Cold

The way home. Pretty indeed. The trick is to spot the pedestrians in dark clothes.
Easy up, easy down, Christmas can go back in a box with no muss or fuss and a minimum of electrical consumption.
Two years ago onboard ‘Seafire.’  You never see what you’ve got til it’s gone.
In an old file, a little nautical humour from Christmas past.
From that same file, a Heiltsuk pictograph. “Honest Charlie’s used canoes and coffins. Black Friday Sale!”
A neo-pictograph.

I have spent parts of my life living where -40º temperatures were normal at mid-day for weeks at a time. The coldest I’ve ever known was -72º one night on the Cote Nord of Quebec. We did not even try to fly in that weather, our helicopters stayed wrapped up on the ground. It seemed you could break things just by looking at them everything was so brittle.

As a hitch hiker I have sat on the roadside in Northern Ontario for two days and nights while a January blizzard raged with deep sub-zero temperatures, high wind and heavy snow. I cannot describe how long a winter night can be when keeping a fire going is your single reason to be and the urge to fall asleep is massive, and fatal. But I have never known a more penetrating cold such as I felt on the shore of the North Sea at Christmas time in Northeast England. I doubt the temperature was much below zero but it penetrated instantly to the bone despite a heavy layer of winter kit and lingered long after finding warmth again. I remember the fabulous blended aroma of Indian cooking in the stinging cold air of that Tyneside night and being forbidden to eat any because “I canna stand the reek of people who’ve eaten Indian! It just oozes out of their pores.” I love curry and Indian cuisine. It seemed that every restaurant that night offered some. Most of the chippies had become curry houses. It was an exquisite torture to inhale that blended aroma in the dank night air yet not have any. Then we travelled together northward into Scotland for two days in a very small car absorbing each other’s porridge, dark beer and herring farts. Much better! 

The Brits are known as masochists. I know, I am a direct descendant. “No pain, no gain.” At sea a heavy damp sweater often took the place of a heater. A horrid finicky gimbaled one-burner stove might help warm some tea water or soup. “Wot? Pleasure! Comfort? NO! We’re British!” And don’t ever build a sleeping bunk that is comfortable. Ever! In fact, until in its last few years in service, the Royal Yacht Britannia provided only hammocks for its crew. STRUTH!

I just watched a YouTube video where a fellow with a broad Cornish accent demonstrated how to make a heater with a tea candle and a flower pot. I’ve dubiously replicated his model. Sorry mate, that is NOT heat! And think of folks like the Vikings in their open boats, or Highland shepherds with the breeze around their kilted knees. Their families waited at home in a drafty fieldstone hut with a smouldering chunk of peat in a fireplace where most of that thin warmth immediately rose up the chimney past the dripping sod roof. There’s not romance in any of it if you have to live it. I feel like a pathetic wimp in comparison when I can turn up the gas fireplace with a click of the remote control.

Arbutus freckles. Even on a dull morning, these trees have a special glow.
Simple symmetry. Harlequin ducks in the morning.

Well, a mystery has been solved. A friend and fellow blogger enlightened me that my un-named vine is in fact a “Wild Clematis” otherwise known as “Old Mans Beard.” That harks me back (How’s that for old English?”) to some old lines which are so bad they’re rather good.

-There was once a man named Beebopbedo

who spent his days swinging on vines (Clematis I suppose)

and telling folks how life was fine.

One day, down by the river

he suddenly felt a pain right in his liver.

Down he came with a mighty crash

his ribs were broke

his head was bashed.

He struggled up to his feet

and wandered off to smoke some grass

but on the way a snake bit him on the toe

and the was the end of Beebopbedo.”

I can hear my readership ratings crashing even now! Remember what I say about laughter; even a chuckle will do.

Yeah, these ones. They are beautiful when backlit.

Dawn arrived this morning like a hung-over deckhand coming on watch; grudgingly. The thick darkness gave way to a heavy low gloom. The yard lights where I live have stayed on all day. I leapt out of bed one toe at a time. But, I finally had an appointment today with the anaesthetist at the hospital. We can go ahead with this hernia surgery…hopefully in January, this coming year perhaps. We don’t want to rush into things, it has only taken six years to get here.

Next morning, same old deckhand! The cold and damp seize me up, I can’t ignore them like I once did.

A beachcomber at work near high tide in the late afternoon dusk. He uses his pike pole to row his skiff. Doing exactly this was how I began my tugboating career. It didn’t pay much but was its own reward. I learned a lot.
More recycling. a few weeks ago I found this couple in the park gathering leaves. They take them home to insulate their banana trees then mulch them into their vegetable garden in spring. no chemicals, no machinery, just simple old-school common sense and a little civic duty thrown in as well.

A buddy loaned me a copy of ‘Book Of The Hopi’ by Frank Waters. For some reason I have developed a fascination with the land and indigenous people of the American Southwest. The Arizona desert fits a big piece in my puzzle and I can’t wait to return to that bleak yet beautiful place with a pocketful of time to spend there. One of the centres of the Hopi culture was within a radius of places with names Oraibi, Hotevilla and Mishongnovi. There are several of these difficult but lyrical names which are still tiny communities clinging to their culture in a place which, to outsiders, is apparently inhospitable. Perhaps that’s part of the idea! They’ve been there for thousands of years. They have a deep spiritual connection with the land and the universe which bears a worthy consideration. The book is still available and I think a fascinating handbook for those interested in our ancient cultures. In an odd way, the Hopi account of man’s history on this planet parallels biblical legends.

Further south in Arizona I have spent a little time in the lands of the Tohono O’odham people. I love their traditional desert home and how they maintained their culture in a desert which would kill me, if left to my Pacific Northwest backwoods knowledge, within days. I ache to return there as alien as I may be. Their sacred mountain Baboquivari is a very special place, I can feel magic in the air there. This old sailor can’t explain his affinity for the desert. It is a similar feeling to being at sea out of sight of land. I know that would terrify many others, it is a feeling for me of absolute completeness. There is certainly plenty to absorb right here at home beside the ocean. The coastal First Nations of this region have a rich culture. Yet it is the desert which calls me.

Part of which fascinates me about these ancient cultures is a spiritual wholeness despite the bleakness of the people’s environments and the paucity of basics, like water. Yet they thrived and even had enough reserve to produce beautiful art. In my world where there is an overwhelming abundance of nearly everything, except spiritual fullness, inner peace and contentment have somehow been perverted to yet another commodity. Everything has been reduced to monetary values. That is never more evident than in this season which was founded on the premise of hope and common humanity. It is up to each of us to find the spirit which cannot be wrapped up and tied with a ribbon.

Moonshine in the park. It occurred to me that this old steam donkey could be converted to a boiler for distilling whiskey.     ‘Ladysmith Squirrel Water.’
Enough. Sometimes it is the understated that says the most.

This blog’s quote comes from the inside of the front cover of the ‘Book Of The Hopi.’ In consideration of Mr. Trump’s recent public denigration of Mr. Trudeau, this stands as sufficient political comment.

There is no such thing as a little country. The greatness of a people is no more determined by their number than the greatness of a man is determined by his height.” …Victor Hugo

Life Is A Journey

Life Is A Journey

(Remember that images can be enlarged by clicking on them)

The crack of dawn. It cracked because it was brittle with cold. Here I awoke at first light  in a gravel pit near Williams Arizona.

I am determined to journey homeward in a meandering fashion, with no particular route planned. The journey, after all, is its own reward. After all the repairs and expenses I knew I dare drift no further eastward, away from the general direction of home on Vancouver Island. I arrived in Flagstaff, where it was cold, snowy and blowing. I found a McDonalds and checked my e-mail and the weather. With more real winter to come, I checked for an RV Park then entered the data into my dash-mounted GPS. It lead me for miles in all directions and finally in the gathering darkness, I fired the miserable little box. The Grand Canyon was in my sights so I headed westward, where I would turn on to Highway 64 and find any old place to camp.

In the early morning light what to my wondering eyes should appear? A lifelong airplane guy, you’ll just have to put up with my occasional aviation photos. A pair of Convair 990s.
An inglorious end to a wonderful life of airshow flying. Closed for the winter, the museum claims to have many flyable aircraft stowed away inside.
Drones are nothing new. I want one for my birthday!
Bin der, Dun dat! No photo can convey the immensity, not only of geography, but also of man’s insignificance on this tiny planet within the universe. All this photo can tell you is that I was there.
That is the Colorado River down there. It’s almost a mile to the bottom and obviously much warmer. It is hard to believe that this meandering stream was the prime maker of the huge canyon. So where did all the dirt get washed to?
The nearby sign said 8000′, ASL. A ski hill close by was on Humphrey’s Peak, 12, 600′ up in the frozen desert sky.
That’s better. This is the through-road from the Grand Canyon where it arrives at Cameron AZ. I would have been here six hours earlier if the road had not been closed, forcing me to backtrack through Flagstaff.
If I had not been forced to detour, I would not have had the joy of meeting these wonderful Navaho ladies selling their handmade crafts. Who can resist smiling, waving people on the roadside out in the lonely desert?
They even sold mutton soup! An arrow and a bookmark were the only only souvenirs I bought  from these women on the entire trip. We had a great chat and I discovered the Navajo people endure the same issues as the North Coast natives at home, of whom these folks had never heard! That’s Lady laying there, guarding the jewellry.
“Honey, I felt the earth move.” A section of old highway. Things take a very long time in the dry desert to vanish into the earth.
A horse in the Painted Desert. The country is beautiful. I was left wanting a horse of my own so I could ride and ride. I can feel my saddle-sore bottom even as i think of it. Then there is the aching back of the poor horse who had to carry me!
A hogan. This was the traditional Navajo home. No matter what these folks live in now, they still also have a hogan for traditional religious purposes. With roofs made of different materials, the doors alway face east to catch the morning sun.
A Navajo community.
Beautiful but hostile to gringos like me. It is amazing to this outsider how indigenous people survived and thrived in this environment. Their art demonstrates enough free time to develop a rich cultural cornerstone.
Neo-native art at a roadside craft marketplace.
There were several murals, all very poignant.
While taking my photographs, a young Navajo girl stopped to shyly ask if I’d seen her runaway dog, a young brindle female pitbull named ‘Jinx.’ Hope you found your way home doggie!
One more
Sheep are an important part of Navajo culture.
The Painted Desert now holds a piece of my heart. Imagine a desert night’s sounds under a brilliant moon and star-studded sky. Whistling wind, coyote’s howl and all the things that go bump in the lonely night. Then comes the golden light of dawn against the vermillion cliffs. It is said that if your dog runs away, you can watch him going for the next three days.

 

The night was crackling cold. I piled on all my blankets and thanked the Gods for my propane furnace. The stars were amazing. By morning the potable water pump had frozen. I was worried about split plumbing but all’s well that ends. I arrived at the Park Gate, paid the horrific fee, and found my way to the snowy parking lot. I’ve seen thousands of photos and films of this incredible hole in the planet, but nothing can prepare a person for the moment when you first look upon the Grand Canyon. If you are not rendered speechless, then you are a sad creature indeed. My photos can only confirm that I was there; they cannot do justice to the expansive and overwhelming feeling of the place.

Unfortunately the price of being able to easily attend one of the world’s greatest marvels is that there are people, bus loads of them, steadily arriving in an endless convoy. They overwhelmed the place, with hordes pushing, shouting, being rude in every possible way and seemed oblivious to any sanctity or wonder. They’d come half-way around the planet to take selfies on their mobile phones and absolutely nothing else seemed to matter. I really do try to love all of God’s creatures and I hate categorization and racism so all I’ll say is that it is holiday time in celebration of Chinese New Year. “Gong Xi Fa Cai” with all due respect! These tourists were everywhere, I mean every-bloody where I was to go in the following days. Their behaviour was consistently rude and arrogant. Shop keepers and vendors expressed dread at their invasion. I’ve been in China, the folks there are charming and considerate. I cannot explain beyond my personal observation of what happens when they are visiting here. I should quickly add that I’ve found other cuacasion cultural groups just as abominable when on their vacation. People!

With the fabulous shifting light, I could have stayed, but after having actually been shouldered aside a few times, I decided to proceed forthwith. My plan was to drive on to a place called Cameron, where I could consider my options, but the road had been closed due to wintry conditions. Swearwords indeed! Why the hell could the National Parks folks not have made the closure clearly noticeable beforehand?

Frustrasted, with no other option, I headed the sixty miles back to Flagstaff, fortunately in part, on a different route. I ended my day in Page, Arizona on the shores of the great man-made Powell Lake where the Colorado River was dammed, and damned. Incredible scenery was sacrificed to make a huge recreational waterway. I had no interest in seeing it and headed off to see other wonders. Everywhere I go, I am boggled by what I see. The grandeur and vastness is too much to comprehend. I want to come back and slowly sponge it in and so the bottom is blown out of my bucket list. I am bemused that nearly all the best views are smudged by power lines. Or on clear days, by an endless parade of jet contrails streaking in all directions. I wonder repeatedly at how the world must have looked before it was “Settled” and how we have altered it so drastically and so quickly. Small wonder at the disenchantment of the First Nations People.

Finally arriving at the Arizona/Utah border I had to choose a route that lead approximately northwest. With a simple choice at a crossroads I left the natural wonder of the scenery of Kanab Utah behind and drove over yet another snowy pass into the wonderland of Zion National Park. I had barely heard of this place and can only describe it, inadequately, with photographs. I caught an incredible afternoon light and realized that everything was happening in a serendipitous order that makes perfect sense in retrospect, including some very wonderful people I meet along the way.

I’ll be back.

Beauty is not caused. It is.” …Emily Dickinson

HOME ALONE

A reluctant winter dawn
A reluctant winter dawn

I’m writing at the moment entirely for my own sake. Truth be told, that’s why most writers write but that’s another story. Any creative effort is an affirmation of life and hope. Home is where the boat is and tonight I’m aboard without even my beloved dog for company. It’s dark out and it is cold.  It seeps into the boat and into my bones. I wonder if I feel the cold because I’m getting older and arthritic, or if it is a psychological issue and I have a sense of coldness.

Certainly there was a time when cold was nothing to hold me back. I once hitch-hiked around Northern Ontario job-hunting in January. All I owned was in my pocket and in my backpack. That’s the time of year, in that part of the world, when it can warm up to minus forty degrees and then blow a days-long blizzard. I have interesting yarns about that ordeal and how I lived to talk about it. Let’s just say I truly understand being cold, and being hungry, and feeling utterly alone. Thank God for a few kind people.

I was the guy who always tried to prove he was tougher, be it about cold, or heat, or endurance of long hours, moving heavy objects on my own and generally taking unnecessary chances to prove how manly I was. I should have been dead at least ten times before I was twenty-five… that I’m willing to remember. I didn’t expect or want to live into senior years. Others were too wise to attempt similar feats of stupidity and quietly went about managing their lives and their finances so they could enjoy an easier life time in later years. Of course, I finally understand that I was merely demonstrating a monstrous insecurity. I am now suffering physically and financially for all that younger recklessness. That empathy does not relieve the price I continue to pay for those days. Sadly, those who have loved me have had to share my misery. I will always carry a guilt above those whom I have hurt.

I’ve declared at times that I’m not nearly as afraid of dying as I am of not living. To paraphrase some lines from a movie I recently saw, the protagonist said that there’s a place somewhere between living and dying where some folks get stuck and it’s not a happy place to be.

I know what he means. I’ve also said that the greatest distance any sailor can travel is the six inches between one ear and the other. Tonight I wonder if I have actually made that crossing.

Other quotes have to do with how living one day as a lion is better than spending a thousand as a sheep and how the moment is all we have. Keeping your “Pecker up’, as the British say, is the key to surviving but damn!  It’s hard some days. Bad attitude brings bad luck which inspires more gloom until one very quickly finds themselves in a deadly spiral.

I know many other people have bouts of melancholy and regret, especially in winter. I wish I could offer magic words which could be an instant anecdote and at least bring contentment during the dark tunnels of life’s journey. All I can say at this point in my life, when I have more years behind me than ahead, that nothing is forever. This gig we call life leaves the station and constantly accelerates toward an inevitable wreck. The journey becomes a blur. Suddenly events of a half-century ago seem like mere weeks past. One day, somewhere, a clerk asks if you qualify for a senior’s discount. Shocked and horrified you go home and spend a long time peering at the wrinkled physog in the mirror. What a dark epiphany!

Then soon, you resolve that time and tide do not wait. You begin to capitalize by asking for senior’s discounts. Sadly no one asks to see ID. You really DO look that old! But, if you don’t like the look of things today, try missing a few. Sadly one absolute realization that comes with getting older is the value of seizing the moment. Friends and acquaintances start to fall ill and die ever more frequently. Time is of the essence.

I’ve spent the last year with my head down doggedly determined that I will realize my dream…..now. I haven’t yet, but things are a lot closer than if I’d done nothing and yet it has never looked bleaker. One wisdom of becoming an older bull is that you understand how often things look the most impossible just before they begin to fall into place. Sometimes you’ve got to stand your ground.

"Could you spare some sugar?"
“Could you spare some sugar?”

I don’t need a bucket list; I have the same ambitions now that I have held for the past thirty years. Nothing has changed there.  I know I’m missing too many joys of the moment for the hope of delayed gratification. Then I think about the utter waste of abandoning several decades of denial and singular focus. It’s a frustrating balance of perspectives and I wonder if I’ve learned anything.

I had a buddy with whom I learned to fly when we were in our teens. We would regularly try to twist the wings from whatever we were flying, as happy to be inverted as right-side up. Once we returned to the rental base with a two-foot piece of tree-top stuck in the fork of the nose wheel. When I last saw him I was recovering from heart surgery and lamenting about how I’d squandered my life flitting from one adventure to another. He had enjoyed an illustrious career as an airline pilot and had then become a successful businessman. Yet he said he’d trade histories in a minute. It’s the ubiquitous tale of far-away pastures looking greener. He’d had decades of boredom and thought I was the one who’d had all the fun. Go figure! 

Winter Harbour
Winter Harbour

Well I’m now finishing up this blog on the morning of December 1st. Time is going by so fast I’d best confirm what year it is! Work on the boat progresses according to the weather. A set of folding steps is slowly rising toward the masthead. I go up and dangle in my bosun’s chair whenever it is not raining and two or three more steps appear. I’m almost to the spreaders. It’s a job I’ve been avoiding since I bought the boat and once finally done will be the last of the major projects

The interior in the little Cheoy Lee is beginning to take shape and my teardrop trailer will soon be ready for me to head south. So like the thin light and warmth of a winter dawn, the dream burns on. Best wishes and bright dreams to all.

Have A Warm and Fuzzy Christmas
Have A Warm and Fuzzy Christmas