Up The Creek

(Written Somewhere On Vancouver Island Beside Johnstone Strait)

The eagle marked the spot where we would camp for the next week. I chose it for the incredible view, which is also where it caught incredible wind.

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.

Along the way, you’ve got to stop to smell the daisies.
A shy one, but soon to open.
There’s a powerful beauty even in something as common as a daisy

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.

Says it all.

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!

I drove out of the woods and found a meadow filled with flowers and a campsite on the beach.
Ghost Tree. The rivers are pristine.
Missed it!
Vancouver Island has many beautiful rivers, accessible to anyone who wants to find them.

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.

Ever the trooper, Jack is always up for the next adventure.
“Dear mom, I’ve bought a trailer. It needs a few repairs.” Remnants of a time when this place was a logging camp.
The Altar. A windbreak at a campsite fire pit. Visitors seem to keep adding bits.
That’s us on the point. A grand view with lots of wind.
How’s this view for Canada Day?

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.

Where the river meets the sea.
My office; where I wrote this blog. Camera ready.  Jack keeps watch. There were plenty of whales, I got no good images. So…I’ll go back.

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.

Splendid waterfalls are not uncommon but often hard to access.
“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.” 10 pm, looking up Johnstone Strait.
A perfect fit. Two crossed logs chaffing against each other on each high tide.
An ancient casting, made when this rock was molten.
More beach art. The root was about eight feet high.
A very mature plum tree, a souvenir of days long past.
The tree was full of robins and ripening fruit. another reason to return. There must be another tree nearby for pollination.
Waiting for whales…still.
Camp Runamuck perfected.

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!

The soggy bottom boy. Soon the bears will be sitting and waiting for salmon.

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.

An ingenious fusion of two vessels which become a very seaworthy little boat.
One more for the road. It is a spectacular island where I live.

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.

Tudaloo!

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.

Onwards And Sideways

Lupine.

I’ve just finished reading a novel titled ‘Sweetness In The Belly’ by Camilla Gibb. It is not a macho swashbuckling story but rather a tale of far greater courage. Told from the perspective of a Western woman who has embraced Islam, she finds herself living in 1970’s Ethiopia at the time of the overthrow of the dictator Haile Selassie. Forced to flee by fundamentalists the protagonist ends up living with other dispossessed Muslim women in the miseries of London. It hasn’t been an easy read for me but I’ve grasped a concept about why so many people live within the regimen and rigours of the Islamic faith or other religions. When your life is shit, it is much easier to endure simply by following the rules, trying to convince yourself that God’s alleged laws will bring you to great rewards if you submit to what someone else declares as divine.

I see a parallel in that thinking to our present pandemic but let me first hasten to add that our strictures do not begin to compare to a lifetime of misery, poverty, and subjection simply for being born a woman in a third world Muslim culture. Being a man is tough enough but being a woman seems utter hell. I’ll probably receive a comment from out there saying something like, “Well asshole, try being a woman in ANY culture!” I’ll admit to being happy enough as a man but I also have some counter remarks which would start something I probably can’t finish.

“Sure as God made little purple apples.” After the romance of blossoms and perfume the tree is now very pregnant.
More May snow. Everything seems extra fruitful this spring. Clearly, the Cottonwood tree is not about to go extinct.

Anyway I often marvel at how easily folks allow themselves to conform to the regimen of Covid restrictions and the ask-no-questions servitude we so readily embrace. Blind trust leads the masses. It won’t work of course if everyone is banging around in different directions but I see things which leave me going hmmm! In the doctor’s clinic yesterday everyone had to wear a mask. I found out after my visit that I was wearing mine wrong, but no-one had said anything. The scowling receptionist behind her partial plastic who corrected me wasn’t wearing one at all! The doctor ran out to find a baby scale and returned to his little office clearly without disinfecting it. So it goes. I’ll confess to a twenty minute highway drive for my appointment, risky business far more dangerous than someone else’s germs.

Bookends. I couldn’t resist. Sorry Jack! This pair of gentle beauties provided a lovely howling concert on main street.

We do need to accept a common dogma to survive but we don’t need to drink disinfectant or keep any automatic firearm handy. That mantra can be expressed in a single word “Respect,” first for ourselves, then for all of our fellows. As recent events in Minneapolis prove once again, it is not the weapon, but rather the man who kills. It would be a good thing to take away some of our weapons, but it won’t change the nature of we beasts. Rocks, sticks, fists, and knees work quite well, but guns do make it easier. But we just can’t blame a fork for making us fat. After my crack last blog about the cystoscopy booth at the amusement park, Twitter’s recent headline was about the re-opening of Florida amusement parks. Perhaps kids will be handed helium balloons that look like those knobby Covid virus balls. Gary Larson, where are you?

“Dumber than a stack of frogs.” This stack of “points” or “frogs” was used to shunt trains from one track to another. These have been stored in hope of a someday rail museum here in Ladysmith.
Oregon Grape, flower to fruit.
A bumper crop coming up.

It is time for me to vanish again. Jack is waiting by the door. Here’s a link to my latest video, completed just this morning and now posted on You Tube. We are on our way shortly for another jaunt in the backwoods.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrr5wNCDEfM                                Enough said.

OK fine. You go first!
And so she did! Baby took the morning train, never to be seen again.
I found this image exactly as is, begging to be taken, questions demanding to be asked.

Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”
― Voltaire

Wheeling On

Pure! It was as snowy delicious as it was cold. Despite that the urge to dive in called. I could see individual grains of sand in the bottom! Video footage of this pool made the whole little trip worthwhile. We camped here the first night.

Camp Runamuck has finally gone mobile. I’m starting this blog using the tailgate of my truck as a desk, Jack is laying in his bed on the roadway snoring peacefully. The highway to Tofino is closed for construction for the next three hours. It is an amazing project, overdue by forty years. It involves carving half a granite mountain away and will take several months more. We spent a first night ever cuddled in the Social Isolation Unit and we’re still both on speaking terms. I’m quite proud of myself, the trailer is a sound idea. The crystal water of Taylor River sang by our campsite and now we’re off to points beyond. We’re delayed only a few kilometres from where I want to turn off. There are no glitches other than things forgotten. Usually I pack along enough for a trip around the world but this time we’re missing a crescent wrench (For the propane fitting), forks, (fingers and sharp sticks work just fine) spare batteries for the interior lights in the trailer and now the battery has just died in the computer mouse. Minor details, it’s all part of the romance Billy! But I sure wish I knew where my last marble is.

Kings of the road. Jack takes it all in stride as I began this blog on the tailgate of the truck.
At first I thought that perhaps it was a Covid Blockade. With all the hysteria, nothing would surprise me.
A deer trail beside the road. If you crawled in a few feet you’d find yourself wondering where the hell it went. Deer tunnel through the thick coast brush like ghosts.
Across the road, the trail became a broad, well-used pathway. There was a thicket of blueberries in bloom. The bees were busy.

When we left our campsite this morning my plan was to travel back-roads where I’d never gone before and find a place on the ocean shore of Toquart Bay on Barkley Sound. This is on the wild, rugged West coast of the island. It opens onto the open Pacific. Looking out on that curved horizon brings me an inner peace only another ocean addict can understand. No such luck today! All access to the shoreline, everywhere, was gated or very deliberately blocked. The trees frequently bore a freshly posted sign declaring that the forest here was managed by this or that first nations group and their world was closed to all outsiders due to “Emergency Measures.” All campgrounds, both private and public, are slam-shut. I travelled a horribly potholed logging road toward the famous little coastal community of Ucluelet. It was beyond anything Mexican.

So far as I know no-one has ever caught, or given, a contagious virus to a tree or flower. Why are so few people being so incredibly anal to the rest of the world? The air in my lungs was some of the cleanest on the planet, it has just travelled across several thousand miles of open North Pacific Ocean. How can people be so hysterically stupid? It’s been years since I was last in Ucluelet and I was shocked to see how cosmopolitan this once-quaint fishing village has become. I’ve heard raves about what a wonderful place it is now. The reek of money may be in the air, but it’s not for me. Perhaps that’s the present resistance to visitors, there’s still some old guard who remember the way it used to be. And the pandemic come from out there.

Swamp roses, rhodos maybe? Really I don’t know. They were blooming in the bogs alongside that terribly rough road, where my speed was down to 4 kph.
Finally I find them in my wild plant book. Bog Laurel. Now you can sleep.

We made our pilgrimage to the light station at Amphritrite Point just to take a photo and prove we were there. The quest for a place to stuff the SIU proved fruitless. My hope of spending a little time with mother ocean has been dashed for now. Then we caught the return construction gauntlet with only a few minutes delay. Tonight we are on the edge of a large inland lake, known as Sproat. I took one last chance and crept down a very long-since-maintained logging road thinking we’d have a quiet place all to ourselves. As it turns out there is a small community of squatter RVs here, but there was one perfect wee spot left and I backed in. We’re exhausted.

Amphritrite Point Light and keeper’s house, now automated. Even here the paths had been designated one-way; the outhouses were locked. Of course.
It seemed a long way to come for a glimpse of this.
But it is as far west as we could go by land.
An amazing statement about life. These beauties thrive in solid rock, just above the inter-tidal zone and in all the salt spray from every windy day.
A glimpse of unrestricted freedom. Looking southwest across the mouth of Barkley Sound, Hawaii next stop.

We’ll be in the bunk in a few more minutes. Jack is as shattered-weary as I am. One neighbour has put their squalling children to bed so I’ve taken the cue. The other neighbour arrived back from fishing, and has started a clattering generator. Above that din, he is playing some very strange and loud music. Six am is coming. Haar! Did He doesn’t know about my new electric bagpipes? I’m going to fire up my generator and squawk through my first lesson. I’ll try playing ‘Castrating The Ram.’

Estuary. The Taylor River flows into Sproat Lake. The roar of the falls and the cataracts below were wonderfully loud.  (Good noise) The timber from a very old and massive wildfire runs for very many miles. The new forest growing up among it is all naturally reseeded. The timber below is all second-growth, the first having been all logged off.  Nature just needs us to leave it alone!
Cataracts like this.
Islands in the stream
Bush plumbing. A basic gravity feed pressure water system. It is the same principle we use in town but the water here is purer and sweeter than anything that comes from a shiny tap.

A tranquil morning dawns over the lake. The low fog burned away rapidly. There is a roar from the waterfalls half-way up the mountain across the lake. The only angst is a pair of Stellar Jays taking turns raiding Jack’s food bowel. They’re brilliant! He is in full repose, watching them through the corner of his eye. As it turned out, we spent most of the day napping. Jack seems disgruntled but I don’t even have the enthusiasm to launch our little boat. For once, I’m not going to feel guilty about anything. The day wore by, Jack visited with other dogs and I rested. As evening approached a convoy of trailers arrived and squeezed themselves in anywhere possible. WE HEAH! Screeching children, sneaky dogs, loud rock music, country music all at once and forced laughter from the adults who are trying to convince themselves they’re having fun by yelping like excited burros. It sounds like a travelling carnival. Everyone seems determined to make relaxing into hard work. I know I am an outsider who has invaded the local folk’s secret spot and that everyone is trying to blow off some of that Covid stress. It IS The Victoria long weekend. We’ll move on in the morning.

Camp robbers. A pair of Stellar Jays soon figured out Jack’s food bowel.
Gotcha!
Bold but wary, cheeky yet always ready for flight, it is hard to photograph them well. Like all members of the crow family they are ever suspicious of cameras.

I realize that I have a bladder infection. It mast have contracted during a visit to my urologist a few days ago. I have to go for a regular inspection and the nurse administering the camera was a tad brutal. I recall asking her to loosen her stranglehold on the little feller. I’ll spare you “too much information” and simply say that “peeing through razor blades” is not just an expression. Whoee! We’ll be back on the road just as soon as possible.

Camp Jack. The wee laird in full repose. We’ll be back out there soon as possible.

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” –Alice Walker

Click

Morning. In the bedroom an hour ago. Mobile phone, simple subjects. Lighting and composition, that’s all.

The chill overcast of early morning gave way to a warm calm. I began imagining that I could hear the budding leaves emerging. Jack and I went off to one of our mutually favourite wandering spots, the old Swallowfield Farm. I set up to take a shot along the mud road beneath a canopy of blossoms and chlorophyll green with a background of bird songs. A helicopter buzzed overhead, from another corner the scrape and bang of heavy machinery echoed across the fields. Now an old WWII fighter plane clattered by, a Yak attack. I know and love that particular airplane but gimme a break, I’m trying to shot some video here! It was joined in a chorus by some goon on a mufflerless Fartley Davidson. Geez Louise! Part of the art of making videos is often the accompanying sound track and my amateur skill level does not know much about erasing and over-dubbing or applying any of the wobble-quavers which the pros can do.

The shot in question. Can you hear airplanes?

That in turn got me thinking about how I’ve arrived at this point in my experience as a photographer. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve become a snapshot artist instead of the fully involved disciple of the medium format film camera and the dark room. I used to spend long hours working in a tiny, chemical-saturated space producing the perfect print, both black and white, colour and cibachrome (Printing from colour slides. It was especially toxic.) I even started a business printing folk’s personal photos, but circumstances prevailed that moved me on. How was I to know that digital photography was coming and monster companies like Eastman Kodak were to become a memory? Finding darkroom equipment, paper and chemicals has now become an expensive challenge. I’d love to go back to it again, appreciating it as the wonderful art it is.

From the darkroom. Cheung Chau Harbour, January 1986. A moment long gone yet saved forever.
There’s something about black and white photos which is elemental for indelible images. This beautiful wistful girl is now a beautiful, sensitive middle-aged woman.
A third product from my darkroom. Simplicity always works and if in doubt, crop, crop , crop.

I watched a biography about Ansel Adams recently. If you don’t know who he was, you’re just not interested in photography but you’ll know some of his work. He photographed landscapes and is famous for his work in Yosemite Park and the High Sierras. He lugged cumbersome box cameras with their glass plate negatives to mountain tops and developed stunning prints which captivated the world. A master of light, composition, depth of field and opportune timing he was also a chemist, perfecting solutions for what was needed to maximize his images. He always used only natural light so far as I know. His work inspired the founding of National Parks yet his work was a simple portrayal of a beautiful world so many of us look at but never see. Portraits, abstracts, wildlife photos were not what he was known for. He inspired me as much as the thousands of other spellbound photographers. He was a landscape artist.

I first took a serious interest in photography as a boy. My camera was a ubiquitous Kodak Brownie, crude, battered and abused as it was. I would carefully load of roll of 120 format, 12 frame film in and tape up the worn case latches to prevent any light leaking in. I can still recall the first photo which thrilled me. It was of a herd of cows resting beneath a spreading elm tree on a hot summer afternoon. By accident I’d caught the light and composition almost perfectly. I’d love to see that little square print again. Time and technology have moved on.

While laying among the lilies, videoing them swaying in the breeze, look what I found right in front of me! Allo, allo!
Sssssnap.
Spider and snake. It is amazing what you can see if you become still and let the world come to you.

Years later I took up serious photography using manual cameras which required every shot be manually calibrated for correct exposure, shutter speed, depth of field, contrast and any necessary filtration. Then it was off to the darkroom. I recall photography with a darkroom being described as having a leash without a puppy. I was never a gadget collector and take pride in doing good work with simple equipment. That of course is product of having limited finances, but no camera, no matter how exotic, can produce a good frame without a skilled person to utilize it. And no camera, no matter how inexpensive, has been maximized by anyone. Modern mobile phones are now sold for their photographic capabilities. Gidgets, gadgets and other toys are extolled as absolutely requisite to make good photographs. Photo magazines are filled with ads admonishing that you won’t get your ultimate shot without yet another product. All I’ll say to all of that is simply: Bullshit! Keep it simple, stick with basics.

Keep it simple. A good image needs impact to catch the eye and depth to hold the eye. Can you find Brio and Jessie in this view?

I am deeply offended when someone says “Your photos are awesome, you must have really good cameras.” No damnit!

Do you want to be an equipment collector or make good photos? You can either peer through some multi-thousand dollar telephoto lens or you can learn the habitat and habits of your subject and get up close for a splendid photograph with an affordable piece of equipment along with all that you experience gained in the process. I recently watched another documentary on the work of Indian photographer Raghu Rai. Thousands of dollars worth of Nikon equipment dangled on straps from his neck while he shot projects with his mobile phone.

The photographer’s dog. Jack enjoys the sun as he  waits on me and surveys his kingdom.

Ansel Adams did not have the equipment to machine gun his subjects and then go to his computer photo programs to determine and manipulate a best shot. Each exposure had to count. In any case, a day out with any camera is still a way to maintain contact with whatever view of the world is important to you. Photography is the simple, yet long-learned art of seeing and then sharing your vision with others. In these days of social isolation it is a wonderful endeavour, even if you don’t want to share what you see. And try as you might, it is an art you’ll never master as much as you’d like. There’s the challenge.

Fawn Lily perfection. This is the shot I set out to make. Everything else happened along the way. (Walk softly and carry a big click.)

Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.”
Peter Adams

The Paintng

It’s coming, slowly and reluctantly but spring will soon be here in full glory.
I am often told that I must have exotic camera equipment. Nope! These were both taken this cloudy morning with my mobile phone. Any type of camera no more makes a good photograph than a brush makes a painting. It is always the nut who holds the camera.

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.

There it is! Every time I pass the shop window I check to see if it is still there and where it might have been moved. You can see it clearly  and wholly online if you look up the artist’s web site without other paintings in front of it.

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.

There is no higher art than the wooden boat. Form and function blend to make something beautiful and extremely useful.
An old boat once again becomes the land becomes the earth and maybe will become a boat again one day.
Even a plastic kayak offers an intimacy with the ocean that bigger boats cannot match.
The romance of the sea. This famous boathouse is now gone, strangled by the approach of suburbia, done in with noise bylaws although it was there decades before any newcomer. There’s a waterfront luxury condo there now.

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.

One thousand words.

And so in time the rowboat and I became one and the same-like the archer and his bow or the artist and his paint. What I learned wasn’t mastery over the elements; it was mastery over myself, which is what conquest is ultimately all about.”
― Richard Bode , First You Have to Row a Little Boat: Reflections on Life & Living

 

The Electric Beaver

I try to keep my blogs like the proverbial box of chocolates “You never know what you’re going to get.” So, after the last posting’s polemic social comment here’s something much different.

Thursday morning coming down, for hours. The rain finally stopped after Jack and I were home again. Of course!
Clean feet and soggy bandana, keep the fireplace burning and take me home.
Gathering winter fuel. Driftwood collects in this tiny bight on the windward side of a  point in the harbour. Folks cut and try burning the soggy fibre fresh-in on the last tide in their boat stoves. It doesn’t occur to them that the black stuff there is coal. Just dry it out and be warm.

Aviation has been a cornerstone of my life. One of my favourite all-time airplanes is the de Havilland DHC2 otherwise known simply as the Beaver. Once while I was using a payphone on a Gulf Island dock a Beaver began it’s takeoff from the harbour. The usual ear-splitting snarl filled the air and awestruck, the person on the phone, from Southern California, asked what the noise was. I replied casually that it was just a Beaver. “Oh my Gawd” was the stunned response. I left the magic in the air and did not explain further that this beaver was an airplane.

C-FHRT (aka Seafart)  A standard DHC2 Beaver
Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!
A face every mother can love
Part of one of Harbour Air’s docks. This is in Burrard Inlet,  downtown Vancouver.
Bumper to bumper dream machines. Turbo Otters and Beavers.
Bomber dawn. Beavers and other float planes are sometimes referred to in local terms as “Bombers.”
A Beaver cockpit view of Degnen Bay on Southern Gabriola Island. I wonder how old the airplane was when its pilot was born.
YVR Jake.  A wonderful artistic tribute to the Beaver in Vancouver Airport’s South Terminal

Famous around the globe in an amazing variety of roles, this aircraft design is almost seventy-five years old. It is famous along this coast and is synonymous with the word float plane. There are books written about all its accomplishments and I could produce another. I love its raw, rugged simplicity and see this machine as an ultimate piece of Canadian technology.

It’s engine, the Pratt& Whitney R985 of 450 horsepower is little-changed since its inception in 1935. It still runs beautifully and dependably without computers and despite being archaic WWII technology it will be clattering through the sky for many years to come. As time wore on some Beavers were re-powered with the incredible PT6 turbine. This cut engine weight drastically and increased power by almost fifty percent. This engine has been one of the best improvements to aviation ever, powering a fantastic array of aircraft and is incredibly reliable. It made the Beaver into a whole new airplane.

Now there has been yet another upchange. Harbour Air, a local schedule and charter float plane service, with over 40 aircraft and 500,000 passengers annually, has just flown its first electric Beaver. Powered with a magniX 750 hp electric engine, this new generation of Beaver will currently have a range, plus reserve, to safely fly across the Strait Of Georgia and back. The batteries are NASA-approved lithium (An environmental conundrum) and as they are improved, will allow electric aviation to advance. Even a new style of propeller has been fitted and that lovely old Beaver banshee take-off howl may one day no longer echo between shorelines. There are skeptics, there are bugs, but it’s a giant step in a wonderful new direction. It is not so long ago that electric model airplanes were novel. I muse at the following scenario as a pilot makes this announcement. “Ladies and gentlemen, you will have noticed the recent jolt as we came to the end of our extension cord. However….!”

Sadly, as I wrote the word “thonk” beneath my caption about the photo of the little bird in my last blog, a similar but much louder and sickening din occurred on the beach of nearby Gabriola Island. A local and highly seasoned pilot augered his twin-engined Piper Aerostar onto a vacant woodlot between two homes. He and two passengers died after an apparent instrument failure during dark and foggy conditions only a few minutes from the safety of the end of the runway at nearby Cassidy Airport. The flight had started in Mexico with one stop for fuel in California, a long and tiring trek in a single day for a single pilot. It is a huge local tragedy yet also a miracle that no-one on the ground was taken as well.

As a former pilot I can tell you about the day of advanced flight training when you are put “under the hood.” It is a contraption that looks a bit like a welding helmet and prevents the student from seeing outside the cockpit. The flight instruments are carded over and then you are to maintain level flight simply by instinct and the feelings in the seat of your pants. After a few very long and sweaty moments the hood is removed and you are horrified to see that you have put the airplane into a flight attitude which is rapidly about to become catastrophic. I remember wondering why the engine revs were running away and then I saw! It is a very memorable event, both humbling and sobering. The lesson is simple: “ALWAYS TRUST YOUR INSTRUMENTS.” Eventually you learn to control the aircraft while wearing the hood despite what you instincts are shouting at you. It is very, very hard to do at times and flying under real instrument conditions regularly is a necessary practice. Regular proficiency exams are mandatory to maintain a valid IFR rating. Commercial aircraft have back-up systems and crew. I won’t speculate and leave that to the armchair aviation experts who rear their lofty views as always at such times.

Now for some new home-spun creativity. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

This is how it all began. I bought this little work trailer, removed its metal sides and converted it to carry my inflatable boat. It worked well.

It has evolved. I built the toolbox at the front to fit the back of an RV and is big enough to even  hold a twenty pound bottle of propane as well as all the tools I should need. It fits the trailer as if I’d planned it that way. The plywood was purchased new, but much of the  project has used recycled parts and hardware. I re-installed the axle beneath the springs for more ground clearance and to allow room for bigger wheels and heavier tires which desert roads will demand.

Who’da thunk? The upper back part slips out and the sides fold down onto a removable support for travel. A friend donated the locking door handle and upper windows.  Thanks Jimmy. The lower window was found in a sailor’s garage sale and has waited years to find its place.  The top is coated with a special HD deck paint found for sale at half-price. The sides are treated with Cetol, a marine wood oil which  I happened to have. It will be easy to repair if scratched along the trail. Hardware is from second-hand shops or out of salvage boxes I’ve stowed away for years.

With standing headroom inside at the back This will provide a snug shelter where I can sleep warm and dry or sit and write when the weather is harsh. I could even cook in there if necessary. The top, when laying flat, is an excellent platform for photography and shooting video.  I MADE IT!

I’m calling this my “Hobbit Box. ” The flooring came from a ‘Restore’ The bed base unclips and folds out of the way. The trailer will hold my outboard motor and rolled-up inflatable boat, a bicycle or small motorcycle, generator, compressor, chainsaw, gas and water containers or accomodate one or two friendly people. The bunk is 36″ wide folded down. I still need to acquire a custom-made mattress and finish insulating the top and sides. My generator will easily run a small electric heater and charge other batteries at the same time.

Once a sailor, always one. The cables and turnbuckles hold the lid down securely in the up and down positions. Beneath the corner brace, a sturdy bracket holds an outboard motor in place, handy to the door and yet safely upright.

So how many Hobbit Boxes have a porch? Now all  I need is a rocking chair and a banjo! A friend provided the two jack stands. Thanks Niels! They’ll be handy for many things, including roasting wild game over a campfire. This hinged ramp will double as a work table and the trailer can be a cargo transporter, a workshop, a camper and general storage box. What about a taco stand?”Fred’s Mexican Curries.”Tha, tha, thaz all folks! With the hinged ramp locked in the up position we also have a bear trap/ paddy wagon. The section of pvc pipe is intended to facilitate loading kayaks and other gear on top. It has proven to also be an excellent rain catcher! The closest ideas to this trailer were on Russian YouTube videos. Hopefully the next photos of the Hobbit Box will have cacti in the background.

Same old view with an ever-changing scene. Two naval vessels were skulking about this morning.

The Supreme Court has ruled that they cannot have a nativity scene in Washington, D.C. This wasn’t for any religious reasons. They couldn’t find three wise men and a virgin.” …Jay Leno

 

Puttering About In A little Boat

A pirated piece of nautical chart. It is about eighteen kilometres from Ladysmith, on Vancouver Island to Porlier Pass, the gap Between Valdez and Galiano Islands. In fair weather, that takes about an hour in my inflatable dinghy. The white patch in the upper right corner marks the shoaling waters of mainland Canada

One of my signature poems is called “The Water Rushing By”. In it, I describe the consummate need for mariners to feel the sensation of water passing the hull of a boat. That feeling is an addiction and presently, being boatless, there are days when an old log would have to do if nothing else were at hand. Fortunately I had the good sense to buy a wonderful Achilles inflatable boat before the money ran out. The size of what has usually been a dinghy to my mother vessels, it is nevertheless a boat which gets me away from shore. Equipped with a new outboard motor my tiny vessel is reliable and safe although it can certainly be rough and wet. A man of my scantlings must make an incongruous sight bobbing along miles from shore, but what is, is. Two blogs ago I described touring around this part of the coast in my little basher and this blog is about a recent day when I went off with my cameras in that little boat.

Bound up with cabin fever I launched the inflatable for a long day away. As an afterthought I threw in a small air mattress, one blanket and a tarp…just in case. With extra gas, water and a small bag of provisions I charged out on calm waters beneath a cloudless sky not knowing where I was heading. The best days start out exactly like that. Wind is always of concern in a tiny boat. In the Gulf Islands, with all its bays, and cliffs, forests and flowing water, local winds can spring up quickly. Despite prevailing winds local breezes are capricious and one must be prepared. Conditions within a short distance can change dramatically. Bouncing about impedes progress and soon has the boat and its contents soaking wet. It is safe enough, just miserable. I always try to position myself as quickly as possible so that access to the route home is downwind. Although longer and slower, it is usually much easier and drier.

Under the beautiful cliffs of Southern Valdez, I drifted with the tide and watched as Turkey Vultures rode the thermals. Ugly up close, they are beautiful in flight. Nothing can match their soaring skills.

After leaving Ladysmith Harbour, once safe under the sheltering cliffs of Valdez Island a passage of about sixteen kilometres, or ten miles, an outer island in the Strait Of Georgia, the wind can come from the north or south quadrants and actually help a small vessel on its way. Vancouver Island, the size of a small country, lies off the west coast of mainland Canada aligned in a northwest- southeast direction. On the inside lower shoreline it is flanked by an archipelago known as the Gulf Islands. The geography here is mostly of sandstone and was clearly shaped by glaciation. Along its Dali-like sculpted sandstone shores one often finds round granite boulders which must have been deposited as the ice retreated.

A Dali rock, with a natural hole right through it. Obviously a handy tie-up ring.

The archipelago was an ancient haven for indigenous people, with an abundance of edibles, especially sea food; there were a maze of sheltered nooks and bays, and a moderate climate. Hold no illusions about an idyllic lifestyle, it would have been a hard life and the numerous native nations warred brutally among themselves. Compared however to the harsh conditions in the traditional homelands of most other first nations people, with long bitterly cold winters, life in the Gulf Islands was easy enough for there to be time for a very rich culture, full of wonderful art and creativity. Sadly for them, the invasion of Europeans spelled a rapid end to that venerable culture, which only now, is regaining the respect it deserved. Hopefully we will find a balance of living together as equal human beings, each with our own piece of cultural diversity, distinct, and yet part of a brightly-coloured mosaic like a patchwork quilt. Comfortingly, local place names were often bestowed by Spanish and British explorers and many places have been returned to the original indigenous derivatives. Kuper Island, for example, is now Penalakut Island. The Strait Of Georgia, is now politically correctly named The Salish Sea.

A petroglyph in the Gulf Islands. It is covered by the sea at high tide.

The Gulf Islands are a mecca for folks from all over the world. They attract yachters, eco-tourists and those with enough money to acquire a piece of land and build an often garish neo-monstrosity that is clearly not an effort to assimilate the tone of this beautiful place, but rather seems to scream “Look at me.” The world these folks wanted to escape has been merely been transplanted here, they are tentacles of yet another invasive species. I love to repeat that I remember a time when poor people lived by the sea and ate fish. More’s the pity, those days are gone forever.

In the near-four decades that I have lived in this area, it has become a much different place and not in a good way. Over a half a century ago (Yes, it was that long ago) hippies and draft dodgers invaded the Gulf Islands. The islands were then remote, sparsely populated, land was cheap, It was nirvana for a generation of free-loaders who wanted a perfect climate for growing their organic “crops” and living close to the earth, often in communes. The mantra was “Peace man, share the wealth.” Then, as inheritances came along, land values soared yesterday’s hippies became yuppies and “Private, My Land!” signs were spiked, in places, to every shoreline tree. It has been said that capitalists are merely socialists who have found an opportunity. Mine!

The way we were. This was a common way for folks to live along the coast in days gone by. No lawns! “Johnny go through the garbage out and check the crab trap.”
A summer home on Porlier Pass. Sitting on the Valdez shore looking south the view encompasses the Strait Of Georgia, Mount Baker and a long look for miles down the southern Gulf Islands. The tide flowing back and forth twice a day is full of marine life including birds, seals, whales, sea lions, crabs, prawns, and fish, fish, fish. There is always something going on.
The keeper’s house. When I first set foot ashore here years ago an elderly couple lived here and maintained the lights and the station. It was immaculate, all was trim and freshly painted, the garden was fantastic, the fruit trees were pruned and productive. Automation replaced live people and one of the loveliest home sites on the South Coast slowly decays. It is tragic. I decided to sleep out on the old jetty.
A safe place to leave the inflatable for the night. A challenge with operating inflatables is to be constantly vigilant for the possibility of punctures. The large rock was flat and fairly free of barnacles. The tide would come back in the late morning tomorrow. Right?
Yeah right! Of course, the tide came back but first thing in the morning it looked doubtful. High tide came three hours later than the previous day instead of my anticipated forty minutes. Nature does not understand tide books.
Camp Runamuck. I used to sleep rough all the time… fifty years ago. The romance of it has faded a bit. It got bloody damp and cold by midnight and it was too dry to build a fire, especially on a wooden deck! But…what a view! The music of the rushing tide came in surround sound.
Time and sea water. These steel shackles and anchor eye are fused into a solid lump of oxidized metal.
Time knows no bounds. This freight shed, still salvageable, and even habitable is yielding to advancing natural processes. It’s decay will accelerate if not checked. What a tragedy that this whole station is not put to good use, or sold by the Canadian Coast Guard to someone who knows what to do with it. Government is a synonym for waste.
The vines come creeping in and signal a death knell for a structure.
…And strangle trees as well. Welcome to the weird forest, where people may enter and never be seen again.
I suspect someone tried to break into the boarded-up house through the basement. Alack and alas, they discovered the cistern, head-first perhaps. Fresh water is a precious commodity on the Gulf Islands and collecting it in the rainy season is very important. Note the gauge of the footings, a foot thick and indicative of how all government buildings were put together. Once again, what a tragedy, and travesty, to let it simply waste away.
They don’t make them like this anymore. The old Porlier Pass Light, still in use as a range light but now automated and powered by those ugly  solar panels. Bittersweet indeed. I’d love a chance to turn this lovely building into a tiny home. Imagine sitting up in that light reading, writing, just looking. Oh, and a wee taste of single malt.
One giant step. I can never be bored on the sandstone beaches of these islands.
How can you put a price on a view like this? How can you want it all for yourself?
There’s always one! As dusk settles and the tide turned back to flood, a small sloop struggles against the rising current and then on to find an anchorage in the dark. I’ve done it myself, too many times.
Last gasp of day. High above, a night flight to somewhere in Asia heads off on a great circle route over the North Pacific, perhaps to greet the dawn before it lands.
And then night fell. The tidal waters mumbled and chattered incessantly.
With the new day, the tide turned once again to flood. Far across the Strait Of Georgia, looking into the light, is Howe Sound. Gibsons on the left, Bowen Island to the right.
The other side. A telephoto view of Burnaby far across the Strait and past Vancouver International Airport. The sight seems surreal looking from a different world within the rugged natural beauty of the Gulf Islands.

Well, life goes on. Like the dinosaurs who could not assimilate change rapidly enough and faded into history, old farts like me will pass and “Progress” will continue. Frankly one of the foulest words I have come to know is “Development”, synonymous to me with greed and devastation. When the time comes, scatter my ashes on the local green waters where I can wash and circulate among these beloved islands. Look at these islands and try to imagine how they used to be not so long ago. The images in this blog are from within a twenty-four hour period two days ago. There will also be a video.

A whole world. This tiny tidal pool is an entire eco-system. If watched long enough, one can see all sorts of little creatures going about their lives.

Land was created to provide a place for boats to visit.” Brooks Atkinson

I Wonder

The real thing.
A genuine carved canoe and a thing of beauty. Even the seats are fitted in a traditional way. Note the carving marks inside and the repair.
Boats? Ya wanna see boats? They’re out there, from kayaks to deep-sea bulkers like the ‘Atlantic Buenavista’. Anchored in the Pacific with Panamanian registry and a Filipino crew. Think global.
The ‘Providence’ apparently on a day charter. She’s one of my favourite local oldtimers.

Lately I’ve caught myself bending toward writing rants about local social injustices. I have just deleted an entire page that was snow-balling toward a collision with the thought police. I have also reminded myself that my ire was being based solely on information from the media. Recent experience with the emu and the policeman once again confirmed the inaccuracy of news stories. What was reported and what I saw while experiencing the actual story in first person were rather different. Once I worked with a colleague to rebuild a British DeHavilland 1936 Mk I Tiger Moth which belonged to a local doctor where we lived in a remote Rocky Mountain community. The media got wind of the story and soon was reporting about a British doctor who flew mercy missions in his antique biplane. The account was absolute fabricated rubbish. If the story had a dog sled lashed to one wing it could not have been more ridiculous. My point is about how we tend to form opinions based on what we are fed by the media and how we can get fighting mad over gross inaccuracies and blatant lies. So, chill out dude!

Land fall. A day trip in a traditional sloop-rigged boat, roller-furled notwithstanding.
Sea foam! Whahoo! My little boat is very fast. In our wood-infested waters a sharp lookout is requisite at all times. Tohatsu outboards, in this old marine-tech’s opinion are unbeatable.

When I finished high school I was offered a journalism scholarship. I am happy to report that I took a summer job and instead turned it into a career. Still I recall the five W’s. Who, what, why, where, when. Those foundations for all journalism seem to have gone into the ditch. I sometimes watch TV news stories and am not informed of where or when the event occurred. Sometimes the reporter’s name is not given. Creative interpretations of an event are offered which have nothing to do with an objective coverage of the truth. I am enraged when a person who has just lost a child or spouse is grieving in front of a camera. That is wholly irresponsible and unconsciously gormless.

A Crested Cormorant, aka Shagpoke, peers out of its sandstone pocket cave at a rookery on Tent Island.
Just another shitty day. These birds eat nothing but fish. On a hot day the air gets a bit tangy.
Living high at the Guano Estates. This is a natural sandstone cliff which the birds use a convenient nesting sites. Guano is the polite term for copious amounts of seabird droppings. Harvesting it and shipping it around the world was once a booming trade. It made potent fertilizer and also nitrate explosive. Perhaps hence the term “Booming.” !!??
Cormorantiniums. White-washed the old fashioned way.
I can’t ever get enough of our stunning waterline sandstone formations.
A cliff-side swing made from a venerable Arbutus tree.

Clearly, media’s first priority is to entertain. Tabloid mentality cares little about honesty and accuracy. Get ratings, sell ads, abandon truth and accuracy. We swallow it all as sugar-coated dung. If I interview you saying that you like little boys who are kind to animals, respectful of their parents and old people but I quote you as saying that you “Like little boys,” have I been honest or ethical? There are two important federal elections coming up in North America. The drums are already beating. Remember nature’s simple formula of two ears, two eyes, one mouth.

A friend in the US sent me some political statistics. I’m always suspicious of numbers put forward by anyone. We all know how they can be manipulated to serve an argument in any direction. One figure however, leapt out at me. The US has 5% of the world’s population and 66% of the world’s lawyers. There’s something to chew on! I’ve often considered lawyers to be a breed of parasite that has a life cycle which needs to make enough profit to get into politics. Once in office they make more laws which in turn justifies more lawyers.

Just one more.
Yeah, you! We have plenty of harbour seals, always timid, always endearing. Some say they are to blame for reduced fish stocks, I think their presence, as well as seabirds, is a sign of plenty of fish. They don’t live on popcorn. There was a time when there were many more seals, whales, sea birds and….loads of fish. Figure it out, it’s not hard.

Yesterday the weather was fair, the wind was calm. I was long overdue to renew my grasp on certain points of reality. In the wake of selling ‘Seafire’ I had the opportunity to purchase a very nice used inflatable boat. A local shop was having a sale on new outboard motors and for the first time in my life I splurged and bought one. No more tinkering with some else’s cast-offs. The new motor, of course, had a few glitches but I’ve sorted them out and can confidently leave the shore. I have a boat which I can deflate and roll-up to transport with me wherever I go. It is very safe, so long as I stay inside it. That can be difficult in lumpy waters, the boat is very rough-riding but everything is a compromise and, that is what life jackets and harnesses are for. Any day on the water, rough or not, is better than a smooth day ashore. It was wonderful to spend a few hours exploring little nooks I’ve passed by for years. The photos are all from yesterday.

Jungle letter box.
This old log stood on end above the little beach where I took my lunch break. Postal Station F, Penalakut Island.
Red Right Returning. Huh?
This canal, dug between Clam Bay and Telegraph Harbour separates Thetis Island, on the north, from Penalakut Island. It has mostly filled-in again but provides a handy shortcut for little boats at high tide.
The old man’s gig. I’ve always been a bit sceptical of the tough but thin skin of an inflatable boat between me and the deep cold sea. The convenience of portability is weighed against the danger of tears and punctures along the shore. Still, I wish my own skin were this durable. This is an Achilles, made in Japan of a material called Hypalon. It is famously rugged…and expensive. There are thousands of protected nooks among the Gulf Islands where you can find some tranquility.

Being on a boat that’s moving through the water, it’s so clear. Everything falls into place in terms of what’s important and what’s not.” … James Taylor

Serenity And Sweaty Things

An old friend. ‘Seeker Of Truth’ was found by a friend languishing in a Vancouver Island barn. He restored and renamed it and eventually put her up for sale. I was sorely tempted. She was built in Norway in the early 1900’s and is a lovely example of a well built and maintained wooden boat.  With a little love she’ll live at least another century. Carved on a bulkhead below in Norwegian is a legend which translates: “A man without a boat is a prisoner.” Too true! Too true!
Not so long ago poor people lived by the sea and ate fish. Note that in mid-summer the dock is not in use. Perhaps this is the autumn cottage?
Not far away, another reality beside our abandoned island railroad.

Last blog I offered a cryptic squint at modern policing attitudes. I must add this. Four years ago a habitual drunk in a pickup truck careening through a suburb of Victoria ran a red light and rammed a police car broadside. He fatally mashed a police officer. The victim was a woman and a mother. Her husband still grieves, especially now. The sentence handed down for this horrific tragedy was a mere four years. However we may each value our human lives that punishment seems cavalier to say the least. That the victim was a RCMP constable on duty should perhaps be irrelevant but four years for wilfully dangerous and violent, mortal irresponsibility is a horrific insult to us all. It trivializes the value of everyone’s life.

The anchor for my next boat.
YEAH RIGHT!
My experience says that Rocnas, a product of New Zealand, are an ultimate anchor. This 55 pound, polished stainless steel beauty will hold a very big vessel.

I stand by my concerns about jaded and arrogant police attitudes but I also grasp how crushing it must be for all officers when they are so demeaned by a casual judicial system. It also helps me empathize a bit better with the policeman’s lot. Small wonder they become bitterly hardened in the face of such crass dismissals of what they endure while trying to do their duty, no matter how they perceive what that might be.

Disposable income, a 1930 Packard. On the wide whitewall tires is a n inscription which says “High Speed, Gum-Dipped”
The rumble seat. Complete with its own folding windshield there’s enough room to sleep comfortably beneath the hinged cowling. Nope, no air bags!

By the way, friendly comments about my last blog suggest that I “Stay out of trouble.” All I’ll say in response is this. Name me one of your heroes or anyone else the world remembers who stayed out of trouble! C’mon now, just one name!

August path. The alder leaves emit a lovely fragrance when walked on.
August browns. A sign of things to come.
The leaky pipe grows the grass. Part of the water supply for our local pulp mill. These wooden pipe lines run for miles. Superb engineering, some of these pipes are several feet in diameter. This one is only about two feet.
Bookends. These two young lovely brothers were new friends we met on the trail.
A first I thought I was bending down to photograph a ladybug. I don’t know what this cleverly coloured beasty is.

Summer is rushing past. Dried leaves fall and carpet the trails. Over-ripe blackberries ferment and drunken wasps buzz in your face. Tiny songbirds are flocking up and feeding voraciously in preparation for long southward migrations. Second cuttings of hay on local farms have been baled and stored away. Local markets and roadside stalls overflow with fresh local produce. Back-to-school ads flood the media. It seems I was just posting photos of early spring buds. The seasons whirl by. Peter Fonda, the baby-faced biker just died. He was 89!

In the Bogwump. Nothing lives forever. There is beauty in all things if you care to look.

I was shocked to realize that the classic and iconic movie, ‘Easy Rider’ was first seen back in my high school days, an entire lifetime ago. That was over half a century! When you start measuring your own life in those terms, well, you know the jokes about buying green bananas.

Beauty by the dollar. Tugboats, logs, booms, barges, chains, cables, cranes were once a chapter in my life. I am now angered that any wood is exported. This barge load of small second-growth timber is destined for somewhere in the US. Each bundle of wood is a truckload. There is a lot of 2x4s and pulp in that mountain. Logs are boomed in bundles or in flat “swifter” booms as in the foreground. Close your eyes, smell the diesel exhaust, wood aroma in the sun, and seal and otter droppings.  Elixer!

I’ve never written a bucket list; I’ve just lived it. The greatest anticipations are yet to be experienced. I’ve learned to quit wringing my hands about things like politics. I still constantly prod people to think, think for themselves but I’ve also realized the wisdom of the old Alcoholics Anonymous mantra: “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Or, as George Carlin put it, “Don’t sweat the petty things, and don’t pet the sweaty things.”

Dali Rocks. Jack and I love taking the dinghy and exploring the sandstone reefs and shorelines of our area. These sandstone formations are an eternal fascination for me.
Jack surveys his kingdom. He’s showing his years but my dear friend still has a grand sense of adventure.

This blog’s photos are local grab shots taken in the last few days.

Look into my eye. I photographed this wee beauty just a few minutes ago. It was basking under a neighbour’s vehicle. It was a whole six inches in length.
Another sign of the season. Wee button fungi begin to appear. It seems a mouse may have had a nibble.
Breathe.

A dear friend and fellow sailor presently visiting the Thor Heyerdahl Museum in Oslo Norway has just e-mailed me this:

Borders? I have never seen one, but I have heard that they exist in the minds of some people.”

… Thor Heyerdahl

Lonely Roads

Happy Dory. From my archives I unearthed this image of a classic little fishing boat. Built in the 1930s, it provided a living to support many families for many decades before retiring to a life as a pleasure boat. That face could launch a whole new series of children’s stories.

Sell, sell, sell! I warned you that there’d be a little bit of marketing in my blogs. Now posting my images for sale online with Fine Art America.com I’ve just received an e-mail from those folks saying, that to kick-start business in July, they are offering a $100. wine gift certificate with Naked Wines.com. Apparently the offer is valid in the US only but the gift card comes with any purchase of artwork, no matter how small the order. So, for a $15 mug you get a $100. worth of wine. Now you know. Apologies to my fellow Canadians. Damn eh!

What attracts folks to live in places like this?

A month ago, four blogs back, I posted a blog titled “Goldfield Calling.” I wrote about Highway 50 being described as the loneliest highway in America. The route runs East-West across Nevada. Even telephone poles along its length are a rarity. As you drive its long miles you are in the wild wide open west. Now I believe I’ve found an even lonelier road. While listening online to Radio Goldfield I learned of a community in Nevada called Gabbs. The name “gabbed” me. I’ve looked it up on Google Earth. I don’t think there will be e-mails from anyone saying “Yeah, ‘bin there, know it well.”

Miles and miles of miles and miles…I love it. This image was taken somewhere in the Mojave Desert.
Surviving hang gliders will be shot. “Dunno wot it were yer honour,. It wasn’t moving so I shot it…agin! This shot-up sign is well on its way to being a sieve.

I can’t explain why but I love lonely roads and I will certainly drive this way on my next trip south. Here’s the route: on Highway 50, a few miles east of a half-way mark between Austin Nevada and Reno is a pinprick on the map called Middlegate. I’m not sure there is even a gas station there. Don’t blink when you are getting close in case you go on by. Hopefully there is at least a road sign. The junction sits a few miles west of Bench Creek Wash and Cold Springs, location of the Pony Express Station which I have written about. I had already decided to go back there to explore and photograph that old outpost so I’m not going out of my way at all by swinging down toward Gabbs.

Turn south to Middlegate, you’ll now be on Highway 361. Gabbs is about 30 miles away. If you look this up on Google Map you’ll see bleak, brown, bare, dry desert in all directions. Actually, that kind of country supports an amazing ecosystem if you care to look. There is certainly a lot more than tumbleweed, rattlesnakes and coyotes. For me that is part of the magic of deserts. It is all a mystery to me. Well aware that I am an alien there, it thrills me to see how much is going on in an environment that at first appears bleak and hostile, just like the ocean but in an opposite sort of way. If you leave me on a remote beach here in the Pacific Northwest, with just a pocket knife and a lighter, I may not be happy but I’ll be OK. In the desert I’m not sure how I’d survive. It is a very different world to me.

Gabbs looks more like a camp than a town, the landmark there is a huge open pit magnesium mine, now closed. Wikipedia says the population was 269; it will not be higher now. It is now unincorporated but there is a description of infrastructure which among other things includes a jail; a sure sign of civilization. Folks who live in places like Gabbs are not there because of their high social yearnings. They did not seek out seclusion so they could befriend inquisitive strangers. There are bullet holes in nearly everything in the US Southwest. It’s a cultural statement best heeded. Let reclusive people demonstrate their desire to interact, at their inclination. I meet plenty of lovely folks down there, but I remain aware that I am the intruder. I’ve never felt at risk but then birds of a feather know when to flock off. In fact I always feel better whenever I go into remote areas. The desert leaves me with the same inner peace I know when far out at sea. Locals who choose to live in isolation operate on similar frequencies as me and I find an affirmation in meeting them. I might be nutters but I’m not alone. Cities leave me with a very opposite feeling. When surrounded by urban throngs I seldom feel at ease.

Whomever built this house never considered how that one day it would be a crumbling ruin. Man’s presence on this planet is like a passing virus.

Gabbs was named for a paleontologist who was fascinated with the large number of fossils in the area. So, there’s something else that may be of interest. A few miles south of town, a gravel road, even more remote and primitive, angles off the pavement to the southeast where it eventually passes the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project. In the photo on Google Earth it looks like a massive sunflower comprised of solar panels and it alone appears to make that entire back road jaunt look worthwhile. I’ll let you know.

Uh Huh!

There is another route, which is a paved road, but either way will eventually take you to Tonapah, civilization at last. Just look for the road signs if they are not too shot-up to read. Tonopah has several fast food joints, each of which will have wifi… so I can post a blog with photos describing my adventure realizing yet another little dream. This past winter I sat in the MacDonalds there trying to do exactly that. Other patrons stared me down for the stranger I was. Clearly, using a laptop there was a suspicious activity. At the table next two me, two bewhiskered old codgers loudly reminisced over their boyhood glory days in the South Pacific during WWII. Clearly, it had been the pinnacle of their life still worth reliving over seventy years later to anyone within earshot. Meanwhile, across the restaurant a near-deaf, geriatric couple shouted insults at each other. I recall deciding to do my work elsewhere. There is, by the way, another Tonopah. But that one is in Arizona, another place and part of another story.

The Nevada town’s name of Tonopah is an old Shoshone word meaning “hidden spring.” One of my joys in the US Southwest are those place names. They are lyrical, whimsical, even romantic. An illustrious place-name may now prove to be just more empty desert with little or no sign of human presence ever. What was once someone’s centre of the universe is now gone. Why it was ever there may be a profound mystery.

Google Map shows many funky little communities, or place names at least, spaced all over the desert including the perimeters of Area 51 and Nellis AFB, only a few minutes to the east by supersonic fighter jet and alleged home to strange events, including alien sightings and encounters. There are other remote but well-developed, large airfields which have no names, all very strange indeed. I’ve met people who describe themselves as “Aviation Archeologists.” They go out into the desert in hot rod offroad vehicles looking for the remains of crashed airplanes. The Southwest has long been a military aviation training region and there are wrecks littered all over the landscape. What a great excuse if you want to roar around the outback drinking, shooting and generally being a yahoo.

Suddenly a horse with no name. Wild horses and burros appear then vanish like ghosts. How they survive and thrive is wonderful.
A bottle top never opened. Little flowers no-one looks at. Green leaves sprouting in dry sand. There is a whole novel in this one image…and there are millions of square miles like this to contemplate.

Whenever you travel in desolate areas it is wise to carry extra gas and you can never have too much water, the latter preferably in bottles so that any leak is confined to one small container. Not only is carrying a few basic supplies a good idea for your own needs, you never know when you might come across someone who needs a little help. In the desert, like any remote area, a simple mishap, like a simple vehicle breakdown, can easily become a matter of life and death. You must look after other folks in distress. It is the code of pay back and pay ahead, especially when there may be no-one else to come along for a very long time.

Top up with gas whenever you can, never assume you will find more before you run out. The gas station promised miles ahead may be closed. If you must pay a little more to fill up before you venture on, think of much you’d be happy to pay if you were to run out. Living in remote areas much of my life, I’ve learned that leaving town with a full fuel tank in a vehicle is like having money in your pocket. Spend wisely and keep some cash on hand; some places do not accept credit cards.“Failing to plan, is planning to fail.”

Old Hammerhead. A Saguaro cactus in southern Arizona. This is a rare anomaly in these cacti. This one is known by locals for miles around.

And..there are infinite miles of other back roads to explore as well. Looking at the vastness of the American Southwest, it is hard to grasp that, despite its emptiness, there is not one square inch that has not been explored. Every stone must have been turned over, at least once, in a quest for the mineral riches hidden among all that rock and dirt. I marvel constantly at mine locations. Profitable or not it is amazing how someone found, then extracted, that vein of ore exactly where they did. Their tenacity, both physical and mental, was huge. There were no roads, no automobiles, minimal technology, only deprivation, grit and single-mindedness. Even with modern technology, we cannot duplicate that spirit of endeavour.

The wetback.

Meanwhile my summer is passing on what proves to be a far lonelier and dustier road than any I’ll find in any desert. Sometimes the road of life offers barren distances which you must travel to get to greener places. I’m finding life without ‘Seafire’ an absolute dreary hell. I am now among billions of others who are landlubbers. The difference is that, unlike most, I know what I’m missing. “It is better to have loved and lost…” I know, I know. Bullshit I say, bullshit!

An Arbutus. These lovely trees are unique to this corner of the world.

Nothing lasts forever, this dreary time shall pass, but I am restless and eager to move forward. No matter what one’s circumstances, you can only live one day at the time. I find myself trying to ponder good things to come. Fortunately, I can spend hours contentedly travelling virtually on Google Earth. What a wonderful technology! A daydream machine! This from a guy who often laments his cyber ineptitude! Now for the moment, I’m back from my desert musings.

The old boatshed. A relic on the beach from days gone by. There are not many of these old-school landmarks left. I’m always tempted to go peek inside to see what treasures are stowed away.
All abuzz. The frenetic sounds of winter preparations surround flowers everywhere as insects pollinate the flowers and perpetuate the cycle of life .
Playing with shutter speeds. Water on a step of a fish ladder.
That’s me in the middle. There is beauty to find everywhere you look.
The snake and the ant. Who’s going to eat who?
Tarzan of the slugs. What it was doing away up there is a complete mystery.
Suspense. Then came a puff of wind.
Just a leaf, and not a new one at that. I thought it was an interesting natural composition.
It’s over my head. Wet grass and a cousin called corn.

Here on Vancouver Island we are having what is deemed by many to be an unusual summer. It is a slightly rainy July, which is not extraordinary. I recall that most years here we have a wet July. We certainly need all the moisture that comes. Every year folks seem to forget the previous summer. Most people complain no matter what the weather is doing, too wet, too cool, too hot, too smokey, too windy. Other reports from the Northern Hemisphere describe muggy summer heat beside the Great Lakes and on the East coast friends describe constant cold.

Ebb tide in the swamp. Placid to the eye, there is a whole world living in those reeds.
The nurse stump. This massive clump of cedars began as seedlings in the old stump they have since split and pushed aside.
Up the creek. The Nanaimo River, short but beautiful. Running from a series of lakes on Vancouver Island this clear, green, pure water is a treasure too many people take for granted.
As the stones turn. The rock where these potholes are formed is not especially soft. How many milenia of annual high waters has it taken for these boulders to grind out the basins where they are trapped? It is boggling to contemplate the passing of time when you look into these pools. Jack considers how long a million years really is.

So we’re doing just fine on our island, a wonderland of moderate climate and gentle yet dramatic natural beauty. People come from around the planet to see it. Jack takes me on spectacular walks within a radius of a few miles of home. Some days I am able to actually see it all and marvel that I live here. This morning I napped peacefully on the banks of The Nanaimo River while its crystal laughing waters sang happily on their way to the sea. Jack snuffled and plunked around, chasing waterbugs and digging in patches of soft sand. He drank from the clear water and then chased more bugs before falling asleep in the sun-warmed ground. A deer wandered out of the forest a little way upstream to drink in the river. Flowers swayed in the breeze while birds twittered and flitted. I have no idea what the poor people were doing.

Bambi takes a bath. Out of focus in the distance, this doe wandered about for several minutes  in the middle of the river. Fishing perhaps?

There are three kinds of people in the world:

The living, the dead, and those who go to sea …Aristotle