Puttering About In A little Boat

A pirated piece of nautical chart. It is about eighteen kilometres from Ladysmith, on Vancouver Island to Porlier Pass, the gap Between Valdez and Galiano Islands. In fair weather, that takes about an hour in my inflatable dinghy. The white patch in the upper right corner marks the shoaling waters of mainland Canada

One of my signature poems is called “The Water Rushing By”. In it, I describe the consummate need for mariners to feel the sensation of water passing the hull of a boat. That feeling is an addiction and presently, being boatless, there are days when an old log would have to do if nothing else were at hand. Fortunately I had the good sense to buy a wonderful Achilles inflatable boat before the money ran out. The size of what has usually been a dinghy to my mother vessels, it is nevertheless a boat which gets me away from shore. Equipped with a new outboard motor my tiny vessel is reliable and safe although it can certainly be rough and wet. A man of my scantlings must make an incongruous sight bobbing along miles from shore, but what is, is. Two blogs ago I described touring around this part of the coast in my little basher and this blog is about a recent day when I went off with my cameras in that little boat.

Bound up with cabin fever I launched the inflatable for a long day away. As an afterthought I threw in a small air mattress, one blanket and a tarp…just in case. With extra gas, water and a small bag of provisions I charged out on calm waters beneath a cloudless sky not knowing where I was heading. The best days start out exactly like that. Wind is always of concern in a tiny boat. In the Gulf Islands, with all its bays, and cliffs, forests and flowing water, local winds can spring up quickly. Despite prevailing winds local breezes are capricious and one must be prepared. Conditions within a short distance can change dramatically. Bouncing about impedes progress and soon has the boat and its contents soaking wet. It is safe enough, just miserable. I always try to position myself as quickly as possible so that access to the route home is downwind. Although longer and slower, it is usually much easier and drier.

Under the beautiful cliffs of Southern Valdez, I drifted with the tide and watched as Turkey Vultures rode the thermals. Ugly up close, they are beautiful in flight. Nothing can match their soaring skills.

After leaving Ladysmith Harbour, once safe under the sheltering cliffs of Valdez Island a passage of about sixteen kilometres, or ten miles, an outer island in the Strait Of Georgia, the wind can come from the north or south quadrants and actually help a small vessel on its way. Vancouver Island, the size of a small country, lies off the west coast of mainland Canada aligned in a northwest- southeast direction. On the inside lower shoreline it is flanked by an archipelago known as the Gulf Islands. The geography here is mostly of sandstone and was clearly shaped by glaciation. Along its Dali-like sculpted sandstone shores one often finds round granite boulders which must have been deposited as the ice retreated.

A Dali rock, with a natural hole right through it. Obviously a handy tie-up ring.

The archipelago was an ancient haven for indigenous people, with an abundance of edibles, especially sea food; there were a maze of sheltered nooks and bays, and a moderate climate. Hold no illusions about an idyllic lifestyle, it would have been a hard life and the numerous native nations warred brutally among themselves. Compared however to the harsh conditions in the traditional homelands of most other first nations people, with long bitterly cold winters, life in the Gulf Islands was easy enough for there to be time for a very rich culture, full of wonderful art and creativity. Sadly for them, the invasion of Europeans spelled a rapid end to that venerable culture, which only now, is regaining the respect it deserved. Hopefully we will find a balance of living together as equal human beings, each with our own piece of cultural diversity, distinct, and yet part of a brightly-coloured mosaic like a patchwork quilt. Comfortingly, local place names were often bestowed by Spanish and British explorers and many places have been returned to the original indigenous derivatives. Kuper Island, for example, is now Penalakut Island. The Strait Of Georgia, is now politically correctly named The Salish Sea.

A petroglyph in the Gulf Islands. It is covered by the sea at high tide.

The Gulf Islands are a mecca for folks from all over the world. They attract yachters, eco-tourists and those with enough money to acquire a piece of land and build an often garish neo-monstrosity that is clearly not an effort to assimilate the tone of this beautiful place, but rather seems to scream “Look at me.” The world these folks wanted to escape has been merely been transplanted here, they are tentacles of yet another invasive species. I love to repeat that I remember a time when poor people lived by the sea and ate fish. More’s the pity, those days are gone forever.

In the near-four decades that I have lived in this area, it has become a much different place and not in a good way. Over a half a century ago (Yes, it was that long ago) hippies and draft dodgers invaded the Gulf Islands. The islands were then remote, sparsely populated, land was cheap, It was nirvana for a generation of free-loaders who wanted a perfect climate for growing their organic “crops” and living close to the earth, often in communes. The mantra was “Peace man, share the wealth.” Then, as inheritances came along, land values soared yesterday’s hippies became yuppies and “Private, My Land!” signs were spiked, in places, to every shoreline tree. It has been said that capitalists are merely socialists who have found an opportunity. Mine!

The way we were. This was a common way for folks to live along the coast in days gone by. No lawns! “Johnny go through the garbage out and check the crab trap.”
A summer home on Porlier Pass. Sitting on the Valdez shore looking south the view encompasses the Strait Of Georgia, Mount Baker and a long look for miles down the southern Gulf Islands. The tide flowing back and forth twice a day is full of marine life including birds, seals, whales, sea lions, crabs, prawns, and fish, fish, fish. There is always something going on.
The keeper’s house. When I first set foot ashore here years ago an elderly couple lived here and maintained the lights and the station. It was immaculate, all was trim and freshly painted, the garden was fantastic, the fruit trees were pruned and productive. Automation replaced live people and one of the loveliest home sites on the South Coast slowly decays. It is tragic. I decided to sleep out on the old jetty.
A safe place to leave the inflatable for the night. A challenge with operating inflatables is to be constantly vigilant for the possibility of punctures. The large rock was flat and fairly free of barnacles. The tide would come back in the late morning tomorrow. Right?
Yeah right! Of course, the tide came back but first thing in the morning it looked doubtful. High tide came three hours later than the previous day instead of my anticipated forty minutes. Nature does not understand tide books.
Camp Runamuck. I used to sleep rough all the time… fifty years ago. The romance of it has faded a bit. It got bloody damp and cold by midnight and it was too dry to build a fire, especially on a wooden deck! But…what a view! The music of the rushing tide came in surround sound.
Time and sea water. These steel shackles and anchor eye are fused into a solid lump of oxidized metal.
Time knows no bounds. This freight shed, still salvageable, and even habitable is yielding to advancing natural processes. It’s decay will accelerate if not checked. What a tragedy that this whole station is not put to good use, or sold by the Canadian Coast Guard to someone who knows what to do with it. Government is a synonym for waste.
The vines come creeping in and signal a death knell for a structure.
…And strangle trees as well. Welcome to the weird forest, where people may enter and never be seen again.
I suspect someone tried to break into the boarded-up house through the basement. Alack and alas, they discovered the cistern, head-first perhaps. Fresh water is a precious commodity on the Gulf Islands and collecting it in the rainy season is very important. Note the gauge of the footings, a foot thick and indicative of how all government buildings were put together. Once again, what a tragedy, and travesty, to let it simply waste away.
They don’t make them like this anymore. The old Porlier Pass Light, still in use as a range light but now automated and powered by those ugly  solar panels. Bittersweet indeed. I’d love a chance to turn this lovely building into a tiny home. Imagine sitting up in that light reading, writing, just looking. Oh, and a wee taste of single malt.
One giant step. I can never be bored on the sandstone beaches of these islands.
How can you put a price on a view like this? How can you want it all for yourself?
There’s always one! As dusk settles and the tide turned back to flood, a small sloop struggles against the rising current and then on to find an anchorage in the dark. I’ve done it myself, too many times.
Last gasp of day. High above, a night flight to somewhere in Asia heads off on a great circle route over the North Pacific, perhaps to greet the dawn before it lands.
And then night fell. The tidal waters mumbled and chattered incessantly.
With the new day, the tide turned once again to flood. Far across the Strait Of Georgia, looking into the light, is Howe Sound. Gibsons on the left, Bowen Island to the right.
The other side. A telephoto view of Burnaby far across the Strait and past Vancouver International Airport. The sight seems surreal looking from a different world within the rugged natural beauty of the Gulf Islands.

Well, life goes on. Like the dinosaurs who could not assimilate change rapidly enough and faded into history, old farts like me will pass and “Progress” will continue. Frankly one of the foulest words I have come to know is “Development”, synonymous to me with greed and devastation. When the time comes, scatter my ashes on the local green waters where I can wash and circulate among these beloved islands. Look at these islands and try to imagine how they used to be not so long ago. The images in this blog are from within a twenty-four hour period two days ago. There will also be a video.

A whole world. This tiny tidal pool is an entire eco-system. If watched long enough, one can see all sorts of little creatures going about their lives.

Land was created to provide a place for boats to visit.” Brooks Atkinson

Labour Day Musings

The shining dinghy. A moment of reflection at high slack tide. The boat house would make a lovely wee home.

Jack and I walked our normal morning loop down at the waterfront and around the old coal terminal here in Ladysmith. I call it the “Black Beach” because of all the coal left over from that era. Jack loves it there. Blackberries and rabbits thrive and he often gets to socialize with other wonderful dogs. The sun hung as a huge white ball low over the glassy waters of the harbour. No boat stirred its surface. There was not a breath of wind. The morning air was cool in the shade and warm in the light. A heavy dew had settled this morning. The seasons progress.

TILT! In a town on a hill. This shed has been leaning like that for over ten years. Would you park your car in it?
The leaky pipe grows the grass. Part of the water supply for our local pulp mill. These wooden pipe lines run for miles. Superb engineering, some of these pipes are several feet in diameter. This one is only about two feet.

For some reason I recalled a labour day sixty-two years ago today. It was 1957, I was five years old. My father was a manic gardener and could produce amazing heaps of vegetables out of the red clay soil of Southern Ontario where we lived. Across the street from where we rented a tiny house there sprawled a large playing field. Several games of soccer often went on at the same time. I can still hear shouts in Italian and Portuguese as flashing balls ricocheted back and forth on the broad field and see swarthy men pelting about in pursuit. Every spring a circus came to the Oakville arena on the far side of that expanse. When it left town there remained warm pungent heaps of manure. Elephant, camel, horse, monkey, lion, tiger; dad swore by the properties of these exotic mounds and he would trot with his wheel barrow back and forth across the park with his freely-acquired aromatic garden elixir late into the night. He certainly could conjure monstrous vegetables out of that brick clay mixed with circus dung.

On the particular Labour Day I’m recalling, he built a fire in the backyard and installed a cauldron over it. We harvested from the garden and mom boiled and canned a large part of our winter’s preserves. We were living in town, newcomers from dairy farms, but even then, in post-war suburban Canada, it was an unusual thing for folks to do. Dad had survived the war in rural England, mother grew up on a prairie homestead through the depression and survivalist sensibilities came naturally to them. They possessed and taught me skills which I now take pride in when most people around me live in a push-button culture. It was hot, dirty work but even at that tender age I was expected to work like a little man. A friend from up the street wandered by to ask me to come play but was told I had to stay home until the day-long job was done. I complained that it was a holiday and dad responded that on Labour Day everyone was expected to work, no matter what other folks were doing. I believe he was serious.

The very next day was my first ever at school. I walked, on my own, the better part of a mile to find my way to kindergarten. When, years later, I visited these old haunts as an adult, I could not believe that my parents had pushed me out into the world like that. I suppose that is how baby birds learn to fly, flap or crash. I learned skills which have served me well throughout my existence. My parents were martially strict yet would allow me great latitudes in how far and how long I wandered. Apparently, when I was outside of their presence, God was expected to babysit. When I pass a high-school and see the parade of vehicles transporting teenage students I wonder at these kids and their skills to go out into a digital world and cope with basics like food and shelter. I cannot even operate a modern mobile phone competently but I do know how to survive without one.

A few weeks later that fall, Sputnik orbited over our house. I recall, even now, how everyone stood out in their backyards staring up at the clear night sky not sure what they were looking for. Suddenly someone cried, “There it is!” and soon we all spotted, in muted awe, a very bright star hurtling across the darkening cosmos. The world changed forever that night. We seldom look up now to count all the satellites stitching across the sky in all directions. We don’t even look up from our texting as we step into the traffic.

My parents, consummate fundamentalist evangelical Christians had been indoctrinated that Soviet Communism was the epitome of Satanic evil and surely the mark of the “end of days.” This mysterious Russian weapon (or whatever Khrushchev was scheming) now violating God’s heaven and spying down on us surely heralded Armageddon. We were living through the era leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis and paranoia of being fried to a crisp was rampant. I recall the air-raid sirens and the drills at school when we would all crawl under our desks and kiss our little asses goodbye, again. A gas explosion destroyed a house a few blocks away that winter. There was a huge thump, everything rattled horrifically. I can still remember my deep terror that this was IT. The Pinkos had struck!

Well, here I am well over a half-century later. I survived it all including my high-school years which is a fabulous story in itself. All I’ll offer of those days is that there was grave concern for a few years about the next encroaching ice age. Yes really! Then Ralph Nader came along and the tiger crap really hit the fan. The profit of paranoia is still imposed on us as never before history began to be recorded.

The keeper. Carved in a rock at the entrance to a popular forest path. I wonder how many folks ever see it. Later in the day, as the light shifts, it is almost invisible.
I’ll give it a buzz. Another keeper of another path. Wasps seem to be on standby in the nest’s entrance. Nice berries!
Please park older trailers in the back. I rent a space in this storage yard. All those RVs just sitting…and all I need is one!
Yep, she’s almost paid for! This 1967 Mercury F250 was built two years before I graduated in the town where the Ford assembly plant was located. The truck looks in better shape than I do! The owner ran a venerable power saw repair business. Clearly, logging is his passion. Note the horn!

It is now a beautiful, flawless late summer day. I need to get up from this desk and do something. Despite backyard burning being illegal in this town I am tempted to find some beets to boil and go make a fire. I could explain to the volunteer fire department that I was following a cultural tradition. Yeah right. There is a rising breeze and if I turned on my marine radio I’d hear a string of Maydays. It happens every summer long -weekend. Yachters from mainland Canada must return across the Strait Of Georgia and as soon as a tiny whitecap appears, panic sets in among the Tupperware armada. It used to amuse me but now that I’m boatless a dull knife twists in my gut. I know that all those millions of dollars of nautica, which never leave sight of land, belong to most folks for nearly every reason other than a love of the sea. Once in the home marina most of these “look at me possessions” will languish abandoned until Easter. Money isn’t everything but I sure could stand a change of problems.

C’mon Jack, let’s go for a walk.”

I know, you’ve seen it before, but it is my trademark photo of all time. This was taken over twenty years ago while sailing alone aboard my first ‘Seafire.’ The image is indelible in my brain and says everything about what sailing means to me. In troubled moments, like during a dental procedure, I close my eyes and this vision sustains me.

…”The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.”

… Annie Dillard, from ‘The Abundance’

Serenity And Sweaty Things

An old friend. ‘Seeker Of Truth’ was found by a friend languishing in a Vancouver Island barn. He restored and renamed it and eventually put her up for sale. I was sorely tempted. She was built in Norway in the early 1900’s and is a lovely example of a well built and maintained wooden boat.  With a little love she’ll live at least another century. Carved on a bulkhead below in Norwegian is a legend which translates: “A man without a boat is a prisoner.” Too true! Too true!
Not so long ago poor people lived by the sea and ate fish. Note that in mid-summer the dock is not in use. Perhaps this is the autumn cottage?
Not far away, another reality beside our abandoned island railroad.

Last blog I offered a cryptic squint at modern policing attitudes. I must add this. Four years ago a habitual drunk in a pickup truck careening through a suburb of Victoria ran a red light and rammed a police car broadside. He fatally mashed a police officer. The victim was a woman and a mother. Her husband still grieves, especially now. The sentence handed down for this horrific tragedy was a mere four years. However we may each value our human lives that punishment seems cavalier to say the least. That the victim was a RCMP constable on duty should perhaps be irrelevant but four years for wilfully dangerous and violent, mortal irresponsibility is a horrific insult to us all. It trivializes the value of everyone’s life.

The anchor for my next boat.
YEAH RIGHT!
My experience says that Rocnas, a product of New Zealand, are an ultimate anchor. This 55 pound, polished stainless steel beauty will hold a very big vessel.

I stand by my concerns about jaded and arrogant police attitudes but I also grasp how crushing it must be for all officers when they are so demeaned by a casual judicial system. It also helps me empathize a bit better with the policeman’s lot. Small wonder they become bitterly hardened in the face of such crass dismissals of what they endure while trying to do their duty, no matter how they perceive what that might be.

Disposable income, a 1930 Packard. On the wide whitewall tires is a n inscription which says “High Speed, Gum-Dipped”
The rumble seat. Complete with its own folding windshield there’s enough room to sleep comfortably beneath the hinged cowling. Nope, no air bags!

By the way, friendly comments about my last blog suggest that I “Stay out of trouble.” All I’ll say in response is this. Name me one of your heroes or anyone else the world remembers who stayed out of trouble! C’mon now, just one name!

August path. The alder leaves emit a lovely fragrance when walked on.
August browns. A sign of things to come.
The leaky pipe grows the grass. Part of the water supply for our local pulp mill. These wooden pipe lines run for miles. Superb engineering, some of these pipes are several feet in diameter. This one is only about two feet.
Bookends. These two young lovely brothers were new friends we met on the trail.
A first I thought I was bending down to photograph a ladybug. I don’t know what this cleverly coloured beasty is.

Summer is rushing past. Dried leaves fall and carpet the trails. Over-ripe blackberries ferment and drunken wasps buzz in your face. Tiny songbirds are flocking up and feeding voraciously in preparation for long southward migrations. Second cuttings of hay on local farms have been baled and stored away. Local markets and roadside stalls overflow with fresh local produce. Back-to-school ads flood the media. It seems I was just posting photos of early spring buds. The seasons whirl by. Peter Fonda, the baby-faced biker just died. He was 89!

In the Bogwump. Nothing lives forever. There is beauty in all things if you care to look.

I was shocked to realize that the classic and iconic movie, ‘Easy Rider’ was first seen back in my high school days, an entire lifetime ago. That was over half a century! When you start measuring your own life in those terms, well, you know the jokes about buying green bananas.

Beauty by the dollar. Tugboats, logs, booms, barges, chains, cables, cranes were once a chapter in my life. I am now angered that any wood is exported. This barge load of small second-growth timber is destined for somewhere in the US. Each bundle of wood is a truckload. There is a lot of 2x4s and pulp in that mountain. Logs are boomed in bundles or in flat “swifter” booms as in the foreground. Close your eyes, smell the diesel exhaust, wood aroma in the sun, and seal and otter droppings.  Elixer!

I’ve never written a bucket list; I’ve just lived it. The greatest anticipations are yet to be experienced. I’ve learned to quit wringing my hands about things like politics. I still constantly prod people to think, think for themselves but I’ve also realized the wisdom of the old Alcoholics Anonymous mantra: “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Or, as George Carlin put it, “Don’t sweat the petty things, and don’t pet the sweaty things.”

Dali Rocks. Jack and I love taking the dinghy and exploring the sandstone reefs and shorelines of our area. These sandstone formations are an eternal fascination for me.
Jack surveys his kingdom. He’s showing his years but my dear friend still has a grand sense of adventure.

This blog’s photos are local grab shots taken in the last few days.

Look into my eye. I photographed this wee beauty just a few minutes ago. It was basking under a neighbour’s vehicle. It was a whole six inches in length.
Another sign of the season. Wee button fungi begin to appear. It seems a mouse may have had a nibble.
Breathe.

A dear friend and fellow sailor presently visiting the Thor Heyerdahl Museum in Oslo Norway has just e-mailed me this:

Borders? I have never seen one, but I have heard that they exist in the minds of some people.”

… Thor Heyerdahl

Warm Rain

Warm Rain

It is the second day of July. Last night the holiday fireworks resolved into a mere two huge explosions. Then all was quiet. I hope there were at least a few survivors. This morning it is raining, a beautiful steady warm rain. The doors are open and I listen to the music of water gurgling in the downspouts. There is a lovely aroma of freshness. We need this, desperately. There were a few hours of precipitation last week, the stream beds did not swell at all. Now this. I swear I can almost hear the parched earth soaking it up. More please! This blog will be a simple photo essay about life in my little patch here on Vancouver Island. Rain or sun, bring your hat.

Is Popeye aboard? This surreal vessel holds, for me, a cartoon-like appearance. This old sea dog can see the old girl is near the end of her life. I first met her two years ago far up the coast and was inspired to write a five-page poem about the folly of dreams turned nightmare. A former North Sea beam trawler, she bears evidence of attempts to turn her into something she can never be. As the dream fades, the rust and rot advance, a sad ending indeed. But, never mock another man’s dream…
An Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss. That really is their name and they are purpose-built from the ground up with it. A clone of crop-dusters with a wonderful PT6 turbine, these ones are equipped with amphibious floats designed to scoop up water as the aircraft skims the surface of a lake, river or the ocean. That water can then be mixed with fire retardant before it is dropped on a wildfire. This old pilot would love to fly one of these. An exacting skill set is required, but it is a flying job that must be fun. These aircraft are part of a squadron of water bombers used to help contain a recent bush fire that threatened several homes on the mainland.  Things ended well. Folks are back in their homes, the bombers are off fighting one of the many fires burning elsewhere  in British Columbia and Alberta.
Fly United! This pair of mating Crane Flies landed beside the barbeque where I was cooking supper. Then they flew away, still coupled. They are commonly called ‘Mosquito Hawks’ but they are not at all predatory. The big one one had a wingspan of almost two inches.
ALWAYS keep some sort of camera handy! I used my cell phone.
Wink! A remnant of old growth forest. Those watching eyes are notches where a faller inserted a spring board to stand on while he hand-sawed through the tree, cutting it off about the flare of the butt. Then, after a fire,  a dam was built to store creekwater for the old local coal mines. Jack loves wading in this particular pool.
DAd? Can we go for a walk…sometime today? Jack waits as patiently as he can while I sit and write.
Much better!
After the rain. Jack savours puddles and new scents brought by the rain.
Drip. Precious jewels after a long dry spell.
The sinus headache. That came to mind as I photographed this mutation on a wild rose bush.
Oregon Grapes. They make an excellent jelly preserve. Despite our late spring, berries seem to be a month early this year. The Blackberry crop this year will be stupendous.
Aqua Apples. An old feral tree beside a local fish hatchery pond produces a burgeoning crop.
Profusion. Wild peas colourfully mark the advance of summer.
Buddha rocks! This lovely carving sits beside a local hiking trail. I wonder how many folks ever notice it.
The Salmon Stone. Some talented soul makes lovely carvings on random stones throughout the area. This one sits beside a fish ladder. The background noise is of rushing water tumbling down.
Art among the bushes. This sculpture looks amazingly life-like at first glance.
Border Closed! A grand effort to a now-abandoned
half vast project.
The Portal. Holland Creek, overflow from our local water supply, passes through this old tunnel and then trickles into the sea.
The Stink Eye! Jack has a pensive moment.
Feathers in the stream. There were several wing feathers, an eagle must have been preening nearby.

For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out. James Baldwin.