Magnolia trees in bloom. That fleeting glorious splendour marks the surety of the seasons, the bursting out of spring, warmer days ahead and then the luxuries of summer. In a day or two the wind or rain will tear away the stunning beauty of those magnificent blossoms. Like the rest of life, beauty is a fleeting thing. There are flowers and buds all around, very intense after the reluctant retreat of winter. They mean nothing. It is Easter, the celebration of hope and rebirth. This year, it means nothing. All is a hollow, echoing nightmare. I see but do not grasp, there is no reaching sound, no smell, no taste. All is surreal. All is a void. A few days ago her mother found her body in her apartment. Her frantic little dog was guarding. Apparently, we learned, Rachel our daughter had been dead a few days.
No mother should ever have to find her daughter’s corpse. How I wish I could erase that horror for her. I cannot imagination how she deals with this end of her motherhood. She will be a mother forever. What a slam! No manipulation of words can begin to describe the depths of anguish and darkness we find ourselves plunged into. We function like automatons, mechanically going about all the ordeals and logistics we must at such a time. There may be a short pause in my blogging. There is too much pain to be able to write coherently.
It is absolutely no consolation but I think of people in an identical circumstance in a place like the Ukraine. Their loved ones are gone, there may be no family left to share the grief, no home or any familiarity for shelter, no food. Shattered bodies lay in the rubble-strewn streets. There is a smell of decay and soot and torn earth.
I try to find solace in the love received from my family and friends, it truly is a comfort. Yet for the time being I travel in a place I do not know, nor want to. I find myself in a dark labyrinth of caves. I do not know which way to crawl, I can see nothing. This will pass. Life will go on, with or without me, all I need is to grasp a single thread to follow back toward where I can see well enough to find the path ahead. I try to imagine that Rachel and Jack, who loved each other dearly, have found each other in some beautiful place and have each again found the bliss they used to share. Meanwhile, Rachel’s own little dog is utterly confused and I cannot image the wee beast being alone with her for days after she had died. Little Ayre is a living extension of our daughter’s existence and we will cherish her.
We had no chance to say goodbye to our daughter. And my message to you is to understand that every time you say farewell to anyone, it may be the last time. Life is like that, it is fragile. Don’t leave anything unfinished, leave no regrettable words, tell them you love them, hug your children every chance you get. Happy Easter.
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”Winnie The Pooh
A friend and reader responded to my last blog with a note about a CBC story she’d seen. A Canadian veterinarian and his daughter have gone to the Ukraine to help out. I checked it out. Kudos to Dr. Cliff Redford. At great personal risk you are making a positive difference in an unseen corner of this humanitarian tragedy. So far, two people have died while transporting rescued animals out of the war zone. There is a huge population of dogs, cats and other creatures which were abandoned. Some are injured, some suffering from acute hunger and thirst and illness. And, I don’t recall anyone ever being shot at by a dog.
It is horrible. What a terrible decision to have to make. You can only take what you can carry and so often the pet just has to stay behind. Other folks have chosen to leave their stuff and bring their pet. I know the choice I would make. Then I stumbled across stories about hungry Russian troops raping women and eating dogs. I recall accounts from German civilians at the end of the second world war as Russian marched into East Germany. The civilians had already endured a horrific ordeal and the war’s end brought them no liberation. I have also heard accounts of how we, the good guys, are just as capable of the same atrocities. Some things never change, we’re still the same beasts we always were. I began to research an avenue for adopting a Ukrainian dog but all the online contacts I’ve found seem suspicious to me. There will be legitimate means established to adopt dogs eventually but in the meantime I’ll just have to keep looking.
I continue to look for a local dog who needs a fresh start. Charity begins at home, right? There are dogs available, but most are too big for life in the camper and any extended travel. There are also plenty of pit bull terriers with which I have no problem but there are plenty of people who do. I don’t need an incessant hassle. Most dogs have a huge monetary price attached and I’m suspicious of folks who claim to be looking for a good home for their canine charges and then mention “Oh by the way” they have a huge adoption fee. I know caring for a dog and providing shelter for more to come costs money but every dog I’ve had cost nothing in dollars and were wonderful friends. The idea of paying for a furry soul mate just seems wrong unless the expense is explainable. Then there are the rescue folks who simply don’t answer your inquiries. Nice!
And so our reluctant spring grinds on. The ongoing dark saga from the Ukraine is dragging us all down. The weather seems to echo our sentiments. We have moments of spring between the massive epilogue of winter. It is mostly cold and wet and gloomy. Still! It seems to be all I’ve written about for a long time. Photographing spring flowers trembling in a wintry wind beneath the dull light of grey clouds is wearing thin.
I’ve hired a lady who is helping me set up a marketing program for my writing and photography. It’s all over my head, suddenly I find myself with business pages on Face Book. As things were linked up, ten random blogs selected from my archives were posted on Face Book. While in the process these blogs appeared together in a blizzard to all my subscribers. I apologize sincerely to all you folks for the nuisance. I was also forwarded the following which may be soggy cookies but it moved this old flower who has felt guilt about looking for another dog so soon after Jack’s passing.
A DOG’S LAST WILL & TESTAMENT
Before humans die, they write their last will and testament, give their home and all they have to those they leave behind.
If, with my paws, I could do the same, this is what I’d ask…
To a poor and lonely stray I’d give my happy home; my bowl and cozy bed, soft pillow and all my toys; the lap, which I loved so much;
the hand that stroked my fur; and the sweet voice that spoke my name.
I’d will to the sad, scared shelter dog, the place I had in my human’s loving heart, of which there seemed no bounds.
So, when I die, please do not say, “I will never have a pet again, for the loss and pain is more than I can stand.”
Instead go find an unloved dog, one whose life has held no joy or hope, and give my place to him.
At the swimming pool a few mornings back, while in the hot tube, I learned of a BBC headline story. I’ve since looked it up. In Yorkshire a kitten was born without an anus. His name (which I chose to find hilarious) is Toulose. He underwent some life-saving surgery and all is well. Imagine the poor surgeon who opened things up!
“How was work today honey?” “T’wer a bit shitty in fact!”
Apparently a tidy sum was raised to help. It’s a happy story, especially for Toulose. and frankly I prefer one about a little asshole in Yorkshire to anything about a big one in London. God knows, we need all the levity we can get.
I buried Jack yesterday morning under the sheltering branches of a large holly tree on the banks of a salmon stream. He is sleeping in soft river sand beside Napoleon Creek, a short distance before it joins Haslam Creek which then runs into the Nanaimo River. The grave is about a kilometer into the forest, beyond the range of the shouting, yuk-yuking shallowites. There is constant music as the stream burbles past. The burial was attended by two ravens practicing their throat singing, an eagle screaming its anthem and a large wood pecker banging passionately on a hollow tree. I did not linger, feeling that I had somehow betrayed Jack, which is ridiculous. It had to be done. He’s gone, he is at peace.
I have received many wonderful notes of sympathy, and empathy. A large number of those have come from you my readers and I cannot thank you enough. It means so very much.
One of the common threads is how it is often much harder to lose a beloved dog than any person. That is certainly so for me and your affirmation certainly raises a doubt than I am not quite as odd as I believed. Thanks. It also occurred to me this afternoon that grieving is not a noble ordeal as much as it is a massive endeavour in self-pity. No volume of tears or dark musings can restore that which is lost. My wife and I were bestowed with the privilege to afford Jack a good life. He out-gave us in every way. He indulged in his days to his fullest and brought joy to all who met him. Who knows what good came from that? I believe that my mission in life is to bring light to other’s eyes, man or beast. There is no merit in trying to solicit tears over success.
So, wherever you are, raise a glass to Jack and a life well-lived. Let’s have a wake. Here’s a link to a video about Jack which I made and posted on YouTube some time ago.
Jack has died. This blog is my way of coping. So many of you good folks said so many kind things to and about Jack through the years, I need to let you know. Thank you.
It is now 12:15 am February 2, 2022. He passed about 11:45. He had done poorly on his walk yesterday. When we got home I carried him to his bed and he seemed to slip into a semi-coma with laboured breathing and a shallow pulse. We moved his bed to the living room and I made up one for myself next to him. I lay beside him, petting him, cuddling him and thanking him for all the wonderful years. I looked out the window through a brief break in the clouds and saw one faint twinkling star. “The Jackstar” I mused and then dozed off.
A short while later I was awakened by three gentle strokes on my arm. He emitted one last breath and was gone. I know what the strokes were but will always choose to believe that he said goodbye. I sit here now in the dark quiet with a stiff glass of rum beside me and type these words through tear-blurred eyes. Jack was a very special character, unique in many ways. He touched many hearts, both canine and human. He had no enemies. He was the son I never had and the reincarnation of a puppy taken from me when I was an infant. I will miss him forever.
The fading calm of a smoky Sunday morning is punctuated with the steady drip of my galley sink tap. It’s first of my chores for the day. The neighbour’s children are up and playing peaceably but as the day wears on their harmony will become a series of screams and silly sounds. Last night at eleven pm they were still at it. But who am I to complain about the sound of happy children? I have the day off, first on my list is that damned tap. On the gravel road above me vehicles begin to arrive, many towing flashy boats (For which I’ve found a nasty name of course) on clattering trailers and once again the dust billows over us. I’ve learned to associate the sound of tires on gravel with choking dust. It s a wearying sound.
The smoke and dust of another hot day begin to build. In the work week ahead I have some challenging jobs waiting for me, one of which involves the itch of fibreglass slivers and the dust and fumes of rebuilding a boat’s complete floor and framing. I swore I’d never do again but here I am now taking half the wages I used to earn for the same work. Sweat constantly smears my glasses, when they are not slipping off. I’m angry as hell at myself for feeling lonely and depressed and being without the vigour and stamina I once had. No-one could outwork me or endure extremes like I could. I want to scream. What the hell have I done to end up here, at my age?
It’s especially frustrating when all around are the sights and sounds of folks trying to convince themselves they are having fun. Not that I’d know. I think I’ve forgotten how. My co-workers here don’t want to socialize much, just as I don’t, so we retreat into our cocoons of solitude and recharge ourselves as best we can for the next day’s work. Some of the younger workers wind themselves up late at night in a frenzy of gormless noise and occasional drunken foolishness but they deserve the excesses of their youth which will pass all too soon as it has for us who have already travelled that road.
So here I sit in my little fibreglass box, a crotchety old man. The dust piles up in a thick patina which I’ve given up trying to wipe away, there’s no point, it is as thick as ever by every day’s end. Sometimes I catch myself staring into space, picking the mud balls out of my eyes and nose. Clogged sinus’s lead to achy teeth and it all becomes another test. Eeeech! Snot funny! If you wipe off a table or counter and spill a little water it rapidly becomes a little mud stain. On the coast, it is black mould to contend with, here it’s dust. There’s only one cure for this malaise and that’s to go do something.
I took the old kayak out for a few hours and had a grand time but this man-made ditch is not the ocean in any sense. I can find no point in inflating my Achilles boat and ramming around in all the debris in the water. Besides I had no idea how so much of the shoreline has been developed into large trailer parks and even subdivisions. I took no photos of any of that, I was disgusted. I need so little to get where I need to go and here are people who have millions they clearly do not know what to do with. It’s the same on the coast where marinas bulge with exotic yachts that never leave the dock. I don’t understand how in an effort to escape the tedium and crassness of their daily world, so many folks manage to bring it with them.
When I arrived back from my paddle-about I discovered a fellow had set up a day camp at the foot of the boat ramp. Amongst the gear he had spread around, he lounged on a deck chair beneath an umbrella. It was the oddest thing I’ve seen. I asked if he rolled out his sleeping bag on the center line of highways but his logic and mine did not coincide. He seemed rather miffed that folks backing their boat trailers into the water required him to keep moving out of the way. Hello? Then another aberrant character decided to appoint himself ramp cop and accosted me with fabricated allegations. I loath folks trying to empower themselves at other’s expense and I responded rather badly. He did not want to challenge the willy-nilly camper at the water line. Wazwithat? Damnit, those were the first hours I’d taken in weeks just to be. I’d found the peace I sought, then that! I was very close to quitting. Ultimately only I can let someone else ruin my day, but how do dark moments manage to often come in batches? How is it that after a lifetime, a person can still deal with certain situations so poorly?
I subscribe to a mantra called the Four Agreements:
-I will always do my best
-I will take take nothing personally
-I will assume nothing
-I will respect the power of my words
That’s it. Simple huh? Try it!
When I find myself in a sticky situation I review it later and assess what I could have done differently. An ordeal can at least become a learning experience. Those agreements certainly sound simple, and easy, but they are broken regularly. However an awareness of them and a sincere intent to improve helps ease the path through life…. for me.
The week passed. Now it’s Sunday again. The smoke is thicker than ever with some occasional ash falling. There is still a list of jobs for the old camper which I need to tackle but I think I’ll take the kayak out later…somewhere else.
“Children are those who let someone else make all their decisions.” anon
It is a real place and home of a very fine aviation exhibition, The Evergreen Aviation Museum. I arrived too late to go in for a self-guided tour. I would need at least a half day. They let me park in the back corner, dry-camping next to old US Air Force rockets. There are four massive buildings. The largest one houses the Hughes Hercules and is nearly big enough to fly some of the small aircraft I have known, around inside it! The massive airplane is known worldwide as the “Spruce Goose” although it is actually built almost entirely of birch plywood. Howie himself flew it, once. An icon of dreams, it is the world’s largest wooden airplane ever and among the world’s largest airplanes, even today. Of all the amazing achievements of old weird Howard, this is the big one. Just imagine all the people telling him and his crew that it couldn’t be done. But he did, and so did it. Then WW II ended and the need for a massive air transport machine ended, at least for the time being.
Even as modern airplanes go, the Goose thing is a monster. I am amazed at the survival of this wooden wonder. How it has not rotted or burned in 75 years is yet another wonder. The aircraft that I came to see is the only one of its kind ever built. This is my Mecca, the object of a pilgrimage for a guy who has been flying and otherwise messing around with airplanes his whole life. I’m hoping to find inspiration to cope with some tough weeks ahead. I’ve looked up at it already. The only time I’ve know that same feeling before was when I stepped aboard ‘Cutty Sark’ in Greenwich.
The museum itself is massive with its four huge (Ha… Hughes, get it?) buildings, three are for display and a third is a swimming pool. They have somehow hoisted a Boeing 747 (Imagine the fleet of monster cranes required to work in full co-ordination…with no wind)) onto the roof and converted it into the apex of a water slide. The parking lot behind the buildings would be adequate for landing smaller aircraft.. Imagine having rows of jet fighters for lawn ornaments!
The exhibits go on and on, with a movie theatre complex in the middle of the complex. I am a small airplane guy and there were plenty of these dispersed among the big fellows, both civilian and military. It was a dull overcast day for taking photographs, but I managed to click off about one-hundred-fifty frames that I’m keeping. That is a lot of editing. I could have easily taken twice as many.
Evergreen, a private enterprise, draws a very close second to the amazing Boeing aircraft museum in Seattle which doesn’t have a water park. Ha! It also doesn’t have the Goose or, the SR71 Blackbird. There are also two other great aviation museums in the state of Oregon, one in Tillamook and another in Madras. Here are a few of the photos taken at Evergreen, I once again repeat myself in saying that they don’t begin to compare with actually seeing this operation in the flesh. When I was growing up in the post-war, pre-space age, aviation was still a bit of a novelty. That, despite the massive aviation advancements of WWII. By the time we had put men on the moon the reality of flying machines had become a ho-hum fact of everyday life. We no longer look up when an aircraft passes overhead. Yet, clearly, there are a great many people who do hold a deep fascination for a highly and still rapidly evolving technology which is only a little over a century old.
I have long held the theory that the human race is not indigenous to this planet. We certainly do not fit in here. As far back as we know, we have had an affinity for the sky, for the stars, for flight. God is always from somewhere up there ( God being the concept which is our convenient pigeon-hole for all that we cannot comprehend including love, wisdom and infinity) Many of our wisest ancients speculated on ways and means to rise above our earthly bonds. We have scrambled frantically to fly, then to fly ever higher and faster. It is a compulsion which now has us sending machines beyond the known edges of our universe, looking for ways to personally visit and inhabit places like Mars. I believe that it is all part of that ancient quest to find our way home. Yet at the same time, we need to look within and consider our aberrant nature, and that that is perhaps why our ancient ancestors were dropped off here. Once we realize the way to get along with each other, as well as other species, only then will we be truly ready to go home. Then we won’t need to. In the meantime, to survive that long, we need to become considerably more gracious toward the beautiful planet that is hosting us. For now, it is the only place we have.
The computer grinch says that I have run out of space for any more photos in this blog, even in my edited series. I’ve challenged him three times because there is so much more to show. If, readers care to send a comment in favour of posting a part 2 to this particular blog, I’ll be glad to post more images. Happy Landings!
“Sometimes, flying feels too godlike to be attained by man. Sometimes, the world from above seems too beautiful, too wonderful, too distant for human eyes to see. ”
I left Baker in mid-morning after editing photos and posting a blog. It always feel good to be caught up. This trip has been a breathless rush of events, people and images which I feel are truly worth sharing. Reader’s comments confirm that. I began the day’s travels by visiting a local archaeological site. It was wonderful. I had it all to myself to speculate on the wonders of mud ruins, apparently seven-hundred years old. The wind was keen and shrill and cold. I wore no hat and soon had an ice-cream headache. My hands throbbed painfully. I am just not nineteen anymore!
Turning west onto Highway 50 (Called the loneliest highway in America) I again climbed and descended several mountain passes and traversed more wonderful valleys. I stopped to absorb the wonder of a huge wind farm in a place called Spring Valley. The wind was increasing and it was obvious that a storm was coming. I reckoned I could make it to Ely (Pronounced eely) and hunker down somewhere if the weather was indeed as serious as it seemed. The snow blew and thickened. When I finally arrived I passed an RV Park that looked so dismal in the deepening snow I could not bring myself to stop. I filled up with gas at a “Loves” truck stop and then decided that in consideration of the weather I should stuff up my own tank. The truck stop is adjoined to a sort-of casino and a Carl’s Jr. Fast burger joint. I know better. I still have a souvenir of that joint riding in my belly over a day later.
All the employees there, mostly chunky ladies who looked like the Michelin Sisters wore company T-shorts with “Beyond Meat” emblazoned on their chests. The irony did not escape me. Clearly the management has an all-you-can eat policy for its employees. There’s an old country song that says, “I love the way you fill out your skin-tight blue jeans.” Not! What rhymes with sweat pants? I suppose it may be cheaper than a retirement program, but pity the pallbearers! My ubiquitous gang of Asian tourists arrived, looking completely bewildered. Their patriarch, an aged, shuffling fellow was dressed incongruously in a Russian fur helmet, a pair of John Lennon sun glasses, camouflage trousers and open toe sandals with bright pink socks. And I thought I was a snappy dresser! While we snacked on our gristle burgers, a full blizzard descended with swirling fury.
I am a former great white north guy and reasoned that if I could make it to the other side of the mountains, conditions would ease and the storm could heap as much snow as it wanted…behind me. Hell, I’ve driven in everything. Fool! My photos attest to that. However, the most weirdly wonderful thing happened as I set out on that trek. I could smell coal smoke and put it down to an over-reaction to my lunch or perhaps my angst about the weather. Then I saw it! Had I also begun to hallucinate? I leapt out into the wintry blast with my mobile phone. (My serious cameras were not going to be taken out into the driving snow.) There, in that raging blizzard, was a steam locomotive backing an antique work train onto a siding. I could not have been more amazed had I been looking at the ‘Queen Mary’. I’ve reviewed my short video and photos repeatedly to confirm what I saw. It is still hard to believe. You can google up information on the railway museum in Ely) Go closer to spring. I drove on westward into that storm; sometimes my speed was down to fifteen mph. I had to stop repeatedly to clear the ice from my windshield and wipers.
I was right. The snow eased and visibility improved and I arrived in Eureka Nevada. It was winter-bound and the RV park I saw looked closed. After a short stretch and breathe and shoot- up with my camera, I drove on west into the now-brilliant sunset hoping to find a place to stop for the night in Austin. Everything there was wintered out as well. After almost colliding with a large herd of mule deer on the main street I drove on down the mountain into the darkness. I looked back and saw that Stokes Castle was cleverly lit with golden light. Every time I drive across Nevada, Austin is on my route. This time I closed a loop of my south-bound leg to San Carlos. I hate looking for a spot to spend the night in the dark when I’m not sure where I am. Eventually I found a safe turn-out which proved to be the former site of a Pony Express station called ‘Cold Spring.’
In the morning I took photos of the surrounds and also ruins of a former telegraph station. Later, in perfect light, I came upon an archaeological site with loads of ancient and beautiful pictographs near Grimes Point, looking down on the Fallon Naval Air Base. Yep, right there in the desert! Tonight, I discovered I’d done something wrong and have no images to download from the day. Swear words! My water pump had again frozen last night. Later in the day as it thawed, a hose came loose and the water tank under the bed emptied itself inside the van. Grit! You’ve gotta have grit!
It was fortunate that I made a decision to put my head down and just drive, ignoring some great images along the way, (which I would have lost as it turned out.) I drove through Reno (Eeeech) and then north, heading for Susanville California. Then I chose to head for low ground and put the last mountain passes behind me. Eventually I arrived in Red Bluff a few thousand feet ASL lower. In the wake of last year’s horrific wild fires, there is no space available in this area for the likes of me. Many of those displaced folks are living in RV Parks all over the interior of Northern California. So with no wifi again, no blogs will be posted tonight. I am in some very beautiful countryside, about one-hundred miles from the coast, parked on the side of the road once more. Think of the money I’m saving in fees. There is a gentle steady rain falling which, I know, is more snow in the mountains behind me.
Hard winter conditions have pursued me for the past week. I’m frustrated in not finding the rest and reboot I sought. I am in fact, exhausted. Meanwhile, at home, snow is piling up with more to come. Folks are emptying the grocery stores in anticipation of continuing harsh weather. I try not to feel guilty about being out here on the lam. Silly bugger!
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” … Scott Adams.
(Remember that images can be enlarged by clicking on them)
I am determined to journey homeward in a meandering fashion, with no particular route planned. The journey, after all, is its own reward. After all the repairs and expenses I knew I dare drift no further eastward, away from the general direction of home on Vancouver Island. I arrived in Flagstaff, where it was cold, snowy and blowing. I found a McDonalds and checked my e-mail and the weather. With more real winter to come, I checked for an RV Park then entered the data into my dash-mounted GPS. It lead me for miles in all directions and finally in the gathering darkness, I fired the miserable little box. The Grand Canyon was in my sights so I headed westward, where I would turn on to Highway 64 and find any old place to camp.
The night was crackling cold. I piled on all my blankets and thanked the Gods for my propane furnace. The stars were amazing. By morning the potable water pump had frozen. I was worried about split plumbing but all’s well that ends. I arrived at the Park Gate, paid the horrific fee, and found my way to the snowy parking lot. I’ve seen thousands of photos and films of this incredible hole in the planet, but nothing can prepare a person for the moment when you first look upon the Grand Canyon. If you are not rendered speechless, then you are a sad creature indeed. My photos can only confirm that I was there; they cannot do justice to the expansive and overwhelming feeling of the place.
Unfortunately the price of being able to easily attend one of the world’s greatest marvels is that there are people, bus loads of them, steadily arriving in an endless convoy. They overwhelmed the place, with hordes pushing, shouting, being rude in every possible way and seemed oblivious to any sanctity or wonder. They’d come half-way around the planet to take selfies on their mobile phones and absolutely nothing else seemed to matter. I really do try to love all of God’s creatures and I hate categorization and racism so all I’ll say is that it is holiday time in celebration of Chinese New Year. “Gong Xi Fa Cai” with all due respect! These tourists were everywhere, I mean every-bloody where I was to go in the following days. Their behaviour was consistently rude and arrogant. Shop keepers and vendors expressed dread at their invasion. I’ve been in China, the folks there are charming and considerate. I cannot explain beyond my personal observation of what happens when they are visiting here. I should quickly add that I’ve found other cuacasion cultural groups just as abominable when on their vacation. People!
With the fabulous shifting light, I could have stayed, but after having actually been shouldered aside a few times, I decided to proceed forthwith. My plan was to drive on to a place called Cameron, where I could consider my options, but the road had been closed due to wintry conditions. Swearwords indeed! Why the hell could the National Parks folks not have made the closure clearly noticeable beforehand?
Frustrasted, with no other option, I headed the sixty miles back to Flagstaff, fortunately in part, on a different route. I ended my day in Page, Arizona on the shores of the great man-made Powell Lake where the Colorado River was dammed, and damned. Incredible scenery was sacrificed to make a huge recreational waterway. I had no interest in seeing it and headed off to see other wonders. Everywhere I go, I am boggled by what I see. The grandeur and vastness is too much to comprehend. I want to come back and slowly sponge it in and so the bottom is blown out of my bucket list. I am bemused that nearly all the best views are smudged by power lines. Or on clear days, by an endless parade of jet contrails streaking in all directions. I wonder repeatedly at how the world must have looked before it was “Settled” and how we have altered it so drastically and so quickly. Small wonder at the disenchantment of the First Nations People.
Finally arriving at the Arizona/Utah border I had to choose a route that lead approximately northwest. With a simple choice at a crossroads I left the natural wonder of the scenery of Kanab Utah behind and drove over yet another snowy pass into the wonderland of Zion National Park. I had barely heard of this place and can only describe it, inadequately, with photographs. I caught an incredible afternoon light and realized that everything was happening in a serendipitous order that makes perfect sense in retrospect, including some very wonderful people I meet along the way.
“Ya can’t bounce back til ya’ve hit bottom.” That comes to mind from deep in the archives of my mental hard drive as I passed along a hard rive of another sort. I left Nogales in the dark yesterday morning, totally exhausted after yet another sleepless night. Entering Nogales Mexico is a plunge into hell. A young lady, shivering inside her non-offical parka, gave my van a brief inspection and waved me on. Que? OK?. I entered a scene which was part Blade-Runner, Quest For Fire and any apocalyptic film of your choice. Crooked cobbled winding streets poorly lit, except for the hi-beams of vehicles hurtling in all directions, pedestrians wandering every which way, vendors already setting up their market trucks along the curbs, rare and nebulous road signs posted just at the junctions. Add all the mad Max’s in the world trying to block you. Holy shit! I have driven in Mexico and loved it, (Well mostly) but yesterday seemed incredibly bizarre. Out on the open road finally, the signage is variably good, with long sections of road repairs, then miles later, more “deviacion.” The cuotas, or toll booths, are presently unmanned by government employees but are attended by folks begging money and demanding to know where you are going. Eventually you see a sign indicating that you are, perhaps, on the correct route. Then you hit a Tope, one of Mexico’s infamous speed bumps.
The small city of Hermosillo, was a repeat of Nogales. Even in daylight I hate the gauntlet that is this dreadful place. At nearly every stoplight a gang of window-washers assails your vehicle, jumping all over it in their efforts to clean the glass and extort a small ransom. My shouted No’s are ignored. They banged on all windows with their demands and tried to take the bicycle off the back of the van. You’re helpless, inclined to leap out in confrontation, but you know of course, that’s dangerously foolish, so you sit inside, cursing and seething at your entrapment while a gentle voice on your shoulder whispers that “This is Mexico, relax, this shall pass, these kids are just trying to help support their family.” I do get it, but a simple permission and a gracious acceptance of “No” would completely improve the business model of these junior extortionists. When driving through a congested town or city, it is utterly wise to keep your doors locked and your windows closed. I’ve decided that next time I will start photographing them from the confines of my driver’s seat and, not to be so vulnerably alone. When i returned through this city, not a window washer was in sight!
About nine hours from Nogales I blearily drove past my turn-off to San Carlos and had to back-track up through Guaymas. Yet another hour of my foolishness. Its old-town and waterfront is beautiful, an oasis of tranquility, but I simply needed to complete the journey for the day. Guaymas is also a swirling chaos of mad driving through dusty, despairing, sprawling barrios with vague signage. My on-dash GPS was useless and I was too busy trying to stay alive to have time to glance at it anyway.
Obviously, yet I live. I am writing this in the rising warmth and light of another Mexican morning. A few feet above my head is a cooing dove hidden in the dense foliage. I am vibrating-weary. I love Mexico and ache to go on south, or just stay and rest, but I’ll complete the business at hand and promises kept, I’ll turn back Northward. Low finances and a faltering vehicle demand prudence. I desperately need to take a break. Crossing back into the US will, this time, take me a long way toward an ease of anxiety. There is a band of Northern Mexico which, in my estimate,is about 200 miles wide that I dislike. San Carlos marks the latitude of Mexico where I begin to love the country more and more as I drive further south. Sadly, this is as far as I am going. I’ll complete my business here and then turn northward.
Two days later, I am now on the intended-to be leisurely and meandering return homeward. I decide to divert and stop over in Puerto Penasco on the Eastern shore of the Gulf Of California, at the top of the Sea Of Cortez, which like so many, I love dearly. I have a rule about driving in Mexico in the dark and I so I broke my own law. Onward I went through endless miles of fields, then desert, then fields, all punctuated by dusty, desperately poor barrios. I drove westward, peering into the setting sun through a dusty, bug-spattered windshield. I was desperate to find a safe haven for the night and took no more photos that day.
The best images ever are never recorded on a camera it seems, but remain in the back of my brain, as clear as the moment i saw them. I am stuck with an indelible image of children playing soccer in the ubiquitous adobe dust of Northern Mexico at dusk and I wonder at the their future. They are well dressed, and everyone has perfect haircuts yet you can see that where and how they live is well below anyone’s notion of a poverty line. They have wealth in the embrace of their expansive families and the joy of the moment is always evident despite the misery of which they know nothing else. There is clearly a joy in a life without expectations which I do not understand. The narrow, rutted, pot-holed road stretched on ahead forever it seemed. Rushing oncoming vehicles with brilliant lights, or one or none at all, zoomed past. I could find no safe-looking turnout to rest for the night. I was exhausted, my brain on auto-pilot as I resolved myself to a head-on crash. My ended life marked with another rusting metal cross on the edge of some nameless field.
Eventually on the horizon of this flat land, distant lights began to arise. I finally realized that this was what I had driven so long and far out of my way to see. I had envisioned a sleepy, Mexican fishing region, gentrified but tolerable. I had expected to find some open beach where I could park and rest for a few days. What I saw instead was a vision of hell. The place stretched on and on and lay miles off the highway.. It looked like pictures of Miami and I drove on into the night, my hopes shattered. I tried stopping in the parking lot of their airport, also miles off the road, but a security guard gave me the boost within a minute. I found a spot on the roadside, brightly lit and there I finally stopped. In the morning I jacked up the van, and pulled my rear wheels apart to try and find the source of a horrible grinding noise. U-joints was my diagnosis and so I decided to head onward to the border. Ajo or bust. First, I stopped to thank Barb’s Dog Rescue for the haven and security of their brightly lit sign. I, a dog-lover, gave myself a strict lecture, took a breath and went on in. I left quickly, head down, not looking back. All those lovely dogs. Surely I could manage to bring one home, a travelling companion and a pal for Jack. I faced reality, and drove on.
Well, I’m writing in Ajo now, a desert town. The area is a popular winter retreat. A friend is parked next door in the Belly Acres RV Park and there are new friends all around me. I slept eleven hours last night. The wind howled and a torrential rain hammered down as if I were at home on Vancouver Island. More desert flowers! Tomorrow morning the parts store and garage next door will open and the course of my fate will be determined.
“Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better.” …Albert Camus
Reluctantly, I’ve begun the trek homeward. I love this place, the native Mexicans and the gringos who are either permanent or regular seasonal come-backs. I could stay here forever and anyone who really missed me could come see me here. But that’s not the way I’m wired and after some misadventures here I have been rescued by my wife Jill, who still loves me for some reason beyond my comprehension. She’s at home in the cold and snow, wind and rain, with a head-cold, performing financial miracles to get me back there.
Some fellow campers, my forensic research indicates, stole my wallet. I won’t go into the back-tracking, the sleepless night, the quadruple ripping apart of truck and trailer, the long day following and the frustrated hopelessness that overwhelmed me. I posted a noticed on the La Manzanilla online message board, as locally advised, and wonder of wonders, I received a phone call. At a wonderful little bar called ‘The Club.’ A Mexican had turned in my credit cards, driver’s license and so forth. I was out about $250 and the wallet, but I have the good stuff back and a relatively cheap lesson learned. Of course it turned up four hours after I phoned and cancelled the credit and debit cards but all’s well that ends. Special thanks to Bobby, who runs the bar, and Jude, who phoned me. The story was that a local fellow came in with the goods saying they’d been found by a friend. I don’t care about his story, I’m impressed about the honour of the local thieves. Enough said. I can only blame myself for being lazy. I knew better.
“Don’t put all your huevos in one basket!” Fortunately I did have my passport and visa hidden away. So yet another don’t for Mexico, and maybe for home. Don’t carry your wallet with cash, credit cards and other important stuff together. Hide your wallet in one place, your cash in another and your cards somewhere else. Carry only enough cash for the moment. That may also help prevent impulse spending.
On the day of the wallet incident (Hier perdito mi cartera) I drove out to the beach at Tenacatita. It’s a controversial place, overwhelmed by some Mexican tycoons who evicted the hereditary landowners and have hired guards who patrol the place but it is beautiful there and well worth the visit. Unfortunately while kayaking I burst the plexi-glass window out of the bottom of my little boat and had to swim it back to the beach through the surf and swells for about a kilometre. It was a good workout. The snorkeling was fantastic, I’ve shot some good movies of very colourful fish which I will try to post.
This past weekend was ‘Rodeo’ in La Manzanilla. The town goes crazy with the dusty streets given over to all sort of madness. Intermittently throughout the days and nights a Mexican jazz band was the fulcrum of artistic delight. It is a blatant combination of amateur Mariachi sounds with a strange twist of what I can only describe as Klesmer music, all over scored with the incessant bop-boop-boop of a tuba. Massively amplified they blew out dental fillings for miles around. Whatever might be lacking in quality is certainly supplemented with enthusiasm. Volume is everything. I repeat that there is nothing tougher than a Mexican boom box.
Tonight I am sitting alone under the light of brilliant stars and a waxing half-moon. I saw an incredible shooting star. I am all alone. There is no-one else here except in a cemetery a little way off. I sit facing west on a rise between the booming surf of the open Pacific and a lagoon on my right. Strange cries and bestial calls emerge from the lagoon, or perhaps the cemetery. It is utterly magic. I face an un-named cape after driving here on a dusty road that wound from a tiny village through beautiful farm fields. A sign warns that the beach is dangerous for swimming and I have no intention of skinny-dipping in the lagoon. While turning around I sank the truck and trailer in loose sand which was deceptively matted in thick, prickly vegetation. Thanks to the gods, I have a shovel, jack-all and loads of rope with me. I dug everything out but still could not budge the truck. It was hellishly hot and getting dark. A friendly fellow with a jeep towed the truck back onto solid road and refused any tokens of appreciation. In Mexican, he explained, you cannot take money from friends. And so my love of this place grows. Mucho gusto!
I’m now sitting and working at my little table in a parking area behind a Pemex station a little north of the junction for Tuxpan. The dreadful mess that is Puerto Vallarta is behind me to the south. Joni Mitchell must have been thinking of Puerto Vallarta when she wrote” They’ve paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” The best word I can use is obscene. It is truly an ultimate piece of pornographic greedy, mindless shame that goes on for miles, right past Nuevo Vallarta. Hell’s teeth!
Speaking of which, after I left my idyllic beach camp I pulled into a small roadside cantina to photograph a beautiful old clay oven. A smiling woman came wiggling out. Her grin nearly cracking her heavy makeup. She introduced herself as Lucy and welcomed me with an offer of beer for twenty pesos. When I explained that it was awfully early in the day, she announced that she also “Sold sex”. All the while a young girl was twirling round a wooden post on the veranda, dancing to unheard music like a stripper on a brass pole. Lucy went on to explain that I shouldn’t worry, nothing would get stolen while I was being entertained. I drove off mumbling about having had my wallet stolen already. Mucho gracias!
The drive to Puerto Vallarta climbs over a pass so high that the jungle becomes a predominantly pine forest. The warm air carries a lovely scent and I stopped to take some photos in this incongruous setting. Out of the bushes leapt a young man man with a broad toothless grin. He soon explained he was hunting parrots with his sling shot and had a wonderful repertoire of calls. There are so many new things here that he may have been entirely honest but a pine parrot…. hmmm!
Tonight, near sundown, I drove into Tuxpan looking for a road to Santa Cruz, the one north of San Blas that is, not the one south. I didn’t find the turn and had to get the hell out of town before dark. The filthy narrow cobbled streets were lined with surly looking groups of young men. Even the dogs looked mean. For once, my little trailer didn’t elicit any positive responses. I locked my doors and behind closed windows avoided any eye contact as I tacked and gybed my way through this horrible setting. So far, this has to be one of the sorriest places I’ve seen anywhere. I have been told there are much worse places in Mexico. I felt like apologizing for being a gringo. Once clear of the barrios of this place I noticed people wandering about en mass on a broad paved road with no cars present. Once I saw some runway markers I understood. Not many towns can boast an airport that is used as their Malecon. But then, most runways sit level, clear and unused for ninety-nine percent of the time. I can imagine the fun of buzzing the runway to clear before landing. Just when you think you’ve seen it all!