Well we’re all trying to smile and grin and bear it, or is that bare it? I once heard a situation described as hanging off a cliff with people dancing on your fingers and peeing on your head. Don’t look up!
More than a few of us know the feeling and there’s not much comfort in realizing we’re not alone. It’s raining and sleeting today, one of those miserable dark damp days when a warm sandy beach with palm trees seems to only be a distant fantasy. In the newsletters I receive from places like that, there are gringos like me down there complaining about Covid travel restrictions and how they are stuck down there. Well, bitch on! They want to come home, I’m willing to trade places if that helps them.
No civil war II has broken out south of the border, yet, and it seems, for the moment all is calm, all is bright. Ain’t it nice? On that note here are local recent images taken in the ongoing pursuit of finding beauty where we’re planted. Look all around, we live on a beautiful planet. So far, it’s still free to appreciate things.
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
It’s January 10th, already! My little life here on Vancouver Island is very quiet and that is not necessarily a complaint. I sure ache to feel the caresses of fragrant warm breezes fluttering the napkin beneath my sweating margarita and then whispering off through the cacti above the beach. Certainly my arthritic old bones also ache from the chill damp of another coastal winter. But considering all the other places where I could be dying of some terrible affliction I believe I am blessed to be in one of the best spots on the entire planet. And if I have to wrap my ugly mug in a mask on the odd occasion that I have to be among the public, it’s a small price to pay to not be quarantined inside my home. My reclusive lifestyle has not changed much.
A friend in France, each time she needs to go out for a few groceries, even to walk the dog, is first required to apply online for a permit number to allow her an absolute minimum of time within the parameters of the described activity. If an official catches her without her specific number, or outside the area as described, it’s essentially off to the glue factory with you. It is nowhere near that here…YET! But there are folks working on making it so.
We’ve all heard some of the tales from those who were either civilians or military folks during WWII. This pandemic is a picnic in comparison. No one is dropping bombs on us or trying to starve us. If our expectations and notions of entitlement were not so ridiculously high we would be a lot more content. “WHAT? You’re out of mint chip dip!!” If you don’t like today, try missing a few.
So far as comments on pandemics and politics, I’ll let the following quote say it for me. I’ll just post some local photos of daily life around Ladysmith.
“Due to travel restrictions this year, the United States had to organize a coup at home.” Martin Mesquita Watguri Hardie
Friday the 13th. The weather forecast shows the date and a thick grey cloud with heavy raindrops. That seems about right. At the moment however there is an attempt at a sun rise. A thin brassy light reflects from the neighbour’s windows and that damned insidious street cleaning machine is out there growling away again. It’s on a fourth pass now. The wind will blow everything back in short order. A day later the weather is the same with a cold rain in a gusting wind like only it can in November. By the following Tuesday when I finally post this, not a lot has changed.
There are two leaks in the camper which have eluded me despite all my attempts to find and cure them. All that was left to do was to remove the inside panelling and insulation. What the hell? There was some faulty wiring to trace as well. Between the inner skin and the outer I found some soggy insulation. I’ve removed it. The taking apart is done…I hope. It has rained sporadically for the past few days, the kind of cold rain that can leak into anything. I just checked; there is no sign of moisture! Grrr! I knew of course that this little old box would require some attentions but I had no intention for it to become a career. To keep things in perspective I know that there are plenty of people who’d love to have this one as a home, leaks and all.
I managed to strip out the final bit of forward interior in perfect co-ordination with a horrific rain storm which went on and on. The problem is now that the ambient humidity inside is so high that condensation forms instantly on the bare cold metal skin. Still I tracked down, or up, the source of ingressing water. In one corner just below the roof I found a mysterious cluster of tiny pinholes. I’ve concluded the cause is electrolysis, something I’m all too familiar with in boats. When dissimilar metals are placed in contact they begin to produce minute electrical currents known as a galvanic action. Add an electrolyte like water and an insidious corrosion occurs. Introduce an electrical current and things become really weird. What I found was that when the camper had been built small galvanized pieces of metal had been used to reinforce corners of the frame. So, combine thin aluminum, steel, zinc, 12 volt wiring, possibly lead-based paint, 40 years of time and copious rain. Bzzzt! Still learning after all these years!”
Just off the main street in Ladysmith sits an old building just behind our tiny museum which is a remnant from the town’s rustic past. It is flat-roofed and covered with a faux brick heavy tarred material which I recall was named ‘Insul-brick.’ It was an old store of some sort and for a long time displayed a faded sign that said ‘Food Bank.’ It has been boarded up for a very long time. On one corner of the building is a small porch built into the structure. A homeless person moved into that space and set up camp under a green tarp. They have been evicted and the empty porch is now caged in. A tent has been erected in the back of the soggy lot.
If I could wish myself into a larger fibreglass camper I would donate this one to someone who needs a shelter. In the meantime I’ll keep this old tin and stick box as a sort of earthquake plan. Isn’t that all we need now in winter on top of Covid?
I’ve just returned from a quick trip to a building supply store. As I drove out through the parking lot a character leapt in front of me oblivious to all except to be fumbling with their covid mask and text messaging in hand. I managed to stop in time; they never noticed. What’s that term? “Eyes wide shut.” We’ve even abandoned the primal self-preserving instinct of fear. “The Lemming Syndrome.” I’ll get back into my box.
“I’ve decided that a sign of aging is losing the ability to be amazed. That amazes me.”
I’m starting this with the rain drumming on the metal roof of the camper. It has slowed enough for the moment to allow me to hear individual drops. This morning I first awoke to hear the wind roaring in the tree tops hundreds of feet above me. The din was like a passing high-speed train. The trees are massive ancient Sitka Spruce, already venerable when the first of us Caucasians stumbled into these swamps hundreds of years ago. The rain now crashes down again in barrel-sized dollops. Our shelter shudders under the assault. I worried about a tree falling on us but realized they had withstood far worse weather in the hundreds of years they had grown here. Many of the bases are more than ten feet across. It will take more than my dark karma to bring one of these down. The notion of a crackling campfire is a mad fantasy.
We arrived the day before in pristine weather. I’d wanted to find a place called Palmerston Bay but on arrival discovered a simple ending of a logging road. The slippery scramble down and back from a rocky, surf-bashed shoreline would have been too much for old Jack and so we retreated back the way we had come. The described “recreation site” proved to merely be a wider spot in a muddy trail surrounded by old logging devastation, not a place to cheer my soul. Eventually we arrived at San Joseph Bay. I hadn’t been there for over thirty years and recall being able to drive almost to the beach. Could my memory be wrong? The developments since made by the Provincial Parks people are impressive. Their pathways are like narrow highways and meander through the rain forest in a circuitous route which is far longer than I recall. It is a beautiful walk and Jack bounded ahead, full of enthusiasm for what lay around each corner ahead. I thought I’d have to carry him back but how could I impose on his joy? He was exhausted on the return walk but soldiered along determined to stay on his own pins one staggering step at a time. What an amazing character! After a long sleep he seems none the worse for wear and is, as always, eager for the next adventure.
The next night we are well on our way toward home. The rain is incessant so again I sit with Jack in our little box. The winter weather has certainly made it seem much smaller when forced into confinement. Jack is cuddled against me as I sit on the edge of the bed and write. The blasting rain has revealed leaks which will, of course, be addressed once home. It is damp enough for the wallpaper to be separating for the inside panels. I curse myself for my restless nature and being up here in these conditions. Of course I look forward to going to drier country so these test runs are necessary to ensure there are no nasty surprises ahead. Tonight we sit fifty feet from the high water mark on Johnstone Strait. The wind and rain are increasing again but we are warm and dry with full tummies. Who could ask for more?
Driving southward, trees with leaves began to appear and now back in Ladysmith it seems we’ve regained a month. Only two and a half degrees of latitude on an island of rugged mountainous shorelines makes a huge difference. This massive rock angles out into the North Pacific and catches hell from a very long way off. Wintry wind and rain have followed us home but as soon as repairs are made to truck and the old man box, Jack and I will be off to some local remote nook. Covid may have us trapped here, but I know the Snowbird flocks have filled every possible private campground on the island. It’s clearly a great place to be, especially with a civil war looming just south of the border.
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ― Albert Einstein
It happened yesterday. After empty many threats it snowed.Only about a foot, but plenty enough to seize up our coastal sensibilities. Several feet of snow in one night many other places I’ve lived did not slow anyone much but here on the coast even an inch of white grease can be a disaster. We had almost a foot! I’ve also finally had my hernia surgery. Whoo Haa! The surgeon’s office eventually wearied of my incessant inquiries, “Are we there yet?” I know that if I had not made myself a pestering nuisance I’d still be waiting. No big deal in the course of the world but once again I’ll soon be able to hike and clamber. No more he-man lifting, I’ve finally figured that part out, but look out desert here I come. This time I can only say nice things about all the staff at the Nanaimo Hospital. They were pleasant and kind and had me out of there in five hours.
All my other experiences have been dark in that beige institution, with surly uncaring staff and a refusal to be respectful including not letting me know when they would let me go home or even feeding me some of that dreadful hospital slop once a day. So, it is very nice to have kind things to say for a change. I could not go to work there regularly for twelve hour shifts without sunlight or fresh air and dealing with all those anxious patients and family who are miserable with their personal issues. Kudos to folks who do a very necessary job and manage to stay positive and apparently happy. There are many kinds of courage I do not possess.
Now all I have to work out is how to deal with the hand transplanted onto my forehead.
Actually everything is fine although the swelling and bruising look like the Taliban had a go at me below the belt line. This too shall pass and soon I’ll be leaping over the outhouse like a spring goat. Well actually maybe I’ll probably be an old goat with his horns stuck in a board! It is certainly nice to have most of this behind me. Well actually it’s in the front but…I know, I know, too much information. At the moment it hurts like hell but no pain, no gain. Right?
Of course to bracket my little event it has snowed steadily for a day and night. Shovelling over and over was painful but there will be no more of that for a good long while. There are several neighbours here who have serious health issues and I felt obligated to make sure there was access to their front doors. Now they can look after me. Yeah right! Just sitting here at my desk is a teeth-gritting endeavour right now so I’ll have to behave; for the moment. I lay on the couch with Jack cuddled up watching the snow and rain blow by. Not much good at being a couch potato I have to keep telling myself “Down boy, down!” It will take months until all is fully healed.
And so that’s the shituation. Not much adventure to describe and I’ve promised to keep my political rhetoric to a dull roar. The local media seems fixated about what Prince Harry is going to do for a living once he moves here. The poor sod is down to his last thirty-nine million pounds. Maybe I could get him to come out and collect discarded beverage cans, an environmentally friendly statement old chap! Then there’s that old Harry Chapin song about the taxi driver with an opening line of “How are ya Harry?” Could he stay on the correct side of the road long enough to acquire his class 4 license? Frankly I don’t envy that couple without the bliss of anonymity and, granny is going to be too far away to babysit. Life’s tough.
“How horrible is man’s condition! He does not own one happiness whose source does not lie in ignorance of some kind.”
“It sure is pretty crazy in our part of the world right now. Our town was in the thick of it earlier in the week and is on alert again today but the closest active fire is 10k away. Very thick smoke.
There’s a wind change due in a few hours that will be good for us (not for others unfortunately). The size of the burnt and burning area in SE Australia is phenomenal!”
This is a quote from an e-mail I exchanged with some friends in Australia. I can’t imagine how it must be wondering how a wind shift will affect your fate. These friends live in Lakes Entrance, not far along the coast from Mallacoota where people had to be evacuated by boat to escape becoming crispy critters, just like millions of their wild creatures have. There was a time when fighting bush fires was, for me, part of being a logger and it does not take much to remember the feel of choking smoke in my throat, the grit everywhere, the incredible searing heat, the ominous apprehension, but I cannot imagine the apocalypse so many folks in areas of Australia are facing. The death toll is rising but I am actually amazed so few have lost their lives. I hold a healthy mistrust of all things media but I know the images we are receiving cannot begin to portray the horror of it all. The friend who wrote the above is a cool character at any time but he writes of fires being a whole ten kilometres away with that old Aussy tone of “No worries mate.” I remain worried. Bugga!
For those “doomers” who seize on this dark drama as proof of global warming, I am not convinced with your conjecture. There is certainly a human-caused factor in this but it is a drama which nature has repeated thousands of times in the planet’s history. It is in fact nature’s way of refreshing itself and the flora and fauna will return vigorously. It is hard for us, in the face of such a conflagration, to grasp our smallness within the natural order of the universe. Life will go on.
Well, here on Vancouver Island things are very different. We are not worried about wildfires at the moment. All any of us have anywhere is the moment and today, here at home, there is a tiny sniff of spring in the air. This hour is sunny, almost warm, buds are swelling, some blooms are peeking out. We know it won’t stay, the pounding bouncing rain will soon be back, it may even dump several feet of snow on us in one night as it has before, so we’ll seize the moment and enjoy it while it lasts. The nice thing here is that if you truly have an urge for the white crud you can go up any mountain right now and fill your boots. In the afternoon irregular bursts of thick rain fell on us like truckloads of splintered glass. Despite my heavy winter raincoat I sported my big black umbrella, like a real old salt; “Popkins the Sailorman.” The problem with that coat is that it funnels rain down onto my knees and I don’t really care about being tough anymore. Jack plunked happily through the puddles, savouring the moment as usual.
A week ago I enjoyed a splendid dinner with family whom I have been long overdue in visiting. Seeing myself as the ancestral storyteller I recounted some history of my mother’s second husband. He was a very quite man whom we all knew was a WWII veteran and did not talk much about his wartime experiences. After he died, I met his kid brother who gave me the rest of the story. His account was about young Jim’s experience in Dieppe as a member of the South Saskatchewan Regiment. He had personally killed German soldiers by hand then went on about the business of staying alive in battle conditions. I believed it was an embellished yarn and clung to what little I been personally able to coax out of the old vet.
Part of the brother’s story had Jim being named “Silver Stuart” and that there had been a Life Magazine article about him and his bloody feat using his personal battle cry of “Hi Ho Silver,” something he had acquired as a boy listening to the ‘Lone Ranger’ on the radio. I eventually found the entire Life Magazine archives online but could not find any cover stories about what I sought. After my tale at the dinner table my nephew later managed to find, within ten minutes, (and much to my considerable admiration) a story about the Saskatchewan Regiment in Dieppe. There was a paragraph about “Silver Stuart.” There has to be more to the story which was not written. The accolade of respect which Jim carried had been bestowed by his fellows before the war correspondent had written his article. What intrigues me is a photo that accompanies the article. I’ve spent hours carefully comparing photos of the Jim I knew to the photo of a young soldier looking into the camera on a Dieppe beach so long ago. There is a distinct resemblance between those photos considering the near-five decades between when they were taken!
Of course, there has to be more to the story. Jim had a box full of metals which he neither displayed or explained. He had seen service in North Africa and in the allied invasion of Italy. What I gleaned from my reluctant conversations with Jim when he was still alive was that it was not the carnage and hardships of years in the battlefield that had eventually driven a hardened warrior to chronic alcoholism. It was the realization that he was one of the “good guys,” many of whom proved to be as wholly capable of every human baseness as the evil enemy. He was buried by Canadian Veterans Affairs in their corner of a Kelowna cemetery, only a few places from the grave of W.A.C. Bennet, a revered Provincial Premier. It is timely to consider Jim’s awareness as we teeter on the very real possibility of yet another war in the Middle East.
Will we ever learn? Apparently not, despite all the wonderful words, we just don’t want to grasp some other way because, of course, just like them, God is on our side. I am steering further away from political comments, mainly because I don’t trust any media sources and am never sure of the true facts. Whom do I believe, whom may I quote with certitude? I’ll simply say this. The assassinated leader being mourned in Iran was second from the top yet everywhere his body has been taken, millions have turned out to mourn and revere him. There has never been, nor ever will be, such a massive display of national unity in our countries for any political figure.
We want to pick on these folks! They are far away around the planet from us, they do not threaten our borders despite what we’re told. While out with Jack yesterday we met a lady who told me what a wonderful thing it was that the US had taken out Soleimani; this man who had killed so many. I asked her if she had ever heard of him before last week. I also asked her how many innocents had been killed by US forces and weapons overseas in just the last decade. Questions, you’ve got to ask yourself questions.
Today, a week into the New Year, the cold rain hammers down as usual. The snow advances and retreats low on the mountain sides. Today, it’s too wet and gloomy outside for man or beast and too dark for good photos of the winter wet. One day, one hour, one minute at a time. But there are signs of spring and in the long dark of January’s dragging hours, we cling to hope of spring and rational judgements.
“You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.” ― Albert Einstein
It seems that the gods can send messages in unexpected ways. I play YouTube roulette sometimes, just to see what randomly pops up. I’ve discovered incredible musicians from around the globe, found amazing inventions, wonderful stories and once in a while stumble on something that I can only consider as a tiny personal kick in the butt. Today I came across a video about a sixty-three year old cowboy still riding broncos in the rodeo. He’s the real thing and had some eloquent things to say. One was about hitch-hiking, something real hand-to-mouth cowboys do regularly. They don’t all have big-fat-wheeled diesel pickup trucks. “Have a saddle along, it’ll gitchya a ride every time.” (In my hitch-hiking days I had a red toolbox and an old military duffel bag that worked quite well.) He mentioned, after a litany of all his broken bones, how folks tell him he’s crazy to still be at it. “I ain’t never gonna grow up. I’m old but I ain’t never grownin’ up. You’re judged by that third and forth try in life and I think I’ve got one more try.”
There’s some inspiration in those words. Grit! I’ll take a bag please. Course ground!
There are some rodeo days in my ancient history but I soon lost my desire to be slammed around by any angry beast. There may be some momentary beauty in all those arched postures and flailing, jingling rigging and hoofs but it all hurts and years down the trail, those hurts come back to haunt a body. As I age, I wonder at why we continue to do such primal things if for no other reason than the cruelty to the animals. In our latitudes a successful rodeo ride is eight seconds. In Mexico I’ve seen bulls ridden until they collapse. Sport? It might seem manly but I’ve come to consider testosterone a poisonous substance. Mix it with alcohol and you have a bomb about to go off. Those two juices, mixed or not, are at the root of nearly every woe in the world, ever.
The heat, dust and din of a rodeo seems very alien to the dark and thick rain of pre-Christmas coastal BC. Just days from the winter solstice, the darkness here is crushing, even at high noon. Further north the daylight is progressively shorter and the weather much harsher. A nice day is often when the rain simply falls vertically and is not being driven by a blasting wind. I don’t miss it. How people endure it year upon year on the North Coast is a wonder. But they do and even thrive in it. There are different kinds of grit I suppose, but up there with all that rain it’s often just called mud. When I lived and worked on the mid-coast, locals would go south for a few days and arrive back home expressing profound relief at being out of “that mess.” I know what they meant but Geez Louise, watching the moss grow between my toes is no pastime for me. Today the gelatinous rain, almost frozen, doesn’t bounce. It just splats down and heads from the nearest drain.
As usual I’m listening to that radio station in Goldfield Nevada, although I’m enduring an overload of Christmas tunes. (Note I didn’t say music.) Some is traditional, some mutant-traditional, some innovative, some weird and some completely bizarre, even rude. (If this old salt thinks it’s rude, it is definitely rude!) All the music is about Christmas and that’s beginning to wear a bit thin. The songs are punctuated with local anecdotes about winter hardships and historical storms with six feet of snow in one night, -30°F temperatures and horrific winds. There are accounts of people freezing to death in the high desert country which I can well believe, it almost happened to me one night on a high Nevada desert plain. Considering the bleak desert winter who can begrudge them their fun? Apparently this is how the season is observed in the Nevada desert.
Fortunately for them, Goldfield is a day north of Las Vegas where cacti begin to grow and the Mexican border is another day’s drive south of there. Theoretically they can escape winter easily. This station has no news broadcasts. That on its own makes it a winner in my books. Their advertising is for small local businesses like restaurants, hardware stores and a tow truck service. There is nothing from box stores, shopping malls, car manufacturers or fast food chains. Public service announcements describe events of common interest like a local highway improvement project. The local “dump road” is temporarily rerouted along the cemetery road. Country logic rules, the dump and the cemetery are side by side.
As I edit what I’ve just written I realize it is all about what I’m absorbing from my electric babysitters. I offer no accounts of what I’m doing because I’m not doing much of any account.
I’m struggling with the second chapter of my third novel; something over a decade old. And it is indeed a struggle. Good creative writing happens when the story writes itself and the writer scrambles to keep up. It’s not happening. The southwestern deserts may seen far away but I’m stuck in my own suburban wasteland. Walking with Jack twice a day out in the drizzling gloom is my high adventure. We do see lovely, colourful wee birds, yesterday it was a brilliant red-headed woodpecker then a flitting flock of golden-crowned kinglets. The flashes of bright yellow on their tiny heads brought instant cheer but the light was too dull for photos with any sort of camera.
Today Jack snoozes in front of the fireplace. Part of that time was spent with his head on my lap. He’s warm. By two this afternoon the dull light was fading, and rain or not, we had to make at least one outing. We took a muddy path beside a local stream which was swollen to the top of its banks. These two soggy old mutts plodded along and then homeward, eager to get back by the fire. The rain was so insidious there was an absence of birds, no croaking of a single raven, not even the timid chatter of one chickadee. They’ve all found a place to hole up. I saw one tiny titmouse bouncing along a salmonberry limb. It promptly vanished into the underbrush once it saw what foolish lumps were out trudging in the driving rain. I imagine that, being that size, each thick raindrop must seem like a bucket of water would to me. Home again, I’m content to sit near the fireplace.
Jack is sound asleep again, dreaming of chasing rabbits, perhaps in a daisy-filled meadow. It is sunny and warm wherever he is and he is young again. And me…I don’t need to close my eyes to hear the rustle of palm fronds overhead and smell the salty warm sea air as a frosty lime margarita jumbo is placed in my hand. It is made from a smokey local tequila and the prawns and fish have come out of the bay right out there where that humpback is breaching. Mariachi music plays somewhere up the beach. Beep, beep, beep… the oven is ready for the bread. My fantasy vanishes as a fresh blast of wind and rain batters the window. And what bliss to smell baking bread. Weather be damned, I’m going to eat something!
The big day is close enough now so I’ll wish all Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, pleasant solstice, oh yeah Happy Hanukkah. For the rest of you, Bumhug!
Then there’s the New Year.
Like that old cowboy said, one more try.
“I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.”
I sit at my desk writing this blog and listen to my beloved Goldfield Nevada radio station online. Goldfield is not far from the Black Rock Desert where the annual Burning Man event occurs. I describe Goldfield as being the full-time Burning Man. They seem to have an alternative perspective, quirky, earthy and creative, right out of the box; after that has been thrown away. I love the humour gleaned from this station. The above title is an acronym from KGFN 89.1 which represents ‘Department Of Fixing Things That Ain’t Broke.’ I think there are some quality times spent around a table in that only saloon in Goldfield. Wouldn’t it be fun to collaborate on bits of trivia like that? An announcer with a gravelly desert voice went on to jest about a government complaint that their weather burros were not of sufficiently mixed gender and where were they going to find a female burro to send to Gabbs?
Times are tough. I am living in a flat financial state these days due to circumstances which I am determined are temporary. It will pass, one of the joys of getting older is knowing that all things change. Yes, it’s my fault, I tacked when I should have gybed and then I hit a reef. So I am not feeling the joy and wonderI am apparently expected to feel at this time of year. “You vill hazze fun vezzer you lak it or nut!” To get more exercise and avoid burning precious gasoline I try to walk everywhere possible. Jack and I are getting in a few extra kilometres of exercise each day. He doesn’t prefer any particular route so long as he gets out and comes home again where he can flop on the couch for several more hours at a time. It is “Like, hibernating season dad!” Some days I join him.
Occasionally we return along the gentler slopes of Ladysmith’s main street. Today we walked by the cookery shop with its stunning array of gleaming copper pots and stainless kitchen utensils. (That shalt not covet thy neighbour’s pots!) Then we passed the bakery pulsing with aromas of fresh coffee, cinnamon buns, ginger bread and still-warmbread. Next came the pet shop with kittens in a window cage and shelves full of dog treats. Right next door is the town’s butcher shop, a traditional venture with the windows full of succulent treasures like deep and crusty meat pies, fresh fish, thick succulent steaks, whole free-range chickens and my favourite, thick smoked pork chops. Jack, straining back against his leash, wanted to savour it all. I simply wanted to go on by and get home out of the cold rain.
I have known very lean times. Hitchhiking and job-hunting in the severe cold of northern Ontario winters as a young man I endured the numb pain of hunger and the insidious agony of frost-bitten appendages. The only thing that hurt more was when you were finally able to thaw your parts out. I was a skinny flat-bellied wanderer and I am eternally grateful for the kindness of a few strangers. I imagined walking past these same windows with a similar hunger. Cold, dirty, with no-one to go home to, nor any home for that matter, no change of clothes and nothing to dare hope for. Perhaps there is a metallic taste in the back of your throat from your last meal of something like cold, tinned pasta something and you have no toothpaste or brush to rid yourself of the taste. And how you would love a simple cup of warm coffee. No cream? No problem. This coastal winter damp with kill you as surely as deep sub-zero temperatures, it justtakes much longer. Do not doubt, good people, how close we all live to being in that state. Your present situation is fragile regardless of what you think and do not condemn others for being down and out. They have not chosen that situation any more than you would. The stories of some of those living rough are terrifying. Some even hold jobs and have to live like that.
You also do not make good decisions when your back is to the wall. A few simple poor choices may well put you into a state of desperation. One panicked choice leads you to more bad thinking and once that hairball begins to roll downhill it is very hard to stop. We all live at the top of a slippery slope. Smugness and arrogance can easily precipitate the beginning of a slide. It is happening to more and more people these days. And do not dare tell me there is no such thing as bad luck! If my words provide discomfort…good.
There is a reason we don’t sing carols like the one about old King Wenceslas very much anymore. Greed has dulled our humanity. So let me suggest a radical solution to caring for the homeless. It’s simple. All those grand, posh, heated and usually unoccupied church buildings: unlock the doors or start paying tax. Fortunately there are many organizations who try to provide shelter and nurturing for the desperate but they can’t keep up. Overwhelmed, they stand against long odds to make a difference and never get, or want, the recognition they deserve.
Perhaps it’s time to open the old book and review some basic Christian teachings. Note that I am not of any particular religious flavour. Both Christians and Muslims have slaughtered millions and enslaved the minds of even more in the name of divine love. I want none of that mindless double-speak. It was the religious folk who executed Christ. I am, if I fit any pigeon hole, now of a pagan persuasion. Spirituality and religion are two very different things. Whatever God or Gods we create, we are all endowed with the capacity to see and hear the wonderful universe around us. The choice to tune in, or out, is a personal one.That desire in turn offers the wisdom to get along with each other on this splendid planet where we are such ungracious guests. If you want to have “Dominion” over the planet, understand that the word also mean “Responsibility.” It is not complicated.
I’ve fumbled with the above four paragraphs like a three-legged dog trying to make love to a greasy football. Should I post them or not? Out walking with Jack this morning I decided to delete them, it’s Christmas and supposed to be a season of light. Then I happened upon some tattered tarps strung up within a blackberry thicket. Nearby, there was a ubiquitous pirated shopping cart heaped with what appeared to be junk. To me that was a simple essay on the sickness of our society. This person, whoever they are, probably poorly-clothed and marginally fed, whose concern would logically be their next meal, or fix, and better shelter, is obsessed with collecting stuff. There is a strange sense of security in having stuff, any stuff, and our instincts are poisoned with that compulsion to the basest levels. So my acid Christmas comments remain. And yes, I did say CHRISTMAS! Regardless of what anyone believes, it is a Christian-originated celebration. So, if ”Stick it where the sun doesn’t shine” is politically incorrect; AWESOME!
Well something did bend me toward a Christmas sentiment the other day. CBC radio was playing some Sunday morning choral music and hit on ‘Oh Fortuna’ by Karl Orbst. It is a grand stirring piece, one of mankind’s favourites. You’ve heard it no doubt whether you knew it or not. There are many renditions on YouTube. It was written about eight hundred years ago. With no computers, no electronics or recording devices through the centuries it has endured, one of those timeless tributes to the genius of man stripped of all the crutches we have so easily and wilfully come to depend upon. The things we are truly capable of!
As I write, my Nevada radio station is playing as usual. This morning their Christmas music began. Most traditional songs are bastardized or are some new effort, neither of which do much for my grinchiness. Somehow, “Jingle Bells” with banjos does not resonate with me. But then, a line from the next song caught my ear. “Tis the season when the greedy give a dime to the needy, then wonder who’s gonna stuff their socks.” That was closely followed by a ballad about pack rats raiding the Christmas stockings then returning a pair of long-lost eyeglasses.
Ah indeed, ‘tis the season!
“A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together.” …Garrison Keillor
I have spent parts of my life living where -40º temperatures were normal at mid-day for weeks at a time. The coldest I’ve ever known was -72º one night on the Cote Nord of Quebec. We did not even try to fly in that weather, our helicopters stayed wrapped up on the ground. It seemed you could break things just by looking at them everything was so brittle.
As a hitch hiker I have sat on the roadside in Northern Ontario for two days and nights while a January blizzard raged with deep sub-zero temperatures, high wind and heavy snow. I cannot describe how long a winter night can be when keeping a fire going is your single reason to be and the urge to fall asleep is massive, and fatal. But I have never known a more penetrating cold such as I felt on the shore of the North Sea at Christmas time in Northeast England. I doubt the temperature was much below zero but it penetrated instantly to the bone despite a heavy layer of winter kit and lingered long after finding warmth again. I remember the fabulous blended aroma of Indian cooking in the stinging cold air of that Tyneside night and being forbidden to eat any because “I canna stand the reek of people who’ve eaten Indian! It just oozes out of their pores.” I love curry and Indian cuisine. It seemed that every restaurant that night offered some. Most of the chippies had become curry houses. It was an exquisite torture to inhale that blended aroma in the dank night air yet not have any. Then we travelled together northward into Scotland for two days in a very small car absorbing each other’s porridge, dark beer and herring farts. Much better!
The Brits are known as masochists. I know, I am a direct descendant. “No pain, no gain.” At sea a heavy damp sweater often took the place of a heater. A horrid finicky gimbaled one-burner stove might help warm some tea water or soup. “Wot? Pleasure! Comfort? NO! We’re British!” And don’t ever build a sleeping bunk that is comfortable. Ever! In fact, until in its last few years in service, the Royal Yacht Britannia provided only hammocks for its crew. STRUTH!
I just watched a YouTube video where a fellow with a broad Cornish accent demonstrated how to make a heater with a tea candle and a flower pot. I’ve dubiously replicated his model. Sorry mate, that is NOT heat! And think of folks like the Vikings in their open boats, or Highland shepherds with the breeze around their kilted knees. Their families waited at home in a drafty fieldstone hut with a smouldering chunk of peat in a fireplace where most of that thin warmth immediately rose up the chimney past the dripping sod roof. There’s not romance in any of it if you have to live it. I feel like a pathetic wimp in comparison when I can turn up the gas fireplace with a click of the remote control.
Well, a mystery has been solved. A friend and fellow blogger enlightened me that my un-named vine is in fact a “Wild Clematis” otherwise known as “Old Mans Beard.” That harks me back (How’s that for old English?”) to some old lines which are so bad they’re rather good.
-There was once a man named Beebopbedo
who spent his days swinging on vines (Clematis I suppose)
and telling folks how life was fine.
One day, down by the river
he suddenly felt a pain right in his liver.
Down he came with a mighty crash
his ribs were broke
his head was bashed.
He struggled up to his feet
and wandered off to smoke some grass
but on the way a snake bit him on the toe
and the was the end of Beebopbedo.”
I can hear my readership ratings crashing even now! Remember what I say about laughter; even a chuckle will do.
Dawn arrived this morning like a hung-over deckhand coming on watch; grudgingly. The thick darkness gave way to a heavy low gloom. The yard lights where I live have stayed on all day. I leapt out of bed one toe at a time. But, I finally had an appointment today with the anaesthetist at the hospital. We can go ahead with this hernia surgery…hopefully in January, this coming year perhaps. We don’t want to rush into things, it has only taken six years to get here.
Next morning, same old deckhand! The cold and damp seize me up, I can’t ignore them like I once did.
A buddy loaned me a copy of ‘Book Of The Hopi’ by Frank Waters. For some reason I have developed a fascination with the land and indigenous people of the American Southwest. The Arizona desert fits a big piece in my puzzle and I can’t wait to return to that bleak yet beautiful place with a pocketful of time to spend there. One of the centres of the Hopi culture was within a radius of places with names Oraibi, Hotevilla and Mishongnovi. There are several of these difficult but lyrical names which are still tiny communities clinging to their culture in a place which, to outsiders, is apparently inhospitable. Perhaps that’s part of the idea! They’ve been there for thousands of years. They have a deep spiritual connection with the land and the universe which bears a worthy consideration. The book is still available and I think a fascinating handbook for those interested in our ancient cultures. In an odd way, the Hopi account of man’s history on this planet parallels biblical legends.
Further south in Arizona I have spent a little time in the lands of the Tohono O’odham people. I love their traditional desert home and how they maintained their culture in a desert which would kill me, if left to my Pacific Northwest backwoods knowledge, within days. I ache to return there as alien as I may be. Their sacred mountain Baboquivari is a very special place, I can feel magic in the air there. This old sailor can’t explain his affinity for the desert. It is a similar feeling to being at sea out of sight of land. I know that would terrify many others, it is a feeling for me of absolute completeness. There is certainly plenty to absorb right here at home beside the ocean. The coastal First Nations of this region have a rich culture. Yet it is the desert which calls me.
Part of which fascinates me about these ancient cultures is a spiritual wholeness despite the bleakness of the people’s environments and the paucity of basics, like water. Yet they thrived and even had enough reserve to produce beautiful art. In my world where there is an overwhelming abundance of nearly everything, except spiritual fullness, inner peace and contentment have somehow been perverted to yet another commodity. Everything has been reduced to monetary values. That is never more evident than in this season which was founded on the premise of hope and common humanity. It is up to each of us to find the spirit which cannot be wrapped up and tied with a ribbon.
This blog’s quote comes from the inside of the front cover of the ‘Book Of The Hopi.’ In consideration of Mr. Trump’s recent public denigration of Mr. Trudeau, this stands as sufficient political comment.
“ There is no such thing as a little country. The greatness of a people is no more determined by their number than the greatness of a man is determined by his height.” …Victor Hugo
Black Friday originally described a stock market event in the US in 1869 then re-emerged in 1966 as a marketing concept. Its ugly name has evolved to now officially mark the beginning of our annual frantic Christmas consumer orgy although there has, of course, already been some vigorous Christmas advertising through the past couple of months. The notation of Christian celebration of birth and renewal at the time of winter solstice, of family, peace, joy and love have been herded to the back of the bus. So it is within each of us to find something positive in this cold, dark, damp time of year. I only wish some other colour had been chosen to mark the beginning of what used to be the season of joy and celebration. There must have been a sale on surplus black after Halloween. And, Happy Thanksgiving to our American neighbours. There was a time when we Canadians celebrated this day at the same time. Yes look it up, it’s true. I remember Thanksgiving’s deep snow and cold and as a child, dreading the two more horrific turkey dinners of Christmas and New Years which lurked ahead. Folks would load your plate then force-feed it all into you. I can still taste those watery lumpy mashed turnips, parsnips, yams. Next came the heavy puddings, sauces and cakes. Bleah! It was agony.
The vehicle I followed out of the ferry terminal had something written on the back bumper. Of course I had to move up too close to read it. “All Out Sewage Pumping.” Of course I recalled others I have seen on sewage pumping trucks, otherwise known as “Honey Wagons.” “Back Off Or I’ll Flush.” “A Royal Flush Beats A Full House” and “Satisfaction Guaranteed Or Double Your Sewage Back.” Well look, yeah it might be a crappy way to start a blog but it’s humour and this gruff old sailor insists on grabbing all he can. I’ve even thought up a couple of hilariously rude seweriffic logos myself which will stay right in the bowel, (I meant bowl) where they belong. I would not want to offend P.L.O.P.S. (Professional League Of Plumbing and Sanitation workers.) Tonight’s news carried a bizarre story about some dude in Toronto who’s been dashing around dumping buckets of raw sewage on people. I could see the news-readers bursting to drop cracks about a shitty attitude. Dung ho! We have now plungered into yet another BLACK FRIDAY season and I, at least, need all the mirth I can find. Grrrrr to the notion that the amount you spend is a gauge of your affection for others.
Yesterday a friend dropped off an item I had left behind at a mutual friends house. I met him on that road from the ferry terminal and had no trouble recognizing his vehicle. It was a tiny three-wheeled electric car and a delight to see. A practical, affordable working electric vehicle. Developed in Canada it is a short-range vehicle, built for one person, has two trunks and enough range (160km) to get through the day. It is priced lower than many motorcycles and will be available with two seats in future. This is a product for folks who truly think green and want to travel warm and dry. A green vehicle should not have to be a statement about your wealth. Check out http://www.smallev.com It looks like a left-over from a Star Wars movie set and from what I saw, the vehicle accelerates like a fighter jet. It certainly looks like fun. Apparently there are over 20,000 orders before full-scale production begins. “May the force be with them.”
Just back from our morning walk, Jack and I are warming up with a bowel of warm oaty gluten. You know, the stuff that drew the human race out of the woods, porridge and beer. Now it’s bad for us! A rising Norwesterly howled down the creek where we went and we came home dead chilly. Bugga! I just don’t have the juices I used to. There was a time when I never wore gloves, even when it was -40º. Mind you they were usually coated in grease. Now these old arthritic bunches of bananas whimper in my pockets. I used to feel this burning cold only in my feet at the end of the day, but now a viral pain sits on my shoulders and whispers in my tingling ears “South you old fool, south!” I’m working on it. So I walked along while improvising lines of poetry like:
” They called her November Dawn
And it didn’t take long
To see why she’d gained her handle.
Her glare was dark and icy
The light in her eyes slow to kindle
As a cold rain began to fall horizontal
…… next line please.
Ah c’mon! Look mate, just trying to make it through the day! It’s tough living with a fertile mind. The thing about messing with words is that you have to keep juggling ideas until something lights up and then write it down then!
Next morning, the sunlight is gone, it has warmed up, there’s a chance of snow. Off we go again, just another day living the dream, hatching schemes and bad poetry out on the old sniff ‘n piss trail. We went out again this afternoon. It began to dump a load of wet greasy snow that pelted down for a half hour. When the clouds lifted a bit I could see half-way up the mountain above town. It was beautiful, up there. Well enough talk of winter and dark days. Here’s something from the streets of New Orleans to warm your heart. It is not at all Christmasy but it certainly cheered this gruff old sailor’s heart. This YouTube link to a Tuba Skinny video brings me the old message “Dance like no-one is watching” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJP3fhan75o .
I hope it makes you smile. Now off you go! Do the Black Friday Boogie. You can leave your gumboots on!
“One picture is worth 1,000 denials.” Ronald Reagan