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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
“Animals don’t hate, and we’re supposed to be better than them.” ― Elvis Presley
I’ve spent the summer working in the breathtaking, beautiful East Kootenays. Despite the grandeur all around it has been an unhappy summer for several reasons and it has been hard not to trip over my bottom lip. There are days when on this road of life I want to flop down in the ditch and declare myself done with the whole senseless gambit. Yet I often sustain my spirit by going around just one more bend in the road. There is seldom much point but there can be something wonderful that makes the entire journey worthwhile. That faint hope is sustaining. You find that new wonder just beyond where you were going to turn around.
Recently I was in Cranbrook on my weekly jaunt for errands and groceries. I’d taken a new-to-me back road through the forest. It was a rugged first gear bush trail and I loved it. The bumpy old trek whetted my appetite for more exploring but I knew I’d have to content myself with life as it was for the time being. Eventually I arrived in Cranbrook and soon crossed off the items on my list. It was a perfect weather day with a clear Kootenay blue sky, the temperature was perfect. It was early afternoon, I had nothing to do and nowhere to go except home. And, I was alone, as usual. That realization washed over me like a bucket of black paint. So I just drove. I passed the mouth of a driveway where an old motorcycle sat in the bushes and marked that particular home. I drove on but turned back to take a photo and so met the property owner who proved to be an interesting kindred spirit. If I had not been in that place at that time, that moment would not have occurred. And so for a while, life seems to make sense. Encouraged, one travels on, just to see what’s around the next bend.
I have a new friend. I call him Squirrely. He or she is a very gregarious red squirrel. On the coast they have been driven out by invasive, and much larger, black and grey squirrels which were imported from Europe. Here in the East Kootenays the native red squirrel is still master of its universe. Their nature seems to demand being loudly territorial. They can sit on a limb above you and scold for hours, a loud squeaky chirp that announces your presence to anything within a half-mile. As a hunter I’ve cursed them many times.
This character will sit in a tree above my little deck and curse me for an hour on end. Sometimes it descends the tree, still scolding, and will approach to within six feet. I bought a sack of peanuts in the shell but so far all the squirrel has done is scatter them about. It does not recognize a new food source. Eventually Squirelly decided to like them and packs them off as fast as I put them out. It has to be furtive and fully aware. Two feral cats team up to hunt and he is their prime quarry. They sit like stones for hours staring at his little tunnel and I fear I may be hastening his demise with my treats. There are no stupid old squirrels.
The little guy has dug a burrow under the shed and it sits in the entrance watching me in my burrow. Some times I swear it heaves pine cones down at me. It is the time of the year when the cones are releasing the seeds within and so it must be a propitious time to lay in winter stores. I make certain to keep the door closed when I’m not home.
On a previous vehicle I installed an Asian-built low priced rear view camera. It was powered from the vehicle’s back-up light wiring. All worked very well, until something went weird in it’s little cyber brain and the whole wiring circuit failed permanently. Now I’m about to install my camper on my truck and will also be towing my little trailer. I need a rear-view camera. Previous experience had taught me to buy an American-made product and after some research I chose an item made in Kansas. It is, apparently, a clever little device, mounted on the top of the camper’s rear and takes its power from the clearance light wiring. It has a wifi transmitter, which, through an app, sends an image to my mobile phone. Brilliant folks those Amuricans!
My Hopkins vueSMART RV camera has proven to be a total disappointment. After several attempts of keying in codes and passwords it came to life with a brilliant led array. Finally, after more fiddling, my mobile phone (Itself another huge frustration) produced an image of what lay behind the camper. I was thrilled, until I realized that everything was reversed from left to right and vice versa. Try backing up a trailer with that arrangement! After more poking and cursing I phoned the good folks in Kansas for help. I explained that a blinding back-up light came on each time I switched on the clearance lights, whether or not I wanted to use the camera. “Yep, they all do that, perfectly normal.” I then explained about the reverse image and was again told “That’s how they all work. Lot’s of folks complained about that, but that’s the way they work. You can try selling the camera if you’re not happy.” Really! I’ve ordered another camera…made in Taiwan. Wanna buy a back-up camera?
On certain brisk, calm winter days tiny flecks of frost flit and drift aimlessly in the air. Outside my RV windows there is a similar phenomenon. But the tiny flecks of bright-coloured fluff are microscopic flies. I’m new in these parts and don’t know what they are called but they seem innocuous. They don’t bite and make no sound although they have reason to exist even if I don’t understand. They drift and dream; quite like a lot of people. The “Wifi” beetle I described in my last blog is properly named a Ceranbycid. This one is of an Asian variety and is a nasty wood-boring, tree-killing critter. Thanks Wayne for the help.
Well time drifts relentlessly on. I have been rebuilding two small boats and can now see the completion of both projects. After that I have idea of what’s next but it’s coming…. around the next bend.
Our gravel lane which angles down from the paved main road is called Abbey Road. There is a grass knoll above it which I have named Abbey Knoll. It is a spot which has beckoned to me all the time I’ve been here and finally I’ve gone for a wander over the knoll. There are many things in life we don’t get around to. Places nearby, things to see and do or taste or hear and we never just go do it. I marvel at both visitors and staff who come to this magnificent wild area and see none of it. They roar around in their flashy boats, ATV’s and off-road vehicles with stereos throbbing and see nor sense any of the magic they are helping to destroy. Many of the employees here are unaware of the incredible forest and lakes all around us. They have no interest in the wildlife and don’t even seem to see the mountains.
I arrived at my jobsite here in the Southeast Kootenays in early April. Now we are already in the declining days of summer. Time flies whether you’re having fun or not. I notice a few limbs of tamarack turning gold already and one morning in the next few weeks there will be frost. The evenings darken ever earlier and there is a chill in the air. Soon I’ll be gone from here.
Wild deer fascinate me. They are always a joy to simply watch. This old hunter may not come home with venison anymore but I savour some of my photos with deep satisfaction. My only weapon now is my camera. The remainder of thisblog is images.
“It’s a strange and insufferable uncertainty to know that monumental beauty always supposes servitude. Perhaps it’s for this that I put the beauty of a landscape above all else- it’s not paid for by any injustice and my heart is free there.” …Albert Camus
This once mighty great white hunter (I was a classic legend in my own mind) has learned to respect and admire all of god’s creatures, great and small. Photos in this blog are often proof of that. I often conjecture that humans are clearly the only obviously alien life form on this planet. We don’t fit and can’t even get along with each other. I argue that even the lowliest creature we know has a place and a function which, even though we may not understand, ties it into all the other species which we have not yet rendered extinct. But then there is this one goddamned tiny housefly which is driving me crazy.
I’ve reasoned that because the average housefly lives only twenty-eight days this particular vexatious wee monster must, in fact, be several. But I’ve come to see it is a one-of-a-kind and I also think I’ve trained it to be annoying. It lights on my skin, then buzzes off in a second to land somewhere else. Every time I smack at it, the little bugger buzzes away and lands somewhere else. It knows. It flits in front of the computer monitor, daring me to take a whack at that and delights on landing on my knees. They’re both arthritic and I have a job right now that involves constant kneeling so those old hinges are especially painful. The last thing they need is an angry blow. It bloody hurts!
What sort of sound do flies make when they laugh? It is only here in the sticky warm evenings, never in the mornings and goes home as soon as I go to bed. I’m counting down from twenty-eight and look forward to finding it with its six little legs in the air on the middle of my table. Now that I’ve reduced myself to blogging about a single housefly I’llpost the rest of those Fort Steele photos.
“Just ‘cause you got the monkey off your back doesn’t mean the circus has left town.” George Carlin
Where I live in my camper there is an adjoining parcel of land. The small lot is rented by a family who keep a large holiday trailer there. They spend a lot of time here and their two lovely children are often in the yard with a screaming mob of their friends. Last night, the small blond freckled girl sat alone in her swing and began to sob. Between choking wails I heard her repeat “my puppy, my puppy.” I believe she was grieving for the old family golden retriever ‘Roxy’ who had to be put down recently because the old girl was suffering horribly. Of course this “grumpy old bastard” (as I’ve recently been labelled,) was in tears himself. There was no way I could comfort the poor wee thing without someone taking umbrage. I sat thirty feet away and shared her sorrow.
On a cheerier note I have a chipmunk living in my woodpile, darned if I can get a photo of the tiny beauty…yet. And, we’ve had a lovely, steady two day rain. It was bliss to drift off to sleep in my bunk with the drops drumming over my head, and to awaken with the same music. I guess I’m a coastal boy, through and through. For the moment the dust is settled. I took advantage of the weather to visit Fort Steele, a preserved historic town site a few miles north of Cranbrook. I reckoned that with the unpredictable weather, and soft light, it would be a great day to take some good photos. There were few people there and I had a grand time with both still and video cameras. So here is a photo essay about a wonderful place.
Fort Steele was an outpost set high on a bluff overlooking the tumbling green waters of the Kootenay River. I stood looking down on the river and thinking what a good fishing hole I was seeing when a movement drew my eyes up the opposite bank and into a small meadow beside a clear pond. Three whitetail deer, two does and a fawn, were frolicking. They hopped and bucked, whirled round and leapt. They seemed to be dancing. I was too mesmerized to raise my camera. As so often happens, the best photo of the day was the one that got away.
“ Discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust
I’ve often lived where the howl of wolves or coyotes is a regular sound. This morning I sit writing while waiting for the coffee to perk as early dawn softly filters through the trees. The coyotes are there. I love their sounds. Others may curse them but for me it is a song of wildness and freedom that is very comforting. I’m up early so I can beat the heat. In the afternoon the stifling interior of the shelter where I work in a welter of dust and itchy fibreglass is unbearable. Now I sit wearing a jacket. It’s chilly, for now.
Tonight I’m exhausted and feeling like an old man. Somedays it seems extra stifling and tonight, in addition to the dust there is a heavy acrid tang of wildfire smoke as well as a warm and fuzzy aroma from a broken fitting in the septic field. It’s a little taste of hell. Still, we’re doing fine and when I hear stories of more Covid19 outbreaks, lockdowns, droughts, floods and military actions around the world, I know we’re OK. I also am happy to report that my old camper now has a functional water heater. It certainly seems decadent to get hot water out of a tap after many months of heating it in a kettle.
I can also report that due to my contribution, someone in Cranbrook is waking up in clean underwear between clean sheets. I took my laundry to town yesterday and it was promptly stolen from the dryer and replaced mysteriously with someone else’s. The price of replacement bedding and clothing is stellar. I found a few items in the thrift stores and then the box stores but I still paid a small ransom to replace my rags. Although we are in the heat of mid-summer, trying to find summer togs was almost hopeless and so somewhere there may go a naked clown. I’ve got his costume. How about jungle camouflage and plaid? I did find some great deals on parkas! *
My tenure here has descended into a sort of madness which I will not discuss but at least now I’m now doing the work I came to do. I’m fixing boats for my duration here and then I’ll be going on to new adventures. So it’s warm drinking water and tepid beer with dreams of palm trees and cactus. I’ve been pre-conditioned.
On Sunday night I sat outside with the computer when a vicious sou’west wind began to blow. I had sat like an old, panting dog and that wind felt so very good. Pine needles and cones rattled down, then the wind eased as quickly as it had begun. Minutes later a solitary raindrop fell on my bare back; then another. A gentle warm rain began and I sat in bliss with the rain on my skin. I considered running naked in the rain and then I saw headlines in my imagination about the sighting of a geriatric sasquatch. So I just sat and savoured every spatter of moisture on my skin. So simple, so pleasant! I came inside and prepared for bed. The air was cool and sweet and dust-free. I checked the temperature, it was down to 27º C. It almost felt chilly! G’night.
Morning dawns with a low muggy overcast. August 2nd, almost halfway through summer. A first vehicle comes crunching down the gravel road above this little community. Another day begins.
One of my heroes of fifty years ago was a character named Charlie Farquharson who was played by CBC’s Don Harron. This pithy and earthy character wrote a book and produced calendars often punctuated with Astriks as above. They were followed by “feetnotes” and so here are my ass tricks. This morning a co-worker arrived with an armload of folded laundry. Within the stack was most of the laundry I thought had been “stolen”. I was gobsmacked. What the hell? It seemed like a very weird dream. I know I had removed it from the washer and stuffed it into my laundry bag. I used the washroom next door then picked up my bag, tossed it into my truck and headed for town. All I could puzzle out was that some well-intended soul, trying to be helpful, somehow put the right stuff in the wrong bag. Dunno, dunno! That would explain why there was strange laundry in the machine at the laundromat in town and why the review of surveillance video showed no-one tampering with anything. Damn this is confusing. If any four-legged creature wandered out of the woods and began talking to me, I don’t think I’d be at all surprised. Weird! The latest word is that this has happened to other folks here. Apparently we have a prankster. Now I have to go back to that town laundromat and try to retrieve the laundry that had been left there. Good grief! And here I am writing a blog about laundry. Good grief again.
“You see, back when we were all young kids we had these things called imaginations. Some of us still have ’em, and we control our lives much the same way we ruled over our imaginary childhood kingdoms.”
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
With technical difficulties behind I’ll try posting another short blog and hope for the best. This is a tribute to all the motorheads out there. These are folks whose passions lay with vehicles and where their particular tastes may take them. I make my living twisting wrenches and care only about travelling safely from A to B. Other people see vehicles as an art form and turn the mundane into the beautiful. Enough said. These photos were taken within an hour on a very hot Saturday afternoon in the parking lot of the Jaffray Pub. So hot in fact that my mobile phone/camera refused to work, displaying a message about being overheated and refusing to take more photos. Really!
I’m writing in the cool of dawn before another work day. The air is smoky and dust-filled. It is choking me. Water bombers orbited above us yesterday tending to a blaze a few miles south. It was probably ignited during the previous night’s thunderstorms. There is a weary hush outside. A robin and then a raven call mournfully. The only other sound is the white noise of my neighbour’s incessant air conditioner. There’s another long day ahead.
“Sometimes you just have to jump in a mud puddle because it’s there. Never get so old that you forget about having fun.”
For some reason not all of my subscribers received the photographs posted with the last blog. I’ve checked it out with Word Press, everything is apparently fine. I cannot explain what gremlin in cyber space decided to interfere with my humble efforts.
Thank goodness we no longer have to wear face masks although the heat and dust remain oppressive. There was one photo I missed posting last blog so here it is and please, please let me know if it does not appear. Stay cool.
After a reluctant spring, summer descended like a squadron of dive bombers. We were obliterated. Even my young co-workers staggered about panting. Those working on the docks easily burned from the sun’s reflection on the mirror-calm lake surface as if they were in a micro wave. We were being nuked. Temperatures hovered around and above forty degrees Celsius. I found myself sitting in the emergency ward of the hospital in Cranbrook for seven hours when I thought I was exhibiting a few stroke-like symptoms. I waited that long because ambulances were arriving almost bumper to bumper with heart attack victims due to the heat. I was told, after a series of tests, that I was working too hard in the heat. I knew that. But there’s no fool like an old fool.
Tonight I’m sitting outside of my camper in a sultry wind blowing off the lake. Temperatures have plummeted down to the mid thirties. It feels chilly. The tree tops roar like surf and dust blows past in swirls. I’m loving it. There is always a patina of dust on everything and I remind myself that life in the desert is just like this. Repairs to the camper have stalled, I’ve been too exhausted to do much with my evenings except wait for the temperature to cool enough for sleep and consume every sort of fluid available. And so the summer passes at the moment, one weary day after another. Visitors I was looking forward to seeing are cancelling for various reasons and frankly I am feeling quite low about life in general. This too shall pass.
One of my bemusements here are the folks who come to enjoy the new water park. It opened on July 1st. My employer purchased an inflatable world from a Chinese (of course) manufacturer which was then held up in customs for almost two months. There was much puzzling and re-anchoring and inflating but it finally came together. Skeptical at first I am now amazed. From toddlers in diapers through amazingly obese human apparitions to geriatrics barely capable of walking on solid ground, these folks clamber, crawl, slither and roll along these inflatable floating obstacle courses. They squeal and scream and squeak in a cacophony of unbridled joy. Most are not confident swimmers so they are provided with life jackets. It is delightful to watch as even elderly folks become children again. The old adage about the best amusements being simple things proves itself true.
I can also see that a thriving future business will be tattoo removal. Good grief! Don’t folks realize that those beautifully crafted flowers, dragons, tigers and graphic fantasies will evolve as time goes by. When their skin sags, wattles and wrinkles those tattoos will slowly evolve into abstract patterns and more closely resemble street maps of places like Moscow. Then there are the thong-string bikinis which do nothing erotic or tantalizing fopr the wearer or the observer. Pockety alabaster mounds (both genders) balumping down the dock only confirm statistics about rising Canadian obesity. Clearly this old fart, who is in no way a prude, is missing something about contemporary physical appeals. “Shake it up baby.” What’s white and red and squeals when it gets near water? A Canadian.
By the end of the day some of these creatures have turned a vicious fluorescent pink. They plod up a very steep hill to a dusty yard where their cars are parked with blast furnace temperatures inside. They drive for at least an hour to get anywhere back out toward their world yet next day there are more folks squealing and pink. Word of mouth is an ultimate marketing tool and clearly folks are very happy. Meanwhile the fleet of rental houseboats comes and goes as ever more folks enjoy a unique vacation. I am amazed at how my employers saw this opportunity and have made it work so well. All things are possible.
“Enjoy life. There’s plenty of time to be dead.” – Hans Christian Andersen