Labour Day Musings

The shining dinghy. A moment of reflection at high slack tide. The boat house would make a lovely wee home.

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.

TILT! In a town on a hill. This shed has been leaning like that for over ten years. Would you park your car in it?
The leaky pipe grows the grass. Part of the water supply for our local pulp mill. These wooden pipe lines run for miles. Superb engineering, some of these pipes are several feet in diameter. This one is only about two feet.

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.

The keeper. Carved in a rock at the entrance to a popular forest path. I wonder how many folks ever see it. Later in the day, as the light shifts, it is almost invisible.
I’ll give it a buzz. Another keeper of another path. Wasps seem to be on standby in the nest’s entrance. Nice berries!
Please park older trailers in the back. I rent a space in this storage yard. All those RVs just sitting…and all I need is one!
Yep, she’s almost paid for! This 1967 Mercury F250 was built two years before I graduated in the town where the Ford assembly plant was located. The truck looks in better shape than I do! The owner ran a venerable power saw repair business. Clearly, logging is his passion. Note the horn!

It is now a 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.”

I know, you’ve seen it before, but it is my trademark photo of all time. This was taken over twenty years ago while sailing alone aboard my first ‘Seafire.’ The image is indelible in my brain and says everything about what sailing means to me. In troubled moments, like during a dental procedure, I close my eyes and this vision sustains me.

…”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.”

… Annie Dillard, from ‘The Abundance’

Author: Fred Bailey

Fred is a slightly-past middle age sailor /, writer / photographer with plenty of eclectic hands-on skills and experiences. Some would describe him as the old hippy who doesn't know the war is over. He is certainly reluctant to grow up and readily admits to being the eternal dreamer. He has written several books including two novels, 'The Keeper' and 'Storm Ecstasy,' as well as 'The Water Rushing By', 'Sins Of The Fathers', 'The Magic Stick', as well as an extensive inventory of poetry, essays, short stories, anecdotes and photographs. His first passion is the ocean, sailboats, voyaging and all those people who are similarly drawn to the sea. He lived aboard and extensively cruised the BC Coast on 'Seafire' the boat he refitted to go voyaging, to explore new horizons both inner and outer. This blog was about that journey and the preparations for it. Circumstances prevailed which forced the sale of his beloved vessel. Now on a different tack, the voyage continues. If you follow this blog your interest may provide some of the energy that helps fuel the journey. Namaste Contact me at svpaxboat@gmail.com

10 thoughts on “Labour Day Musings”

  1. Your dad reminds me of the story my mom often told me about her own father – that when she was a teenager and they had their first-ever car, he’d always keep a shovel and pail in it and every time he saw a pile of horse manure on the street (which was often in those days, the late 1920s) he’d stop to collect it for his garden.

    Ah yes, those wonderful days of our childhood, when we could (and were encouraged to) ramble off just about anywhere on our own…1952 was truly a good year to be born, I agree. 🙂

  2. Interesting technical glitch on your site. If one does not read your email version but rather goes direct to the internet there is no place to make a comment?? Interesting addition of advertising and photo purchase. May have to steal that idea from you. By the way Sage is sold

  3. Very interesting Fred – and my father worked at the Ford plant in Oakville – they helped transfer him here to the Woodhaven Stamping Plant. Many people never heard of Oakville, but for the golf course, something I never saw when I lived there. Those are beautiful berries and the wasps were too close for comfort to nab them and that’s likely why they grew so big and luscious looking.

      1. The wormy apples at the Park are dropping off the trees and the squirrels take a few bites then leave them. Yesterday the wasps were buzzing around and it smelled like apple cider … the wasps will be giddy. (I think I’ll use that for a title next week) … lots of subtle changes signifying Fall is coming and I took many pics of red and orange leaves … just on the bushes that grow ragged along the Creek banks.

      2. This Summer has gone by very quickly, partly because Spring showed up so late. We were still having flurries and some ice in mid-April. It was a rainy, stormy, hot and humid Summer. I hope Fall is pleasant. though.

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