I’m starting this with the rain drumming on the metal roof of the camper. It has slowed enough for the moment to allow me to hear individual drops. This morning I first awoke to hear the wind roaring in the tree tops hundreds of feet above me. The din was like a passing high-speed train. The trees are massive ancient Sitka Spruce, already venerable when the first of us Caucasians stumbled into these swamps hundreds of years ago. The rain now crashes down again in barrel-sized dollops. Our shelter shudders under the assault. I worried about a tree falling on us but realized they had withstood far worse weather in the hundreds of years they had grown here. Many of the bases are more than ten feet across. It will take more than my dark karma to bring one of these down. The notion of a crackling campfire is a mad fantasy.
We arrived the day before in pristine weather. I’d wanted to find a place called Palmerston Bay but on arrival discovered a simple ending of a logging road. The slippery scramble down and back from a rocky, surf-bashed shoreline would have been too much for old Jack and so we retreated back the way we had come. The described “recreation site” proved to merely be a wider spot in a muddy trail surrounded by old logging devastation, not a place to cheer my soul. Eventually we arrived at San Joseph Bay. I hadn’t been there for over thirty years and recall being able to drive almost to the beach. Could my memory be wrong? The developments since made by the Provincial Parks people are impressive. Their pathways are like narrow highways and meander through the rain forest in a circuitous route which is far longer than I recall. It is a beautiful walk and Jack bounded ahead, full of enthusiasm for what lay around each corner ahead. I thought I’d have to carry him back but how could I impose on his joy? He was exhausted on the return walk but soldiered along determined to stay on his own pins one staggering step at a time. What an amazing character! After a long sleep he seems none the worse for wear and is, as always, eager for the next adventure.
The next night we are well on our way toward home. The rain is incessant so again I sit with Jack in our little box. The winter weather has certainly made it seem much smaller when forced into confinement. Jack is cuddled against me as I sit on the edge of the bed and write. The blasting rain has revealed leaks which will, of course, be addressed once home. It is damp enough for the wallpaper to be separating for the inside panels. I curse myself for my restless nature and being up here in these conditions. Of course I look forward to going to drier country so these test runs are necessary to ensure there are no nasty surprises ahead. Tonight we sit fifty feet from the high water mark on Johnstone Strait. The wind and rain are increasing again but we are warm and dry with full tummies. Who could ask for more?
Driving southward, trees with leaves began to appear and now back in Ladysmith it seems we’ve regained a month. Only two and a half degrees of latitude on an island of rugged mountainous shorelines makes a huge difference. This massive rock angles out into the North Pacific and catches hell from a very long way off. Wintry wind and rain have followed us home but as soon as repairs are made to truck and the old man box, Jack and I will be off to some local remote nook. Covid may have us trapped here, but I know the Snowbird flocks have filled every possible private campground on the island. It’s clearly a great place to be, especially with a civil war looming just south of the border.
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ― Albert Einstein
The woods were silent. The autumn sun rose in a clear sky, its warm light laddering down between yellow maple leaves still thick on the branches. Old Jack plodded along the trail, his breath was thick clouds of steam in each shaft of light slanting onto the ground. I walked ahead and waited for him, looking for things worth a photograph. It’s not a bad arrangement. Once, he used to run ahead and then wait for me. Damn, it is so very hard watching a beloved friend age and knowing that one day too soon he will go on to leave you alone. It is an essay on savouring the moment. It’s all anyone has; not today, certainly not tomorrow, not the next hour. Now, this moment, click, it is all we have.
So, finally my old camper is in Fred shape. I’ve even resealed all the exterior seams along the roof and sides. Oddly after forty years the old butyl sealant was hardening and even mouldy. I’ve replaced it with double layers of new material. Hopefully that will fend off the insidious leaks which come with winter rains. At last Jack and I are off to spend a few nights in it. Last night was the first sleep in our little box and now for the first time I’m sitting at my wobbly one-legged camper table with my laptop. A mug of fresh-perked strong black coffee is at my elbow.
The plan was to seek out a spot on the shores of Nitinaht Lake. The lake drains into the open ocean through a famous narrows and I’d hoped to take the inflatable boat for some exploring and filming. It won’t be happening.
This area is the homeland of the Ditidaht people. They have a community at the head of the lake and have closed the entire area to outsiders, no covid crackers. The bitter impression of what smallpox did to their population is still vivid and rightly so. I drove on by but after miles of rough logging road came upon a sign explaining that even the campground I sought was closed. Bugga! That was what I’d come for. It’s their land, and as a trespasser I cannot raise my voice but it had been a long day, I was tired, it was getting dark. We continued on the road toward the Carmanah Valley and of course couldn’t find a place to pull off for the night. Finally I turned down a side trail which looked like it was used occasionally. If folks go in, they’re able to turn around somewhere and come back out. Right?
When you are tired things can become a little weird. We drove on and on through a gauntlet of ever-thickening lashing alder branches with no place to turn around. Towing the trailer, there was no choice but to continue on into this sucker hole and beat hell out of my rig. Every turn of the wheels took us further in but there was no backing out. Full darkness settled just as we finally found a place to wiggle around to face the way out and park, fog followed soon after and continues to swirl through the tree tops this morning. In the distance we can hear the roar of surf from the open Pacific. Making its way along the coast a freighter blows its sonorous fog horn, out there somewhere, a lonely sound indeed. Overhead, mysterious birds call, Murres I wonder. We retreated into the camper for our first night and finally made some lunch at eight pm. This morning we are parked in an old quarry pointed in the correct direction to leave listening to the sounds from the grey fog, no-one, including us, knows where we are.
Since the last paragraph we’ve been for a short walk and now it’s time for a warm breakfast and more coffee. After tramping for another half kilometre along this trail it is clear we drove as far as we’d dared. Thank goodness I stopped when I did. We saw some beautiful willow grouse and stupendous heaps of bear droppings, or perhaps they’re from a sasquatch. I’m soaked to the knees from all the fog condensed on the growth in the trail. Well-used elk trails cross the trail regularly. I’ve noted the yellow alder stain on the front corners of the camper. “Tough on riggin” is the older logger’s colloquialism that comes to mind. I’ll feel better when we’re back out bumping along the main road. We emerged with minimal collateral damage. Old knowledge was refreshed with only a few minor battle scars to show for my stupidity. With plans dashed, I just want to find a spot to set up camp for a few days. Obviously we are now back from our adventures. Of course on our return leg I saw a few places we could have stopped on the roadside. Hindsight! But as a friend says, “If you ain’t been aground, you ain’t been around!” I learn later that we were only four kilometres from the Carmanah campground where a friend was spending the night.
Later I write from a glorious spot. We are camped on a gravel bar of the Nitinaht River. The rolling water is crystal clear and full of spawning Chinook salmon. Upon arrival Jack flopped down on the river gravel and vigorously scratched his back. It’s a sign of great happiness. Next he trotted down to the river’s edge and had a long drink. We’re staying a while. I’m sitting at my Honda table beneath my white canopy. A cheery fire crackles a few feet away. In the dark salmon splash in the river. Bliss.
Then some yahoos arrive. In the dark as usual. They get stuck in a mud hole, there is much shouting. Tires and people squeal but finally they settle somewhere in the woods nearby. I can hear someone splitting firewood and yes, there it is, the loud pulse of their stereo, as usual. Backwoods serenity! Jack has already retreated into the camper. I’m joining him.
In the morning my friend appeared at my campsite. What a wonderful surprise. Niels is a dear friend of many years and his presence immediately lifted me out of my dark funk. He had tracked me all the way out to the Carmanah and then given up on finding me. He spent a night camping on his own. He was homeward bound when by chance he spotted my little white circus tent beside the river.
We had a great day together watching the salmon, some well over twenty pounds. Sometimes a cutthroat trout hovers near a mating pair of salmon and tries to pirate eggs. It is all fascinating to watch this drama in crystal clear water. A handsome male black bear ambled and snacked along the opposite river bank, the song of the river and the wind kept him from noticing us; or maybe he knew what we taste like and was just not interested. Today we headed back to the east side of the island and soon emerged into brilliant sunlight and clear skies. Now we’re alone again in a campground on the south side of Lake Cowichan. Seeing a friend out in the woods was very uplifting and exactly what I needed. Thanks Niels; for everything.
Next day, in mid-afternoon after a very lazy morning Jack and I continue to take our ease in the sun-dappled shade of a beautiful forest of second-growth fir. We are in a tiny provincial park on the south shore of Lake Cowichan for a couple of nights. Jack wanders off to explore the beach and woods for a half-hour at a time before returning to check on me. Being allowed to do that is his nirvana. Loons, geese and swans held a choir practice of wonderful wild music out on the lake. Then a gorgeous Zenair 701 kit-built floatplane idled along a few feet above the glassy water, stirring up other old passions. Much higher, heavy commercial flights inbound from the open Pacific glide eastward toward Vancouver.
As dusk falls I’ve built a campfire and less than twenty feet away a tree frog begins its song. I’ve never seen one yet. They often makes their calls from nearby but I cannot ever spot one. If you try to sneak up on that big little sound they stop. They are very tiny and wary so for me they remain a happy mystery. It’s been an easy, peaceful day. I try not to feel guilty about doing absolutely nothing. Beyond the west end of the lake a few clouds over on the ocean side catch the last light of the setting sun as I begin splicing together a video about this little trip. Then comes a loon’s solitary serenade from out on the lake, perhaps the most beautiful sound I know. A barred owl begins hooting from a tree nearby. Forest internet. G’night.
Abraham Maslow: “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or step back into safety.”
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
“Our fears are like dragons guarding our most precious treasures.” Ray Wylie Hubbard
How can those few words from a Texan country singer not tug at your heart. They apply to all of us. Consider how you feel about our present times. They really hit home for me as I regard a present visitor. Ayre is a 3½ month old tiny dog. She weighs less than 3 kilos (about five pounds.) This five-pound monster has stolen my heart. I find myself taking to her in silly voice puppy-speak. Jack gives her a deep warning growl when she comes prancing at him; he’s doing his part in mentoring her. She’s cute as hell even when she tries to sink her tiny needle teeth into my fingers, growling with all the ferocity she can muster. Of course that bravado is a mask for all that frightens her. “The best defence is a good offence.” Who could want to harm her? There are those who would and some creatures see her as a tasty snack. I can’t imagine how the world must look to a being so tiny and newly arrived. When I pick her up I’m afraid I’m going to break her frail-feeling bones but soon the warm wriggling fragrant bundle of puppy licks my big old hand with a tiny soft pink tongue and there is a moment of joy and a gush of paternal instinct. Awwwww.
Of all the negative things we can find about human beans one of the rays of hope is our indefatigable instinct to care and protect tiny creatures. This little dog can soon prove itself a pain in the ass, demanding attention and food then more attention. Yet an old bush ape like me finds patience and tenderness much to my own amazement. She’s running the whole household, both innocently and deliberately. I’ve know little of the horror of a screaming baby in the night but I suspect this is much the same. There is some override wiring which brings patience and caring without contemplation. Mothers possess a courage and stamina I don’t grasp.
Today is August 3rd, a provincial holiday, BC Day. The weather is languid, the streets are quiet (After a bout of wailing sirens at 04:00) The mourning doves are hoo-hoo-hooing and all seems calm, Covid be damned.
Recently some friends and I held a conversation about the correct, and also the legal way, to merge into traffic. I found myself contemplating this again while out walking Jack this morning.
I’ve some some research online. In BC there is a bit of a grey zone about this with references to “being socially handicapped” and “it’s the polite thing to do.” It is clearly stated however that a vehicle making a left turn, or entering traffic on it’s left is always the give-way vehicle. If there is an accident involving any merging vehicle it will be always that vehicle deemed at fault. A vehicle in the moving traffic lane must not impede the flow of traffic it is in to accomodate a merging vehicle. Our traffic laws were generally written based on marine traffic rules and it makes sense that a vessel entering a busy channel must give way to others already underway. In the air, or on the water, a vessel with another on its right is the stand-on vessel.
I have a notion that folks demanding you merge ahead of them, or go before them at a four-way stop for example, are often actually empowering themselves rather than trying to be nice. There are no “Nice Police” and usually simply playing by the rules is the nicest thing to do, then we all have a notion of whazzup. I’ve held a drivers license for fifty-two years without any crashes. With all of the driving I’ve done I like to think I’ve done something right. I’ll certainly admit that as I age, my reaction time is beginning to slow as well as my ability to see things as quickly. Being honest about your abilities is a good way to help stay safe. Ever notice how no-one admits to being a poor driver? It’s always the other guy.
Blackberry season is now in full swing. Men with plastic buckets lean into the brambles picking the succulent treats. Except for one. He stood watching and holding a full pail while his elderly wife worked on filling another, all the while she was holding a big German Shepard on a leash. It did not like the brambles. I wanted to kick that old misogynist’s arse but he would have spilled the berries and the dog would have bitten me. Isn’t it interesting what one can assume from a glance? Everyone seems extra testy these days so it’s best to keep to oneself. At least we’ve had no explosions. Working in the backwoods I learned how even twenty pounds of ammonium nitrate could crack away a big piece of granite mountain. Nearly three tons of the stuff in downtown Beirut is like a nuclear bomb. That thousands, out and about living their daily lives, were not killed is a miracle. Bang. How quickly life can change!
Jack and I have just come back from our morning walk, or in other words, shuffle and sniff. It rained last night and there is a subtle perfume of freshness. We met that old couple with the dog again. Pops was holding the dog this time and his wife was breakfasting on wet blackberries. All three seemed pleasant and amicable. So…three friends, instead of enemies.
The fourth agreement: “ I will respect the power of my words.”
“You’re outta cheese!” Those were the first spoken words I heard in the wee hours of the morning. I’d just stepped into the local all-night corner store at 02:30. I was grabbing a quick cup of coffee before trekking up at local mountain with the hope of photographing the Comet Neowise. A woman was there loading up a DIY meal of some sort (Eeeech!) The clerk replied to her with an unintelligible middle-eastern accent. She responded “Jes tellin’ ya!” And so the day began.
With a backpack full of photo gear and trusty tripod in hand I hiked the final ascent to the peak of Mount Prevost using my head lamp, finding my way up the brushy trail in the dark woods. I only tripped four times. I missed seeing the comet but that early scramble produced some excellent images. What a beautiful part of the world I live in! If the sky tonight is still cloudless I’ll try again; but without the clamber.
There are many areas in my life where I can be accused of being a few noodles short of a full can. I do things which in retrospect are clearly stupid. A few days ago, after a long harassment by a pop-up intruder on my computer desktop, I gave in. A free version of CCleaner, allegedly keeping my computer files clean, etc. etc; had kept intruding for many months. It’s been there for so long I can’t remember when it first arrived. It has persistently told me I should get serious and buy the real deal for $24.95. Times are tough. Even that amount needs to be seriously considered. I submitted a credit card number and suddenly the invoice price was $74.95 for a far more exotic package than what I’d ordered. I’m certain I carefully made the correct selection. Now, I can’t directly access my e-mail and every time I do anything online a big, long-fading pop-up covers the screen telling my what a wonderful product I’ve bought. WTF? In my complaint I promised the company called Cleverbridge I’d tell the world. They have NOT responded about my e-mail to their “support department.” So I have now told the world. End of the-too few noodles story. There’s no sucker like an old sucker.
In recent blogs I’ve commented on the “Black Lives Matter” story. I’ve been bemused about all those bronze statues being torn down. Now I’ve twice heard a solution from two articulate Black intellectuals. They both said the same thing. Leave the statues alone and instead erect signs telling of the bias and ignorance which had the bronzes first erected. Provide the comparative views of today which mark our progress away from the datums which those statues are. That is very positive, making lemonade from lemons. If we forget our history we’re bound to repeat it. None of us will ever rise if we continue to stay on the ground struggling with our knees on each other’s necks.
In the hurly-burly chaos of our frantic lives it is easy to get fixated on all that is wrong and dark. Occasionally something incredibly simple can hit a reset button. For me it was opening a single pea pod growing on a vine in a pot. The aroma of the contents and the superb taste of the tiny fresh peas was an instant tonic; aroma therapy. Smell and taste are great stimulants and suddenly for a few seconds I was back in vegetable gardens of my childhood, not a bad little vacation at all! The hike up through the mountain forest in the dark evoked other happy memories. Tis the simple tings Billy!
“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” Martin Luther King Jr.
(Written Somewhere On Vancouver Island Beside Johnstone Strait)
Poor cell service. No internet, no news, no e-mail, no Twitter. Sunny, but with a cold westerly wind blowing down Johnstone Strait. Jack and I are camped at the mouth of a River near the top of Vancouver Island. A monstrous dryland log sort separates us from Johnstone Strait and the foaming waters reared by the blasting wind. There is a lovely little campground provided free of charge by the timber company. Spiked to a tree a sign says, “If you clean up your mess maybe you’ll come again.” Blue collar eloquence; the area is pristine. Below us is a fantastic dreamlike maze of huge Sitka spruce interwoven with clear shallow gravel-bottomed streams. There is thick underbrush and a shoulder-high carpet of ferns. The area is thick with slugs. Within a half-hour of setting Jack’s food dish down it was crawling with the slimy beasts. I don’t care who used to eat them, eeech! I am stumped for how to take photos or video which accurately portrays the feeling of this beautiful place. Salmon spawn here and there are reports of grizzlies in the area. The roads are liberally dotted with huge mounds of bear scat so I make lots of noise and stay in open areas. Does a bear crap in the woods? Yep, and twice as often on the road. It’s a manyberry thing. Unless….. a Sasquatch festival? Now playing: The Mugwumps.
We drove in around nine pm. There was plenty of light and plenty of game. Elk and deer ambled the road in several places. After two nights in that place we then found the roadway to heaven. Now I’m sitting in the dark only twenty feet from the ocean’s edge looking northward up the last miles of Johnstone Strait. There is a brisk cool westerly breeze which has eased from a near-gale at sundown. I’ll let my photos describe this place which I’ll leave un-named. If you are a kindred spirit you’ll find it on your own which makes the magic a little richer or, if you like, I’ll tell you one on one if you ask. It’s that kind of place. Other campers here, who have been coming for decades, have sworn me to secrecy. I see why.
Next paragraph, twenty-four hours later. Another blazing yet soft J.M. Turner sunset. The wind is finally easing, for the moment. I’ve known it to blast relentlessly for over two weeks non-stop. That’s a long time to be stuck on a tug boat with a few other blue-collared guys. Tensions rise and tedium inspires bad tempers. Bound to our log tow, one time for two weeks, we were committed to nursing it through the storm until we could deliver it safely far south down the coast. That would take ten more days if all went well. Six hours on watch, six off, day in day out, that tedium brings out hidden bottles and then hell breaks loose. I’ve seen a fist fight over who installed the toilet paper roll backwards! It’s funny now!
But tonight here is peaceful. A young brother and sister are playing on the large roots of a beached tree thirty feet away. It’s lovely to hear the sound of their happy voices against the rhythm of waves gently lapping on the stone beach and a joy to see two siblings who like each other enough to get along amicably. Their joint imaginations as they turn the big roots into their castle, decorating it with kelp, is uplifting. Sometimes there is a rattle of the round beach stones rolling in the pull of the waves. The day began with a pod of humpbacks swimming close to shore, now it ends placidly. Money cannot buy bliss like this.
This paragraph begins on July first; the year half spent. Instead of being in a crowd celebrating our nationhood in a sweating Covid mass with loud music and the aroma of food stalls, I sit alone at my Honda table by the edge of the sea. The wind rose again this morning. When I opened the door on the trailer we were shrouded in fog. Now that fog has become a roll of low grey cloud over the strait and I watch a wall of rain advancing slowly toward us. I am wearing all the jackets and vests I have. I was astute enough to bring a water-proof storm coat with me. It seems like winter. Still, I’d rather be here. That’s a grand feeling.
Jack is away making his rounds. Most of the campsites have filled. Those folks have children and dogs. He comes back regularly to check on me and let me know he’s having a fine time and, perhaps, to assure himself of my blessing to wander. God forbid I wander off! He’s just reappeared with two gorgeous Australian collies. They voraciously sample his food bowl while he sits by, the gracious host. With all these people around there are no lurking predators and I know he does not go exploring beyond a short radius. He knows his limits and his joy is mine as well. I want every one of his senior days to be as rich as possible. After making his rounds he wants to get back into bed in the trailer. (Which I’ve decided to name ‘Boxtrot’) I join him and pull an extra blanket over us. The day wears on and we hibernate. Rain lashes the far shore of the strait. The neighbours cut and split more firewood. On the horizon to the west a sail catches a glint of sunlight. That may be the brightest moment of the day. And so it was. At day’s end, the wind is still blasting. The horizon to the west is a bright gleam of sunlight and there are now patches of blue between the ragged clouds; whatever that means. It’s all good.
On our sixth morning we awake to a pristine sky. Now a rising southeast breeze stirs the ocean. Without the roar of the wind I can hear a choir of bird songs echoing through the surrounding woods. The bitin, g bugs have returned with a vengeance. A red squirrel scolds and a pine martin scampers along the beach with a freshly caught crab in his mouth. Jack has found a patch of sunlight under the trees and he snores gently in his bed of spruce needles. I sip my first coffee and ruefully consider that groceries are beginning to run low. I don’t want to leave but it will be homeward tomorrow.
Yesterday I went for more firewood from a nearby abandoned logging sight. Jack despises the din of chainsaws and promptly disappeared. I went off in a panic-riddled search only to find him eventually sitting exactly back where I had been working. He was soaked in hydraulic oil. Apparently he had hidden beneath the only logging machine still there. There is a hose and tap harnessed to a nearby spring so with a bottle of dish detergent Jack had to endure a cold bath. While doing that I met a former skipper I’d once worked with on the boats. He was camped nearby; funny little world! In the evening my camping neighbour rushed up to me asking if I knew first aid. His wife was splitting kindling and had amputated the end of her thumb. A small drama (Not to her!) which serves as a reminder about how quickly things can happen and the need for thoughtful prudence; especially when you and your buddy are two old dogs. Fortunately I was able to assist and after a trip to a distant hospital, they were back in their tent before dawn.
In the time that I’ve written these last two paragraphs the wind has risen from a zephyr to a half-gale. It stacks waves against the rising tide. It’s beautiful and I wonder how long before I see the bright colour of someone’s spinnaker charging up the coast. (There was one late in the afternoon.) I’ll sit placidly, sipping coffee and waiting for whales. Breakfast over, dishes done, chores complete I’m back at my table pecking away. While sitting here I’ve started reading a new (to me) book. I try to buy books from the bargain bin in my favourite book store and sometimes find a real treasure. I’ve begun ‘Fishing For Stars’ by Bryce Courtenay.’ I liked the title. It’s brick-thick with seven-hundred pages of small print. The first paragraph is like a poem and begins: “Some things from the past stay fresh in the mind of an old man…” He goes on to describe being at sea in a gaff-rigged cutter named ‘Madam Butterfly.’ I was hooked. On the forth page I read: “Mine has been a fortunate life in so many ways, but in the end we live more in our head than we do in a place and lately there’s some alarming stuff happening in my head.” That’d be me!
I think it’s time Jack and I went for a walk. I’ll give my impression on this novel once I’ve squeezed it for the last drop; six hundred ninety-five pages to go.
Back from our walk, I’ve decided to declare this a do nothing afternoon. We walked to the far side of a lovely stream not far from here, explored and waded back across through the icy water. Jack swam and is clearly delighted in today’s little adventure. Now he’s asleep in his day bed. He is a master of do-nothingness. I’m trying to learn the art. Next blog I’ll post a link to my next video, made about this recent trip.
“Our mind is of three categories: what we know, what we don’t know, and what we don’t know we don’t know. Not knowing is unfortunate; not knowing that we don’t know is tragic.” – W. Erhart.
I’ve just finished reading a novel titled ‘Sweetness In The Belly’ by Camilla Gibb. It is not a macho swashbuckling story but rather a tale of far greater courage. Told from the perspective of a Western woman who has embraced Islam, she finds herself living in 1970’s Ethiopia at the time of the overthrow of the dictator Haile Selassie. Forced to flee by fundamentalists the protagonist ends up living with other dispossessed Muslim women in the miseries of London. It hasn’t been an easy read for me but I’ve grasped a concept about why so many people live within the regimen and rigours of the Islamic faith or other religions. When your life is shit, it is much easier to endure simply by following the rules, trying to convince yourself that God’s alleged laws will bring you to great rewards if you submit to what someone else declares as divine.
I see a parallel in that thinking to our present pandemic but let me first hasten to add that our strictures do not begin to compare to a lifetime of misery, poverty, and subjection simply for being born a woman in a third world Muslim culture. Being a man is tough enough but being a woman seems utter hell. I’ll probably receive a comment from out there saying something like, “Well asshole, try being a woman in ANY culture!” I’ll admit to being happy enough as a man but I also have some counter remarks which would start something I probably can’t finish.
Anyway I often marvel at how easily folks allow themselves to conform to the regimen of Covid restrictions and the ask-no-questions servitude we so readily embrace. Blind trust leads the masses. It won’t work of course if everyone is banging around in different directions but I see things which leave me going hmmm! In the doctor’s clinic yesterday everyone had to wear a mask. I found out after my visit that I was wearing mine wrong, but no-one had said anything. The scowling receptionist behind her partial plastic who corrected me wasn’t wearing one at all! The doctor ran out to find a baby scale and returned to his little office clearly without disinfecting it. So it goes. I’ll confess to a twenty minute highway drive for my appointment, risky business far more dangerous than someone else’s germs.
We do need to accept a common dogma to survive but we don’t need to drink disinfectant or keep any automatic firearm handy. That mantra can be expressed in a single word “Respect,” first for ourselves, then for all of our fellows. As recent events in Minneapolis prove once again, it is not the weapon, but rather the man who kills. It would be a good thing to take away some of our weapons, but it won’t change the nature of we beasts. Rocks, sticks, fists, and knees work quite well, but guns do make it easier. But we just can’t blame a fork for making us fat. After my crack last blog about the cystoscopy booth at the amusement park, Twitter’s recent headline was about the re-opening of Florida amusement parks. Perhaps kids will be handed helium balloons that look like those knobby Covid virus balls. Gary Larson, where are you?
It is time for me to vanish again. Jack is waiting by the door. Here’s a link to my latest video, completed just this morning and now posted on You Tube. We are on our way shortly for another jaunt in the backwoods.
Camp Runamuck has finally gone mobile. I’m starting this blog using the tailgate of my truck as a desk, Jack is laying in his bed on the roadway snoring peacefully. The highway to Tofino is closed for construction for the next three hours. It is an amazing project, overdue by forty years. It involves carving half a granite mountain away and will take several months more. We spent a first night ever cuddled in the Social Isolation Unit and we’re still both on speaking terms. I’m quite proud of myself, the trailer is a sound idea. The crystal water of Taylor River sang by our campsite and now we’re off to points beyond. We’re delayed only a few kilometres from where I want to turn off. There are no glitches other than things forgotten. Usually I pack along enough for a trip around the world but this time we’re missing a crescent wrench (For the propane fitting), forks, (fingers and sharp sticks work just fine) spare batteries for the interior lights in the trailer and now the battery has just died in the computer mouse. Minor details, it’s all part of the romance Billy! But I sure wish I knew where my last marble is.
When we left our campsite this morning my plan was to travel back-roads where I’d never gone before and find a place on the ocean shore of Toquart Bay on Barkley Sound. This is on the wild, rugged West coast of the island. It opens onto the open Pacific. Looking out on that curved horizon brings me an inner peace only another ocean addict can understand. No such luck today! All access to the shoreline, everywhere, was gated or very deliberately blocked. The trees frequently bore a freshly posted sign declaring that the forest here was managed by this or that first nations group and their world was closed to all outsiders due to “Emergency Measures.” All campgrounds, both private and public, are slam-shut. I travelled a horribly potholed logging road toward the famous little coastal community of Ucluelet. It was beyond anything Mexican.
So far as I know no-one has ever caught, or given, a contagious virus to a tree or flower. Why are so few people being so incredibly anal to the rest of the world? The air in my lungs was some of the cleanest on the planet, it has just travelled across several thousand miles of open North Pacific Ocean. How can people be so hysterically stupid? It’s been years since I was last in Ucluelet and I was shocked to see how cosmopolitan this once-quaint fishing village has become. I’ve heard raves about what a wonderful place it is now. The reek of money may be in the air, but it’s not for me. Perhaps that’s the present resistance to visitors, there’s still some old guard who remember the way it used to be. And the pandemic come from out there.
We made our pilgrimage to the light station at Amphritrite Point just to take a photo and prove we were there. The quest for a place to stuff the SIU proved fruitless. My hope of spending a little time with mother ocean has been dashed for now. Then we caught the return construction gauntlet with only a few minutes delay. Tonight we are on the edge of a large inland lake, known as Sproat. I took one last chance and crept down a very long-since-maintained logging road thinking we’d have a quiet place all to ourselves. As it turns out there is a small community of squatter RVs here, but there was one perfect wee spot left and I backed in. We’re exhausted.
We’ll be in the bunk in a few more minutes. Jack is as shattered-weary as I am. One neighbour has put their squalling children to bed so I’ve taken the cue. The other neighbour arrived back from fishing, and has started a clattering generator. Above that din, he is playing some very strange and loud music. Six am is coming. Haar! Did He doesn’t know about my new electric bagpipes? I’m going to fire up my generator and squawk through my first lesson. I’ll try playing ‘Castrating The Ram.’
A tranquil morning dawns over the lake. The low fog burned away rapidly. There is a roar from the waterfalls half-way up the mountain across the lake. The only angst is a pair of Stellar Jays taking turns raiding Jack’s food bowel. They’re brilliant! He is in full repose, watching them through the corner of his eye. As it turned out, we spent most of the day napping. Jack seems disgruntled but I don’t even have the enthusiasm to launch our little boat. For once, I’m not going to feel guilty about anything. The day wore by, Jack visited with other dogs and I rested. As evening approached a convoy of trailers arrived and squeezed themselves in anywhere possible. WE HEAH! Screeching children, sneaky dogs, loud rock music, country music all at once and forced laughter from the adults who are trying to convince themselves they’re having fun by yelping like excited burros. It sounds like a travelling carnival. Everyone seems determined to make relaxing into hard work. I know I am an outsider who has invaded the local folk’s secret spot and that everyone is trying to blow off some of that Covid stress. It IS The Victoria long weekend. We’ll move on in the morning.
I realize that I have a bladder infection. It mast have contracted during a visit to my urologist a few days ago. I have to go for a regular inspection and the nurse administering the camera was a tad brutal. I recall asking her to loosen her stranglehold on the little feller. I’ll spare you “too much information” and simply say that “peeing through razor blades” is not just an expression. Whoee! We’ll be back on the road just as soon as possible.
“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” –Alice Walker
The chill overcast of early morning gave way to a warm calm. I began imagining that I could hear the budding leaves emerging. Jack and I went off to one of our mutually favourite wandering spots, the old Swallowfield Farm. I set up to take a shot along the mud road beneath a canopy of blossoms and chlorophyll green with a background of bird songs. A helicopter buzzed overhead, from another corner the scrape and bang of heavy machinery echoed across the fields. Now an old WWII fighter plane clattered by, a Yak attack. I know and love that particular airplane but gimme a break, I’m trying to shot some video here! It was joined in a chorus by some goon on a mufflerless Fartley Davidson. Geez Louise! Part of the art of making videos is often the accompanying sound track and my amateur skill level does not know much about erasing and over-dubbing or applying any of the wobble-quavers which the pros can do.
That in turn got me thinking about how I’ve arrived at this point in my experience as a photographer. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve become a snapshot artist instead of the fully involved disciple of the medium format film camera and the dark room. I used to spend long hours working in a tiny, chemical-saturated space producing the perfect print, both black and white, colour and cibachrome (Printing from colour slides. It was especially toxic.) I even started a business printing folk’s personal photos, but circumstances prevailed that moved me on. How was I to know that digital photography was coming and monster companies like Eastman Kodak were to become a memory? Finding darkroom equipment, paper and chemicals has now become an expensive challenge. I’d love to go back to it again, appreciating it as the wonderful art it is.
I watched a biography about Ansel Adams recently. If you don’t know who he was, you’re just not interested in photography but you’ll know some of his work. He photographed landscapes and is famous for his work in Yosemite Park and the High Sierras. He lugged cumbersome box cameras with their glass plate negatives to mountain tops and developed stunning prints which captivated the world. A master of light, composition, depth of field and opportune timing he was also a chemist, perfecting solutions for what was needed to maximize his images. He always used only natural light so far as I know. His work inspired the founding of National Parks yet his work was a simple portrayal of a beautiful world so many of us look at but never see. Portraits, abstracts, wildlife photos were not what he was known for. He inspired me as much as the thousands of other spellbound photographers. He was a landscape artist.
I first took a serious interest in photography as a boy. My camera was a ubiquitous Kodak Brownie, crude, battered and abused as it was. I would carefully load of roll of 120 format, 12 frame film in and tape up the worn case latches to prevent any light leaking in. I can still recall the first photo which thrilled me. It was of a herd of cows resting beneath a spreading elm tree on a hot summer afternoon. By accident I’d caught the light and composition almost perfectly. I’d love to see that little square print again. Time and technology have moved on.
Years later I took up serious photography using manual cameras which required every shot be manually calibrated for correct exposure, shutter speed, depth of field, contrast and any necessary filtration. Then it was off to the darkroom. I recall photography with a darkroom being described as having a leash without a puppy. I was never a gadget collector and take pride in doing good work with simple equipment. That of course is product of having limited finances, but no camera, no matter how exotic, can produce a good frame without a skilled person to utilize it. And no camera, no matter how inexpensive, has been maximized by anyone. Modern mobile phones are now sold for their photographic capabilities. Gidgets, gadgets and other toys are extolled as absolutely requisite to make good photographs. Photo magazines are filled with ads admonishing that you won’t get your ultimate shot without yet another product. All I’ll say to all of that is simply: Bullshit! Keep it simple, stick with basics.
I am deeply offended when someone says “Your photos are awesome, you must have really good cameras.” No damnit!
Do you want to be an equipment collector or make good photos? You can either peer through some multi-thousand dollar telephoto lens or you can learn the habitat and habits of your subject and get up close for a splendid photograph with an affordable piece of equipment along with all that you experience gained in the process. I recently watched another documentary on the work of Indian photographer Raghu Rai. Thousands of dollars worth of Nikon equipment dangled on straps from his neck while he shot projects with his mobile phone.
Ansel Adams did not have the equipment to machine gun his subjects and then go to his computer photo programs to determine and manipulate a best shot. Each exposure had to count. In any case, a day out with any camera is still a way to maintain contact with whatever view of the world is important to you. Photography is the simple, yet long-learned art of seeing and then sharing your vision with others. In these days of social isolation it is a wonderful endeavour, even if you don’t want to share what you see. And try as you might, it is an art you’ll never master as much as you’d like. There’s the challenge.
“Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.” – Peter Adams