Lately I’ve caught myself bending toward writing rants about local social injustices. I have just deleted an entire page that was snow-balling toward a collision with the thought police. I have also reminded myself that my ire was being based solely on information from the media. Recent experience with the emu and the policeman once again confirmed the inaccuracy of news stories. What was reported and what I saw while experiencing the actual story in first person were rather different. Once I worked with a colleague to rebuild a British DeHavilland 1936 Mk I Tiger Moth which belonged to a local doctor where we lived in a remote Rocky Mountain community. The media got wind of the story and soon was reporting about a British doctor who flew mercy missions in his antique biplane. The account was absolute fabricated rubbish. If the story had a dog sled lashed to one wing it could not have been more ridiculous. My point is about how we tend to form opinions based on what we are fed by the media and how we can get fighting mad over gross inaccuracies and blatant lies. So, chill out dude!
When I finished high school I was offered a journalism scholarship. I am happy to report that I took a summer job and instead turned it into a career. Still I recall the five W’s. Who, what, why, where, when. Those foundations for all journalism seem to have gone into the ditch. I sometimes watch TV news stories and am not informed of where or when the event occurred. Sometimes the reporter’s name is not given. Creative interpretations of an event are offered which have nothing to do with an objective coverage of the truth. I am enraged when a person who has just lost a child or spouse is grieving in front of a camera. That is wholly irresponsible and unconsciously gormless.
Clearly, media’s first priority is to entertain. Tabloid mentality cares little about honesty and accuracy. Get ratings, sell ads, abandon truth and accuracy. We swallow it all as sugar-coated dung. If I interview you saying that you like little boys who are kind to animals, respectful of their parents and old people but I quote you as saying that you “Like little boys,” have I been honest or ethical? There are two important federal elections coming up in North America. The drums are already beating. Remember nature’s simple formula of two ears, two eyes, one mouth.
A friend in the US sent me some political statistics. I’m always suspicious of numbers put forward by anyone. We all know how they can be manipulated to serve an argument in any direction. One figure however, leapt out at me. The US has 5% of the world’s population and 66% of the world’s lawyers. There’s something to chew on! I’ve often considered lawyers to be a breed of parasite that has a life cycle which needs to make enough profit to get into politics. Once in office they make more laws which in turn justifies more lawyers.
Yesterday the weather was fair, the wind was calm. I was long overdue to renew my grasp on certain points of reality. In the wake of selling ‘Seafire’ I had the opportunity to purchase a very nice used inflatable boat. A local shop was having a sale on new outboard motors and for the first time in my life I splurged and bought one. No more tinkering with some else’s cast-offs. The new motor, of course, had a few glitches but I’ve sorted them out and can confidently leave the shore. I have a boat which I can deflate and roll-up to transport with me wherever I go. It is very safe, so long as I stay inside it. That can be difficult in lumpy waters, the boat is very rough-riding but everything is a compromise and, that is what life jackets and harnesses are for. Any day on the water, rough or not, is better than a smooth day ashore. It was wonderful to spend a few hours exploring little nooks I’ve passed by for years. The photos are all from yesterday.
“Being on a boat that’s moving through the water, it’s so clear. Everything falls into place in terms of what’s important and what’s not.” … James Taylor
Last blog I offered a cryptic squint at modern policing attitudes. I must add this. Four years ago a habitual drunk in a pickup truck careening through a suburb of Victoria ran a red light and rammed a police car broadside. He fatally mashed a police officer. The victim was a woman and a mother. Her husband still grieves, especially now. The sentence handed down for this horrific tragedy was a mere four years. However we may each value our human lives that punishment seems cavalier to say the least. That the victim was a RCMP constable on duty should perhaps be irrelevant but four years for wilfully dangerous and violent, mortal irresponsibility is a horrific insult to us all. It trivializes the value of everyone’s life.
I stand by my concerns about jaded and arrogant police attitudes but I also grasp how crushing it must be for all officers when they are so demeaned by a casual judicial system. It also helps me empathize a bit better with the policeman’s lot. Small wonder they become bitterly hardened in the face of such crass dismissals of what they endure while trying to do their duty, no matter how they perceive what that might be.
By the way, friendly comments about my last blog suggest that I “Stay out of trouble.” All I’ll say in response is this. Name me one of your heroes or anyone else the world remembers who stayed out of trouble! C’mon now, just one name!
Summer is rushing past. Dried leaves fall and carpet the trails. Over-ripe blackberries ferment and drunken wasps buzz in your face. Tiny songbirds are flocking up and feeding voraciously in preparation for long southward migrations. Second cuttings of hay on local farms have been baled and stored away. Local markets and roadside stalls overflow with fresh local produce. Back-to-school ads flood the media. It seems I was just posting photos of early spring buds. The seasons whirl by. Peter Fonda, the baby-faced biker just died. He was 89!
I was shocked to realize that the classic and iconic movie, ‘Easy Rider’ was first seen back in my high school days, an entire lifetime ago. That was over half a century! When you start measuring your own life in those terms, well, you know the jokes about buying green bananas.
I’ve never written a bucket list; I’ve just lived it. The greatest anticipations are yet to be experienced. I’ve learned to quit wringing my hands about things like politics. I still constantly prod people to think, think for themselves but I’ve also realized the wisdom of the old Alcoholics Anonymous mantra: “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Or, as George Carlin put it, “Don’t sweat the petty things, and don’t pet the sweaty things.”
This blog’s photos are local grab shots taken in the last few days.
A dear friend and fellow sailor presently visiting the Thor Heyerdahl Museum in Oslo Norway has just e-mailed me this:
“Borders? I have never seen one, but I have heard that they exist in the minds of some people.”
I once wrote an article about four levels of competence. It was within a series of essays about coastal navigation requested by a local yachting magazine. They never printed that piece. I think what I wrote was too offensive to their valued advertisers. So be it.
Those four levels start at the bottom and rise from not knowing even how little we grasp about how to do something. This skill level is often accompanied with a lot of condescending tones and braggadocio. “Empty wagons rattle the most,” is something this old farm boy tries to remember.
Most of us rise at least to the second level where we become aware of how little we know and begin considering how to improve. We become quite humble in the face of that awareness and mechanically perform the basic steps. Have you known the pain of trying to learn to play a musical instrument?
The third level is when we are finally able to perform to some point of satisfaction but still seek to improve ourselves and often need to consciously think about the skills we are employing. We’ve learned to respect rather than envy others who possess a competence we strive for.
The fourth level is achieved with experience and practice when we can finally do something intuitively. I’ve become fairly adept at sitting in this chair.
Here’s my drift; if you’re still with me. I’ve recently had two bemusing moments with the local constabulary in recent weeks. The first incident found me in handcuffs while going to the local Post Office. I’d always wondered what that must feel like. I was simply parking my truck. Another fellow was also trying to park and making a very poor job of it even after repeated attempts. I waited hoping he would settle. Embarrassed perhaps, he began shouting at me, asking if I had a problem. When I replied “yes” he responded by asking what was wrong. At that point my terse answer, without thinking, was that he was blocking the “F…ing road.”
Then all hell broke loose from behind the Post Office across the street. It turns out to have been a young cop interrogating a woman there about her boyfriend whom he’d just taken to jail. (No further comment on why he’d later share that information.) Crossing the street to get the mail and angling past him, his harangue continued. I suggested that he appeared to be plenty busy enough without spreading his efforts so thinly. He was enraged. I was arrested, hand-cuffed and stuffed into the back of his vehicle. Eventually the cuffs were removed and I was threatened with charges of disturbing the peace, road rage and uttering profanities in public. Yes, really!
He even had the audacity to mention the size of my wrists and how difficult hand-cuffing me had been. He wanted to know what my occupation was. I so badly wanted to say that I was a retired cop and had spent a lot of time playing with my gun. No, I did not. The handcuffs hurt like hell and I bore deep welts on my wrists for several hours.
Constable Zealous refused to acknowledge that he had not interviewed all those witness to my heinous behaviour nor had he noticed the traffic problem and who was shouting. After a half-hour of acrimonious debate I actually received a vague apology once I’d pointed out that he had a rage issue about being challenged and that his job did not involve being any sort of interpretive judicial system. Of course if I’d just kept my pie-hole shut there would have been no problem. I often remind myself of Don Ruiz’s four agreements: I will respect the power of my words, I will take nothing personally, I will assume nothing, I will always do my best.
From a skewed perspective I can see how I broke all those rules in my police moment but damnit, sometimes you have to stand up for what’s right. That’s the problem with Canadians, we are just too polite to the point of enduring all manner of abuses, even from people on our payroll: politicians, bureaucrats, civil servants. They are sworn to serve us, not to try forcing us to bend to their will. We’ve forgotten who’s supposed to be in control. I could easily begin to rant about how Canada is insidiously becoming a police state while we blissfully ignore the obvious. But, if you can’t see it, I’m not about to try penetrating your comfort zone.
I have no desire to be a policeman, not for any salary. It is a thankless task, fraught with danger, stress, frustration and hopefully, at times, guilt and is at most times subject to contempt from the taxpayer….. until, of course, they need to dial 911. There are life and death decisions to be made in an instant and no-one always gets it right no matter how much training they may have had. It is intolerable however when a police officer is arrogant, rude and assumptive. I will not endure derogatory tones from anyone, even a goon with a gun. “To serve and protect” dude! Friends who are retired RCMP members admit some embarrassment that they once wore the uniform. One retiree said that in consideration of the modern police force the only difference between it and motorcycle gangs is that the police have better resources. “They’re all thugs.” Strong words indeed. I do appreciate the job they try to do. I repeat that I don’t want it. I know I’m just too reactive.
I’ve made it to this point in my life without ever tangling with the police. There were, of course, times when I deserved to have been. I can’t remember my last traffic ticket and the last time I interacted with police was to help apprehend a severely impaired driver. A good thing I think.
My objection is that the prevalent police attitude I see, and hear about, is that they know more than everyone about everything at all times. That apparent insecurity is a dangerous thing for someone so heavily armed and so constantly under stress. A little contrition could go a long way. So, back to the four levels of competence and the four agreements.
On a recent morning Jack and I were driving to one of our favourite walking locations. We fetched up at the back of a small parade creeping along the road. A police car headed the procession with flashing lights. Well, actually it became apparent that an emu was heading the parade. It was high-stepping down the centre of the pavement and making a good four knots to windward.
Eventually big bird decided to make a u-turn and headed back toward town in the opposite lane. I saw a photo opportunity coming my way and perhaps a chance to help corner the outbound oiseau. The cop, now in mid u-turn began to bellow on his loudhailer. “GET-BACK-IN-YOUR-VEHICLE!”
Just what an over-wrought monster bird needed! The officer pulled alongside and angrily admonished me: “That bird has toes ya know!” He was clearly frustrated with the whole humiliating situation. It never occurred to him that perhaps I may have displayed some confidence with good reason. I do understood that in his eyes I was just another nuisance idiot in need of salvation from himself. I do actually have a little experience with these creatures which are indeed powerful kick-boxers known to have readily disemboweled people who get too close. A former farm boy, ranch hand, and rodeo dude I’ve also been in pens with angry horned cattle, kicking biting horses, tusky boars. You develop a savvy for critters, but not when they’re being pursued by bellowing policemen in hot pursuit and I was not about to offer my resumé.
The emu made it onto the evening TV news. It turns out his name is Parker. He is from a local farm and a repeat escape artist. Eventually the police blockaded the road for a half-hour and then tasered old Parker before “subduing” him. He’s none the worse for wear with nary a singed feather. Fortunately for Birdy Boy there was not enough cranberry sauce on hand for a barby and happily no “Conservation” officers were involved. When they show up, despite their title, something invariably gets shot. Parker survived unscathed and is back on the right side of the fence plotting his next adventure. So, choose your own closing line:
– Keep your pecker up/ Keep your eye on the bird/ The beat goes on/ drumsticks!
“The police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”
I muse on this every year. Each blackberry season the berries do not ripen all at once. If they did, most of the harvest would go to waste. The berries ripen in sequence, so that each day there are more newly-perfect delicious treats. A person can go back every day, or every few, and pick a fresh crop of tasty bliss. The vines amortize themselves. People and birds both have an ongoing feast through the month of August and often well into September. The untouched berries left over eventually dry on the vine and become winter stores. Some fall on the ground to sprout in the next year but most feed the birds for a good while after the first frosts. Among that macramaed tangle of formidable stalks, rabbits and other creatures find refuge through the seasons from predators. In spring, tender new plants springing up from the fallen seeds provide fresh nourishment for those furry wee beasts which will soon give birth to their own progeny. Their droppings, in turn, help fertilize the thorny thickets. Nothing goes to waste. No one could manage any human endeavour quite as well.
I beg myself to know what it is that naturally occurs among mindless thorny vines to manage their assets when I don’t have a clue about managing mine. I never have. I don’t even have many left to manage. I have made and lost fortunes. Maybe, as the tide turns, I will have finally learned something. In my advancing years I find myself skint beyond any way of describing my pathetic situation. My finances have always been a tumbling hairball of advance and retreat, bad management, bad luck, bad timing and bad choices in general. I am aware of a deeply embedded sub-conscious need to self destruct and I know there were values and practices taught, and not taught, in my formative years. I am not blaming anyone else but I sure wish I’d learned values other than work hard, spend hard, fall hard. The chapters in my book about working smart just haven’t ever been there. Despite all my personal insights, I have managed to arrive a place in my life where I just don’t have the energy to start over yet again but I do not want to dig the hole that I am in one spoonful deeper. Enough! I’ve burned myself up in every sense clambering through the vicious cycles of my life’s game of ‘Snakes and Ladders.’
I have no love of wealth, I manage to eliminate any I come across. However, money is a tool everyone in this culture needs to do the things that give their life meaning, security and direction. It is all about choices. I’ve never understand how to make make more money with what you already have. All I’ve known is to work myself like a donkey and spend whatever I bring in before someone else gets their claws on it. My body and soul are now worn past the point of being able to continue doing what I know and no-one seems willing to hire someone for their experience alone. That sense of being discarded onto the big pile of worn-out shovels does nothing to inspire confidence and self-faith. There are many people around me who are smarter, skilled in financial strategy,yet who are in the same bin as myself despite all their cleverness. They have risen higher and fallen further. They perhaps once offered smug advice to others about managing their affairs. That awareness leaves me feeling no better. And so there you have it, a great mystery called life. I am not complaining, just explaining. And yes, I know what Einstein said about repeating an effort and expecting different results: insanity.
I also know that fortunes can change in a flash. Negative mental energy will bring more darkness; positive thinking and activity lead toward light and goodness. Each energy feeds on itself. The trick is finding the empowerment to jump aboard the right train, not in front of it nor beneath it. There is always risk involved in anything worthwhile. “You can’t get at the fruit without going out on the limb.” I have wonderful creative skills and even a sense of mission about what to do with those endowments. The doldrums where I find myself at present, are they the eye of a hurricane? Will the wind suddenly reverse and blow me in the opposite direction? Staying hove-to and waiting for that shift is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Doing nothing is a terrific challenge. The wisdom of the old sailor is to know when to put the helm down and sail on again. God grant me that knowledge.
This morning, while walking with Jack the dog, a crow sat on a limb above me and performed a strange self-grooming dance all the while singing a piece of crow-rap gibberish. Or was it offering a message, which in my self-absorbed misery, I am too out of tune to understand? Being in tune with nature is intrinsically important to me. Fitting in with the human world around me means little other than having the tools to go where I feel led. Later, after hours of pondering, it occurred to me that thatwas the message. I’ve lost touch and it is time to get my beak out of my belly button and flap my wings.
So why am I bothering to write this? Everyone has their own gig to deal with. I know that there are many other folks living in desperate circumstances. There is no comfort in that knowledge. Our current history is being written as a grand, global, widening deliberate division between the poor and the wealthy. The middle class faces a holocaust. My mission in life, which I’ll admit I tend to forget at times, is to put a little light in other people’s eyes. If I can take a positive note from the call of the crow, then perhaps I can make the flame of someone else’s flickering light flame a little brighter, help them make it through their night.
Like manna from heaven, a few hours later while flipping through YouTube, I found this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBaHPND2QJg The video was made in Sabadell, Catalonia. The music is Beethoven’s ‘Ode To Joy.’ This flash mob performance made me shiver. In a time when the news seems to be about yet another mass-shooting and in Canada, a bizarre manhunt which has ended with a total of five deaths, this is something worth sharing with everyone. There is hope; even when we cannot see it. Namaste.
“Much of human behaviour can be explained by watching the wild beasts around us. They are constantly teaching us things about ourselves and the way of the universe, but most people are too blind to watch and listen.”
Friends report nasty weather in far away places wet and hot, wet and cold,depending where you are. Here on Vancouver Island the weather is superb for the beginning of August, exactly what one would expect. We’ve had a little rain now and then and there is a gentle breeze so the temperature rising through 28° C seemed perfect for a long-weekend Sunday morning. Without a boat, what was there to do but go for a drive? Driving a near 200-mile route in a circumnavigation of Southern Vancouver Island it was soon obvious that Paradise has been fully discovered and over-run.
The small town of Lake Cowichan lies inland on Vancouver Island at the east end of the lake from which it takes its name. The lake, and its sister named Nitinat, almost bisect Vancouver island into two halves before draining via the Cowichan River into Cowichan Bay. The two lakes drain in opposite directions. It is the short stretch of solid land, about eleven-hundred metres, between their head water streams which formally keeps Vancouver Island a single entity. The name Cowichan is an anglicized perversion of the original Coast Salish Quw’utsun which means “Warm valley.” It is lyrical and easy to remember, especially when used so often. The name is synonymous with fantastic handmade native woollen goods as well all the wine now produced throughout the area. I’ve joked that among some of the undulating vineyards here, you can almost imagine you are in Provence.
It was certainly a warm valley today with the truck thermometer peaking at 32°C (89.6ºF) while stuck in the crawling traffic on the main street of the little town. Stopping to photograph the chaos would have just added to the danger and chaos. Folks wandered everywhere and the sights were amazing. Bobbling mounds of human anatomy, apparently held together with stringy bits of clothing, looked absolutely out of place as folks in various states of undress wandered through the swollen traffic of a historic, rustic community. I am no prude, nor a letch, and I’ve long-ago accepted gay rights (I’ve yet to hear of a heterosexual rights parade) but geez people! Obese rights? Bummer!
Rafting down the Cowichan River from town is a summer tradition. You could have walked the river without wetting your feet. It was jammed with flimsy plastic donuts filled with squirming, squealing pink creatures of various shapes and sizes. I thought of spawning jellyfish. There was no place to stop and photograph the incongruous sight. Plastic debris in the planet’s waters is clearly an urgent situation even well inland. There is also probably a carpet of aluminum drink cans on the bottom of the river.
The drive was a frustration of strange driving habits. I coined several terms for the characters encountered along the way. ‘Dufus’ will do to cover them all. Is the plural, Dufi? For some reason, there were repeated near-head on collisions with motorcycles leaned hard over on the wrong side of the road’s curves. Have you ever noticed how folks tend to use a common driving quirk on any given day? Laws of random stupidity were clearly in effect. There is a paved logging road stretching between Lake Cowichan and Port Renfrew which is on the open outer coastline of the island. It can be a beautiful leisurely drive of about an hour. Yesterday’s little trip was not. There is no centre line painted and expecting the next WTF was soon an obvious requirement. It was impossible to drive and also admire the scenic splendour of the route. There was no relaxing. I took no photos.
Every spot providing any access to the clear forest streams was clotted with parked vehicles. Each tiny camping nook held at least one group, all campgrounds were seething with weekenders. It seemed impossible that the backwoods could be so overrun. Botanical Beach Park at Port Renfrew was so clotted with people and parked vehicles that creeping along the access road was a challenge. All this in the name of ‘getting away from it all.’ How I miss my boat! Finally hunkering down on a tiny bit of roadside beach, the Strait of Juan de Fuca was airlessly, flat calm. Very eerie indeed; this is a body of water known by many professional mariners as “Wanna Puke Ya Straight” in respect and dread of its often huge tormented seas, a product of days of usually strong winds against eternal massive tides.
Returning homeward along what were once back roads, one of which, after many decades of use is now blocked, was also hell. More WTF! New routes led through what was once a distinct suburb of Victoria. Langford is now a sprawling, faceless, soulless mess of grey boxes which folks call home and blurs into a megalopic sprawl. Where they’ve come from, and what all the people do here is a mystery to me. There is no fruit to pick, no more lumber to stack, few fish to pack. WHAT do they all do? It would seem that everyone must be hard at it building ever more houses for ever more of the inbound. I am reminded of all those dreary British row houses, but they at least have a bit of character, and a regular displacement of pubs. Here, it seems, the most common vendors of distractive substances are now marijuana dispensaries.
The final leg back to home is the gauntlet of the Vancouver Island’s highway. Even though I drive it often, there is always another new subdivision and even more shopping which has sprouted up like another patch of toadstools. The quaint charm which drew me to Vancouver Island seems lost. Perhaps I am simply jaded, but the swelling population on the south island has precluded what once was. I keep seeing something new and find myself asking, “Hey isn’t that where the old ……….. once was?” Victoria just feels like any other city now. The city’s inner harbour has been mutilated with a monster yuppie yacht marina. Folks in boats of less than fifty feet appear to be an endangered species. There is now a plan in place to ban the ubiquitous horse-drawn carriages. I suppose flowers will be next on the hit list. Or perhaps the Parliament Buildings; a great location for more condominiums. I admit I am a tiny part of the problem and this island is not much like the place it was when I arrived almost four decades ago.
A comment about our drinking water and how carelessly we consume it, I put it together after buying some bottled water to carry in my vehicle. I discovered the water had been bottled in Texas! Of all places! With its dusty aquifers, from where does Texas import water. Sudan? Well, (There’s a pun!) please give it a thumbs up if you like the video at all. I truly appreciate every bit of help.
With a tough enough time selling my own books I seldom flog someone else’s work. However, I have just finished devouring ‘The Devil’s Highway’ by Luis Alberto Urrea. The writing itself is tremendously artful, combining the subject of illegal walk-in immigrants trying to cross some of the most hostile deserts in the world, with the convoluted bumblings of politicians and bureaucrats in both the USA and Mexico. This book gave me a new understanding of the US Homeland Security effort and I am very sobered as someone who likes to walk in the desert. My jokes about ‘Homeland Insecurity’ will be subdued from now on, these folks have a thankless job and their efforts are as much about saving lives of those lost in the desert as about catching illegals. Even if you do not have a fascination with the area, or care anything about it, the work is an absorbing read and one of the best pieces of writing and research you’ll find in a long while. We gringos do tend to take so much for granted.
Today has become a glorious cloudless, hot, calm holiday Monday holiday afternoon. The local British Columbia Day fireworks had Jack the dog in a fury last night. Now all is placid. Traffic on Mad Max Way, aka the Island Highway, seems to be humming along nicely without, for the moment, any chorus of sirens. Is it time to get out there and become part of the problem?
“We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” Jacques Cousteau
I am a sailor. Above all else. It follows that I am superstitious to a point. I have learned to love the desert and I have also spent good portions of my life living in rural and back wood settings. All those environs have their unique taboos. As a mariner I do not begin voyages on Fridays, I’ve learned not to whistle in the wheelhouse, I never stow cans upside-down. I always coil my lines in a clockwise direction. I am not inclined to ignore omens even when it seems silly. When I do, I pay. I did not hold the traditionally-required ceremony invoking Neptune’s blessing for renaming my last boat to ‘Seafire.’ That beloved piece of my life is now lost. There are actually sound originsfor each higgery-jiggery even if the logic is long lost. We all like, even need, the notion of forces greater than ourselves. Just because we don’t understand something does not mean it isn’t so.
A few mornings ago as I opened the bedroom curtains, a hummingbird hovered outside the window. It stayed for nearly a minute, tiny black eyes staring into mine before rising vertically out of sight. I took that as a good omen. Hummingbirds are regarded universally as symbols of happiness and peace. Natives of the Pacific Northwest traditionally regarded them as spirit beings which brought healing, good luck, love and joy. The gods know I could stand a healthy dose of all the above so bring on the bumminghirds; I mean… Oh damn! Later, I sat outside with a cup of coffee as a mourning dove repeatedly flew overhead with bits of grass in its beak. There’s a nest being built nearby. Hopefully that too was a sign of good things to come. Peace, security, quietude. In a tree, at this moment, a dove is coo-cooing its morning song as I write. Ommmm… There is a place in the desert not far from my beloved Baboquivari. It is the ruins of an old mission. The doves are singing the same song there. I am transported.
Presently, low finances put few prospects in sight. I am bored and despondent. I have never before been in such a situation. There is usually far more to do than can be crammed into any day. I’m not much good at heaving-to, even in the worst of conditions, and I’m impatient to lay a course toward something important. There are books to write, films to make, photos to take, so many places and people to see and meet. Summer is passing and there’s a lot of folks out there having a good time while I sit around navel-gazing. It’s driving me crazy! Things will change but for the moment my hands need busyness. One activity prompts creative juices for other things. Boredom and inactivity inspires more of the same, as does action.
So I decided to do something, anything, get the juice flowing. Scrounging through bits of material stored away I found enough to build a storage box that will be mounted on the back of the next trailer. Dumb-assed perhaps, but I feel better. It is no big deal, nor a new career, but the simple fact of doing something is cathartic and no matter how hard you will something to happen, you must also get active. Nothing happens until there is motion. Wishing is not a dynamic force. Chances are I’ll find a trailer with a nice storage box already in place. So then, maybe someone will want to buy a really good box!
Often, when I am writing, I jog off into the internet to refresh my memory about that which I write. I went briefly to look up Baboquivari and I found this. It explains my fascination with the place and why I must return.
Edward Abbey on Baboquivari
Edward Abbey(12927-1989), a famed essayist and writer who lived in southern Arizona, wrote about Babo:
“The very name is like a dream; a hard place to get to—jeeps might do it but will be unwelcome; best come on horseback or like Christ astride a donkey—way past the end of the pavement, beyond the smallest sleepiest town, beyond the barbed wire, beyond the Papagoan hogans, beyond the last of the windmills, hoving always in the direction of the beautiful mountain.”
Perhaps I should modify my box to fit on the back of a donkey! Care to join me?
“Activity and rest are two vital aspects of life. To find a balance in them is a skill in itself. Wisdom is knowing when to have rest, when to have activity, and how much of each to have. Finding them in each other – activity in rest and rest in activity – is the ultimate freedom.” ― Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Sell, sell, sell! I warned you that there’d be a little bit of marketing in my blogs. Now posting my images for sale online with Fine Art America.com I’ve just received an e-mail from those folks saying, that to kick-start business in July, they are offering a $100. wine gift certificate with Naked Wines.com. Apparently the offer is valid in the US only but the gift card comes with any purchase of artwork, no matter how small the order. So, for a $15 mug you get a $100. worth of wine. Now you know. Apologies to my fellow Canadians. Damn eh!
A month ago, four blogs back, I posted a blog titled “Goldfield Calling.” I wrote about Highway 50 being described as the loneliest highway in America. The route runs East-West across Nevada. Even telephone poles along its length are a rarity. As you drive its long miles you are in the wild wide open west. Now I believe I’ve found an even lonelier road. While listening online to Radio Goldfield I learned of a community in Nevada called Gabbs. The name “gabbed” me. I’ve looked it up on Google Earth. I don’t think there will be e-mails from anyone saying “Yeah, ‘bin there, know it well.”
I can’t explain why but I love lonely roads and I will certainly drive this way on my next trip south. Here’s the route: on Highway 50, a few miles east of a half-way mark between Austin Nevada and Reno is a pinprick on the map called Middlegate. I’m not sure there is even a gas station there. Don’t blink when you are getting close in case you go on by. Hopefully there is at least a road sign. The junction sits a few miles west of Bench Creek Wash and Cold Springs, location of the Pony Express Station which I have written about. I had already decided to go back there to explore and photograph that old outpost so I’m not going out of my way at all by swinging down toward Gabbs.
Turn south to Middlegate, you’ll now be on Highway 361. Gabbs is about 30 miles away. If you look this up on Google Map you’ll see bleak, brown, bare, dry desert in all directions. Actually, that kind of country supports an amazing ecosystem if you care to look. There is certainly a lot more than tumbleweed, rattlesnakes and coyotes. For me that is part of the magic of deserts. It is all a mystery to me. Well aware that I am an alien there, it thrills me to see how much is going on in an environment that at first appears bleak and hostile, just like the ocean but in an opposite sort of way. If you leave me on a remote beach here in the Pacific Northwest, with just a pocket knife and a lighter, I may not be happy but I’ll be OK. In the desert I’m not sure how I’d survive. It is a very different world to me.
Gabbs looks more like a camp than a town, the landmark there is a huge open pit magnesium mine, now closed. Wikipedia says the population was 269; it will not be higher now. It is now unincorporated but there is a description of infrastructure which among other things includes a jail; a sure sign of civilization.Folks who live in places like Gabbs are not there because of their high social yearnings. They did not seek out seclusionso they could befriend inquisitive strangers. There are bullet holes in nearly everything in the US Southwest. It’s a cultural statement best heeded. Let reclusive people demonstrate their desire to interact, at their inclination. I meet plenty of lovely folks down there, but I remain aware that I am the intruder. I’ve never felt at risk but then birds of a feather know when to flock off. In fact I always feel better whenever I go into remote areas. The desert leaves me with the same inner peace I know when far out at sea. Locals who choose to live in isolation operate on similar frequencies as me and I find an affirmation in meeting them. I might be nutters but I’m not alone. Cities leave me with a very opposite feeling. When surrounded by urban throngs I seldom feel at ease.
Gabbs was named for a paleontologist who was fascinated with the large number of fossils in the area. So, there’s something else that may be of interest. A few miles south of town, a gravel road, even more remote and primitive, angles off the pavement to the southeast where it eventually passes the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project. In the photo on Google Earth it looks like a massive sunflower comprised of solar panels and it alone appears to make that entire back road jaunt look worthwhile. I’ll let you know.
There is another route, which is a paved road, but either way will eventually take you to Tonapah, civilization at last. Just look for the road signs if they are not too shot-up to read. Tonopah has several fast food joints, each of which will have wifi… so I can post a blog with photos describing my adventure realizing yet another little dream. This past winter I sat in the MacDonalds there trying to do exactly that. Other patrons stared me down for the stranger I was. Clearly, using a laptop there was a suspicious activity. At the table next two me, two bewhiskered old codgers loudly reminisced over their boyhood glory days in the South Pacific during WWII. Clearly, it had been the pinnacle of their life still worth reliving over seventy years later to anyone within earshot. Meanwhile, across the restaurant a near-deaf, geriatric couple shouted insults at each other. I recall deciding to do my work elsewhere. There is, by the way, another Tonopah. But that one is in Arizona, another place and part of another story.
The Nevada town’s name of Tonopah is an old Shoshone word meaning “hidden spring.” One of my joys in the US Southwest are those place names. They are lyrical, whimsical, even romantic. An illustrious place-name may now prove to be just more empty desert with little or no sign of human presence ever. What was once someone’s centre of the universe is now gone. Why it was ever there may be a profound mystery.
Google Map shows many funky little communities, or place names at least, spaced all over the desert including the perimeters of Area 51 and Nellis AFB, only a few minutes to the east by supersonic fighter jet and alleged home to strange events, including alien sightings and encounters. There are other remote but well-developed, large airfields which have no names, all very strange indeed. I’ve met people who describe themselves as “Aviation Archeologists.” They go out into the desert in hot rod offroad vehicles looking for the remains of crashed airplanes. The Southwest has long been a military aviation training region and there are wrecks littered all over the landscape. What a great excuse if you want to roar around the outback drinking, shooting and generally being a yahoo.
Whenever you travel in desolate areas it is wise to carry extra gas and you can never have too much water, the latter preferably in bottles so that any leak is confined to one small container. Not only is carrying a few basic supplies a good idea for your own needs, you never know when you might come across someone who needs a little help. In the desert, like any remote area, a simple mishap, like a simple vehicle breakdown, can easily become a matter of life and death. You must look after other folks in distress. It is the code of pay back and pay ahead, especially when there may be no-one else to come along for a very long time.
Top up with gas whenever you can, never assume you will find more before you run out. The gas station promised miles ahead may be closed. If you must pay a little more to fill up before you venture on, think of much you’d be happy to pay if you were to run out. Living in remote areas much of my life, I’ve learned that leaving town with a full fuel tank in a vehicle is like having money in your pocket. Spend wisely and keep some cash on hand; some places do not accept credit cards.“Failing to plan, is planning to fail.”
And..there are infinite miles of other back roads to explore as well. Looking at the vastness of the American Southwest, it is hard to grasp that, despite its emptiness, there is not one square inch that has not been explored. Every stone must have been turned over, at least once, in a quest for the mineral riches hidden among all that rock and dirt. I marvel constantly at mine locations. Profitable or not it is amazing how someone found, then extracted, that vein of ore exactly where they did. Their tenacity, both physical and mental, was huge. There were no roads, no automobiles, minimal technology, only deprivation, grit and single-mindedness. Even with modern technology, we cannot duplicate that spirit of endeavour.
Meanwhile my summer is passing on what proves to be a far lonelier and dustier road than any I’ll find in any desert. Sometimes the road of life offers barren distances which you must travel to get to greener places. I’m finding life without ‘Seafire’ an absolute dreary hell. I am now among billions of others who are landlubbers. The difference is that, unlike most, I know what I’m missing. “It is better to have loved and lost…” I know, I know. Bullshit I say, bullshit!
Nothing lasts forever, this dreary time shall pass, but I am restless and eager to move forward. No matter what one’s circumstances, you can only live one day at the time. I find myself trying to ponder good things to come. Fortunately, I can spend hours contentedly travelling virtually on Google Earth. What a wonderful technology! A daydream machine! This from a guy who often laments his cyber ineptitude! Now for the moment, I’m back from my desert musings.
Here on Vancouver Island we are having what is deemed by many to be an unusual summer. It is a slightly rainy July, which is not extraordinary. I recall that most years here we have a wet July. We certainly need all the moisture that comes. Every year folks seem to forget the previous summer. Most people complain no matter what the weather is doing, too wet, too cool, too hot, too smokey, too windy. Other reports from the Northern Hemisphere describe muggy summer heat beside the Great Lakes and on the East coast friends describe constant cold.
So we’re doing just fine on our island, a wonderland of moderate climate and gentle yet dramatic natural beauty. People come from around the planet to see it. Jack takes me on spectacular walks within a radius of a few miles of home. Some days I am able to actually see it all and marvel that I live here. This morning I napped peacefully on the banks of The Nanaimo River while its crystal laughing waters sang happily on their way to the sea. Jack snuffled and plunked around, chasing waterbugs and digging in patches of soft sand. He drank from the clear water and then chased more bugs before falling asleep in the sun-warmed ground. A deer wandered out of the forest a little way upstream to drink in the river. Flowers swayed in the breeze while birds twittered and flitted. I have no idea what the poor people were doing.
There are three kinds of people in the world:
The living, the dead, and those who go to sea …Aristotle
It is the second day of July. Last night the holiday fireworks resolved into a mere two huge explosions. Then all was quiet. I hope there were at least a few survivors. This morning it is raining, a beautiful steady warm rain. The doors are open and I listen to the music of water gurgling in the downspouts. There is a lovely aroma of freshness. We need this, desperately. There were a few hours of precipitation last week, the stream beds did not swell at all. Now this. I swear I can almost hear the parched earth soaking it up. More please! This blog will be a simple photo essay about life in my little patch here on Vancouver Island. Rain or sun, bring your hat.
“ For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out. James Baldwin.
Nearly everyone knows about Gary Larson’s “Far Side” cartoons. When you mention the man’s name, folks instantly tell you about their favourite one. A former family doctor, when sending files to a specialist, would glue a Larson to the folder. He claimed that file would always end up on top of the pile. After an accident which required major heart surgery, I was able to get near the head of the line-up relatively quickly. Perhaps a Larson cartoon helped save my life!
Half of Larson’s work goes right over my head. I don’t understand it at all. The other ones are indelible. I cannot name a favourite because I have several filed away in my brain. Among them is one about a boy entering the “School For The Gifted” and pushing desperately on a door marked ‘Pull.’
Two dogs have a man on his back while they tickle him and laugh at his twitching leg.
There is one about the “Boneless Chicken Ranch.”
Cows grazing placidly in a field stand on their hind legs until someone shouts “Car coming!” Two old salts sit at a bar and exchange yarns. One with a wooden leg says “Well that’s interesting but let me tell you how I lost this.” His buddy has a wooden peg sticking up from his collar with a sailor’s hat hanging from the top.” The humour is often dark and sarcastic, but then all humour is a form of sarcasm.
Our cartoonists and comedians are among our modern philosophers and Larson is there with the best. One of his works depicts cattle in a long queue which goes up a ramp into the Acme Abattoir. One cow stands at right angles to the line with its head jammed between the tail of the cow in front and the face of the next cow which says, “No cutting in eh!” How’s that for social comment?
Two morgue workers attend a body in a drawer, sheet over it, toe tagged. They are going through the deceased’s pockets. One worker finds a winning lottery ticket. He says,“Lucky stiff.” As you recall one cartoon yet more come to mind.
Humour has been my salvation. Mr Larson has certainly helped sustain me in a few different ways. I’d like to buy him a beer and discover what sort of fellow he is in person. I often employ humour to ease my way through difficult situations and in interactions with other people. If you can make someone laugh, especially yourself, things are going to work out. Folks who don’t laugh leave me baffled. Everyone needs levity and the endorphin release induced with laughter. “Laughter, the best medicine” is not just a cliché.
No-one is as broke as the person who has lost their sense of humour. I think of the people out there with no apparent sense of humour at all, ever, and I wonder how they carry on. Many of those dour characters are in prominent places making global decisions. I’m sure they carry a sobering load but wouldn’t it be great if people like Mr. Trump, for example, just stepped up to the microphone and asked, “Did you ever hear the one about…?” Suddenly the world would become a much brighter place. Imagine Gary Larson, Billy Connolly, Steven Wright or Rowan Atkinson as a political leader. Prime Minister Bean, that does have a ring to it. Mind you, they probably do more for humanity right where they are. Volodymyr Zelensky, the new President of the Ukraine, was a nationally prominent comedian. Considering the dangerous clown named Putin with whom he must now lock horns, he is perhaps imminently qualified for his new role. I know nothing about politics, especially in Eastern Europe. Politics here leave me plenty baffled.
Even here at home, where everyday the political news is yet another groaner, it would be nice to laugh with, instead of at, all those manoeuvring to get themselves re-elected. On a final note about politicians and humour, our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau has just announced the government’s approval of the very controversial Trans Mountain Pipeline . I am reminded of Steven Wright’s line, “I just took a lie detector test…no I didn’t.”
On the subject of groaners, my little rotted trailer is gone. It sold at a salvage price to some very nice people who clearly understand, and want, the project they have bought. No matter how I did the math, I could not make sense of building myself a mobile monument. I could easily have spent all of the summer, and up to another ten thousand dollars, building the ultimate f.r.e.d. trailer (freaking ridiculous economic disaster) Now the albatross around my neck is gone and so once again I can start over. After attending URVU (Used RV University,) I can find another trailer now that I think I know what to look for. Meanwhile I feel that I’ve stood over the toilet and ripped up ten thousand dollars for one mighty royal flush. That much money is a fortune to me these days but I keep telling myself that I’m getting off lightly. I know of folks who have bought houses, vehicles, boats and RVs for a very much higher tuition.
You can well imagine some of the language I’ve used in consideration of recent events. Coincidentally, a friend just e-mailed me about the origins of the word “Shit.” Lord, I hope this is true! Before fertilizers had been invented manure was often shipped by sea. To reduce weight, it was always dried first. (Some places on earth had natural deposits of seabird droppings which was mined as “Guano.”) Once at sea, this cargo tended to absorb moisture and begin to ferment. Fermentation produces methane. Any flame below decks, such as a lantern, would cause a huge explosion. Several ships were lost this way before the cause was eventually determined.
After that, these cargoes were marked with the warning, Ship High In Transit. S.H.I.T. Thus ends the nautical portion of this blog.
The stream beds are dry, the snow on the mountains is gone. Folks continue to soak their lawns and continue to wash their cars and boats. This, in a community where sprawling subdivisions have been permitted to spread like cancer. The newcomers water their new lawns as oblivious to the problem as the municipal fathers. Water levels, this mid-June, are lower than many years in August. We have twice the population as only a few years ago with the same water supply, let alone in a year of drought. All those new roads, and driveways are freshly paved. That in turn sheds any precipitation we do receive. It is no longer retained as it was in the forest ecosystem which is now gone. When the tap to the hot tub coughs out a puff of dust, who will we blame? Water, clean fresh water, even in our toilets, the most precious commodity on the planet, is something with which we are abundantly blessed and take absolutely for granted. I close my eyes and hear Joni Mitchel singing ‘Big Yellow Taxi’… “They’ve paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Who would have ever thought that British Columbia would face water shortages?
So, two quotes for this posting. One leapt out at me from some research I was doing. I am a sucker for anything Steinbeck so I was immediately hooked. It thumped me between the eyes. The lyrical blessing of the second quote was graciously sent to me from a friend who apparently understands perfect timing. Is it possible? Can one’s stumbling progress come together as if there was a higher purpose that will make sense in the end? Only we can make that realization.
“Do you take pride in your hurt? Does it make you seem large and tragic? …Well, think about it. Maybe you’re playing a part on a great stage with only yourself as audience.” ― John Steinbeck, East of Eden
“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.”
In the American Southwest all roads seem to funnel through Las Vegas. There is also another place which my travels invariably take me to when travelling the breadths of Nevada. That place is Austin. It is an old mining town. Like many ghostly communities in that state, it is perched high on a mountain-side overlooking a broad valley. The population is sparse. I’ve driven through it twice already this year. While returning from Mexico, I was there again, now on a vicious winter evening. Snow was blowing along the main street. I came face to face with a herd of approximately eighteen white-tailed deer. They seemed to have no concern about the weather or me. I stopped and let them cross the highway.
The Austin campground, run by the local Baptist church, was closed. It was where I had planned to spend the night. All the side roads were solidly drifted-in. I could find no place to pull in for the night so I drove on westward. Down across the valley I travelled into the gathering darkness for more countless weary miles. Highway 50 is called America’s loneliest highway. It certainly was that night. Finally there was a spot sufficiently off the road at an old Pony Express historic site. In the morning I read the narrative signs and took my photos.
I vividly recall how the history of that epic venture was described. A dismal financial failure from the beginning, after a few short years, the Pony Express was decimated by the then-new telegraph system. As I drive through that vast country I often think of someone on a horse pelting across the untamed wilderness. Even in a vehicle, you can drive for days across bleak and beautiful land that leaves one wondering about that romanticized era. What has not been glorified was the desperate lives of the station keepers of the express service. They were the backbone of the fabled trek. Horses had to be changed regularly, every few hours, and that meant there had to be stables with fresh horses all along the route. Not only did the folks at these places get no glory, they endured multiple deprivations of hunger, cold, heat, illness, loneliness and frequent native attacks all for a meagre income. It must not have been at all romantic.
Sadly, that day, the data memory card in my camera came adrift. I have no photos of that dramatic place but I will not forget that stop at aptly named ‘Cold Springs.’ On my homeward trek this was yet another night of bitter cold when the plumbing in my van froze up. By then, on that wintry drive, I had learned to fill my morning kettle the night before. Thanks be that my trusty propane furnace did not ever let me down but there was never a happier sound in the morning than when that old engine fired up! The came the whistle of the kettle and the first sip of hot, black coffee which I drank as the front heater began to produce more warmth. I’m not so sure I would have done well as a Pony Express employee.
This all came to mind recently as I uploaded my best photos from that trip to Shutterstock.com. That is a website which heavily screens and files a photographer’s work then sells quality images as selected by a global clientele. On occasion I actually get paid a few coins for some of my efforts. Editing and submitting those images took my memory back to an intriguing old mining town in Nevada called Goldfield. Southbound, somewhere near here, is the latitude where one first sees Yucca trees growing wild in the desert. I’ve previously described the village as a full-time Burning Man event. There are funky relics, buildings and some interesting people. Like all the other old communities, it has a distinct personality.
One notable point is a wonderful volunteer FM radio station located on main street but also streams its programs live online. “Voice of the Wild, Wild West.” I’m listening as I write. There’s some Harry Chapin on, “The Cat’s In The Cradle.” If you know the song, you’ve dated yourself! Next is an old, old recording of Paul Harvey delivering an essay called “And God made a farmer.” Then comes Dylan with “Tweeter And The Monkey Man.” I love this station. Now I’m listening to the theme song for the ancient TV show, “Mr. Ed.”Then comes some Ian Tyson. “Cain’t beat it with a stick!”
Here is the link: https://tunein.com/radio/Radio-Goldfield-891-s137238/ Not only is the music earthy and pleasant, it takes me back to that town. It instills a deep yearning to return and linger. An outback humour is shared among it’s hosts who all joke about an imaginary station mascot. This burro, named ‘Tumbleweed,’ loves to drink thirteen beer at a sitting in the local saloon. There are of course many other backcountry radio stations out there which remain undiscovered to me. Check out KGFN Goldfield for some rustic comfort. Listening to local stations as they come within range and then fade behind me as I drive along is one of my travelling joys. Unfortunately that desert peace fades for me once I descend into Las Vegas.
Friends have now discovered a route which allows one to sneak around Las Vegas (Spanish for the plains or lowlands) on its east side. I will certainly try to find it next time. All other roads force one to descend into the bowels of this horrible place. Real plastic! I don’t like greed, glitz, din, facades or pretentiousness which seems to be all that Vegas is about. Real plastic! Real plastic! World famous! World famous! The notion of gambling and all the maggots who feed on that industry has always wilted my biscuit. In Vegas even the churches look like casinos. There are flashing lights everywhere. Apparently casino chips are welcome in the collection plates! Enough said! Meanwhile, the desperately poor are apparently invisible within the shining throb and flash of all that shallow fantasy.
In the midst of my present woes I just received an e-mail from a boat owner. He has an Albin 27 on which I left my card last year saying “If you ever want to sell…” Now he does. It would be a perfect little displacement cruiser for me, tough enough to take to Mexico and very practical to own. Albins have been long-loved by me, simple and tough is my kind of sexy when it comes to boats. It could be a great summer home on this coast. Bugga!
I continue to look for a way to hook my dream. I have a very hard time being hove-to and waiting for the storm to pass. They always do. Possessing a manic need for my hands and brain to always be busy, sitting day after day waiting to see which way the pickle squirts is damned hard. I know nothing happens until you do something but sometimes you just have to be cool; even when it’s hot. Speaking of heat, the thermometer here this afternoon rose to 32°C. For fun, I checked the temperature in Goldfield, 29°C. Go figure!
After a long wet winter we’ve had a very dry spring. Streams are dry, some trees are beginning to wither. A long summer lays ahead. We will either dry up, turn to dust and blow away or burn, or…it will rain the whole season. One way or the other, this island is still paradise. Here is a link to my latest video-making effort. In three minutes you can get a sense of one facet of life on this island.
When I think of all the places on this planet where millions are born, live and die who may never see a real tree or can image unlimited amounts of fresh water… and the health and plenty and peace we take for granted I can only be thankful to live here.
“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” –Robert Louis Stevenson