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.”
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.”
(Written Somewhere On Vancouver Island Beside Johnstone Strait)
Poor cell service. No internet, no news, no e-mail, no Twitter. Sunny, but with a cold westerly wind blowing down Johnstone Strait. Jack and I are camped at the mouth of a River near the top of Vancouver Island. A monstrous dryland log sort separates us from Johnstone Strait and the foaming waters reared by the blasting wind. There is a lovely little campground provided free of charge by the timber company. Spiked to a tree a sign says, “If you clean up your mess maybe you’ll come again.” Blue collar eloquence; the area is pristine. Below us is a fantastic dreamlike maze of huge Sitka spruce interwoven with clear shallow gravel-bottomed streams. There is thick underbrush and a shoulder-high carpet of ferns. The area is thick with slugs. Within a half-hour of setting Jack’s food dish down it was crawling with the slimy beasts. I don’t care who used to eat them, eeech! I am stumped for how to take photos or video which accurately portrays the feeling of this beautiful place. Salmon spawn here and there are reports of grizzlies in the area. The roads are liberally dotted with huge mounds of bear scat so I make lots of noise and stay in open areas. Does a bear crap in the woods? Yep, and twice as often on the road. It’s a manyberry thing. Unless….. a Sasquatch festival? Now playing: The Mugwumps.
We drove in around nine pm. There was plenty of light and plenty of game. Elk and deer ambled the road in several places. After two nights in that place we then found the roadway to heaven. Now I’m sitting in the dark only twenty feet from the ocean’s edge looking northward up the last miles of Johnstone Strait. There is a brisk cool westerly breeze which has eased from a near-gale at sundown. I’ll let my photos describe this place which I’ll leave un-named. If you are a kindred spirit you’ll find it on your own which makes the magic a little richer or, if you like, I’ll tell you one on one if you ask. It’s that kind of place. Other campers here, who have been coming for decades, have sworn me to secrecy. I see why.
Next paragraph, twenty-four hours later. Another blazing yet soft J.M. Turner sunset. The wind is finally easing, for the moment. I’ve known it to blast relentlessly for over two weeks non-stop. That’s a long time to be stuck on a tug boat with a few other blue-collared guys. Tensions rise and tedium inspires bad tempers. Bound to our log tow, one time for two weeks, we were committed to nursing it through the storm until we could deliver it safely far south down the coast. That would take ten more days if all went well. Six hours on watch, six off, day in day out, that tedium brings out hidden bottles and then hell breaks loose. I’ve seen a fist fight over who installed the toilet paper roll backwards! It’s funny now!
But tonight here is peaceful. A young brother and sister are playing on the large roots of a beached tree thirty feet away. It’s lovely to hear the sound of their happy voices against the rhythm of waves gently lapping on the stone beach and a joy to see two siblings who like each other enough to get along amicably. Their joint imaginations as they turn the big roots into their castle, decorating it with kelp, is uplifting. Sometimes there is a rattle of the round beach stones rolling in the pull of the waves. The day began with a pod of humpbacks swimming close to shore, now it ends placidly. Money cannot buy bliss like this.
This paragraph begins on July first; the year half spent. Instead of being in a crowd celebrating our nationhood in a sweating Covid mass with loud music and the aroma of food stalls, I sit alone at my Honda table by the edge of the sea. The wind rose again this morning. When I opened the door on the trailer we were shrouded in fog. Now that fog has become a roll of low grey cloud over the strait and I watch a wall of rain advancing slowly toward us. I am wearing all the jackets and vests I have. I was astute enough to bring a water-proof storm coat with me. It seems like winter. Still, I’d rather be here. That’s a grand feeling.
Jack is away making his rounds. Most of the campsites have filled. Those folks have children and dogs. He comes back regularly to check on me and let me know he’s having a fine time and, perhaps, to assure himself of my blessing to wander. God forbid I wander off! He’s just reappeared with two gorgeous Australian collies. They voraciously sample his food bowl while he sits by, the gracious host. With all these people around there are no lurking predators and I know he does not go exploring beyond a short radius. He knows his limits and his joy is mine as well. I want every one of his senior days to be as rich as possible. After making his rounds he wants to get back into bed in the trailer. (Which I’ve decided to name ‘Boxtrot’) I join him and pull an extra blanket over us. The day wears on and we hibernate. Rain lashes the far shore of the strait. The neighbours cut and split more firewood. On the horizon to the west a sail catches a glint of sunlight. That may be the brightest moment of the day. And so it was. At day’s end, the wind is still blasting. The horizon to the west is a bright gleam of sunlight and there are now patches of blue between the ragged clouds; whatever that means. It’s all good.
On our sixth morning we awake to a pristine sky. Now a rising southeast breeze stirs the ocean. Without the roar of the wind I can hear a choir of bird songs echoing through the surrounding woods. The bitin, g bugs have returned with a vengeance. A red squirrel scolds and a pine martin scampers along the beach with a freshly caught crab in his mouth. Jack has found a patch of sunlight under the trees and he snores gently in his bed of spruce needles. I sip my first coffee and ruefully consider that groceries are beginning to run low. I don’t want to leave but it will be homeward tomorrow.
Yesterday I went for more firewood from a nearby abandoned logging sight. Jack despises the din of chainsaws and promptly disappeared. I went off in a panic-riddled search only to find him eventually sitting exactly back where I had been working. He was soaked in hydraulic oil. Apparently he had hidden beneath the only logging machine still there. There is a hose and tap harnessed to a nearby spring so with a bottle of dish detergent Jack had to endure a cold bath. While doing that I met a former skipper I’d once worked with on the boats. He was camped nearby; funny little world! In the evening my camping neighbour rushed up to me asking if I knew first aid. His wife was splitting kindling and had amputated the end of her thumb. A small drama (Not to her!) which serves as a reminder about how quickly things can happen and the need for thoughtful prudence; especially when you and your buddy are two old dogs. Fortunately I was able to assist and after a trip to a distant hospital, they were back in their tent before dawn.
In the time that I’ve written these last two paragraphs the wind has risen from a zephyr to a half-gale. It stacks waves against the rising tide. It’s beautiful and I wonder how long before I see the bright colour of someone’s spinnaker charging up the coast. (There was one late in the afternoon.) I’ll sit placidly, sipping coffee and waiting for whales. Breakfast over, dishes done, chores complete I’m back at my table pecking away. While sitting here I’ve started reading a new (to me) book. I try to buy books from the bargain bin in my favourite book store and sometimes find a real treasure. I’ve begun ‘Fishing For Stars’ by Bryce Courtenay.’ I liked the title. It’s brick-thick with seven-hundred pages of small print. The first paragraph is like a poem and begins: “Some things from the past stay fresh in the mind of an old man…” He goes on to describe being at sea in a gaff-rigged cutter named ‘Madam Butterfly.’ I was hooked. On the forth page I read: “Mine has been a fortunate life in so many ways, but in the end we live more in our head than we do in a place and lately there’s some alarming stuff happening in my head.” That’d be me!
I think it’s time Jack and I went for a walk. I’ll give my impression on this novel once I’ve squeezed it for the last drop; six hundred ninety-five pages to go.
Back from our walk, I’ve decided to declare this a do nothing afternoon. We walked to the far side of a lovely stream not far from here, explored and waded back across through the icy water. Jack swam and is clearly delighted in today’s little adventure. Now he’s asleep in his day bed. He is a master of do-nothingness. I’m trying to learn the art. Next blog I’ll post a link to my next video, made about this recent trip.
“Our mind is of three categories: what we know, what we don’t know, and what we don’t know we don’t know. Not knowing is unfortunate; not knowing that we don’t know is tragic.” – W. Erhart.
I’m sitting at my beloved old Honda car trunk table in the woods north of Campbell River swatting at mosquitoes and black flies despite a brisk breeze. This blog has begun first day out on our next jaunt. I’ve left my computer mouse behind so I’m poking away with my banana fingers and hoping for the best. So far the only other thing I seem to have forgotten is the butter. Jack is fine, peacefully laying on his bed beside me wiggling his ears at the bugs. On our postprandial walk we met a lovely black bear, probably a two-year old. It crashed off into the thick brush of course and I was reminded that old Jack is no longer the feisty beast he once was. Neither am I. We’ve had a long day. With the bugs being so friendly we are about to lock away the groceries and retire for the night. One of the nice things about getting old is that you can fall asleep anywhere, any time. At least until the middle of the night. Then, after determining that it is indeed the “golden age” you can’t get back to sleep until after first light which, of course, is why you can fall asleep any time through the day.
In the morning, after a night of absolute quiet we stepped out into the cool early morning light with clouds of black flies hovering silently. Too stunned to go into feeding frenzy, they’ll soon be at it as the day warms. We’ll move on. With my morning coffee beside me I sift through my notes and see two T-shirt logos I’ve written down. On elderly man slowly walking his old dog had a shirt which said “In memory of a time when I cared.” The other comes from a music video. The drummer’s shirt said “Let’s get together and make some poor decisions.” Right then! With the day’s business meeting concluded, the bugs have broken out the antifreeze and are attacking in squadrons. Breakfast quickly, we be gone!
A few hours of meandering brings us to a vast concrete pad at the end of a logging road on the edge of Johnstone Strait.With our camp barely set up, a pair of humpback whales swam past, heading north. I am very familiar with these waters, having tug-boated and sailed up and down this strait for many decades. I’m looking across to the Stimpson Reef Light and remember all the dark nights either towing logs or smashing into nasty seas. That light was a tiny dot on the radar screen slowly making its way along the sweeping green scan line. Yes, I miss it.
Tonight we have an abandoned log sorting ground to ourselves. One could park up to thirty RVs here with respectable distancing but I’m content with things the way they are. Sadly, after all the frustrations of packing this little boat up here there is no place to launch it. The foreshore is a steep jumbled mass of boulders, logs and abandoned machinery. With the wind I think is coming, perhaps it’s a good thing. This strait is notorious for its quick and deadly seas. There’s an old WWII gunnery fortification a short way down the shoreline I’ve long wanted to visit. But it has languished without my personal visit for almost eighty years. Windy Point will be fine for a while yet.
The marine forecast is for wind and rain which is fine… no bugs! Having worked in the great northern bug country these ones here are amateurs in comparison but still, who needs them. They’re here for a reason, but none of those reasons are mine! The cyber voice droning out the marine forecast offers admonishments about dealing with “Covid One Nine” and assisting the RCMP in their efforts to prevent the spread of the virus. Isn’t a boat an ultimate isolation unit already? Who are the people that think this stuff up?
I sit by my fire, wishing I’d brought a winter coat along. Then I think of this same spot at the same hour in mid-January. It would have been dark by three pm and the snow or sleet would be blowing horizontally. I crawl into my little trailer where Jack has already been warming the bed. A rain shower drums on the lid and we both drift into a deep sleep, cuddled like the old pals we are.
Morning dawns still bug-free thanks to the damp breeze blowing along the strait. There’s low cloud and I’m wearing all my jackets. My little generator drones on, charging the batteries on all my cameras and gadgets. I marvel at how dependant I’ve become on all of this stuff, stuff, stuff. There’s no point in reviewing the minimalism I’ve known and practised, obviously I’ve evolved beyond that, or perhaps “been seduced” is a better term. I can actually shut the generator off from my bed, simply by pushing an icon on my cell phone! Hopefully the breakfast drone will be making a delivery shortly, I pushed that button twenty minutes ago! I do know that trying to work this computer without my mouse is a challenge, downloading images is a right horror, there’s no hope of editing them.
The day passed idyllically. Jack is not up to much hiking anymore so after a couple of kilometres, and several mounds of fresh bear droppings, we prudently decided to lounge beneath the home tent. I watch the ever-changing tidal currents shift and bend and swirl, an eternal fascination. The amount of traffic on the strait amazes me. There is seldom much time with no boats in sight and others when there may be half a dozen to see all at once. I have made a conservative estimate of about one hundred fifty commercial vessels as well as several yachts. Due to Covid one nine there are no cruise ships or tour boats this year. There are a lot of fishing boats heading north right now, there must be some openings in Alaska coming up.
Even though I’m not on the water at the moment, I feel like I’m home. As I write, on the opposite shore, a tug with a log tow rides the flood tide southward, hoping no doubt to make it into Sunderland Channel before the tide in the strait turns against its progress. With skill and luck, it will be in position to catch the first of the next flood into the Wellbore Rapids. Eighteen miles in twelve hours hours, it doesn’t sound like much, but when towing log booms, that distance can seem like an odyssey. A few miles south of here, where you turn out of the strait is a place called Fanny Islet. It is a check point where marine traffic control is advised of commercial vessel’s progress. One dark nasty night I was aboard the ‘Kaymar’ with one-hundred-twenty sections of log bundles, an entire forest packaged into a raft about the size of a hay field. We had our entire towline out, if we slowed from our speed of one knot, that line could snag on the bottom. Then the radio call came. “Mayday, Mayday, oh fuck we’re sinking!” We were the only other vessel anywhere near and are bound in all ways to assist. It was a long and interesting winter night. We missed our tide at the Wellbores.
A line tug bound for Alaska passed a while ago. They are huge tugs, powered with massive EMD diesels, the same as used in rail locomotives and their resonant throb pulses in the gathering darkness long after they have passed from view. It is a reassuring and somehow lonely sound all at once. The barges these boats pull are the lifeline of Alaska. They are huge and travel between the various ports of Alaska and their southern terminus in Seattle. In some of this coast’s thick fogs, although you have them plotted precisely on radar, these massive scows loom out of the gloom looking like half a city. Even though Johnstone Strait is an average of two miles wide, it seem like a ditch when meeting in poor visibility. Of course, you seldom meet in the widest places.
The next day is blustery and dark with frequent rain squalls. I’m wondering what to do with this day. It’s too miserable to sit under the marquis tent and Jack is restless. Then unbelievably the phone rings despite the weak and intermittent cell service. It is the doctor’s office, they want me to come in for an appointment, more test results. Remember the bladder thing? Unfortunately there was no breakfast from the sky and I know there will be no prescription delivery drone. Here I am now, back at my desk in Ladysmith. The weather is forecast to soon improve. Yep, we’ll gone again.
“ We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” Native American proverb
I’ve just finished reading a novel titled ‘Sweetness In The Belly’ by Camilla Gibb. It is not a macho swashbuckling story but rather a tale of far greater courage. Told from the perspective of a Western woman who has embraced Islam, she finds herself living in 1970’s Ethiopia at the time of the overthrow of the dictator Haile Selassie. Forced to flee by fundamentalists the protagonist ends up living with other dispossessed Muslim women in the miseries of London. It hasn’t been an easy read for me but I’ve grasped a concept about why so many people live within the regimen and rigours of the Islamic faith or other religions. When your life is shit, it is much easier to endure simply by following the rules, trying to convince yourself that God’s alleged laws will bring you to great rewards if you submit to what someone else declares as divine.
I see a parallel in that thinking to our present pandemic but let me first hasten to add that our strictures do not begin to compare to a lifetime of misery, poverty, and subjection simply for being born a woman in a third world Muslim culture. Being a man is tough enough but being a woman seems utter hell. I’ll probably receive a comment from out there saying something like, “Well asshole, try being a woman in ANY culture!” I’ll admit to being happy enough as a man but I also have some counter remarks which would start something I probably can’t finish.
Anyway I often marvel at how easily folks allow themselves to conform to the regimen of Covid restrictions and the ask-no-questions servitude we so readily embrace. Blind trust leads the masses. It won’t work of course if everyone is banging around in different directions but I see things which leave me going hmmm! In the doctor’s clinic yesterday everyone had to wear a mask. I found out after my visit that I was wearing mine wrong, but no-one had said anything. The scowling receptionist behind her partial plastic who corrected me wasn’t wearing one at all! The doctor ran out to find a baby scale and returned to his little office clearly without disinfecting it. So it goes. I’ll confess to a twenty minute highway drive for my appointment, risky business far more dangerous than someone else’s germs.
We do need to accept a common dogma to survive but we don’t need to drink disinfectant or keep any automatic firearm handy. That mantra can be expressed in a single word “Respect,” first for ourselves, then for all of our fellows. As recent events in Minneapolis prove once again, it is not the weapon, but rather the man who kills. It would be a good thing to take away some of our weapons, but it won’t change the nature of we beasts. Rocks, sticks, fists, and knees work quite well, but guns do make it easier. But we just can’t blame a fork for making us fat. After my crack last blog about the cystoscopy booth at the amusement park, Twitter’s recent headline was about the re-opening of Florida amusement parks. Perhaps kids will be handed helium balloons that look like those knobby Covid virus balls. Gary Larson, where are you?
It is time for me to vanish again. Jack is waiting by the door. Here’s a link to my latest video, completed just this morning and now posted on You Tube. We are on our way shortly for another jaunt in the backwoods.
Camp Runamuck has finally gone mobile. I’m starting this blog using the tailgate of my truck as a desk, Jack is laying in his bed on the roadway snoring peacefully. The highway to Tofino is closed for construction for the next three hours. It is an amazing project, overdue by forty years. It involves carving half a granite mountain away and will take several months more. We spent a first night ever cuddled in the Social Isolation Unit and we’re still both on speaking terms. I’m quite proud of myself, the trailer is a sound idea. The crystal water of Taylor River sang by our campsite and now we’re off to points beyond. We’re delayed only a few kilometres from where I want to turn off. There are no glitches other than things forgotten. Usually I pack along enough for a trip around the world but this time we’re missing a crescent wrench (For the propane fitting), forks, (fingers and sharp sticks work just fine) spare batteries for the interior lights in the trailer and now the battery has just died in the computer mouse. Minor details, it’s all part of the romance Billy! But I sure wish I knew where my last marble is.
When we left our campsite this morning my plan was to travel back-roads where I’d never gone before and find a place on the ocean shore of Toquart Bay on Barkley Sound. This is on the wild, rugged West coast of the island. It opens onto the open Pacific. Looking out on that curved horizon brings me an inner peace only another ocean addict can understand. No such luck today! All access to the shoreline, everywhere, was gated or very deliberately blocked. The trees frequently bore a freshly posted sign declaring that the forest here was managed by this or that first nations group and their world was closed to all outsiders due to “Emergency Measures.” All campgrounds, both private and public, are slam-shut. I travelled a horribly potholed logging road toward the famous little coastal community of Ucluelet. It was beyond anything Mexican.
So far as I know no-one has ever caught, or given, a contagious virus to a tree or flower. Why are so few people being so incredibly anal to the rest of the world? The air in my lungs was some of the cleanest on the planet, it has just travelled across several thousand miles of open North Pacific Ocean. How can people be so hysterically stupid? It’s been years since I was last in Ucluelet and I was shocked to see how cosmopolitan this once-quaint fishing village has become. I’ve heard raves about what a wonderful place it is now. The reek of money may be in the air, but it’s not for me. Perhaps that’s the present resistance to visitors, there’s still some old guard who remember the way it used to be. And the pandemic come from out there.
We made our pilgrimage to the light station at Amphritrite Point just to take a photo and prove we were there. The quest for a place to stuff the SIU proved fruitless. My hope of spending a little time with mother ocean has been dashed for now. Then we caught the return construction gauntlet with only a few minutes delay. Tonight we are on the edge of a large inland lake, known as Sproat. I took one last chance and crept down a very long-since-maintained logging road thinking we’d have a quiet place all to ourselves. As it turns out there is a small community of squatter RVs here, but there was one perfect wee spot left and I backed in. We’re exhausted.
We’ll be in the bunk in a few more minutes. Jack is as shattered-weary as I am. One neighbour has put their squalling children to bed so I’ve taken the cue. The other neighbour arrived back from fishing, and has started a clattering generator. Above that din, he is playing some very strange and loud music. Six am is coming. Haar! Did He doesn’t know about my new electric bagpipes? I’m going to fire up my generator and squawk through my first lesson. I’ll try playing ‘Castrating The Ram.’
A tranquil morning dawns over the lake. The low fog burned away rapidly. There is a roar from the waterfalls half-way up the mountain across the lake. The only angst is a pair of Stellar Jays taking turns raiding Jack’s food bowel. They’re brilliant! He is in full repose, watching them through the corner of his eye. As it turned out, we spent most of the day napping. Jack seems disgruntled but I don’t even have the enthusiasm to launch our little boat. For once, I’m not going to feel guilty about anything. The day wore by, Jack visited with other dogs and I rested. As evening approached a convoy of trailers arrived and squeezed themselves in anywhere possible. WE HEAH! Screeching children, sneaky dogs, loud rock music, country music all at once and forced laughter from the adults who are trying to convince themselves they’re having fun by yelping like excited burros. It sounds like a travelling carnival. Everyone seems determined to make relaxing into hard work. I know I am an outsider who has invaded the local folk’s secret spot and that everyone is trying to blow off some of that Covid stress. It IS The Victoria long weekend. We’ll move on in the morning.
I realize that I have a bladder infection. It mast have contracted during a visit to my urologist a few days ago. I have to go for a regular inspection and the nurse administering the camera was a tad brutal. I recall asking her to loosen her stranglehold on the little feller. I’ll spare you “too much information” and simply say that “peeing through razor blades” is not just an expression. Whoee! We’ll be back on the road just as soon as possible.
“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” –Alice Walker
While posting the previous blog, it was pleasing to realize that my text had not once used the C word which now nestles in our vocabulary to a point of not being noticed. It is like the word “like” which has become a painfully misused preposition. I’m like so in love. I’m like going fast. I’m like really hungry. WTH? What exactly are you doing if you are doing like something? Is there a parallel existence that is like this one? Ya know, like, it really pisses me off. Like actually? How did that misuse of basic language creep in along with all the other strange anomalies we don’t even hear after a while? The word “cool” is now long used to express the same appreciation which, when I was a child, was “hot.” Awesome! There’s yet another. An English friend was accused of having an English accent. He responded “No mate, I am English, I don’t have an accent.” You’re hearing me with your accent. Now then, could you like pass me a beer eh? Yup, I can see how English is a hard language to learn.
CRA, now there’s another disagreeable C word. Canada Revenue Agency; Mr. Turdeau’s mafia. For reasons of health I am no longer able to do the he-man work I used to. For reasons of age I am apparently not a desirable hire-able. I do under-the-table jobs which a lifetime of experience permits me to do when others can’t or won’t. For reasons of poor luck, translated to honesty and stupidity, I am not financially secure. I’m flat-assed busted broke. But being a responsible citizen, I filed my tax return in good time, weeks before the dead line. There were a few hundred bucks coming back which I really need.
Then the Covid Crisis was acknowledged and the government began handing out money to anyone who came up with a vaguely reasonable story, honest or not. Just apply online, three easy questions. The country is being bilked, scammed, and ripped-off for an astronomical sum we have not begun to calculate. I know there are dire and legitimate needs but there is a part of our society which has no conscience nor consideration of consequences. Meanwhile, trying to be an honest citizen receives punishment. After a lifetime of contributing to the GNP I’m treated like I don’t matter. I can also reiterate, from experience, how shabbily a small Canadian entrepreneur is treated. A free spirit? Scum! And over seventy percent of our economy is small business-based.
A blurb on the evening news casually mentioned that tax returns filed on paper, the old-fashioned way, had been delayed because of all the other emergency activities. Well, I’m old-school. I checked the mail again, nothing. In the morning I phoned CRA and after a maze of numbers to push I waited for almost fifty minutes to speak with an “agent.” Wonderfully her accent was standard Canadian, and she was pleasant, both unusual in my experience with government agencies. I provided the data so that funds could be direct-deposited to my bank account. I asked the question “When?” I learned that in fact paper-filed returns have been suspended.
Well, guess what queue I’m going to go stand in? My income has been cut-off due to the Covid crisis. Coincidentally, our illustrious Prime Minister has announced today, that the government has banned over 1500 makes of assault-style firearms. Hmmm, interesting timing! Coincidence? A long-time hunter, I know that nobody needs a Kalashnikov to hunt deer. For once I agree with our supreme dude but remember that one pissed-off old citizen with a shotgun can still damage a politician! A pitch fork will work too! Beware angry geezers. They don’t have much to loose!
A little later, I return to my desk after shovelling some gravel for a neighbour. I feel much better and muse about the therapeutic values of splitting fire wood and other simple mindless manual labour. There’s nothing like a good zen sweat. I miss that pre-fossil fuel which warms a body at least twice before it is burned. I watched a documentary about life on a nearby Gulf Island and listened to a fellow who proudly uses firewood for heating and cooking, brag about not using fossil fuels. Stunning! He cuts it with a gasoline chainsaw, brings it home in a gasoline truck and has clearly never thought about what coal and oil came from. Yeah man; ancient composted vegetation, like you know, trees! Then there’s the question about carbon footprints and how many cubic metres of Co2 he produces being environmentally friendly.
This guy has raised his family in a yurt while he builds a big wooden house, with asphalt shingles, glass windows and a deep concrete basement as well as many other exploited resources. When do we ever figure out that each of us is part of the problem? Stop the bullshit and work out the difference between need, want and greed. I understand that there are a lot of very well intentioned people who are poorly informed, even misguided.
Here’s a tiny bit of environmental homework. Do research on the mining and smelting of sand to make all the glass we use. And what of concrete? Mining the rock, crushing it into powder, baking it to make cement all so we go and smother more natural earth somewhere else is a monstrous environmental disaster which few consider. The impact is huge! The production of concrete is one of the planet’s single largest sources of carbon dioxide. And just think of all the energy consumed to make glass, concrete, steel, toilet paper! All those exploited resources, and the energy to take and modify them to suit our ends, so much going into housing, schools and hospitals (Boarded up or not) commercial and industrial buildings, roads, malls, churches, airports all of which will be ripped up and replaced within a few decades. The environmental cost, for example, incurred to produce windmills is huge and not questioned because if we can put some of those twirling giants on display we’re clearly in the groove. Are we doing what we do to be thoughtfully in tune with the planet or are we going through the motions of appearing cool? A friend describes our madness as “Fornicating for chastity.”
I’m not a great fan of Mikey but he was clever enough to keep his pudgy face out of this one. He is facetious, as capable of bending statistics and evidence as his targets, and probably as profit-motivated. I do love the indignant howls of various environment organizations targeted in this film. The information presented is perverted but so are many of the notions he challenges. The message is clearly, “Green Energy” demands as much energy, if not more, than it would have taken to simply consume fossil fuels in the first place. A wise old man once told me that the key to long-term survival is to realize how little we really need. Just think of all the paper tissue products we consume; all for the extravagance of ease and comfort. It is not complicated. CONSUME LESS! WASTE LESS! The documentary is meeting mixed reviews but it does provoke questioning dialogue. If folks would just ask questions the world would begin to improve. Unfortunately we all live in a very broad comfort zone where complacency rules our choices and allows politicians and corporations (One and the same it often turns out) free rein.
When I was a child the notion of rolls of paper towels would have been dumbfounding. When clothing was too worn to patch anymore, (An alien concept now) it was torn up for rags, which were even washed and reused. Toilet paper was not novel, but many of us with outdoor facilities used newspaper and old book pages. It was how I learned to read. The planet advanced nicely without our present decadence. Think of all the environmental devastation wrought simply so we can clean our bottoms with triple-fluffy poo pillows. Hell, some ads even have the bears using the stuff. Trouble is, the woods where those bears live are being cut down to make dunny rolls. When the Covid panic hit, folks rushed out in panic to gather all the toilet paper they could find. Priorities first!
Here’s one more thought. Suppose some persuasive enterprisers are able to convince the world that the gyprock drywall used in nearly every building is a deadly carcinogen. It has to go the way of lead-pipe plumbing and asbestos products. Can you imagine? Sleep well.
See what happens when you mess with a taxpayer. You get him thinking!
On a positive note. We still live in a part of the world where we are free to openly voice criticisms. Imagine enduring this pandemic, for example, in Syria or India or an African state. Throw in Ebola, drought, civil war and general desperate starvation. When schools and casinos will re-open are not a concern. Finding a hospital, any hospital is a challenge. A friend travelling in Zimbabwe last year ended up in hospital after an accident. To be viewed, her x-rays were taken outside and held up to the sun. So how many ventilators might they have on hand? Face masks? Yeah right! Toilet paper; what’s that? We’re doing OK.
“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you.What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make.” —Jane Goodall
The chill overcast of early morning gave way to a warm calm. I began imagining that I could hear the budding leaves emerging. Jack and I went off to one of our mutually favourite wandering spots, the old Swallowfield Farm. I set up to take a shot along the mud road beneath a canopy of blossoms and chlorophyll green with a background of bird songs. A helicopter buzzed overhead, from another corner the scrape and bang of heavy machinery echoed across the fields. Now an old WWII fighter plane clattered by, a Yak attack. I know and love that particular airplane but gimme a break, I’m trying to shot some video here! It was joined in a chorus by some goon on a mufflerless Fartley Davidson. Geez Louise! Part of the art of making videos is often the accompanying sound track and my amateur skill level does not know much about erasing and over-dubbing or applying any of the wobble-quavers which the pros can do.
That in turn got me thinking about how I’ve arrived at this point in my experience as a photographer. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve become a snapshot artist instead of the fully involved disciple of the medium format film camera and the dark room. I used to spend long hours working in a tiny, chemical-saturated space producing the perfect print, both black and white, colour and cibachrome (Printing from colour slides. It was especially toxic.) I even started a business printing folk’s personal photos, but circumstances prevailed that moved me on. How was I to know that digital photography was coming and monster companies like Eastman Kodak were to become a memory? Finding darkroom equipment, paper and chemicals has now become an expensive challenge. I’d love to go back to it again, appreciating it as the wonderful art it is.
I watched a biography about Ansel Adams recently. If you don’t know who he was, you’re just not interested in photography but you’ll know some of his work. He photographed landscapes and is famous for his work in Yosemite Park and the High Sierras. He lugged cumbersome box cameras with their glass plate negatives to mountain tops and developed stunning prints which captivated the world. A master of light, composition, depth of field and opportune timing he was also a chemist, perfecting solutions for what was needed to maximize his images. He always used only natural light so far as I know. His work inspired the founding of National Parks yet his work was a simple portrayal of a beautiful world so many of us look at but never see. Portraits, abstracts, wildlife photos were not what he was known for. He inspired me as much as the thousands of other spellbound photographers. He was a landscape artist.
I first took a serious interest in photography as a boy. My camera was a ubiquitous Kodak Brownie, crude, battered and abused as it was. I would carefully load of roll of 120 format, 12 frame film in and tape up the worn case latches to prevent any light leaking in. I can still recall the first photo which thrilled me. It was of a herd of cows resting beneath a spreading elm tree on a hot summer afternoon. By accident I’d caught the light and composition almost perfectly. I’d love to see that little square print again. Time and technology have moved on.
Years later I took up serious photography using manual cameras which required every shot be manually calibrated for correct exposure, shutter speed, depth of field, contrast and any necessary filtration. Then it was off to the darkroom. I recall photography with a darkroom being described as having a leash without a puppy. I was never a gadget collector and take pride in doing good work with simple equipment. That of course is product of having limited finances, but no camera, no matter how exotic, can produce a good frame without a skilled person to utilize it. And no camera, no matter how inexpensive, has been maximized by anyone. Modern mobile phones are now sold for their photographic capabilities. Gidgets, gadgets and other toys are extolled as absolutely requisite to make good photographs. Photo magazines are filled with ads admonishing that you won’t get your ultimate shot without yet another product. All I’ll say to all of that is simply: Bullshit! Keep it simple, stick with basics.
I am deeply offended when someone says “Your photos are awesome, you must have really good cameras.” No damnit!
Do you want to be an equipment collector or make good photos? You can either peer through some multi-thousand dollar telephoto lens or you can learn the habitat and habits of your subject and get up close for a splendid photograph with an affordable piece of equipment along with all that you experience gained in the process. I recently watched another documentary on the work of Indian photographer Raghu Rai. Thousands of dollars worth of Nikon equipment dangled on straps from his neck while he shot projects with his mobile phone.
Ansel Adams did not have the equipment to machine gun his subjects and then go to his computer photo programs to determine and manipulate a best shot. Each exposure had to count. In any case, a day out with any camera is still a way to maintain contact with whatever view of the world is important to you. Photography is the simple, yet long-learned art of seeing and then sharing your vision with others. In these days of social isolation it is a wonderful endeavour, even if you don’t want to share what you see. And try as you might, it is an art you’ll never master as much as you’d like. There’s the challenge.
“Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.” – Peter Adams
“Ya dint worsh all yer parts. Yer smellin’ kinda earthy!” I was up on the back forty whacking down a pandemic of blackberry bushes in our overflow parking/storage area. It’s where I keep my little trailer, now aka the SIU: Social Isolation Unit, so I’ve felt an obligation to the strata council to look after the patch I seem to use exclusively. Yep, somebody will probably tender a noise complaint. I’ve taken pictures to prove I was not simply trying to annoy them. In a previous life as a logger I’ve worn out several chain saws so the smell of two-stroke exhaust, oil, fresh-cut wood, brings back many pleasant manly memories of a youth which could perhaps have been better spent. That smell also quickly imbues your clothing and a comment on that inspired the above attempt at humour. I confess that to this day, although an avowed nature lover, I often look at a towering mature tree and catch myself calculating its volume in cunits, board feet or cubic metres as timber and also automatically scheming the best way to fall it. I can’t help myself as I consider the lean of the tree, the lay of the land, the surrounding trees and the force of the wind. I am annoyed when I catch myself doing that but then after thirty-five years of abstinence from chain-smoking, I still reach for a cigarette at times. Now I neither smoke nor kill trees nor have passions for other young man abuses and still I’m getting old.
I found myself calling that blackberry tangle the Covid Vine this morning. Damn, the things are insidious! If someone claimed this invasive bramble had found its own way several thousand miles across the Pacific from Asia to our Westcoast, I wouldn’t offer much argument. The Himalayan Blackberry is classified as an “Invasive species” along with Holly, Scotch Broom and Gorse. Someone though they were smarter than God and tried to improve nature.
One blackberry contains enough seed to re-populate the planet with new plants even if it were the last fruit. Once they take root all hell breaks loose. You can almost see them growing into a self-macramed thorny tangle that only a fugitive rabbit can love. Wherever the reaching canes touch the ground they send out new roots and then another fistful of aggressive shoots and buds. As you buck into the nasty vines which often leave broken thorns festering in your skin, I swear there are other new shoots popping up out of the ground while you work. They can also send out runners, or rhizomes, underground so that eradicating them requires a scorched earth policy. Clipped-off bits of blackberry stem can actually take root without help and start a whole new life.
A powersaw, or chainsaw, is a vicious tool which does not know the difference between wood, bone or meat and just cuts a wide bite in its subject called a kerf. “Thet yer kerf or ya jest happy to see me?” Filled with dirt, sawdust and oil a powersaw cut is a real challenge for a doctor to repair. Blackberry vines love to throw the saw back against one’s legs and arms so it’s no place for beginners. Yes, I do have all my parts after all these years. I’ve used these saws when quartering up moose, elk and cattle and developed a severe respect for the snarling tool.
When picking the delicious ripe berries, it seems as if the thorny canes are drawing you into themselves like some man-eating plant. There have been folks who managed to get themselves into the middle of a blackberry thicket and needed a fire department to rescue them. I have suggested that during the six-week annual blackberry season, picking the juicy treasures could be a good endeavour for prison work gangs. We have many feral hectares of unharvested berries which just go to seed every year. “Chain-gang Jam and Pie Filling” or “Blackberry Brandy.” Uh-huh! Fascist bastard! With liquor tax added, there’s a whole new source of revenue for our Covid-pressed government.
On a cool but sunny Covid Tuesday, that’s the whole shituation. Who says there’s nothing to blog about?