October twenty-second. A first frost is on the roofs of my neighbours. The brassy thin light of a reluctant dawn slowly sweeps over the town. The stars were brilliant last night, a few were especially bright as they beamed down between the clouds. Old Jack is snoring softly where he is nested on the couch, I’m reluctant to stir him for his morning walk but I need it as much as he does.
October 25th. It’s over. The provincial election has passed with a predictable result. Our minority government is still in the saddle, now as a majority. May the gods help us, any majority government seems eventually to lead to dire consequences. At least we’ll have a slight change of rhetoric.
There’s a humid chill in the air this morning, with a dusting of fresh snow on the nearest hills. Jack loved it and frolicked along on his walk. The tang of burning damp leaves filled the air and someone was burning coal in their stove, an unmistakable odour. What must air quality have been like when nearly everyone burned the stuff? No-one noticed, that was the way it was. I’ve been in China where the air was thick with the stench of coal smoke, (Cheap Canadian coal at that) copious dust and other human effluents. Life went on all around me as I stood almost gasping for a full breath. For me, coal smoke is synonymous with forges and blacksmithing, something I dearly love. I can almost hear the clang of hammer on anvil as I write. Amazing isn’t it? All of that came from one whiff of coal smoke! It’s blowing a near gale outside this morning. Leaves and debris blow past the window horizontally. The street sweeper just ground by hard at work. Daft as a brush!
Unfortunately my life is dull these days. I spend far too much time sitting in front of the television. Recommended by friends, I watched a Netflix program called ‘My Octopus Teacher.’ The footage, accumulated over ten years, is stunning and some of the insights provided are amazing. You know I’m impressed if I’m offering kudos. In my next breath I’m promoting my own next video. It’s something I put together for the Fisher Poets group, who may not be gathering this spring in consideration of Covid. That gathering in February is a guiding light through the winter and many of us use it to steer toward through the gloomy days of that season. Who knows what will happen this winter.
BEWARE OLD PEOPLE The older we get the less “Life in prison” is a deterrent.
… and I thought, probably a better retirement plan than what many of us have.
It’s a blue moon Halloween coming up. A full moon on October 31st is scary, but a second full moon in the same month in the midst of a plague is reason to hide under the bed. All those mini spooks in T-Rump and Biden masks are a sobering thought. Trick or treat indeed. I’m leaving town. Hopefully I’ll have some interesting new videos and photos when I return. Stay safe.
Sometimes the obvious is just too close to be seen. I am chagrined to admit that a friend who lives way over in Eastern Oregon sent me a link to a wonderful article in Hakaii Magazine. This is a weekly online publication housed in one of my favourite buildings here on Vancouver Island, the old Customs House, which overlooks Victoria’s inner harbour. The magazine has articles of a coastal theme from here in the Pacific Northwest to stories and photos from around the world. Go figure! The publication has been up and running for several years. Why I have not known about it before is one of life’s mysteries. Among the crap out there it is a diamond with well written informative and interesting articles with excellent photos. Check it out by googling up the name.
Since I’ve returned last week from the old camper road test, autumn has descended with an indelible thud. There’s not much else to report. Mercifully we’ve been spared a Canadian federal election, our provincial election is a few days away and hopefully the US goon show will pass without an attempt at a military coup. I reminded a friend recently that we live in a pretty darned nice part of the world, politically, climatically, economically. I don’t know why certain folks are so determined to change that. Frankly, folks from foreign countries who have come to this country and then insist on complaining about everything must agree that if you truly don’t like living here, well… the best thing of all is that you’re free to leave; today! So go!
No-one is going to put a gun in your ear and insist that you stay. Perhaps first pause a moment to chat with one of the refugees who fight so hard to get into our countries. This morning another friend sent me a photo of a US election poster. It says, “NOT VOTING, #1 CAUSE OF UNWANTED PRESIDENCIES.” So I took my voter’s card and Covid face mask and headed down to the advanced poll. Voting is not just a right, it’s an obligation and even a spoiled ballot is a clear political statement. So get out there and seize the day. Vote!
Our little town has a common hall used for several public functions including that of advanced polling station. It sits next to the traffic round-about at the foot of main street which, when I went to vote, was ringed with a crowd of goons waving election posters and thrusting them at my windshield. I found it intimidating and infuriating. They represented the party I was going to vote for. I’m confident their chances are minimal. My vote would be one against, instead of for anyone, and would pique my conscience the least. Not now! I abhor mobs and herd mentality and refuse to succumb to mindless mass persuasion. If you want the gombah vote I refuse to be among them. Reverse effect guys! If I am going to be bullied at least leave me the illusion of making my own choice and effecting a difference, even when there is really no-one worthy of a vote. A politician is still a politician regardless of the lies they tell and no election ever displaces and changes the bureaucrats. Hopefully we end up with the least of weevils.
Here are some local photos of the changing season. Note the lack of rocket launchers, burned buildings and military uniforms. There is no snow, not one heap of dead plague victims and there are still line-ups in the drive-thru’s of every fast food and coffee shop outlet. Someone still has a little money. Despite our personal woes we are doing just fine.
“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” Plato
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.
It is impossible to tell at the moment. Whose smoke are we breathing here? The claim is that our local scrap yard fire is “Contained” but it sure as hell is not out. It may smoulder on for a long time and the acrid, cloying stench is gently smothering us. It’s all because the junk yard dog dropped his cigar! Well who knows? We may never learn that and what does it matter. We try to recycle our disposable cars and other metal commodities and some days things just go wrong. Hopefully we learn a little bit and life eventually improves. Meanwhile thick smoke from three US States clot our already permeated sky and we live in a dim world at the moment. I’ll keep my text short and relay my story with repetitive photos of our grey world.
I photographed the ambience of the thick air above our harbour from behind a heap of coal on the shore and realized that not so long ago we burned this stuff and the air was always like this. It was normal. In younger years I chain-smoked cigarettes like a train. I also did a lot of welding with my face in those fumes and often cut up old metal with an ox-acetylene torch, burning through thick layers of old lead-based paint or I’d grind the paint away, with no face mask. I know better now. These days, the simple whiff of a smoker’s clothes in a change room has me gagging. Eeeech! I cannot believe my incredible foolishness. I have come to believe that perhaps anyone who smokes should perhaps be denied medical insurance.They are willfully harming themselves. That in this enlightened age people are stupid enough to deliberately inhale smouldering objects is amazing. Are they among those complaining about our present atmospheric imperfections?
The thought has occurred to me that the present stench and pallor of gloom is what millions endure on a daily basis where they live in industrial areas around the planet. Others know it as the reek of war and death. They also know of thirst, hunger, disease and blasted-out hospitals. We take clean air and water and personal freedoms for granted. Yesterday was the anniversary of 9/11. Surely we can take a moment to consider how quickly our lives can change then savour and participate in maintaining what we privileged few enjoy without considering. We’re still free to vote and free to leave.
On Monday, conditions have not improved. We’re still surrounded by think grey smog with only glimpses of a dull copper orb which is the sun. Our three states to the south of the border are burning up. That’s California, Oregon and Washington in your throat and nose. The eco-gloomers are having a field day with all of this. I’ll admit it is hard to stay objective and look at the big picture, to examine the history of climatic cycles and realize that this is not Armageddon. It just seems like it. My heart goes out to all those who have lost their homes and communities, their sense of security and all the personal illusions and dreams they have held. It is a wake-up call for all of us. All I can wish everyone is someone to love, something good to do, and something to look forward to, while doing no harm. Now I have to shake off the lethargy of my own personal darkness and go do something. And so work progresses on the old camper. Wagons ho!
“The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.”
A few days ago in mid-afternoon I was kneeling up on the hot aluminum roof of my newly-acquired old truck camper. I was dolloping out roofing tar to reseal a previous repair. The thick black goo had been used previously so there was no choice but to use it again. I thought of how I must look up there, a Fred on a box and came up with various lines about “hot tin roofs.” They were all rude. The roof wasn’t leaking…yet. Wonderfully it is made of a single sheet of sturdy aluminum. But some preventive measures in the heat and dry of late summer seem in order. It’s almost forty years old; a little TLC is due. It’s small and light, and warm and dry. It has a propane cook stove and a furnace! Good enough. There’s no hot tub but sometimes roughing it is just what you have to do.
One of the popular truck campers is called an “Arctic Fox.” I’m thinking of hanging the name on this old beauty of “Fartic Ox” and putting a little sign on the trailer that says, “Feel free to feed the Sasquatch.” Neighbours have noticed the box and say “I see you’re going camping.” Somehow I’ve never considered sleeping in an RV as camping. Camping, when I was young, involved travelling by canoe and sleeping beneath the overturned hull if it rained. My fantasy was a ‘jungle hammock,’ a military surplus item that came with a roof and mosquito netting all around. I’ve just checked, they’re still available.
Many recreational vehicles now have rooms that pop out, automatic levelling devices, satellite entertainment devices which align themselves to the appropriate signals. By the time all the flip-out items have ceased their whirring, and the generator is purring, there is a fair-sized modern home set up in a commercial “campground” four feet away from someone else’s “wilderness” dream. The cursing begins when all the transformer bits won’t pop back into place so you can go “get away from it all” somewhere else. A diesel pickup truck will easily haul it all at 110 kilometres per hour to re-establish the pitchings a few feet from someone else where you can compare notes. It doesn’t much seem to me like a sensible way of reconnecting with the natural world or of “thinking green.” But…no payments until January!
Almost a week ago it was Labour Day weekend. Already we’ve arrived in late summer and the hottest part of it. The weather forecast is for clear skies and temperatures in the 30s. The sunrise was red from all the smoke in the air from as far away as California. There is a 70,000 acre fire burning in the Yakima area. What a blessed thing to live here on Vancouver Island. We made it through the long weekend without any fires here. Last night the upper winds began to move the smoke back to where it came from and the stars gleamed and twinkled. I often go out for a celestial meditation before bed in an effort to put the day’s concerns into perspective. My little woes against the vastness of the universe puts everything in place.
On a clear night, one can seldom look into any part of the night sky without seeing at least one satellite within a minute. Dull or bright they zing over in all directions unnoticed. For a while last night I could see three at once all on different vectors. There are also all those man-made stars in fixed orbit also known as geosynchronous satellites which sit up there unnoticed to our eye. Those ones must really piss off the astronomer who thinks they’ve discovered an unknown star! They are as pervasive as electrical lines or contrails marring a view of the natural world. It’s a sad essay that so few folks notice them. Today’s check says there are currently 2,666 satellites up there. And we thought the beer cans in the ditch were a problem.
Anyway, folks ensconced around their portable campfire beneath a string of patio lanterns, safely inside their electronic mosquito net-bubble (yes really) watching the ‘Simpsons.’ That we all know who the ‘Simpsons’ are underscores the age we live in. We are as oblivious to the geosynchronous satellites relaying our television signals as we are to lost primal skills like melting spruce gum over an open wood fire so we can patch our home-made canoe. I am well familiar with the “Old School” and the non-romance of doing things like using an outhouse at -40°, or making a bed from spruce boughs. I don’t miss it.
While perusing the latest camping gadgets I can across a small portable cooking stove that burns any “bio fuel.” It also uses the heat to charge a lithium battery which has a USB port to run a small light or charge a mobile phone. So now we live in the age of the electronic campfire. When your rocket stove has started a wildfire, you can call to report it if…there is a geosynchronous satellite in place.
Parts of Oregon have now exploded with wildfire. Cities are threatened with devastation. It seems that half of California is in flames, Washington State is in a critical situation and British Columbia is also adjoined to the crisis as part of the Pacific Northwest. Here we can smell and taste their smoke in the air. With the Covid numbers rising again we are all together in living with a sense of tension. What a year!
I’ve been working on the camper in the cooler part of the morning and then retiring to the shady cool inside the house during the afternoon. About 9am today a thick column of grey/black smoke rose into the azure sky then drifted off in the upper winds. Helicopters with water buckets began passing overhead. I feared the worst. A new bush fire or a serious plane crash could look like that. As it turns out a metal recycling yard, a few miles away at our end of our airport, has caught fire. An online news story had images of heaps of burning crushed cars and a mountain of burning tires. It is the sort of fire which is very hard to extinguish and produces a variety of nasty toxins. Ironically the advertisement immediately following the story shows a young father and son cheerily roasting marshmallows over a crackling campfire.
By evening the wind has shifted in our direction and the tang of burning rubber is heavy in the air. You can see it and taste it. There are no hydrants near the burning scrapyard so all water has to be trucked to the inferno. It’s going to be a long night for those fighting the fire and for those with adjacent properties. It will be a long night for those of us trying to sleep downwind. Damn! I miss having a boat.
“Civilization is a conspiracy. Modern life is the silent compact of comfortable folk to keep up pretences.”
While cracking eggs for breakfast I came on one coated with small calcium nodules. My first thought was “That must’ve bloody hurt!” Tread-gripping is the gritty material applied to slippery surfaces. It’s more abrasive than course sandpaper. Now the chickens are trying it out. A good grippy egg is a great idea. They are much easier to throw. Free-range organic sport eggs. Cluck you!
While cleaning the barbecue yesterday I spread out the latest local newspaper and discovered an article about the portable toilet that has been installed on main street. This is the same street which is alleged to have been awarded as the best main street in Canada. I promptly sent off a letter to the editor wondering why we don’t have a proper public washroom downtown and why there is an open toilet in the heart of town during a pandemic. Describing a lack of local lateral thinking I ranted on to describe other examples of that thoughtlessness (In my opinion) and then punched the ‘send’ button. Of course I should have stuck to my single issue and let the letter ferment a few minutes before sending it but in the heat of my moment… It’s a covid mask for me! Actually the editor liked the letter and let me edit it as I should have in the first place. One of the joys of a small town newspaper.
Another joy of this small town is a morning walk in the park. Everyone (Well… except an old dufus yesterday) loves Jack and greeting him. In the perfect climate of mid-morning, not too hot or cold, folks gather in groups in the park. With respectful social distances they practise their yoga and tai chi. Some folks sit in their portable chairs and chat, perhaps with knitting they’ve brought. Others read to each other. The view of the harbour is always grand, even from the leash-free area where other folks let their dogs interact happily. I think ahead to the cold blustery winter days and all the dark news of these times and try my best to absorb all the good energy on these end days of summer.
Well, I’m no addict to Facebook and often refer to it as Assbook. That says enough I think. But I took an hour out at midday today to watch a friend’s live evening concert from his home near Whitby in Yorkshire UK. Richard Grainger is a wonderful singer/songwriter with themes about the working man, the fisherman and whaler, common folk in general, and life on the edge of the North Sea. If you loved Stan Rogers you’ll love Richard’s music. I certainly do. You can learn about Richard on Facebook and on Youtube and also purchase any of his many splendid albums. As much as I am reluctant to endorse any social media and all its addictive nuances I’m amazed at the notion of attending a live event half-way around the planet. I know, I know, it’s all old school now. When I was a child the notion of having a telephone in your home was still considered something of a novelty. They were complete with rotary dial and twisty cords. A private phone line was decadent. Now telephone books have been relegated to museums. All the photos in this blog were taken with my mobile telephone. I’ve no idea what all else my “device” can do. Fossil!
Who’d a thunk?
“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.” – William Shakespeare
Isn’t it interesting how some nondescript sight, sound or aroma can trigger a memory long-buried? It happened to me a few evenings ago. I was tinkering on my little trailer as the day began to cool and when I looked up, this is what I saw. I have been doodling landscapes all my life and have always sketched this sort of sky in the background.
The cloud shapes and colours took me back well over sixty years. A happy memory of my childhood was when my father would take he and I off on a day-trip. Off we’d go with his ubiquitous military canvas gas mask bag slung over his shoulder. I’ve no idea what he carried in it but by today’s standards it was a way-too-cool man purse. He was the quintessential British trainspotter and so we usually began these trips with a train ride into Toronto. Trains meant rail yards which were his absolute delight. Steam locomotives were fast-disappearing in the late 50s and dad would almost wet himself when we saw one chuffing out clouds of steam and sooty smoke. Yep, that was over sixty years ago!
Rail yards are often built near waterfronts for obvious reasons and one day that’s where we ended up. There were rows of lake freighters moored near the grain elevators and nestled somewhere in the heart of it all was a small working man’s cafe. All I can remember is a vague recollection of a clock advertising Player’s Navy Cut Cigarettes. There was an image of a bearded naval rating that implied real men smoked. That old salty dog sold a lot of cigarettes; I don’t know how many people he killed. Clearly remembered of that distant moment is a large framed painting of a full-rigged clipper ship sailing before a glorious sunset just like the one pictured here. She heeled slightly to the wind with all her sails set, stuns’ls, t’gallants, everything she could carry was up and billowing in the rich red-gold of a sunset just like tonight. The white bone in her teeth reflected the light of perfection. I suspect that image did a lot to inspire me toward my lifelong nautical persuasions. Could something that fleeting and subtle influence the course of someone’s entire existence? I suspect so.
A few days later I’m finishing this blog as rain patters on the skylight above my desk. It’s lovely! We need it. The forests are bone-dry and our streams are getting dusty.
Anyone who lives on this island is fortunate indeed. What is left of California burns up and wildfires rage in our interior. In the wake of those clouds I photographed a spectacular lightning storm raged across the southern province. We won’t get all the rain we need but it is all a help as summer evolves with shortening days and cooler temperatures.
Walking with Jack in the heat of yesterday afternoon crickets were chirping their summer song and the tang of fermenting blackberries on the vine was in the air. As the berries become over-ripe they begin to ferment in the hot sun. Wasps become drunk on that nectar and buzz harmlessly but crazily in front of your face. There’ll be plenty of berries for several weeks yet. Blackberries have evolved to bloom sequentially and produce fruit over an ongoing calendar. There’s a bumper crop this year with more than plenty for everyone. Just remember to harvest your berries beyond the watery radius of dogs and old men.
Yet two wo days later, the sky is clear again. It is 10°C outside at the moment. Yep, it’s coming.
“There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.”
If there’s a slight draftiness to this text you’re not imagining anything. I have to keep blowing spruce needles off my keyboard. They rain down as the wind howls through the branches overhead. I’m back at my favourite camping spot on Northern Vancouver Island beneath the trees beside the fire trying to keep warm in a very chill breeze. It’s time for the pink (sockeye) salmon to be running. I thought I’d catch some fish, film some bears wading in the creekmouth as they fed but, there are no fish at the moment. And it’s too windy to launch my little boat off the beach. It’s August 11th, I’m wearing my winter coat and all the heavy clothing I have with me.
Ever notice how few things are seldom quite as good as a previous experience? I recount this with humour and bemusement. It’s downright funny! How else do you deal with folks being folks? Six weeks ago this place had only a half-dozen campers, who were kindred spirits with nice dogs. Now the place is overwhelmed with garrulous people trying to take as much space as possible. We all possess a primal urge to lay claim to more than we need and for some, a sense of conquest is part of their outdoor experience. I’m not sure they even know they do it. Each camper seems to have noisy dogs determined to declare loud rights to this entire territory which is quite offensive to Jack. He knows it’s all his! There is a monstrous fifth-wheel trailer parked where it effectively blocks the lane to other campsites. The geezers who came with it sit under their canopy waving cheerfully to others as if to say “Aren’t we grand?” I waved back limply and kept my big mouth shut. Part of the fun for me is minimalism, although I confess that as I write, my generator purrs away charging everything from the electric fridge to the cell phone and this computer.
When someone appears to be leaving, there is a frenzy among other campers who think that it’s a better location than where they were already set up. They frantically pack chairs, tables and firewood by hand over to the next site before the previous occupants have even left. There is the eleven pm arrival of someone joining friends at their camp spot with the requisite bashing about, flashing of brilliant lights and a plethora of screeched commands. “Stopstopstop! SHIT! Turn your wheels a little. NO! Turn em HARD! Easy, easy!” Then their little windup dog is released to begin yelping at the world. Oh the things I want to shout out! Wearily, I turn on my light and read another chapter, then two.
The spirit of the place is much different than it was earlier, but I was warned a different breed was coming. I knew better. Maybe I should come back next month to complete my comparisons. In the morning I sit with a cup of stout black coffee beside a small fire trying to warm up. A cold damp wind has blown all night and even Jack, cuddled up, did not keep my old bones warm. I sit musing about the primal pleasure of an open wood fire and how a little heat from it on one side manages to warm your whole body. Then comes a dry, rasping Covid cough from the trailer blocking the trail. Her merry band sits around her apparently oblivious to her emissions and the bits of lung she’s spewing around. It went on last night and begins again. I’ve seen her Rubenesque form in spandex grandeur and can only think “Pity the pallbearers!” Pandemic or not, she has the sort of deep-chest ripper that deserves a doctor. Despite all the overwhelming admonitions to self-quarantine with any Covid-like symptoms there are those for whom the rules don’t apply. Dead right!
On a mound of gravel overlooking the beach, a gaggle of folks wearing hoods and wrapped in blankets have brought their folding chairs up into the wind and taken up post with a huge telescope. One of them has a large, lunging rottweiler on a leash which appears eager to eat anyone who comes near. On one of the outhouses someone has posted a hand-made misspelled sign proclaiming it to be their private crapper. If a mobile taco stand appears, no surprise. Most folks are lovely but as usual, there are those few who impose themselves on everyone else. In truth the entire site is actually quieter and more civil than those managed sites with little goons in brown shirts patrolling and telling folks what is forbidden as they collect camping fees. Those managed sites have folks parked ridiculously close to each other with no sense of solitude, or this year, social isolation. There is none of that here, but I would happily pay to have this persistent cold wind turned off.
The drive homeward was a frenzied gauntlet. I plodded along at 100 kph, despite the 110 speed limit. Fuel consumption and wear and tear just don’t make sense and besides, I swear that if you were going 140, you’d still feel like you were holding folks back. There was not one police car in sight on the entire trip. When we arrived at the traffic lights in Nanaimo, many of those who hurtled past were waiting right beside us only to zoom off as if late for their own funeral. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was one of those hurtling fools for many years. All that happened more quickly was my aging process.
So now I’m finishing this back in Ladysmith. I’ve had my morning coffee out on the deck listening to the sounds of urban Vancouver Island. Across the alley, the daily release of a neighbour’s Alsatian. “Rowrowrowrowrowrowrowrowrowrow…….Shaddup gitoverere,” then comes the rasping deep-chest cough of a heavy smoker. More bits of lung. It is a weary, predictable script. The serenade is a daily event as regular every morning as the Tuesday seven pm volunteer fire department siren. Then sounds emerge from all over and soon our quiet little town is anything but quiet, drowned in urban sound pollution. It’s time to go back to the woods! There I’ll start my chainsaw and cut some firewood.
A friend and I went to look at what had once been a gorgeous 47’ liveaboard sail-anywhere cutter. Now it is filled with rot from one end to the other and the crusty evidence of long neglect. I couldn’t bring myself to photograph this beauty in her abject humiliation.The vessel is being auctioned off to cover overdue moorage fees. From what I saw, and didn’t see, the monster project wouldn’t be worth more than ten thousand dollars. Otters have already provided copious deposits. There is a fortune to spend as well as several months of hard, long hours. Binderdundat! By comparison a sister ship in Europe is currently for sale for $US 140,000. It seems a huge tragedy to me. That amount of funds would well set me back on my rails and here it’s been thrown away. The ongoing saga of boats and dreamers repeats itself and some naive buyer is about to gain a massive education as the dark realization of a fantastic dream becomes a dark nightmare. For once, it won’t be me.
“Strangely enough, they have a mind to till the soil, and the love of possessions is a disease in them.” …Sitting Bull
“Our fears are like dragons guarding our most precious treasures.” Ray Wylie Hubbard
How can those few words from a Texan country singer not tug at your heart. They apply to all of us. Consider how you feel about our present times. They really hit home for me as I regard a present visitor. Ayre is a 3½ month old tiny dog. She weighs less than 3 kilos (about five pounds.) This five-pound monster has stolen my heart. I find myself taking to her in silly voice puppy-speak. Jack gives her a deep warning growl when she comes prancing at him; he’s doing his part in mentoring her. She’s cute as hell even when she tries to sink her tiny needle teeth into my fingers, growling with all the ferocity she can muster. Of course that bravado is a mask for all that frightens her. “The best defence is a good offence.” Who could want to harm her? There are those who would and some creatures see her as a tasty snack. I can’t imagine how the world must look to a being so tiny and newly arrived. When I pick her up I’m afraid I’m going to break her frail-feeling bones but soon the warm wriggling fragrant bundle of puppy licks my big old hand with a tiny soft pink tongue and there is a moment of joy and a gush of paternal instinct. Awwwww.
Of all the negative things we can find about human beans one of the rays of hope is our indefatigable instinct to care and protect tiny creatures. This little dog can soon prove itself a pain in the ass, demanding attention and food then more attention. Yet an old bush ape like me finds patience and tenderness much to my own amazement. She’s running the whole household, both innocently and deliberately. I’ve know little of the horror of a screaming baby in the night but I suspect this is much the same. There is some override wiring which brings patience and caring without contemplation. Mothers possess a courage and stamina I don’t grasp.
Today is August 3rd, a provincial holiday, BC Day. The weather is languid, the streets are quiet (After a bout of wailing sirens at 04:00) The mourning doves are hoo-hoo-hooing and all seems calm, Covid be damned.
Recently some friends and I held a conversation about the correct, and also the legal way, to merge into traffic. I found myself contemplating this again while out walking Jack this morning.
I’ve some some research online. In BC there is a bit of a grey zone about this with references to “being socially handicapped” and “it’s the polite thing to do.” It is clearly stated however that a vehicle making a left turn, or entering traffic on it’s left is always the give-way vehicle. If there is an accident involving any merging vehicle it will be always that vehicle deemed at fault. A vehicle in the moving traffic lane must not impede the flow of traffic it is in to accomodate a merging vehicle. Our traffic laws were generally written based on marine traffic rules and it makes sense that a vessel entering a busy channel must give way to others already underway. In the air, or on the water, a vessel with another on its right is the stand-on vessel.
I have a notion that folks demanding you merge ahead of them, or go before them at a four-way stop for example, are often actually empowering themselves rather than trying to be nice. There are no “Nice Police” and usually simply playing by the rules is the nicest thing to do, then we all have a notion of whazzup. I’ve held a drivers license for fifty-two years without any crashes. With all of the driving I’ve done I like to think I’ve done something right. I’ll certainly admit that as I age, my reaction time is beginning to slow as well as my ability to see things as quickly. Being honest about your abilities is a good way to help stay safe. Ever notice how no-one admits to being a poor driver? It’s always the other guy.
Blackberry season is now in full swing. Men with plastic buckets lean into the brambles picking the succulent treats. Except for one. He stood watching and holding a full pail while his elderly wife worked on filling another, all the while she was holding a big German Shepard on a leash. It did not like the brambles. I wanted to kick that old misogynist’s arse but he would have spilled the berries and the dog would have bitten me. Isn’t it interesting what one can assume from a glance? Everyone seems extra testy these days so it’s best to keep to oneself. At least we’ve had no explosions. Working in the backwoods I learned how even twenty pounds of ammonium nitrate could crack away a big piece of granite mountain. Nearly three tons of the stuff in downtown Beirut is like a nuclear bomb. That thousands, out and about living their daily lives, were not killed is a miracle. Bang. How quickly life can change!
Jack and I have just come back from our morning walk, or in other words, shuffle and sniff. It rained last night and there is a subtle perfume of freshness. We met that old couple with the dog again. Pops was holding the dog this time and his wife was breakfasting on wet blackberries. All three seemed pleasant and amicable. So…three friends, instead of enemies.
The fourth agreement: “ I will respect the power of my words.”