Never have I had such a reaction to any blog such as the last one. You, my readers, have moved me deeply. Thank you all so much about your concerns for my dreaded decision about needing to sell the boat. Everyone of you have suggested that I do not separate myself from such a large piece of who I am. I do not take your suggestions lightly. Thanks again. I appreciate your empathy and support. We’ll see how the pickle squirts in the coming weeks.
Unfortunately I am a cyber-Neanderthal and while trying to sort out one fumble, my banana fingers changed a privacy setting which prevented some of you from contacting me. I’ve fixed that and look forward to hearing from you. Interaction with my readers is one of my joys.
One of the photos in my last blog was of laundry on a line. To me it is a now all-too-rare signal of domesticity and frugal, simple living. In my childhood nearly everyone had a clothesline. One of my jobs was to hang the laundry out and retrieve it once dry. First you wiped down the line to clean off any soot or other air contaminants. Then you hung the heavy items first so that they would go closest to the far pulley. In winter everything froze almost instantly, sheets, long underwear, socks, all stiff as a board. Then, slowly, the process of sublimation occurred and everything ended up freeze-dried as the softest, fluffiest laundry possible and all done without any chemicals. Apparently in both Canada and the US there are bans now falling into place to overrule previous bans preventing outdoor laundry lines. Apparently, some folks take offence at the sight of someone’s clean scanties flapping in the wind and all the think-green rhetoric means nothing when vanity overrules. I’ve heard of municipal fines in California imposed on citizens who did not water their lawns despite ongoing droughts. In Victoria, here on Vancouver Island, during dry summers businesses spring up that actually paint your dry grass a rich green. Appearance is everything to some folks. I’ll even admit that I have certain sensibilities about what appear to me as an “Ugly Boat.” That could be a blog in itself.
Although the blossoms of spring have finally tip-toed out, there is still an icy chill in the air. We even had fresh snow low on the mountains a few days ago with ice pellets falling at sea level. The ambient temperature needs to be considerably warmer to accomplish many of the tasks on my boat. Paint and epoxy require temperatures above 16°C to cure correctly so most work is on hold. In the meanwhile Jack and I have taken to exploring the three major rivers south of Nanaimo. This area was developed around its abundant timber and coal resources and then the rich agricultural land once the forest was devastated. Now there are large ventures in the wine industry. There are vineyards everywhere, with tasting rooms and boutique bistros at many of these locations. There are also cideries, organic produce farms, free-range poultry and meats, local cheeses, home-spun clothing and a plethora of cottage arts. It is a wonderful region to explore and with some views, you might begin to think of Provence or Tuscany.
The three rivers all flow eastward. The Cowichan, The Chemainus and The Nanaimo all drain large watersheds and run swift and clear down to the sea and the beautiful archipelago of the Gulf Islands. Sadly, all these watersheds have been logged rapaciously since the mid 1800’s and many sawmills are gone now due to lack of raw logs. (We do, however, manage to export several shiploads of those same logs every week!) The environmental and visual devastation of these valleys is demoralizing. While the rivers still run clear and swift, usually with a fringe of old-growth timber along their banks, there is no sense of pristine wilderness. The old cut- blocks are garbage-dump ugly. Many salmon streams are now clogged with debris and unusable by traditional ish stocks. Still, the logging roads provide access to public forest lands and despite the carnage there is hope of seeing various species of wild life and also finding small pockets of untouched wild areas. Sadly those maintained roads are there so that second and even third cuttings of regenerated forest can be accessed. It would take centuries for the rain forest to return to its original state. So long as people are here, that will never happen. Exploring each of these river valleys we’ve found abandoned rail grades, mines, buildings and other mysterious endeavours. There are small untouched pockets of forest with ancient trees and crystal clear water rushing through gaps in hard rock which must have taken millions of years to carve and polish. Invariably you will also find discarded beer cans and bits of junk, but you have to learn to focus elsewhere.
Hopefully you can open this this 1 minute video. The stream runs along the edge of some old logging. Imagine how long it took to carve this pool in solid granite. The water is delicious.
If the landmass which is Vancouver Island had developed at a slightly lower elevation, it would be divided into three islands instead of a single rock which is the size of some small countries. The most northerly island would be bounded on the south by ocean which is now a pass we know as the Alberni Valley and the Qualicum Valley. Further south the next dividing gap would be the Cowichan Valley. The eastern portion of this valley is fed by Lake Cowichan, a deep, beautiful body of water which has been logged right to its shoreline in most places. The water is clear and warm in the summer and so the lake is overrun with people roaring its lengths in noisy speedboats and jet skis. I curse them as an affront to the natural beauty of this place. A few miles to the west of Lake Cowichan is Nitinat Lake which drains westerly out through its shifting narrows directly into the open Pacific. Salmon migrations were once so huge that seine boats would risk the coastal surf and the tortuous narrows to fish the rich waters of this lake. Local indigenous men would earn huge fees to guide the boats through the narrows. Sadly this valley also fell prey to the rape of the timber trade and the verdant slopes are now mostly second growth forest. A few miles to the south of Nitinat lays the Carmanah Valley, home of some of the largest remaining old growth trees on the BC Coast. Ironically it was loggers who provided access and exposure to these incredible living giants.
It can be argued that the farmland is also a blight to the natural world but at least it is producing something life-giving and organic and picturesque. Hopefully we don’t poison our streams with manure and fertilizer. Unfortunately, the south island has become one of the most desired retirement areas in Canada. Suburban sprawl has become rampant in most areas. The only way to avoid it is to move to the wild and rugged northern end of Vancouver Island.
It will be a while longer before that region is also overrun with suburbanites and condomites and mallites. But, it’s coming. Meanwhile supply and demand has unreal estate prices rocketing far beyond any hope of affordable housing for average working folks.
What a wonderful place this must have been before Europeans arrived. While there are no records of explorer’s crews attempting to jump ship here, the locals weren’t always that friendly and even a simple meal of mussels might kill you. However the raw beauty here would have been overwhelmingly grand and mysterious. Each newly discovered inlet just might be the long-sought shortcut back to the old world. Some explorer’s journals reported that the area could never amount to much because the land was covered with massive, far too difficult to clear for farming. It didn’t take long to figure out. Many ships returned home with a deck cargo of spars. The rape continues centuries later.
A Straight Stick
Dog and I walked miles of forest trails that twisted and wound, up and down river banks, over roots, around boulders and quagmires, all the while searching for one simple perfect thing. I wanted a handle for a boot hook and determined that it should be maple. West coast maple grows along the edges of human intrusion, old farms, railways, logging sites. There are huge maples which are clearly ancient arboreal giants. Maples, with their large leaves, make a wonderful display in the autumn and then provide a thick, rich layer of humus to the forest floor. Nature designed some to grow quickly, die, rot and nourish the soil. This occurs where several have germinated thickly and need thinning which is accomplished by natural attrition.
It was one of these which I sought. When peeled and allowed to cure the wood is very strong. Larger maples provide beautifully patterned lumber for furniture and ornamental trim. All I wanted was one stick. Young fir and cedar grow straight with a correct taper but they are soft woods which will not be as tough as a piece of cured maple. My challenge was to find one that was straight and true. I wanted it to be eight feet long with a gentle taper and an average diameter of one and a half inches. It had to be almost perfectly straight. There are, of course, millions growing out there. All I needed was one. It became an eye-crossing endeavour.
Every maple sapling I considered was nearly perfect but each one of an adequate length and diameter had a curve or a twist that made it unsuitable. After too many days of searching I found one that was very close to perfection. I had no saw with me so I memorized nearby features which would help me find it again. A few days later I returned to harvest my treasure. Now I noticed all the other leaning trees, odd roots, and puddles with big rocks nearby. I tramped back and forth three times until I found it again. It is in my workshop now, peeled and almost perfectly straight. It has been cut to exactly eight feet. Several months from now it will be mounted on one of my boat’s shrouds, bronze hook and tip installed and ready for a lifetime at sea as a useful tool. If I stay ashore, I’ll have my own personal Gandalph’s staff.
Dog and I walked into the woods
on an afternoon sunny and fine.
We followed a tortuous trail
down to a river running fast,
cold, clear like sweet white wine.
We sat and surveyed the scene
inhaling the perfect and pristine,
enjoying our time alone.
Then up the river
flying fast and low
a goddamned drone.
“The environment is everything that isn’t me.“ …Albert Einstein