A Sniff Of Spring

Bleak Bay. Under a noon gloom of low cloud and cold drizzle, everyone is hunkered down. Rightly so.

It sure is pretty crazy in our part of the world right now. Our town was in the thick of it earlier in the week and is on alert again today but the closest active fire is 10k away. Very thick smoke. 

There’s a wind change due in a few hours that will be good for us (not for others unfortunately). The size of the burnt and burning area in SE Australia is phenomenal!”

This is a quote from an e-mail I exchanged with some friends in Australia. I can’t imagine how it must be wondering how a wind shift will affect your fate. These friends live in Lakes Entrance, not far along the coast from Mallacoota where people had to be evacuated by boat to escape becoming crispy critters, just like millions of their wild creatures have. There was a time when fighting bush fires was, for me, part of being a logger and it does not take much to remember the feel of choking smoke in my throat, the grit everywhere, the incredible searing heat, the ominous apprehension, but I cannot imagine the apocalypse so many folks in areas of Australia are facing. The death toll is rising but I am actually amazed so few have lost their lives. I hold a healthy mistrust of all things media but I know the images we are receiving cannot begin to portray the horror of it all. The friend who wrote the above is a cool character at any time but he writes of fires being a whole ten kilometres away with that old Aussy tone of “No worries mate.” I remain worried. Bugga!

For those “doomers” who seize on this dark drama as proof of global warming, I am not convinced with your conjecture. There is certainly a human-caused factor in this but it is a drama which nature has repeated thousands of times in the planet’s history. It is in fact nature’s way of refreshing itself and the flora and fauna will return vigorously. It is hard for us, in the face of such a conflagration, to grasp our smallness within the natural order of the universe. Life will go on.

Winter colour. A slime mould appears in the cold and wet.
Yes!
Australian Falls. If only we could send our winter surplus down under.
We’ve got plenty to spare.
One drop at a time.

Well, here on Vancouver Island things are very different. We are not worried about wildfires at the moment. All any of us have anywhere is the moment and today, here at home, there is a tiny sniff of spring in the air. This hour is sunny, almost warm, buds are swelling, some blooms are peeking out. We know it won’t stay, the pounding bouncing rain will soon be back, it may even dump several feet of snow on us in one night as it has before, so we’ll seize the moment and enjoy it while it lasts. The nice thing here is that if you truly have an urge for the white crud you can go up any mountain right now and fill your boots. In the afternoon irregular bursts of thick rain fell on us like truckloads of splintered glass. Despite my heavy winter raincoat I sported my big black umbrella, like a real old salt; “Popkins the Sailorman.” The problem with that coat is that it funnels rain down onto my knees and I don’t really care about being tough anymore. Jack plunked happily through the puddles, savouring the moment as usual.

A week ago I enjoyed a splendid dinner with family whom I have been long overdue in visiting. Seeing myself as the ancestral storyteller I recounted some history of my mother’s second husband. He was a very quite man whom we all knew was a WWII veteran and did not talk much about his wartime experiences. After he died, I met his kid brother who gave me the rest of the story. His account was about young Jim’s experience in Dieppe as a member of the South Saskatchewan Regiment. He had personally killed German soldiers by hand then went on about the business of staying alive in battle conditions. I believed it was an embellished yarn and clung to what little I been personally able to coax out of the old vet.

Part of the brother’s story had Jim being named “Silver Stuart” and that there had been a Life Magazine article about him and his bloody feat using his personal battle cry of “Hi Ho Silver,” something he had acquired as a boy listening to the ‘Lone Ranger’ on the radio. I eventually found the entire Life Magazine archives online but could not find any cover stories about what I sought. After my tale at the dinner table my nephew later managed to find, within ten minutes, (and much to my considerable admiration) a story about the Saskatchewan Regiment in Dieppe. There was a paragraph about “Silver Stuart.” There has to be more to the story which was not written. The accolade of respect which Jim carried had been bestowed by his fellows before the war correspondent had written his article. What intrigues me is a photo that accompanies the article. I’ve spent hours carefully comparing photos of the Jim I knew to the photo of a young soldier looking into the camera on a Dieppe beach so long ago. There is a distinct resemblance between those photos considering the near-five decades between when they were taken!

The Life Magazine article. The photo on the lower left could well be of Jim. He would be about 20 years old. The raid lasted 10 hours. Of over 6000 men, half were killed or captured. Despite the spin-doctoring in this headline, the ‘Dieppe Raid’ is infamous as a disaster of military ineptitude.

Of course, there has to be more to the story. Jim had a box full of metals which he neither displayed or explained. He had seen service in North Africa and in the allied invasion of Italy. What I gleaned from my reluctant conversations with Jim when he was still alive was that it was not the carnage and hardships of years in the battlefield that had eventually driven a hardened warrior to chronic alcoholism. It was the realization that he was one of the “good guys,” many of whom proved to be as wholly capable of every human baseness as the evil enemy. He was buried by Canadian Veterans Affairs in their corner of a Kelowna cemetery, only a few places from the grave of W.A.C. Bennet, a revered Provincial Premier. It is timely to consider Jim’s awareness as we teeter on the very real possibility of yet another war in the Middle East.

Will we ever learn? Apparently not, despite all the wonderful words, we just don’t want to grasp some other way because, of course, just like them, God is on our side. I am steering further away from political comments, mainly because I don’t trust any media sources and am never sure of the true facts. Whom do I believe, whom may I quote with certitude? I’ll simply say this. The assassinated leader being mourned in Iran was second from the top yet everywhere his body has been taken, millions have turned out to mourn and revere him. There has never been, nor ever will be, such a massive display of national unity in our countries for any political figure.

We want to pick on these folks! They are far away around the planet from us, they do not threaten our borders despite what we’re told. While out with Jack yesterday we met a lady who told me what a wonderful thing it was that the US had taken out Soleimani; this man who had killed so many. I asked her if she had ever heard of him before last week. I also asked her how many innocents had been killed by US forces and weapons overseas in just the last decade. Questions, you’ve got to ask yourself questions.

A winter mystery. What draws earthworms up out of the sheltering ground to crawl onto the cold wet surface. Do the gods summon them up to sacrifice themselves to the hungry birds?
A stark canopy. In summer these alders and maples provide a high green cathedral of verdant shade. The vines flower, birds twitter from their nests. Not today!
Even been given the gears? This is a detail of a huge old anchor windlass laying above the foreshore. It is more of our nautical heritage in the bushes.
Life goes on. This arbutus blew down in last winter’s storms and was then cut up. What mystery makes even fallen trees sprout with the universal overwhelming drive for life?

Today, a week into the New Year, the cold rain hammers down as usual. The snow advances and retreats low on the mountain sides. Today, it’s too wet and gloomy outside for man or beast and too dark for good photos of the winter wet. One day, one hour, one minute at a time. But there are signs of spring and in the long dark of January’s dragging hours, we cling to hope of spring and rational judgements.

Flowers happen. January 7th. Hope.

You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.
― Albert Einstein

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

7 thoughts on “A Sniff Of Spring”

  1. The worm is pretty resilient and I hate to see him surface, only to be a bird’s lunch. Your incessant rain is annoying and we are about to have some of our own, 2-3 inches of rain from Friday into Saturday evening before it morphs into freezing rain and a wintry precip. I did not ask for this nor did many others who have enjoyed Fall-like weather; no, it was all the people clamoring for Winter weather … they want to use their Winter snow toys or new snow blowers – well people, you want it, take a vacation to a snowy venue then.

    1. Some days, for no apparent rhyme or reason there are dozens of worms out crawling around. They seem to love the concrete floor in my garage.?????????????????????????

      1. That’s strange isn’t it? Well they are likely tired of being in the ground that is saturated with water and/or out in the pouring rain, so seeking refuge. We are having bad weather this weekend, including torrential rain with 2-4 inches of rain in 24 hours. I think we are skipping the ice storms, as that is more mid-Michigan.

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