An Absence Of Birds

I’m dreaming of a Wet Christmas. And to all… a dry night!

It seems that the gods can send messages in unexpected ways. I play YouTube roulette sometimes, just to see what randomly pops up. I’ve discovered incredible musicians from around the globe, found amazing inventions, wonderful stories and once in a while stumble on something that I can only consider as a tiny personal kick in the butt. Today I came across a video about a sixty-three year old cowboy still riding broncos in the rodeo. He’s the real thing and had some eloquent things to say. One was about hitch-hiking, something real hand-to-mouth cowboys do regularly. They don’t all have big-fat-wheeled diesel pickup trucks. “Have a saddle along, it’ll gitchya a ride every time.” (In my hitch-hiking days I had a red toolbox and an old military duffel bag that worked quite well.) He mentioned, after a litany of all his broken bones, how folks tell him he’s crazy to still be at it. “I ain’t never gonna grow up. I’m old but I ain’t never grownin’ up. You’re judged by that third and forth try in life and I think I’ve got one more try.”

There’s some inspiration in those words. Grit! I’ll take a bag please. Course ground!

Bullhead! One of my favourite rodeo photos of all time. It’s over forty years old. I recall that terrier played the bull like a fish on a line. These photos are poor quick copies made with my  mobile phone. I’d take my photos, then printed  them in the darkroom into the night and tried to sell them the next day.
Old leather. One more from the archives. Take a moment and look closely at the details on this old saddle. The obvious age and wear tell very interesting stories.

There are some rodeo days in my ancient history but I soon lost my desire to be slammed around by any angry beast. There may be some momentary beauty in all those arched postures and flailing, jingling rigging and hoofs but it all hurts and years down the trail, those hurts come back to haunt a body. As I age, I wonder at why we continue to do such primal things if for no other reason than the cruelty to the animals. In our latitudes a successful rodeo ride is eight seconds. In Mexico I’ve seen bulls ridden until they collapse. Sport? It might seem manly but I’ve come to consider testosterone a poisonous substance. Mix it with alcohol and you have a bomb about to go off. Those two juices, mixed or not, are at the root of nearly every woe in the world, ever.

The heat, dust and din of a rodeo seems very alien to the dark and thick rain of pre-Christmas coastal BC. Just days from the winter solstice, the darkness here is crushing, even at high noon. Further north the daylight is progressively shorter and the weather much harsher. A nice day is often when the rain simply falls vertically and is not being driven by a blasting wind. I don’t miss it. How people endure it year upon year on the North Coast is a wonder. But they do and even thrive in it. There are different kinds of grit I suppose, but up there with all that rain it’s often just called mud. When I lived and worked on the mid-coast, locals would go south for a few days and arrive back home expressing profound relief at being out of “that mess.” I know what they meant but Geez Louise, watching the moss grow between my toes is no pastime for me. Today the gelatinous rain, almost frozen, doesn’t bounce. It just splats down and heads from the nearest drain.

An annual tradition. Along a popular local walking trail this tree is decorated in memory of dogs who once passed here and have gone on to a higher calling.
It’s very touching.
A ghost of happiness past. Several clear balls contain photos of dogs.
There’ll never be a hand-made decoration on any tree with the name ‘Fred.’

As usual I’m listening to that radio station in Goldfield Nevada, although I’m enduring an overload of Christmas tunes. (Note I didn’t say music.) Some is traditional, some mutant-traditional, some innovative, some weird and some completely bizarre, even rude. (If this old salt thinks it’s rude, it is definitely rude!) All the music is about Christmas and that’s beginning to wear a bit thin. The songs are punctuated with local anecdotes about winter hardships and historical storms with six feet of snow in one night, -30°F temperatures and horrific winds. There are accounts of people freezing to death in the high desert country which I can well believe, it almost happened to me one night on a high Nevada desert plain. Considering the bleak desert winter who can begrudge them their fun? Apparently this is how the season is observed in the Nevada desert.

Fortunately for them, Goldfield is a day north of Las Vegas where cacti begin to grow and the Mexican border is another day’s drive south of there. Theoretically they can escape winter easily. This station has no news broadcasts. That on its own makes it a winner in my books. Their advertising is for small local businesses like restaurants, hardware stores and a tow truck service. There is nothing from box stores, shopping malls, car manufacturers or fast food chains. Public service announcements describe events of common interest like a local highway improvement project. The local “dump road” is temporarily rerouted along the cemetery road. Country logic rules, the dump and the cemetery are side by side.

UNBELIEVABLE! Two hours of sunshine. All sorts of dogs with nice people were suddenly out and about.
Morning Glory! By noon, it was raining again.
As the clouds lifted and the sun broke through, the pagans, after dancing naked around their poles all night, plunged into the frigid sea and swam back to their boats. (Or something like that.)
Thousands of miles from home, many thousands of mariners will make the best of Christmas so very far away from their families.

As I edit what I’ve just written I realize it is all about what I’m absorbing from my electric babysitters. I offer no accounts of what I’m doing because I’m not doing much of any account.

I’m struggling with the second chapter of my third novel; something over a decade old. And it is indeed a struggle. Good creative writing happens when the story writes itself and the writer scrambles to keep up. It’s not happening. The southwestern deserts may seen far away but I’m stuck in my own suburban wasteland. Walking with Jack twice a day out in the drizzling gloom is my high adventure. We do see lovely, colourful wee birds, yesterday it was a brilliant red-headed woodpecker then a flitting flock of golden-crowned kinglets. The flashes of bright yellow on their tiny heads brought instant cheer but the light was too dull for photos with any sort of camera.

Summer
Winter. Jack had no interest in wading.

Today Jack snoozes in front of the fireplace. Part of that time was spent with his head on my lap. He’s warm. By two this afternoon the dull light was fading, and rain or not, we had to make at least one outing. We took a muddy path beside a local stream which was swollen to the top of its banks. These two soggy old mutts plodded along and then homeward, eager to get back by the fire. The rain was so insidious there was an absence of birds, no croaking of a single raven, not even the timid chatter of one chickadee. They’ve all found a place to hole up. I saw one tiny titmouse bouncing along a salmonberry limb. It promptly vanished into the underbrush once it saw what foolish lumps were out trudging in the driving rain. I imagine that, being that size, each thick raindrop must seem like a bucket of water would to me. Home again, I’m content to sit near the fireplace.

Jack is sound asleep again, dreaming of chasing rabbits, perhaps in a daisy-filled meadow. It is sunny and warm wherever he is and he is young again. And me…I don’t need to close my eyes to hear the rustle of palm fronds overhead and smell the salty warm sea air as a frosty lime margarita jumbo is placed in my hand. It is made from a smokey local tequila and the prawns and fish have come out of the bay right out there where that humpback is breaching. Mariachi music plays somewhere up the beach. Beep, beep, beep… the oven is ready for the bread. My fantasy vanishes as a fresh blast of wind and rain batters the window. And what bliss to smell baking bread. Weather be damned, I’m going to eat something!

Where have all the spiders gone?
Maple totems. In each clump of moss, tiny creatures live within their own world.

The big day is close enough now so I’ll wish all Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, pleasant solstice, oh yeah Happy Hanukkah. For the rest of you, Bumhug!

Then there’s the New Year.

Like that old cowboy said, one more try.

All of the season’s best from Jack and his human.

I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

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

5 thoughts on “An Absence Of Birds”

  1. I like the idea of an “Ode to Dogs” tree – I imagine it would be very touching to see and read the inscriptions, and, on the subject of beloved dogs, I like Jack’s stocking with the paw shape and nice treats.

    The bull picture is interesting – the pictures and the old leather too and I like old photos in black and white. That dog was quite fierce for its size and it’s a wonder it was not stomped on by a charging and snorting bull. I traveled to Spain with friends of the family in 1974 and she was from Madrid and wanted me to see a bullfight. I was sorry they suggested it and had to turn away at times. I remember I took some pictures (before it got too gory) and those pictures were taken on the pocket instamatic and looked like tiny dots in the bullring.

    1. Thanks Linda:
      I’ve never seen a bullfight, they’re now banned in Mexico. hopefully the rodeos go too but folks have plenty of other ways of being cruel. Anyway, dogs rule in my world and its great to be among so many other dog-lovers.
      Good old instamatics, what shitty pictures they took, but it was what we had. I still can’t believe Kodak went broke. Hope you have a great Christmas.
      Fred

      1. Years ago, before the anti-animal cruelty activists became so outspoken, it was a Sunday afternoon’s family entertainment in Spain. We did not go to Barcelona, but there was a big bullfighting stadium there as well. I remember we got there early and visited a little shrine where the matadors go to pray before they headed into the ring. I think I have a picture of that tiny shrine.

        Animals rule in my world too – they do not disappoint, nor are cruel as people can be.

        I had my mom’s Baby Brownie camera for years, then my parents bought a Polaroid camera for Christmas one year. The Pocket Instamatic I had for decades and never had a moment’s trouble with it – I took it traveling and always had it in purse for shots of friends, family … I amassed a ton of memorable shots. People who have only used digital cameras have no concept of the old ways that we dealt with taking pictures … sending a roll of film to Kodak in Rochester, NY, then to the local drugstore for one-hour processing. It’s a shame that Kodak went broke. I am going to write about early photography efforts with some photos I’ve collected. The post is still bubbling around in my brain.

        Have a great Christmas yourself Fred … enjoy that homemade bread – I am sure it is delicious.

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