Under The River

In the eye of the hurricane. Or is it between rivers?
In the dog park.
Clear the park, here comes Jack. It is torture to watch your beloved old dog shuffling stiffly where he used to leap and bound and race. His running gear is shot but there’s still light in his eyes and a frequent smile on his face. He still charms everyone he meets.
Wot a morning!

Here I sit, a steaming mug of coffee beside me as I begin to write. I am in my camper, the “Hemoth”, in a friend’s backyard on Gabriola Island, visiting old haunts and friends. This is yet another blog in which I mention the rain. The next “Atmospheric River” arrived in the night. The rain drums a wild fandango on the camper roof. I lay up in the bed snug and warm, cozy in the result of all my efforts. The new mattress is very fine, the furnace works like a good one should. I looked out through the now not-leaking windows at the thin grey dawn and went to the brand-new toilet. Then it was time to light the new-used galley stove and perk a pot of coffee. My day can begin. Sheer decadence!

Another river arrives. Day shift at the toilet paper factory.
Lemon Soup.

Storm surge. Storm wind out on the open strait pushes the high tide even higher in Degnen Bay on Gabriola Island.

This island was my home for a few years. I worked in the local shipyard and have wonderful stories, not all happy, about what I can look back on as the end of an era. The restaurant has burned down, the shipyard is closed, any hope of reviving the wooden boat school is long-lost. Rumours of an ancient Indian curse on Silva Bay ring true. I’ll meander around the island and then hopefully catch a ferry back to the big island. There’s been a crewing problem on the ferry due to a shortage of Covid-vaccinated personnel and several sailing have been cancelled. Like a turtle with its home on its back I’ll be fine, the old man who lived in an egg.

Home again, checking my email, I come upon the following ad from someone selling insurance. “Burial coverage that lasts a lifetime.” It’s a lugubrious mix of words which can be interpreted a few different ways. I wonder if the ad-writer woke up in the middle of the night realizing their gaff. “We’ll cover your ass.” “Out of luck, you’re dead.” It will be hard pulling your foot out of that one. Thanks for the humour!

Sometimes the gods send you an angel. Today I was tinkering on the ‘Hemoth’ where it sits in our storage yard on the back alley. I was about to drive away when a senior in their small enclosed electric scooter trundled up the alley, effectively blocking my exit. I sat and waited, allowing them time to clear the alley without my imposition behind them. Finally I idled up the alley as slowly as I could but there was the little red cart blocking the route. I sat mumblefluxing to myself about how to deal with the situation. The occupant sat inside the cart’s plastic enclosure peering back at me as if she wanted me to pass her. Finally she dismounted and came back to the truck. She needed help. Her battery was dead and she asked if I could tow her home to a senior’s housing complex two blocks away. Of course I would.

I secured a stout thirty foot marine mooring line to the front of her tiny buggy and we set off as slowly as I could. Up the hill, out onto the street, around another corner, further up the hill, around another corner. We arrived without mishap. I then pushed the cart by hand as she steered the remaining distance to her parking spot at her front door. All of the dark imaginings about what could have gone wrong on our wee jaunt vaporized as she introduced herself. Loriki was a very old tiny Japanese lady who was utterly charming. Jack was eager to meet her which in itself is a huge accolade. I gained a friend and feel blessed to have lent her a hand. Meeting her made my day. And to think how I could have bulled my way past her and left her to fate.

Kindness is a selfish thing, your reward is always bigger than your offering. I keep smiling at the image of my big lurching camper truck towing this lady up the street at the end of a long rope. There’s a cartoon there.

Two days since I began this blog the lid was jacked off another grim grey dawn. Another atmospheric river flows over us and rain pizzles down without stop. Jack’s outdoor water dish is full and overflowing yet again. As a former pilot from the old days when meteorology was a serious subject (right behind learning Morse Code) I was required to know about warm and cold fronts, trowels, troughs, high and low pressure systems, cloud types and what they meant in forecasting, isobars and dew points. Never among all that terminology did the term “atmospheric river” appear. It seemed logical that we knew how to look at a barometer and thermometer and what sort of clouds were blowing which way, then be able to predict what the weather was up to. Now we press a button and it is instantly available and explained. We can also turn on the tely and let some young nubile in a tight dress verbally machine gun a continuous sentence about atmospheric rivers. She’ll use words like “Prowr” and other illiteracies. Until recently, her term for “Atmospheric River” was “Pineapple Express.” I guess folks just aren’t content with the twelve month predictions in the Farmer’s Almanac anymore. And do you remember the catgut barometer where the little Swiss milkmaid came out of a tiny Alpine cabin for fair weather and the old man came out for the shit days? Yeah, I guess I AM that old.

Walkabout on a fine morning. The last of the fog burns off over downtown Ladysmith.
Allegedly the nicest main street in Canada!
Perhaps it is now…with a new public washroom. It cost us $100,000. and there are days I would have paid that! I like to think that my letters to the editor helped promote this notion of civilization.
It has been a very long time since I’ve gone to a barkeeper to rent a room.
Not exactly the Hilton, but I’ll bet there are a lot of stories from the years behind that door.
Two doors down from the cat. Children love the old machinery along our main street.

Next day another atmospheric river is meandering overhead. Through the day the rain steadily increases in volume and after nightfall, about 4:30 pm, a fog begins to rise. I need to nip down to the grocery story, the main street is resplendent in Christmas lights. The usual number of moron motorists insist on driving around with retina-burning hi-beam headlights. I am half-blinded as I creep through the four-way stop. Suddenly, immediately in front of the car’s hood, a black-clad, black umbrella toting pedestrian has appeared. How she got out there from the curb is stunning. Yes, I stopped in time. I gave her my best old sailor roar but she was adamant about her rights. I’ve said it before and damnit I’ll say it again. We see it daily on our roads. We have devolved to the point where the primal instinct, fear, which has kept our species alive for a very long time, has eroded severely for many people. Perhaps there is a FEAR App. for that ubiquitous cell phone. Beep, beep, termination imminent!

Must be a relative. I had to grab a shot of this. note the new driver decal and the crawl-through window in the back.
See the resemblance?

The premium app allows you to choose a celebrity warning voice. How about Porky Pig? “Tha, tha, that’s all folks!”

Black Friday Weekend huh?

Sunday morning, the rain continues. Monday, it’s stopped for a while. Jack and I are going for a walk.

Fredfessions :

Three blogs back I made the heinous error of describing the Farsi language as Parsi. Just one letter out but it is like describing Chinese as Japanese. I owe an apology to a very large ethnic group.

My second brainfart (to which I’ll admit) came today when an email arrived to which I stupidly responded. It was a scam. Now I am having to undo my knee-jerk foolishness. It is a time of year when we are all probably expecting a package and with current shipping issues, a damaged label seemed quite possible. They needed $3 to relabel and redirect the package. The scam really comes when you’ve given them a credit card number which is then reported to be not working and do you have another one you could use? Dumbo finally smelled the coffee and reported his stupidity. A new credit card is in the mail. I know, I know …as smart as he looks! You’ve been warned. Interestingly within hours, several ‘stranded package’ scams appeared. Scams must work, they keep coming. I’m not the only fool out there.

Looks convincing, right? Especially when you’re waiting for an overdue parcel. I’m smarter now!
Another ‘atmospheric river’ arrives. Actually, the river is a constant, flowing eternally as the planet turns. Sometimes there’s some junk in the water. The app you see is windy.com. It’s free to download.
Despite wind, rain, and frost there’s a little beauty still sheltering in the thickets.
Hang in there.

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” Plato

__________________________________________________________________________________

Drip

A bleary first sight of the day through the bedroom screen. There have been several of these in a row. “Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning.”
SCARY! There’s a little light in my eyes, albeit a red dawn, but wot a sight! The selfie was a sleepy accident and a funny image of an old fart before his first coffee.

It’s interesting how mere ideas can polarize friendships and nations. Those differences can start wars, cause untold miseries and close minds to realistic solutions. Of course, they can also bring people closer together and advance the course of humanity. The past few days have seen folks in Southern BC under the enduring result of a devastating weather system which has left huge areas of the southwestern province flooded and shattered. If an invading military force had wanted to strategically cripple us, they could not have done as good a job. Immediately there are people who appoint themselves environmental experts declaring this a “one of” event and clear proof of global warming. Laymen’s differing opinions range widely and folks will argue a point fiercely, based entirely on what they saw on television.

After the rain stopped. Nanaimo River

May I gently point out the great flood of 1948 when a huge portion of the lower mainland was underwater or even three years ago when a vicious windstorm left a large part of the Southern coast without power for up to a month. There are numerous events which we soon relegate to the delete bin. How quickly we forget. Admittedly we haven’t had a single weather event before which so quickly crippled the province and it will take a very long time to get our infrastructure back in order. However, for example, when you drain a lake and develop farms on its bottom, you are not eternally going to break the law of gravity.

One of the ambitions of my blog is to provoke thought and reaction. If I piss you off, or at least raise eyebrows, then I am content to have stirred the pot and to know you actually read my efforts. I do not place myself among the home-brewed experts who can use anything as an example of their argument. I find a lot of environmental conjecture as unfounded and irrational. Folks are unwilling, or unable, to see ourselves as the tiny organism we are within the universe. However Covid 19 is a fine example of the destruction a tiny organism can cause.

As the turgid water clears, another run of spawning salmon arrives.
Back from the open ocean, the spawning salmon will soon become earth again and complete a huge and magic cycle.
A glimpse back to a time when men were men and there fish to catch. Few of these boats have left the dock in years.

Whatever we are within the grand scheme of things, we do have the capacity to think for ourselves. We can assess and dissect any idea, even the opposing perspectives before we determine all the “What ifs.” Despite our intention to do so, you cannot measure the natural world in terms of a human lifespan. We have become so used to living in a man-made world that when it rains on our picnic, we need to blame somebody. Sometimes, stuff just happens. Dealing with that fact is part of our human challenge.

On a positive side, natural disasters also bring out the best in many people. Acts of charity and heroism abound. Many of those stories have not been heard yet. The resilience and tenacity of some folks is tremendous. The kindness of individuals and groups toward neighbours and strangers is inspiring to say the least. We see the best in people during times like this. Light overcomes darkness and we’ll look back on these days with quiet wonder.

Another frightening image…in full fungal glory. Winter brings out some wonderful fungi.

A friend directed me to some fresh ideas on how capitalism is the root cause of environmental woe. Capitalism depends on constant expansion and the dogma of ever more. But we live on a finite planet and eventually we arrive at a huge conundrum where we can maintain our explosive greed no more. The wisdom comes from a fellow named George Monbiot. He also has several videos posted on YouTube. If you appreciate lateral thinking and alternate consideration it may be worth your while to sample this fellow’s thoughts. He has a skillful turn of phrase and some refreshing notions.

Where coal was once loaded from rail cars onto full-rigged ships, little remains as evidence of that industry. This rusted train wheel looks as if it somehow floated onto this beach. The black material is crushed coal.

A few days after our deluge a glorious full moon set in a clear sky while the dawn broadened across the eastern horizon as a bloody red slash. If it wasn’t overcast and raining, each dawn since has been similar. Weather apps indicate another monstrous front is about to hit our coast. As the Australian said, “Brace yerself Sheila!”

Store shelves are emptying and we are now on temporary gas rationing. Christmas madness is bursting in all the media and some environmentalists rage about the tradition of Christmas trees. What a year!

Another shining beauty. some creature, probably a squirrel, has had a wee nibble.
The joy of seeing. I was trying to make a good photo f the diving bird below when I looked down to see this primitive carving on the rock where I stood.
Sit bird, sit.

Everyone complains about the weather, but nobody ever seems to do anything about it.” Willard Scott

WET

This photo says it all. Thank the gods it is not snow!
Water Cress. The ditch in the alley above the house. “He drowned twenty feet above his roof.”

The rain pulsed down. For some strange reason I thought of some horrific sacrifical beast which bleeding horrifically and gasping with gusting, dying breaths. The tiny coastal town also lay bleeding and gasping. Chemainus, once a lumbering and fishing centre, had turned desperately to tourism when industry failed. Now it was a retirement town. Its houses sat small and mostly well-kept on tidy streets which undulated up the hills away from the sea. In a bid to attract tourist trade, tributes to the town’s early history and first nations heritage were generously displayed around the downtown. Block-long murals, now fading, and sculptures of native figures, now burdened with moss and slime, were everywhere.

On one side street, a small restaurant, favoured by local seniors, unchanged for decades, sat in the rain. Next door the visage of a local timber baron glared down from a multi-story mural. Aromas of good and simple food escaped into the chill dampness. There was a handicap parking spot immediately in front of the door. On Sunday afternoon, the first nightfall since the clocks had been turned back for the winter ahead, the door briefly opened and amber light spilled out to reflect on the puddles in the street. Inside there were two tables available, all the rest were full. We took the small one by the window. A large, elderly woman rammed her wheel chair fiercely into the other setting and planted herself as if to stake out the other seven chairs around her. Her body and her voice trembled with a dreadful palsy but undaunted she imposed a loud conversation with the unfortunates at the table next to her.

The morning before the rain began.
Baldwin behind glass. A municipal treasure, this old Baldwin logging locomotive is stored out of harm’s way…and public view.

It was the sort of place which was decorated with amateur oil paintings of landscapes painted on old saw blades. The one nailed over our table showed a crude depiction of prairie grain elevators poised between forest and rolling fields. Although the ocean lay two blocks away no nautical nostalgia was evident. There was a shelf filled with home-made jams for sale. A sign solicited any available canning jars. The little restaurant was a time machine into decades past.

An old man, grossly obese, sat across from us. His flabby white thighs burst out of his too-short soccer shorts, a pair of white knee-high socks added to the incongruity of his corpulence presented in an athletic costume. He sat watching his fellow patrons until finally he waddled off out into the spattering wet. More cars fitted themselves into the handicap spot. Watching those various lurching gymnastics was clearly prime entertainment.

A week later the rain continues to drum down. A forecast is up for a biblical deluge to sweep over us, 75mm in less than 48 hours. We are wearily resolved to a watery fate. In Ladysmith, the next town up the abandoned railway, I stopped at a local restaurant to pick up some take-out food. Incredibly, into that place shuffled the same old fat man from Chemainus. He wore the same costume in Chemainus. I’d recognize those wattles anywhere.

In the early morning rain…
Despite the deluge the communal faithful turned out to to put up Christmas lights. Bless them everyone, hopefully there were big bowls of hot butter rum at the end of their gambit.

Meanwhile the rhetoric about the Glasgow environmental conference thinly sputters to its next stage of incessant review. It’ll go on for months. Nearly every journalist presents themselves as an eco-expert while the participants, from Greta to Joe Biden continue to blither on. When you need a long parade of vehicles (85) and a squadron of transport aircraft to go save the world a few questions tend to rise. Now everyone who hoped to be seen at the conference heads self-righteously homeward in a storm of jet exhaust. Frankly I think the entire effort made as much sense as mufflers on a Tesla.

Yes there is a global warming trend, just as there have been many before in the history of this planet going back long before the human parasite showed up. We are contributing to the effect, but let’s not be so arrogant as to claim to be the exclusive cause of it. We will not begin to solve any issue so long as we remain determined to bullshit ourselves. Let’s take a look in the mirror and then consider what we can do personally within our own sphere of being. Resolving any issue is not about what someone else should do. Got that, Greta and friends?

Bambi Lane. In Oak Bay, where one risks being trampled by an urban deer.
I joked about the town deer wearing Gucci wrist watches. There are two local factions, one to cull the deer and one to save them. Think of all the places on earth where they’d love to have this problem.

Meanwhile our local forecast of gloom is proving accurate. The rain is pounding on the skylight like Charlie Watts is up there. Two months ago everyone was gasping in a summer-long heat wave. Only four or five months of winter ahead. Bugga! It has nothing to do with enviro-disaster, it is simply November on Vancouver Island. The rain has been falling since Friday evening and is forecast to ease tomorrow afternoon. Then there will be a mere 24% chance of rain. Think about that.

Rain dogs. After our plod in the wet, we came home to find an email from a friend with the following photo attached.
I don’t like Cabo but…I’ll be right down.
Photo credit: Ann & Randy

Two quotes I’ve stumbled across this afternoon:

I’m not getting old, I’m evolving.” Keith Richards

I ain’t draft dodging. I ain’t burning no flag. I ain’t running to Canada. I’m staying right here. You want to send me to jail? Fine, you go right ahead. I’ve been in jail for 400 years. I could be there for four or five more, but I ain’t going no 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people.

“If I want to die, I’ll die right here, right now, fightin’ you, if I want to die. You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. Want me to go somewhere and fight for you? You won’t even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs. You won’t even stand up for me right here at home. “

– Muhammad Ali

I can barely recall taking this image but such a moment will come again..

A Happy Day

The dawn on the day in question. There were no gaily frolicking dolphins, it was even too wet for them.

Driving in the coastal morning dark can be hell. During a hard rain the sucking gloom becomes a black hole, like the inside of a bear. The wet slashes down and sticks to the windshield like thin, cold oil. It will not wipe away. Some other cars hurtle madly past on the lemming highway and promptly vanish as if sucked into a celestial black hole. Headlights in the spray become a blinding, impenetrable fog. Yet we arrived safely. I walked into the glare of the Duke Point ferry terminal.

But sometimes a day becomes a celebration of life, like it or not. It can happen even when the weather is apocalyptic. The day I’m writing about was one of those doomy days in New Westminster. The rain had persisted all the way from Vancouver Island. Thick heavy dark clouds scudded overhead only fifty feet up. The incessant cold rain hammered down and bounced back knee-high, chilling wet and bloody miserable. Full daylight never appeared.

My old truck and camper, now named the “Hemoth” is a dreadful daily driver. Lurching around town is a challenge and finding a place to park is never fun. Angle parking on main street is risky business. The truck, with dual rear-wheels is useless on wet hills without the weight of the camper and I want to keep the two together as a single unit ready to go south at the first possible moment. Its monster diesel engine likes to warm up and do some work, which can’t happen putting only a few blocks at a time. I don’t have enough money to get away at the moment so I decided to acquire a cheap “Winter beater.”

Beater World with dozens more inside. There was no razzle dazzle or any expensive suits, just simple decency and integrity.

I’d been questing a rough-road capable scooter but they’re incredibly overpriced, even with high mileage. For a few dollars more one can buy a new one. So I thought I’d apply that same budget to a small used automobile. Mission impossible. During my quest, I did discover a Rolls Royce SUV, (a mere $450,000.) just the ticket to drive up the mountain in hope of finding a grouse for supper, cheap meat old chap!

Eventually I found a vehicle for my pittance and off I went into the rain of the back waters of an old industrial park in New Westminster. There was a labryinth of twisting streets leading onto the far end of Lulu Island in the Fraser River. Even when the taxi arrived it took a minute to realize I was in the right place. It was a yard jammed with cars, no more than six inches apart. In the rain, you could not walk between the dripping fenders without soon becoming soaked. Still the folks were all congenial and I sensed that they operated with a rare integrity.

Everyone works together with a rare feel of harmony. There is an exotic air to the place, in part because the language they speak among themselves is Parsi which fascinated me. All seem truly interested in the customer’s best interests. Every vehicle I wanted to see was parked in a back row so there were other cars to move around first which required even more shuffling to find room to put them. And, of course, every vehicle needed its battery boosted. The prices were fair, there were no rip-off documentation fees and there was no argument when the vehicle I came to see proved to have too many problems. In fact the owner offered me a very fair price on another vehicle, which I ended up buying. It is an innocuous little silver car with plenty of miles but it runs well and was driveable without any repairs needed. My experience was quite pleasant and not at all like a “Big Slick” operation most of us have known. Some folks still understand the ‘golden rule’ and I can confidently recommend this place to anyone.

I’ll go back there again and heartily recommend Tala Auto Select if you need a low-price vehicle. You’ll find them online. By the way, should it matter to you, there was a large inventory of assorted BMWs and a large private collection stored inside. That is guarded by five feisty little dogs.

An oasis in the rain.
Going fast. I thought I should take a photo before I inhaled the whole thing. There was no need for supper.

Next door to this business is Rozzini’s Restaurant. They advertise an Italian, Greek and Indian menu. Their fare is superb, the prices are great, the service was grand. They’re online too and well worth the out-of-the-way drive for a positively unique experience. I was at the ferry terminal and sailing back to Vancouver Island before evening darkness fell, my belly full of roast lamb. The rain never stopped.

I should also mention that during weekdays, seniors travel on BC Ferries for free. I walked off the ferry, stepped right onto a bus and one transfer later I found myself at the Scott Road Station, in less than an hour from the ferry, for the lofty sum of $3. Bitch all you want, we’re doing fine. This old grump is truly pleased with all my experiences on Coastal BC public transit systems.

As I drove back to the ferry that afternoon, in the weaving traffic and endless rain, I realized that for the same money I could be out there wobbling along on a used scooter, raincoat flapping next to some cement truck’s wheels. Yep, it was a good day. Now all I have to learn is how to find such an ordinary little car where I left it in a big parking lot.

A morning with better weather…our local dog park.
Thazzal for now folks. The wind and the rain are beating the leaves from the trees.
Jack has always loved little boats. He did not leave this piece of flotsam easily.
A golden pond.

 

Fish rise within the reflections.
They’re baaack!
A never-ending drama that is never diminished in wonder when the salmon return each year.
Autumn low tide
Dogpatch, nothing ever changes. Abandoned boathouse and sailboat beside old pilings that I think would make a grand base for a new marine pub.
An explanation among the garbage on the beach.
Halloween rose
November Suckle
A local blueberry farm. It’s for sale.
Solitude
The municipal hanging tree
No-one could say when it began but slowly an ancient castle emerged from the ground in the forest.
The ‘Swell.’ This beautiful old wooden tug was launched in 1903 as the last steam-powered tug built on the BC Coast. I remember talking to her on the VHF through the years from various tugboat wheelhouses when she still worked as a Tug for Westview Dredge and Dock. After an extensive rebuild and refit she reappeared as she looks now, a fabulous mobile fishing lodge.

Electric cars aren’t pollution-free; they have to get their energy from somewhere.

Alexandra Paul

An Omen?

A friend, recently arrived in San Carlos Mexico, sent me a photo. He thought it was an interesting co-incidence that he’d found a boat named ‘Seafire.’ It was in fact, my old boat!

The photo that stirred all the memories. I instantly recognized every bolt, sliver and line after all these years.                                                                                                                 Photo is courtesy of Cliff  Robb

Here’s the rest of the story. When I arrived on Vancouver Island, I had a tiny trailerable sailboat called a Northwest 21. It was poorly built, not particularly pretty and certainly not intended for rugged upcoast sailing. Guess who sailed it to the top of Vancouver Island in March. Yep! “Smart as he looks.” This coast is still definitely in winter at that time of year but can switch back and forth between seasons in minutes. As spring comes sniffing around there are some huge battles between the elements of wind, rain, snow and very troubled waters where the massive North Pacific gyre collides with the mountainous coast of British Columbia.

That little boat was never intended for voyaging; anywhere. It had no insulation inside the thin, sweating fibreglass hull, no real heat, no cook stove, had only squatting head room and little sensibility aboard. Driven as I was I spent my days cold, wet and even terrified bashing slowly northward. I had a small propane catalytic heater which produced more water vapour than warmth. There was a tiny one-burner propane camp stove and I ate generally tepid, half-raw, half-burned muck. My nights, (long and dark) anchored in some black bubbling backwater were spent huddled in damp bedding wondering what the hell I was doing. Yet I was driven to get out on the ocean and so I ventured onward.

Late one soggy afternoon, (I think it was in Potts Lagoon) a couple on another boat took pity and invited me over for dinner. They were young newlyweds on their way to Alaska to skipper tour boats for the summer. They were then planning to cruise down to the Marquesas at the end of their work season. Their vessel was a gorgeous and immaculate wooden 38’ Atkin ketch. My life was forever changed when I went below into the soothing warm ambience of their Dickinsen diesel stove. I can still remember the inspiration of their mutual dreams and the encompassing sense of well-being aboard that cozy boat. The vessel’s name was ‘Seafire.’ I returned to the dank chill of my own little pisspot later that night transformed with a new awareness of who I was and what I wanted to do. Suddenly I understood the magic of the coastal labyrinth where I trespassed. I was not the only character playing with my needle out of the groove. The coastal back waters were loaded with the likes of we.

I learned the following year that on their southward trek that fall, the crew of ‘Seafire’ had allegedly been attacked and sunk by Orca whales somewhere to the west of Panama. The crew had survived but I heard no more of them. The memory of those few hours spent aboard with them is indelible. Almost forty years later I am still infused with their inspiration. I became familiar with, and fell in love with, a sailboat design known as a ‘True North 34.’ Ones built in Asia were known as ‘Noon Oceans.’ They were a Stan Huntingford design, a traditional heavy displacement boat intended for long passages. Their bigger brother was known as a ‘Rafiki 37’ Many folks mistook the True North as a Westsail 32,’ a standard of offshore cruising boats for decades.

The boat I bought was hull #1 out of the mold at Tradewind Yachts in North Vancouver. It had been the home for seventeen years to a fine fellow named Frank Poirier who was the caretaker at Malibu Lodge. That was far up Jervis Inlet, located on a neck of land beside a tidal rapids which one transits at slack water to enter Princess Louisa inlet. The lodge was built by a man named Hamilton. To this day a totem pole stands there and on its base is carved a three-bladed aircraft propeller. Hamilton was the inventor of the constant speed aircraft propeller and his timing coincided with the beginning of WWII. He made a fortune and built a retreat for the rich and famous. There’s the rest of the story. Frank had finished building the boat himself and his work was “rustic” but the boat held a certain charm in part due to the hundreds of books which filled its shelves and of course it had a Dickinsen oil stove with its wonderful cozy heat. The trip to pick up the vessel and bring it home was unforgettable. My brother came with me. We had been separated for over twenty years. The journey was a great way to bond and all these years later we still talk about it.

I ripped and tore and rebuilt that boat in a manic surge that went on for years. The name was changed from ‘Sunward II’ to ‘Seafire’ in honour of my inspiration of that young couple. Getting the vessel to Mexico was my ambition but alas it was not to be. My wife and I chartered her, hosting guests from Europe. I reluctantly decided to sell and build a bigger vessel more suited to chartering and living aboard. The plan was to have a boat that could earn her way as she travelled.

Isn’t she gorgeous? Little has changed since I last stood on her decks. The original wooden mast still stands. The dodger, the boomkin, the bowsprit, the trail boards, the gallows, and all the other things I built, they have all endured.
Flattery indeed.                                    Photo courtesy of Cliff Robb

The years hurtled past. Plans and fortunes changed. Several boats later I’d found an ideal motor sailor to take from the West coast to the Baltic and on through Europe. Once again I embarked on an odyssey of refitting another boat. One of the first steps was to remove the vessel from US registry and re-document her as a Canadian vessel, home port Victoria. When I walked into the Transport Canada office in Victoria I was greeted as “Mr. Seafire.” They had come to recognize me from all the different boats I’d owned. I was told that my timing was co-incidental. One of the names available, because a routine registration renewal document had not been filed was, believe it or not, ‘Seafire.’ The boat had gone to Mexico and vanished.

It seemed, to me, like an omen and so the name ‘Seafire’ sailed again. That boat was my home for several years and our adventures up and down this coast are many. Then in bitter regret I had to sell her, my finances had crumbled and I had no choice. The day I last stepped off her decks, it seemed my life had ended. It still does. A friend has told me “If you ain’t been aground, you ain’t been around.” Perhaps a high spring tide will yet float me free of the reef where I find myself stranded. I can tell you that life is mighty dry without a boat. I can also tell you that the old mantra about “Go simple, go now” is struth indeed. This moment is all we’ve got and what we regret most is what we don’t do. Just do it.

I know that if I found a rewind button for my life I’d make a whole new set of mistakes, but if I retained any knowledge from this life it would be an acute awareness of the “NOW” factor. All I can hope, is that even in its tiny way, and things ‘Seafire’ whisk through my being, it is indeed another omen of good things ahead. Have I come full circle? Perhaps, somehow, this blog will again be known as the ‘Seafire Chronicles’… part three.

This has been a signature photo for decades. I shot it aboard old ‘Seafire’ close-hauled on a port tack northbound past Thormanby Island.

A photo of my second ‘Seafire’ is in the right hand sidebar.

One of the great cosmic laws, I think, is that whatever we hold in our thought will come true in our experience. When we hold something, anything, in our thought, then somehow coincidence leads us in the direction that we’ve been wishing to lead ourselves.” Richard Bach

In Passing

In Passing

Photos in my last blog of the Squilax General Store inspired a surprising response from some readers. Assuming that no one would relate to the old brick building I was surprised it had been part of other’s lives as well. Go figure! The little store sat in the shadow of a high, long wooden bridge which took travellers over the Little Shuswap River to the upper reaches of big Shuswap Lake and also to Adams Lake and remote locations beyond. Place names like Scotch Creek, Celista, Anglemont, and Hard Scramble come to mind. There was a spattering of summer homes and a marina. It was an area essentially undiscovered to the outside world… then.

What’s in a memory?

I had come to the area due to a strange series of circumstances. I found myself working on a ranch belonging to a religious organization. I soon moved over to a neighbouring ranch and have indelible memories of life and all that I learned up in Turtle Valley. I sometimes wish I’d never left. At the bottom of the steep dirt road was the location of Squilax Station on the CPR mainline. The ranch family I worked for had bought the old station building, put it on log skids and dragged it behind the ranch bulldozer all the way up into the valley and set it on new foundations. That was over fifty years ago and other ranchers are still peeved about ripped-out portions of fence, wandering cattle and general mayhem. Country folk are often quite parochial and that event is part of the fabric of local legend. The old building is still there so far as I know, still in it’s very faded, peeling railway burgundy paint. There is a novella lurking about my rich experiences there. Looking back, everything seems larger than life, including the Squilax Store.

Imagine all that has been seen through these windows

At the bottom of the Turtle Valley Hill was a looping ramp which rose from the Trans-Canada highway and made a three-quarter turn to the long wooden bridge across the Little Shuswap River. There was a traffic light at either end of the single-lane bridge. Invariably there was a long wait for the light to turn green. I drove a ‘64 Buick like a maniac on the daily trip to work at the Holdings Sawmill on Adams Lake. A co-worker had financed a brand-new Datsun 240Z and insisted on pushing his sports car to the limit. He rolled it over on that approach to the bridge. The old abutments are all that remain of that bridge now. They stand beside the replacement bridge, a two-lane concrete affair with no character but a necessary concession to modern times and a growing population.

The store sat beside the highway on the south bank of the river. I do not know who had built the red brick construction but it stands as solidly as ever. Fifty years ago it already looked as if it had been there forever. Old Mr Herring claimed that he had been a young man working on a British whaling vessel off the coast of Kamchatka. That was where he had met his wife. I recall how everything was priced by hand and all sales were recorded in a ledger. She wrote in cyrillic alphabet which to me was an exotic mystery. She was an elegant silver-haired lady, always in a bright flowered-print dress. He was a bald old man with tiny round-rimmed glasses and sparkling eyes.

One last look before we drive away…if we bothered to stop at all. I can still hear the tinkle of the bell as the door opened.

They lived in the back of the building, the store in the front was very small but offered a wide variety of goods and obviously they had enough trade to provide themselves with a living. There were accounts of another store which they first operated in Fort St. John. I so wish I’d paid more attention. The Squilax store was lined with glass cabinets which had rows of wooden kegs sitting in in front of them. A hinged plank covered the kegs of nails and other hard ware, foodstuffs sat inside the cabinets. You could not buy a piece of cheese from one of the huge blocks without first being offered a sample. The product was cut, weighed and wrapped in brown paper and then tied with string which hung from a spool suspended from the ceiling. The price was carefully marked in cyrillic on the package and also in the ledger. Even then, it was a step far back in time which I did not appreciate. It is long-gone, forever.

The house where I lived back in the day. It’s hard to comprehend that half a century has passed since that age of innocence.

I remember the tinkle of the bell whenever the door was opened and closed and believe I recall a small round wood stove in the storefront. For years I treasured a telescopic fishing rod which travelled with me in my backpack and I still have a splendid axe which has served me well through the years. They both came from that store. One day Mr Herring took a phone call. (Yes, it was one of those old crank-up style phones) There had been a suicide on the Shuswap reserve across the river and the inquiry was for some muslin cloth to prepare the body. There was none in stock but the old shopkeeper had cheesecloth and assured the caller that it was perfectly acceptable to use what was on hand. That led him into a story about a too-small coffin in their former store and how they managed to cram the body into it by sitting on the lid so it could be screwed down.

Looking southward from Turtle Valley, over my old home into Paxton Valley, the location this year of a dreadful wild fire. The pasture in the foreground was once forest. I cleared it as I learned to be a logger.

Well, that’s not much for memories from over half a century ago. Maybe with more dredging I’ll come up with more. I’d love to hear other’s accounts of the Herring’s and their business. Whomever the owners now are, they have heaped the old store with junk and clearly do not appreciate what they have. Such is life. The traffic whizzes by on the highway, and as is so often the case, few appreciate the significance of one obscure place.

I used to have a peaceful life until you came home and started dragging me out in the rain.
arbutus berries and wet bark
They bloom every fall
Another sure sign of the cool damp of autumn. Some of these fungi are nearly the size of plates

At home I’m settling in while I make repairs and upgrades to my RV. There was a tremendous welcome from Jack but it is hard to admit how he is aging. He still has a sparkle in his eyes but his old body is clearly worn out. He can barely walk. I took him to visit friends. A spectacular lunch was prepared and say waiting on the table while we visited. Through the corner of my eye I caught Jack, slowly but deliberately, pulling on the table cloth and inching lunch off the edge of the table. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

What would Squirelly think of this? The back fence is a highway to the hazelnut tree. It’s nuts!

Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.

Franklin Pierce Adams

The Frost Before The Dawn

A kind of hush. Like a steaming kettle, the lake gives up its summer heat. Soon it will freeze over.
A beach all to myself
Jack was with me on a previous visit and loved this pond. Suddenly I missed him desperately.
Simplicity and complexity
Breathe

The title is just not a pliable metaphor, it’s a fact. I’m sitting in my camper watching the day’s sunrise. As so often happens, a while before the first golden rays poke through the trees a hard frost suddenly forms. I sit inside beside the furnace, hot black coffee in hand watching the day evolve. I drove out of my way to be here, Kentucky-Alleyne Provincial Park. It is a special place to me for its chain of small crystalline aqua lakes. I thought I’d have it to myself. Fool! It’s a holiday weekend and there are RVs everywhere. Worst of all, they’ve paved the road in to the park and there is heavy machinery and mud all over. There goes the ’hood. Why the hell we can not leave things alone is a compulsion I don’t understand. If you’re coming out to a place like this to get a taste of the edge of wilderness, why urbanize it to be just like home? The missionary complex! I suppose there will soon be a McDonalds. Bugga!

I could hear Joni Mitchell singing “they’ve paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
For the tree museum.
Roughing it. Perhaps the road was paved so these behemoths would not be damaged while hurtling out to relax. Perhaps those beautiful pines should come down. They may interfere with satellite dish reception.
Says it all

A few days ago I awoke to the smell of cowshit and the sound of a nearby rooster. It was thoroughly pleasant, a vignette from my long ago farm boy past. I was at a friend’s home on the banks of the Shuswap River where it passed through the hamlet of Grindrod. While I put the coffee on, the first vehicle over the bridge was a bulk milk truck headed off to local farms for its morning collection. Places like this still exist despite the encroachment of condos, subdivisions and gentrified hobby farms. Some days I am happy to be the age I am.

End of fire season. One of the joys of driving in BC is the ever-changing geography. This was taken a few miles east of Revelstoke.
Beautiful downtown Grindrod
…And daughters
The Shuswap River from downtown Grindrod, two doors upstream from the pub. The idyllic  setting is punctuated often with the thunder of Harley Davidsons leaving and arriving.
The feed mill at Grindrod. This has been a landmark for a very long time. It was there over fifty years ago when I used to deliver logs to a nearby portable sawmill from the ranch where I worked.
Looking up from downtown Salmon Arm. A few miles over that mountain was “Old Grassy” the summer range land of the ranch where I worked. I used to ride my horse up there, checking our cattle and also hunting. It was another lifetime.
A glimpse into the way I remember things. Beautiful ranchland everywhere is being encroached upon with sub-divisions, trailer parks, storage yards and ostentatious country manors. Sadly the original buildings are disappearing.
Another memory. At the foot of the road down from the high valley where the ranch was, this was the store one passed. i have fond memories of the 1880’s-style general store and the colourful old couple who where the proprietors; Old man Herring and his Russian wife.
I remember passing beneath this sign when it was in perfect condition. This sight leaves me feeling very old. The Squilax Store was located beside a high single-lane wooden bridge which crossed the Little Shuswap River. The bridge was replaced long ago. This site is where paddle-wheelers travelling from Kamloops to Sicamous once stopped to take on more firewood.
Hostile Hostel?
No mail today
A wooden monument to the past probably on the endangered list. This one-lane bridge at Pritchard where it crosses the South Thompson River. I have spent many wonderful afternoons above the grassy plains over the bridge at places like Pinantan Lake.
From the bridge, looking upstream to the east. The river has a system of buoys as it is considered a Canadian navigable waterway from the days of the paddle wheelers. It is hard to believe when the river is so shallow at this time of year.
Quilchena Lake moment. A jewel in the middle of some gorgeous country.

I’m driving a circuitous route homeward, savouring old haunts at a beautiful time of year. Unfortunately my little circus train cannot always stop for the best photos I see; the roadside is too narrow, the traffic too heavy. All the government camp grounds are closed, most private ones too. Spots where I assumed to be able to just find a place off the road seem very hard to find. I drove on and on finally finding myself in the swirling madness of the lower mainland and travelling westward into a setting sun beaming through a filthy windshield. Once aboard a ferry I crawled into the bunk in my camper and slept through the whole crossing. I parked for the night in a secret place and arrived home in the morning.

The ocean! Home!

It was raining lightly when I pulled up in front of the abode and to my horror there was a trail of rainbows behind me on the damp pavement in glowing LGBTQ colours. Of course that would offend someone. I had a serious oil leak and was very lucky to not have run my engine out of oil. I braced myself for the inevitable acid strata council letter. Sure enough! It arrived. Welcome home. You can guess what my plans are. Due South. Open the border por favor.

All is well!
Thanksgiving Sunday in the park.
Home Port, Ladysmith
One of two happy old dogs reunited.

Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” – Maya Angelou

Finally

Gold Creek. A final glimpse of local summer haunts. Now the whole Kootenay summer is in the rear view mirror.

It is October first, a stellar Kootenay autumn day. The sky is a deep blue, the leaves are turning shades of rich bronze, yellow and red. The tamarack are beginning to turn an amazing gold. The colour comes to the top of the trees and then settles downward until half the forest is brilliant with autumn. A few more cold nights and the bull elk will be bugling. There are indelible sounds I’ve heard in the woods such as the call of elk challenging other bulls and the scream of cougars. The howling and yipping of wolves can never be forgotten and this morning I awoke to a serenade of coyotes. Familiar and comforting, to me it was a fitting song of farewell. I’m leaving, going back to Vancouver Island to reckon out what comes next.

Fred’s travelling circus.

Even my little buddy Squirelly seemed to know I was leaving. He came closer to me than ever before and was not, for once, skittish when I moved. It would not be long before he’d be sitting on my knee taking nuts from my hand but he’s best off to remain wild and self-reliant. After a day and a half of packing, my tools and most of my other belongings were stowed into the truck camper and trailer. I have acquired no new “stuff” but could not fit in all that I had brought with me in the spring. I cannot explain it. I’ve left behind my barbecue and my deck shelter, aka the wedding tent. There is just no room. Both are well-used, they owe me nothing but an explanation about the mystery of expanding stuff. My little trailer is groaning under its burden, the axle and drawbar are bowed from their load.

Don’t laugh, it’s all paid for…. And it does everything for me that $200,ooo. of mortgaged shiny RV does!
Feel free to feed the Sasquatch!

I’ve finally driven northward from the Newgate area. Wistful about departing I did not look back. The Kootenay region has a flavour which I love but the job went sour (or was it me) and I’m now eager to discover what lays ahead. At the moment I feel old and tired, my body is complaining about all the young man work I’ve been doing, but my projects are complete, the best is next to come, out there, somewhere around the bend. Tonight I’m sitting in some open meadows along a back country road beside the marshland along the Kootenay River just downstream of the village of Wasa. I could here the loud calls of migrating birds as the sun set. Now there is only the distant howl of tires on the highway and the throb and clatter of trains passing along the transcontinental mainline, about a kilometre distant. It is a moonless night. The stars throb and pulse in a black velvet sky. G’night.

The Kootenay River above where it becomes a man-made mess.
The Wardner Bridge. This is where the Crowsnest Highway crosses the Kootenay River and where the upper reaches of Lake Koocanusa come. In the name of progress a very beautiful river and valley have been turned into a smelly ditch for the benefit of others who never come here. A playground for Calgarians who live in a bleak prairie city, this reservoir cannot begin to compare to the Pacific Ocean.

In the morning I’m up with a fresh-perked black coffee watching as the world emerges from the dark. Despite a forecast of clear skies there is low cloud catching a tinge of pink. A bad sign, “Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning.” Yet the subtle colours are a visual feast. I move on. 

Lost on the highway of life, something I’m good at writing about.

Sometimes you’ve been too beat up

or haven’t healed enough

to know a good thing when you’ve found it.

Sometimes you just gravitate to the pain,

it’s what you’re used to

it’s how you recognize yourself.

It feels like home

it feels more familiar to you than love.

So that’s where you go.

You don’t know how to hold on to love, but you know how to hold on to hurt.”

…Bruce Springstein

Welcome to the swamp! A morning near Wasa.

Did I mention the wolves? I learned about a wolf sanctuary near Golden and drove a long distance out of my way to see it. It tears my heart to see beautiful wild creatures pacing incessantly behind chain link fences yet it is a necessary evil to inform the public about the incredible ignorance imposed on wolves both by government and various organizations who choose to cling to fairy tales about these magnificent and misunderstood creatures.  These were difficult photos to take through the metal fencing. The wolves are well cared for and clearly loved as they pay the price of lost freedom to hopefully improve the plight of their fellows.

A Red Wolf
“Perhaps if I lay low and blend in, he’ll go away.”
“Maybe if I give him some stink eye.”
“Just ignore him, damned human.”
A Grey Wolf
Yum! Fresh Elk roadkill.
Elk again! Elk, elk, elk!
To freedom.

Ends And Beginnings

Kootenay country roads. One last look back at Newgate. I will miss the country.

There is an old saying that goes “If you’re being run out of town, get to the front of the crowd and make it look like a parade.” And so I go. No one is running me out, I’ve had a grand time here, the country is breath-taking and the job was generally reasonable. But it is time to move on. I’m getting too old to take any crap from upstarts and I just can’t kneel, contort and manoeuvre as required to get the job done anymore. My days as a boat artisan are nearing an end. It’s a sobering moment to find yourself in tears of frustration when your old body won’t allow you to get up from the job where you were kneeling. You can’t move out of the boat where you worked and you’re too proud to call for help. You find a tide of uselessness rising over your head.

A Federal bus; a make I’m not familiar with the brand but there must have been many. It’s amazing what you can find nosing around “out back”
No airbags, no seatbelts, no drop-down entertainment system.
Apparently Federal made their own engines.
Out in the back of the yard where dreams are parked to die. They’d make beautiful RVs…but what a lot of work! The license plate on the GMC is 1966.
Trunk junk
Original paint

I know it is my attitude which turns the remains of my days into an ordeal or an adventure. I’ve been watching music videos of Chris Rea, a fabulous blues/rock musician most folks in North America have not heard of of. Despite surviving pancreatic cancer and enduring several daily injections and handfuls of pills, he’s still onstage in his seventies playing concerts and mesmerizing audiences. I wonder how I measure up against folks like that.

For me I believe that several months of long ambling walks in the desert beside the sea would be a good foundation of restorative therapy. Fresh seafood and a regimen of lime margaritas have a definite medical value. So….open the borders damnit! We have an unbelievable system that allows Canadians to fly south into the US but not drive. A friend has discovered that he can hire a transport company to move his vehicle to Seattle (For a tidy fee in US dollars) He can then fly down, retrieve his wheels and drive to and across the Mexican Border. I’ve long-given up trying to make sense of of bureaucratic thinking. I’ve cancelled plans of travelling to Manitoba to visit family. The dread of some sudden new Covid decree which would keep me marooned in that wintry province is holding me back. Suspicion and paranoia have become a way of life. I’m hoping to get home to Vancouver Island before the fences go up again.

Now THAT’s a coffee shop!
There are some amazing log buildings around Jaffray.
More of the same.
ET indeed.
Good coffee too

This morning finds me sitting in the waiting room of an RV dealer in Cranbrook. I’m having the propane system in the old camper inspected and hopefully repaired as required. I’ve been using my barbecue all summer because the oven won’t work. Mechanic I may be, but propane is nothing to mess with if you’re not sure. I leave it to the pros. It turns out the oven is so old that the required thermostat is no longer available. I’ll let this turn into an adventure. A solution will ultimately reveal itself. Meanwhile it is a bright sunny early autumn day and I’ll take a back road home to Newgate.

The other objective of this little jaunt is that this is the first time I’ve had the camper on the truck and I wanted to do an overnight test to make sure that everything was fine. All went well with only minor tinkering required. I have not driven in the dark for a long time and will make note that a lot of motorists now don’t bother with the simple courtesy of dimming their headlights. I parked for the night in a turnout just off the highway. I lay in my bunk amazed at the terminal velocity at which many vehicles hurtled along. It is a stretch of the road clearly marked with warnings about wild life crossing. Clearly, fear is a primal instinct which folks have given up in the madness of present times. A lemming season is upon us.

Boating, mid-sixties. The first sea trial
The one project boat complete. There was a time when this was a grand yacht, Fiber-glass was a new-fangled product that was a passing fad. Wood was the real thing.
The other project boat completed.
Good bye Amigo Squirelly

Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut your doors behind you. Take cover, for in a little while the fury will be behind you.” Isaiah 26:20

NUTS!

The classic pose. Red squirrel sitting on a limb eating a pine seed. I have no illusion about any affection from him. I’m just another potential threat but he does like the peanuts I set out.

There have been no grand events in my existence since last blog. I’ve been trying to complete the restoration of two small boats and I’ve been feeling poorly so I’ve stuck close to home. In a few more days I’ll be on the road after a half-year here at Koocanusa Lake. There are all sorts of Covid 49 paranoias so my travel plans are on hold and it’s best to get home to Vancouver Island before we are all back under house arrest.

Bull pine seeds. A free tree in every one.
Along the way. The center of Jaffray, a village on the way to town. The general store is also the post office. Bets on the age of this sign?
No Bull! Drive carefully. There’s nothing like sliding around a corner on wet pavement and seeing such a beast standing on the center line with his head down. There are herds of cattle, and deer and elk. The newcomers are easy to recognize by how fast they drive. Say moo!
Squirelly! Whazzup? Deer and other wildlife use the squirrel as an early alert system.
Home from the range. This steer showed up to sample the sweet grass just behind my camper. Squirelly didn’t get upset about him and the other cattle.
Hoof it! The brand reads B bar C. as in “property of.”

 

My high life lately has been worrying about and photographing my little pal Squirelly. He continues to survive the Cat Team, two feral cats that have learned to hunt as a pair and are apparently quite accomplished. Squirelly sits high up on a limb, munching on pine cone seeds and broadcasting the screaming meemies to all whenever the deadly duo come anywhere near. I find myself worrying about the little guy (I’ve decided it’s a he) but he seems to be a survivor. He’ll soon have to fend for himself all on his own, as if he hadn’t before he moved into the hood. Here are some recent photos of Squirelly and his buddies.

Squirelly can sit on a limb with his mouth full of pine cone and cuss the whole world for  hours.
Since I’ve parked my bike against the tree Squirelly has decided the seat is a great lookout spot before the final dash to his den entrance.
Run over by a squirrel.
“Made it!”
“Is it safe? Damned cats!”
“No, I won’t come sit on your knee but I’m getting a taste for these big seed things you keep putting out.”
“Just one more.”
The moral of the story:
“Somedays it’s best to just grab the nut and run.”

Animals don’t hate, and we’re supposed to be better than them.”
― Elvis Presley