Covid One Nine

Deepwoods blog. The table comes from the back of an older Honda CRV. It was the trunk floor and spare tire cover. Intended to double as a traveller’s table it is rugged and stable. Jack deals with the bugs.

I’m sitting at my beloved old Honda car trunk table in the woods north of Campbell River swatting at mosquitoes and black flies despite a brisk breeze. This blog has begun first day out on our next jaunt. I’ve left my computer mouse behind so I’m poking away with my banana fingers and hoping for the best. So far the only other thing I seem to have forgotten is the butter. Jack is fine, peacefully laying on his bed beside me wiggling his ears at the bugs. On our postprandial walk we met a lovely black bear, probably a two-year old. It crashed off into the thick brush of course and I was reminded that old Jack is no longer the feisty beast he once was. Neither am I. We’ve had a long day. With the bugs being so friendly we are about to lock away the groceries and retire for the night. One of the nice things about getting old is that you can fall asleep anywhere, any time. At least until the middle of the night. Then, after determining that it is indeed the “golden age” you can’t get back to sleep until after first light which, of course, is why you can fall asleep any time through the day.

In the morning, after a night of absolute quiet we stepped out into the cool early morning light with clouds of black flies hovering silently. Too stunned to go into feeding frenzy, they’ll soon be at it as the day warms. We’ll move on. With my morning coffee beside me I sift through my notes and see two T-shirt logos I’ve written down. On elderly man slowly walking his old dog had a shirt which said “In memory of a time when I cared.” The other comes from a music video. The drummer’s shirt said “Let’s get together and make some poor decisions.” Right then! With the day’s business meeting concluded, the bugs have broken out the antifreeze and are attacking in squadrons. Breakfast quickly, we be gone!

The Cable Cafe in Sayward. Cleverly built of logger’s cables it is unique. In years past, I’ve enjoyed some wonderful meals here. The pies were incredible.
It was also once a logging museum.
Sit on that puppy for twelve hours every day in the woods. That is a road grader in the background. It was what they had!
Yeah? Fetch you! Nice stick.
Happy Jack. He loves to explore any place new. There’s still a gleam in his eye.
Serial # 428. Empire was one of over 150 foundries in Vancouver meeting coastal needs of every description.
This was a wood-fired, steam-powered yarding machine, used to skid logs out of the woods. When an area was logged of all the timber, the yarder engineer would move the huge steam winch (or donkey) by hooking its cables to stumps ahead and skidding the contraption on those log runners to a new location.
So what do you do with a hollow stump out back?
You build the ubiquitous outhouse…complete with extra toe-room.
Devil’s Club. Aptly named, these nasty plants have leaves two feet wide and everything is covered in vicious thorns which love to hook deep into your skin, then break off and fester.
Cable art

A few hours of meandering brings us to a vast concrete pad at the end of a logging road on the edge of Johnstone Strait. With our camp barely set up, a pair of humpback whales swam past, heading north. I am very familiar with these waters, having tug-boated and sailed up and down this strait for many decades. I’m looking across to the Stimpson Reef Light and remember all the dark nights either towing logs or smashing into nasty seas. That light was a tiny dot on the radar screen slowly making its way along the sweeping green scan line. Yes, I miss it.

Tonight we have an abandoned log sorting ground to ourselves. One could park up to thirty RVs here with respectable distancing but I’m content with things the way they are. Sadly, after all the frustrations of packing this little boat up here there is no place to launch it. The foreshore is a steep jumbled mass of boulders, logs and abandoned machinery. With the wind I think is coming, perhaps it’s a good thing. This strait is notorious for its quick and deadly seas. There’s an old WWII gunnery fortification a short way down the shoreline I’ve long wanted to visit. But it has languished without my personal visit for almost eighty years. Windy Point will be fine for a while yet.

End of the road. We had all this to ourselves.
That’s me in the corner.

The marine forecast is for wind and rain which is fine… no bugs! Having worked in the great northern bug country these ones here are amateurs in comparison but still, who needs them. They’re here for a reason, but none of those reasons are mine! The cyber voice droning out the marine forecast offers admonishments about dealing with “Covid One Nine” and assisting the RCMP in their efforts to prevent the spread of the virus. Isn’t a boat an ultimate isolation unit already? Who are the people that think this stuff up?

I sit by my fire, wishing I’d brought a winter coat along. Then I think of this same spot at the same hour in mid-January. It would have been dark by three pm and the snow or sleet would be blowing horizontally. I crawl into my little trailer where Jack has already been warming the bed. A rain shower drums on the lid and we both drift into a deep sleep, cuddled like the old pals we are.

Morning dawns still bug-free thanks to the damp breeze blowing along the strait. There’s low cloud and I’m wearing all my jackets. My little generator drones on, charging the batteries on all my cameras and gadgets. I marvel at how dependant I’ve become on all of this stuff, stuff, stuff. There’s no point in reviewing the minimalism I’ve known and practised, obviously I’ve evolved beyond that, or perhaps “been seduced” is a better term. I can actually shut the generator off from my bed, simply by pushing an icon on my cell phone! Hopefully the breakfast drone will be making a delivery shortly, I pushed that button twenty minutes ago! I do know that trying to work this computer without my mouse is a challenge, downloading images is a right horror, there’s no hope of editing them.

The day passed idyllically. Jack is not up to much hiking anymore so after a couple of kilometres, and several mounds of fresh bear droppings, we prudently decided to lounge beneath the home tent. I watch the ever-changing tidal currents shift and bend and swirl, an eternal fascination. The amount of traffic on the strait amazes me. There is seldom much time with no boats in sight and others when there may be half a dozen to see all at once. I have made a conservative estimate of about one hundred fifty commercial vessels as well as several yachts. Due to Covid one nine there are no cruise ships or tour boats this year. There are a lot of fishing boats heading north right now, there must be some openings in Alaska coming up.

The camp inspector. This lovely spot was occupied by someone who had parked their trailer in the middle, taking up the whole area for themselves alone. We were set-up three hundred metres away…all alone. Early worm gets the bird!
WTF? There was a trailer here yesterday! If my phone hadn’t rang I was considering a move to here and settling in for a spell.
There was even plumbing with sweet, cool clean water.
And succulent, tasty salmon berries.
A first glimple of the sea while descending to the log sort. A fringe of old growth timber remains. The logged-off area was not replanted and left to fend for itself.
Left to reseed itself this second-growth area desperately needs thinning if it is to become natural forest or managed timber.  There are thousands of hectares of re-gen forest like this all over the coast. The original timber still standing is of excellent size and quality. Hopefully it will be left untouched.
Second growth forest becomes a dead zone without thinning. The new trees need light to grow and to allow the forest flow to evolve into the vibrant plant zone which supports the adolescent trees and wildlife.

Even though I’m not on the water at the moment, I feel like I’m home. As I write, on the opposite shore, a tug with a log tow rides the flood tide southward, hoping no doubt to make it into Sunderland Channel before the tide in the strait turns against its progress. With skill and luck, it will be in position to catch the first of the next flood into the Wellbore Rapids. Eighteen miles in twelve hours hours, it doesn’t sound like much, but when towing log booms, that distance can seem like an odyssey. A few miles south of here, where you turn out of the strait is a place called Fanny Islet. It is a check point where marine traffic control is advised of commercial vessel’s progress. One dark nasty night I was aboard the ‘Kaymar’ with one-hundred-twenty sections of log bundles, an entire forest packaged into a raft about the size of a hay field. We had our entire towline out, if we slowed from our speed of one knot, that line could snag on the bottom. Then the radio call came. “Mayday, Mayday, oh fuck we’re sinking!” We were the only other vessel anywhere near and are bound in all ways to assist. It was a long and interesting winter night. We missed our tide at the Wellbores.

A line tug bound for Alaska passed a while ago. They are huge tugs, powered with massive EMD diesels, the same as used in rail locomotives and their resonant throb pulses in the gathering darkness long after they have passed from view. It is a reassuring and somehow lonely sound all at once. The barges these boats pull are the lifeline of Alaska. They are huge and travel between the various ports of Alaska and their southern terminus in Seattle. In some of this coast’s thick fogs, although you have them plotted precisely on radar, these massive scows loom out of the gloom looking like half a city. Even though Johnstone Strait is an average of two miles wide, it seem like a ditch when meeting in poor visibility. Of course, you seldom meet in the widest places.

There is a magic light which, for a few minutes, bathes Johnstone Strait some evenings.

The next day is blustery and dark with frequent rain squalls. I’m wondering what to do with this day. It’s too miserable to sit under the marquis tent and Jack is restless. Then unbelievably the phone rings despite the weak and intermittent cell service. It is the doctor’s office, they want me to come in for an appointment, more test results. Remember the bladder thing? Unfortunately there was no breakfast from the sky and I know there will be no prescription delivery drone. Here I am now, back at my desk in Ladysmith. The weather is forecast to soon improve. Yep, we’ll gone again.

The Adams River in the pouring rain. Running parallel a few miles away is the Eve River.

We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” Native American proverb

Goldfield Calling

In the American Southwest all roads seem to funnel through Las Vegas. There is also another place which my travels invariably take me to when travelling the breadths of Nevada. That place is Austin. It is an old mining town. Like many ghostly communities in that state, it is perched high on a mountain-side overlooking a broad valley. The population is sparse. I’ve driven through it twice already this year. While returning from Mexico, I was there again, now on a vicious winter evening. Snow was blowing along the main street. I came face to face with a herd of approximately eighteen white-tailed deer. They seemed to have no concern about the weather or me. I stopped and let them cross the highway.

Looking back on the outskirts of Austin Nevada. Thazzit!

The Austin campground, run by the local Baptist church, was closed. It was where I had planned to spend the night. All the side roads were solidly drifted-in. I could find no place to pull in for the night so I drove on westward. Down across the valley I travelled into the gathering darkness for more countless weary miles. Highway 50 is called America’s loneliest highway. It certainly was that night. Finally there was a spot sufficiently off the road at an old Pony Express historic site. In the morning I read the narrative signs and took my photos.

I vividly recall how the history of that epic venture was described. A dismal financial failure from the beginning, after a few short years, the Pony Express was decimated by the then-new telegraph system. As I drive through that vast country I often think of someone on a horse pelting across the untamed wilderness. Even in a vehicle, you can drive for days across bleak and beautiful land that leaves one wondering about that romanticized era. What has not been glorified was the desperate lives of the station keepers of the express service. They were the backbone of the fabled trek. Horses had to be changed regularly, every few hours, and that meant there had to be stables with fresh horses all along the route. Not only did the folks at these places get no glory, they endured multiple deprivations of hunger, cold, heat, illness, loneliness and frequent native attacks all for a meagre income. It must not have been at all romantic.

Sadly, that day, the data memory card in my camera came adrift. I have no photos of that dramatic place but I will not forget that stop at aptly named ‘Cold Springs.’ On my homeward trek this was yet another night of bitter cold when the plumbing in my van froze up. By then, on that wintry drive, I had learned to fill my morning kettle the night before. Thanks be that my trusty propane furnace did not ever let me down but there was never a happier sound in the morning than when that old engine fired up! The came the whistle of the kettle and the first sip of hot, black coffee which I drank as the front heater began to produce more warmth. I’m not so sure I would have done well as a Pony Express employee.

Highway 50, “The loneliest highway in America.” This was taken westbound for Austin on the night described. It was as cold as it looks. Imagine this same scene from horseback, with no sign of civilization anywhere. You have not eaten all day, the horse is beginning to limp.
Looking west from Austin on another day when Mexico-bound. This is the valley described which I crossed that wintry night in the dark after a twelve-hour day of driving       I intend to go back there, soon, and hike the few miles up to the actual station. Apparently you can still see gun ports in its stone walls. That will be after I work out what the hell to do about funds and rebuilding or replacing my ill-fated little trailer. No-one seems to want to buy it outright as salvage nor as an interesting project. I’m beginning to wonder if the Gods are determined that I do this rebuild. I have my preliminary measurements and drawings complete. It will be a huge job but ultimately produce a solid off-road steel-framed trailer, (maybe even with a few gun ports.) What I envision will certainly be something to be proud off although I’d rather be out there taking it easy and enjoying a leisurely summer with my cameras. I am supposed to be retired but that is clearly a state of income.  I’m not qualifying.

This all came to mind recently as I uploaded my best photos from that trip to Shutterstock.com. That is a website which heavily screens and files a photographer’s work then sells quality images as selected by a global clientele. On occasion I actually get paid a few coins for some of my efforts. Editing and submitting those images took my memory back to an intriguing old mining town in Nevada called Goldfield. Southbound, somewhere near here, is the latitude where one first sees Yucca trees growing wild in the desert. I’ve previously described the village as a full-time Burning Man event. There are funky relics, buildings and some interesting people. Like all the other old communities, it has a distinct personality.

One notable point is a wonderful volunteer FM radio station located on main street but also streams its programs live online. “Voice of the Wild, Wild West.” I’m listening as I write. There’s some Harry Chapin on, “The Cat’s In The Cradle.” If you know the song, you’ve dated yourself! Next is an old, old recording of Paul Harvey delivering an essay called “And God made a farmer.” Then comes Dylan with “Tweeter And The Monkey Man.” I love this station. Now I’m listening to the theme song for the ancient TV show, “Mr. Ed.”Then comes some Ian Tyson. “Cain’t beat it with a stick!”

Alive and in colour coming to you from the wild, wild west.

Here is the link: https://tunein.com/radio/Radio-Goldfield-891-s137238/  Not only is the music earthy and pleasant, it takes me back to that town. It instills a deep yearning to return and linger. An outback humour is shared among it’s hosts who all joke about an imaginary station mascot. This burro, named ‘Tumbleweed,’ loves to drink thirteen beer at a sitting in the local saloon. There are of course many other backcountry radio stations out there which remain undiscovered to me. Check out KGFN Goldfield for some rustic comfort. Listening to local stations as they come within range and then fade behind me as I drive along is one of my travelling joys. Unfortunately that desert peace fades for me once I descend into Las Vegas.

The first yucca I saw on my way south. That is an entire old-growth forest of them in the background.

Friends have now discovered a route which allows one to sneak around Las Vegas (Spanish for the plains or lowlands) on its east side. I will certainly try to find it next time. All other roads force one to descend into the bowels of this horrible place. Real plastic! I don’t like greed, glitz, din, facades or pretentiousness which seems to be all that Vegas is about. Real plastic! Real plastic! World famous! World famous! The notion of gambling and all the maggots who feed on that industry has always wilted my biscuit. In Vegas even the churches look like casinos. There are flashing lights everywhere. Apparently casino chips are welcome in the collection plates! Enough said! Meanwhile, the desperately poor are apparently invisible within the shining throb and flash of all that shallow fantasy.

When I returned from my southern odyssey in February, this was the view at the old Swallowfield farm.
Five months later.
Another morning, another walk. It helps keep at least two old dogs youngish.

In the midst of my present woes I just received an e-mail from a boat owner. He has an Albin 27 on which I left my card last year saying “If you ever want to sell…” Now he does. It would be a perfect little displacement cruiser for me, tough enough to take to Mexico and very practical to own. Albins have been long-loved by me, simple and tough is my kind of sexy when it comes to boats. It could be a great summer home on this coast. Bugga!

This is the actual Abin 27 in question. I photographed it last summer when at the local marina. Then I left my card.

I continue to look for a way to hook my dream. I have a very hard time being hove-to and waiting for the storm to pass. They always do. Possessing a manic need for my hands and brain to always be busy, sitting day after day waiting to see which way the pickle squirts is damned hard. I know nothing happens until you do something but sometimes you just have to be cool; even when it’s hot. Speaking of heat, the thermometer here this afternoon rose to 32°C. For fun, I checked the temperature in Goldfield, 29°C. Go figure!

Blackberry Honey
The blackberry bushes are a-buzz with bees. There will be a massive crop if we have enough moisture. Their flowering seems to be at least a month early this year.
The last plum. Indian Plumbs are small but make good jam if picked when ripe. The birds know when they are perfect. Suddenly they are all gone.

After a long wet winter we’ve had a very dry spring. Streams are dry, some trees are beginning to wither. A long summer lays ahead. We will either dry up, turn to dust and blow away or burn, or…it will rain the whole season. One way or the other, this island is still paradise. Here is a link to my latest video-making effort. In three minutes you can get a sense of one facet of life on this island.

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=one+fine+day+fred+bailey

When I think of all the places on this planet where millions are born, live and die who may never see a real tree or can image unlimited amounts of fresh water… and the health and plenty and peace we take for granted I can only be thankful to live here.

“Ya well you bikers aren’t so tough when you’re on your own!” A cleverly motorized bicycle indeed.
That’s easy for you to say.
Lego world! Jack and I sometimes go for a walk past this old mine’s head rig. A historical site it is apparently under renovation. Ship’s containers make clever, strong scaffolding and perhaps…affordable housing.
I deliberately did not focus this orange cat to show how well he blends in. It is the art of not moving. Do you ever wonder how many creatures you pass closely and do not see? Jack didn’t.
A Barred Owl I was fortunate to see as it flew silently through the limbs and settled here.
Remember that while cream may rise to the top, so does scum.                                                                Some may want to take that as a political comment.
Your call!

 

For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson