About two hundred years ago Vancouver Island was being seriously discovered by Europeans. We had all these raw resources to exploit although earlier British Explorers described this place as worthless because it was covered with impossibly huge trees. The land could not be farmed because it would be too difficult to clear. Yet those sailors headed home with deck cargos of beautiful spars and it was their rigging skills which were adapted to rape those old growth forests. Those were the days when making daylight in the swamp was a noble thing. Monstrous clear-grained timber was so plentiful that some pioneers resorted to burning down the trees where they stood. There are records of folks roofing over old hollow stumps and using them for a snug home. No value was placed on wilderness, pristine vistas and water, no thoughts were placed on the value of sustainability. Notions of ever running out of timber, fish, drinking water would have had you laughed out of the pub.
Vancouver Island is still one of the most beautiful areas on the planet, but like the old Joni Mitchell song about the tree museum, there is very, very little left the way it always was. Our forests are feral. They have been subdued and ravished then left to fend for themselves. Nothing was sacred. Our indigenous peoples were merely an inconvenience to the invasion of industrial pirates. Even people brought from the old world to die in the coal mines or the forests and mills, were a bothersome but necessary commodity. At times, donkeys and pit ponies held a higher value than the men. Families wearied their way around Cape Horn as a second-value cargo in their quest for a better life. When a man died in the mines, or of black lung disease, their wives and their children could well find themselves out in the rain on a muddy street to fend for themselves. Life is cheap, so long as it is not your own.
Much has improved in the last two centuries and few have any longing for the “Old days.” Ladysmith Harbour was once known as Oyster Bay because of the incredible abundance of huge, succulent bivalves. The coal mines and the forest industry destroyed that natural bounty. Jack and I have just returned from our morning exploration in the November drizzle. The stream we followed is pocked with the remains of old coal mining operations. Various buildings crumble into the black mud. The forest is all second-growth, having reseeded itself among the shattered stumps of long-evolved rain forest. I find a permanent sadness among the twisted branches and debris from days past.
Young men now come in off-road vehicles to churn their way through the mud holes and to chew up the tortured creek and forest. Vehicles discarded in the bushes are either stolen and abandoned or belong to people out hunting deer. Who brings exotic vehicles along a bashed-out road to look for something to shoot at in these twisted feral woods? Discarded beer cans and deer parts provide copious evidence that they are there. I have sense of being in a war zone. A former hunter myself, the back of my neck began to tingle and I wondered what testosterone and alcohol-charged urbanite was creeping around in the bushes with his assault weapon looking for something, anything, to move. I felt like we had targets painted on the backs of our heads. I called Jack back and we headed home.
Ladysmith was re-named after the community of Oyster Bay sent a contingent of its young men off to the Boer War in South Africa to fight and die at the Battle of Ladysmith. It is something else to be proud of. On Monday morning a small squadron of vintage WW II aircraft will pass overhead, old men in blue blazers and berets will stand at the local cenotaph beside the highway where the traffic will keep on speeding by. Perhaps there will be a bugler. Then, many will head for a drink, or ten, and life goes on.
Last night I watched a documentary about Xinjiang Province in China. Since 2014 over a million Uyghur people have been herded into concentration camps by China. Their crime is simply their culture and their Muslim faith. It is the largest mass incarceration since the Second World War. I was shocked and sickened by my ignorance of this. My research since indicates it is true. Sadly, once again the darkness of human nature confirms that we have learned nothing. “Lest We Forget.” It has gone unmentioned to the rest of the world by other prominent nations because of China’s massive economic clout. Think of that the next time we walk into WalMart. Nearly every product is marked made in PRC. What else do we live in oblivion of?
Well, now that I’ve cheered everyone to a state of giddiness let me again mention my favourite radio station From Goldfield, Nevada. KGFN 89.1 I stream it online and think it is one of the finest mixes of music broadcast anywhere. It is officially called a Bluegrass station but that is certainly only one flavour of the music they play. The station is run by volunteers and relies heavily on donations and local sponsors. When is the last time you’ve heard a tow truck company advertised on the radio? They also air local musicians who sing lyrics like “Never turn your back on a bull.” The announcer this morning was playing with words about “Snattlerakes.” So I thunk up “Pionscorps” and “Otecoys” wot live out among the “Tuscac.” I enjoy their wisecracks about we snowbirds and all the California yuppies. Nothing is sacred in the high desert. Today there was an announcement for folks who might want lumber from a local old school demolition. I’ve never heard the news on this station. It’s that kind of town. There is something down-home folksy that tugs at my heart. I look forward to my next arrival in that little old mining town in the middle of the bleak Nevada desert. It has something called personality with no sense of the ubiquitous strip mall all too common with our modern existence. I stand by my description of the place as the real Burning Man event, all year long. I plan on staying a day or two.
Jack and I are back from today’s morning patrol and the rain has just begun again. (Rhythm! And we’re not even Catholic.) We met a couple on the trail out with their little dog. The lady bent over to Jack and exclaimed, “What a handsome fellow!’ I responded, “Why thank you! Whatd’ya think of my dog?” There was laughter. My day is a success already. Laugh with me, laugh at me, just laugh darnit! So long as I can leave a little light in someone’s eyes, I have served a higher purpose.
“Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of humour itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humour in heaven.” …Mark Twain