An older man travels over sea and land in quest of new adventures
Author: Fred Bailey
Fred is a slightly-past middle age sailor /, writer / photographer with plenty of eclectic hands-on skills and experiences. Some would describe him as the old hippy who doesn't know the war is over. He is certainly reluctant to grow up and readily admits to being the eternal dreamer.
He has written several books including two novels, 'The Keeper' and 'Storm Ecstasy,' as well as 'The Water Rushing By', 'Sins Of The Fathers', 'The Magic Stick', as well as an extensive inventory of poetry, essays, short stories, anecdotes and photographs.
His first passion is the ocean, sailboats, voyaging and all those people who are similarly drawn to the sea. He lived aboard and extensively cruised the BC Coast on 'Seafire' the boat he refitted to go voyaging, to explore new horizons both inner and outer. This blog was about that journey and the preparations for it. Circumstances prevailed which forced the sale of his beloved vessel. Now on a different tack, the voyage continues. If you follow this blog your interest may provide some of the energy that helps fuel the journey.
Namaste Contact me at email@example.com
It is one of those mornings when I am nursing a last coffee and dawdling away the last few minutes before the day’s work begins. I’ve got four projects on the go right now and I have no enthusiasm for anything. It’s just one of those days. I do understand how blessed I am to be here. I certainly miss the ocean but this country is a bit of paradise. Despite the reluctant spring weather I can think of many other places I’d rather not be. I don’t ever watch the news out here so I miss all the graphic information about the miseries around the world. An ad on YouTube extolled the wonders of a “Better butter spreader.” Really? Then there was one about how to shave and deodorize your “Man Meat.” Geez Louise! Of course I could settle for a five thousand dollar surveillance drone for only $125. Yep, I’ll just stay content in my cocoon of ignorance. Yet I can’t seem to leap into this day singing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” I know in my heart that it has to do with getting older and I left my bunny slippers at home.
Meanwhile the lake is rising (21” yesterday) and everyone is working frantically toward the day when the houseboats are all launched and paying charter customers begin to arrive. Some are here already. One woman declared her entitlement to the washing machine because she “pays” to be here and I could “go over there”. Uhuh. Oh the answers that I choked back! Today’s temperatures are forecast to rise into the mid-thirties again and so late spring is upon us. The sun is merciless and when there is no wind even the young folk complain. As well as the dust we now have billows of thick yellow pine pollen to endure. I keep the vents on the camper closed but still there seems to be drifts of the insidious powder everywhere. When I returned after work today the butter had begun to turn to ghee. The temperature inside was in the mid thirties. A sailing friend once advised me to sail due south until the butter melted and turn left. Hmmm. Have I arrived?
I get away into the backwoods whenever I can. Spring is now in full bloom here. It is reluctant and subtle, quite unlike the boisterous explosion of colour which occurs on the coast many months earlier. The call of birds and open verdant meadows filled with fragile flowers offer a profound gentle beauty in what is a second spring for me this year. No complaints. The deer have suddenly disappeared although I see fresh tracks in the morning dust. I expect to soon see them with tiny spotted fawns close by their sides. One camera with a gawdumpous big lens sits waiting.
I’m without a vehicle at the moment. My old truck and camper sold to some very nice ladies and I’m now preparing my new old truck for the road ahead. It has to be inspected before it can be licensed so I have to build bits in order to extract it from beneath my new old camper. There are no dull moments in this peaceful country. Fatigue is a constant for this old fart but it’s all good. I’ll be tanned and acclimatized for a winter in Mexico. Mucho Gusto!
It has been over a month since I arrived and unloaded my tools. Already! I set up camp and named it Fredville, then moved another one hundred metres to a better site. That involved nearly losing my old camper. It had to be raised to move the truck back underneath. Extended to the top of their travel, the four spindly jacks began to bend as one leg gave way, probably because of the powdery silt everything sits on here. For a few minutes the wobbling apparition looked a bit like an odd dog trying to pee with one hind leg in the air. Fortunately all’s well that ends. With some quick and adroit help the camper survived unscathed. I was amazed that the corners had not torn out of the camper under the extreme abuse. A thorough inspection reveal only minor repairs were required. She’s one tough old box!
My move was also into a new (to me) old camper and truck, much bigger and with more conveniences, like a bathroom. Yep it’s fixity fix all over again. However, I can see this camper on a newer truck eventually and the old Ford diesel truck presently under it has some life in her yet. She’s also the perfect vehicle for Mexico, nothing sexy about it to scream “Shiny Uppity Gringo.” So life progresses and I don’t have to go outside to change my mind anymore. Of course I already need a little more space but a regular workaday life would have been nearly impossible in the smaller unit which is now for sale. Wonderfully there have been many happy moments crammed (I guess that’s a pun) into the short time I’ve had it.
Spring has finally arrived here. We haven’t had a frost for two weeks. The alder trees burst into leaf and then one day the Tamarack, otherwise known as Larch, have suddenly burst into a full rich chlorophyll green. No longer black in their winter nudity the next transformation will come in autumn when the needles will turn a wonderful golden colour. That is a time of year when the sky is a special deep blue, an incredible contrast above the larch needles and capped with the shivery sound of bugling bull elk. But now it is spring becoming summer here among the mountains. It’s best to pay attention because it all goes very quickly.
While working I lifted far too much weight in a moment of foolishness and blew out my old back. I could barely walk. Through a friend I was referred to a local man who describes himself as an Osteopathic Practitioner. I will only say that he fixed my back through an interesting process completely new to me and suggested ideas that other doctors have previously and abruptly dismissed. I am very cynical about many practitioners of various disciplines, especially Western medicine, but heartily recommend this man to anyone. He is tucked away in a quiet rural setting, is neither arrogant or ostentatious. He is known as a healer. People come from far and wide to see him. I’d be happy to give more information to anyone who is interested.
Life goes on here as we optimistically advance toward what is fully booked as a very busy season. We’ll see how the Covid Culture and policing evolves in the next few weeks. We may yet be unemployed for the summer. The workers and the business owner’s family all get along quiet well with mutual respect and tolerance. It is grand to feel this positive camaraderie, especially after some of the dark situations I’ve known previously. After renovating and organizing a small work shed it has been named the “Fredshed”. Folks are happy to be able to find hardware and tools. And meanwhile I’m enjoying a second spring this year after coming from the coast. I’m looking forward to discovering more local magic within a short radius. I’ll keep you in the picture.
“It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke
For the summer seasons this year I’m living and working for Sunshine Houseboat Rentals and Marina. It’s located on the West side of Lake Koocanusa at Gold Bay. We are located only a few kilometres north of the border with Montana. Although I desperately miss the ocean it is beautiful here. One of the things I enjoy is its remoteness. The two nearest communities where you can buy groceries and the things you need are Fernie and Cranbrook. They are each about an hour away on paved roads, longer if you choose to admire the scenery and also watch out for the copious herds of deer and elk.
If you meander northeasterly from here you come to Fernie. An hour and a few minutes to the west is Cranbrook. Both are nice friendly places with their own personalities. Cranbrook is the larger town with plenty of box stores and industrial suppliers. It has an airport regularly served with flights from both Vancouver and Calgary. (well, it used to in pre-covid times) The railway, mining, logging, ranching and tourism appear to be the mainstays of the local economy. The lakes and ski hills draw people year-round.
Here is a photo essay of the two communities (I don’t know whether to call them small cities or large towns) I used to worry about what I’d find to photograph but I doubt now there’ll seldom be a cold camera.
Discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
The place on Lake Koocanusa where I now live and work is filled with those noises every morning and evening. There are over two dozen houseboats stored close together in the yard waiting for the return of summer’s high water levels on the lake. The sounds comes from the daily heating and cooling of the pontoons on these boats. As the air inside them expands and contracts, the sides of the huge aluminum containers flex according to the changing pressure. It’s a bit unnerving at first but after a couple of weeks I don’t even hear the daily percussive concert anymore. But I also do not hear sirens, traffic or any other urban din. At night there is complete silence except for the odd calling flock of migrating birds. It is bliss.
Needless to say when the occasional client arrives and cranks up their stereo I feel an instant fury. I don’t understand why folks come here to escape the impositions of their urban home environments and then impose themselves on their fellows. I understand I’ll have to endure this din all the summer long so I may as well learn to dance. Haar! Presently I awaken to the calls of redwing blackbirds, meadowlarks, the chatter of magpies and Stellar jays. Passing flocks of cranes and geese call day and night. Herds of deer graze within a few feet of my camper. My biggest joy has been to see a real mountain bluebird. Those fleeting moments of iridescent blue are indelible, what a fantastic sight. No, I did not have a camera handy.
The weather here is amazingly fickle. It can be warm and calm then raining with a blasting wind and back to the former state of spring all within a half-hour. Deceived by a balmy spring day I headed off to buy groceries in Fernie wearing shorts and sandals but arrived there to find myself in a sleet storm. My fluorescent white legs were brighter than the snow on the mountains and I felt like a complete idiot. I lay awake at night wondering how this old fool ended up here so very far from the sea.
I find the work pleasantly challenging and varied. I may be bent over a boat motor one hour, then doing carpentry work for a while and then perhaps consulting about a fibreglass project all in the same day. I awake in the morning to see if there is any frost then sit with the gentle burble of the coffee percolating and wonder what the hell I’m doing here. Is this the end of the line for me or is it a window to new beginnings? That, of course, is entirely up to me. I’ve just bought a new mobile phone which is an amazing camera as well as a task master of several other abilities. We use our phones as a communication system around the eight acres where we work. To more easily charge the “device” I’ve also purchased a charger which works simply by sitting my cell phone on top of it. No plugs or brackets. It’s magic! I asked the clerk in the phone store if they sold a charger big enough for me to sit on. Struth! I need one.
This anonymous quote was sent to me by a friend. Thank you to everyone for the tidbits you send me. They help.
“The single biggest thing I learned was from an indigenous elder of Cherokee descent, Stan Rushworth, who reminded me of the difference between a Western settler mindset of “I have rights” and an indigenous mindset of “I have obligations.” Instead of thinking that I am born with rights, I choose to think that I am born with obligations to serve past, present, and future generations, and the planet herself.”
W. O. Mitchel’s classic novel of the above title was forced on generations of Canadian students as a rite of passage. Contemplating the days ahead living in my small tiny camper I recalled a character from that novel named Saint Sammy. He lived alone in a discarded piano crate out on the bald prairie. I managed to find a copy of the book in excellent condition which had come from an old Cowichan school library dated 1947. I paid five dollars. What a treasure! I soon realized that what is regarded by most as a dreary piece of reading is in fact a brilliant novel that should be reread by any adult who appreciates a good book and a wonderful story. Here are some windy images from the Old Man River area. I will go back there.
After my boat inspections were complete and truck repairs were finished I sallied forth hoping to take a day or too just for being and taking some photos. I love the foothill country of Alberta and actually concede to a growing affection for the wide open flat country and the big blue sky overhead. I also hold a delight for old buildings and there are still a few of those standing. Eventually I found a place to park for the night where I could see for miles in all directions. I hunkered down to watch the ever-changing light and the sun setting through an approaching storm. The next day I poked about in the Old Man River area. The weather flipped between snow squalls and exquisite warm sunny spells. It was an exquisite day. Here are some of my photos.
The mission, which I chose to accept, was to drive to central Alberta and inspect some boats for a potential buyer. I have never before driven through the Crowsnest Pass. It was beautiful and dramatic. The mountains capped with an entire winter’s load of glistening snow towered dramatically. Wildlife bounded all around and driving required open eyes. I emerged to turn north onto highway 22 which leads toward Calgary and all points beyond. I braced myself for the dull prairie drive ahead. I was heading for a town near Red Deer well into the belly of the province. It is a long way and I thought I’d be driving on and on, consumed with white line fever. But I did stop, repeatedly. There are winning photographs everywhere. Eventually you concede that you’ll have to leave most of them behind. This drive must be among the most beautiful in Canada, with the Rockies in the background, peaks peeking up behind the foothills and the rich ranch land in this rolling country. For me, it is the quintessential Canadian cowboy West. Perhaps all those rolling vistas remind me of being out on the open ocean. In any case I was driving in country new to me and I loved it.
I finally arrived just before dark at a motel near where the boat was supposed to be and settled in for a night. The long forgotten sounds of a nearby railway kept my weary head awake for a while but those rumblings and hootings are the anthem of the prairies. I drifted off with snatches of ancient cowboy songs about trains drifting through my brain.
A morning rendezvous lead me up rolling dusty gravel roads to where the boat sat. Water is a far more precious commodity than the copious supplies of oil and gas in this province. I was amazed at how dry everything was for early April. But then, they’re having a drought and I’m a coastal boy. All the dry brown and sepia tones unsettled me but there is a stark beauty everywhere. At the end of a long country road there sat the boat, high and dry, looking incongruous and sad. The young man brokering this amazing find from Lake Diefenbaker in Saskatchewan had it towed to his uncle’s Alberta farm. He had apparently traded it for some Harley Davidson motorcycles and then hauled the old classic the hundreds of miles on a beautiful trailer which had no working brakes and jury rigged tail lights. I commended his temerity and he said that he reckoned folks would be “So amazed at seeing Noah’s ark rolling across the prairies that they’d never notice the trailer.” Uhuh!
The farm itself was a rambling collection of old trucks, farm machinery, a jumble of shipping containers, and a few mobile homes jammed together. The inhabitants I met were a few young men in steel-toe boots and baseball hats who were surrounded by a swirling mob of large pitbulls. Despite those boy’s angst I was easily able to befriend their four-legged pals and soon learned that their “Pig farm” raised giant razorback hogs which were then sold to various groups who liked to release them and then hunt them down. Sport? They are infamously vicious critters, (both the hunters and the hogs.) The boar was easily three hundred pounds and stood staring me down with his tiny pig eyes and clacking his six inch tusks. I asked if I could photograph them and after glances among themselves, the young fellows reluctantly agreed. I was told that they do not go inside the fence with these infamous creatures without a stout stick and someone standing by outside with a rifle. I began to remember the movie ‘Deliverance’ and remembered the part about being asked to squeal. Much to everyone’s relief, including mine, I left. I mused that maybe this could pass for a movie set of a meth lab. The place did not have a warm and fuzzy feeling.
After a sojourn to Calgary to inspect some more boats that day I found myself in Cochrane, about thirty miles to the West. It had been a very long day. The slogan on the community’s welcome sign says “The West as it is now.” That is very sad. Endless rows of enormous shit-brindle brown houses are jammed together in a way that is reminiscent of old industrial English row housing. Eeech! Each house id large and verey comfortable but Geez Louse! There’s a whole prairie out there. There are many long beautiful hiking trails, moose are often seen in local parks, the mountain views are spectacular, but I repeat, eeech! I remember this place as a quaint little old cow town of less than five thousand folks. Now God knows how many people have swelled its borders and continue to infect it like a virus. A bedroom community for sprawling Calgary, the downtown of Cochrane has been made-over with a faux western theme now that lends a Disneyland effect to what was once a real cow town. Now everything is about impressions. Malls with all the box stores, car dealers, industrial parks and pretentious clone-box suburbs spread like cancer across rich farming country.
It was splendid to visit with some very dear friends who live in one of those boxes. They, at least, have a spectacular view from their corner lot. The light and the clouds change incessantly. That panorama is mesmerizing but they want to move. Folks in their area have an aggressively friendly manner. They peer into windows as they walk by and wave at you inside. They lean over the fence and gormlessly speculate on what my friends are doing in their own yard. Everyone means well I’m sure, but it’s hard to live with after a while especially if you treasure your privacy.
After a wonderful visit it was time to move on. My truck was reloaded, final hugs and promises were made. The starter on my truck decided to expire right there in their driveway. My finances are tight and it was certainly not what was needed but instead of being parked in a distant backwoods mud puddle, or a razorback hog farm, there I was on a dry concrete slab, among friends, in town. Their very gracious help allowed me to make repairs right there in the driveway. By that time late in the day they were stuck with me for another night. You’ve got to wonder how the god’s minds work. I’m not complaining. Thank you so much Ann and Randy.
The next morning I sallied forth with a few days to point my cameras at whatever I liked. And so I have. Eventually that day I parked on a level patch within the void between an intersection between two gravel country roads. These roads are smoother than many paved ones in BC and the locals hurtle along them at amazing speeds. They’d slow right down to ponder the spectacle that I must have presented. “Git the shotgun Doreen, there’s a stranger squattin’ down on the corner of Seemore and Didless! Dang tourist I reckon. Need to run him off afore more turn up. Goldang it anyhow.” I slept in the camper feeling as if I were in a boat, the wind buffeted and moaned all night. In The morning greeted me with a skiff of snow and dramatically changing light. It was wonderful.
I ambled along the back roads in a sort-of homeward direction contentedly taking photos and chasing windmills. This is a notoriously windy area and there are spinning windmills in all directions for many miles. Don Quixote rides on!
Throughout the day, several snow squalls blew out of the north. In one place I hiked a kilometer from the truck to video a row of whirling windmills. I returned to the truck as another vicious squall struck and realized that I’d dropped my glasses, somewhere. I hiked back, bent into the wind and worried they’d be covered in the pelleting snow. Exactly as far back as I had first gone, I found them winking at me.
After one final stop in Pincher Creek I drove westward looking for a good place to park for the night. I’m writing this near noon of the next day parked beside the CPR mainline in Crowsnest Pass. It has snowed several inches overnight and more flurries continue. I’m in no hurry.
I’ve edited my heap of photos and videos and sit writing while wondering what to do with the remains of the day. Perhaps I should drive back up the hill to the highway before it snows more. Did I mention that it is April eleventh?
I have far too many photos for one blog so the next few will be a series of photo essays. I will be able to fill my evenings posting them while I settle into my new fate at Lake Kookanusa. Happy trails indeed.
Instead of my usual ending with a quote here is a link to the time-worn sound of Wilf Carter singing ‘Springtime In The Rockies.’ It’s corny, but Wilf was a father of Canadian country music and his songs are the sound of a life much simpler. I, for one, miss it.
My recent peregrination along the most southerly highway in British Columbia offered many delights. I am fascinated with old farms, mines and towns along the back roads I love to travel. Bittersweet feelings fill my head at times about the tremendous industry which goes into building dreams that eventually fall into decay and ruin. I marvel at how all that effort is so easily abandoned. But then that has always happened with civilization and someday our endeavours will merely be another mound to be explored by future archaeologists.
This blog is a simple photo essay on the town of Greenwood. Once a bustling wealthy mining center with a smelter it is now a quiet, remote community struggling to stay alive. Photos of Greenwood are usually of its smelter and huge hideous slag piles. I chose to share a few minutes on a Saturday afternoon strolling around the main blocks of its downtown, where people lived. It typifies a lot of small North American communities stubbornly clinging to a time which was very different and is rightfully cherished. Have a look, maybe find an ice cream and get a tattoo. Then drive on.
“No child on earth was ever meant to be ordinary, and you can still see it in them, and they know it, too, but then the times get to them, and they wear out their brains learning what folks expect, and spend their strength trying to rise over those same folks.”
I was loading up my old camper when a neighbor three doors down began yelling at her dog. It’s a lovely German Shepard which never gets a walk and barks incessantly from the confines of its back yard. The owner is a woman who has a loud penetrating smokers voice, full of gravel and venom. “Stoppit, STOPPIT!” It has occurred to me that she might be shouting at her husband. This barking/shouting routine has become neighborhood white noise through the years. It may even be missed when it ends, rather like a cancelled train.
Perhaps my presence may be missed when it ends as it does this morning. I’m leaving on my next adventure today. Ladysmith will have to struggle on without me. Yeah right! The clear sky brightens slowly with a dull pink then turns to a subtle gold. A heavy dew covers everything and this is near the moment when it may suddenly freeze. I fell into a deep sleep in front of the television last night. I awoke in the middle of a documentary about the work of Sebastiao Salgado, the renowned photojournalist. I was in a peculiar state, neither asleep nor fully awake and unable to move as a parade of stunning black and white images moved in front of me. Each shot was more dramatic and surreal, a thousand views of hell and the unspeakable cruelty and suffering of the human race. Those images are still racing in my brain this morning. I try to distract myself while I finish packing. Somewhere up the back alley more dogs bark. The dew freezes and all the roofs are suddenly white.
A first night sleeping in the camper just east of the town of Hope is followed by a drive through the mountains and over the passes into the interior. I miss the ocean dearly, both the smell and the idea of it. Enough said. The light of the rising sun draws me on into breathtaking vistas, over passes and into dark winding valleys. There are spectacular scenes of an entire winter’s snow lining ice-crusted clear streams but snow holds no fascination for me. I’ve had more than enough in my life time. Emerging into the high open country of the Similkameen I miss a stunning shot of eagles and ravens milling around the carcass of a road-killed elk. I double back but they are gone. In a few more miles there is a puff of dust high up on a rocky slide and a herd of Big Horn rams melee about like school boys at recess. It’s a glorious day and I amble onward, the truck with its full camper and overloaded trailer a sight from a ponderous odyssey.
After visiting with a friend in the South Okanogan for over a day I head eastward up the steep passes and down into the next valley beyond. I’m either burning up the truck’s motor with my heavy load or trying not to cook the brakes while racing down toward the next tight bend. There is deep crusted snow near each summit and sad little towns in each valley. I drive until past another ruin of a community named Yahk where I found a good place to park for the night. I sleep well.
On day four I arrive at my destination, Lake Koocanusa. If I can’t be by or on the ocean this is country I can love. Open grassy land with open forest of ponderosa or bull pine, tamarack also known as larch, and small fir. I find myself longing for a horse. Although I have not ridden for decades this is a broad wide valley leading southward which draws one’s heart onward. This lake is man made, the reservoir is behind Libby Dam on the Kootenay River in Montana, one hundred forty kilometers to the south. Incongruously the river then arches northward back into Canada where it joins the Columbia River near Castlegar. My first glimpse of it is a sailor’s nightmare. There are shallow sandbars everywhere and from my high vantage point I see only safe passage for tiny boats. Of course spring runoff has yet to begin when the lake’s surface will rise almost forty feet. In a seaman’s perspective these waters have only one annual tide with high water late in the summer and low slack right about now. The dam releases water as required to generate electricity and to offer some flood control, good things I know, but my heart aches for what this beautiful broad valley was like when it was untouched.
Judging by the copious amount of elk and deer droppings it would have been a treasure to first nations people and the early settlers. It was indeed a valley worth fighting for although there should have been plenty for everyone. But need and greed are very different notions. The miners have torn at the bowels of this rich country, the loggers have raped the timber clear to mountain tree lines in places, the ranchers have fenced nearly everywhere. Politicians and industrialists flooded and destroyed the rich river bottom. Yet this valley still holds a rare beauty and I in turn will exploit some of that grandeur while I am here.
The balmy winds of afternoon were pushed away by a wall of lowering grey cloud bearing down the valley from the Northwest. It brought a piercing cold and soon I sheltered in the camper. It was buffeted by pelting horizontal rain on one side and a while later the onslaught came on the opposite side. “Springtime in the Rockies” I abandoned my notion of sitting by the campfire to admire the sunset over my new kingdom.
Often, I find, it is the morning after arrival at a destination which reveals a first true impression of the place. Perhaps one absorbs some sort of local cosmic energy or maybe a night’s sleep allows one to fully open their eyes to their new environment. “Holy shit, I never noticed that yesterday!” This morning dawned clear and cold. The sky was wide and blue, the northwest wind was a gentle knife. The dried cow pies in this meadow all bore a glint of sparkling frost. I soon retreated back into the warmth of my little man box. I feel fine. If the plan uncoils as anticipated I start a new job here for the next half-year. So here I am. Sixty-nine years old and starting over once again. Fools and newcomers line up on the left, old farts on the right and all of the above in the middle. Haar!
A week after leaving Vancouver Island I find myself on a bleak, cold morning in the center of Alberta. I’m going to survey a boat this morning and yes, I feel a very long way from the ocean. I’m now behind by two or three blogs, there is no shortage of material. The blog goes on.
There is a British actor on YouTube who calls himself Johnathon Pie. Most folks are convinced that he is a genuine reporter who has had enough of the smarmy syrup we have come to expect from our media. He delivers scathing abuses of politicians in general and I love his acid, ranting satire. He also attacks journalists at times and “keyboard warrior” is a term he employed which I thought was wonderfully descriptive. Am I one myself? Dunno? I’m just trying to do my bit to persuade some folks to ask questions and get off their dufus to go see a bit more of their world; and someone else’s as well.