That title is a recent description which I heard about blogging. And perhaps so. This weary writer, who through the years, has produced a half-shelf full of manuscripts, and only managed to self-publish a few, is not sure at times why he bothers to continue blogging. No, blogging is not literature, but neither are some of the best-sellers I have read. Actually, I know why I blog, and the reasons are selfish so I will not openly admit them. I do truly like to think, however, that my noble ambition is to make people aware of the beauty all around us, of which so many lose sight in our rush through life. I also hope that a few folks are inspired to expand a questioning mind and not blindly accept all the slurry which washes around us. That’s all!
Those who have already seen it have been very kind with their remarks about my slowly- improving amateur efforts. If you will, please click the thumbs up button on the lower right-hand side of the video. Thank you. I have found videography to be a challenging, complicated endeavour, especially with my fumbling self-taught progress and low-budget equipment. I do enjoy completing a project and seeing a gradual improvement to the quality of my work. Hopefully I provide a gentle inspiration to a few.
The seasos progresses into autumn with our first gloomy, drizzling days. The rain is cold now. It is slashing down as I write. Jack lays by the glass door, exhaling great sighs in anticipation of going for our morning expedition. We will have some wonderful weather yet, but we all know that summer is over. I stowed the inflatable boat and focus on how to get myself south for a good part of the winter. The next time I inflate that dinghy, I intend it to be with Mexican air. Andalé!
One of my signature poems is called “The Water Rushing By”. In it, I describe the consummate need for mariners to feel the sensation of water passing the hull of a boat. That feeling is an addiction and presently, being boatless, there are days when an old log would have to do if nothing else were at hand. Fortunately I had the good sense to buy a wonderful Achilles inflatable boat before the money ran out. The size of what has usually been a dinghy to my mother vessels, it is nevertheless a boat which gets me away from shore. Equipped with a new outboard motor my tiny vessel is reliable and safe although it can certainly be rough and wet. A man of my scantlings must make an incongruous sight bobbing along miles from shore, but what is, is. Two blogs ago I described touring around this part of the coast in my little basher and this blog is about a recent day when I went off with my cameras in that little boat.
Bound up with cabin fever I launched the inflatable for a long day away. As an afterthought I threw in a small air mattress, one blanket and a tarp…just in case. With extra gas, water and a small bag of provisions I charged out on calm waters beneath a cloudless sky not knowing where I was heading. The best days start out exactly like that. Wind is always of concern in a tiny boat. In the Gulf Islands, with all its bays, and cliffs, forests and flowing water, local winds can spring up quickly. Despite prevailing winds local breezes are capricious and one must be prepared. Conditions within a short distance can change dramatically. Bouncing about impedes progress and soon has the boat and its contents soaking wet. It is safe enough, just miserable. I always try to position myself as quickly as possible so that access to the route home is downwind. Although longer andslower, it is usually much easier and drier.
After leaving Ladysmith Harbour, once safe under the sheltering cliffs of Valdez Island a passage of about sixteen kilometres, or ten miles, an outer island in the Strait Of Georgia, the wind can come from the north or south quadrants and actually help a small vessel on its way. Vancouver Island, the size of a small country, lies off the west coast of mainland Canada aligned in a northwest- southeast direction. On the inside lower shoreline it is flanked by an archipelago known as the Gulf Islands. The geography here is mostly of sandstone and was clearly shaped by glaciation. Along its Dali-like sculpted sandstone shores one often finds round granite boulders which must have been deposited as the ice retreated.
The archipelago was an ancient haven for indigenous people, with an abundance of edibles, especially sea food; there were a maze of sheltered nooks and bays, and a moderate climate. Hold no illusions about an idyllic lifestyle, it would have been a hard life and the numerous native nations warred brutally among themselves. Compared however to the harsh conditions in the traditional homelands of most other first nations people, with long bitterly cold winters, life in the Gulf Islands was easy enough for there to be time for a very rich culture, full of wonderful art and creativity. Sadly for them, the invasion of Europeans spelled a rapid end to that venerable culture, which only now, is regaining the respect it deserved. Hopefully we will find a balance of living together as equal human beings, each with our own piece of cultural diversity, distinct, and yet part of a brightly-coloured mosaic like a patchwork quilt. Comfortingly, local place names were often bestowed by Spanish and British explorers and many places have been returned to the original indigenous derivatives. Kuper Island, for example, is now Penalakut Island. The Strait Of Georgia, is now politically correctly named The Salish Sea.
The Gulf Islands are a mecca for folks from all over the world. They attract yachters, eco-tourists and those with enough money to acquire a piece of land and build an often garish neo-monstrosity that is clearly not an effort to assimilate the tone of this beautiful place, but rather seems to scream “Look at me.” The world these folks wanted to escape has been merely been transplanted here, they are tentacles of yet another invasive species. I love to repeat that I remember a time when poor people lived by the sea and ate fish. More’s the pity, those days are gone forever.
In the near-four decades that I have lived in this area, it has become a much different place and not in a good way. Over a half a century ago (Yes, it was that long ago) hippies and draft dodgers invaded the Gulf Islands. The islands were then remote, sparsely populated, land was cheap, It was nirvana for a generation of free-loaders who wanted a perfect climate for growing their organic “crops” and living close to the earth, often in communes. The mantra was “Peace man, share the wealth.” Then, as inheritances came along, land values soared yesterday’s hippies became yuppies and “Private, My Land!” signs were spiked, in places, to every shoreline tree. It has been said that capitalists are merely socialists who have found an opportunity. Mine!
Well, life goes on. Like the dinosaurs who could not assimilate change rapidly enough and faded into history, old farts like me will pass and “Progress” will continue. Frankly one of the foulest words I have come to know is “Development”, synonymous to me with greed and devastation. When the time comes, scatter my ashes on the local green waters where I can wash and circulate among these beloved islands. Look at these islands and try to imagine how they used to be not so long ago. The images in this blog are from within a twenty-four hour period two days ago. There will also be a video.
“Land was created to provide a place for boats to visit.” Brooks Atkinson
Something in the process of correcting spelling, punctuation errors and typos prevents my twisted brain from seeing them all until after I have posted or submitted a piece of writing. I just e-mailed an application for a writing job and as a sample of travel writing, I provided the copy of a recent blog. It has been out there, floating around in the ether, for several weeks so I could see no point in proof reading it again. But there was one more glitch. Arrrg! Yes, I do use my computer’s spell-checker but how does it catch things like, “It was to wet too burn.” It tries instead to correct things like “I checked my cheque book.” That infuriates me. I am Canadian and I speak English, not Amurican! The computer is set for UK English, not US English so what’s up? ( Nothing personal my dear American friends!) What sort of spell-checker did dudes like Shakespeare use? And texting? OMG! I hate abbreviations. LOL.
I watch other folks peck out machine gun-fast text, full of every possible error, then push a button and their think-box corrects everything for them. So far as it knows! But I wonder, if they are too illiterate to even try to exercise correct language skills , is it simply acceptable now to use language which is essentially correct? “The crew landed their jet ten metres from the end of the runway. They were essentially correct.” What about surgeons being essentially correct? Gudnuf! Next! Well, ya know wot I mean.
I recall a story about a kayaker paddling closely to a beach portion of the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island. They were in a morning fog. They saw a man walking along the sand and shouted out an inquiry about where they were. A thick German accent replied, “Ya… Canada.” How wonderful it would have been had they retorted, “VAS! Ziss ischt nicht Denmark!?” I once sat in a Vancouver pub with a cousin from the English Midlands. His regional accent is twangy and nasal. He was chatting up a lady at the next table. Her partner, perhaps a bit jealous, said “I know where you’re from, you’re Australian! The response was a flat, “Clouse!” That, in turn, reminds me of an anecdote from a Bill Bryson book. He and his family are checking in for a flight to Austria and the agent says, “Oh wow! I’ve always wanted to go there. I love kangaroos!” Essentially correct. Uhuh!
I read somewhere that all humour is a form (I first typed ‘from’…close!) of sarcasm. Isn’t it wonderful? All I’ll say to close (Two sentences, two words, same spelling, different meanings… it is confusing.) inthis particular musing is that if an old bog-trotter like me can take the time and acumen to do my best to get it right, what about the clever people? Language is the foundation of all cultures and if it is slip-sliding away, there are obvious questions.
And one more note, which also may be construed as sarcasm. For some reason, Twitter randomly e-mails me headlines. One came recently about a “Straight Rights” parade in Boston and a heavy police presence. Damn, that made me feel good! I am no right-wing nutter (or left for that matter) of any flavour and I am willing to live with whatever other people do…in private. So long as you do not harm children in any way, or for that matter any non-consenting innocent being, that’s your business. If you have a thing for ducks, and you have its consent, then get quacking! But, why the hell do you have to get in the world’s face about your personal intimate preferences. Go about your business with dignity and please, please leave the rest of us boring, normal heterosexuals to do the same. Straight Rights! It’s overdue.
Once, decades ago, I worked as a ranch hand. Ranchers regularly sold their bulls and bought different ones to avoid all the genetic issues of inbreeding. There was a prolonged bull sale each autumn in nearby Kamloops, a central BC interior cow town. We acquired a new bull which, back at the ranch, soon made it clear that his preference was steers, only. This, of course, would neither enhance nor enlarge the herd and old Boris, the Broke Back Black Bull, was soon being prodded back up the auction ramp at the next sale. Yep, there’s not much that’s new.
I mentioned my twisted brain earlier. Suddenly out of that echoing abyss, as I wrote the above, came a TV ad from my childhood of over fifty years ago. That’s scary! Two tins of sandwich meat are having a chat. One says, “Say Moo.” The other tin only ever replies, “Oink.” Finally asked why it can’t say Moo, that one can replies, “I guess I just don’t have it in me.” Take that as you will. It may well have been an ad for Spam so far as I can recall but there were several other disgusting meat spreads on the market. I will not eat any to this day and there are times when I have been plenty hungry.
Millions of flat-bellied folks would not understand my reluctance, although in a pinch,I can manage corned beef. That stuff will choke up a lot of palates but there are at least bits which are recognizable as meat even though the rest may be hoofs, horns or beaks. If we think of all the things which humans eat, good grief! Then some of us are disgusted when a dog wants to lick our face! Depends on what we’ve been eating I suppose. There are some types of junk food which old Jack will only allow himself one sniff. The Jack test works for me.
It occurred to me as I write to read the label on the bag of potato chips sitting on the corner of my desk. Ingredients:
potatoes (OK) then canola and/or mid-oleic sunflower oil, seasoning [sugar, salt, corn maltodextrin, inactive yeast, yeast extract, hydrolyzed corn protein, brown sugar, dried onion, natural flavour (including maple-and bacon-type flavour) huh?Caramel colour (Contains sulphites), high oleic sunflower oil, citric acid, spices, spice extracts, calcium silicate, silicon dioxide]. YUM! Where’s the hint of battery acid? We wonder why obesity and cancer are prevalent. During the Irish Potato Famine, some folks chose to starve rather than eat lobster which which commonly used as fertilizer on the fields. “Wot! Eat bugs?” I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.
Two days ago I sat shirtless in the broiling afternoon sun, reading a book and realizing that this was one of the last days this year in this part of the world that I would feel good doing this. The daylight is shorter each day, the evenings cooler. Let there be goose bumps. The leaves are yellowing and crispy, there is dew in the mornings. As I sit writing this afternoon I realize that I would not be uncomfortable in long pants. In fact, I’ve put them on. It’s chilly. It is time to seriously start a Go South plan and do something about it. Turkey vultures are flocking up, circling together in afternoon thermals and then gliding southward. Living proof, time flies.
“You do not have to sit out in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary.
But the stars themselves neither require nor demand it.”
Jack and I walked our normal morning loop down at the waterfront and around the old coal terminal here in Ladysmith. I call it the “Black Beach” because of all the coal left over from that era. Jack loves it there. Blackberries and rabbits thrive and he often gets to socialize with other wonderful dogs. The sun hung as a huge white ball low over the glassy waters of the harbour. No boat stirred its surface. There was not a breath of wind. The morning air was cool in the shade and warm in the light. A heavy dew had settled this morning. The seasons progress.
For some reason I recalled a labour day sixty-two years ago today. It was 1957, I was five years old. My father was a manic gardener and could produce amazing heaps of vegetables out of the red clay soil of Southern Ontario where we lived. Across the street from where we rented a tiny house there sprawled a large playing field. Several games of soccer often went on at the same time. I can still hear shouts in Italian and Portuguese as flashing balls ricocheted back and forth on the broad field and see swarthy men pelting about in pursuit. Every spring a circus came to the Oakville arena on the far side of that expanse. When it left town there remained warm pungent heaps of manure. Elephant, camel, horse, monkey, lion, tiger; dad swore by the properties of these exotic mounds and he would trot with his wheel barrow back and forth across the park with his freely-acquired aromatic garden elixir late into the night. He certainly could conjure monstrous vegetables out of that brick clay mixed with circus dung.
On the particular Labour Day I’m recalling, he built a fire in the backyard and installed a cauldron over it. We harvested from the garden and mom boiled and canned a large part of our winter’s preserves. We were living in town, newcomers from dairy farms, but even then, in post-war suburban Canada, it was an unusual thing for folks to do. Dad had survived the war in rural England, mother grew up on a prairie homestead through the depression and survivalist sensibilities came naturally to them. They possessed and taught me skills which I now take pride in when most people around me live in a push-button culture. It was hot, dirty work but even at that tender age I was expected to work like a little man. A friend from up the street wandered by to ask me to come play but was told I had to stay home until the day-long job was done. I complained that it was a holiday and dad responded that on Labour Day everyone was expected to work, no matter what other folks were doing. I believe he was serious.
The very next day was my first ever at school. I walked, on my own, the better part of a mile to find my way to kindergarten. When, years later, I visited these old haunts as an adult, I could not believe that my parents had pushed me out into the world like that. I suppose that is how baby birds learn to fly, flap or crash. I learned skills which have served me well throughout my existence. My parents were martially strict yet would allow me great latitudes in how far and how long I wandered. Apparently, when I was outside of their presence, God was expected to babysit. When I pass a high-school and see the parade of vehicles transporting teenage students I wonder at these kids and their skills to go out into a digital world and cope with basics like food and shelter. I cannot even operate a modern mobile phone competently but I do know how to survive without one.
A few weeks later that fall, Sputnik orbited over our house. I recall, even now, how everyone stood out in their backyards staring up at the clear night sky not sure what they were looking for. Suddenly someone cried, “There it is!” and soon we all spotted, in muted awe, a very bright star hurtling across the darkening cosmos. The world changed forever that night. We seldom look up now to count all the satellites stitching across the sky in all directions. We don’t even look up from our texting as we step into the traffic.
My parents, consummate fundamentalist evangelical Christians had been indoctrinated that Soviet Communism was the epitome of Satanic evil and surely the mark of the “end of days.” This mysterious Russian weapon (or whatever Khrushchev was scheming) now violating God’s heaven and spying down on us surely heralded Armageddon. We were living through the era leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis and paranoia of being fried to a crisp was rampant. I recall the air-raid sirens and the drills at school when we would all crawl under our desks and kiss our little asses goodbye, again. A gas explosion destroyed a house a few blocks away that winter. There was a huge thump, everything rattled horrifically. I can still remember my deep terror that this was IT. The Pinkos had struck!
Well, here I am well over a half-century later. I survived it all including my high-school years which is a fabulous story in itself. All I’ll offer of those days is that there was grave concern for a few years about the next encroaching ice age. Yes really! Then Ralph Nader came along and the tiger crap really hit the fan. The profit of paranoia is still imposed on us as never before history began to be recorded.
It is nowa beautiful, flawless late summer day. I need to get up from this desk and do something. Despite backyard burning being illegal in this town I am tempted to find some beets to boil and go make a fire. I could explain to the volunteer fire department that I was following a cultural tradition. Yeah right. There is a rising breeze and if I turned on my marine radio I’d hear a string of Maydays. It happens every summer long -weekend. Yachters from mainland Canada must return across the Strait Of Georgia and as soon as a tiny whitecap appears, panic sets in among the Tupperware armada. It used to amuse me but now that I’m boatless a dull knife twists in my gut. I know that all those millions of dollars of nautica, which never leave sight of land, belong to most folks for nearly every reason other than a love of the sea. Once in the home marina most of these “look at me possessions” will languish abandoned until Easter. Money isn’t everything but I sure could stand a change of problems.
“C’mon Jack, let’s go for a walk.”
…”The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.”
There are many fates worse than death. Nearly all of us have known some and I am living one at the moment but, being of an older breed, I know this too shall pass. My fortunes will change, I’ll pay my bills and get on with life. The image I dread most is of a geezer breathing out his last days, sitting staring at some bleak neighbour’s wall, wearing those ubiquitous red plaid slippers, perhaps a bridle of oxygen tubes on his face, an electric scooter parked at the front door, and walker on hand to shuffle out to it. Perhaps for a little more flavour we’ll add a thin string of drool on his white-stubbled face. The nurse will come by tomorrow to help him bath and shave and then he will take the scooter the six blocks to downtown to sit and watch the traffic; just for a change, his weekly highlight. Much of his time is spent contemplating all the things he didn’t do. There is a cliché about life being an ordeal or an adventure and some days we all need to give ourselves a severe talking-to. Enough said.
A neighbour is having some beautiful tall fir trees removed. They’ve been there at least a hundred years and after last winter’s incredible winds I’m sure they are quite safe, but down they come in eight foot lengths to make very expensive firewood. The daily whine of power saws and the growl of the limb-chipping machine are a bit irritating but perhaps I am just becoming a grumpy old man. I thought of that as I watched for a few minutes and recalled a time when I worked as a logger wielding hot screaming power saws in the heat and bugs of summer. At that time of year, we’d go up the mountain at two am and be headed back to town by noon, the afternoons were too tinder-dry dangerous to be in the woods. If things became too dry we’d be banned from going to work at all. Days were then spent in the local pub, swilling draft beer and waiting for a call to go fight a forest fire. That was hell and a horror story very hard to relate believably. You had to have been there.
I doubt I could endure a half-hour of those he-man activities now. In fact, some of my health issues relate to those testosterone-charged days. I was never a high-rigger like the fellow in the photo, but when I hear the snarl of logging activity and catch the tang of fresh-cut wood there is a latent part of my brain that still wants to go kill a tree. Like smoking cigarettes, another part of my life decades ago, there is still a twinge of longing in the back of my hard drive to look at forests in terms of lumber instead of the amazing eco-system which I now embrace and love for its beauty and co-ordinated complexity. Oh indeed, how youth is wasted on the young!
A book I ordered a while ago arrived in the mail today. It is a collection of poetry by Ofelia Zepeda, a brilliant Tohono O’odham indigenous woman of Southern Arizona. She is a highly respected literary icon and as I absorb a bit of that ancient desert culture I want to study as many aspects as I can. The damnedest thing about this book is that while it was published in Tucson Arizona, the copy I received was posted from Gloucester England. Go figure! When I worked up-coast in Shearwater, part of the native community of Bella Bella, I ordered a book I learned about from the local Heiltsuk cultural centre. It was about their unique and beautiful art. I found a used copy in a second-hand book shop in Ohio which shipped it back to Bella Bella. Totem poles and indigenous cultural artifacts are being returned to native communities from all over the world. They were taken long ago and now it’s payback time; rightly so. I guess I’m just part of a trend.
Meanwhile back on South Vancouver Island summer here has been glorious, even as it winds down toward the inevitable end. It sure went fast. I have been scooting about local waters in my inflatable boat exploring haunts I have passed for several decades while voyaging off to far away places. I am used to having a boat this size to serve as a dinghy to the mother vessel so I’m finding this a bit humbling. However I have spent a lot of time in tiny vessels, dinghies, dories, kayaks and canoes. I’ve made some long voyages including a rowing trip through the Gulf Islands and once I took a small ten foot Zodiac from Nanaimo across the Strait Of Georgia to the top of Howe sound on the mainland. It was a distance of almost thirty nautical miles and a good part of the trip was in wide open water. I’ll always remember the look on a yachter’s face as I passed close behind his sloop’s transom and an easy ten miles from the nearest shore. I had a hard time walking for the next two days after that ride. It may sound foolhardy to many, but I am at home on the water like nowhere else and I do know my limits. I’ve made to this age by being prudent.
In days gone by it was not uncommon for people to row fantastic distances here. Loggers would come out of the camps up the inlets and across the Strait of Georgia, and sometimes Juan De Fuca, just for a break. Our coastal natives paddled dugout canoes as far south as Puget sound from Haida Gwaii on raiding expeditions and often went out on the open ocean to hunt whales and kill them in close contact with simple harpoons. I have met folks who have kayaked from Seattle to Alaska and back again. If I am a fool, I am in good company.
Well, I’ll finish this rambling blog with a recommendation. I’ve just returned from a sneak off to the movies. There’s been nothing worth seeing nearly all summer and so I needed a big screen fix. I won’t review this film except to say that even if you are not a movie-goer, check out “Peanut Butter Falcon.” It is the first time I have laughed from my soul in a very long time. Self-described as perhaps the best movie of the decade, I’m inclined to agree about this uplifting effort. Thanks; I needed that!
On a final note, here’s the YouTube link to my latest video effort. Hope you like it.
“Now then, Pooh,” said Christopher Robin, “where’s your boat?” “I ought to say,” explained Pooh as they walked down to the shore of the island, “that it isn’t just an ordinary sort of boat. Sometimes it’s a Boat, and sometimes it’s more of an Accident. It all depends.” “Depends on what?” “On whether I’m on the top of it or underneath it.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh