Recently during our annual snow event I found myself outside making busy with a shovel. Something did not seem right, (apart from the incessant desert longings in my brain.) Snow was zinging horizontally past my ears yet I could hear an incongruous sound. I finally realized what it was when the snow eased for a minute. High in the top of a neighbour’s tree I could see five mourning doves. To me there is no sweeter, soothing sound than the call of these birds. The quintessential song of the desert was alive and in person. That they managed to arrive in a mild blizzard seemed like some celestial message which I haven’t worked out yet other than being a song of hope. “Hang in there, there’s better things to come.”
This is the time of year when I traditionally go join the Fisher Poets Gathering in Astoria, OR. It is uplifting to find spring has arrived just those few hundred miles further south and to mingle with old friends who are fine artists, musicians and story tellers. Looking forward to that event each year helps me get through the winter. This year, due to Covid, a fabulous effort has been put together, by many good people, to hold a virtual FPG online. My gig is a very short five minute performance on Thursday night at 8pm precisely. Somehow they are presenting upwards of a hundred performers in three nights. It is a massive piece of clockwork and I am very proud to be any part of it.
These are great people from various aspects of the fishing industry around the world. They are witty and humorous. Many are tremendously talented and their blue collar perspective is refreshing to say the least.
You can get a great overview of the Fisher Poets group and a review of poetry reading (Yep mine too) by going to our website www.fisherpoets.org Then go to “In the Tote.”
I have a video produced for this year’s FPG which you can see via this link:
So, enough said. One of the wonderful things about Astoria is its many brew pubs. Once you’ve had a pint of something like ‘Bitter Bitch’ you’re doomed to go back for more. So I’ll raise a jar to you all for now. Bottoms up. Then two jars for next year.
“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” Henry David Thoreau
Sitting beside me on my desk is a frozen package of salmon fillets. The package has been labelled By Captain High Liner of Lunenburg Nova Scotia (Yep, on the Atlantic Coast.)
The claim is that these are “Wild caught in the North Pacific Ocean.” On the back of the package it is marked as “Product Of China.” No, it is nothing new but it still pisses me off immensely. I repeat my rant about the chicken farmer who goes to town to buy eggs.
I live, work, play and travel on the Pacific Ocean. I am almost as much a part of this body of water as this alleged fish. Lunenburg China? Where dat? Hell, the two oceans don’t even smell the same. And I know that China does not have a salmon fishery. I have been told that these fish were caught by Alaskan or Canadian boats, sent to China for processing and packaging, then returned to us marked up accordingly. We wonder what is wrong with our economy! When we go to Canadian Tire, or Walmart or any other box store it is tough to find products not made in China, including Covid face masks! Snot funny! China is not coming, it’s here!
Well, I edited out the rest of this rant. I’ll admit I should have first read the packaging on those pieces of tasteless pink protein. But geez Louise, can’t we even trust Captain Highliner any more?
Yesterday I was placidly sitting on the couch when hit with a sudden muscle spasm in my neck. It was the sort of pain that causes you to squeal out loud without even knowing that you are. It was agonizing. I was writhing about like Quasimodo when a loud beeping began. Struth! The whole house was filled with a skull-shattering omnidirectional (My illiterate spellchecker didn’t like that one!) regular piercing burst of violent noise. Hobbling quickly with one contorted arm and curved neck I fetched the kitchen stool and began ripping smoke detectors from the ceiling. Reaching over my head was excruciating. Old Jack was desperate to escape the house and the metal-jacketed sound and my frantic efforts. The alarm continued, despite unplugging the devices and then removing their backup batteries. SkreeeeeP SkreeeeeP at seven million decibels. “Oh golly” I shouted in mounting frustration. (Yeah right) Then the phone rang; of course. This is just a bad dream I thought. But it wasn’t. I spat out the teeth shattered by the ultrasonic assault.
The culprit turned out to be a Co2 detector I had installed a few years ago, wondering at the time how we had ever dared sleep without one. It had been long forgotten as it sat there lurking like a terrorist device behind a piece of furniture waiting for the perfect moment to wreak havoc. My ginky neck is still with me, the instrument of pervasive sound is in the garage. Wanna buy a Co2 detector? It works really well!
What if you thought of it as the Jews consider the Sabbath — the most sacred of times? Cease from travel. Cease from buying and selling. Give up, just for now, on trying to make the world different than it is. Sing. Pray. Touch only those to whom you commit your life. Center down.
And when your body has become still, reach out with your heart. Know that we are connected in ways that are terrifying and beautiful. (You could hardly deny it now.) Know that our lives are in one another’s hands. (Surely, that has come clear.) Do not reach out your hands. Reach out your heart. Reach out your words. Reach out all the tendrils of compassion that move, invisibly, where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love — for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, so long as we all shall live.
From Lynn Ungar’s first book of poetry, Blessing the Bread
I’m starting this with the rain drumming on the metal roof of the camper. It has slowed enough for the moment to allow me to hear individual drops. This morning I first awoke to hear the wind roaring in the tree tops hundreds of feet above me. The din was like a passing high-speed train. The trees are massive ancient Sitka Spruce, already venerable when the first of us Caucasians stumbled into these swamps hundreds of years ago. The rain now crashes down again in barrel-sized dollops. Our shelter shudders under the assault. I worried about a tree falling on us but realized they had withstood far worse weather in the hundreds of years they had grown here. Many of the bases are more than ten feet across. It will take more than my dark karma to bring one of these down. The notion of a crackling campfire is a mad fantasy.
We arrived the day before in pristine weather. I’d wanted to find a place called Palmerston Bay but on arrival discovered a simple ending of a logging road. The slippery scramble down and back from a rocky, surf-bashed shoreline would have been too much for old Jack and so we retreated back the way we had come. The described “recreation site” proved to merely be a wider spot in a muddy trail surrounded by old logging devastation, not a place to cheer my soul. Eventually we arrived at San Joseph Bay. I hadn’t been there for over thirty years and recall being able to drive almost to the beach. Could my memory be wrong? The developments since made by the Provincial Parks people are impressive. Their pathways are like narrow highways and meander through the rain forest in a circuitous route which is far longer than I recall. It is a beautiful walk and Jack bounded ahead, full of enthusiasm for what lay around each corner ahead. I thought I’d have to carry him back but how could I impose on his joy? He was exhausted on the return walk but soldiered along determined to stay on his own pins one staggering step at a time. What an amazing character! After a long sleep he seems none the worse for wear and is, as always, eager for the next adventure.
The next night we are well on our way toward home. The rain is incessant so again I sit with Jack in our little box. The winter weather has certainly made it seem much smaller when forced into confinement. Jack is cuddled against me as I sit on the edge of the bed and write. The blasting rain has revealed leaks which will, of course, be addressed once home. It is damp enough for the wallpaper to be separating for the inside panels. I curse myself for my restless nature and being up here in these conditions. Of course I look forward to going to drier country so these test runs are necessary to ensure there are no nasty surprises ahead. Tonight we sit fifty feet from the high water mark on Johnstone Strait. The wind and rain are increasing again but we are warm and dry with full tummies. Who could ask for more?
Driving southward, trees with leaves began to appear and now back in Ladysmith it seems we’ve regained a month. Only two and a half degrees of latitude on an island of rugged mountainous shorelines makes a huge difference. This massive rock angles out into the North Pacific and catches hell from a very long way off. Wintry wind and rain have followed us home but as soon as repairs are made to truck and the old man box, Jack and I will be off to some local remote nook. Covid may have us trapped here, but I know the Snowbird flocks have filled every possible private campground on the island. It’s clearly a great place to be, especially with a civil war looming just south of the border.
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ― Albert Einstein
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.”
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
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
It is vain. It is frivolous. Yet in the window of a local main street art and framing shop, there is a painting which I covet. It is spectacular in its own way, a limited edition copy, well executed by someone who knows and loves the sea well and intimately. He has captured every fleck of sea foam, every glint of light perfectly. The painter Christopher Walker is a renowned Canadian illustrator and this image has my heart. It is small, 24”x 15”, which makes it more endearing and also possible to mount in a boat. It portrays a man in red storm gear rowing a clinker-built skiff a goodly distance from shore. The title of the work is ‘Devotion.’ “Ya bet yer breasthook!” I think. You’ve got no choice. Pull for your life all the while resolved to the living heaving reality all around. It is often referred to as ‘Storm Ecstasy.’
Behind him, a steep near-breaking swell rises high above but he does not look, hearing its slop and hiss tells him all he needs to know. He has to have confidence that his small craft will rise daintily over it and all the other lumps he must encounter on his way to a sanctuary somewhere near the lighthouse. He is resolved that there is nothing he can do about it anyway. One moment of panic may well spell his doom. “Now lean into it,” he thinks, “but don’t break or lose your oar.” That light, to me, looks a lot like Race Rocks, a few miles from Victoria. It is noted for its turbulent surrounding waters and the image is so true I can smell it. I can taste the brine on my lips, feel the wet air on my face and the slap of the sea against my fragile, thin hull. I’ve been in such situations and can see, hear and feel everything including the pull and spring of the wooden spoon oars. Perhaps there is a nice small halibut in the bottom of the skiff. He isn’t out there just for the exercise.
Designed to warn mariners away from danger, light houses are seldom built to draw them near but onward he rows. This painting expresses tension and peace all at once for the seasoned mariner and a certain terror for the viewer who is a landsperson. I love it. I want it. There is another special nautical painting which, years ago, I did not acquire yet remains indelible in my memory. Now the capitalist craving haunts me again but for the time being this new longing will have to stay in the shop window where it has called to me for the past year. The painting is a metaphor of my life. Read into it what you will. I have a fantasy of my writing desk by a window looking out to sea, my books on shelves at either elbow, that painting on the wall where I can see it along with other art I cherish. Still rowing toward distant marks, tide against wind I yam what I yam. You know the Bob Seger song.
The painting requires only a bit of money but I I have none and there are, of course, debts and bills to be paid first. The job I started a week ago lasted less than four days. I made a simple but grievously stupid error on my first morning. I was easily able to repair it and offered that, but the damage was done. There are no second chances after making a bad first impression. My wagging tail was suddenly tucked where the sun seldom shines. That dark cloud of doubt weighed on both me and my new employer. With a rapidly dwindling trade, due in part to both the global virus dread and the puckered economy in result of regional protests I could clearly see there was not much work for me at the moment. I need the income and I need the affirmation of being able to hold a job. Gone! I must confess my weary body and the incomplete healing from my recent surgery also made it obvious that perhaps my glory days on the job are past. I was able to prove to my younger co-workers that motors can be diagnosed and repaired efficiently without computer diagnosis. Maybe ignoring protocol was what did me in. But then, it would have been something else. So what! Life goes on.
This is a tough week and first things first, I must repair the engine in my truck. Maybe that will restore my confidence. Done. But I feel no better. Suddenly I’ve come down with flu-like symptoms but haven’t coughed up any Corona bottle caps so no worries mate. I was at the doctor’s office last week and everyone with a sniffle is piling in there. I don’t do baa very well. You get old, you get sick, you die. Then the cycle begins again. Old Jack wants to go for his morning outing, which will be a slow and halting procession, for both of us. We each need the air and the exercise and off we go before the drizzle thickens into a steady rain. Spring draws nearer.
Well there’s not much to say. Spring is flirting with us. Flowers and buds are appearing but the wind can be wild, wet and cold. When the skies clear, snow coats the glistening mountains nearly all the way to the bottom. Certainly, you can smell it in the wind. But there’s not much point in analyzing something we can’t change. This fellow for one, is so weary of all the fear-mongering and perverted information about Global Warming, that I don’t really want to add anything to the babble. It’s what we’ve got, enjoy it or not, that’s up to you.
The evening weather person can’t seem to interpret their scattered bones and pebbles without mumbling some bloody thing about Global Warming or Climate Change. It is just too trendy to avoid. “Wow this is the coldest moment on record….since 1941.” Yes, it is occurring. No we are not helping matters and need to stop talking about it and simply do our best in our own personal patch but… we are not the prime cause of this natural phenomenon. Yes, warming and cooling is a natural occurrence and is part of climatic fluctuations which have been going on for millions of years, up and down, over and over… despite the hard evidence that the paranoia profiteers choose to ignore. We have to learn to adjust and change or we will disappear like the dinosaurs. They could not evolve quickly enough to assimilate a naturally changing environment. Whom will we blame should some asteroid or monster hemorrhoid (Well, I dare say there are plenty of grand assholes out there) slam into the planet and make drastic changes.
Or was it some yuppy SUV back then which brought that change on? And, by the way, why do you actually need a hybrid SUV (Stupid Urban Vanity) at all? Will it ever actually be off-pavement? Most folks still can’t get where they want when there is only an inch of snow. Then, if you do get moving, there is the trick of stopping… something they don’t show you in the TV ads. When I was a kid we all got where were going without SUVs or AWD. Radial tires for any season were unheard of. We filled the back seat with children. They provided the weight for traction and could get out and push if necessary. And of course, many folks knew how to install tire chains. And, often as not, we walked.
I harp on about how there is one life form on this planet which does not fit in anywhere. NIO (Non-indigenous Organism.) We can’t even get along with each other let alone in our adopted environment or with other species. We just don’t fit…although we could. When a parasite begins to overwhelm its host, nature has a way of applying checks. Once, the Bubonic Plague did a great job of culling our numbers. A century ago, The Spanish Flu once again reduced the infection that we had become. There have since been a few viruses which have not really done much to teach us anything or thin our overwhelming presence on this planet.
Now we face the nio-terror of the Coronavirus. In consideration of political correctness, it is being re-named COVID – 19 which will still offend folks, especially if it’s killing them. Frankly, if it is Corona which is the cause of all of this then perhaps we should try drinking another brand of beer. It is NOT a laughing matter. But what is it that we refuse to get? If people are determined to live like a spreading disease then guess what!? For the moment, all trans-continental travel should stop until the pandemic is completely ended. So long as folks can travel anywhere on the planet within a single day, the problem will spread. But, we don’t want to mess with anyone’s commerce. There is no expert intervention which will prevent that. Over-simplification? Nasty cough you’ve got there! Just a bit of snyphlis? OK. When two Boeing Max 8 737s killed far less folks than this virus has already, every one of them was pulled out of service. What happened to that logic?
One final consideration. If the Chinese can build and open a 1000-bed hospital in ten days, what genius maintains housing shortages here or anywhere else?
We have to consider our lifestyles, population densities, diets, food sources and how all of that is unimportant to someone else’s profits. Last night I tried to cook two salmon fillets which came frozen in a bag marked as wild-caught pink salmon. Only after I opened the bag did I notice the inscription “Product of China.” WOT? That country has never been know as a salmon-producing nation and I can raise several obvious questions. The pieces of mushy, stale-fish-smelling protein came out of the bag appearing to have seen service perhaps as mud flaps on a rickshaw, possibly as far inland as Wuhan. I don’t really want to speculate on where this slop came from but I have seen much better product from fish farms. I am NOT making any Asian slurs here, but damnit! I live in British Columbia, one of the world’s great commercial fishing centres. WAZZUP? Why is finding affordable fresh fish here such a challenge? Is it the paranoia of profits or the profit of paranoia…or both? Why do we live like chicken farmers who go to town to buy eggs?
And here I was determined to provide no more than one paragraph of text and a few spring photos. But some things need to said.
“I marvel how the fishes live in the sea. Why, as men do a-land; the great ones eat up the little ones.” William Shakespeare
Black Friday originally described a stock market event in the US in 1869 then re-emerged in 1966 as a marketing concept. Its ugly name has evolved to now officially mark the beginning of our annual frantic Christmas consumer orgy although there has, of course, already been some vigorous Christmas advertising through the past couple of months. The notation of Christian celebration of birth and renewal at the time of winter solstice, of family, peace, joy and love have been herded to the back of the bus. So it is within each of us to find something positive in this cold, dark, damp time of year. I only wish some other colour had been chosen to mark the beginning of what used to be the season of joy and celebration. There must have been a sale on surplus black after Halloween. And, Happy Thanksgiving to our American neighbours. There was a time when we Canadians celebrated this day at the same time. Yes look it up, it’s true. I remember Thanksgiving’s deep snow and cold and as a child, dreading the two more horrific turkey dinners of Christmas and New Years which lurked ahead. Folks would load your plate then force-feed it all into you. I can still taste those watery lumpy mashed turnips, parsnips, yams. Next came the heavy puddings, sauces and cakes. Bleah! It was agony.
The vehicle I followed out of the ferry terminal had something written on the back bumper. Of course I had to move up too close to read it. “All Out Sewage Pumping.” Of course I recalled others I have seen on sewage pumping trucks, otherwise known as “Honey Wagons.” “Back Off Or I’ll Flush.” “A Royal Flush Beats A Full House” and “Satisfaction Guaranteed Or Double Your Sewage Back.” Well look, yeah it might be a crappy way to start a blog but it’s humour and this gruff old sailor insists on grabbing all he can. I’ve even thought up a couple of hilariously rude seweriffic logos myself which will stay right in the bowel, (I meant bowl) where they belong. I would not want to offend P.L.O.P.S. (Professional League Of Plumbing and Sanitation workers.) Tonight’s news carried a bizarre story about some dude in Toronto who’s been dashing around dumping buckets of raw sewage on people. I could see the news-readers bursting to drop cracks about a shitty attitude. Dung ho! We have now plungered into yet another BLACK FRIDAY season and I, at least, need all the mirth I can find. Grrrrr to the notion that the amount you spend is a gauge of your affection for others.
Yesterday a friend dropped off an item I had left behind at a mutual friends house. I met him on that road from the ferry terminal and had no trouble recognizing his vehicle. It was a tiny three-wheeled electric car and a delight to see. A practical, affordable working electric vehicle. Developed in Canada it is a short-range vehicle, built for one person, has two trunks and enough range (160km) to get through the day. It is priced lower than many motorcycles and will be available with two seats in future. This is a product for folks who truly think green and want to travel warm and dry. A green vehicle should not have to be a statement about your wealth. Check out http://www.smallev.com It looks like a left-over from a Star Wars movie set and from what I saw, the vehicle accelerates like a fighter jet. It certainly looks like fun. Apparently there are over 20,000 orders before full-scale production begins. “May the force be with them.”
Just back from our morning walk, Jack and I are warming up with a bowel of warm oaty gluten. You know, the stuff that drew the human race out of the woods, porridge and beer. Now it’s bad for us! A rising Norwesterly howled down the creek where we went and we came home dead chilly. Bugga! I just don’t have the juices I used to. There was a time when I never wore gloves, even when it was -40º. Mind you they were usually coated in grease. Now these old arthritic bunches of bananas whimper in my pockets. I used to feel this burning cold only in my feet at the end of the day, but now a viral pain sits on my shoulders and whispers in my tingling ears “South you old fool, south!” I’m working on it. So I walked along while improvising lines of poetry like:
” They called her November Dawn
And it didn’t take long
To see why she’d gained her handle.
Her glare was dark and icy
The light in her eyes slow to kindle
As a cold rain began to fall horizontal
…… next line please.
Ah c’mon! Look mate, just trying to make it through the day! It’s tough living with a fertile mind. The thing about messing with words is that you have to keep juggling ideas until something lights up and then write it down then!
Next morning, the sunlight is gone, it has warmed up, there’s a chance of snow. Off we go again, just another day living the dream, hatching schemes and bad poetry out on the old sniff ‘n piss trail. We went out again this afternoon. It began to dump a load of wet greasy snow that pelted down for a half hour. When the clouds lifted a bit I could see half-way up the mountain above town. It was beautiful, up there. Well enough talk of winter and dark days. Here’s something from the streets of New Orleans to warm your heart. It is not at all Christmasy but it certainly cheered this gruff old sailor’s heart. This YouTube link to a Tuba Skinny video brings me the old message “Dance like no-one is watching” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJP3fhan75o .
I hope it makes you smile. Now off you go! Do the Black Friday Boogie. You can leave your gumboots on!
“One picture is worth 1,000 denials.” Ronald Reagan
We are currently enjoying our “Indian Summer.” Perhaps that term is now politically incorrect, but then what the hell isn’t? With no ethnic slurs intended, it is the only term I know for the spell of fine weather that comes in autumn after a significant frost or two. The weather is gorgeous. I was in Victoria on Sunday and the streets were thronged with folks who seemed out and about simply enjoying the solar celebration. In the face of the West Coast winter’s darkness and chill wet ahead it is almost a biological need to savour sunlight and cloudless sky. Despite all of our modern distractions, we still possess a primal, pagan instinct for the star which gives this planet its life.
In Victoria I attended a splendid gathering held in honour of two dear friends just returned from nine years of voyaging on their sailboat. After sailing the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the South Atlantic, the Caribbean and then the Eastern Seaboard They finally sold their beloved cutter ‘Sage’ in Nova Scotia and drove back to Victoria, camping along the way. They previously spent seven years in the South Pacific on a much smaller boat. After sixteen years of cruising and living “tiny” they’re still together and looking forward, I’m sure, to new adventures. They have been a great inspiration to me and many others. Their blog is ‘Sage On Sail.’
After the visit I strolled part of old-town Victoria and took photos of different spectrums of living. Times, for many, are tough and getting tougher. Affordable housing is a challenge requiring ingenuity and the artful business, for some, to stay ahead of the “Man” who is bent on punishing non-conformists. I’ve lived on boats for many years and can easily rant ‘ad nauseum.’ Even when ones tries to be discreet and fly below the radar, there is always someone looking to jam a stick into your spokes. It is odd how in our culture where the individual is glorified, the non-conformist is punished. End pre-rant!
A recent BBC television documentary hosted by Neil Oliver was simply titled ‘Vikings.’ In what I saw of it ,he divided those much-love nautical thugs into three groups, the Norwegians, The Swedish and the Danes.
The Danish Vikings, basing themselves in Ireland, conquered most of England. It is entirely possible that my fair hair and blue eyes are from long-ago-bestowed Nordic DNA among my ancestors. I don’t mind that idea at all. Apparently the Swedish Vikings travelled across the Baltic and down the rivers of Europe, plundering their way as far as Constantinople where some became revered as the fierce martial masters they were. Some were even recruited as personal bodyguards of the Sultan. In the grand Blue Mosque of today’s Istanbul, where the Sultan once attended, and his bodyguards would have stood watch, ancient Nordic letters are carved into a solid marble banister saying something like “Olaf was here.” What an amazing tangible connection to history!
An old Gary Larson cartoon depicts a long table. Around it sits a group of Vikings. At the head stand two more. The chairman is saying, “Now that the business portion of the meeting is out of the way, Lars would like to talk about his new idea for hats.” Lars is holding a fabled (and fictitious) horned helmet. All of the Vikings are wearing a duck on their heads. “Ya vell Olly, now dats fonny!”
Friends recently visited Scandinavia and sent back fantastic photos from Viking museums and others dedicated to Thor Heyerdahl and to the Arctic explorer Nansen and his rugged ship the ‘Fram’. I have long ached to get to the Baltic region and see some of these amazing examples of iconic marine history. There is a flair to old Baltic vessels which is instantly recognizable. The lines of those Viking boats are the most amazing of all. Sensual, flexible, rugged and incredibly seaworthy, those boats underscore how much we humans have lost as we think we advance with technology. Perhaps those old boats are a pinnacle of human technical achievement, an ultimate blend of art and function. I doubt that with all our electronic wizardry and tools, that we can match the intuitive high skill evidenced in these amazing icons of nautical achievement. And… not a drop of oil or one electron was employed in the whole process from harvesting living trees for material to landfalls on far distant shores, and then coming all the long, long way home again. Heil og sael. Takk!
This past weekend our ferry service was down for more than a day due to high winds and seas. I doubt that would have held those ‘Old School’ Vikings back. If you look at the new hi-tech sailing boat hulls which begin to plane like a powerboat after reaching specific speeds, then carefully study those old Nordic hulls, you’ll see some amazing similarities. Truly! Are we progressing or regressing?
“Never stop because you are afraid – you are never so likely to be wrong.”