It has bucketed rain all day; a steady, splattering, cold soaking rain. I am happy to not be sleeping under a bridge today. Jack, in his primal wisdom, stowed several bowels of food yesterday and has retreated into hibernation as the deluge continues. The rain drums on the skylight above my desk, echoing down through the light shaft, muffled, it seems, by the grudging grey light sieving through the thick low clouds. Kept inside by the weather, I salvaged yet-to-be-used video clips and put them together in a stew of vague continuity.
I marvel that a year ago it took me several weeks to finally upload my first video. When I watch it now I am surprised at how good it is for a first effort despite some very obvious flaws. Onwards and sideways, that’s the life for me. Someday, I’ll be able to take some lessons and afford better equipment but for the meantime I am enjoying the challenges of learning more about this very challenging art. Here are some local photos from the last few days. It is election day and I hope, my fellow Canadians, that you have got your soggy bottoms out there and voted. Eh!
“Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.”
H. L. Mencke
(PS: It’s still raining… only six months till spring.)
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
I promise. ‘Seafire Chronicles’ will not become an ongoing diatribe against the RV industry. This posting will be the end of my whining and self-recriminations about my own incredible stupidity. Then it will be on with the next adventure. After realizing the terminal cancer in my sweet little trailer I began making a video about my folly. Something interesting thing happened. I was standing in front of the camera beginning to film what I was to name “Fun Finder Blues”. The light was wrong and I just couldn’t remember the lines I had rehearsed, even after several “takes.” While I was struggling with that I was approached by a fellow who told me how he had bought exactly the same model of trailer, brand-new, from a local RV dealer. His 2014 Fun Finder 189 was leaking rainwater inside before he got it home from the sales yard!
He had a hell of an ordeal with both dealer and factory before finally having it repaired by an independent shop and selling it, with a clear explanation of his bargain price, to a young couple. He was obviously a well-heeled, intelligent man who had also done his research before making his ill-fated purchase. By the way, should any of you locals need one, that shop is Adrian’s RV in Nanaimo. He comes with many high recommendations including mine. I felt slightly better to realize I was not the only sucker. So I wrote this:
“There’s nowt as smart as an old buck
Until that old buck mucks up
Then he’s just a head on the wall
And a chump roast in the freezer.”
Humour, desperately needed as it may be, doesn’t resolve an issue. It does ease the pain a bit and certainly helps me make it through the day. Now, a week later, I’m very much older and a little bit smarter. I’ve picked up my custom order of new aluminum facing to which I had to commit. I bought it to expedite the repair of the trailer. There is a limited amount of time to store it in a space which had been graciously provided so I could make repairs. Ordering ahead seemed the clever thing to do at the time; especially when you live on an island. The invoice, quoted ahead of time, was almost twice what I expected and of course I’d forgotten about the sales tax. It just gets better and better! For once my usual prudence of being positively negative and assessing worst case scenarios has blown up in my face.
As I pilot I can tell you there is a deadly situation called a spiral which most often occurs when you lose sight of the horizon. The aircraft accelerates downward in an ever- tightening turn until the aircraft disintegrates, usually when it hits the ground. The recovery procedure is to first recognize the situation as soon as possible, then pull back on the throttle, level the wings and gently but firmly reduce your speed by raising the nose. You need to avoid structural damage or entering a high-speed stall. How’s that for a metaphor? It will all seem funny when this story is in the distance and viewed through a rear-view mirror. “Pull up, pull up.”
There are some positive aspects. Imagine if this rot box had exploded or imploded somewhere on the rugged roads of Mexico or in a desert wilderness. Or, how about on an Interstate Highway as one of those behemoth trucks hurtled past pushing its wall of compressed air. I’d bet it happens from time to time. And I swear, that with my new awareness, I can now actually see self-destruction happening in very many trailers and motor homes.
I’ve decided that there was no point in wasting time putting together a video about low integrity and consumer rape when there are clearly so many other fools out there. Manufacturers clearly have all the conscience of politicians. The products excreted from their factories are marketed on the terms of bi-weekly payments. With the “Eat, drink and be merry” philosophy of our frantic culture, we fools do rush in so long as we can make the bi-weekly payments. So the marketing model becomes: “Eat crap, a billion flies can’t be wrong.”
I’ve done further research and I see now that most of these trailers are built the same way.
Here is a link to a short YouTube video where the Jayco Trailer Company proudly displays how they throw together thirty-two trailers a day, each one in about six hours. The workers run like raped apes, easily showing why one should never buy this product. This video is one of the most counter-productive marketing tools ever. Why it is posted at all raises some obvious questions. But then, there a lot of fools out there, like me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXMJrRQ3SVk
It made me recall an RV salesman once eagerly telling me how what he was trying to sell was made by the “Mennonite folk, quality indeed,” he assured me although I could the ground through holes in the inside storage lockers of a virgin trailer. In the above video some costumes and hair styles prove some folks of that persuasion do indeed work in these plant. That is very sad. Their faith was once synonymous with integrity.
Well enough already! It is time for me to heave-to and see which way the wind will blow. Then I can fall off onto the proper tack to get where I am going. Negativity feeds on itself and so does being positive. Always in life the first/best resource is a good attitude and so I’ll try to go that way. But damn! It’s hard.
My ongoing Keto diet is still working even though I cheat a bit. There is already enough manic action in my script without any more self-imposed strictness. One of the reasons I didn’t like what I was recording on video is that I think I look older as I lose pounds. I’m half-way to my targeted lower mass but worry and depression are not part of a recommended weight loss program. I need to stay busy. I can’t seem to find a job and I’m not feeling especially creative. One of the reasons I take so many photos and make videos is to stay in touch with the amazing beauty all around us. When you stop seeing that, you are half-way dead. I live in a beautiful place. Folks from around the world travel to see Vancouver Island. The trick is to keep on seeing the raw beauty while you live here. Ladysmith sits on the northern lip of the Cowichan Valley. I have easy access to both forest and ocean all around me. The weather is perfect, hot and dry already, and so it’s boots and saddles. C’mon Jack!
And so…on to the next adventure.
Last evening, while sitting in front of the goon box watching a movie about a pug, of all things, a rat suddenly ran in through the open door. He was a big bugger! He scuttled back and forth along two walls of the living room with his little feet pattering loudly. We closed the door so he could not escape and then shut Jack in a bedroom. A Keystone Cops routine ensued as old ‘El Gordo’ here pulled out furniture from the walls, all the while trying to keep Rodney the rodent from moving further into the home. I seized a short chunk of two by four from the garage and finally herded the wee beast into a corner. Clunk! He was promptly dispatched to the big cheese in the sky. Me, the once-great hunter, felt both sympathy and empathy for this fellow creature of the universe. I understood, all too well, those horrible long moments within the terror of entrapment and realizing a mistake I could not reverse.
Ain’t life strange? You’ve got to laugh.
“She comprehended the perversity of life, that in the struggle lies the joy.”
From “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“Bad weather always looks worse through a window.” …Tom Lehrer
Like many folks around the time of the full moon, I often have trouble sleeping. I’m loony enough at the best of times and right now I have a special sense of unrest. This month we have some especially high tides so clearly the moon is showing a potent effect on this planet. The abode where I live has several skylights. They are a delightful feature providing plenty of light. The rain has hammered incessantly on them in the last thirty-six hours. It stopped sometime in the night and the silence woke me up. I drifted back to sleep and into twisted dreams only to be awakened again with a bright light in my eyes. It was the moon beaming in through the skylight. So now I sit at my keyboard, pecking out this blog.
I’ve already grinched on about how our culture celebrates Christmas, or, at least, the shambles it has become. There are still Black Friday sales pop-ups appearing on my computer screen. That only exacerbates my Scroogely darkness and even if I had cash to spend, I’ll be damned if I’ll succumb to this invasive cyber badgering.
Now here is a current TV news item that is warming my heart. In the heart of Vancouver lies a lovely place on the edge of Chinatown called the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden.
Here is the link: https://vancouverchinesegarden.com/
You can learn more about this lovely “Urban oasis of tranquility and reflection.” It is claimed to be the only classical garden of its kind built outside of China. Someone had the foresight to acquire the land and create this place while it was still possible. Land in downtown Vancouver is now probably valued by the square inch. Chinatown as it existed is rapidly vanishing inside the swelling cancer of neo-urban renaissance sweeping over Vancouver. All is now glass and metal and concrete. It is easy to claim that the whole of Vancouver has become the New Chinatown, but that is another story.
What is making the news is that a lone river otter has somehow found its way through the concrete jungle of downtown Vancouver to the Sun Yat Sen Gardens. They are a long way from the shore of the Burrard inlet from which he had to have started out. There are several ponds in the gardens. They are filled with Koi. This sleek beast is behaving like a fat man at a buffet. He just can’t be stopped. A dedicated sushi addict, he is slowly cleaning out the pond’s murky waters of their much loved monster goldfish. Why he would give up fresh clean fish, crabs and shellfish for scaly bottom-feeders mystifies me. But then, look at the crap we eat simply for the easy pickings that they be. A story of the path of least resistance and survival of the fattest, I find it quite amusing. Folks are frantic. All attempts to trap the otter have failed, now they are evacuating the fish to the Vancouver Aquarium for the interim. So, call me perverse, but I’m rooting for “Koi Boy.” The latest update is then when the ponds were drained in order to catch the remaining old fish, it was discovered that there were loads of baby fish no-one knew about. “Koi Boy” is proving to be a blessing as much as a curse.The intention is to catch the critter and move it miles away far into the Fraser Valley. I think it is a wonderful story and I follow it with glee. In the aftermath, someone will make a movie. There will be Koi burgers sold in local restaurants and of course, there will be T-shirts.
Midnight, the end of a long day. Can’t sleep again. Bugga! More hot cocoa, more abstract thoughts too strange to write about. I’m not usually an insomniac. I guess life is extra troubling at the moment. I’ve just sold my beloved Achilles inflatable boat to make ends meet for month-end. It is on its way to Mexico this weekend, in someone else’s truck. Bugga again. I had my own plans for it down there. So another morning approaches and something good will happen. The dinghy is gone, there was money in the bank for a few minutes, but now at least, the overdraft on my overdraft is cleared up. Haar! The banker asked me about dipping into my investment portfolio. I said “Sure” and showed her my lottery ticket.
The rain is hammering down again and I enjoy the luxury of being warm and dry. Many out there do not have even this. Stay grateful and appreciate what you have. A week has passed since I began this post. Now it is December. The weather has turned clear and cold. Recently I’ve found myself working on a friend’s boat. It really is time I stopped squirming around in bilges. It hurts. There is a reason there are few rubenesque marine mechanics.
Well, the latest headline is that “Desperate officials continue hunt for otter.” The beat goes on.
“The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.” …Walter Bagehot
There is a tang in the air. The funk of fishy decay is inescapable. Dogs quiver and lose their hearing as they charge off to find their own dead salmon to roll in. There may be spawning runs as late as January but for the moment, the banks and bottoms of our local streams are littered with the corpses of dead salmon from the most recent event. The last few stragglers laconically swim against the current. Eagles and gulls sit along the river edge looking sated and sluggish. There is bear scat along stream-side trails and some diligence is due because Jack, in all his dogliness, might be inclined to try and impose indignities at any bruins he may come across. He’ll brook no large intruders to his private world. With diminished hearing, his realm can be very private. His elderly sophistication may well have had him rise above the old indulgence of perfuming himself by rolling on a rotten fish but today he ran ahead out of sight. My angst about him returning embalmed with “Eau de Poison Parti” came from past experience. No perfuming but I found him belly-deep in the water of a local river snacking on a decaying delicacy. He is, after all, only being a dog. In consideration of some of the noxious things humans eat; well, at least dead fish are organic. Just don’t try licking my face.
This week I discovered a grand place to walk with my cameras. It is heaven for Jack. We’ve been back twice already. Only a few minutes from home, the estuary of the Chemainus River was once the site of a large sprawling farm acquired by the company which built the huge, and often foul pulp mill at Crofton. It has returned to nature in a grand way. The blackberries have invaded many of the fields which lie among the swamps and backwaters of the broad river mouth. A delightful place, you’ll find me there often in the future. It takes little imagination to see native villages here long before the white invaders arrived. The name Chemainus has a first nations origin which I’ve decided to finally quit pondering.
This comes from Wikipedia: “The name Chemainuscomes from the native shaman and prophet “Tsa-meeun-is” meaning broken chest. Legend says that the man survived a massive wound in his chest to become a powerful chief. His people took his name to identify their community, the Stz’uminus First Nation, formerly the Chemainus Indian Band.”
Considering that I survived a serious chest trauma and subsequent major heart surgery I am now wondering if “Tsa-meeun-is” should become my new name. You’ve got to admit there is a certain ring to it; “Chemainus Fred.” What really intrigues me is that, for thirty years, I’ve been driving by the inconspicuous road which provides access to the trails and meadows of this fantastic eco-sanctuary. Go figure! I am the guy who is constantly harping on about seeing what you look at. A fellow whom I met there today claimed that he has lived as an immediate neighbour to this sprawling old farm and had only just discovered the access after twenty-one years. So, I don’t feel quite so chagrined. In any case the massive acreage was once Swallowfield Farm. It seems a shame that after all the industry of clearing this rich bottomland that it no longer produces food and instead sponges effluent from the looming mill.
But it is always a joy and wonder to find a treasure that has been so close. I have noted numerous survey stakes in several places and and desperately hope that the word “development” is nowhere in the future of this piece of heaven.There is a life lesson in that and I remember a TV clergyman named Robert Schuller often saying, “Bloom where you’re planted.” Yep, you’ve got to see what you look at. I keep saying that.
November slides on toward winter. Veterans Day has passed. Thank you all for your kind remarks about my YouTube film ‘Swoop.’ I am clearly not the only one who questions what it is we choose to think of on Remembrance Day. A viscous heavy rain hammers down for increasingly longer intervals. Soon it will persist endlessly for days and nights at a time. The bright leaves have been beaten off the trees and now lay on the ground as a dull, slimy carpet. The temperature hovers just above freezing, providing a penetrating, bone-chilling dampness. It will seem warmer when the temperature drops and the humidity is frozen out of the air. Friends are migrating south. I wonder how to deal with the long, dark, bleak cold winter ahead. My only hope is to stay busy and find cheer within each long hour ahead.
“It is more beautiful to hear a string that snaps than never to draw a bow,” is a line from a book titled “The Little Old Lady Who Broke All The Rules,” by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg. The novel is about a small group of geriatrics in a Swedish care home who decide their existence is so miserable that they can only improve things by turning to a life of crime. They reason the worst that can happen is to end up in prison which, they decide, may be a fate better than the one they endure. There are many of us who can relate. I have planned, schemed and worked for years with the intention that by now I’d have ‘Seafire’ somewhere in a Southern Latitude. Palm trees, tepid water to swim in, a simple warm life with a lower cost of living and, the fantasy goes, sustained by my writing and photography. That dream was my entire focus, to the exclusion of other pleasures and satisfactions. I deferred the joy of the moment for a dream. It has not worked out; yet. Although the vision still flickers on, there are waves of hopelessness. Thank God I have my creative endeavours and a sense of humour. I reluctantly mention this, not as a lament, but only as an affirmation to the millions of others at my age who are in a similar situation enduring a despair which is deep and very dark. You are not alone, small comfort that may be. I have been actively searching for employment but no-one seems inclined to hire a man with a lifetime of skills and experience which younger workers could learn. The damnedest thing is, despite health issues, I am still vital and don’t feel at all a senior. There is a lot we old farts can contribute.
How a culture treats its young and its seniors is a pulse-taking of its general health. And, we’re sick! Both the old and the young are the future of a society. The young have the energy and the elderly have the life-lessons to pass on and utilize that power efficiently. That is how the human race thrived for millennia. Now we’ve replaced ourselves with gadgets of our own making. Artificial intelligence is here. Stupidity is as prevalent as ever.
Life is certainly not fair regardless of whatever expectations one clings to. My misadventures began with a simple fall of a mere three feet! Bang! That instantly began an ongoing struggle with health and financial issues. Throw in a genetic disposition for chronic depression. That I have endured like this for nearly twenty years has to be some sort achievement of positive thinking. It is painful to feel like an outcast within a system to which you, in your productive years, contributed millions directly and otherwise. And it can always be worse. I could be a geezer in some place like Yemen or Syria or, God forbid, Toronto, New York or …well,the world has a lot of armpits!
I am thankful that I live in such a wonderful place, but it is frustrating to end up like this while all around me I see folks with assets and wealth they don’t know what to do with. They certainly have not earned them, either by working hard, or smart. It’s the luck of the draw and for those of you who have achieved comfort and apparent security, know that it can also all come tumbling down with amazing speed. It is all temporary. All that stuff that you think you own; well folks, actually it owns you. I also know that all the shininess which I catch myself coveting at times, is, in our culture, mostly financed. Folks with no debt are rare and …truly wealthy. It just doesn’t seem right but that’s the way the pickle squirts! However, one of the joys of aging is to know that nothing is forever. “This too shall pass.”And, I muse, there may soon come a time when aged wizards who can sweat and bleed and dig in the dirt to produce food, and who can interpret the lines of tiny symbols in paper books will be highly revered mystics. I won’t feel redundant any more.
How sweet it will be when things finally get better. And, they will!
“The Flat Earth Society has members all around the globe.” … anonymous
An unintelligible din bursts from the intercom speakers then dies with a strange strangled gurgling noise. All the stranded passengers look quizzically at each other. We’re stuck at Port Hardy airport. There’s a light drizzle here and low cloud. The weather in Bella Bella is below landing minimums. We’re stuck here until it lifts. We all endure random explosions of babbled gibberish from the airport speakers. Every edifice has one, that ubiquitous someone who loves to hear themselves while trying to find empowerment over a captive audience, There is no cafe, no well-stocked vending machines, no wifi. It’s miles into town. We’re supposed to just sit and wait…and wait. The weather was sunny and warm at the YVR airport, in Richmond, a little over an hour ago. I’d rather be here.
After a long time in the isolation of Shearwater, everything in the city was too much for me. Our expensive hotel room was grim. (Nothing like a non-smoking room that reeks of cigarettes)The traffic and dirt and noise outside seemed overwhelming. We were some of the few Caucasian faces anywhere as we wandered an urban nightmare of concrete, steel, glass and racket. Richmond is not a pleasant place and everywhere there is more construction. Office towers, high-rise condos, even more shopping spaces are shooting up on every available patch of land. The streets are clogged with traffic. Overhead skytrains squeal and rumble while an endless stream of aircraft descend and depart nose to tail. It is hell. But, the food is good. Asian restaurants are prolific and their fabulous aromas fill the air with erotic enticements. We ate, and ate, then walked by a Chinese sex toy shop called the “Harmony Store.” What fun! How about “Wonton Whoopee?”
That’s all in the memory bank now. Jill and I are finally aboard ‘Seafire’ in Shearwater. It is cold and raining and we are spending the evening lurking in the warmth and solitude of this old boat. A friend has dropped by to donate some fresh salmon and say goodbye. July 1st celebrations continue ashore somewhere and somehow. We’ll stay here for the night.
In the morning the low cloud and intermittent drizzle persist. After another round of hugs and backslaps, we’ve fuelled up and finally Shearwater disappears behind us. I flush the mud of the place from my scuppers and have no intention of ever going back. Well, certainly not to work there. We amble and meander through some beautiful country, new to both of us, inching our way through places with names like Lady Trutch Passage and Jackson Narrows to finally drop the hook in Clothes Bay, a beautiful anchorage just a short distance from Klemtu, a little over six hours from Shearwater, now a world away. We’ve travelled northwest, further into the Great Bear Rainforest but we now have clear Marine VHF Radio and intelligible marine weather reports. And, wonder of wonders, Klemtu has connections to a commercial radio station, CFNR “Your Nation, Your Station” from Prince Rupert. Some of the music doesn’t suit my tastes, but it is so very refreshing to have an option to CB bloody C. The rain patters down and we tuck into our gift of salmon. Bliss.
In the morning the rain still pisses and splatters and dribbles with waves of mist between the downpours. I persuaded Jill to come here and I ache to go further, right to the end of some of the inlets where bears parade in legislated protected innocence of the threat of man. Great portions of the rainforest here have been set aside as official untouchable wilderness. Finally we are getting the ideas of protecting samples of the natural planet from ourselves.
Walking around the village we are both disheartened by an air of melancholy and decay. There are hardly any folks about, Despite toys abandoned in ditches, we see only two children. Some folks drive vehicles which run poorly and have no mufflers. They pass us every five minutes. I wonder if that goes on all day. Folks we meet are friendly. A few dogs we meet greet us with a chorus of howling then return to their somnolent posts. Sadly, Klemtu makes Bella Bella seem like a thriving metropolis. I try to imagine life here through a rain forest winter and cannot. Even the newest buildings seem dilapidated. Weather-proof vinyl siding on the houses is coated with years green grunge. The swirling clouds and incessant precipitation persuade me to turn south, the forecast is, after all, for westerly winds and that promises some good sailing. However a stout breeze rises from the sou’west, right on the nose. We finally motor into Moss Passage to escape the mounting potential wrath of Milbanke Sound. I know this place all too well from my tugboating days. I drop the hook sheltered by the Roar Islets, behind Ivory Island, and hope the forecast for Westerly winds is true for the morning.
The wind is cool, but the sunlight is glorious. We savour the afternoon and evening in this snug anchorage which we have all to ourselves. At ten pm it is still light enough to read without a light. A sailboat picks it’s way into the anchorage from Seaforth Channel. The wind has died, it is flat calm here. Outside the islets, the swells burst on the reefs. I now know why they are called “roar.” Tomorrow we cross our Northward loop of meandering and truly begin the voyage home to our little town on the 49th parallel. That is only 240 nautical miles of latitude southward, but we will traverse at least five hundred miles along the ragged coastline.
“Only Sea Meeting Sky.
In the west…sets a round, full sun. In the east…rises a round, full moon.
What is here in the full middle that thoughts cannot understand?
What are thoughts that they cannot dispel awe in the heart….. Between the fullness of everything, there is a special something that thoughts cannot quite remember, that the heart cannot quite forget.”
The swallows are back. One day in the past week they were suddenly here, flitting and swooping and chattering like no other creature can. Photographing them is very hard. They tend to nest in the rafters of the old hangar here where it is safely dark and out of reach from the likes of me. They feed, in part, on the plague of black flies that has arrived in the same week. By blackfly standards these are tiny specimens, but like scorpions, it is the smaller ones which produce the nastiest reaction. The bites become tiny, itchy bumps that last two days or more and they’ll be in any exposed place the little pests choose to attack. They still don’t hold a candle to the ones I recall in the tundra of the Northern Canadian Shield. Soon to arrive here will be swarms of horseflies which, hopefully, I’ll avoid by leaving in another month. Also out and about are what I call Shearwater flies. They look like half-scale houseflies and hover silently in small groups in front of your face. They don’t bite but are damned annoying. They disappear for a few days then come back to perform their mysteries yet again. There is a small patch of lawn at the head of the ramp. Yesterday a flock of ten mourning doves fed in that grass. It seems incongruous to find these birds here. Their gentle cooing is exactly the same as from those I have heard in the Sonoran Desert. It is one of the most relaxing and reassuring sounds I know and also another call southward.
The next few weeks will pass slowly. Soon I’ll be back to a life based at home in Ladysmith. It will be wonderful to have a regular life at home but this area will be forever in my heart. I’ll take some time at month’s end to explore this region a bit more.
A week has passed since I wrote the preceding sentence. That clear warm sunny day seems as if it had never happened. Winter’s weather has returned with steady rain, night and day. Today, there is first a torrential downpour then a clearing and some drying before the next torrent begins. The boat’s exterior woodwork desperately needs to be scraped, sanded and refinished after last winter’s devastation. Even now, at the beginning of June, every effort is thwarted with more rain. Today, as I write, my tools sit beside me in anticipation of being able to rush outside in the next lull. Crews from the transient yachts, now thickly cluttered along the dock, wander aimlessly looking for distraction. We may be stcuk with the same people all summer. They loiter in the laundromat for hours, with amazing heaps of laundry and endless e-mails to and from the outer world. They hang about the yard and shop looking for entertainment. Questing a better wifi signal is an ongoing pastime for them. They’re often a nuisance and a danger. Some even find their way down onto the decrepit residential dock to peer and poke where they have no business being. I once told one gormless fellow “I know that i look lile a clown but I’m not here to entertain you.” I find myself wanting to untie old ‘Seafire’ and head for the backwaters. Soon, my restless boat, soon.
One visitor has been here since last year. He’s spent the whole winter here, disappearing for a while then coming back to Shearwater for a few days. Paer Domeij is from Sweden. He lives and travels aboard his beautiful, sturdy cutter ‘Sjoa’. Paer is a professional videographer. Some of the short films he has made of this area are breath-taking. You can find his work on Vimeo and on YouTube. Each short piece is a diamond beautifully filmed and edited with a perfect amount of narration and background audio. You owe it to yourself to look up his films. His love for this wilderness is clear. Hopefully, once I’m back in a world buzzing with full cyber service, I can put up a link to Paer’s work.
One of my frustrations about leaving here is that I have not begun to explore this region as much as I’d like. That could take the rest of my life. However the arthritic pain of the last few rainy days reminds me of why south is the right direction for me. Still, there is the lure of what’s around the next corner, and the next. That mystery will always haunt me. Fortunately there are corners everywhere.
For the time being focus is on work. The transient yachts, (I call them Gringo boats) have an infinite variety of troubles. The owners sometimes arrive at the shop in groups, each with what is to them he only problem in the world. Being told they must wait in line doesn’t suit their sense of urgency to hurry up and relax. In any season you’ll see it all. From clogged toilets to suppurating hydraulic systems, dead engines and mangled drive systems, in they come. We haven’t yet this season had a boat that tried plowing through a reef so there’ll probably be a pair of those arrive together. In the midst of the shipyard mayhem, these folks will continue living aboard their vessels while we hammer and grind and heave on wrenches and curse beneath them. They ascend and descend rickety ladders as we can provide and may need help with their big dog each time. I feel pity for these family beasts who endure a plethora of noxious aromas and sounds and are then exercised in the toxic mud and dust of the shipyard among hurtling machinery.
Nein, nein zat Fokker ischt unt Messerschmidt!
The Eurocopter 105 is rugged and versatile it is a pilot’s and mechanic’s dream. The Red Bull Company uses one of these, unmodified, to fly a full airshow with plenty of inverted manoeuvres.
Rightfully, stranded crews should stay in our hotel while we ply our trade. It would be safer, more expedient and profitable. ( Often these repair jobs are covered with insurance and so are carte blanche) Other skippers are determined to loiter with their chins on our shoulders while we try to make their repairs in spite of them. I often employ a carefully practised surliness to retain some elbow-room in the shop. One character planted himself on my work stool in the middle of our doorway. I asked him to move out of the way and he replied that wanted to ensure he’d get some attention. I advised him that he’d be sure to get some “F…ing attention” if he didn’t move immediately. Simply getting the correct parts shipped in a timely manner is an eternal, complicated frustration. Happy customers are a rarity. Many white-knuckled buccaneers stop here in a frantic rush to escape the helter-skelter of home. They only manage to bring it with them.
Well, if this old wrencher knew so much about running a resort and a wilderness marine repair facility perhaps I’d have my own remote island business. Or perhaps, I’m clever enough not to. It is certainly bemusing to endure such a dystopic existence within a wonderland. Certainly, I’m not going to miss any of it. I just want to go sailing. Here’s to what’s around that next corner.
“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die, I want to go where they went.”
It’s Thanksgiving weekend; already. Time flies whether or not you are having fun. With a long weekend available I intend to get the hell out of here despite a weather forecast which includes a hurricane warning. The barometer this morning is descending through 990 Mb but so far, there has been only a strange moaning wind in the masthead. Current local weather reports have gusts to 97 knots in Central Haida Gwaii. Seas in Hecate Strait are forecast to rise as high as 9 metres. Here at Shearwater I’m moored within an archipelago of islands and inlets which appear to afford good shelter. Yet they can create a massive funnel effect under certain conditions and produce devilish, destructive forces. It is imprudent to leave a safe haven in rough weather so my sailing plans will vary from hour to hour as the day wears on. These are the leftovers from tropical storm Oho. In Masset, on the north end of Haida Gwaii, a group of surfers have gathered in anticipation of monstrous swells along the Northern Beach. One fellow being interviewed on the radio said “I’m going to tie down the woodpile and head for the beach.” Good for all of them!
By noon the wind is gusting viciously. It is not a steady blast like a full hurricane but a random series of violent blows, punch by punch. These can be more destructive than a consistent pressure. The boat is healing and surging so sharply that cupboard doors are being flung open. The internet is now down, soon I expect, we’ll loose our electricity. In the afternoon, the wharfinger’s little float house begins to break loose from its mooring. Huge swirling waterspouts race across the bay.
In the evening the power and internet are fine but the wind and rain continue their sporadic vicious assaults. Old ‘Seafire’ skews about like a frightened cat, straining frantically at her heavy, doubled dock lines. It was inky dark by seven pm. I’ve decided to stay right where I am for the night and see what the morning brings.
You know you are getting really starved for company when you leave the VHF marine weather on to play the recorded forecast loop over and over. This morning a sailboat with a man and a dog northbound from Port Hardy have gone missing. One of the reasons I need a cool change is that the only companionship aboard the boat is this computer and CBC Bloody North on the radio. I am fed up to my teeth with the incessant fecal flow about our upcoming federal election. The interviews of silly people and mindless rhetoric does not end. I advocate that citizens have a responsibility to vote. However I will not vote for any candidate whose platform is the shortcomings of his competitors. And they’re all at it. I’m at a loss. No one ever wins an election. Invariably elections are held so that the incumbent government may be voted out. Sadly none of the goofs aspiring to pick up the reins are inspiring any confidence; at least not from this old cynic. Nix! Nada! Nyet! Unfortunately it will be all the non-voters who decide this one. Apathy rules. I suspect that is what the Harper gangsters are counting on and why the campaign has been so lengthy. Blah, blah, blah… baaah.
This Saturday morning the weather has eased, slightly. My plans for weekend exploration have been modified. I’ll wait till noon then tiptoe south to gunkhole among the islands in Cultus Sound, if I can get that far. The trick is to go no place from where you can’t get home due to weather. I have to second-guess the forecast and make sure home is going to be downwind. So long as I get around the corner and can’t recieve the feeble signals of CBC I’ll have a sense of having been away.
We made it! It is Monday evening, we’re back. The weather was horrific. I holed up in a familiar anchorage and endured two days and nights of extreme nastiness. I can offer a testament for the tremendous abilities of my Rocna anchor which held without dragging even in wind which was hurricane-force at times. The rain was a biblical deluge. Explorations away from the boat in the inflatable tender were all cut short by the onslaught of the next squall and the next. Now back at the dock I’m having to admit that this boat is going to be a huge challenge to live in through the coming winter.
Ruggedly built by the Downeaster boatyard in Santa Ana California, the hull is not cored or insulated. It is solid fibreglass. This is no problem in southern climates and the simple solution is, of course, to move south. The single-skin fibreglass hull in this very damp climate is a wonderful water maker when the dew point rises and the temperature falls. The hull sweats. Water condenses and drips and puddles within lockers which hold my clothing and equipment. This is curable either with aggressive ventilation which is impossible because of the locker contents, or can be reduced by insulating the hull in each storage area. Guess what I’m doing this weekend.
Damp, cold clothing is no fun, especially first thing in the morning before stepping out for a day’s work in the rain. My piece of dock space is a long way from my power supply so the electric heater is not operating at peak capacity. I have a forced-air diesel furnace in the boat but I don’t want to rely on it, especially when away from the boat. There is no place to install a radiant heater inside but I’d love to have a small wood stove. I’ll sort through this little dilemma and then there will be new problems to chew on. It’s the time of year when folks are seizing on every moment of dryness and sunlight. The past two afternoons have been sunny and warm. I scurry home from my job to work for a few minutes on my own vessel. Tuning up the cable steering and repairing davits have been my priorities but there’s more of course. There’s always more. Oddly, during these pleasant weather windows, aggressive black flies appear and chew viciously. These tiny monsters remind me of times past in the far north when the black flies must have frozen solid at night and then managed to eat anything alive during the day.
Here the autumn forest becomes greener as the wind and rain impose themselves. The storms clear the evergreen limbs of dead boughs and needles. My decks are littered with cedar debris after each storm. The cockpit drains could clog with the stuff and soon rainwater can then overflow into the main cabin. Wintering here is going to be a full time job. I must learn how to glow in the dark if I have to stay for the long months ahead. Right now one yellow alder or a show of crimson leaves would seem very nice.
Almost a week has passed since I began writing this blog. The evenings are noticeably shorter in these few days and the morning light is more reluctant. Far to the south, I imagine the faint sound of Mariachi music.
I recommend a wonderful book to readers who are truly interested in this part of the world. All I’ll say is that you won’t regret you investment in this one. It describes the history and culture of this region in a unique and wonderful way. ‘The Golden Spruce’ is written by John Vaillant; I wish I could write as well as he does. Here’s a quote from that book.
“Fancy cutting down all these beautiful trees…to make pulp for those bloody newspapers, and calling it civilization.”
– Winston Churchill, remarking to his son during a visit to Canada in 1929
Well yeah, I knew what I was getting into. During the summer I had every anchorage to myself. Now the whole coast is mine for the taking. It has everything to do with the weather.
The first day of autumn has already passed. It feels to me that it has been winter for weeks already and impossible to understand that a short while ago this coast was enduring a drought. Now the rain is incessant. This is normal local weather. I knew that. Vertical rain, horizontal rain, drizzling water, mist and fog, it is bloody wet, wet, wet and it keeps coming. The daylight is a little less each day and those long summer evenings, when there was still light in the sky near midnight, are long past. Today the rain was cold and there was that wintery smell in the air. Snow? Even when the skies brighten, with patches of blue, there are sudden bursts of rain. Locals tell me that October can often be a month of lovely weather. We’ll see. I regularly passed through this area on tugboats for years and only ever saw Shearwater as a glow in the fog and rain. Yes, I knew!
The mystique and spirit of this coast take on a new dimension now. This is its normal state, its true self, the raincoast. The infinite miles of grey-green dripping jungle offer a fog-bound respite from the hurtling culture in which most people are swept along on the south coast. The individuals who make their homes in these backwaters often recoil at the idea of even visiting the civilization down there. The notion of living in that chaos on a daily basis is beyond their comprehension or ability. I suppose we live up here within their urbane notion of wilderness. Perhaps it is the solace of that notion which in part sustains their tense urban sanity.
Being alone in this boat every night for the months ahead, through the long dark hours, often storm-buffeted while trying to write positively and creatively after grinding days of work, all the while enduring the pain of arthritis and old injuries…I could stay here in dank, dripping-slime solitude. Nope! Can’t do it! My finances demand that I stay and work but I’ll soon have to head south. I know that finding a job down there for a guy my age is damned hard but if I hang up my dream, I’m done. With my physical impediments, the short days and persistent rain, getting outdoors for some good extra curricular exercise is challenging. Sitting in the boat and eating compulsively is an easy pattern to fall into. That, in every sense, is a dead end.
Mexico seems so very far away at the moment. Will I ever see palm-fringed anchorages through the windows of this boat? Ordeal or adventure, the choice is mine. There has to be a way. As I sit at this computer I look up and all I see is my reflection in the dark window and a right goofy-looking old bugger at that. Haar! I was reminded recently that some folks choose to sail to polar regions and deliberately let their boats become frozen-in for nearly the entire next year. Who am I to ridicule another man’s dream? There is a fellow from Slovenia who calls himself Big River Man. He has swam down the lengths of four of the world’s major rivers including the Amazon. He’s now planning on swimming around the world. “The dream never dies, just the dreamer.”
It has recently occurred to me that all substances are poison if consumed in excess. Even nasty stuff like cyanide and arsenic are deadly because their wicked potency is taken in too large a portion, no matter how miniscule that may be. There was a man in France, Michel Lotito, who bizarrely ate things like bicycles and even an airplane after they had been ground up and imbibed in portions small enough to be non-lethal; apparently a kilogram each day. How do you eat an airplane? He consumed nine tons of machinery in his lifetime. I don’t know, but there may have been a lot of wine involved. Too much air, too much water, too much exercise, too much inactivity, anything in excess is poison. I’ve decided that I’m suffering from food-poisoning. It makes me swell up. Especially around my middle. I’m eating too much. But, I promise, I won’t start eating anyone’s boat; certainly not this old prune barge.
I’m still trying to do repairs and upgrades despite the weather. One of my davit bases failed recently due to a manufacturing flaw. The bow portion of my inflatable boat filled with a torrent of rain. That weight proved too much. It’s a big job and trying to do some fibreglass work between cloudbursts is quite a challenge. I’ve been meaning to upgrade the davits before heading to Mexico but after my immediate repairs the welding will have to wait until I’m back to where supplies are readily available. Everything up here has to be ordered in. Not only is that exorbitant, there is no guarantee that what one orders and prepays is what will arrive, if it ever does.
Meanwhile at work there are exploded engines to deal with as well as endless computer glitches in the modern diesels in all our water taxis. I’m learning to employ a patience I didn’t know I possessed. That’s a good thing. Now that the Tupperware squadrons have all gone back south, and most of the fishing fleets are gone, the boats visiting now are serious cruising vessels, some still doing late-season charters who are hosting the last of the bear watchers.
One of these is a vessel which has long held a piece of my heart, ‘Passing Cloud’. This is beloved British Columbia-built boat and is a quintessential Westcoast icon. She is a seventy foot bald-headed wooden pilot-house schooner. For you land-bound folks this is a wooden sailboat which is seventy feet long on deck. A two-masted schooner has its main mast aft. Being bald-headed means she carries no bowsprit (That pointy spar which sticks out horizontally on most traditional boats) The pilot house is the cabin with big windows from which you can steer in any weather. That is almost essential for navigating these waters.
Two years ago I was blessed to tour the boat shed where ‘Passing Cloud’ was built. I was there to pick up a mizzen mast as the shed had been sold. It was being cleared out prior to demolition. What a tragedy! The place was a temple to me and many others I’m sure but times change. The location on Portage Inlet in Victoria had incredible value as waterfront property. New noise bylaws forbid any further industry, no matter who was there first. Some monstrosity yuppie box now occupies this hallowed ground. When I was there, a band saw still run by a Ford Model-T sat beside a large forge. The tools and artifacts were amazing. The place was a living museum. ‘Passing Cloud’ had been launched from this building in 1974. The boathouse is gone, right or wrong, but the boat, now over forty years old, sails on as a successful charter business and is maintained lovingly in as-new condition. Google up the schooner’s name and drool over the amazing photos of the vessel, inside and out, and of her voyages in these waters where she plies her trade.
While I’m recommending online links, here’s one for those with social-political interests. www.friendsoftheconstitution.info. It is American but suitably appropriate for Canadian interests, especially in the middle of this damned dreary election campaign. I’ll take a big breath and quote two sentences from an editorial on this site.
“There will not be a recognition of the extent of poverty in the United States and the dire need for government action; there will not be any effort to correct the stagnation of wagesand this nation’s extreme income inequality; there will not be a successful effort to control the deliberate abuses of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution by a surveillance state; there will not be corrective actions to reverse the pervasive racism of this nation, there will be no corrective action on the proliferation of discriminatory voter identification laws, the endless and territorial limitless war on terror, including the violation of sovereignty by our illegal use of drones; there will not be any attempt to control a defence industry that markets 50 percent of the world’s arms and whose best interests are served by continued warfare. We accept that a habitual thought process is comfortable, but when it comes to our “democracy,” we cannot accept that it is productive, ethical, or anything but insane.”
That was from an editorial written by Roger deRoos, recently deceased. It was only two sentences, believe it or not, but there’s a headful of thinking there; if you’re so inclined. However, one of the nice things about getting out and about on a boat is that you can easily immerse yourself in the moment and leave all the shore shit and heavy thinking behind. We’re here because we’re not all there! And that’s the whole point.
“On the Trans-Atlantic Single-handed race Mr Owen Smithers has been disqualified for using both hands.”……Heiki Luoma