Coddiwomple, Old English slang meaning to journey purposefully toward a vague destination. It is also the name of a cute little boat recently arrived on the dock. Of course I had to look it up. It could be the description of a person’s life. Then there’s the timeless oxymoron about military intelligence. Two young men in naval uniforms complete with black life jackets and black crash helmets arrived yesterday morning at the dock in a hefty inflatable boat. When it was time to leave, their outboard motor would not start. I watched the performance which largely involved frantic heaving on the starter rope. This old mechanic finally volunteered to them that for whatever reason the motor was not getting any fuel and that they should check the connections on the gas line. They thanked me and continued to jerk the rope. I couldn’t go have a look, I was in the midst of my final bit of painting. There was prolonged loud discussion with mothership on their vhf radio which descended to a focus on the fuel primer bulb. “No, no, the bulb is still soft.” (It becomes hard when full of fuel and the system is pressurized.) After nearly a half-hour they finally clipped the fuel hose back onto the tank and zoom-zoomed off into the sunrise. Sleep tight, your navy is awake!
I’ve watched folks become infuriated with their dead outboard and pull away on the starting rope until it broke or until their arms nearly dropped off. There’s nothing to diminish your spirits like the sound of the starter recoil spring zlithering and sproinging around inside the engine cowling. Then, finally, it is discovered that all along, the ignition safety switch was off. To further the frustration, it takes someone else to make that discovery. Yep, I’ve done it too. Remember the movie “Sling Blade?” There’s a wonderful scene where the village idiot quietly watches the local lawn mower mechanic fight all day with a dead motor. Finally the protagonist announces that he “Reckons it’s outta gas. Uh huh.” Start with the simple things first.
The painting is now complete on the boat, so instead of having been on the dock at first light to beat the sun, I sit here enjoying the decadence of writing while sipping coffee. Of course, today there is some cloud cover, perfect for painting. You can tell I am not an enthusiastic painter. The secret is in the preparation which can means hours of sanding, filling and sanding. Pull marks from a dry brush or runs from too much paint are the marks of carelessness. Then there are the spatters, especially when applying a dark colour near a lighter one. There is a technique of applying the paint, first by roller then followed by brush, not too dry, not too wet. Painting in direct sunlight is an invitation for disaster, the paint wants to dry faster than it can be applied and there is a sticky mess waiting to happen. Only experience can teach the best method. Then in gleaming glory, the paint begins to dry, all the while attracting all sorts of insects, airborne seeds, hairs and pieces of lint. Finally you peel off the masking tape and…SHIT! It ran beneath the tape. Actually, there is no substitute for good masking tape, which, of course, is the most expensive, but you get what you pay for. I’ve found a product called ‘Frog’ which works really well.
I learned to hate painting when, as a boy, I often made a little cash schlocking white on fences and houses. My passion for painting is right next to mowing lawns and anything involving shovels. Then there’s picking berries. At least there is a reward at the end of the endeavour without any delayed gratification. Jack and I went out at first light armed with a bucket. A light breeze prevented any dew; perfect! Mourning doves wha-coo-hooed while a bumper crop of rabbits kept Jack entertained. I dealt with the bumper crop of blackberries. The first ones are ripening and there will be a harvest that goes on for weeks. I’ve never seen so many.
The biggest, sweetest berries are at the end of the highest thorniest vines, well above where dogs may have peed. Having leathery old mechanic’s hands is a bonus. I hold a smaller cup-sized container beneath the fruit I’m picking and then transfer that, when full, to the bucket. That saves a lot of painful moves among the brambles and speeds up the gathering. There’s your blog-tip from this hunter-gatherer-mechanic. Now as the sun rises and the world heats up, it’s time to head to the boat for some finishing touches. Just another perfect early-summer Sunday on a beautiful Pacific Island.
“We are all the architects of our own despair.” …Jill Bailey
“So how’s it going?” asked my doctor. I explained that I was having a major relapse of depression and nothing seemed to work to conquer it. “And if you could do something to change things, what would it be?” I talked about moving to Mexico, where I would live in my boat close to rural seaside villages and assimilate the minimalist ways of the locals. I explained about their clear uncomplicated values, their richness despite not even owning shoes at times, their ability to find joy in the moment so long as they can feed their children for the day and how I could still live there for less than it cost here. It is an environment where I know I can do some good serious writing. “And what’s holding you back?”
“Money” I replied. We both laughed. “Well maybe this will help.” He smiled and handed me the prescription in the following photo. Not only do I have a doctor with a sense of humour, but you can actually read his writing. Now there’s a keeper!
Lately I’ve had some well-meaning advise from friends on dealing with my clinical blues. I appreciate their concern but is not an affliction I choose nor one I embrace. I don’t want it. Get it? Misery is not something anyone reaches out for. And it is just not bad attitude. Nor is it an addiction that one clings to like a bottle or a needle. It is a chemical/electrical dysfunction of the brain. It can be a short-term episode or last a lifetime.
Some days, an hour can be an eternity and no-one willingly embraces the darkness, loneliness and hopelessness of uncontrollable, bottomless gloom. One friend accuses me of “having no balls.” But in fact, after enduring this affliction for most of my sixty-plus years without French-kissing a 12 gauge or stretching a rope, I’d like to think my fortitude is pretty damned good. If you won’t understand the courage it takes to openly write and talk about this very tangible yet heavily stigmatized affliction, I should simply tell you where to go; but I won’t. When I was a child, people who were diagnosed with cancer were often stigmatized and ostracized. They frequently lived out their days, or years, sequestered away. We finally decided that cancer was not contagious and perhaps that’s the problem. We all have our mental and emotional flaws and we fear how they may bob visibly to the surface. Hopefully we can grow beyond the fear of our own human frailties, accept each other for who we are and all work toward a higher self.
Another friend suggests keeping busy. Right. Good advice. No-one can match my frenzied creative bursts which have often earned me a reputation for being able to outwork anyone. I’ve written several books, including one about growing up with the nurture and nature factors of chronic depression. And I’ve got a whole damned boat to busy myself on, if there’s enough money for supplies. One tube of marine sealant now costs $30. and the price of things like a small plank of marine-grade wood nearly requires a third mortgage. Boatt is now spelled with two t’s: Break Out Another Ten Thousand. Fortunately elbow grease is still free.
One of the best descriptions of clinical depression is a lack of vitality. Truly, even a simple act can be challenging during an episode of depression. To motivate yourself to do anything requires a focus of willpower, while other inner demons are telling you what a useless, lazy bastard you’ve become. “Pull your socks up,” my old English dad used to demand. He was the one I inherited this horrid disposition from (He never did well with his own socks) and I’m content to have no children of my own to risk passing this on. I’m not complaining, just explaining.
I have taken up the challenge of being open about what is called manic depression or bi-polar disorder. If this good old blue-collared, thick-fingered dufus can overcome the stigma and talk openly then perhaps a fellow sufferer will find a bit of solace and others a little enlightenment. Modern medicine, as with most health issues, seems largely content to treat the symptoms with various prescriptions. No symptom, no problem right? Despite this being a major health issue in our culture it is often dismissively brushed under the carpet. There are other more trendy health issues to focus on. Plenty of creative people through history have had to endure this curse and what we wouldn’t give just to have a regular sine wave. It seems, all too often, to be the price of having a gift worth sharing. “Geez, you seem sensitive about this issue.” Yep! enough said.
This past weekend was hot and dry and lovely. A summer high weather system had moved on to the BC Coast and the Northwest wind blew steady and warm. It piped up during the night. I loved it but Jack seems to have lost his sea legs. Taking spray over the boat while it heeled and plunged is no longer his cup of tea and so we explored local haunts we’ve spent decades passing by. It was wonderful. I am assuming that my readers have access to Google Earth and can look up place names so I won’t elaborate on geography. The inside waters of the Southern West Coast are blessed with an archipelago of islands. In Canadian waters they are known as The Gulf Islands and in the US as The San Juans. Although many of these islands have fallen into private ownership, there are also many parks and it’s still anyone’s world up to the high tide mark.
The scenery is breath-taking, soothing, inspiring and enticing all at once.
Twice a day the tide floods and ebbs between the Strait of Georgia and the waters inside the passages of the Gulf Islands. Porlier Pass is a violently turbulent tidal passage dividing Galiano Island on the South from Valdez Island on the top side. Galiano is sparsely populated, Valdez is essentially uninhabited. Anchored in a tiny bight out of the swirling current, I took Jack ashore on Valdez at first light to watch the world come to life in mid-summer. I sit on Vernaci Point with a view of the entire Southern Straight of Georgia, also known now as the Salish Sea. Out past the surging waves and swirling tide, a bell buoy clangs steadily, like a rural Mexican church calling the devout to morning prayer. Sea birds wheel and cry. Eight eagles screech their dominion over the world before gliding down to feast again on a seal carcass on the beach. They are joined with a dozen vultures and the ever-belligerent crows
Seals paddle effortlessly in the roaring clear water. Often Orcas hunt both seal and salmon here. I watch as the light brightens and hardens, the wind warms and increases, the air fills with the scent of dry arbutus leaves, fir cones, juniper and grass. It all mingles with the tang of the sea, an aroma therapy for any weary soul. If only it could be bottled and sold as “Gulf Island Breeze.”
I found the desiccated remains of two Bald Eagles. Both lay on their backs deep in the long dry grass as if placed there deliberately. They were a considerable distance apart and clearly their souls had flown off at much different times. After a night’s contemplation, and the good omen of eight eagles in one place, I left a treasured brass piece from the boat and burned some feathers in respectful exchange for a skull and some feathers. It is how I acknowledge my respect for this powerful gift from the maker as well as my need to live in harmony with my world. I know little of native culture and hope that my efforts are adequate. The tide was easing and beginning to shift from flood to ebb. It was time to weigh anchor and sneak out between the rocks in that short time available to transit the pass safely.
On the evening before, I watched the setting sun’s light relinquish it’s grip on the purple loom of Mount Baker across the strait. The distant shore lights and then the stars began to glitter. Now in consideration of Jack’s angst we move north to the top end of Valdez Island, coasting on the last of the favourable flood through Gabriola Pass and into Dog Fish Bay, tucked inside Kendrick Island. Here, over a beautiful sandstone reef one can see most of the Southern Strait in one single, breath-taking panoramic sweep. Due north is a view up Howe Sound. In the snow-crowned mountains beyond, a massive thunderstorm illuminates the world. Ragged clouds exchange billions of volts in flashes of orange and pink light. Arcing our view a little further south the lights of Vancouver glitter and pulse around it’s harbour and up the surrounding mountains. Then a massive fireworks display begins over there and for a few minutes, breath-taking colours and patterns boil in the sky over the heart of the twenty-three mile distant city. All the while, further to the south, as if on a continuous string, the landing lights of aircraft descend and rise from the airport. The whole view is an indelible image. Nearby the tide bubbles and murmurs in the dark as seals hauled out on a nearby reef squabble and mew. The indelible experience is preserved with the regular swilling of good rough red warm wine straight from the bottle. Sleep comes long and sweet and deep.
On the tip of Valdez behind the bay sits the remains of an abandoned homestead taken over by the province of BC as a Provincial Park. I recall a time when sheep foraged along the ocean’s edge. Now the farm, it’s orchard, garden, meadows and paddocks are slowly returning to the forest which from which all was so laboriously carved. The old farmhouse, small and stout, is beginning to show signs of it’s abandonment. Finally someone has broken in but respectfully left everything untouched and then had re-secured the locks. I follow suit. After all these years of passing by I reason there will be the ubiquitous goon who will eventually do serious and permanent damage. I see this little house as a shrine and I want a sense of how life here must have been.
Inside, the tiny building is still sound and free of moisture damage. There has been no vandalism, everything seems just as it was when the last occupant left for the last time.
The latest date on a stack of newspapers was November, 2001, fifteen years ago. I found a framed teaching certificate belonging to someone named Don Wardill. It was dated 1936, numbered 491 by the Education Department of British Columbia. There was a list of “Special Subjects, the ink now too faded to read. The walls were covered in water colours signed by the same man. They were primitive in style yet beautifully rendered and portrayed a long lust for, or perhaps experience of the South Pacific. I imagined a lonely man, painting his vibrant pictures by lantern light while a winter storm raged outside. I’ve no idea who he was, possibly he still lives and I’d love to learn anything I can. His spirit is still there and I imagined restoring the house and grounds to their former state of a working subsistence farm, where people managed to live in harmony with the world around them. I leave the house as it was found.
We need to retain some examples of how people lived contentedly without the buzz and flash of electrons and computers and glittering facades. Giga this and mega that and Armageddon is eminent every time the internet crashes. The sun goes up, the sun goes down, the planet provides our needs. The rest is up to us.
“ This country was a lot better off when the Indians were running it.”
Despite the dark and dour tones in my last blog I managed to say some positive things about Orion magazine. This time I have three more kudos to offer despite my declared intention not to promote any commercial endeavour. It is sad that being treated right is remarkable, but all too often we have come to expect something less than represented. When I find something local, on my own island worth a little rave, I can’t resist.
There is a small local company you can find with a simply search online. Seaward Kayaks is located in Chemainus here on Vancouver Island. They hand-build beautiful cruising kayaks in fibreglass and kevlar which are internationally-renowned. As a side-line they are also agent for a few other brand-X kayaks. They make little money on these and I can see how it must be, at times, a nuisance to their main business. Nevertheless, yours truly bought one of the cheaper products and had troubles. (The darned thing would not track straight and insisted on a hard turn to starboard) I returned it, and at their suggestion, tried a few different boats until I found one that works great and suits my needs. To be treated with patience, empathy and respect in exchange for a minimal return to them, especially when they were at the peak of their busy season, was absolutely wonderful. Thank you Jacquie and Steve and crew. These folks build great kayaks and they treat you right. If you’re in the market for a proper locally-built Westcoast cruising kayak and want the best, check out Seaward, you won’t go wrong.
Another very pleasant recent experience was also enjoyed right here on Southern Vancouver Island. There is a maze of lovely backroads in the Cowichan Valley and there are moments when you can even imagine you are in Tuscany. There are dozens of vineyards with tasting rooms to visit. Climbing a hill away from the beautiful Cowichan River there was a glimpse of a massive bull elk in the roadside forest and a minute later the road opened to the crossroads and the general store of Glenora. It is also where you’ll find the Zanatta Vineyard. Fortunately, as it turned out, their bistro had just closed and so the tour continued. A stop at the Blue Grouse vineyard for a tasting was delightful and eventually the Sunday meander ended at the Merridale Cidery near Cobble Hill.
The last visit here was ten years ago so it was amazing to find a wonderful sprawling facility with a tasting room, gift shop, excellent restaurant, a unique wedding chapel, self-guided tours around the orchard which included copious evidence of a resident population of fairies. There is also a bakery, brandy distillery, trout pond, and some yurts for folks wanting to stay overnight. There was something to please, even fascinate (without batteries), children of all ages and one has to admire the energy and imagination which have turned a simple orchard and cider farm into a unique experience. By the way, all their various ciders are excellent (I really liked the scrumpy) and the restaurant fare was mighty fine.
There is not a lot of signage, clearly reputation and word of mouth are relied on for marketing.
Once again, going online and searching for merridalecider.com will bring you to a great website complete with maps.
My final happy experience to report is a product called a Sunbell Solar Lamp. It is a product from Norway made by a company called Bright Products and is available in Canada through Amazon. It is a solar-charged lamp/ flashlight and cell phone charger with amazing longevity, (up to 100 hours on a single charge) and practical versatility. It actually works as represented and is quite affordable.
While I’m promoting things let me recommend a really great book called ‘The Tiger’. It is an amazing account of modern Eastern Russian history and an essay on the ecology surrounding the last of the Siberian tigers. In many ways the book is a splendid overview of man ruthlessly exploiting his environment everywhere he goes. Somehow the book becomes a text about sociology, zoology, history and general intrigue. I learned some fabulous new vocabulary with delightfully lugubrious German words like umwelt and ungebung. They sound like terms for the bathroom but were in fact introduced by a Baltic German named Jakob von Uexküll in his book ‘Theoretical Biology’ . Now look it up if you dare, you’ll learn something! I did. To be entertained and educated all at once is a wonderful thing.
Vaillant’s research is amazing and his writing is as brilliant as in his other wonderful books, ‘The Golden Spruce’ and ‘The Jaguar’s Children’. End of commercials.
Summer is whizzing past in a blur. I’m determined to stay south but economics, or the lack of them, may soon drive me north. I’m getting some health issues sorted out and then something has to happen. Money isn’t everything but poverty really sucks. I watch the gringo boats come and go while ‘Seafire’ languishes with a growing coat of barnacles on her bottom. This too shall pass but it is agonizing to endure.
However one of the delights of this season is the abundance of fruit and produce. The weather has been warm and intermittently rainy. Fruit, berries and gardens are yielding copiously weeks earlier than usual.
Often, these seasons of extra plenty are followed by harsh winters but only fools and newcomers predict the weather. We’ll see what comes. We can’t do anything about it so we may as well eat orgasmic while we may. That wasn’t a typo. To eat warm succulent organic fruit straight from the tree, with the juice running down your chin and happy bees buzzing round, is a profound pleasure, decadent, erotic. Pick a word. The experience sure beats hell out of gnawing on chemical-imbued lumpy, pocked flora from some factory farm way down South.
The wild blackberry crop this year is overwhelming. The berries are fat, juicy, sweet and tart all at once. There should be some great brandy and wine this fall.
The dream of getting south soon is flickering but alive. The trailer has been used regularly and I’m glad to have not sold it. It is a perfect mobile abode and is revealing several advantages. It tows well and with dual axles has double the braking capability and displacement on soft ground. It is handy to back into tight spots and quite easy to set up camp. The trailer can be unhooked and left while the mother vehicle is free to go exploring. When packing up, it’s “Boots and saddles” in minutes. People who own bigger trailers come by to see it and admire with envy. And…it is paid for! I point out that I’d be happy to build one for them. And you too! Fairwinds and away.