It is impossible to tell at the moment. Whose smoke are we breathing here? The claim is that our local scrap yard fire is “Contained” but it sure as hell is not out. It may smoulder on for a long time and the acrid, cloying stench is gently smothering us. It’s all because the junk yard dog dropped his cigar! Well who knows? We may never learn that and what does it matter. We try to recycle our disposable cars and other metal commodities and some days things just go wrong. Hopefully we learn a little bit and life eventually improves. Meanwhile thick smoke from three US States clot our already permeated sky and we live in a dim world at the moment. I’ll keep my text short and relay my story with repetitive photos of our grey world.
I photographed the ambience of the thick air above our harbour from behind a heap of coal on the shore and realized that not so long ago we burned this stuff and the air was always like this. It was normal. In younger years I chain-smoked cigarettes like a train. I also did a lot of welding with my face in those fumes and often cut up old metal with an ox-acetylene torch, burning through thick layers of old lead-based paint or I’d grind the paint away, with no face mask. I know better now. These days, the simple whiff of a smoker’s clothes in a change room has me gagging. Eeeech! I cannot believe my incredible foolishness. I have come to believe that perhaps anyone who smokes should perhaps be denied medical insurance.They are willfully harming themselves. That in this enlightened age people are stupid enough to deliberately inhale smouldering objects is amazing. Are they among those complaining about our present atmospheric imperfections?
The thought has occurred to me that the present stench and pallor of gloom is what millions endure on a daily basis where they live in industrial areas around the planet. Others know it as the reek of war and death. They also know of thirst, hunger, disease and blasted-out hospitals. We take clean air and water and personal freedoms for granted. Yesterday was the anniversary of 9/11. Surely we can take a moment to consider how quickly our lives can change then savour and participate in maintaining what we privileged few enjoy without considering. We’re still free to vote and free to leave.
On Monday, conditions have not improved. We’re still surrounded by think grey smog with only glimpses of a dull copper orb which is the sun. Our three states to the south of the border are burning up. That’s California, Oregon and Washington in your throat and nose. The eco-gloomers are having a field day with all of this. I’ll admit it is hard to stay objective and look at the big picture, to examine the history of climatic cycles and realize that this is not Armageddon. It just seems like it. My heart goes out to all those who have lost their homes and communities, their sense of security and all the personal illusions and dreams they have held. It is a wake-up call for all of us. All I can wish everyone is someone to love, something good to do, and something to look forward to, while doing no harm. Now I have to shake off the lethargy of my own personal darkness and go do something. And so work progresses on the old camper. Wagons ho!
“The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
“Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.” Henry David Thoreau
I have always wanted to have a boat named the ‘Brass Monkey.’ As I contemplate selling my beloved boat and replacing it with a smaller trailerable boat, I believe I would name it the ‘Brass Monkey.’ I’ve never seen a vessel with that name. ‘Seafire’ was very close to having that handle but fate intervened and she ended up with the name of a previous and beloved vessel. It’s a complicated story best saved for another time. The Brass Monkey fixation has to do with my perverse sense of humour. Over breakfast this morning I mused about a new blog called “Tales Of The Brass Monkey.” It could begin: “Hello my name is Balls; Claude Balls. Perhaps you are familiar with my first novel “Tiger Hunting in Burma.”
“Bah ha ha, I get it, I get it!”
It’s a tired old joke from my elementary school days so very, very long. I recall we could get ourselves doubled over in gales of laughter about ‘Rusty Bedsprings” by I. P. Nightly. Was I ever really that innocent and so easily amused? Such are the weird mental meanderings of a creative old sailor on the Saturday morning of the beginning of a long weekend. It is BC Day this time. Years ago an edict was issued that declared there would be a statute holiday in every month of the year. That’s very civilized I suppose.
It meant moving Thanksgiving from November to October. Halloween was apparently not an adequate excuse for an official day off with pay. I don’t think Remembrance Day should be a legal holiday but there’s no point in blowing against the wind. When you retire, every day becomes a sort-of holiday and all too often you have to grope to remember what day it is. Too soon it will be guessing the month; and then the year. Your existence can become something measured by the space between medical appointments. I’ll tell you right now that I’m becoming increasingly suspicious of the whole damned Western Medical system and wonder about how many Porsche payments I’m helping make.
The weather continues to be clear and hot. There are several forest fires burning on just on Vancouver Island including a local one of over 190 hectares. All due probably to some idiot with a cigarette. So each day is smoky and airless. Last evening, even with hatches open, the boat’s interior was 43º C, that’s 108ºF! I’m painting the boat’s cockpit so for me it is up in the early morning to put the next coat on before the baking sun rears its angry head once again. I’d love an ocean breeze but I’m glad the firefighters don’t have any more wind than the fire itself creates. I know, from younger years working in the woods, what a hellacious ordeal forest fire fighting is. There is no romance in any of it.
Wot a life! I met an old man this morning racing down the sidewalk in his electric scooter. He was resplendent in flowered Bermuda shorts flapping around his skeletal legs which were wrapped up in knee-high socks. He wore thick, huge sunglasses beneath a broad straw hat. A smouldering cigarette was stuck in his pie-hole. He complained about the smoke in the air. How do you respond to blatant idiocy? The smoke is acrid enough but nothing compared to the weekend past when a dock caught fire in Port Mellon over 30 miles away. The choking stench of burning creosote filled the air for most of the day. It is a toxic funk that sticks in your throat and nose, strongly reminiscent of a time when everyone used either coal or wood for cooking and heating and thought nothing of whatever might be spewing from local industrial smokestacks. Bleaach! Despite our local air quality warnings, there are millions of folks on the planet still living daily in far worse air pollution and know nothing different. Oh, the things we take for granted!
Our marina is so crowded with transient vessels this year that member’s slips are being assigned whenever possible. The revenue is most welcome I’m sure as we continue to expand and improve our facilities. Two temporary neighbours this week were tied on either side of the same finger. One, a typical fibreglass trawler, clone was crewed with two pre-geriatric couples. Drinks flowed copiously accompanied with loud guffaws and “Golly-gee, I think we’re having fun” raucous, imposing laughter. I said nothing (because I seem to have forgotten how to have fun.) Their dock mate was a cruise and learn vessel belonging to a lady who has run a successful sailing school on her boat for many years. In the morning she held class in the cockpit and then coached a teenage girl who, incidentally, backed the big sloop out and away; quite possibly for the first time ever. She did a great job. All the while, the trawler’s matrons stood up on their top deck with hands-on-hips, watching and making comments, especially during the backing out manoeuvre. The body language and mindless quips were entirely inappropriate and distracting to the student. Gormless people, finding entertainment with someone else’s dire circumstance, infuriate me. I tried to keep my head down but finally spontaneously offered that the student really did not need an audience. Two blank faces turned and regarded me with the all the deep wonder of pigs having a pee. I know, I’m just a cranky old curmugeon, but the instructor grinned and waved. The next day another guest dumped out the dock’s dog water bucket because he “Didn’t know what it was for.” Later he complained about the purple martins “Picking on him.”
As Jack might say, “Grrrrr.”
For every goof there are also very many lovely people, with gorgeous boats and even some with wonderful dogs along for the cruise. I’m quite proud to be a small part of the Ladysmith Maritime Society which has become an ultimate cruising drop-in spot for vessels from as far away as the bottom of Puget Sound and even Southern California. One appeared the other day with home port displayed as Isle Grosse, Michigan. I don’t know where the boat is really kept but… goshdernit;we’re famous!
At the moment, I’m finishing up the final licks of the face lift on old ‘Seafire.’ The cockpit has lost its grubby tugboat ambience. Now if someone could do the same for me. I’m also working on an engine in a friend’s 1946 Chris Craft. This beautiful old wooden classic is the sort of boat I watched in the harbours of my youth. Whodda thunk that one day, nearly sixty years later….! Actually I do work on these old beauties every once in a while and it is always a bit of pleasure. No computers!
The final painting in the cockpit is now done. That, in itself, feels good. Also, the heat has eased and we have actually had a few sprinkles of rain today. Does this mean we’re on the slippery back side of summer already? Between the showers, the sun breaks out through a brassy pall of smoke. At least we’ve had no fire-starting thunderstorms, here, yet. I might be frustrated with my little life but I’m not bored. Summer wears on.
“Don’t judge other people’s ability by the level of your own incompetence.” … Old Grumpy hisself
First things first. Last blog I described a plant as being a zucchini when in fact, as I have been corrected, it was an English Cucumber. I’m glad I didn’t try to name it something like a Nigerian Horse Radish. No fake news here! Around the docks on Southern Vancouver Island, folks build bird houses for Purple Martins. The birds arrive in the spring with their chittering calls. They swoop and dive and gobble up tons of insects which are then bombed onto the shiny yachts moored below. Some people gripe about the tiny blobs of potential bug bites on their boats but I’m quite happy to pay that small price for the presence of these happy and colourful birds.
They raise their chicks until they are peeking out from the bird houses. Their fluffy demanding offspring can’t seem to ever be fed enough. Once they are big enough to survey the world outside, it is only a matter of days until all the birds are gone for the year. Yesterday their thunderous absence rang out. They’re gone. South. There must come a moment when some sage old martin says “Right squadrons, it’s time to go. Now!” and off they all fly. Now the crickets and their tireless concert will chirp on night and day until the first heavy frost. Some swallows remain for the time being but the Martin houses are empty. One day soon, there will be a sad quietude. The swallows will be gone too.
Creatures know. Birds know when to leave on their migrations and they know where to go. Jack the dog, on the morning of the recent eclipse, went and hid in a closet, a place he never goes otherwise. People have those same instincts and intellects. We’ve simply buried them in our mad rush to do abstract things. Being in touch with our planet and it’s driving forces has lost value in our primal sensibility. That’s why for example, you’ll see a young mother, head-down texting, pushing her progeny in a stroller out into hurtling traffic. Apparently, in recent years, global pedestrian fatalities have soared due simply to people texting.
Summer is roaring by as I work for and with a fine bunch of people. The days pass quickly maintaining and preparing a fleet of yachts for the next round of charter customers. Most are lovely people as well they should be; they’re on vacation. Then there are others. I’ll simply say that the couple who own this business possess a courage and graciousness which I do not. The weeks go by in a blur. Repairing boats, inspecting them, delivering them and sometimes charging across the strait when they break down while on charter can all be in a day’s demands. There are few dull moments. I go home to Ladysmith for two days each week and sleep the whole time away. I feel old. I am having serious doubts about ever getting out and southbound on the open ocean. That, of course, is what this blog is all about. How I try to be like people who can simply relax in the moment and squeeze it like a sponge until every possible drop of life has been tasted. Working for tomorrow while folks around you are on vacation at the moment is torture.
Every morning begins with a huge flock of honking Canada Geese flying by low overhead. These airborne thugs practise a few circuits just over the mast heads like boys on motorcycles demanding attention. Then there is quiet again, but now it’s time to get up. Perhaps they are practising for a southward migration, deciding who will go and who must stay for the winter. It used to be an uplifting song to me, the ultimate Canadian anthem of travel, freedom, vast distance and self-determination. Now I curse these braying, flapping creatures with their bomb loads of greasy green excrement. When I was a child there was grave concern about these birds becoming extinct. They’re now the bane of parks, schoolyards and waterfront areas everywhere. The flocks which live along the shoreline are apparently barely edible. They taste strongly of their inter-tidal diet. But these grey flapper are certainly excellent organic alarm clocks.
My wife Jill is a voracious reader and I often read books she has finished with. I found one book was very dull and she agreed, saying that she was not able to finish it. She declared that “Life is too short to waste reading boring books.” Perhaps writing dull blogs is part of that mantra. In my recent experiences there have been no explosions, leaping whales or exciting intrigues.’Seafire’ remains tied to the dock, a floating apartment, while I work on all the other boats around me. I’ll have to stir the pot and see what I can scrape off the bottom. I’m shrinking from my efforts here perhaps in response to some of the nonsense I hear on the radio. I think I’m writing about nothing! How a resource-rich country like Canada should be paying exorbitant spiralling fuel prices is stunning. That we push back with only a few mumbles is incredible. I’m sorry about the weather tragedy in Texas but there is no way it truly affects us. We happily live like chicken farmers who go to town to buy eggs and accept whatever we’re told, even that the recent solar eclipse is also reason to jack up the price of petroleum. Huh?
Speaking of things Fort McMoney, I am not aware of reciprocal interest this year from those people who accepted global help to prevent them all from being barbequed last year. Perhaps there is some concern and help from them. I’m not aware of it. As wildfires ravage British Columbia this year I do hear the media describe a “Drought” we are suffering. C’mon! We’re paying the price for decades of gross forest mismanagement. It is a normal hot, dry summer. Thazzit! A drought is when the streams and lakes dry up, crops and livestock wither and die, folks can’t find any water even to drink. All the car-washes are still operating. Life goes on, shiney as ever, even with the high price of fuel.
Today on our walk Jack and I met two gorgeous dogs, recently rescued from Iran. They had both been mutilated. Apparently some fundamentalists see dogs as unclean and fair game for torture and mistreatment even though the Koran demands that all of God’s creatures be respected, especially those which by nature live in families. Fundamentalists, whether Christian or Muslim, don’t need to dig deep to find excuses for heinous behaviour. We’ve all been at it for millenniums. For the record, I believe that dogs are one of man’s highest achievements. If you don’t like dogs, you probably don’t get along well with people either.
Labour day is now past. Once again the air is filled with smoke from numerous intense forest fires burning in the interior. We’re caught in one last coastal summer high pressure ridge. It doesn’t seem so long ago that folks were fed up with the long, damp, cool spring. Soon enough again we will forget these last warm days of summer. Let’s enjoy them while they last.
By the way, the swallows have now all departed.A t the end of the workday today, six southbound Sandhill Cranes flew low overhead trumpeting their unmistakeable call. They’re a month early. Whatever that mean’s.
“I’m not nearly as afraid of dying as I am of not living.” …Old Fred the sailor.
At first light the air was cool, pure and sweet. There was a brown pall over Vancouver. I assumed it was smog. By mid-morning a high, thick overcast covered the sky. One could smell smoke. The gloom was cast out from the forest fires burning in the interior of the province. Late afternoon was airless, the sun’s heat was fantastic and oppressive. I recalled cruel children cremating live insects under a magnifying glass. For a moment I felt a sense of smallness. I recalled when, as a young man working in the woods, I would be summoned to fight forest fires. The incredible heat, the smoke, the ash, the spark-laden dust, the long days, the weariness and thirst, the harsh din of machinery I drove, snatched moments of dreamless sleep during the dark hours and the fatigue in rising at first light to do it all over again. I feel that fatigue now but it is because I’m older and perhaps because I worked too hard when I was younger.
I’m on my first time-off from my new job. I’ve commuted home for two days from Comox and don’t feel at all like going back to work. I’ll return in a few hours so I’ll be there in the morning. In my younger years I’d just get up earlier and put in a full day once I arrived. My doctor shakes his head at my determination to keep on chasing an income despite his advise otherwise. Poverty is a hard master. You don’t hang up your debts, or dreams, just because you’ve reached a certain age. I drive north squinting into a copper sun. A fire has broken out up-island near Nimpkish Lake and the smoke mixes with the general funk already filling the sky. I can smell and taste it. It is only the first of August and we could have three months of volatile fire season ahead. We were all dismayed at the long wet winter and spring, it seemed that it had been wet and miserable forever. That seems a distant memory now.
The summer wears on. At 0:600 this the morning the thermometer reads 17 degrees. It feels chilly! The forecast temperature will double later today. In Mexico this weather is what a person goes to enjoy. Working in it at home is an entirely different situation. In the afternoon the sound of singing and chanting carried in from the bay. Eventually over two dozen native canoes passed up into the mouth of the Courtenay River. It was part of an annual event called ‘Tribal Journeys’. Canoes from Puget Sound and southern regions are making their way north in an armada that may have up to 2500 participants. It looked like thirsty work, all that paddling and chanting and drumming. I found the sight and sound of it all quite uplifting. I hope the builders and paddlers of the canoes find empowerment and pride in their grand adventure.
Two days later, before the sun had risen, in the smokey first light, songs and chants carried across the water. Silhouettes of the canoe flotilla appeared and then faded into the blur of dawn as their journey northward continued.
“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”