So who’s gone? The lilies. Ils sont partis! Some rain, some wind, poof, not there anymore. Come again next year. This morning was a gusty day. With the wind rumbling in one ear, looking up showed the trees bending in the opposite direction as the wind on the ground. Aircraft, on a well-executed final approach to the nearby airport where we walk, suddenly found themselves trying to land downwind. This old pilot found myself looking up and muttering “Go ‘round, go around.” A Fedex flight forced its way on down. That’s awfully hard on the airplane, especially if you bend it. But commerce first, that’s what got us into this Covid mess. It’s another one of those pandemic days. Many of us seem to be making weird decisions. But in the woods berries are forming and any day now, the first wild roses will begin to appear. The planet’s life cycle goes on; whether we like it or not.
After writing a blog, I usually let it sit for a little while, rather like making bread. Then I edit it, punch it down, and let it sit again. I don’t work under any deadline although sometimes I pretend I do and see what I can turn out in short order. Working under pressure can be a good thing. The last blog I posted was not a careless effort. My remarks, both about government and environmentalism, were a bit polemic and on the edge of being rants instead of simple amusement. In fact, I let it sit and ferment for a few days before deciding not to rip it apart and flush the whole thing. Finally the upload button was pushed. Then a few more typos appeared; it never fails.
In this time of special duress, I feel my best effort is comic relief. I certainly do not want to offend anyone. I want to help dispel anger and frustration, not add to what is already heaping up out there. But, that which has some folks doubled in laughter renders others livid with indignation. So, stir the pot, and review what you’ve got. Do your best, screw the rest. If you’re going to put it in writing be prepared to stand behind it, not like some politicians.
Now here’s a horrifying thought. Imagine finally winning a big lottery prize and sprinting off to the lottery office. There you find that to claim your winnings, you must first produce a receipt for your ticket. Well golly! Nobody told me that! I’ll just go buy tickets for another forty years. That’s a story I learned yesterday for a lady selling me a ticket. In these tense times, there are plenty of obstreperous people out there. “No, you didn’t win.” When push comes to shove we’re all at least a bit grumpy living under this overcast of doubt, and gloom and threat.
If some cheerless sonafabitch has not thought it up, another will concoct a worse yarn. There’s always a piece of information which can change a person’s perspective and stir their doubt bucket. Certainly the last few months have deluged us with new and often opposing information. Now there is apparently evidence that folks in North America were ill with Covid 19 as far back as December. That changes the whole picture. I’m arriving at a point where I don’t much give a damn about what any of it means. All I have is this moment and I’ll live it according to my conscience and as fully as I can so long as I am not endangering anyone else. That’s the best anyone can do, pandemic or not. “Someone to love, something to do, something to look forward to, while doing no harm.”
Last blog I mentioned the recent Michael Moore production, ‘Planet Of The Humans.’ Now videos have been posted which refute the claims made there. They point out that a lot of the information is severely outdated and skewed toward the sensational. Probably so. So are the ‘Think Green’ diatribes. One man’s truth is another man’s lie. It has always been so. So long as folks are urged to ask questions and can be inspired to take a personal responsibility about our world, perhaps the end does justify the means. It is not up to them to make a change, it is our personal obligation. Us, us, us! We need to get that into our Covid news-confused heads. Meanwhile, my dog Jack and I are going for another walk in the woods.
“Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.” Henry Van Dyke
While posting the previous blog, it was pleasing to realize that my text had not once used the C word which now nestles in our vocabulary to a point of not being noticed. It is like the word “like” which has become a painfully misused preposition. I’m like so in love. I’m like going fast. I’m like really hungry. WTH? What exactly are you doing if you are doing like something? Is there a parallel existence that is like this one? Ya know, like, it really pisses me off. Like actually? How did that misuse of basic language creep in along with all the other strange anomalies we don’t even hear after a while? The word “cool” is now long used to express the same appreciation which, when I was a child, was “hot.” Awesome! There’s yet another. An English friend was accused of having an English accent. He responded “No mate, I am English, I don’t have an accent.” You’re hearing me with your accent. Now then, could you like pass me a beer eh? Yup, I can see how English is a hard language to learn.
CRA, now there’s another disagreeable C word. Canada Revenue Agency; Mr. Turdeau’s mafia. For reasons of health I am no longer able to do the he-man work I used to. For reasons of age I am apparently not a desirable hire-able. I do under-the-table jobs which a lifetime of experience permits me to do when others can’t or won’t. For reasons of poor luck, translated to honesty and stupidity, I am not financially secure. I’m flat-assed busted broke. But being a responsible citizen, I filed my tax return in good time, weeks before the dead line. There were a few hundred bucks coming back which I really need.
Then the Covid Crisis was acknowledged and the government began handing out money to anyone who came up with a vaguely reasonable story, honest or not. Just apply online, three easy questions. The country is being bilked, scammed, and ripped-off for an astronomical sum we have not begun to calculate. I know there are dire and legitimate needs but there is a part of our society which has no conscience nor consideration of consequences. Meanwhile, trying to be an honest citizen receives punishment. After a lifetime of contributing to the GNP I’m treated like I don’t matter. I can also reiterate, from experience, how shabbily a small Canadian entrepreneur is treated. A free spirit? Scum! And over seventy percent of our economy is small business-based.
A blurb on the evening news casually mentioned that tax returns filed on paper, the old-fashioned way, had been delayed because of all the other emergency activities. Well, I’m old-school. I checked the mail again, nothing. In the morning I phoned CRA and after a maze of numbers to push I waited for almost fifty minutes to speak with an “agent.” Wonderfully her accent was standard Canadian, and she was pleasant, both unusual in my experience with government agencies. I provided the data so that funds could be direct-deposited to my bank account. I asked the question “When?” I learned that in fact paper-filed returns have been suspended.
Well, guess what queue I’m going to go stand in? My income has been cut-off due to the Covid crisis. Coincidentally, our illustrious Prime Minister has announced today, that the government has banned over 1500 makes of assault-style firearms. Hmmm, interesting timing! Coincidence? A long-time hunter, I know that nobody needs a Kalashnikov to hunt deer. For once I agree with our supreme dude but remember that one pissed-off old citizen with a shotgun can still damage a politician! A pitch fork will work too! Beware angry geezers. They don’t have much to loose!
A little later, I return to my desk after shovelling some gravel for a neighbour. I feel much better and muse about the therapeutic values of splitting fire wood and other simple mindless manual labour. There’s nothing like a good zen sweat. I miss that pre-fossil fuel which warms a body at least twice before it is burned. I watched a documentary about life on a nearby Gulf Island and listened to a fellow who proudly uses firewood for heating and cooking, brag about not using fossil fuels. Stunning! He cuts it with a gasoline chainsaw, brings it home in a gasoline truck and has clearly never thought about what coal and oil came from. Yeah man; ancient composted vegetation, like you know, trees! Then there’s the question about carbon footprints and how many cubic metres of Co2 he produces being environmentally friendly.
This guy has raised his family in a yurt while he builds a big wooden house, with asphalt shingles, glass windows and a deep concrete basement as well as many other exploited resources. When do we ever figure out that each of us is part of the problem? Stop the bullshit and work out the difference between need, want and greed. I understand that there are a lot of very well intentioned people who are poorly informed, even misguided.
Here’s a tiny bit of environmental homework. Do research on the mining and smelting of sand to make all the glass we use. And what of concrete? Mining the rock, crushing it into powder, baking it to make cement all so we go and smother more natural earth somewhere else is a monstrous environmental disaster which few consider. The impact is huge! The production of concrete is one of the planet’s single largest sources of carbon dioxide. And just think of all the energy consumed to make glass, concrete, steel, toilet paper! All those exploited resources, and the energy to take and modify them to suit our ends, so much going into housing, schools and hospitals (Boarded up or not) commercial and industrial buildings, roads, malls, churches, airports all of which will be ripped up and replaced within a few decades. The environmental cost, for example, incurred to produce windmills is huge and not questioned because if we can put some of those twirling giants on display we’re clearly in the groove. Are we doing what we do to be thoughtfully in tune with the planet or are we going through the motions of appearing cool? A friend describes our madness as “Fornicating for chastity.”
I’m not a great fan of Mikey but he was clever enough to keep his pudgy face out of this one. He is facetious, as capable of bending statistics and evidence as his targets, and probably as profit-motivated. I do love the indignant howls of various environment organizations targeted in this film. The information presented is perverted but so are many of the notions he challenges. The message is clearly, “Green Energy” demands as much energy, if not more, than it would have taken to simply consume fossil fuels in the first place. A wise old man once told me that the key to long-term survival is to realize how little we really need. Just think of all the paper tissue products we consume; all for the extravagance of ease and comfort. It is not complicated. CONSUME LESS! WASTE LESS! The documentary is meeting mixed reviews but it does provoke questioning dialogue. If folks would just ask questions the world would begin to improve. Unfortunately we all live in a very broad comfort zone where complacency rules our choices and allows politicians and corporations (One and the same it often turns out) free rein.
When I was a child the notion of rolls of paper towels would have been dumbfounding. When clothing was too worn to patch anymore, (An alien concept now) it was torn up for rags, which were even washed and reused. Toilet paper was not novel, but many of us with outdoor facilities used newspaper and old book pages. It was how I learned to read. The planet advanced nicely without our present decadence. Think of all the environmental devastation wrought simply so we can clean our bottoms with triple-fluffy poo pillows. Hell, some ads even have the bears using the stuff. Trouble is, the woods where those bears live are being cut down to make dunny rolls. When the Covid panic hit, folks rushed out in panic to gather all the toilet paper they could find. Priorities first!
Here’s one more thought. Suppose some persuasive enterprisers are able to convince the world that the gyprock drywall used in nearly every building is a deadly carcinogen. It has to go the way of lead-pipe plumbing and asbestos products. Can you imagine? Sleep well.
See what happens when you mess with a taxpayer. You get him thinking!
On a positive note. We still live in a part of the world where we are free to openly voice criticisms. Imagine enduring this pandemic, for example, in Syria or India or an African state. Throw in Ebola, drought, civil war and general desperate starvation. When schools and casinos will re-open are not a concern. Finding a hospital, any hospital is a challenge. A friend travelling in Zimbabwe last year ended up in hospital after an accident. To be viewed, her x-rays were taken outside and held up to the sun. So how many ventilators might they have on hand? Face masks? Yeah right! Toilet paper; what’s that? We’re doing OK.
“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you.What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make.” —Jane Goodall
I watched a presentation about flying a home-built gyro plane in the Florida Everglades. It was dream-like. This blog’s quote is something the pilot said in that video. I think it is profound as a metaphor about life, perhaps especially in these times of being forced to travel low and slow which as any pilot will tell you, is dangerous. There’s really not much to add to what has already been said. All the angles have been examined. Every possibility has been covered, many so dark and ludicrous as to be boggling. But then the ludicrous has become normal, even boring.
It is clear and calm this morning. If you listen, you can hear the dickey birds breaking wind. No, that was a squirrel! It is absolutely quiet out there. Not one distant blatting motorcycle, no vehicles of any sort. Once again, that Omega man feeling. Then comes the twitter of song sparrows and a chorus of cooing from the mourning doves. Ahhhh!
I found myself thinking “In like a lion out like a…. nope, that was March! Today is the last day of April. How’d that happen?” How time, despite the tedium, has whizzed us to here is amazing. A third of the year is gone! I know it’s Thursday, the neighbours have set their trash out. So, time to get my stuff together. Garbage day is not a great way to mark the passage of your life!
Jack and I continue to explore local nooks we’ve overlooked and sometimes I’m stunned to realize how this or that have gone unseen by me for years. And I arrogantly consider myself to be observant compared to most folks. What don’t they see? Off we go again to wonder as we wander.
“If you can’t smell the flowersyou’re flying too high.”
The chill overcast of early morning gave way to a warm calm. I began imagining that I could hear the budding leaves emerging. Jack and I went off to one of our mutually favourite wandering spots, the old Swallowfield Farm. I set up to take a shot along the mud road beneath a canopy of blossoms and chlorophyll green with a background of bird songs. A helicopter buzzed overhead, from another corner the scrape and bang of heavy machinery echoed across the fields. Now an old WWII fighter plane clattered by, a Yak attack. I know and love that particular airplane but gimme a break, I’m trying to shot some video here! It was joined in a chorus by some goon on a mufflerless Fartley Davidson. Geez Louise! Part of the art of making videos is often the accompanying sound track and my amateur skill level does not know much about erasing and over-dubbing or applying any of the wobble-quavers which the pros can do.
That in turn got me thinking about how I’ve arrived at this point in my experience as a photographer. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve become a snapshot artist instead of the fully involved disciple of the medium format film camera and the dark room. I used to spend long hours working in a tiny, chemical-saturated space producing the perfect print, both black and white, colour and cibachrome (Printing from colour slides. It was especially toxic.) I even started a business printing folk’s personal photos, but circumstances prevailed that moved me on. How was I to know that digital photography was coming and monster companies like Eastman Kodak were to become a memory? Finding darkroom equipment, paper and chemicals has now become an expensive challenge. I’d love to go back to it again, appreciating it as the wonderful art it is.
I watched a biography about Ansel Adams recently. If you don’t know who he was, you’re just not interested in photography but you’ll know some of his work. He photographed landscapes and is famous for his work in Yosemite Park and the High Sierras. He lugged cumbersome box cameras with their glass plate negatives to mountain tops and developed stunning prints which captivated the world. A master of light, composition, depth of field and opportune timing he was also a chemist, perfecting solutions for what was needed to maximize his images. He always used only natural light so far as I know. His work inspired the founding of National Parks yet his work was a simple portrayal of a beautiful world so many of us look at but never see. Portraits, abstracts, wildlife photos were not what he was known for. He inspired me as much as the thousands of other spellbound photographers. He was a landscape artist.
I first took a serious interest in photography as a boy. My camera was a ubiquitous Kodak Brownie, crude, battered and abused as it was. I would carefully load of roll of 120 format, 12 frame film in and tape up the worn case latches to prevent any light leaking in. I can still recall the first photo which thrilled me. It was of a herd of cows resting beneath a spreading elm tree on a hot summer afternoon. By accident I’d caught the light and composition almost perfectly. I’d love to see that little square print again. Time and technology have moved on.
Years later I took up serious photography using manual cameras which required every shot be manually calibrated for correct exposure, shutter speed, depth of field, contrast and any necessary filtration. Then it was off to the darkroom. I recall photography with a darkroom being described as having a leash without a puppy. I was never a gadget collector and take pride in doing good work with simple equipment. That of course is product of having limited finances, but no camera, no matter how exotic, can produce a good frame without a skilled person to utilize it. And no camera, no matter how inexpensive, has been maximized by anyone. Modern mobile phones are now sold for their photographic capabilities. Gidgets, gadgets and other toys are extolled as absolutely requisite to make good photographs. Photo magazines are filled with ads admonishing that you won’t get your ultimate shot without yet another product. All I’ll say to all of that is simply: Bullshit! Keep it simple, stick with basics.
I am deeply offended when someone says “Your photos are awesome, you must have really good cameras.” No damnit!
Do you want to be an equipment collector or make good photos? You can either peer through some multi-thousand dollar telephoto lens or you can learn the habitat and habits of your subject and get up close for a splendid photograph with an affordable piece of equipment along with all that you experience gained in the process. I recently watched another documentary on the work of Indian photographer Raghu Rai. Thousands of dollars worth of Nikon equipment dangled on straps from his neck while he shot projects with his mobile phone.
Ansel Adams did not have the equipment to machine gun his subjects and then go to his computer photo programs to determine and manipulate a best shot. Each exposure had to count. In any case, a day out with any camera is still a way to maintain contact with whatever view of the world is important to you. Photography is the simple, yet long-learned art of seeing and then sharing your vision with others. In these days of social isolation it is a wonderful endeavour, even if you don’t want to share what you see. And try as you might, it is an art you’ll never master as much as you’d like. There’s the challenge.
“Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.” – Peter Adams
Takaya is dead. A few blogs back (Feb. 1st) I wrote about this splendid, and particularly beautiful lone wolf, who found his way through the city of Victoria and across tidal rapids to survive and thrive on Discovery Island. He lived alone, in social isolation for several years, managing to hunt successfully and to endure his solitude. This spring, in his mating season he returned to the main island, looking for a mate some think. He was eventually tranquilized and relocated deep into the woods of Southern Vancouver Island. He has now been shot dead by a hunter about fifty metres from where he was released. I am enraged and heartbroken as apparently are many others globally.
I have been a hunter who has lived in rural areas and eaten plenty of wild game. There was never a sound reason to kill a wolf. They posed no threat to anyone or anything despite any myth which can ever be conjured up. A few years ago, on Northern Vancouver Island, a grizzly bear was sighted, the first ever there to anyone’s knowledge. It was promptly shot. When our government conservation officers attend a human versus wildlife situation, quite often a wild creature is killed.
At the moment, tidal waves of fear about a deadly pandemic wash around the planet. Our entire social fabric is under tremendous pressure. The implications of this disease are far-reaching with all its fear and doubt. It is a time for introspection. I want only to put a little light into other’s eyes and yet today I share a little more grief. Damn us all. That wolf will never howl from the depths of the forest again, nor will any offspring. There is silence in the swamp.
“The wolves knew when it was time to stop looking for what they’d lost, to focus instead on what was yet to come.” Jodi Picoult
As my beloved pal Jack advances further into his dotage he continues to learn new things. Or perhaps he teaches himself; and me. Over the past several weeks he has begun employing an extension of his vocabulary of grunts, sighs, groans, growls and barks. Now he regularly emits a special short, sharp bark. Standing beside the door it means he wants out, or back in. By the pantry door the bark means a treat is expected. Coming from the middle of the living room it means he’d like some petting and general attention. In one of his three beds the same demand is a request to be tucked in with a blanket over him.
This morning, while laying on “his” living room couch the demanding bark rang out. It meant, I think, “I need to go out but I’m not standing by that door like some sort of common dog. Hop to it doorman!” So I did; and so did he. Spoiled? Oh yeah! But I hasten to say that he can never be out-given. He manages to put back far more than he takes. I cannot imagine life without a dog. For those who don’t understand that, you have my sympathy for missing out on one of man’s highest achievements. Yes, the dog.
On that note, while I’ve promised to pare down on my political/ social comments (Because opinions based on media conjectures are simply irresponsible) I’ve decided to share a simple analogy I’ve recently heard.
I’ll admit to being a member of a capitalist culture. Even Jack is. He hides his bones, keeps a watchful eye on his toys and dishes, guards and marks his territory. At times he even demonstrates a sense of ownership of his human units. Wolves, spiders, birds, fish, all creatures can be possessive about a territory necessary for the needs of their survival. There are some sound reasons for a sense of propriety. However, we humans have a compulsion to acquire for the simple sake of our own insecurity and a false sense of adequacy which comes from amassing far more than we need. It is what we have been taught and in conforming to that premise we have allowed ourselves to be enslaved far more than ever before in our entire earthly history. Yes, you ,me, all of us.
The analogy I mentioned describes capitalism as cancer. The body is finite and limits its growth within parameters. Cancer is unlimited growth within a finite host. Unless that growth is checked and controlled it will destroy the body and ultimately itself. If the body is our planet and all the symptoms of unsustainable economic development are simply for its own sake then the sad conclusion is obvious and imminent. It is over-simplified perhaps with plenty of possible “Yeah-buts” but I like simple. This is a concept even I can grasp. I’ll keep my opinions to myself.
“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.” – Mark Twain
Oh good grief, here he goes again, another lament about life on the West Coast in mid-winter. No more please! We get that it’s winter. Low grey skies, penetrating dampness, pizzling dripping precipitation, foggy wind in your face from all directions. E-mails from friends in Mexico to ice the cake. This morning a golden sunlight beams down through the eternal rain. There must be rainbows out there.
I’ve been looking for a dog. No, no old Jack is fine but my daughter needs a full-time friend. She and Jack adore each other and they spend some quality time together, but in his dotage he needs a canine companion and she needs to have a home-body and travel partner. It sounds easy. Just go pick one out. Right! There must be plenty of local dogs who need homes and among those there will be that one special heart throb who somehow finds you. There are certainly several folks within short radius who describe themselves as being dog rescue centers but almost invariably, the beautiful creatures pictured are from as far away as Texas, California, Mexico, Florida, even Kuwait. Shipping a dog in a crate tossed by uncaring baggage people into the dark belly of an airplane to travel half-way around the planet is not a trauma I want to impose on any creature; well maybe a few people. But anyway, where the hell are our local needy canines?
There is a surplus of pitbull-type dogs. I know they are often lovely characters but the stigma about them is far-reaching and many folks pucker up just at the sight of one, which is where the problems begin. There are many places with succinct laws against the breed. So, mutts are us. I saw one lovely-looking young female described as a black-lipped cur. That puts a new meaning on the term cur-b appeal. “C’mere my little black-lipped cur.” As it turns out, I found the perfect puppy, or he found me, but the stars are not aligned correctly and Jack remains a solo act for now.
While this has been going on another local canine story has been unfolding. The archipelago along the Southern Coast of Vancouver Island is known as the Gulf Islands. Further southward the islands become smaller and more arid. Just forty miles to windward, on the outer coast of Vancouver Island, some of the highest rainfalls in Canada are recorded. In the rain shadow of the leeward side these small islands are dry enough to have cacti growing. The most southerly group of these are Discovery and Chatham Islands and the weather station on Discovery records the least annual precipitation anywhere in Canada. Struth! They lay across Baynes Channel a mile away from the Community of Oak Bay, which is annexed to Victoria and helps form the largest urban area on Vancouver Island with over 400,000 people.
Inching carefully through the kelp beds there is a way through the rock-studded waters of this small archipelago to a secure and peaceful anchorage. But don’t go too far, there are more rocks. It is well within ear shot of the sirens in the city. Yet despite the ruins of a lightkeeper’s boat house there is a sense of the pristine. You must trespass across First Nations reserve land to walk the trails and open meadows of cactus-studded Discovery Island and then dinghy or kayak around the outside in dangerous open waters. The original owner was a retired sea-captain who worked ardently to develop the island. The remains of his roadways and little stone bridges among the arid landscape can conjure a Mediterranean sense to the place. Along its southern shore there are spectacular views of the Strait Of Juan de Fuca and the towering Olympic Mountains beyond in Washington State. All of the surrounding waters are a swirling maelstrom of treacherous ever-changing tides and currents. Overfalls and whirlpools are constant, the tidal sea is seldom still. It seems at times that all of the open Pacific is trying to crowd through these narrows. Many a mariner has a yarn about their experiences in Baynes Channel sneaking past the fang-like rocks lurking helter-skelter while surging swirls of sea try to throw your boat upon them. Now imagine swimming across this bitterly-cold gauntlet.
So, with this stage set, I must admit with chagrin I did not know about ‘Takaya’ the sea wolf who has lived alone on these island for the past several years. I’ve been up the coast for a while so maybe that’s how I missed learning about this character. CBC has archived an incredibly beautiful film about Takaya The Lone Wolf of Discovery Island. Here’s the link to 44 minutes of excellent video work and editing by Cheryl Alexander as posted on You Tube:
Take the time to watch this, it will enrich you. Hopefully it is not blocked in your area.
This splendid, award-worthy effort helps dispel some of the ridiculous myths about wolves and other mystical creatures of the wild. This woman’s incredible work leaves me humbly wanting to chuck all of my photo gear into the sea. WOW! Her videos reveal a bond and trust that she established with this fellow. Some of the clips are stunning. I have lived a good part of my life in wolf country, I’ve listened to them howl many wonderful times but I have only ever had fleeting glimpses of their beauty and I consider myself to be observant above average. This is an eight-year long story which had eluded me until a television news item appeared a week ago about wolf sightings in downtown Victoria. At first I was skeptical of the blurry photos I saw on the news, thinking that this was probably someone’s large dog. This magnificent creature has now been captured alive and relocated to a distant and remote area of Vancouver Island. Kudus to our conservation officers who, for once, did not shoot the wolf. That is often their solution to situations where humans have imposed themselves on the natural world.
How the wolf first found the islands and swam to them, then back years later, is an amazing mystery to me. I am not quite content to accept the explanation despite some solid evidence that he actually meandered through the city until arriving at the sea. That he survived there on his own, and thrived, is an incredible fact. Wolves hunt in packs yet this character perfected techniques which clearly worked well for him on his own. Finding drinking water on these arid rocks was another skill he taught himself. I am convinced that wild canines and domestic dogs all possess an intelligence, and intuitive spirit, much higher than we credit them with. They are often in tune with things we chose to abandon. Some folks on the city shore claim to have heard his howls at times. That’s certainly possible. Wolf howls are a communication and he was probably checking to see if there was any of his kin out there somewhere, anywhere. All wild canines are naturally very social. That’s how we successfully interfaced with dogs. I wonder if this alpha male was not at times, in abject solitude, trying to somehow communicate with the sirens. We all know how town dogs react to the wail and hoot of emergency vehicles.
This archipelago is one of my two favourite anchorages on the South Coast and has a special place in my heart. I remember magic times through the years on various boats while being nestled into this place, distant sirens aside. (God, I miss my boat!) However, my faith in a few things is slightly restored after watching this video. I’ll never go near that island again, or hear sirens, without thinking of him. Happy trails Takaya.
Meanwhile another movie company invaded downtown Ladysmith, changed the face of main street to be somewhereville in Colorado, liberally distributed faux snowdrifts and filmed their hearts out for three days in the pouring rain. Is there a movie set somewhere in Colorado that represents Vancouver Island? I photographed the sets and some of their fabulous video equipment then came home and promptly deleted everything while downloading it. I know, “smart as he looks.” That’s how the pickle squirts some days. Oh darn, the wolf ate my camera!
“The tiger and the lion may be more powerful but the wolf does not perform in the circus.” Anonymous
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
“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.”
I sit at my desk writing this blog and listen to my beloved Goldfield Nevada radio station online. Goldfield is not far from the Black Rock Desert where the annual Burning Man event occurs. I describe Goldfield as being the full-time Burning Man. They seem to have an alternative perspective, quirky, earthy and creative, right out of the box; after that has been thrown away. I love the humour gleaned from this station. The above title is an acronym from KGFN 89.1 which represents ‘Department Of Fixing Things That Ain’t Broke.’ I think there are some quality times spent around a table in that only saloon in Goldfield. Wouldn’t it be fun to collaborate on bits of trivia like that? An announcer with a gravelly desert voice went on to jest about a government complaint that their weather burros were not of sufficiently mixed gender and where were they going to find a female burro to send to Gabbs?
Times are tough. I am living in a flat financial state these days due to circumstances which I am determined are temporary. It will pass, one of the joys of getting older is knowing that all things change. Yes, it’s my fault, I tacked when I should have gybed and then I hit a reef. So I am not feeling the joy and wonderI am apparently expected to feel at this time of year. “You vill hazze fun vezzer you lak it or nut!” To get more exercise and avoid burning precious gasoline I try to walk everywhere possible. Jack and I are getting in a few extra kilometres of exercise each day. He doesn’t prefer any particular route so long as he gets out and comes home again where he can flop on the couch for several more hours at a time. It is “Like, hibernating season dad!” Some days I join him.
Occasionally we return along the gentler slopes of Ladysmith’s main street. Today we walked by the cookery shop with its stunning array of gleaming copper pots and stainless kitchen utensils. (That shalt not covet thy neighbour’s pots!) Then we passed the bakery pulsing with aromas of fresh coffee, cinnamon buns, ginger bread and still-warmbread. Next came the pet shop with kittens in a window cage and shelves full of dog treats. Right next door is the town’s butcher shop, a traditional venture with the windows full of succulent treasures like deep and crusty meat pies, fresh fish, thick succulent steaks, whole free-range chickens and my favourite, thick smoked pork chops. Jack, straining back against his leash, wanted to savour it all. I simply wanted to go on by and get home out of the cold rain.
I have known very lean times. Hitchhiking and job-hunting in the severe cold of northern Ontario winters as a young man I endured the numb pain of hunger and the insidious agony of frost-bitten appendages. The only thing that hurt more was when you were finally able to thaw your parts out. I was a skinny flat-bellied wanderer and I am eternally grateful for the kindness of a few strangers. I imagined walking past these same windows with a similar hunger. Cold, dirty, with no-one to go home to, nor any home for that matter, no change of clothes and nothing to dare hope for. Perhaps there is a metallic taste in the back of your throat from your last meal of something like cold, tinned pasta something and you have no toothpaste or brush to rid yourself of the taste. And how you would love a simple cup of warm coffee. No cream? No problem. This coastal winter damp with kill you as surely as deep sub-zero temperatures, it justtakes much longer. Do not doubt, good people, how close we all live to being in that state. Your present situation is fragile regardless of what you think and do not condemn others for being down and out. They have not chosen that situation any more than you would. The stories of some of those living rough are terrifying. Some even hold jobs and have to live like that.
You also do not make good decisions when your back is to the wall. A few simple poor choices may well put you into a state of desperation. One panicked choice leads you to more bad thinking and once that hairball begins to roll downhill it is very hard to stop. We all live at the top of a slippery slope. Smugness and arrogance can easily precipitate the beginning of a slide. It is happening to more and more people these days. And do not dare tell me there is no such thing as bad luck! If my words provide discomfort…good.
There is a reason we don’t sing carols like the one about old King Wenceslas very much anymore. Greed has dulled our humanity. So let me suggest a radical solution to caring for the homeless. It’s simple. All those grand, posh, heated and usually unoccupied church buildings: unlock the doors or start paying tax. Fortunately there are many organizations who try to provide shelter and nurturing for the desperate but they can’t keep up. Overwhelmed, they stand against long odds to make a difference and never get, or want, the recognition they deserve.
Perhaps it’s time to open the old book and review some basic Christian teachings. Note that I am not of any particular religious flavour. Both Christians and Muslims have slaughtered millions and enslaved the minds of even more in the name of divine love. I want none of that mindless double-speak. It was the religious folk who executed Christ. I am, if I fit any pigeon hole, now of a pagan persuasion. Spirituality and religion are two very different things. Whatever God or Gods we create, we are all endowed with the capacity to see and hear the wonderful universe around us. The choice to tune in, or out, is a personal one.That desire in turn offers the wisdom to get along with each other on this splendid planet where we are such ungracious guests. If you want to have “Dominion” over the planet, understand that the word also mean “Responsibility.” It is not complicated.
I’ve fumbled with the above four paragraphs like a three-legged dog trying to make love to a greasy football. Should I post them or not? Out walking with Jack this morning I decided to delete them, it’s Christmas and supposed to be a season of light. Then I happened upon some tattered tarps strung up within a blackberry thicket. Nearby, there was a ubiquitous pirated shopping cart heaped with what appeared to be junk. To me that was a simple essay on the sickness of our society. This person, whoever they are, probably poorly-clothed and marginally fed, whose concern would logically be their next meal, or fix, and better shelter, is obsessed with collecting stuff. There is a strange sense of security in having stuff, any stuff, and our instincts are poisoned with that compulsion to the basest levels. So my acid Christmas comments remain. And yes, I did say CHRISTMAS! Regardless of what anyone believes, it is a Christian-originated celebration. So, if ”Stick it where the sun doesn’t shine” is politically incorrect; AWESOME!
Well something did bend me toward a Christmas sentiment the other day. CBC radio was playing some Sunday morning choral music and hit on ‘Oh Fortuna’ by Karl Orbst. It is a grand stirring piece, one of mankind’s favourites. You’ve heard it no doubt whether you knew it or not. There are many renditions on YouTube. It was written about eight hundred years ago. With no computers, no electronics or recording devices through the centuries it has endured, one of those timeless tributes to the genius of man stripped of all the crutches we have so easily and wilfully come to depend upon. The things we are truly capable of!
As I write, my Nevada radio station is playing as usual. This morning their Christmas music began. Most traditional songs are bastardized or are some new effort, neither of which do much for my grinchiness. Somehow, “Jingle Bells” with banjos does not resonate with me. But then, a line from the next song caught my ear. “Tis the season when the greedy give a dime to the needy, then wonder who’s gonna stuff their socks.” That was closely followed by a ballad about pack rats raiding the Christmas stockings then returning a pair of long-lost eyeglasses.
Ah indeed, ‘tis the season!
“A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together.” …Garrison Keillor
The garage door rattled open. I stepped out with a sack of recycling in each hand; garbage day again. Lately, this weekly event seems to have become be a way to measure the passage of my life. But I don’t really consider the day truly begun until I’ve stepped outside. So there I was, on my way toward another tiny adventure, another thin slice of life. In the dim light of pre-dawn the waxing moon was setting above a high thin overcast. There was a forecast for rain. Two gulls flew together beneath the dull baleful glow of the moon. It was beautiful. Back inside the coffee machine had leaked all over the counter and the dog had thrown up on the carpet. But…it was the only day I had! We tend to forget that at times and in fact, now is eternally the only the moment any of us ever have. Let’s go for a walk Jack!
A few months ago I mentioned my tinnitus to a doctor. That is a condition, usually due to being around high industrial noise, gunfire, or any other combination of excessive decibels which causes a permanent condition of ringing or squealing in your ears. It can be overwhelming at times. The painting “The Scream” is alleged by some to have been inspired by tinnitus. One thing led to another and soon I found myself at a hearing clinic with a prescription for hearing aids. I am not a fan of going around with foreign objects attached to, or inserted in, my body but any chance at some sort of relief from the incessant white noise in my head is worth consideration.
After the expected copious and tedious paperwork with near-endless impossible questions as well as a few telephone interviews, to my utter amazement, WorkSafe BC approved the application. I am now the dubious owner of nearly six thousand dollars worth of audio assistance devices. They are tiny, as non-intrusive as possible and nearly invisible to the casual eye. Small as they are, they are also rechargeable, so there is no need to be messing with tiny expensive batteries. That’s a bonus for a guy with banana fingers, lithium cells notwithstanding. I am worried about losing the tiny items.They are also Bluetooth compatible and can become part of my mobile phone system if desired. But thank you very much, I already have enough wrong numbers rattling around in my noggin. I do wonder if there is a way to connect to my favourite radio station! And… are there any of these gadgets available for my dog? He doesn’t seem to hear anything I say anymore.
Walking with Jack yesterday we came upon one of those traffic-counting devices stretched across the street. Those are the black rubber tubes which, when driven over, record a vehicle’s passage. There are two, I believe, in order to be able to indicate which way the vehicle was travelling. Gasoline stations once had them to ring a bell whenever someone drove up to the pumps. I recall kids jumping on them just for the fun of annoying someone. Ding, ding, ding, ding. These are exactly the same old-tech devices I recall from my childhood. I was reminded of an old man who was a family friend when I was very young. He had hearing aids. My parents, at the time, did not own a car but this fellow had a Nash sedan. It was burgundy with a black roof, I can still smell the upholstery in the summer heat. These cars were notorious for their seats which folded down into a large comfortable bed and were apparently the bane of parents with teenage daughters.
Too decrepit to drive far, the old fellow would travel with my family on special trips if my father took the wheel. He believed those traffic counters were some sort of police speed trap and would insist we slow to an even lower crawl if he saw one. His name was Melvin Cudmore (yes really) and his hearing aid was state of the art for that day. It was a large box that clipped onto the waistline of his trousers and was connected by an obvious twisting wire to a flesh-coloured ear plug. “D” cell batteries were all that we had then and they didn’t last long. The Duracell bunny had yet to be born. I remember sitting beside this codger in church for interminable Sunday services. His hearing device squealed loudly at times. He was as oblivious to that as he was to his old-man-smell which, as a child, was an overwhelming cloud of pre-decomposition that seemed to surround many seniors. Good grief, I suddenly wonder, am I going to smell like that?
Technology has moved on, hopefully personal hygiene has as well. Now then, I must adapt to having these things stuffed into my head. It will take a while. Out with Jack this morning, raindrops pattering on the trees sounded like bullets smacking down. Wet leaves underfoot sounded as if I were walking on cornflakes. A noisy little dog we met seemed to squeak thunderously. I greeted the wee beast with my affected silly Cherman voice. “Ischt das unt Vulgarian Scherndle Yipper?” The owners were amused and apologetic, explaining it is a rescued dog which is slowly adjusting to a better life. I must be getting old. I’ve learned to like little dogs and now I’m wearing audio-assist devices. Maybe I’ll soon own an electric cane. It’ll have a taser death-ray, a GPS and should hold at least half a pint of scotch. Meanwhile, my new, supposedly life-enhancing gadgets, are resting in their charging box. Maybe, I’ll wear them a little longer tomorrow.
Wot’s that sound?
Monday morning dawns reluctantly under a low foggy overcast. I get out of bed one toe at a time and then plonk myself down on the couch beside Jack and pull a blanket over us. No point in rushing into things. Eventually we go for a long walk down the dank creek-side path. I try to find some cheer in looking for photos, there is always something of beauty, no matter how dim the light. In so doing, I usually find good reason to be alive. Jack is happy in the moment, I try to take inspiration. Finally home again he is now back on the couch, snoring blissfully. I putter away at my writing for a bit and then go back to puttering on my little trailer project.
Last night I shared a YouTube video with some friends about Greta Thunberg and the corporations sponsoring her, it’s a look at what the rest of the story might well be. While I don’t believe in shooting the messenger I do believe in asking questions. That is one of the mission motives of this blog, either to inspire you or piss you off enough to ask questions. I’ve already said my bit about the entire hypocrisy of little Greta’s message although it is underscored with some sound thinking. All I’ll say now is that the entire “Think Green” mentality, once dissected, is about the green colour of money. If you care, you’ll do your own homework and arrive at your own informed opinions. Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions. If you buy the media’s spin on things, you’re playing into their hands and are part of the problem.
Frankly, having just returned with Jack after a walk out in the brisk Westerly winter wind howling down the harbour, the notion of global warming, at least here, seems abstract. Brrrr! But yes, we are entering a period of cyclic global warming, yes we are contributing to that warming, but no, we are not the prime cause. Icefields have covered this planet, over and over, the climate has warmed and cooled, those massive glaciers have retreated and advanced over and over; that is how much of our geography has been formed. These climatic variations are caused by solar fluxuations or something else beyond the control of the frail, insignificant beings we are. There are entire civilizations underwater which once were built well above sea levels. Who did those folks blame when invaded by their water front? What automobiles and factories were to blame. They perhaps understood the arrogance of believing it was all due to their influence.
While we wring our hands about things over which we have no control, we ignore the things we can, often deliberately. On this chill, damp mid-November morning, the howl of a mower on the neighbour’s lawn invades my space. The lawn feeds no-one, the carbon footprint of the lawnmower is significant and it is all for nothing but vanity. It is a uniform plane of non-edible grass, which won’t grow much for the next few months, but it is a thing of beauty to the conformist eye.
The same soil could feed a few head of livestock and/ or grow enough vegetables for the entire neighbourhood. That property is part of an old farm, it is good rich ground. The mature fruit trees in that yard groaned with a bumper crop this summer. I’m don’t believe any of it was harvested. There is no need to burn anymore jungle.
We can produce all of our own food here instead of burning all that fuel to build more ships and import our groceries and gadgets from the other side of the planet across oceans littered deeply in plastic debris, (Including high-tech carbon fibre yachts carrying self-righteous, glaring young environmental evangelists). We need to focus on what’s important. Taking care of ourselves responsibly and sustainably must come first. We can be self-sufficient, we can relearn how to love ourselves and each other. If we each did that, what a world it could be!
“Don’t sweat the petty things and don’t pet the sweaty things.”