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.”
If there’s a slight draftiness to this text you’re not imagining anything. I have to keep blowing spruce needles off my keyboard. They rain down as the wind howls through the branches overhead. I’m back at my favourite camping spot on Northern Vancouver Island beneath the trees beside the fire trying to keep warm in a very chill breeze. It’s time for the pink (sockeye) salmon to be running. I thought I’d catch some fish, film some bears wading in the creekmouth as they fed but, there are no fish at the moment. And it’s too windy to launch my little boat off the beach. It’s August 11th, I’m wearing my winter coat and all the heavy clothing I have with me.
Ever notice how few things are seldom quite as good as a previous experience? I recount this with humour and bemusement. It’s downright funny! How else do you deal with folks being folks? Six weeks ago this place had only a half-dozen campers, who were kindred spirits with nice dogs. Now the place is overwhelmed with garrulous people trying to take as much space as possible. We all possess a primal urge to lay claim to more than we need and for some, a sense of conquest is part of their outdoor experience. I’m not sure they even know they do it. Each camper seems to have noisy dogs determined to declare loud rights to this entire territory which is quite offensive to Jack. He knows it’s all his! There is a monstrous fifth-wheel trailer parked where it effectively blocks the lane to other campsites. The geezers who came with it sit under their canopy waving cheerfully to others as if to say “Aren’t we grand?” I waved back limply and kept my big mouth shut. Part of the fun for me is minimalism, although I confess that as I write, my generator purrs away charging everything from the electric fridge to the cell phone and this computer.
When someone appears to be leaving, there is a frenzy among other campers who think that it’s a better location than where they were already set up. They frantically pack chairs, tables and firewood by hand over to the next site before the previous occupants have even left. There is the eleven pm arrival of someone joining friends at their camp spot with the requisite bashing about, flashing of brilliant lights and a plethora of screeched commands. “Stopstopstop! SHIT! Turn your wheels a little. NO! Turn em HARD! Easy, easy!” Then their little windup dog is released to begin yelping at the world. Oh the things I want to shout out! Wearily, I turn on my light and read another chapter, then two.
The spirit of the place is much different than it was earlier, but I was warned a different breed was coming. I knew better. Maybe I should come back next month to complete my comparisons. In the morning I sit with a cup of stout black coffee beside a small fire trying to warm up. A cold damp wind has blown all night and even Jack, cuddled up, did not keep my old bones warm. I sit musing about the primal pleasure of an open wood fire and how a little heat from it on one side manages to warm your whole body. Then comes a dry, rasping Covid cough from the trailer blocking the trail. Her merry band sits around her apparently oblivious to her emissions and the bits of lung she’s spewing around. It went on last night and begins again. I’ve seen her Rubenesque form in spandex grandeur and can only think “Pity the pallbearers!” Pandemic or not, she has the sort of deep-chest ripper that deserves a doctor. Despite all the overwhelming admonitions to self-quarantine with any Covid-like symptoms there are those for whom the rules don’t apply. Dead right!
On a mound of gravel overlooking the beach, a gaggle of folks wearing hoods and wrapped in blankets have brought their folding chairs up into the wind and taken up post with a huge telescope. One of them has a large, lunging rottweiler on a leash which appears eager to eat anyone who comes near. On one of the outhouses someone has posted a hand-made misspelled sign proclaiming it to be their private crapper. If a mobile taco stand appears, no surprise. Most folks are lovely but as usual, there are those few who impose themselves on everyone else. In truth the entire site is actually quieter and more civil than those managed sites with little goons in brown shirts patrolling and telling folks what is forbidden as they collect camping fees. Those managed sites have folks parked ridiculously close to each other with no sense of solitude, or this year, social isolation. There is none of that here, but I would happily pay to have this persistent cold wind turned off.
The drive homeward was a frenzied gauntlet. I plodded along at 100 kph, despite the 110 speed limit. Fuel consumption and wear and tear just don’t make sense and besides, I swear that if you were going 140, you’d still feel like you were holding folks back. There was not one police car in sight on the entire trip. When we arrived at the traffic lights in Nanaimo, many of those who hurtled past were waiting right beside us only to zoom off as if late for their own funeral. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was one of those hurtling fools for many years. All that happened more quickly was my aging process.
So now I’m finishing this back in Ladysmith. I’ve had my morning coffee out on the deck listening to the sounds of urban Vancouver Island. Across the alley, the daily release of a neighbour’s Alsatian. “Rowrowrowrowrowrowrowrowrowrow…….Shaddup gitoverere,” then comes the rasping deep-chest cough of a heavy smoker. More bits of lung. It is a weary, predictable script. The serenade is a daily event as regular every morning as the Tuesday seven pm volunteer fire department siren. Then sounds emerge from all over and soon our quiet little town is anything but quiet, drowned in urban sound pollution. It’s time to go back to the woods! There I’ll start my chainsaw and cut some firewood.
A friend and I went to look at what had once been a gorgeous 47’ liveaboard sail-anywhere cutter. Now it is filled with rot from one end to the other and the crusty evidence of long neglect. I couldn’t bring myself to photograph this beauty in her abject humiliation.The vessel is being auctioned off to cover overdue moorage fees. From what I saw, and didn’t see, the monster project wouldn’t be worth more than ten thousand dollars. Otters have already provided copious deposits. There is a fortune to spend as well as several months of hard, long hours. Binderdundat! By comparison a sister ship in Europe is currently for sale for $US 140,000. It seems a huge tragedy to me. That amount of funds would well set me back on my rails and here it’s been thrown away. The ongoing saga of boats and dreamers repeats itself and some naive buyer is about to gain a massive education as the dark realization of a fantastic dream becomes a dark nightmare. For once, it won’t be me.
“Strangely enough, they have a mind to till the soil, and the love of possessions is a disease in them.” …Sitting Bull
A good friend of mine grumbles about books that are written with “Twenty dollar words.” I agree. If an author tries to impress readers with obscure words and establish themselves as a scholastic superior they are demonstrating a large sense of insecurity. No-one should need a dictionary to read a novel. So says this bog trotter blogger.
Communication is about understanding each other, both transmitting and receiving. While digging through my Chambers Dictionary to learn a new word I’d found I tripped over this beauty. “Lemniscate: the locus of the foot of the perpendicular from the centre of a conic upon the tangent.” I’ll let you look up locus. It IS English but you could have fooled me. Next time someone pisses you off, call them a “Pathetic little lemniscate.” UHUH! This on-going pandemic has the masses lemmingscating in ever more frantic circles. Six months ago if someone had approached a bank and lurked outside wearing a hood, sunglasses and a facemask, the wail of sirens would have been imminent. You might hear them now if a person is not wearing a mask. And what’s with those folks driving around alone with the windows rolled up, wearing a mask and surgical gloves?
The comet Neowise has also left me bewildered. I’ve successfully photographed Hale Bopp when it adorned our sky and the images I’ve seen of Neowise looked like something very similar. I’ve hiked mountain trails in the middle of the night and sat on beaches for hours watching the night evolve and revolve. A seasoned amateur astronomer finally pointed it out, exactly where I’d been looking all along. It is a faint, blurry dull light; not at all like the exotic imagines I’ve been seeing online. Apparently I’ve missed it, repeatedly although I’m not entirely confident in that old stargazer. No wonder binoculars were recommended! Clearly the icy celestial blob is moving along quickly and the show is over.
One night I’d set up my camera on a beach, all ready for what might come. A small group of people soon planted themselves on a log in front of me and began yukking it up, completely destroying the ambience of the beautiful lingering sunset. There was some marvellous a cappella singing coming from across the lagoon which perfectly enhanced the evening. Bliss! It was drowned by the newcomer’s gormless blither. Apparently my silent presence bothered them because finally they asked just what it was I waiting for. My instant reply, “For you to leave.” There were no threats or fisticuffs. They left. Funny thing is, they were speaking in a Quebecois dialect and didn’t grasp that I understood their rude comments about things local. Tabernac! It’s fun being a fly on the wall; n’est-ce pas? “Si vous n’aimez pas notre île, prenez votre Covid et rentrez chez vous.” Oh the things we’d like to say!
After my efforts to photograph the comet I’ve come up empty-handed. My neighbour then shows me a spectacular image he has taken with his mobile phone. I am suitably humbled. Summer wears on in the wake of the comet. The days are noticeably shorter, the afternoons hot, the evenings pleasantly cool. The highways this summer seem especially busy although there are few out-of-province license plates. I can only imagine the tense manoeuvrings in campgrounds as people try to find social isolation all the while being jammed together as closely as possible. There is an amazing parade of monstrous RVs careening along at high speed in their quest to “Get away from it all.” I suppose that if pandemic economics prevent being able to make the bi-weekly payments, you may as well go hide in the woods.
Out and about in my dinghy, looking for a chance of a cell signal, I came across a US-registered sloop in a local anchorage. Hello? The border is closed, perhaps I should have reported the boat. I admire a rebel spirit so I’ll let someone else deal with the invader. There are certainly plenty of vigilante types out there looking for a cause. The vessel was displaying a Canadian courtesy flag but no US ensign or markings other than their Washington registration number. So, they knew they were in a foreign country but had not bothered trying to go through Canada Customs. It would be interesting to hear the far-fetched explanation.
For the time being, the closest I can get to my southern dreams is to listen to that beloved radio station in Goldfield Nevada. A country band they featured was called the ‘Sonoran Dogs’ which of course translated instantly to ‘Snoring Dogs.’ Their music was fine but was the nuance of the band’s name intentional? I watched a low-budget movie last night called ‘Hard Times’. Set in an impoverished Irish village the plot develops around a few locals who hijack a truckload of Viagra being shipped from the local pharmaceutical factory. They hide their plunder in a roadside well which is part of the village aquifer. Soon everyone is sporting about with a wildly enhanced libido. The nuance of that groaner title finally hit me this morning. By the way, the CCleaner anti-virus program I bought and described last blog in disgruntlement, has now been fully refunded. That’s nice to report. I guess it takes a while to respond when you’re based in the Philippines. I feel obligated to mention an honourable conclusion.
Finishing some work on a backyard sundeck I painted it with a viscous deck paint that has the colour and texture of plum butter. I haven’t seen or thought of that delightful substance since my childhood. Now I have a craving. There are plenty of recipes available. Isn’t it funny how life goes? All I did was paint a deck. That becomes* plum butter. Go figure!
(* Could have said extrapolates)
“One of the great cosmic laws, I think, is that whatever we hold in our thought will come true in our experience. When we hold something, anything, in our thought, then somehow coincidence leads us in the direction that we’ve been wishing to lead ourselves.” Richard Bach
It seems a long time ago now that there was a promise of “A great big beautiful wall” to be built along the Mexican border. I recall jovially remarking at the time that eventually there might be another wall along the Canadian / US border. I had no idea about the Covid walls that were to come. I despair about how long it will be before I can legally cross that line and head for the back roads of the desert again.
I’ve recently learned how, during WWII with desperate labour shortages, the US turned to Mexico for help. It went so far as military assistance where the US recruited, trained and equipped a fighter squadron known as the “Aztec Eagles” which provided a significant contribution in the South Pacific. I’ve no idea of what else went on. I am sure there are plenty of missed pages in the history books regardless of who wrote them. One has to keep their mind open; always. I wonder if some of the discord about illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico began with those desperate times. “A friend in need is a friend indeed” and what happens when that need is perceived to be reduced? The solid “Old Wealth” of many nations was built on the backs of its enslaved people until a newer, more insidious system was developed to enslave us all. So few of us can see that and choose to believe the fantasies and myths we are fed to distract us from certain harsh realities. Recent global protest about racial inequity (Already dying down) has me asking more questions than ever.
My curiosity about the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign has eventually had me stumble over the name Paul Robeson. A Black American who had no problem calling himself a “Negro,” he was an athlete, a singer and actor who championed the causes of the working man and also the civil rights movement in the US back in earlier days. He was politically aware, courageous and active in the 1930’s through the 60’s. A globally famous and loved entertainer he was yet another whom the McCarthy inquisitions worked hard to crush. A hero of British coal miners, he seems almost completely forgotten here in North America. Here’s a link to an award ceremony involving two other famous personalities and political activists, Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. Robeson is mentioned there as an inspiration to them. There is plenty of information online about this great man if you care to look. Here’s one link.
I am embarrassed to realize my ignorance about many things which you only discover when you are in quest of more knowledge. How could I have not known that for so long? I can certainly say that the more I try to learn about Black civil liberties and oppression, the more confused I become. You cannot demand both equal rights and special consideration without creating more division. Eventually you become your own worst enemy. I continue to declare that the mantra has to be “All Lives Matter” before true equality can ever begin to occur. I know that no matter what anyone says on this matter, someone else will be offended. It seems that’s what it takes to inspire folks to open their minds and look outside their personal comfort zone. I don’t so much want people to agree with me but rather to just ask their own questions.
Meanwhile this bogtrotter still prefers to be isolated out at sea or somewhere in the back country and off I’ll go again as soon I can. With the cool, damp weather we’ve had so far this summer, our forests are still open to wander. A few days of higher temperatures and drying winds will change that. Then the skies will fill with smoke. It is a “Go now” time. Summer is far from over and as we’ve learned so well this dreary year, you must grab the moments you have.
(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.
On our drive to a favourite walking path, Jack and I passed a 70’s-something camperized VW van. Like a lot of folks, I had one once; it was even the same colour. Not a Westphalia conversion it was a rare automatic with a whopping 2200cc engine. Compared to what we consider a camping rig fifty years later they were crude to say the least. What drew my attention to this old VW was the “Just Married” sign in its rear window. Wow! Remember those days? Right into the 70’s folks still held wedding parades between the church and the reception location. They would decorate their cars, complete with tin cans tied to the back bumper and hold a slow procession around town honking the horns. It was a tradition that had folks along their route rushing out to wave and see if it was anyone they knew. And of course they did if the town was small enough. Today, if anyone carried on like that, they’d probably be ticketed by the police for several infractions. The only person rushing out for a look would be a divorce lawyer to hand out business cards.
After an encounter with yet another Covid-masked bully I found myself writing like a hairball rolling before the wind; just discarded bits of DNA getting bigger and bigger and of absolutely no value. Eeech! I left it to sit and ferment but finally I scrubbed my acid words after I dug into some current news stories and ended up even more confused. The numbers I researched on police violence and racial percentages did not add up. They could be used to prove anything in any way as they so often do. There’s rhetoric aplenty about all issues. All I can offer is that all of us, yes me too, should consider consequences a little more. In fact consideration of cause and effect is perhaps a cornerstone of stable civilization. Psychopathic ping-pong; That’s how we talk and act, with no regard for the effects of what we do and say, who we hurt or how we damage ourselves or our future.
Think of the current pandemic and the racism monster. Both are a direct result of folks who did not think ahead about the results of inaction and poor choices. And instead of thinking it all through, folks are working on new apps. Perhaps someone will come up with one that calculates consequences of a given action. The “impeachment” word was conveniently wrapped inside with the Covid crisis and now racism is binding all the mess together. In the knee-jerk reactions to it all folks are tearing down statutes of clearly once-revered leaders. Now Theodore Roosevelt is being pulled down. He was, I thought, regarded as a progressive and esteemed leader, a cornerstone example of what a US president should be. Now he is being dubbed “A colonialist.” Guess I’ve read the wrong history books. I thought the US had long been a sovereign state when Teddy hit the saddle. In the meantime the tsunami of the second Covid wave may well be building and racing toward our shores…as I write. Someone has decided it will not arrive until next winter and we’ll be ready. Yeah OK! But the numbers are rising now. So?
I stand by my mantra that “All Lives Matter.” I am concerned that the media’s careless determination to create an impression police violence is somehow targeted only at blacks will undermine the whole new movement against racism. But the movement needs to be to promote equality between all people. I am not denigrating any person or all the serious issues but the media has an obligation to be objective and honest. It is clearly not. While subjectivity may sell better, credibility will sell longer. Do your own homework and raise your own questions. Be prepared to find that the real story may be barely recognizable.
I can add nothing to the solution so let me share some humour.
Here’s a hand-painted sign I saw recently, “Clean fill wanted…but I’ll settle for a dirty woman!”
Or a bumper sticker, “Sasquatch doesn’t believe in you either.”
I have a T-shirt with a silhouette of a Bigfoot and the inscription, “Introvert.”
Yesterday afternoon while walking with Jack around the perimeter of a very large hay field, a tiny homemade aeroplane high overhead practised some “Happy Flying.” Long ago I used to do that and yes, there was an ache for those magic days now passed. Although long suppressed, aviation is as much a part of my fibre as messing with boats. Easily recognizable as a home-built aircraft, it was one of several mid-wing designs which fly very well with low horsepower. This one had the unmistakable clatter of a Continental 85. The pilot flew basic aerobatics: stalls, spins, loops, chandelles, Immelmans and Cuban eights, all flawlessly. He was going nowhere and was just up there for the simple joy of it. He or she didn’t know it, but I was in that tiny cockpit too, twisting and turning, pulling the G’s and looking down on the spectacular aqua mosaic of the Gulf Islands. The joy of the moment! For a few minutes I partook vicariously. It was grand. Thank you for that, whomever you are. You made my day.
“If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?” ― George Carlin
Well now I’ve started something. When in my last blog, on impulse, I added a sentence about how distantly we treat our children, I had an epiphany; especially in the wake of reader’s comments. I wrote about how we have displaced the value of our elders and ignore their very essential value in the continuity of our culture. What I realized after I added the bit about how poorly many of us treat our children, especially at the time of their lives when dedicated parental nurturing is necessary for healthy development, is that those kids are tomorrow’s adults. They’ll do what we have taught them. “As the twig is bent so grows the tree.” They’re the ones who will discard their parents into care facilities which dilutes the family further, just like we did to them. “Just keep paying us and we’ll keep them out of your way.” Family members become as disposable as chocolate wrappers and all our other debris. We know where a large number of Covid 19 deaths have occurred.
In my archives is a rough draft for a novel based on an opening scene where paramedics attend an accident with several victims scattered on the roadside. After checking each person for a pulse the bar code tattooed behind their right ear is scanned. The monetary system as we know it now is gone, replaced with electronic currency. We would have a system of personal credits, those earned, accumulated, spent and borrowed. Depending on your net credit worth and your present social standing factored by the degree of your injuries, a computer decision is made to save your life or terminate it as a source of fresh organs and tissue. And if you don’t have a bar code, well you’re just not part of the system. Red light! Send that one in on the slow truck.
Far fetched? We’re really not that far away now. There’s a lot to consider about the progress and regress, the ebb and flood of civilization, if you’re contemplative about humanity. Frankly, I envy those who are not. I sometimes wish a case of beer, a sack of crisps and some TV sports could placate me and keep me in a non-questioning existence. For those of us who are cursed with a questioning mind there is plenty to research in our quests. Recently a novel was brought to my attention. ‘The Plague’ written by Albert Camus near the middle of the last century is amazingly prescient. Camus, well aware of the pandemics past, seemed to understand those that were to come, perhaps because there is a pattern of natural mass population control throughout our history. Like nearly everything else, there are reviews of the work available on the web.
Then, today, there was third component introduced to my epiphany. ‘The Machine Stops’ written in 1909 by E.M. Forster is a short story which offers some amazing views on a future dystopian troglodyte society which is almost entirely dependant on and committed to the synthetic environment it has created. Communication around the planet is via an internet-like technology. People live underground, entirely terrified of being self-reliant, independent and are almost wholly insular from each other. They travel reluctantly in airships and only when necessary with little interest in scenic views of the planet passing beneath them. Those who struggle to escape this culture are accused of the despicable act of “homelessness.” This a sobering essay on how our society may be evolving. Written at the time it was is fascinating. It is work to read and digest but thrilling to discover such a brilliant mind especially in the years preceding the massive technical renaissance of the First World War. Here’s a link to the entire short story:
Our spring weather here on Vancouver Island has been cool and damp lately. Despite that the wildflowers have bloomed profusely. Fruit and berries are flowering and ripening early and in huge quantities. It is said that fools and newcomers predict the weather but my instilled rural sensibilities suggest that we may well have a severe winter ahead. Another indicator, as old wit and humour go, is about the size of the white man’s wood piles. But, it is officially summer in a few days and as Covid restrictions slowly relax, we’d best live in the moment. Remember the line from that wonderful movie ‘Bucket List.’ “If you think the last six months went fast, think about the next few.”
“The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.”
The rain hammered down until near midday. It eventually began to ease and so Jack and I finally went for our morning walk. Along the wet, wet trails I found a final wild lily and a columbine in bloom. Their cheerful splashes of colour certainly helped brighten a dull day. I realized there are no events for me to comment on intelligently, despite the ongoing pandemic and the rightfully erupting surge of protest against police violence and racism. I know I have ranted, mourned and criticized popular social trends. I feel an obligation to be a devil’s advocate and may I point out that humour is always some form of criticism. But for once I have little to say.
I’m befuddled by the slogan “Black Lives Matter.” Yes they do! The entire history of Black folks in America is certainly ugly. But… those three words become a cliché that turns the whole massive movement into a further advancement of prejudice and division. Only when people can say “All lives matter” will we have movement toward erasing racism and developing true equality. Whether it is race, faith, gender, age, disability, health, economic status or birthplace, only when those factors become irrelevant to all of us will we have a significant move toward real equality. So far, in the history of the human race, we have not come close to solving any of those issues. Someday, hopefully soon, we will start actually trying.
I can confess to this. As I have come through life I have been among those who often denigrated older people even if only in jest. I don’t understand why we fear and distance ourselves from the inevitable state of becoming an elder. We are all heading that way and at the same rate of progress. Yeah, you too! It is part of the life cycle for all beings. Certainly older folks have a lifetime of skills, experience and wisdom that we need to maintain the continuity of our culture. We have developed a trend of alienating our older family members and relegating them to isolation and separation. Without the inclusion of our seniors within our families our culture has to ultimately crumble. And, may the Gods help us, we also do it with our children. We treat them as an inconvenience and nuisance during the years when they most need nurturing and dedicated love. Then we wonder what’s wrong with society! If you can’t make a family work how the hell can you expect a functional government?
That elders continue to play a valuable role in Latino families is one of the reasons I love the Mexican people. It is also certainly true of several other cultures we all know and often despise. As I stumble toward my senior years I am paying for my bigotry about older folks. Although I can still provide a valuable contribution in the workplace, in society and in the family I know I am often dismissed simply because of my wrinkles and silvering hair. The first time you are asked if you are eligible for a seniors discount is a bit of a twister. Then comes the day when someone calls you an “Old Fucker.” Wham! Yep, your turn is coming. It is mighty powerful slap therapy. Sadly, life offers no rewind buttons. You can’t go back and make new mistakes!
The other social issue under close scrutiny again, or still, is the thuggery of our police forces. They are simply reflecting the values we hold. Try to find a movie, a video game or a television show without someone waving guns, crashing cars, beating each other, blowing things up. That’s the entertainment we employ to stimulate ourselves and to relax! It is part of the fibre of our society and yet we expect all of our police to be smiling, embracing examples of good citizenship. Cops are not all thugs. Unjust violence is never acceptable but are their martial tactics part of our social woe or is it a symptom? Yes; both times. The Covid crisis hype keeps declaring “We’re all in this together.” Yes, WE ARE.
During this morning’s monsoon I worked at the final edit of my latest little video. It is a simple explanation of why and how my tiny trailer evolved. It’s called “A Social Isolation Unit… On Wheels.” If you think it might interest you, here’s the link.
“No matter how big a nation is, it is no stronger than its weakest people, and as long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you might otherwise.” —Marian Anderson, singer
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