Jack is sleeping in the truck two decks below. I am no longer permitted to stay down there during the crossing. so here I sit by a portside window in the cafeteria on the BC Ferry ‘Queen of Alberni’ watching the world slide by at about seventeen knots. We’re running downwind so it’s hard to tell our actual speed which is probably faster over the bottom than it looks. It is a perfect sailing day. The seas are low, it is not cold (but not warm) and the sky is mostly clear with no rain squalls in sight. And damn their teeth, there are sailing boats out actually sailing. Yep, once a sailor, always one.
When I worked on the tugs this vessel was known to us as the ‘Overlander’ because it had ran aground a couple of times in quick succession. I suppose if one worked out the miles and hours it has spent traversing the Strait Of Georgia back and forth this old tub has an excellent safety record. “If you ain’t been aground, you ain’t been around,” a friend has told me and I’m not about to recount the times when I’ve gone bump. There have been a few. I’ve always been able to get myself free in short order and there’s never been any dramatic damage but…the gig’s not over yet.
It really is hard not to be pessimistic. I’m sure that thousands of years ago old geezers commiserated and proclaimed that “This can’t go on much longer.” I was raised by two zealous fundamentalist evangelical parents who could achieve a state of near ecstasy listening to yet another shouting leaping trickster behind his pulpit describe the “Second Coming” and the impending horrors of Armageddon. Well, the doomsters are still at it and somehow, we’re still here. So long as we keep asking questions and challenging those who try to manipulate us, there is hope. The moment is all any of us have and at this point in my little stumble through life I’m trying to savour all the small joys and forget the imperfections. I was once told that if I’m being run out of town, get to the front of the crowd and make it look like a parade. Anybody got a tuba? Speaking of tricksters, check out the TED talk given by a very brave reporter. Here’s the link https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/apr/21/carole-cadwalladr-ted-tech-google-facebook-zuckerberg-silicon-valley. This lady, Carole Cadwalladr, is Queen of the Questioners in my opinion. She sums up what I go on and on about, asking questions and hopefully inspiring others to do as well. She has blown the lid off some very grave business. Send me a comment, let me know what you think.
Its sound and that of the trains are drowned in the steady roar of the river. Living on Vancouver Island where our single railway has been rendered redundant, working trains have become a rarity to me. These trains are amazingly long, over a mile I’d say, with locomotives in the middle and at both ends. They seem quieter than I recall but all are amazingly filthy and in dire need of fresh paint. The rails are now welded instead of being bolted together so the old clickety-clack is another sound of the past. In the last half-hour a chill Easterly wind has sprung up and I won’t be sitting outside pecking away at this computer for long. Jack is off sniffing about for Easter eggs in a tight radius of our little campsite. He discovered prickly pear cacti last night and is not keen to adventure far on his own.
To escape the madness I drove up into the Kettle Valley. It parallels the Okanogan and is perhaps now best known for a massive forest fire which swept along a massive area in the valley a few years ago; all, apparently, in the wake of one tossed cigarette butt. Miraculously, near Rock Creek, a small parcel of forest nestled in a bend of the Kettle River was spared. It is a Provincial campground, a green oasis in the middle of extensive devastation. I sit writing tonight beside my campfire in this piece of interior forest. It is very different from coastal rainforest and lovely in its own right. I’ll bank the fire and go join Jack who has already put himself to bed.
The morning brings a cloudless sky and the sound of mating geese honking along the river. Jack is rested and anxious to go explore. So we shall. A few short kilometres further we find ourselves in beautiful downtown Rock Creek. It may have a population of two hundred. I sit writing on the back porch of a small enterprise which is a pleasant camp ground with wifi, handcrafts, second-hand goods, snacks and laundry facilities where I sit. A potential obligation has passed and I am free to enjoy myself. I drive across the high, spectacular country around Anarchist Mountain then descend to the route up through the Southern Okanogan which still bears a semblance of its former self. It has orchards! I still had a sense of it, then I arrived in Pentiction. Yep, back into the Okanogan strip mall. Along the highway, boarded-up fruit stands languish beside endless expanses of vineyards and wine tasting rooms. I had to drive half-way toward Kelowna to find an RV Park which was grudgingly accepting transient RV folks. Most parks I passed were filled with permanent residents living in mouldering motor homes and travel trailers. These grotty places charge ridiculous monthly fees but such is the economic situation for many folks. When you are too poor to have options, you just have to pay, and pay.
At the end of my sixth day on the road I have visited with new friends whom I met through the passing of my friend Frank. (See the blog posted March 13th) It was a lovely and all-too brief visit but made my short stay here more than worthwhile. I was also able to tour the Naramata Area on the Eastern shore of South Okanogan Lake. I had never been there before and was amazed at what I found. Although grapes have taken over much of the old orchard land, there is a happy mix of crops and an amazing profusion of wineries. I’m not much of a wine taster, especially not when alone and I did manage to bypass all the enticing bistros, this time!
A week after I started this blog post I am freezing body parts at a campsite south of Whistler. This the latest trendy world skiing destination. In my jaded opinion it is all a bloody horrible mess. I am in a RV park which has a spectacular view and the highest price I’ve ever paid including a $10. fee for wifi. It has crashed this post twice and is still hopelessly slow at 6 am. Enough! I’ll finish the rest of my travelogue as part two…elsewhere.
“All knowledge is not taught in one school.” …Hawaiian Proverb
As unusual as it may be I’m trying to spend some time like a “Normal” person. I know it, I’m slipping. It’s Canada Day weekend and I’ve gone camping. I’ve finally hooked up my little trailer and pulled it to a wonderful little campground on the far end of Lake Cowichan. I backed the trailer into the second-last spot available, (I was amazed that anything was left) and have spent a lovely weekend doing nothing. Of course, I managed to have an altercation with a fellow setting off fireworks on the beach.
Every dog in the campground, (There seemed to be be dozens,) began expressing their extreme dismay as the fusillade began and then continued. I suggested that most folks had come to this tranquil spot to escape all the hub-bub and bing-bang-boom of the downtown mobs. The young father who was launching the fireworks was holding his lovely infant son between his knees as he lit his rockets. Apparently he was unaware that fireworks regularly misfire. Replies to my objection were various intoxicated clichés by a few drunks but the din ended, the dogs relaxed and morning saw some folks thanking me for my effort. Of course, being typical Canadians, no-one else had bothered to stand up for themselves at the moment. Whatever eh!
I cringe a bit at the word “Camping” because the term, for me, conjures up images attached to a vacation-style that is now far removed from what I once considered living rough. At one time it was a wood and canvas canoe, with minimal equipment and supplies, then away to live off the land for weeks at a time. If it rained, the canoe was turned upside down for shelter with a tarp stretched over everything. I’m not sure this tubby old fart could do that now but then perhaps it would be my salvation. Wot no beer? No chips? No instant pasta mix? Fish? Again!
I’m sure that as I write there are folks up some backwater without a cell phone or even a solar-powered light. They may even be trying to start a fire by rubbing sticks together. But, it seems, many now think camping is a mortgaged RV that, at the push of a button, can transform itself into a luxury mobile condo with extra rooms that pop out as soon as the mother ship is levelled and the satellite TV dish is aligned. I yodel the same song about yachts and how the notion of self-sufficiency and the joy of simplicity have gone the way of the whalebone corset. Thank God the corset is gone but I wonder about how humans have removed themselves so far from their natural world that they have no need to satiate a basic primal sense of survival ability. Understand that I’m writing this on a laptop while sitting at a table beneath a vinyl awning attached to my home-made stealth trailer. I’ve just got up to adjust the stereo and fetch another beer from the fridge. Yeah man, roughing it! Well I did just throw some more wood on the fire. I’ve been thinking about selling the trailer to clean up some bills and get rid of “Stuff” but after folks have told me I’m not asking enough and that it is a very special little trailer I’m thinking this through very carefully. If it sells, I’ll still have bills and no trailer.
My enduring dream is to take old “Seafire” to Mexico and then come home and tow the trailer down as well. If the summer gets too hot for this gringo to live on the boat, the trailer can be towed up into the mountains to explore and absorb. There is so very much more to that wonderful country than just it’s coastline. The culture and history are deeply rich and if you try to learn the language and show a genuine interest the locals will happily share it all with you. Many may be barefoot but they are richer by far than most of us. They live a lifestyle that we only talk about. There is also the US Southwest to explore which, in itself, could be turned into a lifetime endeavour. So…selling this trailer means selling a piece of my dream.
Already almost a week has passed since the last paragraph. I’m still job-hunting but with a lot less optimism. No-one seems to want a pre-geezer sort of guy, no matter how skilled, so I’m going to have to get creative. Meanwhile, small jobs trickle in, barely enough to get by, and when the client’s boat you’re working on will soon be bound for Mexico, it’s tough not to feel a little bitter. Other friends dropped by on their boat, it was wonderful to see them and learn some details of their grand adventures in the South Pacific but it was also hard to wear a brave, happy face. More friends, who currently have their boat stored in South Africa, are visiting on Vancouver Island will be dropping by. I look forward to seeing them, and I truly admire their intrepid lifestyle. However I sure am frustrated at being stuck here in the mud. I understand the twists and turns of life and how things work out the way they do or don’t but geez Louise, just once…! Clearly hard work is not enough and even working smart is not a guarantee of achieving a dream. The only thing to do is to keep plodding on, all the while believing that one’s raw fixation on a specific goal will see you through. It is all you have and life whizzes by whether you’re having fun or not. Then, in the end when plans finally come together and everyone is telling you how “Lucky” you are; the adversities will soon be forgotten.
A friend introduced me to a wonderful magazine called ORION. It is a privately funded publication so there are no commercial sponsors. THAT’S refreshing. The writing and graphics are wonderful and it’s a great breath to read some free thinking. I am always reluctant to make a plug for anything in my blog but I’ll stand behind this one. Check it out. https://orionmagazine.org/Yep, like everything these days it’s online. And so summer wears on. Hope you’re having a good one.
Another Monday morning dawns bright and clear and warm. The swallows and martins in the marina are twittering away happily as they zoom around enjoying a bug breakfast in the sky. I can hear their babies squeaking inside the nesting boxes along the dock. They waiting for some rehashed mosquitoes. Now think about this. Isn’t it wonderful how an entire species of wonderful birds is merely recycled insects? I’m leaving my radio turned off. I don’t want to hear any dark news and I prefer the music in the sky.
Some of my readers are also close friends (Well actually all readers are friends n’est ce pas?) They have noted an apparently obvious dark tone in my recent writing. Yes I’m going through a bad patch and I thank you wholeheartedly for your support. Never underestimate the tremendous value of a small note of caring. It really makes a huge difference. Namaste to you all. Here’s to brighter days.
Yet another friend posted the following quote on Facebook. Brené Brown is a researcher, scholar, storyteller and also a speaker on Ted Talks. Her words are worth considering.
”I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear: I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – have to go.
Your armour is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armour could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy of love and belonging, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever.
Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through you. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.”
I love taking my dog Jack for a walk first thing in the morning. His full enthusiasm for all things is cathartic and inspires me to think freely. Some mornings I gain special insights. Jack loves patrolling the feral waterfront in Ladysmith. It is all former coal mine terminals; there is still plenty of coal laying about. Now covered in blackberries it is home to vast numbers of rabbits. Some days Jack has to choose which one to chase. Their population rises and falls in cycles. I’ve noticed that when their numbers become excessive the rabbits tend to be less wary and are dull and careless. They become stupid. I think it may be part of nature’s way of thinning down their numbers. You know what I’m going to say next.
I think the same is true of people. We’re clearly in a state of overpopulation. Here’s an example.
I’ve previously written blogs about a friend’s classic sailboat which I rebuilt. Transported to Gabriola from Oregon it came on a custom-built trailer which was part of the deal. For eight years the trailer languished in the weeds at the back of a farm. Consequently the import documents became stale-dated. Finally a decision was made to sell the trailer and the paper chase was on. Travel permits had previously been obtained to move the trailer about on Gabriola Island. No problem again; we thought.
Now it had to go to the big island for a visual review by Canada Border Services. Suddenly there were grave doubts that permits could be issued to take the trailer off of the island. I pointed out that a road in British Columbia was legally the same no matter where in the province it might be. All that logic did was provoke a copious round of head-shaking and eye-rolling between desks in the insurance office.
Then, after a half-hour of “Can’t be dones” and various other “Yeah buts”, while I simmered outside, the exact same permit as ever was issued once again. Huh? Then off went my friend and I to a local lawyer where in ten minutes we hand-written a ‘Power of Attorney’ document, stamped it, signed it, copied it and got on with the remains of the day.
I hauled the trailer across to Nanaimo on the ferry. Knowing the trip back, when you pay the fare, would be very expensive, I intended to deal with matters at the office of the Canadian Border Services, then take the trailer on to the local Canadian Tire Store for (what I was assured was a mere formality) an approved federal inspection confirming correct tire inflation, working lights and brakes and so forth. That was required before the final conformity decal for the previous provincial inspection could be issued. Confused yet?
Those ladies at CBS were very kind and gracious despite one surly colleague who went to visually inspect the Vehicle Identification Number on the trailer. I had clearly told him where the number was stamped into the frame. He returned declaring nothing was there but rust. I gently offered to take him back to the trailer and show him. His two colleagues rolled their eyes at me, waved him off and filled in their papers with the number I had given them. If I was that confident, so were they. It was a jumble, but there were copious documents saying duties and fines had previously been addressed.
Now, instead of going for the final inspection as planned, I learned that I’d have to wait to hear from a federal agent in Ottawa who would issue me a numbered RIV inspection form. (RIV is the Registrar of Imported Vehicles) It actually arrived online in a few days and before I could address the matter I was advised that the permit application was about to become stale-dated, perhaps I should request an extension. If that lapsed the entire process had to begin again. The problem was that the trailer had been put to work by the purchaser to store a valuable classic sailboat which first needed to be unloaded and there were several reasons that couldn’t happen. But finally the day arrived.
The lane into the boat house is uphill, steep, soft and sloped to one side. ‘Dorothy,’ the boat, had been loaded in a hurry and was sitting too far back on the trailer. That imbalance caused the hitch to want to lift violently and so we chained it down to the tow bar of a 4×4 truck. In turn, the hitch wanted to lift the back of the truck and we almost managed to tip old ‘Dorothy’ off into the woods on the downhill side of the lane. Our second attempt had the trailer hitch flipping up and destroying the tailgate of the truck. But no one was injured, well, perhaps our pride took a beating.
Using jacks and chain blocks strapped to various trees we were able to winch and push the boat, an inch at a time, into its cradle in the boathouse. The hours flew by. Finally the trailer was free and off I roared to Canadian Tire. This time, I had decided to forget the temporary road permits and simply borrowed the license plate from my own trailer. It was a dangerous risk should I be caught but I’d had enough of hearing about what can’t be done.
The end was in sight. Yeah right! No way. The builder’s plate was too badly weather-worn to be legible. I mumbled that it would have been easier to grind of the VIN stamps and declare the trailer as being home-built. NO! I was warned that would precipitate an entire new convoluted process even more frustrating than the present situation. Hey folks, it’s only a trailer we’re trying to legitimize here, not a fleet of Russian submarines. No-one in this story is being cheated, exploited, assaulted, raped or otherwise abused. I have imported boats and aircraft into Canada. As a logging and construction equipment salesman, I bought and sold big yellow machines internationally as far away as the Philippines. Never have I know such amateurish bungling.
I’ll repeat myself: IT IS ONLY A DAMNED BOAT TRAILER!
Defeated for the moment, I hauled the trailer off to Ladysmith and parked beside my own little trailer. The VIN plate on my trailer is new and clearly legible. The wheels and tires are exactly the same as those on the boat trailer. In a moment of inspiration I transcribed all of the data from one trailer to the other. I used an electronic tape printer, then covered everything with clear tape. The empirical data was about gross weights, axle weights, tire pressure and so forth. There are no lies, the category and capacity of the trailer’s running gear are well within limits. I towed the trailer to the Canadian Tire store in Duncan for a fresh attempt. I decided to stick to the truth and explained what I had done. Fail! No tampering could be tolerated. Tampering? The VIN is clearly stamped in the frame in two places. What has been tampered with? I let your imagination cover the range of four-letter expletives now raging in my brain. It was also pointed out that there should be additional side lights installed. I drove off in a fog of defeat. But not for long.
With little left to lose I returned to the first Canadian Tire Store with a careful story. There was a line-up at the service desk and I noted the raised eyebrows when I was recognized at the back of the queue. My yarn was that with the aid of an infrared viewer I was able to barely discern the original lettering on the sticker and decided to re-apply those markings on top of the originals. And by golly, another US-built trailer with the same size wheels had exactly the same values on it’s builder’s plate. Go figure! Without going out to inspect my data, the man with the stamp said “Good enough” and clunk bump went his rubber stamp. Then the document was in the fax machine to the folks at RIV. I paid my token fees and as I turned to leave I heard, “Oh darn! I forgot. The trailer is supposed to have a spare tire.” There was a long pregnant pause as I scowled like a frustrated bull. I was waved on.
Feeling faint from the latest round but not daring to feel smug, I raced off to the Gabriola Ferry Terminal, paid a huge fare for the trailer and made it to the auto shop before it closed for the weekend. “NO! We can’t issue you the approval decal without another inspection. It’s been too long since the trailer was last here. Don’t know what you’ve been using it for.” I’m proud to say that I didn’t lose my temper but instead gently explained that the trailer had not been used on the road until today. That was after being charged a huge sum to put things right. Now I was being asked for more money to inspect their own work. Everything was back in the crapper again.
Fortunately the tiny office was beginning to fill up with other customers and I clearly wasn’t leaving without my little decal. I won. The trailer was delivered to its new owner, I received the balance due, which I needed for my next adventure, (see my following blog) and went off into the sunset, exhausted but content to think I had completed an endeavour which folks repeatedly said could not be done.
The phone ran next morning. The trailer’s buyer was at the Gabriola insurance office. Uh huh!
“Can’t be done!” Despite having an official government transfer/bill of sale document signed in all the right places by the vendor, the agent was now asking for a bill of sale between the vendor and the purchaser on a single separate document. The vendor was working in Peru, I had to leave town in another day. They also required a copy of a bill of sale between the vendor and the fellow in Oregon he had bought it from.
Somewhere, regularly all these folks must get together over a pint or ten and gleefully compare stories about their bureaucratic impositions. VAC: the Vexatious Agents Club. Well, with yet more shenanigans, I believe everything has been put right to everyone’s satisfaction. All’s well that ends. The trailer, by the way, once finally licensed is never going to leave the new owner’s back yard.
Non-epilogue! Wrong yet again! The beat goes on. Now it has been decided that ALL copies of ALL documents must be submitted, even though it is obvious which copies of which documents have already been entered into due process. The serial number of the trailer has been officially inspected and confirmed by official documentation three times, this local agent wants to visually inspect it again. Problem is, there’s another boat sitting on the trailer now. An email arrived from RIV saying that all the process was complete and that they were sending an official decal to be attached to the frame of the trailer. When the new owner presented that information to his local agent he was told that the entire process had to be started again because she insisted on having all of the papers she demanded, instead of simply saying, “Oops, guess I was wrong, so sorry.”
Nope! When my friend challenged her negativity and her “Bullshit” he was thrown out of the office. An ensuing call to her head office confirmed that the documentation as provided was in fact adequate and no more was required. Eventually a contritious call from the now-chastised local agent is bringing the entire lugubrious affair to closure. There was however, no apology for inventing and attempting to enforce her own rules.
The poor frustrated friend who bought this sack of trouble, sent me the following.
Bureaucracy 101, Lesson 1
Instructor to students: “Repeat after me, this cannot be done.”
Student raises hand: “Why can’t it be done.”
Instructor to student: “You are obviously not cut out to be a bureaucrat, please hand in your books and leave now”.
Instructor to rest of students: “Repeat after me, this cannot be done!!! Any questions?”
Somewhere in the background, is a sad voice softly singing “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen.” As other countries like China and Mexico, for example, slowly work their way toward a democratic, humanitarian and reasonable system of government and administration, it seems that Canada is determined to retreat in the opposite direction. This sad tale of the trailer is one small example of a system which is top-heavy with minor bureaucrats. There is a federal election coming this fall. For God’s sake, VOTE. It is our apathy that has allowed this infection of stupidity to invade our entire state of being.
This just reappeared out of my archives. It came, years ago, from a friend. The timing is perfect.
“Sometimes things don’t go from bad to worse, some years the Muscadet faces down frost: sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well. A people sometimes will step back from war, elect an honest man: decide they didn’t care enough, that they can’t leave a stranger poor. Some men become what they were born for.
Sometimes our best efforts don’t go amiss. Sometimes we do as we meant to. The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow that seemed hard frozen.
Christmas nears. The contemporary festive season of joy and hope has shifted into high gear with Black Friday. The marketing machine has been warming up for the past several months and now everyone is charging around like the ‘Terminator’. They seem consumed with rabid fervour to acquire as much as possible and indulge excess in every way. The pounds of pulp fiction (Or is that friction?) which come in the mail to exhort me to join the orgy must have demanded the levelling of a forest somewhere. The latest versions of children’s video games are being advertised. All it seem, have new and improved slam bam splatter violence. A perfect gift for a time allegedly set aside to celebrate the birth of the prince of peace. A whole round of new movies, just in time for Christmas, is being released and many will contain graphic violence, copious explosions, spectacular crashes and vulgarity. Most of this frenetic frenzyoccurs on credit. A wise old Welsh lady once admonished me, “If ye canna pay for it once, how will ye pay for it twice? ” Yet, despite what we’re told is an ongoing weak economy I could barely find a parking spot at the mall today. It’s Monday and there is a severe winter storm with torrential rain and high wind. Nothing shall disrupt the frenzy.
My annual festive joke is about a dyslexic scrooge who’s indignant toast is “Bumhug”. However, I truly wish everyone inner peace, and hope you are warm and dry and fed and sharing that comfort with someone of mutual affection and respect. May you have a dream and good hope of fulfilling it.
My last two blogs, in part about war and the military and the futility of it all, have stirred up a small furor, both in agreement and in objection. To convince me of my political incorrectness I have been forwarded a video originally from someone anonymous named “Joe Nobody”. Now that sounds like a reliable source! It shows a group of Islamic ISIS radicals assassinating a long row of kneeling men allegedly guilty only of being Christian. Probably so. Once each is dispatched with a bullet to the head, the entire heap of corpses is then riddled with wanton gunfire. It is horrific, disgusting and very hard to watch. Then a misquote from the Koran is used to imply that this will be our fate eventually if we don’t stand up to these evil hordes.
I responded by questioning how many masses of God’s children have been annihilated in the name of Christian peace, love, greed and zealotry. It goes on and on and on. When the dust settles, if it ever does, we are a very nasty primal organism, alien it seems, on this beautiful planet. If we’re worried about finding harmony with nature, we’d better first figure out how to get along with each other. Whether it be our atrocities against our fellows, or the environment, let’s each accept our personal roll in the mess and take individual responsibility for ourselves and those whom we can love as we would be loved. And if you are determined to pass on hate-mongering at least have the intellect and courage to confirm the source and validity of your information. You discredit your argument by doing anything less than that and by the way, afford youself the dignity of spelling correctly.
Ezra Pound once said, “A man of genius has a right to any mode of expression.” I agree, obviously, but by God, make sure it is informed opinion!
An acquaintance who is now an Anglican minister was once a chaplain in the Canadian NATO forces. He was stationed in Damascus and, as part of some bizarrely conceived humanitarian enforcement, was required to witness over forty executions. Imagine that fellow’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder!
He said, “Life can be cheap, until it’s your own!”
The non-conformist, the sailor in the case of this blog, holds an open, inquiring mind about all things. I have learned a long time ago, that to go against the flow and to challenge popular sentiment, can be a lonely path but it is often the right path, at least for me. Drinking upstream of the herd may not be the best way to popularity, but what sort of man goes against his conscience? Too many do, if they have one at all.
Life seems even more disjointed this month. I’m jaded about Christmas, perhaps because family and friends are scattered around the planet and as usual at this time of year funds are scarce. My renovation project is on hold for the moment so, with Mexico ever in my sights, I’m using my unexpected free time to tinker up the trailer to suit my needs. I’m planning to use it both as a travel trailer (Stealth campers I think they’re called) and a work trailer. The aim is to use as many recycled materials as I can and to have the trailer ready to go as soon as possible. Frankly, I’m a bit tired of projects and with some refitting yet to be done on ‘Seafire’ before she’s ready to head south, I’d like to take a break. There won’t be much progress during the winter weather so, it may as well be due south, somehow. My beloved boat is languishing alone and empty for the moment at her berth in Nanaimo. She’s secure there and oddly enough is staying clean. In Silva Bay, she was constantly coated with gull and crow guano, mussel shells, and a horrid, grey film which could only be fall-out from Vancouver and all the other upwind urbanity over on the mainland.
In turn the green slime of winter creeps everywhere. We’ve had a miniscule accumulation of snow; now we’re back to the dark, cold dripping of a Northwest Pacific coastal winter. Tonight the rain slants horizontally and the wind thunders and moans through the rigging. We’re two weeks away from the official first day of winter, the solstice.
I close my eyes and see warm, green seawater sluicing through the scuppers. I’m sailing full and by toward an anchorage in a palm-fringed bay. Small, bright houses nestle along the beach and up the hill behind the tiny town. The air holds an aroma of coconut and lime and a melange of unknown flowers. There is the fragmented sound of Mariachi music and then the braying of a burro. I’m in Mexico once again. Then comes a sound of drumming, fast and irregular. I awake to realize the sound was only rain hammering on my skylight.
The rain eases despite a forecast for horrific wind and rain today. Dawn breaks reluctantly and Jack leads us for a walk along the Nanaimo River. To my delight someone has decorated a small fir tree. That random, small act of Christmas joy, those few glass balls, lift my spirit. For a moment, I remember the surge of wonder and delight I knew as a young boy.
whoever you are.
“The emotionally motivated performer is inherently irrational. When logic dictates that it’s rational to quit, the emotionally charged image in his mind won’t allow it. Any attempt to stop this man will fail.”
I’m on the ferry again. It’s May 7th already, two days past Cinco de Mayo, or Independance Day in Mexico. Apparently there are signs of the coming rainy season as it becomes unbearably humid and hot. It’s time to head inland to the higher altitudes of the mountains. The locals stay where they are and survive as best they can. Next year I’ll be able to do that, go to the mountains that is. I’ll have my trailer. I’m on my way to pick it up today. I’m excited that another piece of the plan is falling into place although I’m a bit subdued with a bout of flu. Don’t worry, I’ve washed my hands and I’ll turn my head to cough.
It is a lovely time of year to become infected with some ugly bug. I suspect it has something to do with the nasty, mouldy old sanding dust that sneaks under my mask while working on the vintage Cheoy Lee. I’ll soon have the interior finished and as our rainy season finally eases I’ll start ripping up and rebuilding the decks. Hopefully I’ll have the antibodies for whatever lurks within that spongy mess. This project has become what feels like a career. It goes on and on. I intend that this be the last boat project I ever take on. I find it frustrating that everything takes so long to accomplish, due in part to the simple fact that I no longer possess a younger man’s zeal and energy. The boat’s owner is happy with my work and certainly observers (Yes, with spring comes the return of the ubiquitous dock inspectors) all offer favourable reports. This is a job that requires an older man’s patience but the ability to wiggle and contort into awkward places is getting much harder. I’m definitely no longer the willowy kid whose clothes I once wore.
While I work I often listen to CBC radio. Usually it’s Radio 2 where the odd gem of music is heard within the manure pile of repeated cliché cacophonies. I understand the need for Canadian content but surely there are more than the same ten tunes. Sometime for a break in monotonies I listen to Radio 1 which, quite often, is an endless diatribe of interviews about meaningless issues. Occasionally someone actually has something to say worth listening to. Recently, a professor from an obscure Midwestern university offered a very interesting conjecture on the relationship between physical activity and creative thinking. He offered several examples of writers and composers whose daily artistic regimen includes walks of several hours. Thoreau is an easy example. Then there was Forest Gump.
This academic extrapolation explained that the human brain is a computer which is maximized by the electro-chemical stimulus produced by prolonged moderate physical activity. It is the way we are biologically engineered. We need to get up to operating temperature for full function. Walking, jogging, bicycling, rowing and swimming in their many forms, or any other ambulant activity, are fundamental to clear creative thinking and problem-solving. This now rather Rubenesque writer can recall all the years of mornings that began with a long swim in the nearest pool. Even when travelling on business, if at all possible, my first event of the day was that swim. I joked about going to the “Think tank”. Often, while doing my lengths, I’d be able to think out a business problem or some other conundrum. I wrote two novels and many stories sifting through the many plot challenges and character developments, in part, while swimming.
I know, I know, I live on a boat, what’s my excuse now? There is no swimming pool available on Gabriola Island. Somehow the romance of wriggling into a still-damp and cold wet suit to leap off the dock into murky ice-cold water and plunking around the bay eludes my personal discipline. I suppose rowing is the next logical routine and I offer no excuse other than the many nasty weather days. Certainly, in places like Mexico, each day begins for me with a long swim out to sea. Breakfast is taken nearer to noon, one meal of the day is eliminated and life is good. At home my dog Jack demands his daily constitutions and apart from the ambling we do, all that shouting for him to come back is good for the lungs.
While on the subject of higher creativity I should thank all those who take the time to send positive comments and questions about the photos in this blog and on my Flickr photostream. And actually no, there have been no negative remarks. Really! You’re all so kind. One person has even asked for longer blogs!
I don’t want to write any photography manuals in response to the questions about how I take succesful photographs but I will try to respond succinctly. There is no subsitute for practice. I began taking photographs when I was was seven or eight years old. I found someone’s discarded Kodak Brownie camera. It used 120 roll film available, I believe, in eight and twelve frame rolls. I remember having to seal the camera case with adhesive tape to block light leaks and saving pennies and nickles to get the film. There was a mail service that provided a fresh roll of film with each set of prints. The cost was probably about two dollars. Every frame was a carefully considered captial expense.
Even then I was more interested in composing an artistic image rather than accumulating contrived mug shots like everyone else. Yeah I was always weird. Having a talent for sketching I slowly evolved to painting with watercolours. Then I began photographing scenes so the light remained constant for my paintings. I eventually discovered the darkroom and became a madman locked away in a tiny compartment, hot and fumey, as I learned the art of photographic printing in black and white, colour and cibachrome. Over decades I’ve catalogued thousands of stock images. It doesn’t seem so long ago that when submitting a magazine article, one was required to provide slides with the manuscript. No one was geared up yet for digital images.
Now digital photography is standard technolgy and film manufacturers like the giant Kodak are gone. There’s a generation now which doesn’t at all understand the Simon and Garfunkle song about Kodachrome. The great thing about digital images is that people can freely treat photography as any blend of science and art they chose. Some old arguments can be put to rest. The one that used to inflame me was that the photographer didn’t take the picture, the camera did. My retort was to ask if it were the brush or the artist who painted a picture.
With the photo programs now available anyone can manipulate their images to suite needs and whims. It is easy now to prove that photos can indeed lie. There is no more chemical trickery required to process film and prints in carcenogenic darkrooms and there is no concern about cost each time you release the shutter. One other joy of digital photography is the immediacy it provides. The shot I’m posting of the swallows, taken through a blurry plexiglass window, was a digital file number ready to share with the world within two minutes of taking the shot. It’s a technically weak image because of the plexiglass, but it was available in seconds. Nevertheless, the basic principles remain, no matter how easy it is to collect images. The first is that light travels at a constant speed. The second is that no camera can ever determine composition, envison what your creative imagination can see nor determine what lighting will best produce the desired final image.
Good photographs cannot be attributed to what sort of equipment you use. For the past few months I’ve tried to limit my photography to one simple pocket camera. I’ve used an Olympus T-2 which is a pretty basic camera. It is frustratingly slow some times and is not able to handle certain light conditions well but it can produce some great photos and takes me back to working the basics. There is no hope with this little camera of machine-gunning an image and hoping to find the best shot later. Even mobile phones can produce great photos if the photographer understands lighting and how the camera lense works.
It is simple. Because the speed of light is a uncompressible constant, a correct exposure requires that only a specific amount of light can be used to make a proper image. So if an aperture is opened to a value of f4 for an exposure time of, let’s say, 1/60th of a second, the same exposure value can be made at f8 for 1/30th of a second, or half the light for twice as long. An advantage of a slower speed and smaller aperture is greater depth of field in the image. The slower shutter speed however means that the chance of blurring the image due to camera movement is greater. Faster shutter speeds offer shallower depths of field but also facilitate sharply freezing a moving subject.
If I’m trying to be technical I should explain briefly about f-stops. They are simply a way of expressing a ratio of the diameter of a lense aperture to the focal length of that lense. If a lense is 100mm long, an f-stop of 4 means the aperture is open at a diameter of 25mm. F8 would be a diameter of 12.5mm. We need to be able to control that opening in order to control depth of field and to control the speed, or amount of time the lense is open, to shot moving objects. Some older cameras were considered fast if they had a shutter speed of of 1/500th of a second. Now cameras can freeze action at speeds measured in several thousandths of a second. Digital cameras can provide shutter speeds so incredibly fast that we can see the progress of things in freeze-frame like the progress of a bullet piecing the skin of a balloon.
Another explanation is to regard a camera as a crude copy of an eyeball. The shutter is a copy of the pupil opening and closing in response to the amount of available light. A great way of understanding this is to check out ‘F Numbers’ on Wikipedia. They provide diagrams and math equations. Most photographers simply keep their cameras in auto and let the camera do the thinking but until you understand the unholy trinity of aperture, focal length and shutter speed, you own’t be in total control of your photography.
Some photography classes required students begin by using disposable film cameras until it was understood that the photographer makes the photo, not the camera. That is why I never display technical information about any photograph. Shutter speeds, f-stops, lenses, filters, ISO and any other techno-gibberish are irrelevant, even perhaps detracting, to appreciating an image; in my opinion.
Expensive high quality cameras, and the myriad of available lenses only reduce the effort required in achieving a specific image. Most modern cameras are so loaded with optional functions that the process of taking good photographs can be quite bewildering. Don’t worry about all those sales features, just stick to the basics.
A poor photographer might have difficulty making good images with an expensive Hassleblad and a good photographer can take winners using any camera.
Photography is the art of seeing, it is as simple as that. I’m always happy to answer questions on this subject but first open your eyes to really see what’s there. Take plenty of photos until you began to understand the process for yourself. This takes us back to walking and thinking.
For me, the process of walking and thinking while taking photographs can be very cathartic and uplifting. To be able to break down the world around me into single, simple moments of focused observation and clear interesting images helps me re-establish my tiny place in the universe. When I come home without any images I know I’m having a bad day. Of course taking a dog along almost guarantees some good pictures.
The most indelible images are the ones which you never manage to get into a camera. For example I was whizzing along a highway in Mexico, with heavy trucks behind trying to push me even faster. There was no daring to stopping. Then, in the gathering night, I saw an amazing sight in one fleeting moment. A brickmaker had fired up his kiln and the golden glow of that inferno will be forever imbedded on the hard drive in the back of my skull. The fire-tinged outline of each brick, the sillouette of the workers, the reflected light on a huge stack of waiting firewood and some children’s faces, it’s all there, a full stop. Whatever works for you, take some time to stay in touch with the planet that sustains you. It’s a wonderful place. Class dismissed!
The trailer! It’s mine now, bought and paid for. Yep, more damned stuff! Two weeks ago it all seemed impossible. I’m cashless for the moment but I’ve got a huge component in the progress of my dream. I’m posting some grab shots taken of it on the way home. For now I’m scheming the best way to arrange versatile accomodations inside to suit my needs. Then I’ll be hitting the road. Meanwhile ‘Seafire’ needs plenty of attention. I can see a very busy summer ahead.
By the way, a final note on the art of seeing. Remember that washed-out photo of tiny birds sitting on a lifeline after a morning rain? I forgot to mention the most wonderfully obvious thing of all. The purple martins are back!
My beloved teardrop trailer, mi chiquito, it’s gone! It sold in forty-eight hours after first being advertised. There was a deluge of interest. I didn’t expect anyone to want it but calls came from as far away as Washington State! Of course I’m left thinking that the price should have been higher but I was daunted by the parade of folks lining up to buy it. If I’d had ten teardrops (How’s that for a song title?) they would all be sold by now. Jill did a great job with the ads. Unlike most boats I’ve sold I’ve actually broken even on this rig and it went to a very nice lady on Vancouver Island who will use it exactly as it should be. I have warned her that the big drawback will be all the attention it draws wherever the teardrop goes. Oddly, within the week, two other teardrop trailers appeared for sale but neither compared in quality and value to my baby. It’s gone now, all over but for the drinking.
I’ve decided that it is rather nice to stand up to put your pants on and in consideration of travelling southern latitudes where snakes and scorpions roam, it might be nice not to have to go outside to the bathroom in the night. Besides, it might be easier to invite guests if we don’t have to spoon! I also found the little trailer very warm in Mexico. So, despite my diatribes about stuff, I miss the teardrop, but probably as much for what it represents as anything else. So onwards toward next winter in Mexico. I’ll be reviewing every small trailer ad I come across and as the weather warms, work on ‘Seafire’ will resume. Fortunately, preparing it to sail, or sell, requires the same efforts. So my decision about parting with my floating home does not need to be made in a panic.
In recall of my recent teardrop pilgrimage and in anticipation of what lies ahead, the rest of this blog is some more photos in review and in projection of the journey.
By the way if, as some people indicate, you like my philosophies about life, spirituality, stuff and true values, check out Ken Robinson on You Tube. Sir Kenneth Robinson travels the globe expounding ideas outside the box on education, social and political interactions, truth, passion and higher ways of living. He moves at times in circles close to the Dali Lama. I love what he says and how he says it. Anyone who unabashedly promotes living away from the herd and drinking upstream of it has my vote.
In one presentation he quotes part of a poem by Anais Nin. I’ll do my best to paraphrase it.
I swear I have been passed on the road by a shiny Hummer with a ‘Think Green’ bumper sticker. All this enviro-speak is very trendy but when if comes to giving up personal comfort, well yeah but…! I saw a photo recently of a fat man jovially sporting a T-shirt saying “I beat anorexia.” Yeah, it’s funny, but underscores how we love our extremes. We want to drive 300hp SUV’s and also get fifty miles a gallon. People’s vehicles are bigger than ever and obesity is worn by many as a badge of well-being but I’m just not that interested in global stupidity, I’ve got a full-time job dealing with my own.
A growing number of folks are taking pride in living fully by enjoying a fresh awareness of how little they need. Perhaps in result of recent economic events, it is a refreshing turn away from our perversion for lemming gluttony. After living in a boat for years I can claim the benefits outweigh the inconveniences. Not much room for clutter here and if something aboard hasn’t proven its worth within a year; it’s gone. Use it or lose it! Forty-one feet up one side of the boat and the same down the other gives me eighty-two feet of untaxed waterfront property. I can change the view and the neighbours any time I want and, Yeehaw! You won’t find a damned lawnmower anywhere in this boat. Yes, I’d love to have a workshop aboard and I can think of other essential amenities but soon enough I could could end up with an aircraft carrier and still be wanting a little more room. Some of my happiest memories have to do with canoes and rowboats and backpacks; enough said.
I recently bought a teardrop trailer and that has led me onto some interesting paths of research. There is a quiet trend toward downsizing homes, vehicles and RVs with folks taking pride in learning how little they realty need. That path helped me discover the tinyhouseblog.com which is a site dedicated to compiling stories about people who are discovering the joy of living in as small a space as possible. Boats, trailers, gypsy wagons, yurts and small buildings are all there. Not only are many designing, building and living in sensible homes, they are joyfully discovering the freedom of shedding the burden of being owned by mountains of “Stuff”. It is a trend which I hope gains momentum and flies in the face of consumerism. That is an insidious religion we have all been programmed to embrace. We worship in the malls and plazas that are our mosques and cathedrals. Blind consumerism is as evil and deadly as any other fundamentalist dogma.
For years I have noted some folks stepping backward when they learn that I live in a boat. I can almost hear the thought at times, ‘He’s one of those!” That’s fine, your waters are too shallow for me; I doubt we’d have become friends anyway. This old boat hippy does however firmly believe that the price of freedom is responsibility. No-one has the right to impose their personal preferences on others. I maintain my boat so that it is always tidy and seaworthy and self-sufficient at all times. There’s no point expecting respect from others unless you demonstrate you have some for yourself. I’m also learning that perhaps it is better to do big things in a small boat instead of little things in big boats. It is too easy to lose sight of the plan if you starting getting bigger boats and acquiring more stuff. Soon you are buried in a hole where your possessions own you. I know all too well! Not so long ago entire families went off to see some, or all, of the world in boats that were seldom over 30′ in length. Now the average cruising couple often has a boat at least 40′ long. Interestingly, each day’s dead reckoning is still calculated at a speed of 5 knots.
Minimalism offers the joy of being able to go now. The encumbrance of stuff and where to keep it all, and the associated debt, is gone. I have wasted a huge portion of my life preparing boat after boat. Many of those have gone on to sail away over the horizon with a new owner. The first boat I owned could have taken me anywhere. I can’t openly admit any of the excuses which have kept me tied to the dock and which I thought were so important at the time.
“When in fear or in doubt, raise your sails and bugger off out”…Tristan Jones
Emotional depression is an epidemic in the Western World. Sadly it is, I believe, a symptom of a huge malady relating directly to our consumerist culture. We all feel inadequate if we don’t look like this, smell like that, drive one of those, live in a faux castle and surround ourselves with other similarly deluded souls who desperately try to maintain a facade of bottomless wealth. Of course we can never catch up to those expectations imposed on us by a lifetime of spin doctors and marketing wizards. So very many of us become bogged in a swamp of despair because we have been convinced that we just don’t measure up. Rising crime rates, fiscally foundering governments? It is only an emulation of the mindset so prevalent in our own homes. If you have no self-love, it it is damned hard to respect and love anyone else. If the nation’s individual personal finances teeter on bankruptcy, how is it surprising that we have a national deficit?
I’m bending toward people who live in so-called third world conditions. There is a lot to learn from them. For all they don’t have, sometimes not even shoes, they have dignity and self-esteem. They can look you in the eye and actually smile. They understand, because they live so close to the wire, that you only have the moment. They are not emotionally constipated by worrying about investment portfolios or many of the problems of the future. They have not bought the myth that they are somehow immortal. If they can feed their children today that is their best expectation; feeding them tomorrow, a bonus. Most of the world lives like this; we are the privileged few. If only we could remain aware of that single fact as our middle-class erodes.
People who are not busy trying to build a personal empire have a lot more time and mental space to be philosophically and spiritually aware. A documentary I recently enjoyed, ‘La Camioneta’, is about the new life of a recycled American school bus as it moves from an auction yard in the US to a new home in Guatemala. A man there, who has a small business refurbishing buses for local commercial use is asked why he decided on his particular career. I paraphrase his reply in part, “The thing about a bus is, even if the passengers are not all friends, it is a place where for a little while, people share their journey through life together.” That thought is profound. Consider that the whole planet is a place where we must share our journey through life. There is so much we can do to make our journey together better for each other.
I woke up yesterday morning in a new year. The world was still here and so am I, not even hung-over or under. Again today, it is the usual drippy, grey dawn where thick darkness gradually gives way to medium gloom. By mid-afternoon the day will slowly slink back into a palpable darkness which invades your being a bit more with each breath.
So in this new year I have a great boat and a little trailer with which I intend to use the remains of my little existence to go unravel some of life’s mystery and rediscover basics we have left behind. (“Something to do, someone to love, something to look forward to while doing no harm”) No matter how much philosophizing and analyzing one does, a balanced life can’t be refined better than that…. in my opinion. My little odyssey will be described in part through this blog. In some small way, I hope my discoveries help enlighten others. The journey began long ago. Soon I must shut-up about “Gonnado” and actually leave town. The blogs will continue. Bring some good boots along if you like but, no bigger than you need.