Old Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

The calm before the smoke. My beloved harbour with a clear sky.
A day later
The coastal airway bringing more Covid carriers. When contrails hang around up there the air mass is stable and calm which translates to more weather just like this.

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.

A SUVSWAT. I wannit! Can you order it in pink? How many does it sleep? Either something’s up in our sleepy little town or the boys are getting ready for elk season. You’d certainly have no problems parking…anywhere. Tax dollars at work. Just hope it wasn’t manufactured in China.

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!

Another inch. The original RV. No gun ports on this one but the mileage is much better.

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.

The last of the Great Mullein.

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.

Fireweed finale

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!

Treat?
Spencer the minpin. Small dog, big shadow.

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.

Rock otter. I always pass on the other side of this rock to admire the pair of salmon carved there. Surprise!
This lovely spring was chasing the otter.

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.

Wow that BBQ stinks! Our air quality at sundown, I can smell and taste the burning rubber. Not nice but at least our houses are not in flames. No star gazing tonight.

Civilization is a conspiracy. Modern life is the silent compact of comfortable folk to keep up pretences.”

John Buchan

I Knew Better

Waiting for the wind to ease. Johnstone Strait winds can rise instantly. If blowing against a tide the waters can become vicious. Prudent boaters know it’s best to wait things out especially when using lake boats.

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.

“All clear Dad. no bears. Let’s go over there.” I waded, he swam.
Sandpipers. Are they heading south already?
Racing Rock.

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.

Home made techno camping. The generator runs the battery charger and other electric gadgets. The charger sparks up the car battery in my DIY charger pack. That, in turn runs my 12 volt fridge and can provide 12v power for other jobs including boosting a dead auto battery. The extra harness connects the charging pack to a solar panel. Don’t laugh, it works! Ready for the desert.

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.

Marning. First coffee. Warmth.
Sorry Vegans! There’s nothing like a good chorizo sausage grilled over an open wood fire…except perhaps, four more. Just add a glass of red wine.

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.

Westerly winds usually ease at sundown. The clouds low on the distant horizon mark the open ocean, always a siren call for a sailor.

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.

Home again. Nope! Not coming out. It’s warm in here.
No way! Not even for a baby rabbit.
Twenty minutes to fill a gallon pail. The garden shears help to gain access to the fat ones always just beyond ones reach. You can put the whole cluster over the pail so none get lost. There are still thorns to endure, but no pain, no gain. It took twenty minutes to fill this pail.
The state of our railway. The tracks are being overgrown by blackberries.
Municipal organics on the town office lawn. This may be green thinking but they still leave the Christmas lights on for several months.
Something new on main street. In support of two eating establishments this deck has just been built. I’ve wondered if it could also double as a public gallows..ya know, for folks not wearing their covid mask. Judging by the concrete blocks, it could be a big hit. This deck was built days after the local by-law officer showed up to check on a building permit for a backyard deck extension I’d built at home. In a move toward 21st century civility, there is now a plastic portable toilet installed across the main street.
In an effort to brighten up mainstreet some wit has decided to paint this historic hotel black. Tres chic? NOT!

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.

Archipelago at sunset. That’s me anchored in the middle.  On a metal bar table. There’s always something to see if you look.
Hard abstract. A detail in poured concrete.
Aboriginal abstract. Duncan is renowned for the native carvings on its streets. Work like this nicely moves forward from traditional themes.
Arbutus dawn. It’s the time of year when these trees shed last year’s skin as they grow a little more. The aroma of their leaves and skin underfoot is magnificent.

Strangely enough, they have a mind to till the soil, and the love of possessions is a disease in them.” …Sitting Bull

 

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.

Covid One Nine

Deepwoods blog. The table comes from the back of an older Honda CRV. It was the trunk floor and spare tire cover. Intended to double as a traveller’s table it is rugged and stable. Jack deals with the bugs.

I’m sitting at my beloved old Honda car trunk table in the woods north of Campbell River swatting at mosquitoes and black flies despite a brisk breeze. This blog has begun first day out on our next jaunt. I’ve left my computer mouse behind so I’m poking away with my banana fingers and hoping for the best. So far the only other thing I seem to have forgotten is the butter. Jack is fine, peacefully laying on his bed beside me wiggling his ears at the bugs. On our postprandial walk we met a lovely black bear, probably a two-year old. It crashed off into the thick brush of course and I was reminded that old Jack is no longer the feisty beast he once was. Neither am I. We’ve had a long day. With the bugs being so friendly we are about to lock away the groceries and retire for the night. One of the nice things about getting old is that you can fall asleep anywhere, any time. At least until the middle of the night. Then, after determining that it is indeed the “golden age” you can’t get back to sleep until after first light which, of course, is why you can fall asleep any time through the day.

In the morning, after a night of absolute quiet we stepped out into the cool early morning light with clouds of black flies hovering silently. Too stunned to go into feeding frenzy, they’ll soon be at it as the day warms. We’ll move on. With my morning coffee beside me I sift through my notes and see two T-shirt logos I’ve written down. On elderly man slowly walking his old dog had a shirt which said “In memory of a time when I cared.” The other comes from a music video. The drummer’s shirt said “Let’s get together and make some poor decisions.” Right then! With the day’s business meeting concluded, the bugs have broken out the antifreeze and are attacking in squadrons. Breakfast quickly, we be gone!

The Cable Cafe in Sayward. Cleverly built of logger’s cables it is unique. In years past, I’ve enjoyed some wonderful meals here. The pies were incredible.
It was also once a logging museum.
Sit on that puppy for twelve hours every day in the woods. That is a road grader in the background. It was what they had!
Yeah? Fetch you! Nice stick.
Happy Jack. He loves to explore any place new. There’s still a gleam in his eye.
Serial # 428. Empire was one of over 150 foundries in Vancouver meeting coastal needs of every description.
This was a wood-fired, steam-powered yarding machine, used to skid logs out of the woods. When an area was logged of all the timber, the yarder engineer would move the huge steam winch (or donkey) by hooking its cables to stumps ahead and skidding the contraption on those log runners to a new location.
So what do you do with a hollow stump out back?
You build the ubiquitous outhouse…complete with extra toe-room.
Devil’s Club. Aptly named, these nasty plants have leaves two feet wide and everything is covered in vicious thorns which love to hook deep into your skin, then break off and fester.
Cable art

A few hours of meandering brings us to a vast concrete pad at the end of a logging road on the edge of Johnstone Strait. With our camp barely set up, a pair of humpback whales swam past, heading north. I am very familiar with these waters, having tug-boated and sailed up and down this strait for many decades. I’m looking across to the Stimpson Reef Light and remember all the dark nights either towing logs or smashing into nasty seas. That light was a tiny dot on the radar screen slowly making its way along the sweeping green scan line. Yes, I miss it.

Tonight we have an abandoned log sorting ground to ourselves. One could park up to thirty RVs here with respectable distancing but I’m content with things the way they are. Sadly, after all the frustrations of packing this little boat up here there is no place to launch it. The foreshore is a steep jumbled mass of boulders, logs and abandoned machinery. With the wind I think is coming, perhaps it’s a good thing. This strait is notorious for its quick and deadly seas. There’s an old WWII gunnery fortification a short way down the shoreline I’ve long wanted to visit. But it has languished without my personal visit for almost eighty years. Windy Point will be fine for a while yet.

End of the road. We had all this to ourselves.
That’s me in the corner.

The marine forecast is for wind and rain which is fine… no bugs! Having worked in the great northern bug country these ones here are amateurs in comparison but still, who needs them. They’re here for a reason, but none of those reasons are mine! The cyber voice droning out the marine forecast offers admonishments about dealing with “Covid One Nine” and assisting the RCMP in their efforts to prevent the spread of the virus. Isn’t a boat an ultimate isolation unit already? Who are the people that think this stuff up?

I sit by my fire, wishing I’d brought a winter coat along. Then I think of this same spot at the same hour in mid-January. It would have been dark by three pm and the snow or sleet would be blowing horizontally. I crawl into my little trailer where Jack has already been warming the bed. A rain shower drums on the lid and we both drift into a deep sleep, cuddled like the old pals we are.

Morning dawns still bug-free thanks to the damp breeze blowing along the strait. There’s low cloud and I’m wearing all my jackets. My little generator drones on, charging the batteries on all my cameras and gadgets. I marvel at how dependant I’ve become on all of this stuff, stuff, stuff. There’s no point in reviewing the minimalism I’ve known and practised, obviously I’ve evolved beyond that, or perhaps “been seduced” is a better term. I can actually shut the generator off from my bed, simply by pushing an icon on my cell phone! Hopefully the breakfast drone will be making a delivery shortly, I pushed that button twenty minutes ago! I do know that trying to work this computer without my mouse is a challenge, downloading images is a right horror, there’s no hope of editing them.

The day passed idyllically. Jack is not up to much hiking anymore so after a couple of kilometres, and several mounds of fresh bear droppings, we prudently decided to lounge beneath the home tent. I watch the ever-changing tidal currents shift and bend and swirl, an eternal fascination. The amount of traffic on the strait amazes me. There is seldom much time with no boats in sight and others when there may be half a dozen to see all at once. I have made a conservative estimate of about one hundred fifty commercial vessels as well as several yachts. Due to Covid one nine there are no cruise ships or tour boats this year. There are a lot of fishing boats heading north right now, there must be some openings in Alaska coming up.

The camp inspector. This lovely spot was occupied by someone who had parked their trailer in the middle, taking up the whole area for themselves alone. We were set-up three hundred metres away…all alone. Early worm gets the bird!
WTF? There was a trailer here yesterday! If my phone hadn’t rang I was considering a move to here and settling in for a spell.
There was even plumbing with sweet, cool clean water.
And succulent, tasty salmon berries.
A first glimple of the sea while descending to the log sort. A fringe of old growth timber remains. The logged-off area was not replanted and left to fend for itself.
Left to reseed itself this second-growth area desperately needs thinning if it is to become natural forest or managed timber.  There are thousands of hectares of re-gen forest like this all over the coast. The original timber still standing is of excellent size and quality. Hopefully it will be left untouched.
Second growth forest becomes a dead zone without thinning. The new trees need light to grow and to allow the forest flow to evolve into the vibrant plant zone which supports the adolescent trees and wildlife.

Even though I’m not on the water at the moment, I feel like I’m home. As I write, on the opposite shore, a tug with a log tow rides the flood tide southward, hoping no doubt to make it into Sunderland Channel before the tide in the strait turns against its progress. With skill and luck, it will be in position to catch the first of the next flood into the Wellbore Rapids. Eighteen miles in twelve hours hours, it doesn’t sound like much, but when towing log booms, that distance can seem like an odyssey. A few miles south of here, where you turn out of the strait is a place called Fanny Islet. It is a check point where marine traffic control is advised of commercial vessel’s progress. One dark nasty night I was aboard the ‘Kaymar’ with one-hundred-twenty sections of log bundles, an entire forest packaged into a raft about the size of a hay field. We had our entire towline out, if we slowed from our speed of one knot, that line could snag on the bottom. Then the radio call came. “Mayday, Mayday, oh fuck we’re sinking!” We were the only other vessel anywhere near and are bound in all ways to assist. It was a long and interesting winter night. We missed our tide at the Wellbores.

A line tug bound for Alaska passed a while ago. They are huge tugs, powered with massive EMD diesels, the same as used in rail locomotives and their resonant throb pulses in the gathering darkness long after they have passed from view. It is a reassuring and somehow lonely sound all at once. The barges these boats pull are the lifeline of Alaska. They are huge and travel between the various ports of Alaska and their southern terminus in Seattle. In some of this coast’s thick fogs, although you have them plotted precisely on radar, these massive scows loom out of the gloom looking like half a city. Even though Johnstone Strait is an average of two miles wide, it seem like a ditch when meeting in poor visibility. Of course, you seldom meet in the widest places.

There is a magic light which, for a few minutes, bathes Johnstone Strait some evenings.

The next day is blustery and dark with frequent rain squalls. I’m wondering what to do with this day. It’s too miserable to sit under the marquis tent and Jack is restless. Then unbelievably the phone rings despite the weak and intermittent cell service. It is the doctor’s office, they want me to come in for an appointment, more test results. Remember the bladder thing? Unfortunately there was no breakfast from the sky and I know there will be no prescription delivery drone. Here I am now, back at my desk in Ladysmith. The weather is forecast to soon improve. Yep, we’ll gone again.

The Adams River in the pouring rain. Running parallel a few miles away is the Eve River.

We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” Native American proverb

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

 

Night Sounds

Night Sounds

A neo-traditional totem pole.
It stands in front of the band office of the Tseshaht people in Port Alberni.  After tremendous oppression for decades from both outside and inside their community, First Nations people are regaining their dignity, their voice and a modicum of control over traditional lands. Hopefully we will soon all see ourselves as equals while retaining our individual cultural identity.

A barred owl begins its night time serenade of hoo-hoo-who-hoo. Darkness settles over the calm water as frogs croak into the darkness and from somewhere out on the lake a loon utters its plaintiff cry. Here in the campsite there is the crackle of a freshly-lit fire and the steady gnawing crunch of Jack dogging on a bone. We are in a campsite on the west end of Horne Lake on Vancouver Island. The view over the darkened lake is framed by the black silhouette of newly-leafed branches and a few subtle lights twinkle over the glassy water from cottages on the distant shore. It is tranquil and lovely, lonely, complete. Jack has now gone to bed. I will join him shortly. This setting is perfection, yet it is not the ocean.

By my Horne Lake campsite, a neighbour who is travelling by motorcycle, settles in for a night.
The Morning After

Twenty four hours have passed. We did not do much. It was a grand day. The same scene as last night lays beyond the extravagant fire I have set. Haunting Yiddish violin music from a treasured old Cd I have found sifts out of my stereo at a low volume. I let it repeat around and around; it blends perfectly with the night sounds. The pulsing glitter of a jet’s trajectory crosses from behind the lofty rock cliffs above the lake and is paralleled by its reflection on the water. The owl repeats his booming hooting again, slowly coming closer to our campsite. Jack snores gently in his bed at my feet. Soon we will both retire to the comfy bunk inside the trailer. There is an extra bed. I wish you could be here.

The camp on Horne Lake.
It’s wonderful but… I miss the boat.
Here’s the dinghy for the next boat. Achilles are my favourite inflatable and Tohatsu outboards need no sales pitch. This old marine mechanic thinks they are the best.
Horne Lake sea trial. It all went well…but it’s not the ocean. My brand-new Tohatsu purrs beautifully. The wheels, by the way, are for hauling the boat up out of the water.

Another twenty-four hours finds Jack and I in another Provincial Campground on the other side of the mountain. Now we are on Sproat Lake a few kilometres west of Port Alberni. As the crow flies, we are only about 15 kilometres from where we set out this morning. The drive from one valley to another took well over an hour. There is a climb and descent up and over a steep grade which is a good test for truck and trailer after recent adjustments. The Alberni Valley is famous for fierce summer heat and here, before mid-May, the mercury climbed well above thirty degrees Celsius. The forest fire hazard rating rose from moderate to high today and will rapidly become extreme if the weather persists. I’m enjoying the campfire tonight as the evening cools. There may soon be a ban on any fires for the rest of the summer.

Sproat Lake Petroglyphs. There are nine carvings on this rock face on the lake’s edge. It is also a parry site for the local young folk. Hopefully this photo gives a glimpse of the way it has looked for a long time.
The crack tells how long the carvings have been there.
Now THAT’S a steak. One of the joys of a low-carb diet.
Jack loved the bone.

The lake was liberally dotted with white and pink bodies of squealing exuberant youth frolicking in the water. After Jack’s refreshing swim we plodded back to our campsite along the dusty trail where we met motley groups of young folk in various states of intoxication. The aroma of marijuana smoke wafted through the forest. Worldly as I think I am, it was still a rattler to meet gorgeous scantily clad young ladies who met Jack ever so gushingly yet chattered sweetly all the while in the rawest, four-lettered sailor-speak I’ve ever used. It seemed incongruous for a moment, and then, I just felt old.

Some folks have garden gnomes or plastic flamingos on their lawns. Then there are those with some of the world’s biggest aircraft. That is a Martin Mars. Coulson Air Crane converted a pair to serve as water bombers. They are now world famous and have proven their worth many times over. Not as big as the ‘Spruce Goose’ they were intended for the same purpose: To provide rapid mass transport for troops to the South Pacific. The end of WWII rendered them redundant.
The back yard is impressive too. These are the Hawaii Mars and the Philippine Mars, which is in its original colours of the United States Navy Air Transport Command. These were the world’s largest flying boats ever manufactured. There were seven built.

A day later, a day older. I have yet to master the art of doing nothing without feeling guilt. Jack (A master at living without guilt) and I walked our walks, I visited with a dear friend whom I learned was in Port Alberni. The day passed, now it is dark again. The sound of neighbour campers visiting around their fires mingles with the happy din of children playing. A huge shining (Yes, gold in colour) motor home appeared at dusk and now runs its generator despite the rules. Such is life when you accept the challenge of co-mingling with strangers. Come morning the grand escape vehicle fired up its diesel engine to idle for a half-hour of exhaust stench before hoisting the automatic levelling jacks and buggering off somewhere else after a hard night of roughing it.

Traditional First Nations carving.
Note the pendant on her belly. Or, is it a fetus?
Pedestal detail. I find this work stunning.

Other folks were making coffee over a wood fire after a night in a tent behind their car; a very good aroma.Some folks still possess a primal urge to be close to the earth. Organized campgrounds may be as primitive an experience as they will ever have but at least they are off the couch and away from the goon box. I am not a fan of these places but this weekend they served my purpose. It’s better to have some of these folks organized and protected than to have their edge-of-the wilderness forays and random fires occurring hodge-podge. The problem on Vancouver Island is that it is hard to find untainted wilderness. There is evidence of man’s exploitation everywhere and of course the roads we use to get to the back of beyond were all built by logging companies.

I found this life-sized diorama incredible. Badly in need of a good cleaning it depicts a native whaling crew at the moment a whale is harpooned. To go out on the cold ocean in a hand-made, hand-propelled cedar canoe to harpoon a whale with primitive weapons was a courage that no-one possess today. Even the water in this work is entirely hand-carved wood. “Oh shit, I forgot my life jacket …and my pants!”
DANG! The motor in my truck is a 5.3 litre V-8. This 425 hp “Kicker” is 5.6 litres! As an old salt I cannot imagine why anyone needs something like this. We won’t try to guess the price!
Jack watches a native fishery on the Somass River in Port Alberni.
A native spring fishery. This gill net is set across the Somass River on a flood tide.

Now that I’ve joined the ranks of the Rv world I find it interesting that despite the massive effort to charm folks into coming to indulge in “Super Natural BC” there is a paucity of camp grounds and facilities like sani-stations and places to fill tanks with potable water. One is now charged everywhere for a dribble of air or water and who wants to try manoeuvring a clumsy large vehicle near the awkward places where those hoses and their coin boxes are located. It is intriguing that we know face shortages of water in a place abounding with snow-capped mountains, streams and lakes. Of note is a recent news item I heard which claims that despite our long snowy winter, Coastal BC snow sheds hold a sixty percent less than normal amount of water. If it doesn’t rain all summer, which is entirely possible, it may be a paint your lawn season once again. Now back in Ladysmith, the skies have gradually become overcast and this morning shows evidence of overnight showers. Soon, it begins to rain steadily. Of course, I’ve yet to see a Victoria Day weekend when the weather was not foul, cold and wet. That having been said I recall once being advised that “Only fools and newcomers predict the weather.”

As I raised my camera a beautiful grass snake vanished into the nettles and periwinkles and one dandelion.
Jack sees a rabbit. it was not concerned.
Wild and free. These are blooming at the concrete base of a crane once used to unload logs.
Perhaps one of the last dogwood flowers I’ll see this year.
Welcoming the waxing moon of May.

Bad weather always looks worse through a window.” …Tom Lehrer