Shoulder Season

Wet Varnish
There’s nothing like a little rain to highlight the beauty of a wooden boat’s brightwork.
All those summer days of sanding and varnishing, and sanding and varnishing and…. Sure is pretty, especially if someone else does the work.

Hum-ho, ho hum. An early autumn Monday. It is what some folks now call the shoulder season, not summer, not autumn. The rain is not heavy but drizzles down steadily. It is one of those penetrating precipitations which leaves one wet and cold to the bone. I’m sitting in my house coat while my clothes rattle around in the dryer after a bit of tinkering on my vehicle…under the shelter of a roof! Jack and I went for our walk, he is content for the moment to lay by the door, snoozing and watching for the old mangy grey squirrel which pelts along the top of the fence with yet another hazelnut in its mouth. A fence post, which it often floats over in a single high bound, is also a perch for it to sit, flagging its tail, I am convinced, in an effort to attract Jack and raise his fury. Squirrels clearly have a sense of humour. I wonder if they laugh.

“Damned squirrels, bloody rain. Ya think I’m funny huh !?”
“THIS is funny! Quack. Ya never seen a duck-billed dog before?”

The problem with grey and black squirrels, is that they are, like most people here, including myself I’ll admit, an invasive species. The native red squirrels are a rarity now, bullied away from their turf by the newcomers. The larger invasive squirrels carry a virus which is deadly to the local reds (Now there’s an old familiar story!) and are also able to overrun prime food sources. You have to go into the deep backwoods to find red squirrels now. They can thrive on coniferous seeds and whatever other small things they evolved to consume. The larger grey and black squirrels seem to prefer the nuts of hardwoods, generally found close to human habitation. How the big guys first came here is probably a tale of accidental transport as well as a few escaping or being released by new-coming humans. People love to mess with natural balance, and one way or another, we’d prove to be the culprits in this story, an old repeat performance.

On a Jack walk, just a few kilometres from home. It is hard to believe that this is second-growth forest. It was once all logged off and burned.

When I hunted deer, I preferred to find an active game area and sit and wait, sometimes calling deer and other wildlife to come within sight. Often, a red squirrel would sit on a limb somewhere above me and begin its scolding call, announcing my alien presence in the woods to all creatures within earshot of at least a mile. I would often have to give up my post and move on. At the time, I never thought I’d miss that insistent, incessant squeaking flagging alarm. Some days, I wanted to blow the annoying little rodents out of my life. Funny how things change! This former farm boy and woods ape, once able to kill any critter without remorse, now even tries to move spiders and wasps in preference to just squashing them.

A sure sign of the end of the dry season. Overnight, the toadstools spring up and there’s six months of wet coming on.

With the first rainy onset of autumn, nature responds. Fish and fauna begin frantic reactions to the promise of winter ahead. The rain raises stream and river levels. That triggers a response from salmon which have arrived on schedule to re-enter fresh water to spawn and then die. It is a magic, bittersweet drama but fish are not philosophers and simply do what they are programmed to do. Imagine if people followed a similar life cycle and pro-creation was a final act instead of the life-long convoluted dance of intrigue with all the complexities of our existence. Most of our lives orbit around our gender differences and the many-textured fabrics we weave to disguise the simple reality of our need to reproduce. Call it what you will, in the end, that is the rendered-down reality with the romance factors removed. Writers have tackled the concept and created characters who evolve from being frail and decrepit to being young, vital bounding creatures filled with all those bubbling hormones. (Remember Benjamin Button?)

Phew! I think I’ll follow Jack out into the woods for a walk. The rain has eased, maybe we’ll see a red squirrel. My latest short video, about the first wave of this year’s spawning salmon, is now posted on YouTube. Here’s the link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gqtiAm4mT0&t=50s

Defiance. Late bloomers add a last splash of floral colour.
Feral grapes ripen in the rain.
I brought some home, they’re not bad at all.
Wet birds on a limb. This shot was taken in the rain and wind with a 400mm Minolta reflex lense, handheld. The birds are about 100 metres away. You can even see beaks and fir needles. I bought it used from Japan. It’s one of the best pieces of photo equipment I have.
And then he flew away…on silent wings. Owls are amazing birds and to me, seeing one is a good omen.

We did go for a walk, despite the threat of more rain. To Jack’s extreme delight we detoured through an area new to us. It was a deer haven with wide, well-trod trails, an abundance of feed and cover. Yes, I still move stealthily like the hunter, and see with the same woodsman’s eyes. Even with Jack crashing along, I could have taken four deer within a half-hour. Watching us ease through this lovely place, a juvenile Barred Owl flew from tree to tree on silent wings. The rain began again as we returned back at the truck. It was not a bad Monday, not at all.

Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.” Roger Miller

NO BIRDS

6 PM
The sun is over the yardarm
and all’s not well.

The sun rose this morning into a cloudless sky. We cannot see anything blue. We are beneath a thick pall of smoke because, it seems, half of British Columbia’s forests are on fire. I don’t know who is to blame, but I reckon that most of the fires are human-caused. South of the border California is in ashes because of the price of Canadian lumber. Thus sayeth the Trump. I know that I may lose subscribers for what I constantly repeat but if you’re not even asking questions, then you like it where you are and nothing is ever going to change. That last sentence became a polemic political rant which I finally deleted. What’s the point? This blog is supposed to be about sailing and freedom and free thinking. People who read my blog understand that in varying degrees and directions. Remember Forest Gump? “Stupid is as stupid does.” Most folks get that and if you don’t, I hope you’re happy in your space.

Banon Creek Falls, Chemainus River.
Chemainus River in drought.
I like smoked meat!
“When I look into your big brown eyes…..”
Uh Huh!

To paraphrase the Red Green Theme:

If you can’t be handsome,

if you can’t be rich,

try to be handy,

do something damnit,

fix the sonafabitch.

Bumtown, Nanaimo. Some have set up this camp because they have no place to go and there is a natural instinct to seek safety in numbers. Others are there because they think they are cool and trendy. Millions of the world’s poor and displaced live like this because they have no choice. The people here have order, toilets, clean water. No one  bombs or shoots at them. Still, imagine trying to nurture children in any place like this.
Immediately behind the camp, in the smoke from our forests, another Asian freighter loads our raw logs for export. It is moored to the wharf of a former sawmill which was closed allegedly due to a lack of available timber. There can be nothing but questions.
Nanaimo Harbour at high noon today. There are 555 forest fires burning in the province at the moment.

I’m presently wondering about the wisdom in trying to sell my beloved ‘Seafire.’ She is my earthquake plan and escape pod. It is said that it is better to drown than hang or burn and today, choke! I see people on the street wearing surgical masks which adds to the eeriness. I am not sure the masks filter out much smoke but if they make people feel better…Good!

As the day advances, the smoke settles and the entire world seems subdued, or oppressed, by it. The streets are oddly quiet as a strange lethargy seems to possess those who are out and about. The sensation is rather the same as when overwhelmed by a heavy snowfall except that this is a crushing rather a sheltering feeling. While I write, the smoke catches at the back of my throat and muted orange-brown light filters in over my desk. To think that I used to smoke deliberately, like a fiend! Fool!

Where the best berries grow.
Jack on deck…of a friend’s boat. There is shade, a good view of the dock and regular treats.

Now I’m writing in the dull glow of the next morning. The smoke is thicker. Fire and brimstone. It’s the tale of sod ‘em and go for more. Getting a clear breath seems a bit difficult in the thick acrid air I am inhaling. Jack just wants to lay low.Suddenly I realize that I can hear no birds this morning. I drove up to Nanaimo this morning and realized at the airport that most flights are grounded.

Fly me to the sun. Now this Cessna Caravan only has to be able to see the ground well enough to land.
Like lemmings row on row
into the smoke
careening cars
deliberately go.
When they get there
if they do,
will they understand
anything new?

The visibility is below safe minimums for VFR. There are few aircraft in the sky and so the doomsday sensation lowers a little more. People are driving like road warriors as if there is no tomorrow and I fear, that for some, they will be right. The volunteer fire department in Ladysmith issues a call to arms with a good old-fashioned air raid siren. Its sonorous howl calls all too often, sometimes several times in one day. Within minutes there is a din of warbling, hooting, honking emergency vehicles heading off on yet another mission to yet another wreck on the highway. The dogs in town respond in kind. Summer wears on.

Tristan Jones wrote, “When in fear or in doubt, raise your sails and bugger off out.”
This senior couple in their lovely 17′ sloop placidly left the marina and continued on their journey.
Perched silently on a limb above passing hikers, this Barred Owl waits for dusk. I had the wrong lense on my SLR for the light, so I made this shot with my mobile phone.

Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.” Henry David Thoreau