A journal of the vessel Seafire including mishaps and musings of the crew
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 email@example.com
It is impossible to tell at the moment. Whose smoke are we breathing here? The claim is that our local scrap yard fire is “Contained” but it sure as hell is not out. It may smoulder on for a long time and the acrid, cloying stench is gently smothering us. It’s all because the junk yard dog dropped his cigar! Well who knows? We may never learn that and what does it matter. We try to recycle our disposable cars and other metal commodities and some days things just go wrong. Hopefully we learn a little bit and life eventually improves. Meanwhile thick smoke from three US States clot our already permeated sky and we live in a dim world at the moment. I’ll keep my text short and relay my story with repetitive photos of our grey world.
I photographed the ambience of the thick air above our harbour from behind a heap of coal on the shore and realized that not so long ago we burned this stuff and the air was always like this. It was normal. In younger years I chain-smoked cigarettes like a train. I also did a lot of welding with my face in those fumes and often cut up old metal with an ox-acetylene torch, burning through thick layers of old lead-based paint or I’d grind the paint away, with no face mask. I know better now. These days, the simple whiff of a smoker’s clothes in a change room has me gagging. Eeeech! I cannot believe my incredible foolishness. I have come to believe that perhaps anyone who smokes should perhaps be denied medical insurance.They are willfully harming themselves. That in this enlightened age people are stupid enough to deliberately inhale smouldering objects is amazing. Are they among those complaining about our present atmospheric imperfections?
The thought has occurred to me that the present stench and pallor of gloom is what millions endure on a daily basis where they live in industrial areas around the planet. Others know it as the reek of war and death. They also know of thirst, hunger, disease and blasted-out hospitals. We take clean air and water and personal freedoms for granted. Yesterday was the anniversary of 9/11. Surely we can take a moment to consider how quickly our lives can change then savour and participate in maintaining what we privileged few enjoy without considering. We’re still free to vote and free to leave.
On Monday, conditions have not improved. We’re still surrounded by think grey smog with only glimpses of a dull copper orb which is the sun. Our three states to the south of the border are burning up. That’s California, Oregon and Washington in your throat and nose. The eco-gloomers are having a field day with all of this. I’ll admit it is hard to stay objective and look at the big picture, to examine the history of climatic cycles and realize that this is not Armageddon. It just seems like it. My heart goes out to all those who have lost their homes and communities, their sense of security and all the personal illusions and dreams they have held. It is a wake-up call for all of us. All I can wish everyone is someone to love, something good to do, and something to look forward to, while doing no harm. Now I have to shake off the lethargy of my own personal darkness and go do something. And so work progresses on the old camper. Wagons ho!
“The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.”
A few days ago in mid-afternoon I was kneeling up on the hot aluminum roof of my newly-acquired old truck camper. I was dolloping out roofing tar to reseal a previous repair. The thick black goo had been used previously so there was no choice but to use it again. I thought of how I must look up there, a Fred on a box and came up with various lines about “hot tin roofs.” They were all rude. The roof wasn’t leaking…yet. Wonderfully it is made of a single sheet of sturdy aluminum. But some preventive measures in the heat and dry of late summer seem in order. It’s almost forty years old; a little TLC is due. It’s small and light, and warm and dry. It has a propane cook stove and a furnace! Good enough. There’s no hot tub but sometimes roughing it is just what you have to do.
One of the popular truck campers is called an “Arctic Fox.” I’m thinking of hanging the name on this old beauty of “Fartic Ox” and putting a little sign on the trailer that says, “Feel free to feed the Sasquatch.” Neighbours have noticed the box and say “I see you’re going camping.” Somehow I’ve never considered sleeping in an RV as camping. Camping, when I was young, involved travelling by canoe and sleeping beneath the overturned hull if it rained. My fantasy was a ‘jungle hammock,’ a military surplus item that came with a roof and mosquito netting all around. I’ve just checked, they’re still available.
Many recreational vehicles now have rooms that pop out, automatic levelling devices, satellite entertainment devices which align themselves to the appropriate signals. By the time all the flip-out items have ceased their whirring, and the generator is purring, there is a fair-sized modern home set up in a commercial “campground” four feet away from someone else’s “wilderness” dream. The cursing begins when all the transformer bits won’t pop back into place so you can go “get away from it all” somewhere else. A diesel pickup truck will easily haul it all at 110 kilometres per hour to re-establish the pitchings a few feet from someone else where you can compare notes. It doesn’t much seem to me like a sensible way of reconnecting with the natural world or of “thinking green.” But…no payments until January!
Almost a week ago it was Labour Day weekend. Already we’ve arrived in late summer and the hottest part of it. The weather forecast is for clear skies and temperatures in the 30s. The sunrise was red from all the smoke in the air from as far away as California. There is a 70,000 acre fire burning in the Yakima area. What a blessed thing to live here on Vancouver Island. We made it through the long weekend without any fires here. Last night the upper winds began to move the smoke back to where it came from and the stars gleamed and twinkled. I often go out for a celestial meditation before bed in an effort to put the day’s concerns into perspective. My little woes against the vastness of the universe puts everything in place.
On a clear night, one can seldom look into any part of the night sky without seeing at least one satellite within a minute. Dull or bright they zing over in all directions unnoticed. For a while last night I could see three at once all on different vectors. There are also all those man-made stars in fixed orbit also known as geosynchronous satellites which sit up there unnoticed to our eye. Those ones must really piss off the astronomer who thinks they’ve discovered an unknown star! They are as pervasive as electrical lines or contrails marring a view of the natural world. It’s a sad essay that so few folks notice them. Today’s check says there are currently 2,666 satellites up there. And we thought the beer cans in the ditch were a problem.
Anyway, folks ensconced around their portable campfire beneath a string of patio lanterns, safely inside their electronic mosquito net-bubble (yes really) watching the ‘Simpsons.’ That we all know who the ‘Simpsons’ are underscores the age we live in. We are as oblivious to the geosynchronous satellites relaying our television signals as we are to lost primal skills like melting spruce gum over an open wood fire so we can patch our home-made canoe. I am well familiar with the “Old School” and the non-romance of doing things like using an outhouse at -40°, or making a bed from spruce boughs. I don’t miss it.
While perusing the latest camping gadgets I can across a small portable cooking stove that burns any “bio fuel.” It also uses the heat to charge a lithium battery which has a USB port to run a small light or charge a mobile phone. So now we live in the age of the electronic campfire. When your rocket stove has started a wildfire, you can call to report it if…there is a geosynchronous satellite in place.
Parts of Oregon have now exploded with wildfire. Cities are threatened with devastation. It seems that half of California is in flames, Washington State is in a critical situation and British Columbia is also adjoined to the crisis as part of the Pacific Northwest. Here we can smell and taste their smoke in the air. With the Covid numbers rising again we are all together in living with a sense of tension. What a year!
I’ve been working on the camper in the cooler part of the morning and then retiring to the shady cool inside the house during the afternoon. About 9am today a thick column of grey/black smoke rose into the azure sky then drifted off in the upper winds. Helicopters with water buckets began passing overhead. I feared the worst. A new bush fire or a serious plane crash could look like that. As it turns out a metal recycling yard, a few miles away at our end of our airport, has caught fire. An online news story had images of heaps of burning crushed cars and a mountain of burning tires. It is the sort of fire which is very hard to extinguish and produces a variety of nasty toxins. Ironically the advertisement immediately following the story shows a young father and son cheerily roasting marshmallows over a crackling campfire.
By evening the wind has shifted in our direction and the tang of burning rubber is heavy in the air. You can see it and taste it. There are no hydrants near the burning scrapyard so all water has to be trucked to the inferno. It’s going to be a long night for those fighting the fire and for those with adjacent properties. It will be a long night for those of us trying to sleep downwind. Damn! I miss having a boat.
“Civilization is a conspiracy. Modern life is the silent compact of comfortable folk to keep up pretences.”
While cracking eggs for breakfast I came on one coated with small calcium nodules. My first thought was “That must’ve bloody hurt!” Tread-gripping is the gritty material applied to slippery surfaces. It’s more abrasive than course sandpaper. Now the chickens are trying it out. A good grippy egg is a great idea. They are much easier to throw. Free-range organic sport eggs. Cluck you!
While cleaning the barbecue yesterday I spread out the latest local newspaper and discovered an article about the portable toilet that has been installed on main street. This is the same street which is alleged to have been awarded as the best main street in Canada. I promptly sent off a letter to the editor wondering why we don’t have a proper public washroom downtown and why there is an open toilet in the heart of town during a pandemic. Describing a lack of local lateral thinking I ranted on to describe other examples of that thoughtlessness (In my opinion) and then punched the ‘send’ button. Of course I should have stuck to my single issue and let the letter ferment a few minutes before sending it but in the heat of my moment… It’s a covid mask for me! Actually the editor liked the letter and let me edit it as I should have in the first place. One of the joys of a small town newspaper.
Another joy of this small town is a morning walk in the park. Everyone (Well… except an old dufus yesterday) loves Jack and greeting him. In the perfect climate of mid-morning, not too hot or cold, folks gather in groups in the park. With respectful social distances they practise their yoga and tai chi. Some folks sit in their portable chairs and chat, perhaps with knitting they’ve brought. Others read to each other. The view of the harbour is always grand, even from the leash-free area where other folks let their dogs interact happily. I think ahead to the cold blustery winter days and all the dark news of these times and try my best to absorb all the good energy on these end days of summer.
Well, I’m no addict to Facebook and often refer to it as Assbook. That says enough I think. But I took an hour out at midday today to watch a friend’s live evening concert from his home near Whitby in Yorkshire UK. Richard Grainger is a wonderful singer/songwriter with themes about the working man, the fisherman and whaler, common folk in general, and life on the edge of the North Sea. If you loved Stan Rogers you’ll love Richard’s music. I certainly do. You can learn about Richard on Facebook and on Youtube and also purchase any of his many splendid albums. As much as I am reluctant to endorse any social media and all its addictive nuances I’m amazed at the notion of attending a live event half-way around the planet. I know, I know, it’s all old school now. When I was a child the notion of having a telephone in your home was still considered something of a novelty. They were complete with rotary dial and twisty cords. A private phone line was decadent. Now telephone books have been relegated to museums. All the photos in this blog were taken with my mobile telephone. I’ve no idea what all else my “device” can do. Fossil!
Who’d a thunk?
“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.” – William Shakespeare
Isn’t it interesting how some nondescript sight, sound or aroma can trigger a memory long-buried? It happened to me a few evenings ago. I was tinkering on my little trailer as the day began to cool and when I looked up, this is what I saw. I have been doodling landscapes all my life and have always sketched this sort of sky in the background.
The cloud shapes and colours took me back well over sixty years. A happy memory of my childhood was when my father would take he and I off on a day-trip. Off we’d go with his ubiquitous military canvas gas mask bag slung over his shoulder. I’ve no idea what he carried in it but by today’s standards it was a way-too-cool man purse. He was the quintessential British trainspotter and so we usually began these trips with a train ride into Toronto. Trains meant rail yards which were his absolute delight. Steam locomotives were fast-disappearing in the late 50s and dad would almost wet himself when we saw one chuffing out clouds of steam and sooty smoke. Yep, that was over sixty years ago!
Rail yards are often built near waterfronts for obvious reasons and one day that’s where we ended up. There were rows of lake freighters moored near the grain elevators and nestled somewhere in the heart of it all was a small working man’s cafe. All I can remember is a vague recollection of a clock advertising Player’s Navy Cut Cigarettes. There was an image of a bearded naval rating that implied real men smoked. That old salty dog sold a lot of cigarettes; I don’t know how many people he killed. Clearly remembered of that distant moment is a large framed painting of a full-rigged clipper ship sailing before a glorious sunset just like the one pictured here. She heeled slightly to the wind with all her sails set, stuns’ls, t’gallants, everything she could carry was up and billowing in the rich red-gold of a sunset just like tonight. The white bone in her teeth reflected the light of perfection. I suspect that image did a lot to inspire me toward my lifelong nautical persuasions. Could something that fleeting and subtle influence the course of someone’s entire existence? I suspect so.
A few days later I’m finishing this blog as rain patters on the skylight above my desk. It’s lovely! We need it. The forests are bone-dry and our streams are getting dusty.
Anyone who lives on this island is fortunate indeed. What is left of California burns up and wildfires rage in our interior. In the wake of those clouds I photographed a spectacular lightning storm raged across the southern province. We won’t get all the rain we need but it is all a help as summer evolves with shortening days and cooler temperatures.
Walking with Jack in the heat of yesterday afternoon crickets were chirping their summer song and the tang of fermenting blackberries on the vine was in the air. As the berries become over-ripe they begin to ferment in the hot sun. Wasps become drunk on that nectar and buzz harmlessly but crazily in front of your face. There’ll be plenty of berries for several weeks yet. Blackberries have evolved to bloom sequentially and produce fruit over an ongoing calendar. There’s a bumper crop this year with more than plenty for everyone. Just remember to harvest your berries beyond the watery radius of dogs and old men.
Yet two wo days later, the sky is clear again. It is 10°C outside at the moment. Yep, it’s coming.
“There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.”
If there’s a slight draftiness to this text you’re not imagining anything. I have to keep blowing spruce needles off my keyboard. They rain down as the wind howls through the branches overhead. I’m back at my favourite camping spot on Northern Vancouver Island beneath the trees beside the fire trying to keep warm in a very chill breeze. It’s time for the pink (sockeye) salmon to be running. I thought I’d catch some fish, film some bears wading in the creekmouth as they fed but, there are no fish at the moment. And it’s too windy to launch my little boat off the beach. It’s August 11th, I’m wearing my winter coat and all the heavy clothing I have with me.
Ever notice how few things are seldom quite as good as a previous experience? I recount this with humour and bemusement. It’s downright funny! How else do you deal with folks being folks? Six weeks ago this place had only a half-dozen campers, who were kindred spirits with nice dogs. Now the place is overwhelmed with garrulous people trying to take as much space as possible. We all possess a primal urge to lay claim to more than we need and for some, a sense of conquest is part of their outdoor experience. I’m not sure they even know they do it. Each camper seems to have noisy dogs determined to declare loud rights to this entire territory which is quite offensive to Jack. He knows it’s all his! There is a monstrous fifth-wheel trailer parked where it effectively blocks the lane to other campsites. The geezers who came with it sit under their canopy waving cheerfully to others as if to say “Aren’t we grand?” I waved back limply and kept my big mouth shut. Part of the fun for me is minimalism, although I confess that as I write, my generator purrs away charging everything from the electric fridge to the cell phone and this computer.
When someone appears to be leaving, there is a frenzy among other campers who think that it’s a better location than where they were already set up. They frantically pack chairs, tables and firewood by hand over to the next site before the previous occupants have even left. There is the eleven pm arrival of someone joining friends at their camp spot with the requisite bashing about, flashing of brilliant lights and a plethora of screeched commands. “Stopstopstop! SHIT! Turn your wheels a little. NO! Turn em HARD! Easy, easy!” Then their little windup dog is released to begin yelping at the world. Oh the things I want to shout out! Wearily, I turn on my light and read another chapter, then two.
The spirit of the place is much different than it was earlier, but I was warned a different breed was coming. I knew better. Maybe I should come back next month to complete my comparisons. In the morning I sit with a cup of stout black coffee beside a small fire trying to warm up. A cold damp wind has blown all night and even Jack, cuddled up, did not keep my old bones warm. I sit musing about the primal pleasure of an open wood fire and how a little heat from it on one side manages to warm your whole body. Then comes a dry, rasping Covid cough from the trailer blocking the trail. Her merry band sits around her apparently oblivious to her emissions and the bits of lung she’s spewing around. It went on last night and begins again. I’ve seen her Rubenesque form in spandex grandeur and can only think “Pity the pallbearers!” Pandemic or not, she has the sort of deep-chest ripper that deserves a doctor. Despite all the overwhelming admonitions to self-quarantine with any Covid-like symptoms there are those for whom the rules don’t apply. Dead right!
On a mound of gravel overlooking the beach, a gaggle of folks wearing hoods and wrapped in blankets have brought their folding chairs up into the wind and taken up post with a huge telescope. One of them has a large, lunging rottweiler on a leash which appears eager to eat anyone who comes near. On one of the outhouses someone has posted a hand-made misspelled sign proclaiming it to be their private crapper. If a mobile taco stand appears, no surprise. Most folks are lovely but as usual, there are those few who impose themselves on everyone else. In truth the entire site is actually quieter and more civil than those managed sites with little goons in brown shirts patrolling and telling folks what is forbidden as they collect camping fees. Those managed sites have folks parked ridiculously close to each other with no sense of solitude, or this year, social isolation. There is none of that here, but I would happily pay to have this persistent cold wind turned off.
The drive homeward was a frenzied gauntlet. I plodded along at 100 kph, despite the 110 speed limit. Fuel consumption and wear and tear just don’t make sense and besides, I swear that if you were going 140, you’d still feel like you were holding folks back. There was not one police car in sight on the entire trip. When we arrived at the traffic lights in Nanaimo, many of those who hurtled past were waiting right beside us only to zoom off as if late for their own funeral. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was one of those hurtling fools for many years. All that happened more quickly was my aging process.
So now I’m finishing this back in Ladysmith. I’ve had my morning coffee out on the deck listening to the sounds of urban Vancouver Island. Across the alley, the daily release of a neighbour’s Alsatian. “Rowrowrowrowrowrowrowrowrowrow…….Shaddup gitoverere,” then comes the rasping deep-chest cough of a heavy smoker. More bits of lung. It is a weary, predictable script. The serenade is a daily event as regular every morning as the Tuesday seven pm volunteer fire department siren. Then sounds emerge from all over and soon our quiet little town is anything but quiet, drowned in urban sound pollution. It’s time to go back to the woods! There I’ll start my chainsaw and cut some firewood.
A friend and I went to look at what had once been a gorgeous 47’ liveaboard sail-anywhere cutter. Now it is filled with rot from one end to the other and the crusty evidence of long neglect. I couldn’t bring myself to photograph this beauty in her abject humiliation.The vessel is being auctioned off to cover overdue moorage fees. From what I saw, and didn’t see, the monster project wouldn’t be worth more than ten thousand dollars. Otters have already provided copious deposits. There is a fortune to spend as well as several months of hard, long hours. Binderdundat! By comparison a sister ship in Europe is currently for sale for $US 140,000. It seems a huge tragedy to me. That amount of funds would well set me back on my rails and here it’s been thrown away. The ongoing saga of boats and dreamers repeats itself and some naive buyer is about to gain a massive education as the dark realization of a fantastic dream becomes a dark nightmare. For once, it won’t be me.
“Strangely enough, they have a mind to till the soil, and the love of possessions is a disease in them.” …Sitting Bull
“Our fears are like dragons guarding our most precious treasures.” Ray Wylie Hubbard
How can those few words from a Texan country singer not tug at your heart. They apply to all of us. Consider how you feel about our present times. They really hit home for me as I regard a present visitor. Ayre is a 3½ month old tiny dog. She weighs less than 3 kilos (about five pounds.) This five-pound monster has stolen my heart. I find myself taking to her in silly voice puppy-speak. Jack gives her a deep warning growl when she comes prancing at him; he’s doing his part in mentoring her. She’s cute as hell even when she tries to sink her tiny needle teeth into my fingers, growling with all the ferocity she can muster. Of course that bravado is a mask for all that frightens her. “The best defence is a good offence.” Who could want to harm her? There are those who would and some creatures see her as a tasty snack. I can’t imagine how the world must look to a being so tiny and newly arrived. When I pick her up I’m afraid I’m going to break her frail-feeling bones but soon the warm wriggling fragrant bundle of puppy licks my big old hand with a tiny soft pink tongue and there is a moment of joy and a gush of paternal instinct. Awwwww.
Of all the negative things we can find about human beans one of the rays of hope is our indefatigable instinct to care and protect tiny creatures. This little dog can soon prove itself a pain in the ass, demanding attention and food then more attention. Yet an old bush ape like me finds patience and tenderness much to my own amazement. She’s running the whole household, both innocently and deliberately. I’ve know little of the horror of a screaming baby in the night but I suspect this is much the same. There is some override wiring which brings patience and caring without contemplation. Mothers possess a courage and stamina I don’t grasp.
Today is August 3rd, a provincial holiday, BC Day. The weather is languid, the streets are quiet (After a bout of wailing sirens at 04:00) The mourning doves are hoo-hoo-hooing and all seems calm, Covid be damned.
Recently some friends and I held a conversation about the correct, and also the legal way, to merge into traffic. I found myself contemplating this again while out walking Jack this morning.
I’ve some some research online. In BC there is a bit of a grey zone about this with references to “being socially handicapped” and “it’s the polite thing to do.” It is clearly stated however that a vehicle making a left turn, or entering traffic on it’s left is always the give-way vehicle. If there is an accident involving any merging vehicle it will be always that vehicle deemed at fault. A vehicle in the moving traffic lane must not impede the flow of traffic it is in to accomodate a merging vehicle. Our traffic laws were generally written based on marine traffic rules and it makes sense that a vessel entering a busy channel must give way to others already underway. In the air, or on the water, a vessel with another on its right is the stand-on vessel.
I have a notion that folks demanding you merge ahead of them, or go before them at a four-way stop for example, are often actually empowering themselves rather than trying to be nice. There are no “Nice Police” and usually simply playing by the rules is the nicest thing to do, then we all have a notion of whazzup. I’ve held a drivers license for fifty-two years without any crashes. With all of the driving I’ve done I like to think I’ve done something right. I’ll certainly admit that as I age, my reaction time is beginning to slow as well as my ability to see things as quickly. Being honest about your abilities is a good way to help stay safe. Ever notice how no-one admits to being a poor driver? It’s always the other guy.
Blackberry season is now in full swing. Men with plastic buckets lean into the brambles picking the succulent treats. Except for one. He stood watching and holding a full pail while his elderly wife worked on filling another, all the while she was holding a big German Shepard on a leash. It did not like the brambles. I wanted to kick that old misogynist’s arse but he would have spilled the berries and the dog would have bitten me. Isn’t it interesting what one can assume from a glance? Everyone seems extra testy these days so it’s best to keep to oneself. At least we’ve had no explosions. Working in the backwoods I learned how even twenty pounds of ammonium nitrate could crack away a big piece of granite mountain. Nearly three tons of the stuff in downtown Beirut is like a nuclear bomb. That thousands, out and about living their daily lives, were not killed is a miracle. Bang. How quickly life can change!
Jack and I have just come back from our morning walk, or in other words, shuffle and sniff. It rained last night and there is a subtle perfume of freshness. We met that old couple with the dog again. Pops was holding the dog this time and his wife was breakfasting on wet blackberries. All three seemed pleasant and amicable. So…three friends, instead of enemies.
The fourth agreement: “ I will respect the power of my words.”
A good friend of mine grumbles about books that are written with “Twenty dollar words.” I agree. If an author tries to impress readers with obscure words and establish themselves as a scholastic superior they are demonstrating a large sense of insecurity. No-one should need a dictionary to read a novel. So says this bog trotter blogger.
Communication is about understanding each other, both transmitting and receiving. While digging through my Chambers Dictionary to learn a new word I’d found I tripped over this beauty. “Lemniscate: the locus of the foot of the perpendicular from the centre of a conic upon the tangent.” I’ll let you look up locus. It IS English but you could have fooled me. Next time someone pisses you off, call them a “Pathetic little lemniscate.” UHUH! This on-going pandemic has the masses lemmingscating in ever more frantic circles. Six months ago if someone had approached a bank and lurked outside wearing a hood, sunglasses and a facemask, the wail of sirens would have been imminent. You might hear them now if a person is not wearing a mask. And what’s with those folks driving around alone with the windows rolled up, wearing a mask and surgical gloves?
The comet Neowise has also left me bewildered. I’ve successfully photographed Hale Bopp when it adorned our sky and the images I’ve seen of Neowise looked like something very similar. I’ve hiked mountain trails in the middle of the night and sat on beaches for hours watching the night evolve and revolve. A seasoned amateur astronomer finally pointed it out, exactly where I’d been looking all along. It is a faint, blurry dull light; not at all like the exotic imagines I’ve been seeing online. Apparently I’ve missed it, repeatedly although I’m not entirely confident in that old stargazer. No wonder binoculars were recommended! Clearly the icy celestial blob is moving along quickly and the show is over.
One night I’d set up my camera on a beach, all ready for what might come. A small group of people soon planted themselves on a log in front of me and began yukking it up, completely destroying the ambience of the beautiful lingering sunset. There was some marvellous a cappella singing coming from across the lagoon which perfectly enhanced the evening. Bliss! It was drowned by the newcomer’s gormless blither. Apparently my silent presence bothered them because finally they asked just what it was I waiting for. My instant reply, “For you to leave.” There were no threats or fisticuffs. They left. Funny thing is, they were speaking in a Quebecois dialect and didn’t grasp that I understood their rude comments about things local. Tabernac! It’s fun being a fly on the wall; n’est-ce pas? “Si vous n’aimez pas notre île, prenez votre Covid et rentrez chez vous.” Oh the things we’d like to say!
After my efforts to photograph the comet I’ve come up empty-handed. My neighbour then shows me a spectacular image he has taken with his mobile phone. I am suitably humbled. Summer wears on in the wake of the comet. The days are noticeably shorter, the afternoons hot, the evenings pleasantly cool. The highways this summer seem especially busy although there are few out-of-province license plates. I can only imagine the tense manoeuvrings in campgrounds as people try to find social isolation all the while being jammed together as closely as possible. There is an amazing parade of monstrous RVs careening along at high speed in their quest to “Get away from it all.” I suppose that if pandemic economics prevent being able to make the bi-weekly payments, you may as well go hide in the woods.
Out and about in my dinghy, looking for a chance of a cell signal, I came across a US-registered sloop in a local anchorage. Hello? The border is closed, perhaps I should have reported the boat. I admire a rebel spirit so I’ll let someone else deal with the invader. There are certainly plenty of vigilante types out there looking for a cause. The vessel was displaying a Canadian courtesy flag but no US ensign or markings other than their Washington registration number. So, they knew they were in a foreign country but had not bothered trying to go through Canada Customs. It would be interesting to hear the far-fetched explanation.
For the time being, the closest I can get to my southern dreams is to listen to that beloved radio station in Goldfield Nevada. A country band they featured was called the ‘Sonoran Dogs’ which of course translated instantly to ‘Snoring Dogs.’ Their music was fine but was the nuance of the band’s name intentional? I watched a low-budget movie last night called ‘Hard Times’. Set in an impoverished Irish village the plot develops around a few locals who hijack a truckload of Viagra being shipped from the local pharmaceutical factory. They hide their plunder in a roadside well which is part of the village aquifer. Soon everyone is sporting about with a wildly enhanced libido. The nuance of that groaner title finally hit me this morning. By the way, the CCleaner anti-virus program I bought and described last blog in disgruntlement, has now been fully refunded. That’s nice to report. I guess it takes a while to respond when you’re based in the Philippines. I feel obligated to mention an honourable conclusion.
Finishing some work on a backyard sundeck I painted it with a viscous deck paint that has the colour and texture of plum butter. I haven’t seen or thought of that delightful substance since my childhood. Now I have a craving. There are plenty of recipes available. Isn’t it funny how life goes? All I did was paint a deck. That becomes* plum butter. Go figure!
(* Could have said extrapolates)
“One of the great cosmic laws, I think, is that whatever we hold in our thought will come true in our experience. When we hold something, anything, in our thought, then somehow coincidence leads us in the direction that we’ve been wishing to lead ourselves.” Richard Bach
“You’re outta cheese!” Those were the first spoken words I heard in the wee hours of the morning. I’d just stepped into the local all-night corner store at 02:30. I was grabbing a quick cup of coffee before trekking up at local mountain with the hope of photographing the Comet Neowise. A woman was there loading up a DIY meal of some sort (Eeeech!) The clerk replied to her with an unintelligible middle-eastern accent. She responded “Jes tellin’ ya!” And so the day began.
With a backpack full of photo gear and trusty tripod in hand I hiked the final ascent to the peak of Mount Prevost using my head lamp, finding my way up the brushy trail in the dark woods. I only tripped four times. I missed seeing the comet but that early scramble produced some excellent images. What a beautiful part of the world I live in! If the sky tonight is still cloudless I’ll try again; but without the clamber.
There are many areas in my life where I can be accused of being a few noodles short of a full can. I do things which in retrospect are clearly stupid. A few days ago, after a long harassment by a pop-up intruder on my computer desktop, I gave in. A free version of CCleaner, allegedly keeping my computer files clean, etc. etc; had kept intruding for many months. It’s been there for so long I can’t remember when it first arrived. It has persistently told me I should get serious and buy the real deal for $24.95. Times are tough. Even that amount needs to be seriously considered. I submitted a credit card number and suddenly the invoice price was $74.95 for a far more exotic package than what I’d ordered. I’m certain I carefully made the correct selection. Now, I can’t directly access my e-mail and every time I do anything online a big, long-fading pop-up covers the screen telling my what a wonderful product I’ve bought. WTF? In my complaint I promised the company called Cleverbridge I’d tell the world. They have NOT responded about my e-mail to their “support department.” So I have now told the world. End of the-too few noodles story. There’s no sucker like an old sucker.
In recent blogs I’ve commented on the “Black Lives Matter” story. I’ve been bemused about all those bronze statues being torn down. Now I’ve twice heard a solution from two articulate Black intellectuals. They both said the same thing. Leave the statues alone and instead erect signs telling of the bias and ignorance which had the bronzes first erected. Provide the comparative views of today which mark our progress away from the datums which those statues are. That is very positive, making lemonade from lemons. If we forget our history we’re bound to repeat it. None of us will ever rise if we continue to stay on the ground struggling with our knees on each other’s necks.
In the hurly-burly chaos of our frantic lives it is easy to get fixated on all that is wrong and dark. Occasionally something incredibly simple can hit a reset button. For me it was opening a single pea pod growing on a vine in a pot. The aroma of the contents and the superb taste of the tiny fresh peas was an instant tonic; aroma therapy. Smell and taste are great stimulants and suddenly for a few seconds I was back in vegetable gardens of my childhood, not a bad little vacation at all! The hike up through the mountain forest in the dark evoked other happy memories. Tis the simple tings Billy!
“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” Martin Luther King Jr.
It seems a long time ago now that there was a promise of “A great big beautiful wall” to be built along the Mexican border. I recall jovially remarking at the time that eventually there might be another wall along the Canadian / US border. I had no idea about the Covid walls that were to come. I despair about how long it will be before I can legally cross that line and head for the back roads of the desert again.
I’ve recently learned how, during WWII with desperate labour shortages, the US turned to Mexico for help. It went so far as military assistance where the US recruited, trained and equipped a fighter squadron known as the “Aztec Eagles” which provided a significant contribution in the South Pacific. I’ve no idea of what else went on. I am sure there are plenty of missed pages in the history books regardless of who wrote them. One has to keep their mind open; always. I wonder if some of the discord about illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico began with those desperate times. “A friend in need is a friend indeed” and what happens when that need is perceived to be reduced? The solid “Old Wealth” of many nations was built on the backs of its enslaved people until a newer, more insidious system was developed to enslave us all. So few of us can see that and choose to believe the fantasies and myths we are fed to distract us from certain harsh realities. Recent global protest about racial inequity (Already dying down) has me asking more questions than ever.
My curiosity about the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign has eventually had me stumble over the name Paul Robeson. A Black American who had no problem calling himself a “Negro,” he was an athlete, a singer and actor who championed the causes of the working man and also the civil rights movement in the US back in earlier days. He was politically aware, courageous and active in the 1930’s through the 60’s. A globally famous and loved entertainer he was yet another whom the McCarthy inquisitions worked hard to crush. A hero of British coal miners, he seems almost completely forgotten here in North America. Here’s a link to an award ceremony involving two other famous personalities and political activists, Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. Robeson is mentioned there as an inspiration to them. There is plenty of information online about this great man if you care to look. Here’s one link.
I am embarrassed to realize my ignorance about many things which you only discover when you are in quest of more knowledge. How could I have not known that for so long? I can certainly say that the more I try to learn about Black civil liberties and oppression, the more confused I become. You cannot demand both equal rights and special consideration without creating more division. Eventually you become your own worst enemy. I continue to declare that the mantra has to be “All Lives Matter” before true equality can ever begin to occur. I know that no matter what anyone says on this matter, someone else will be offended. It seems that’s what it takes to inspire folks to open their minds and look outside their personal comfort zone. I don’t so much want people to agree with me but rather to just ask their own questions.
Meanwhile this bogtrotter still prefers to be isolated out at sea or somewhere in the back country and off I’ll go again as soon I can. With the cool, damp weather we’ve had so far this summer, our forests are still open to wander. A few days of higher temperatures and drying winds will change that. Then the skies will fill with smoke. It is a “Go now” time. Summer is far from over and as we’ve learned so well this dreary year, you must grab the moments you have.
(Written Somewhere On Vancouver Island Beside Johnstone Strait)
Poor cell service. No internet, no news, no e-mail, no Twitter. Sunny, but with a cold westerly wind blowing down Johnstone Strait. Jack and I are camped at the mouth of a River near the top of Vancouver Island. A monstrous dryland log sort separates us from Johnstone Strait and the foaming waters reared by the blasting wind. There is a lovely little campground provided free of charge by the timber company. Spiked to a tree a sign says, “If you clean up your mess maybe you’ll come again.” Blue collar eloquence; the area is pristine. Below us is a fantastic dreamlike maze of huge Sitka spruce interwoven with clear shallow gravel-bottomed streams. There is thick underbrush and a shoulder-high carpet of ferns. The area is thick with slugs. Within a half-hour of setting Jack’s food dish down it was crawling with the slimy beasts. I don’t care who used to eat them, eeech! I am stumped for how to take photos or video which accurately portrays the feeling of this beautiful place. Salmon spawn here and there are reports of grizzlies in the area. The roads are liberally dotted with huge mounds of bear scat so I make lots of noise and stay in open areas. Does a bear crap in the woods? Yep, and twice as often on the road. It’s a manyberry thing. Unless….. a Sasquatch festival? Now playing: The Mugwumps.
We drove in around nine pm. There was plenty of light and plenty of game. Elk and deer ambled the road in several places. After two nights in that place we then found the roadway to heaven. Now I’m sitting in the dark only twenty feet from the ocean’s edge looking northward up the last miles of Johnstone Strait. There is a brisk cool westerly breeze which has eased from a near-gale at sundown. I’ll let my photos describe this place which I’ll leave un-named. If you are a kindred spirit you’ll find it on your own which makes the magic a little richer or, if you like, I’ll tell you one on one if you ask. It’s that kind of place. Other campers here, who have been coming for decades, have sworn me to secrecy. I see why.
Next paragraph, twenty-four hours later. Another blazing yet soft J.M. Turner sunset. The wind is finally easing, for the moment. I’ve known it to blast relentlessly for over two weeks non-stop. That’s a long time to be stuck on a tug boat with a few other blue-collared guys. Tensions rise and tedium inspires bad tempers. Bound to our log tow, one time for two weeks, we were committed to nursing it through the storm until we could deliver it safely far south down the coast. That would take ten more days if all went well. Six hours on watch, six off, day in day out, that tedium brings out hidden bottles and then hell breaks loose. I’ve seen a fist fight over who installed the toilet paper roll backwards! It’s funny now!
But tonight here is peaceful. A young brother and sister are playing on the large roots of a beached tree thirty feet away. It’s lovely to hear the sound of their happy voices against the rhythm of waves gently lapping on the stone beach and a joy to see two siblings who like each other enough to get along amicably. Their joint imaginations as they turn the big roots into their castle, decorating it with kelp, is uplifting. Sometimes there is a rattle of the round beach stones rolling in the pull of the waves. The day began with a pod of humpbacks swimming close to shore, now it ends placidly. Money cannot buy bliss like this.
This paragraph begins on July first; the year half spent. Instead of being in a crowd celebrating our nationhood in a sweating Covid mass with loud music and the aroma of food stalls, I sit alone at my Honda table by the edge of the sea. The wind rose again this morning. When I opened the door on the trailer we were shrouded in fog. Now that fog has become a roll of low grey cloud over the strait and I watch a wall of rain advancing slowly toward us. I am wearing all the jackets and vests I have. I was astute enough to bring a water-proof storm coat with me. It seems like winter. Still, I’d rather be here. That’s a grand feeling.
Jack is away making his rounds. Most of the campsites have filled. Those folks have children and dogs. He comes back regularly to check on me and let me know he’s having a fine time and, perhaps, to assure himself of my blessing to wander. God forbid I wander off! He’s just reappeared with two gorgeous Australian collies. They voraciously sample his food bowl while he sits by, the gracious host. With all these people around there are no lurking predators and I know he does not go exploring beyond a short radius. He knows his limits and his joy is mine as well. I want every one of his senior days to be as rich as possible. After making his rounds he wants to get back into bed in the trailer. (Which I’ve decided to name ‘Boxtrot’) I join him and pull an extra blanket over us. The day wears on and we hibernate. Rain lashes the far shore of the strait. The neighbours cut and split more firewood. On the horizon to the west a sail catches a glint of sunlight. That may be the brightest moment of the day. And so it was. At day’s end, the wind is still blasting. The horizon to the west is a bright gleam of sunlight and there are now patches of blue between the ragged clouds; whatever that means. It’s all good.
On our sixth morning we awake to a pristine sky. Now a rising southeast breeze stirs the ocean. Without the roar of the wind I can hear a choir of bird songs echoing through the surrounding woods. The bitin, g bugs have returned with a vengeance. A red squirrel scolds and a pine martin scampers along the beach with a freshly caught crab in his mouth. Jack has found a patch of sunlight under the trees and he snores gently in his bed of spruce needles. I sip my first coffee and ruefully consider that groceries are beginning to run low. I don’t want to leave but it will be homeward tomorrow.
Yesterday I went for more firewood from a nearby abandoned logging sight. Jack despises the din of chainsaws and promptly disappeared. I went off in a panic-riddled search only to find him eventually sitting exactly back where I had been working. He was soaked in hydraulic oil. Apparently he had hidden beneath the only logging machine still there. There is a hose and tap harnessed to a nearby spring so with a bottle of dish detergent Jack had to endure a cold bath. While doing that I met a former skipper I’d once worked with on the boats. He was camped nearby; funny little world! In the evening my camping neighbour rushed up to me asking if I knew first aid. His wife was splitting kindling and had amputated the end of her thumb. A small drama (Not to her!) which serves as a reminder about how quickly things can happen and the need for thoughtful prudence; especially when you and your buddy are two old dogs. Fortunately I was able to assist and after a trip to a distant hospital, they were back in their tent before dawn.
In the time that I’ve written these last two paragraphs the wind has risen from a zephyr to a half-gale. It stacks waves against the rising tide. It’s beautiful and I wonder how long before I see the bright colour of someone’s spinnaker charging up the coast. (There was one late in the afternoon.) I’ll sit placidly, sipping coffee and waiting for whales. Breakfast over, dishes done, chores complete I’m back at my table pecking away. While sitting here I’ve started reading a new (to me) book. I try to buy books from the bargain bin in my favourite book store and sometimes find a real treasure. I’ve begun ‘Fishing For Stars’ by Bryce Courtenay.’ I liked the title. It’s brick-thick with seven-hundred pages of small print. The first paragraph is like a poem and begins: “Some things from the past stay fresh in the mind of an old man…” He goes on to describe being at sea in a gaff-rigged cutter named ‘Madam Butterfly.’ I was hooked. On the forth page I read: “Mine has been a fortunate life in so many ways, but in the end we live more in our head than we do in a place and lately there’s some alarming stuff happening in my head.” That’d be me!
I think it’s time Jack and I went for a walk. I’ll give my impression on this novel once I’ve squeezed it for the last drop; six hundred ninety-five pages to go.
Back from our walk, I’ve decided to declare this a do nothing afternoon. We walked to the far side of a lovely stream not far from here, explored and waded back across through the icy water. Jack swam and is clearly delighted in today’s little adventure. Now he’s asleep in his day bed. He is a master of do-nothingness. I’m trying to learn the art. Next blog I’ll post a link to my next video, made about this recent trip.
“Our mind is of three categories: what we know, what we don’t know, and what we don’t know we don’t know. Not knowing is unfortunate; not knowing that we don’t know is tragic.” – W. Erhart.