I suppose this’ll hit the ceiling and bounce back from cyber space on January 1st, 2021 even though I’m posting it on New Year’s Eve. So Happy New Year to the world. May your balls drop and may everything glitter. I truly mean that without reviewing any of the weary rhetoric about the past year. Three hundred sixty-five days ago who knew what a Covid was? Who’da thunk that investing in a face mask business would be a good bet? Well onwards and sideways. Now turn your head to sneeze please!
Yesterday I met a fellow who was enraged that I would not buy into his proclamation that the entire pandemic is a hoax. No one has actually died of a virus. It’s all bullshit!
I told him that the Flat Earth Society has members all around the globe and that I hoped he did not wake up staring at a beige hospital ceiling with a load of hoses stuffed up his nose. Incredible! And yes, I’ve just had acquaintances die due to the virus.
If I can say something of value at this moment it is this. I have seen grown men have a fist fight over differing views on one social issue or another. When their hard-as-stone opinions were dissected it turned out that all of their certitude was based on something they had gleaned from the media. They were slugging it out over something about which they knew nothing. If you really care about any issue, you must do a lot of research, from many different perspectives. You can’t just settle for a view you want to swallow. Here’s an example.
If you ask the average person about the Boeing 737 Max 8, they will tell you with conviction that they will never ride in one. They know it is the world’s worst aircraft ever! As old Paul Harvey would have said, here is the “Rest Of The Story.” As a lifelong aviation enthusiast, a former pilot and aircraft mechanic I like to stay in touch. Pilots I’ve spoken with who have actually flown that model (and loved it) as well as a close relative who is an airline pilot who keeps a broad overview of the whole industry made these points. The 737 was developed as a regional jet or RJ to serve short and medium range routes. One of the larger markets for that airplane is third world countries. Bear in mind that there were thousands of flight hours logged in the aircraft in the Western World without incident. Both tragic crashes occurred in third world countries. The simple difference is the training standard offered by third world airlines is not as comprehensive as it should be. With a major market for Boeing with those airlines they cannot risk offending their customers by pointing that out. Competitors like Airbus, (Who have had plenty of their own products fall out of the sky, killing hundreds) are always hot on their heels.
So what’s my point? For your own sake do not accept what the media has to say. I decry negativity and recently lost a friend when I challenged him over his insistence of always offering negative perspectives. However, keep in mind that all media sources are businesses who need to make a profit and so must offer an enticing product made so by gross exaggerations, misrepresentation and skewed data. It is always reasonable to challenge what is thrown at you. Perhaps it is even a social and moral obligation to hold a questioning mind.
As we enter our second year of the Covid pandemic be mindful of what you choose to believe. We now have the hope of miraculous vaccines, oddly all concocted within days of each other. All have been formulated in less than a year. Previous successful vaccines have taken many years to develop and prove. I hope my cynicism proves unjustified but I am always stunned and appalled at the herd’s willingness to accept easy answers. Good advice is to sleep upwind and drink upstream of the herd. “Sheople” an acquaintance calls folks. We have a naturally questioning mind and these are the times to not bury that instinct further. Ask questions. Be positive but ask questions!
When I sat at my desk this morning to proof-read this blog, night was grudgingly yielding to the last dawn of this year. A low layer of fog hung over town like a broad cake of congealed cooking fat. On the mountains immediately above us thick rolls of fog muffled the peaks and ridges. The moon, full two days ago, sank from a clearing sky into those banks. Then for brief moments a burst of sunrise back-lit the water drops in the shrubbery outside the door. Now the sparkling diamonds are gone, again just more winter wetness beneath a pallid overcast. But, those moments of light will carry us through the day. Life goes on.
Apparently our provincial chief medical officer has issued an edict prohibiting the sale of alcohol this New Year’s Eve after 8 pm. This is in an effort to prevent irresponsible decisions. It is the stupidest thing I’ve heard lately. She should have made this decree a couple of weeks ago. Not only is she distancing herself from the people she is trying to protect, she is encouraging certain folks toward rebelling and being even more drunk and disorderly. And capitalists that we are, even as I write, someone is printing up a batch of T shirts for sale that say, “Let’s get together and make some bad decisions.”
As for me, I’ll probably be sound asleep when the midnight din breaks out. I learned long ago that deliberately making myself sick is not an auspicious beginning for another year.
Happy New Year and sincere wishes that everyone has someone to love, good things to do and to look forward to.
2021 is going to be your year.
So dust off your shitkickers and let’s get started.
The woods were silent. The autumn sun rose in a clear sky, its warm light laddering down between yellow maple leaves still thick on the branches. Old Jack plodded along the trail, his breath was thick clouds of steam in each shaft of light slanting onto the ground. I walked ahead and waited for him, looking for things worth a photograph. It’s not a bad arrangement. Once, he used to run ahead and then wait for me. Damn, it is so very hard watching a beloved friend age and knowing that one day too soon he will go on to leave you alone. It is an essay on savouring the moment. It’s all anyone has; not today, certainly not tomorrow, not the next hour. Now, this moment, click, it is all we have.
So, finally my old camper is in Fred shape. I’ve even resealed all the exterior seams along the roof and sides. Oddly after forty years the old butyl sealant was hardening and even mouldy. I’ve replaced it with double layers of new material. Hopefully that will fend off the insidious leaks which come with winter rains. At last Jack and I are off to spend a few nights in it. Last night was the first sleep in our little box and now for the first time I’m sitting at my wobbly one-legged camper table with my laptop. A mug of fresh-perked strong black coffee is at my elbow.
The plan was to seek out a spot on the shores of Nitinaht Lake. The lake drains into the open ocean through a famous narrows and I’d hoped to take the inflatable boat for some exploring and filming. It won’t be happening.
This area is the homeland of the Ditidaht people. They have a community at the head of the lake and have closed the entire area to outsiders, no covid crackers. The bitter impression of what smallpox did to their population is still vivid and rightly so. I drove on by but after miles of rough logging road came upon a sign explaining that even the campground I sought was closed. Bugga! That was what I’d come for. It’s their land, and as a trespasser I cannot raise my voice but it had been a long day, I was tired, it was getting dark. We continued on the road toward the Carmanah Valley and of course couldn’t find a place to pull off for the night. Finally I turned down a side trail which looked like it was used occasionally. If folks go in, they’re able to turn around somewhere and come back out. Right?
When you are tired things can become a little weird. We drove on and on through a gauntlet of ever-thickening lashing alder branches with no place to turn around. Towing the trailer, there was no choice but to continue on into this sucker hole and beat hell out of my rig. Every turn of the wheels took us further in but there was no backing out. Full darkness settled just as we finally found a place to wiggle around to face the way out and park, fog followed soon after and continues to swirl through the tree tops this morning. In the distance we can hear the roar of surf from the open Pacific. Making its way along the coast a freighter blows its sonorous fog horn, out there somewhere, a lonely sound indeed. Overhead, mysterious birds call, Murres I wonder. We retreated into the camper for our first night and finally made some lunch at eight pm. This morning we are parked in an old quarry pointed in the correct direction to leave listening to the sounds from the grey fog, no-one, including us, knows where we are.
Since the last paragraph we’ve been for a short walk and now it’s time for a warm breakfast and more coffee. After tramping for another half kilometre along this trail it is clear we drove as far as we’d dared. Thank goodness I stopped when I did. We saw some beautiful willow grouse and stupendous heaps of bear droppings, or perhaps they’re from a sasquatch. I’m soaked to the knees from all the fog condensed on the growth in the trail. Well-used elk trails cross the trail regularly. I’ve noted the yellow alder stain on the front corners of the camper. “Tough on riggin” is the older logger’s colloquialism that comes to mind. I’ll feel better when we’re back out bumping along the main road. We emerged with minimal collateral damage. Old knowledge was refreshed with only a few minor battle scars to show for my stupidity. With plans dashed, I just want to find a spot to set up camp for a few days. Obviously we are now back from our adventures. Of course on our return leg I saw a few places we could have stopped on the roadside. Hindsight! But as a friend says, “If you ain’t been aground, you ain’t been around!” I learn later that we were only four kilometres from the Carmanah campground where a friend was spending the night.
Later I write from a glorious spot. We are camped on a gravel bar of the Nitinaht River. The rolling water is crystal clear and full of spawning Chinook salmon. Upon arrival Jack flopped down on the river gravel and vigorously scratched his back. It’s a sign of great happiness. Next he trotted down to the river’s edge and had a long drink. We’re staying a while. I’m sitting at my Honda table beneath my white canopy. A cheery fire crackles a few feet away. In the dark salmon splash in the river. Bliss.
Then some yahoos arrive. In the dark as usual. They get stuck in a mud hole, there is much shouting. Tires and people squeal but finally they settle somewhere in the woods nearby. I can hear someone splitting firewood and yes, there it is, the loud pulse of their stereo, as usual. Backwoods serenity! Jack has already retreated into the camper. I’m joining him.
In the morning my friend appeared at my campsite. What a wonderful surprise. Niels is a dear friend of many years and his presence immediately lifted me out of my dark funk. He had tracked me all the way out to the Carmanah and then given up on finding me. He spent a night camping on his own. He was homeward bound when by chance he spotted my little white circus tent beside the river.
We had a great day together watching the salmon, some well over twenty pounds. Sometimes a cutthroat trout hovers near a mating pair of salmon and tries to pirate eggs. It is all fascinating to watch this drama in crystal clear water. A handsome male black bear ambled and snacked along the opposite river bank, the song of the river and the wind kept him from noticing us; or maybe he knew what we taste like and was just not interested. Today we headed back to the east side of the island and soon emerged into brilliant sunlight and clear skies. Now we’re alone again in a campground on the south side of Lake Cowichan. Seeing a friend out in the woods was very uplifting and exactly what I needed. Thanks Niels; for everything.
Next day, in mid-afternoon after a very lazy morning Jack and I continue to take our ease in the sun-dappled shade of a beautiful forest of second-growth fir. We are in a tiny provincial park on the south shore of Lake Cowichan for a couple of nights. Jack wanders off to explore the beach and woods for a half-hour at a time before returning to check on me. Being allowed to do that is his nirvana. Loons, geese and swans held a choir practice of wonderful wild music out on the lake. Then a gorgeous Zenair 701 kit-built floatplane idled along a few feet above the glassy water, stirring up other old passions. Much higher, heavy commercial flights inbound from the open Pacific glide eastward toward Vancouver.
As dusk falls I’ve built a campfire and less than twenty feet away a tree frog begins its song. I’ve never seen one yet. They often makes their calls from nearby but I cannot ever spot one. If you try to sneak up on that big little sound they stop. They are very tiny and wary so for me they remain a happy mystery. It’s been an easy, peaceful day. I try not to feel guilty about doing absolutely nothing. Beyond the west end of the lake a few clouds over on the ocean side catch the last light of the setting sun as I begin splicing together a video about this little trip. Then comes a loon’s solitary serenade from out on the lake, perhaps the most beautiful sound I know. A barred owl begins hooting from a tree nearby. Forest internet. G’night.
Abraham Maslow: “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or step back into safety.”
It’s Thursday morning. Garbage day, cold driving rain, still dark at seven am, thick drops hammering the hood of my winter rain coat while I was out there. How the hell did this happen? It was smokey and tongue-over-shoulder hot a week ago. There are now spawning sockeye salmon in the stream where Jack and I walk. Yellow leaves are drifting down. We’re plunging into another autumn again…already! What a year! Despite the gloom and apprehension the days have flown by and some arse will begin Christmas advertising any day now. Personalized Covid masks? Designer isolation suits?
There are two, or maybe three, elections upon us this fall. The US federal goon show is in full swing and now we have a snap provincial election upon us. There are rumours of a Canadian federal pick-a-nut about to be announced. Sadly, in any arena, there is no-one I can see worth voting for. I know that I am as politically astute as a bowling ball but I will never vote for a candidate just because of the party they’re in, and because that’s who grandpa voted for. The party has become more important than the individual candidate. We have a throng of idiots running our countries. When I hire some-one to do a job my decision is based solely on that person’s ability to perform as promised, not because of whom they affiliate themselves with. And Covid numbers are again on the rise. Add all of that to the current global horrors while our drinking establishments are being forced to close by ten pm. Geez Louise! Is there no relief? There is no point in adding my uninformed opinions to all those others grinding around out there. It seems that any information can be mutated in a flash. Integrity is in a glass box in the museum of abandoned values.
Politicians have entirely forgotten their mandate to serve their constituents and have no problem barfing out any inanity that gets them through the moment. That any politician would espouse medical expertise and unfounded claims in these times is so very wrong* and incredibly stupid. And anyone who runs their campaign on a platform about their opponent’s imperfections, instead of what they themselves sincerely plan to do to serve the people, automatically looses my vote. As a certain prominent political character loves to say, “You’re fired!” But, I’ll go and make my mark against someone, it is a democratic obligation. No further comment other than the good old four agreements:
I will always do my best,
I will take nothing personally,
I will assume nothing,
I will respect the power of my words. (*some folks will even drink toilet cleaner when told to.)
I know, those simple mantras are a tall order. I’m still working on them, some politicians have never heard of them.
I’ve been passing the time by tinkering up my old camper. The test flight will be any day now. I am amazed that a stick and tin contraption has survived almost forty years. It was designed to be easily rebuilt as required. The rainy winter prelude has shown me where the leaks are. In the nice days ahead you know what I’ll be doing. Despite the long winter ahead I cling to my desert dreams. I’m listening to my Nevada radio station as I write.
Now on Sunday morning I’m finishing up this blog after checking my e-mail. A Twitter headline today was “Texas officials warn of brain-eating amoeba in tap water.” OK? Next pandemic? Hell, we’ve had that one here for a long time. It seems to start gnawing whenever the television is on.
“ You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” — Mae West.
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