pockets of brush. I find well-trodden paths which suddenly end and then begin again on another tangent past a tangle of windfall. I had an image of concrete battlements with steel gun mounts and perhaps a rusted-out metal helmet. I did not know what I was looking for so I moved slowly, pausing to look in all directions every few steps just as if I were deer-hunting.

A mysterious message found in a fire pit on the island. Does it say Day 57 or May '57? No cigs, No booze. Perhaps this was a rehab center!

A mysterious message found in an abandoned fire pit on the island. Does it say Day 57 or May ’57?
No cigs, No booze.
Perhaps this was a rehab center!

Weird Woods A mutant tree branch

Weird Woods
A mutant tree branch

The Big Fungus almost big enough to sit on. If baked dry then lit on an edge, fungi like this make a smoldering insect repellant.

The Big Fungus
Almost big enough to sit on. If baked dry then lit on an edge, fungi like this make a fine smoldering insect repellant.

Deep woods mystery. Well-used paths then tangled thickets

Deep woods mystery. Well-used paths then tangled thickets

About ten feet across a the bottom, this Western Red Cedar shared the forest with several other beautiful giants.

About ten feet across at the bottom, this Western Red Cedar shared the forest with several other beautiful giants.

There is some evidence of logging, but most trees seemed to have been felled and left. The largest trees have not been touched. I found monstrous spruce and cedars and eventually came to the highest ground on the small island. I found what I can only describe as an old tree fort with some very determined scaffolding which rose up the ancient cedar about one hundred feet. It made sense.

Look up, Waaay up! Remaining timbers from a WWII lookout platform can be seen far up the massive trees.

Look up, Waaay up!
Remaining timbers from a WWII lookout platform can be seen far up the massive trees.

Imagine being posted here and ordered to build this tree fort. it is amazing that so much remains after so many decades in the rainforest.

Imagine being posted here and ordered to build this tree fort. it is amazing that so much remains after so many decades in the rainforest.

I imagined hairy folks in cedar-bark underwear living up there and swinging among the trees on vines. a strange war story indeed.

I imagined hairy folks in cedar-bark underwear living up there and swinging among the trees on vines. A strange war story indeed.

If the notion of defense was to spot attacking aircraft and shoot at them, it would be hopeless from the floor of a rain forest. Having a platform in the tops of massive trees seems far-fetched but sensible. Further research confirmed that the tree fort was the sole fortification of Shearwater Island, that and a perimeter of concertina wire. There were two small buildings and that was it. I wonder if duty at that post was considered punishment or if were it welcome solitude from the regimen of the main base. My writer’s imagination has conjured several possible stories about life at the guard tree. While clambering over the tangled windfalls it did occur to me that I had told no one where I was going. With my creaky old legs and the rough terrain, I suddenly felt very much a fool. I’ve travelled endless miles alone in the forest but I’m no young buck anymore. One misplaced step could begin a nasty misadventure within earshot of Shearwater. Back on the beach where I’d stowed the kayak, the clouds began to dribble again. Once the kayak was lashed down back on ‘Seafire’ the dribbling stopped for the rest of the day.

Electricity and running water, I am told, were among the amenities in a few small buildings at the base of the lookout trees. Here are the remains.

Electricity and running water, I am told, were among the amenities in a few small buildings at the base of the lookout trees. Here are the remains.

A lovely spot near the defenses. Imagine soldiers patrolling this path when it my have been wide enough for a jeep. Note the piece of cedar planking.

A lovely spot near the defenses. Imagine soldiers patrolling this path when it may have been wide enough for a jeep. Note the piece of old cedar plank.

Coral Mushrooms Allegedly edible but with nasty side effects for some folks. I left them where they are. They grow all around the old military camp.

Coral Mushrooms
Allegedly edible but with nasty side effects for some folks. I left them where they are. They grow all around the old military camp.

The day before I took a friend’s dog for a walk. The little guy can’t weigh more than ten pounds and is stone blind. He knows me by my voice and smell and is a tiny buddy. He had one of those reel-type leashes and a little harness. Little Todd could range away from me at will. I took him to an adjacent parking lot to do his business and I became distracted with some equipment left laying on the ground. I did not immediately notice the faint, distant plunk but was horrified to eventually see Todd’s thin line extended over the edge of a fourteen-foot seawall. There, far below me, was poor wee Todd at the end of his leash stoically paddling away in the bitterly cold sea water. I winched him aloft on his thin string, shivering and sopping wet, and took him for a warm bath and a good towelling. All’s well that ends and Todd seems none the worse for wear. There was a time when only large dogs interested me but I’ve come to accept that little dogs can be just as endearing. I’m getting old. Now I’m dribbling dogs.

Todd, my kerplunking dog. Yet he lives, friendlier than ever.

Todd, my kerplunking dog. Yet he lives, friendlier than ever.

Halloween Monday, the end of October. I wore my greasy coveralls and by midday I was my usual apparition with tousled hair and grease-stained whiskers, a wrench clenched in a big, gnarled hand that looks like a blackened bunch of bananas. As usual I was dragging a semi-crippled leg and muttering about a lack of parts. It was just another day in Weirdwater. Now we are already a tenth of the way through November. For the second night a full storm rages. The boat dances frantically on it’s lines. The rain is pelting by in sheets. Last night the dock began to break up. Other folks had float homes break loose and drift away into the darkness. As I write the boat now lurches desperately against her lines and there are frightening, violent noises coming from the dock. The whole boat shudders like a sobbing child. I shouldered the doors open to see what had happened but I could see little in the bulleting rain. The dock and the boat are still in approximately the same place and all I can do for the time being is hope. It will be another long night.

A few miles to the west the foundered tug still sits on the bottom, grinding itself to death, becoming part of the earth again from whence it came. Three weeks have passed since she struck the reef. The massive crane barges were moved into place to retrieve the wreck but were promptly recalled with a new forecast of these bumper to bumper massive storm fronts. The suspense is killing us.

Thursday morning, 9AM Bleeech!

Thursday morning, 9AM
Bleeech! I took this photo while peeking out of the shop door.

 

This is our land and they’re treating us like dirt.”

                          … Lakota Sioux defender at Standing Rock, South Dakota