Have you ever looked up at the sound of an airplane and instead seen a bird? I suppose it’s happened to most of us. I find it hilariously funny. I’ve heard starlings making a perfect imitation of an eagle which amused me immensely. A friend of long ago had a huge, geriatric macaw which used to declare “I can talk, can you fly?” I smile at even the thought of that. Aviation is in my blood. It has been so since I was a small child and I always look up at the sight and sound of any aircraft. I have no control over my instinct. Today I heard a beaver floatplane and looked up to see a seagull. Yep, I laughed and I can’t explain why. Then we had a sunny day and my eye caught a seagull high in the clear sky that was motionless. It turned out to be a drone. What the hell? For some reason that offended me.
That day’s weather was flawless. The afternoon passed under a clear sky and several flocks of Sandhill cranes passed high overhead. I looked up to all I heard in the sky. Three large flocks of migrating cranes passed low overhead, all calling raucously and impossible not to notice. A few people stood on the dock, all engrossed in texting on their mobile phones. No one looked up. No one noticed this marvellous spectacle of nature. How sad! Even here, away from any urban din and bustle, folks still can’t absorb the grandness of a wilderness that so many others pay handsomely to come and hope to see.
On another note of modern mindlessness I just heard a story on CBC radio that I had to check out. Established in 1819, that’s 197 years ago, the Arva Flour Mill in Southwestern Ontario has operated continuously without any accidents. It is the oldest water-powered mill in Canada and should be considered a working museum. The Feds have recently inspected the mill and declared that the mill contravenes several points of the Canadian Labour Code and must close down. Can you believe the idiocy?
The website is http://www.arvaflourmill.com and there is a petition to sign for support of the mill remaining in business. There is a lovely short video about the history of the mill. It certainly tugged at me. I suppose I have a bit of an affinity for this story because the tiny village where I first lived after my birth, Kilbride, in Southern Ontario, had a wonderful water-powered mill. It burned down in the 1960s but I remember the huge wooden shafts and crude hardwood gears all joined by long flapping belts. The mill ground flour, sawed lumber and, if my memory is accurate, also had a machine shop and blacksmith’s forge. It was a very “Green” operation. I can recall that even as a young boy how fascinated I was to see such industry powered by one small stream. I am convinced that in many ways our culture is regressing. We achieved so much with raw intellect before we became addicted to computers.
The modern diesel engines I work on sometimes have up to three separate computers. Last week I worked on a Gardner diesel that was at least fifty years old and going strong. I don’t believe it has ever been rebuilt, can be hand-started in a pinch, has great fuel economy and guess what?… It has no computers!
I’m bemused here in Shearwater at the number of people, both visitors and locals, who indulge perpetually in texting. Some folks can’t seem to walk anywhere without their heads down while poking away at some sort of cyber device. I’m amazed that someone hasn’t stumbled right off of the dock. There was a time not so long ago when people knew how to write letters and were able to hold a conversation with each other in person in real time. I have sat in a restaurant and actually watched a group of teens text each other across the table. I’ve watched a young mother with head down and thumbs flying as she heedlessly pushed her child in his stroller out into rushing traffic. Now there is a concern that public school curriculums include something called ‘coding.’
As we become increasingly detached from our fellows we also seem to loose our regard for other people. In the past week, at Shearwater’s guest dock, I’ve lost a lot of sleep due to other’s rudeness. One night a mega yacht’s generator throbbed relentlessly. Another night the vessel across the dock from me had a large furnace which spewed fumes from a thundering exhaust pipe. On yet another night in the wee hours, a shouting family with a squalling child held a prolonged conversation in the cockpit. Yesterday I spoke harshly with another gormless lout who, for some reason, delighted in leaving his twin unmuffled Detroit diesels at a fast idle for prolonged durations. He couldn’t understand or care that the din and the stink would offend anyone. Finally, the wiring at the worker’s dock was installed and here I am, having had a night’s sleep uninterrupted by anyone else. The wind blew as forecast, shrieking and shaking the boat horrifically; the rigging clattered and moaned. I fell asleep like a happy puppy. The wind quit, a few hours later. I was instantly awake.
On Monday Bella Bella will endure a brief royal visit. It is bringing out the utmost in local foolishness. Shearwater and Bella Bella function as a single community and the water taxis I help maintain are the link between the communities and local areas. Union Jacks are now flying and the flagship of the fleet, the ‘Clowholm Spirit I,’ has been reupholstered, had new name decals and local art applied, has had the upper deck refitted as a promenade deck complete with chairs and umbrellas and two huge British flags. I have a nagging doubt about the vessel’s tipping stability once it is loaded with all that royal meat up top. Can you imagine if the boat rolled over? Remember what happened in Tofino last year? How many drowned? The aspiration, of course, is for a little incidental publicity for the company. Chances are it will be raining and blowing like hell come Monday and the boat will stay at the dock. Each of the three engines in this boat has three computers which we’ve disconnected to prevent damage while the upper deck accoutrements are welded in place. These computers are somewhat fickle and once they are all reconnected they may well have to be reconfigured before the engines will even start. One of the local jokes is about how we know the union jacks are not being displayed inverted. I’ve suggested finding a few dozen of those bullet hole decals and applying them all over the boat. I’ll possibly end up in handcuffs if I don’t keep my cynical perspective under a lid.
It’s amazing how folks who otherwise wouldn’t give a toss are suddenly falling-down gaga about two baby-faced descendants of an empire which tyrannized our aboriginal people and resources. There are ongoing endeavours about freeing ourselves of the remnants of that oppression. Suddenly we’re on our faces to worship two ambivalent characters who have all the same bodily orifices which we do. I’m sure they’re lovely people and we could find something to laugh about over a beer or two but I would not want their job. It must be a horrible life sentence of always being watched, adulated, protected, scrutinized and organized. I do hope it all goes well, but really, I just don’t get it.
The hotel here at Shearwater has over eighty guests this weekend who are all part of the entourage supporting this hours-short visit by Prince Billy and his wife Kate which won’t last more than half a day. I’ll bet they’d probably prefer to simply bugger off alone and do a little fishing, even if it’s pouring rain. That would probably allow them a much clearer perspective on what this region is really like. They might even see some wildlife without the hordes tagging along. There has been a security force lurking about for weeks which probably has enough troops and weapons to start a war. We’ll never know how much money goes into a brief visit like this but I’m sure that if the same amount went into a lasting community improvement it would be significant. While all of the fuss and frenzy unravel, I’ll be head-down in someone’s bilge.
As I edit this blog, CBC radio is playing a live broadcast of the royal arrival in Victoria. Military bands toot and drum and fire their guns, people hoot and whistle rudely, rhetorical speeches blither on and on. Then the prince regurgitates the words written by someone else. Tears gush down many legs I’m sure. I’ve just plugged in a Stan Rogers CD. Now there’s some real “Oh Canada.”
“ Hardly anyone recognizes the most significant moments of their life when they happen.”
… W.P. Kinsella