Monthly Archives: March 2018

Inroads

Spring has arrived, White schooners and Fawn Lilies.
This gorgeous wooden schooner, designed by Bill Garden, is recently built. You’d have to be dead for your heart to not skip a beat. She’s about 67′ long overall.

Fawn Lily

Never have I had such a reaction to any blog such as the last one. You, my readers, have moved me deeply. Thank you all so much about your concerns for my dreaded decision about needing to sell the boat. Everyone of you have suggested that I do not separate myself from such a large piece of who I am. I do not take your suggestions lightly. Thanks again. I appreciate your empathy and support. We’ll see how the pickle squirts in the coming weeks.

Green, green, green.

A salmon stream.

Nurse stumps.

Huggers.

Unfortunately I am a cyber-Neanderthal and while trying to sort out one fumble, my banana fingers changed a privacy setting which prevented some of you from contacting me. I’ve fixed that and look forward to hearing from you. Interaction with my readers is one of my joys.

One of the photos in my last blog was of laundry on a line. To me it is a now all-too-rare signal of domesticity and frugal, simple living. In my childhood nearly everyone had a clothesline. One of my jobs was to hang the laundry out and retrieve it once dry. First you wiped down the line to clean off any soot or other air contaminants. Then you hung the heavy items first so that they would go closest to the far pulley. In winter everything froze almost instantly, sheets, long underwear, socks, all stiff as a board. Then, slowly, the process of sublimation occurred and everything ended up freeze-dried as the softest, fluffiest laundry possible and all done without any chemicals. Apparently in both Canada and the US there are bans now falling into place to overrule previous bans preventing outdoor laundry lines. Apparently, some folks take offence at the sight of someone’s clean scanties flapping in the wind and all the think-green rhetoric means nothing when vanity overrules. I’ve heard of municipal fines in California imposed on citizens who did not water their lawns despite ongoing droughts. In Victoria, here on Vancouver Island, during dry summers businesses spring up that actually paint your dry grass a rich green. Appearance is everything to some folks. I’ll even admit that I have certain sensibilities about what appear to me as an “Ugly Boat.” That could be a blog in itself.

Cedar corpse in the woods, slowly becoming soil again from which it first sprouted.

Although the blossoms of spring have finally tip-toed out, there is still an icy chill in the air. We even had fresh snow low on the mountains a few days ago with ice pellets falling at sea level. The ambient temperature needs to be considerably warmer to accomplish many of the tasks on my boat. Paint and epoxy require temperatures above 16°C to cure correctly so most work is on hold. In the meanwhile Jack and I have taken to exploring the three major rivers south of Nanaimo. This area was developed around its abundant timber and coal resources and then the rich agricultural land once the forest was devastated. Now there are large ventures in the wine industry. There are vineyards everywhere, with tasting rooms and boutique bistros at many of these locations. There are also cideries, organic produce farms, free-range poultry and meats, local cheeses, home-spun clothing and a plethora of cottage arts. It is a wonderful region to explore and with some views, you might begin to think of Provence or Tuscany.

A very well travelled deer trail.

The three rivers all flow eastward. The Cowichan, The Chemainus and The Nanaimo all drain large watersheds and run swift and clear down to the sea and the beautiful archipelago of the Gulf Islands. Sadly, all these watersheds have been logged rapaciously since the mid 1800’s and many sawmills are gone now due to lack of raw logs. (We do, however, manage to export several shiploads of those same logs every week!) The environmental and visual devastation of these valleys is demoralizing. While the rivers still run clear and swift, usually with a fringe of old-growth timber along their banks, there is no sense of pristine wilderness. The old cut- blocks are garbage-dump ugly. Many salmon streams are now clogged with debris and unusable by traditional ish stocks. Still, the logging roads provide access to public forest lands and despite the carnage there is hope of seeing various species of wild life and also finding small pockets of untouched wild areas. Sadly those maintained roads are there so that second and even third cuttings of regenerated forest can be accessed. It would take centuries for the rain forest to return to its original state. So long as people are here, that will never happen. Exploring each of these river valleys we’ve found abandoned rail grades, mines, buildings and other mysterious endeavours. There are small untouched pockets of forest with ancient trees and crystal clear water rushing through gaps in hard rock which must have taken millions of years to carve and polish. Invariably you will also find discarded beer cans and bits of junk, but you have to learn to focus elsewhere.

Sacred, secret, sweet.

Hopefully you can open this this 1 minute video. The stream runs along the edge of some old logging. Imagine how long it took to carve this pool in solid granite. The water is delicious.

If the landmass which is Vancouver Island had developed at a slightly lower elevation, it would be divided into three islands instead of a single rock which is the size of some small countries. The most northerly island would be bounded on the south by ocean which is now a pass we know as the Alberni Valley and the Qualicum Valley. Further south the next dividing gap would be the Cowichan Valley. The eastern portion of this valley is fed by Lake Cowichan, a deep, beautiful body of water which has been logged right to its shoreline in most places. The water is clear and warm in the summer and so the lake is overrun with people roaring its lengths in noisy speedboats and jet skis. I curse them as an affront to the natural beauty of this place. A few miles to the west of Lake Cowichan is Nitinat Lake which drains westerly out through its shifting narrows directly into the open Pacific. Salmon migrations were once so huge that seine boats would risk the coastal surf and the tortuous narrows to fish the rich waters of this lake. Local indigenous men would earn huge fees to guide the boats through the narrows. Sadly this valley also fell prey to the rape of the timber trade and the verdant slopes are now mostly second growth forest. A few miles to the south of Nitinat lays the Carmanah Valley, home of some of the largest remaining old growth trees on the BC Coast. Ironically it was loggers who provided access and exposure to these incredible living giants.

A reproduction of a petroglyph found near Clo-ose, near Nitinat Narrows. clearly an essay on fertility, both human, and the sacred migration of salmon, an eagle guards the scene on the left. A full moon, relevant to timing of a salmon run, smiles from the sky. On the right a warrior stands with an enemy’s head in his right hand. This hangs above my desk. I have contemplated it for years, and would love to go see the real thing.

Hawk Mask by Hayward Russell, 1998. This equisite carving is another of my treasures. Believe it or not, I found it in a pawn shop at a bargain price when I had just enough money left to my name to buy it. To me, it is priceless.

It can be argued that the farmland is also a blight to the natural world but at least it is producing something life-giving and organic and picturesque. Hopefully we don’t poison our streams with manure and fertilizer. Unfortunately, the south island has become one of the most desired retirement areas in Canada. Suburban sprawl has become rampant in most areas. The only way to avoid it is to move to the wild and rugged northern end of Vancouver Island.

It will be a while longer before that region is also overrun with suburbanites and condomites and mallites. But, it’s coming. Meanwhile supply and demand has unreal estate prices rocketing far beyond any hope of affordable housing for average working folks.

Jack crosses to the other side, and then comes back again. He has the balance of a cat.

What a wonderful place this must have been before Europeans arrived. While there are no records of explorer’s crews attempting to jump ship here, the locals weren’t always that friendly and even a simple meal of mussels might kill you. However the raw beauty here would have been overwhelmingly grand and mysterious. Each newly discovered inlet just might be the long-sought shortcut back to the old world. Some explorer’s journals reported that the area could never amount to much because the land was covered with massive, far too difficult to clear for farming. It didn’t take long to figure out. Many ships returned home with a deck cargo of spars. The rape continues centuries later.

A Straight Stick

Dog and I walked miles of forest trails that twisted and wound, up and down river banks, over roots, around boulders and quagmires, all the while searching for one simple perfect thing. I wanted a handle for a boot hook and determined that it should be maple. West coast maple grows along the edges of human intrusion, old farms, railways, logging sites. There are huge maples which are clearly ancient arboreal giants. Maples, with their large leaves, make a wonderful display in the autumn and then provide a thick, rich layer of humus to the forest floor. Nature designed some to grow quickly, die, rot and nourish the soil. This occurs where several have germinated thickly and need thinning which is accomplished by natural attrition.

It was one of these which I sought. When peeled and allowed to cure the wood is very strong. Larger maples provide beautifully patterned lumber for furniture and ornamental trim. All I wanted was one stick. Young fir and cedar grow straight with a correct taper but they are soft woods which will not be as tough as a piece of cured maple. My challenge was to find one that was straight and true. I wanted it to be eight feet long with a gentle taper and an average diameter of one and a half inches. It had to be almost perfectly straight. There are, of course, millions growing out there. All I needed was one. It became an eye-crossing endeavour.

Every maple sapling I considered was nearly perfect but each one of an adequate length and diameter had a curve or a twist that made it unsuitable. After too many days of searching I found one that was very close to perfection. I had no saw with me so I memorized nearby features which would help me find it again. A few days later I returned to harvest my treasure. Now I noticed all the other leaning trees, odd roots, and puddles with big rocks nearby. I tramped back and forth three times until I found it again. It is in my workshop now, peeled and almost perfectly straight. It has been cut to exactly eight feet. Several months from now it will be mounted on one of my boat’s shrouds, bronze hook and tip installed and ready for a lifetime at sea as a useful tool. If I stay ashore, I’ll have my own personal Gandalph’s staff.

The stick. It is warping a bit as it dries, we’ll see how it looks once completely dry.

DRONE

Dog and I walked into the woods

on an afternoon sunny and fine.

We followed a tortuous trail

down to a river running fast,

cold, clear like sweet white wine.

We sat and surveyed the scene

feeling primal

inhaling the perfect and pristine,

enjoying our time alone.

Then up the river

flying fast and low

came

a goddamned drone.

Pecking Order . Huge flocks of Trumpeter Swans are heading north… a sure sign of spring.

The environment is everything that isn’t me.“ …Albert Einstein 

Three In A Row

It is happening for the third morning in a row. A sunrise! Clear skies! Only a light frost.

Yep, the same old view. Freighters wait for their cargos. They’ve been here for weeks. For the crews, it is the hardest part of their voyage, the waiting without being able to go ashore.

And then God said… “This’ll teach ’em.”
Actually, I’ve simply inverted a photo of a reflection during a walk on a recent sunny morning.

It has been a most reluctant spring so far. A daily E-bulletin board from Mexico to which I subscribe now has banter about the best border crossing to use on the spring trek home and what the flowers will be like in the Sonora Desert. Clearly, I’m not going to make it to Mexico this winter.

My friend Jack. Nothing pleases him more than to explore a new trail…

…especially if it leads to water.

Spring stream, before the water rises.

Nanaimo river before the spring freshet. (This and the next two photos are mobile phone shots)

Potholes on the river bank.

Jack was impressed with all the water bowls…just for him.

Darkness will suddenly fall, time to hoof it back up the river bank.

My beloved ‘Seafire’ has long been the focus of my existence and the tangible evidence of a wonderful dream. This blog has its foundation built on that idea, the dreaming and scheming, the preparations to realize those notions and adventures, both inner and outer. Now comes the reality that due to poor health and finances, ‘Seafire’ probably should be sold. I’m trying to convince myself that this will be a step forward into a higher state of being that has nothing to do with the stuff I possess or which tries to own me.

Modern petroglyphs
…still with secret meanings.

During the time I’ve been writing this blog friends have sailed their boats almost around the world and continue their voyage even as I write. Another good buddy set out on his boat and sailed many of the perimeters of the Pacific Ocean. They both deserve a big note of gratitude for their inspiration and their achievements. I’m still here. ‘Seafire’ has never sailed out of sight of these shores. I have logged thousands of miles up and down this coast, often in stormy winter weather and all on my own. The boat has also been my home for many years so there is nothing to regret as I arrive at this moment of painful decision. Yet I acquired the boat and refitted it for a voyage south and then on to Britain and Europe. None of it will ever happen. That leaves a very hollow feeling and the only way to make sense of it is to find the window that this journey has led me to. Wanna buy a really nice boat?

‘SEAFIRE’
I’m prolonging the moment when the “For Sale” sign goes up. I truly love this old boat.

Someone once told me that there are many ways to interpret the same script. The folks at Bombay Gin held a short film competition, the results of which can still be seen via Google.

The rules were simple. Five minutes was the time limit, everyone had to incorporate the same script. The five finalists each produced an entirely different film, including one animation. They are all wonderful, with the winner being titled ‘Room 8.’ It is amazing to realize the diversity of human creativity, even when forced within narrow parameters. Not only can we interpret a script any way we want, we each have the freedom to write any script any way we want.

I remind myself of this as I write while the sun reflects off my neighbour’s wall and through the narrow window beside my desk.

The blinding and inspiring  view from my desk as I write. Not even an ocean glimpse!

A television documentary last evening inspired me again to travel the back roads of Mexico in exploration of that country’s huge cultural history and wonderful natural eco-system. I have my little trailer which is perfect for that. I also have my blog to carry forward. Each week there are more new subscribers. Your comments and criticisms underscore your support and I sincerely thank all my readers. I can commit that the blog will continue no matter what.

Fizzy Brook, beneath a small waterfall found while out and about on another exploration.

There goes the neighbourhood!
Federal money has been provided to clean up the derelict vessels on the Black Beach in Ladysmith. That makes room for more.

In the meantime, ‘Seafire’ is having a good spring clean-up. Jack and I are also exploring local places that we have been passing by for years. Isn’t it amazing how we can look at so much and see so little? Here are some local photos and a little piece of my writing.

Back Alley Ladysmith, there’s always something to see…if you look.

Back Alley tilt,

Laundry on a line, a rare sight anymore and yet another back alley view.

Secrets revealed. An old hotel on mainstreet has sold. An excavation of contaminated soil in the back reveals two hidden entrances.

Monument

The little town where I live was built on a hillside

above the docks

where there are now more yachts than fishboats.

To go down there you must pass

through a four-way stop

where the oldest building on main street stands.

It is built of local stone and brick

thick walls mortared together

with high-arched windows

and apartments above.

There was once a newspaper office there.

They called me from among their list

of handymen advertisers and wanted me to look

at a job rebuilding their entrance.

Someone had almost fallen through the old wood.

I proposed replacing it with concrete

then took on the project alone.

The work had to be completed in one afternoon

after closing time

and ready for next morning.

I’m no concrete man,

but I was broke.

Of the values that come with working on boats

is a portfolio of diverse skills

a deft bravado that comes from incessant poverty

and often being somewhere with no-one to help.

I hung out my shingle

when work on the water was scarce.

The cement truck arrived while I was still cleaning out old wood

and building a new form with plenty of rebar

because I wasn’t sure how much was required.

The August sun blasted that entry way like a bake oven

I worked like a fool to get the mix in place and trowelled out

but in the heat it began to set

and I kept adding water to stay ahead of the game.

I knew that was wrong

but then, somehow

all my problems are resolved with water.

Just in case the job went bad

I did not leave my initials.

Years later

that slab is still there

uncracked, solid, permanent

down there at the old corner of First and Last

where I can see my boat from the main street.

It is my monument,

my piece of the town

now an entrance to a fish and chip shop

where thousands have trod

in and out

never thinking about an old sea dog

slaving madly on a hot summer afternoon

maintaining their ease and safety.

Why should they?

It is my secret.

Only I know what lies down there

underneath their feet as I pass smugly

on the way to the docks.

My Monument, beneath the door mat.

You’ve got to keep your sense of humour! I decided I needed to comment about all those HY-BRID automobiles.

_______________________________________________________

Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny…. Stephen Hawking

A Quick Trip South

The front of my new Fisher Poet’s shirt created by the famous Ray Troll who some times performs at the gatherings with his band.

(Remember, that to enlarge any image, just click on it.)

FV ‘COHO’ in Victoria This grand old ferry has plied the waters between Victoria and Port Angeles since 1959; almost  sixty years. It is backed gracefully out from its mooring, turned in the busy harbour and idles regally out to sea. To my knowledge, there has never been an accident with this venerable old lady.

 The ferry crossing from Victoria to Port Angeles Washington was smooth and uneventful. The border goons were unusually cordial, even cavalier, which left me quite suspicious but I have learned never to argue or jest with them. The crossing was spent in philosophical conversation with another sailor (We have ways of finding each other, like dolphins in the sea) and the ninety minute voyage passed quickly. I soon found myself heading west out of Port Angeles, driving in driving snow.

Port Angeles in snow, well, how about a view from Port Angeles. See the buoy?

Next years’ Christmas card photo. The gorgeous boat is named ‘Turning Point’

Later that day. Highway 101 emerges from the mangled forest for a while to meander along the Washington coast line for a while.

Not a bikini sort of day. A wintery view out onto the open sea.

Off to work. A troller heads out of Grays Harbor.
Chances are when it returns home past the breakers, it will be dark.

A joy of back roads is never knowing what you’ll find. The remains of this whirly gig, one partner faceless, the other with head and legs rotted off, dance on, still twirling in the wind. I assume it once advertised a dance hall.

Look up and be amazed! These two kites, flying on Long Beach Washington were managed by one man who had anchored then with metal stakes in the sand. The black one, undulating in the wind, was about forty feet long.

Yes really! This little town is just up the road from Humptulips and Cosmopolis.

Retro wheels. Imagine what it would take to pull this thing! I found a tiny trailer park filled with these old trailers, all in good shape, all apparently inhabited.
Back roads!

A blurry view in the rain looking westward to the Astoria Bridge. A pilot boat heads in to its berth, a deepsea freighter is anchored upstream of the bridge and illustrates the size of this huge mechano project.

It is a bleak passage along highway 101 through raped forests, past abandoned mills and homes, derelict machinery, and run-down villages; a weary drive in a mangled world, a movie set for a film about the omega man. After hours of travel I arrive on the southern border of the State of Washington at a place on the Columbia river called Dismal Nitch. It was so-named by the explorers Lewis and Clark. They at least got to see this stunning part of the world in a virginal state, before we raped it. Imagine what they would name it now! Perhaps it was the snow but I’ve never before noticed how devastated the countryside and the communities seem. Perhaps that is why Astoria seems to have so much soul and vibrancy. It lays on the south bank of the Columbia River, across a bridge which is four miles long.

You can get used to anything. Imagine living under the bridge.

The weather was typical for late winter at the mouth of the Columbia River. Rain, wind, snow and clear brilliant sunlight, all in any half-hour. Much of the town seemed infected with a nasty flu and I hope I did not bring home any souvenirs. One performer came all the way from her studies in Brussels. We all performed our gigs, reinforced our affirmations as writers and water people, made new friendships and had a splendid time. The event has outgrown itself. There were 110 performers scheduled this year to perform in 14 venues. it was a spectacular time as usual and I know no-one went home disappointed. The originators and organizers, now past its 21st anniversary, deserve the highest kudos for their dedication and endeavour. FPG is an inspiration to thousands of people. (The website is fisherpoets.org)

I wonder how many tools were dropped on roofs during construction.Actually, there are no buildings immediately beneath the bridge, but it would drive me nuts living there.

Remember Major Hoople’s Boarding House?
Astoria has a strong Finnish history and this is one of the original buildings, late 1800’s I think.

Brokeback caboose. Through the years I have known it, this relic has slowly decomposed. It would have made a cool home or business location on main street beneath the bridge. There were steel versions of this in service for a very long time. This one is wood and who knows how old.

One more shot from beneath the bridge. We know how old this pub is. Note the hammer and anchor logo.

I love wandering the streets with a camera after dark.

Believe it or not, a mobile phone shot.

The Liberty Theatre, a lovingly restored venue from the 1920’s. It is a sumptuous location for Fisher Poets.

The last one standing. Once the waterfront was crowded with canneries. Now the only other one, Pier 39, is a cannery-turned-museum.

Astoria is loaded with relics and reminders of its proud fishing heritage.

On the side of a truck.

Heading for the bar, the notorious Columbia Bar that is. The pilot boat has just dropped the pilot off to clamber up that ladder on the port quarter.

A gorgeous drake Widgeon enjoying an algae salad.

Sundown, a rare delight on a cold and blustery weekend.

I am one of them. I drove back to the border through Seattle, where it is now always rush hour and arrived safely at the Blaine border crossing for an uneventful re-entry to Canada. I had a wonderful, long-overdue visit with some very dear friends and travelled back to Vancouver Island on the ferry under clear sunny skies.

You may well wonder what all this “Fisher Poet” stuff is all about. A group of people, who make their living in the fishing industry and on the water, gather once a year to read some of their work, sing some of their songs and enjoy the affirmation of being among fellow blue-collared creative people. I am always humbled in their presence. I’ll conclude this blog with a quick sample of my work, written about the ferry ride home.

Herring Season (1)

Last Monday in February ( Background music:

Northbound in the middle of the Strait of Georgia “Tiny Fish For Japan homeward from an annual Fisher Poets Gathering … Stan Rogers) On a BC Ferry, the ‘Coastal Inspiration.’

The mid-winter sunlight has some warmth

but the wind is cold and dense and fine.

I have been drawn toward the bow by music.

I could hear traditional Acadian shanties

accompanied with the throb of our huge engines

and in the shelter of the forward observation lounge

a young man wearing a large home-spun wool toque plays an accordion.

The acoustics under the glass are superb.

I want to praise the musician but cannot bring myself to interrupt,

So I listen with hungry ears to songs I have not heard in decades

and loiter on the starboard forward quarter snapping pictures.

Bliss!

Along the sharp clear blue curve of the strait I can see for sixty miles.

On a common heading, in a row, a mile apart

an armada of fishboats parading northward.

Each has a large power skiff in tow

Each worth a small fortune

Each optimistic for an opening

to earn half a year’s income

which after a wait of weeks

may last for only minutes.

There is an occasional glint of sunlight

reflected from a rolling boat’s wheelhouse window

a white wake streaming out behind.

The intensity of the annual drama begins,

herring season.

A herring we will go, a herring we will go!

Northwest!

Herring Season (2)

The fleet jammed into the harbour

waiting for the opening of herring season.

Volcanic tensions mounted over the next six weeks

until finally DFO declared the sacred event

would occur on the next Saturday.

Two of the boats were skippered by men

who were Seventh Day Adventists

and would not work on their Sabbath.

Herring Season (3)

If masses of people were randomly slaughtered

while in the peak of procreation

chances are the “managed stocks,”

which we are,

would be much smaller.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY JACK!
12 years old and still just getting started.
He is a beloved friend.

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Gandhi