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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
I suppose this’ll hit the ceiling and bounce back from cyber space on January 1st, 2021 even though I’m posting it on New Year’s Eve. So Happy New Year to the world. May your balls drop and may everything glitter. I truly mean that without reviewing any of the weary rhetoric about the past year. Three hundred sixty-five days ago who knew what a Covid was? Who’da thunk that investing in a face mask business would be a good bet? Well onwards and sideways. Now turn your head to sneeze please!
Yesterday I met a fellow who was enraged that I would not buy into his proclamation that the entire pandemic is a hoax. No one has actually died of a virus. It’s all bullshit!
I told him that the Flat Earth Society has members all around the globe and that I hoped he did not wake up staring at a beige hospital ceiling with a load of hoses stuffed up his nose. Incredible! And yes, I’ve just had acquaintances die due to the virus.
If I can say something of value at this moment it is this. I have seen grown men have a fist fight over differing views on one social issue or another. When their hard-as-stone opinions were dissected it turned out that all of their certitude was based on something they had gleaned from the media. They were slugging it out over something about which they knew nothing. If you really care about any issue, you must do a lot of research, from many different perspectives. You can’t just settle for a view you want to swallow. Here’s an example.
If you ask the average person about the Boeing 737 Max 8, they will tell you with conviction that they will never ride in one. They know it is the world’s worst aircraft ever! As old Paul Harvey would have said, here is the “Rest Of The Story.” As a lifelong aviation enthusiast, a former pilot and aircraft mechanic I like to stay in touch. Pilots I’ve spoken with who have actually flown that model (and loved it) as well as a close relative who is an airline pilot who keeps a broad overview of the whole industry made these points. The 737 was developed as a regional jet or RJ to serve short and medium range routes. One of the larger markets for that airplane is third world countries. Bear in mind that there were thousands of flight hours logged in the aircraft in the Western World without incident. Both tragic crashes occurred in third world countries. The simple difference is the training standard offered by third world airlines is not as comprehensive as it should be. With a major market for Boeing with those airlines they cannot risk offending their customers by pointing that out. Competitors like Airbus, (Who have had plenty of their own products fall out of the sky, killing hundreds) are always hot on their heels.
So what’s my point? For your own sake do not accept what the media has to say. I decry negativity and recently lost a friend when I challenged him over his insistence of always offering negative perspectives. However, keep in mind that all media sources are businesses who need to make a profit and so must offer an enticing product made so by gross exaggerations, misrepresentation and skewed data. It is always reasonable to challenge what is thrown at you. Perhaps it is even a social and moral obligation to hold a questioning mind.
As we enter our second year of the Covid pandemic be mindful of what you choose to believe. We now have the hope of miraculous vaccines, oddly all concocted within days of each other. All have been formulated in less than a year. Previous successful vaccines have taken many years to develop and prove. I hope my cynicism proves unjustified but I am always stunned and appalled at the herd’s willingness to accept easy answers. Good advice is to sleep upwind and drink upstream of the herd. “Sheople” an acquaintance calls folks. We have a naturally questioning mind and these are the times to not bury that instinct further. Ask questions. Be positive but ask questions!
When I sat at my desk this morning to proof-read this blog, night was grudgingly yielding to the last dawn of this year. A low layer of fog hung over town like a broad cake of congealed cooking fat. On the mountains immediately above us thick rolls of fog muffled the peaks and ridges. The moon, full two days ago, sank from a clearing sky into those banks. Then for brief moments a burst of sunrise back-lit the water drops in the shrubbery outside the door. Now the sparkling diamonds are gone, again just more winter wetness beneath a pallid overcast. But, those moments of light will carry us through the day. Life goes on.
Apparently our provincial chief medical officer has issued an edict prohibiting the sale of alcohol this New Year’s Eve after 8 pm. This is in an effort to prevent irresponsible decisions. It is the stupidest thing I’ve heard lately. She should have made this decree a couple of weeks ago. Not only is she distancing herself from the people she is trying to protect, she is encouraging certain folks toward rebelling and being even more drunk and disorderly. And capitalists that we are, even as I write, someone is printing up a batch of T shirts for sale that say, “Let’s get together and make some bad decisions.”
As for me, I’ll probably be sound asleep when the midnight din breaks out. I learned long ago that deliberately making myself sick is not an auspicious beginning for another year.
Happy New Year and sincere wishes that everyone has someone to love, good things to do and to look forward to.
2021 is going to be your year.
So dust off your shitkickers and let’s get started.
The woods were silent. The autumn sun rose in a clear sky, its warm light laddering down between yellow maple leaves still thick on the branches. Old Jack plodded along the trail, his breath was thick clouds of steam in each shaft of light slanting onto the ground. I walked ahead and waited for him, looking for things worth a photograph. It’s not a bad arrangement. Once, he used to run ahead and then wait for me. Damn, it is so very hard watching a beloved friend age and knowing that one day too soon he will go on to leave you alone. It is an essay on savouring the moment. It’s all anyone has; not today, certainly not tomorrow, not the next hour. Now, this moment, click, it is all we have.
So, finally my old camper is in Fred shape. I’ve even resealed all the exterior seams along the roof and sides. Oddly after forty years the old butyl sealant was hardening and even mouldy. I’ve replaced it with double layers of new material. Hopefully that will fend off the insidious leaks which come with winter rains. At last Jack and I are off to spend a few nights in it. Last night was the first sleep in our little box and now for the first time I’m sitting at my wobbly one-legged camper table with my laptop. A mug of fresh-perked strong black coffee is at my elbow.
The plan was to seek out a spot on the shores of Nitinaht Lake. The lake drains into the open ocean through a famous narrows and I’d hoped to take the inflatable boat for some exploring and filming. It won’t be happening.
This area is the homeland of the Ditidaht people. They have a community at the head of the lake and have closed the entire area to outsiders, no covid crackers. The bitter impression of what smallpox did to their population is still vivid and rightly so. I drove on by but after miles of rough logging road came upon a sign explaining that even the campground I sought was closed. Bugga! That was what I’d come for. It’s their land, and as a trespasser I cannot raise my voice but it had been a long day, I was tired, it was getting dark. We continued on the road toward the Carmanah Valley and of course couldn’t find a place to pull off for the night. Finally I turned down a side trail which looked like it was used occasionally. If folks go in, they’re able to turn around somewhere and come back out. Right?
When you are tired things can become a little weird. We drove on and on through a gauntlet of ever-thickening lashing alder branches with no place to turn around. Towing the trailer, there was no choice but to continue on into this sucker hole and beat hell out of my rig. Every turn of the wheels took us further in but there was no backing out. Full darkness settled just as we finally found a place to wiggle around to face the way out and park, fog followed soon after and continues to swirl through the tree tops this morning. In the distance we can hear the roar of surf from the open Pacific. Making its way along the coast a freighter blows its sonorous fog horn, out there somewhere, a lonely sound indeed. Overhead, mysterious birds call, Murres I wonder. We retreated into the camper for our first night and finally made some lunch at eight pm. This morning we are parked in an old quarry pointed in the correct direction to leave listening to the sounds from the grey fog, no-one, including us, knows where we are.
Since the last paragraph we’ve been for a short walk and now it’s time for a warm breakfast and more coffee. After tramping for another half kilometre along this trail it is clear we drove as far as we’d dared. Thank goodness I stopped when I did. We saw some beautiful willow grouse and stupendous heaps of bear droppings, or perhaps they’re from a sasquatch. I’m soaked to the knees from all the fog condensed on the growth in the trail. Well-used elk trails cross the trail regularly. I’ve noted the yellow alder stain on the front corners of the camper. “Tough on riggin” is the older logger’s colloquialism that comes to mind. I’ll feel better when we’re back out bumping along the main road. We emerged with minimal collateral damage. Old knowledge was refreshed with only a few minor battle scars to show for my stupidity. With plans dashed, I just want to find a spot to set up camp for a few days. Obviously we are now back from our adventures. Of course on our return leg I saw a few places we could have stopped on the roadside. Hindsight! But as a friend says, “If you ain’t been aground, you ain’t been around!” I learn later that we were only four kilometres from the Carmanah campground where a friend was spending the night.
Later I write from a glorious spot. We are camped on a gravel bar of the Nitinaht River. The rolling water is crystal clear and full of spawning Chinook salmon. Upon arrival Jack flopped down on the river gravel and vigorously scratched his back. It’s a sign of great happiness. Next he trotted down to the river’s edge and had a long drink. We’re staying a while. I’m sitting at my Honda table beneath my white canopy. A cheery fire crackles a few feet away. In the dark salmon splash in the river. Bliss.
Then some yahoos arrive. In the dark as usual. They get stuck in a mud hole, there is much shouting. Tires and people squeal but finally they settle somewhere in the woods nearby. I can hear someone splitting firewood and yes, there it is, the loud pulse of their stereo, as usual. Backwoods serenity! Jack has already retreated into the camper. I’m joining him.
In the morning my friend appeared at my campsite. What a wonderful surprise. Niels is a dear friend of many years and his presence immediately lifted me out of my dark funk. He had tracked me all the way out to the Carmanah and then given up on finding me. He spent a night camping on his own. He was homeward bound when by chance he spotted my little white circus tent beside the river.
We had a great day together watching the salmon, some well over twenty pounds. Sometimes a cutthroat trout hovers near a mating pair of salmon and tries to pirate eggs. It is all fascinating to watch this drama in crystal clear water. A handsome male black bear ambled and snacked along the opposite river bank, the song of the river and the wind kept him from noticing us; or maybe he knew what we taste like and was just not interested. Today we headed back to the east side of the island and soon emerged into brilliant sunlight and clear skies. Now we’re alone again in a campground on the south side of Lake Cowichan. Seeing a friend out in the woods was very uplifting and exactly what I needed. Thanks Niels; for everything.
Next day, in mid-afternoon after a very lazy morning Jack and I continue to take our ease in the sun-dappled shade of a beautiful forest of second-growth fir. We are in a tiny provincial park on the south shore of Lake Cowichan for a couple of nights. Jack wanders off to explore the beach and woods for a half-hour at a time before returning to check on me. Being allowed to do that is his nirvana. Loons, geese and swans held a choir practice of wonderful wild music out on the lake. Then a gorgeous Zenair 701 kit-built floatplane idled along a few feet above the glassy water, stirring up other old passions. Much higher, heavy commercial flights inbound from the open Pacific glide eastward toward Vancouver.
As dusk falls I’ve built a campfire and less than twenty feet away a tree frog begins its song. I’ve never seen one yet. They often makes their calls from nearby but I cannot ever spot one. If you try to sneak up on that big little sound they stop. They are very tiny and wary so for me they remain a happy mystery. It’s been an easy, peaceful day. I try not to feel guilty about doing absolutely nothing. Beyond the west end of the lake a few clouds over on the ocean side catch the last light of the setting sun as I begin splicing together a video about this little trip. Then comes a loon’s solitary serenade from out on the lake, perhaps the most beautiful sound I know. A barred owl begins hooting from a tree nearby. Forest internet. G’night.
Abraham Maslow: “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or step back into safety.”
It’s Thursday morning. Garbage day, cold driving rain, still dark at seven am, thick drops hammering the hood of my winter rain coat while I was out there. How the hell did this happen? It was smokey and tongue-over-shoulder hot a week ago. There are now spawning sockeye salmon in the stream where Jack and I walk. Yellow leaves are drifting down. We’re plunging into another autumn again…already! What a year! Despite the gloom and apprehension the days have flown by and some arse will begin Christmas advertising any day now. Personalized Covid masks? Designer isolation suits?
There are two, or maybe three, elections upon us this fall. The US federal goon show is in full swing and now we have a snap provincial election upon us. There are rumours of a Canadian federal pick-a-nut about to be announced. Sadly, in any arena, there is no-one I can see worth voting for. I know that I am as politically astute as a bowling ball but I will never vote for a candidate just because of the party they’re in, and because that’s who grandpa voted for. The party has become more important than the individual candidate. We have a throng of idiots running our countries. When I hire some-one to do a job my decision is based solely on that person’s ability to perform as promised, not because of whom they affiliate themselves with. And Covid numbers are again on the rise. Add all of that to the current global horrors while our drinking establishments are being forced to close by ten pm. Geez Louise! Is there no relief? There is no point in adding my uninformed opinions to all those others grinding around out there. It seems that any information can be mutated in a flash. Integrity is in a glass box in the museum of abandoned values.
Politicians have entirely forgotten their mandate to serve their constituents and have no problem barfing out any inanity that gets them through the moment. That any politician would espouse medical expertise and unfounded claims in these times is so very wrong* and incredibly stupid. And anyone who runs their campaign on a platform about their opponent’s imperfections, instead of what they themselves sincerely plan to do to serve the people, automatically looses my vote. As a certain prominent political character loves to say, “You’re fired!” But, I’ll go and make my mark against someone, it is a democratic obligation. No further comment other than the good old four agreements:
I will always do my best,
I will take nothing personally,
I will assume nothing,
I will respect the power of my words. (*some folks will even drink toilet cleaner when told to.)
I know, those simple mantras are a tall order. I’m still working on them, some politicians have never heard of them.
I’ve been passing the time by tinkering up my old camper. The test flight will be any day now. I am amazed that a stick and tin contraption has survived almost forty years. It was designed to be easily rebuilt as required. The rainy winter prelude has shown me where the leaks are. In the nice days ahead you know what I’ll be doing. Despite the long winter ahead I cling to my desert dreams. I’m listening to my Nevada radio station as I write.
Now on Sunday morning I’m finishing up this blog after checking my e-mail. A Twitter headline today was “Texas officials warn of brain-eating amoeba in tap water.” OK? Next pandemic? Hell, we’ve had that one here for a long time. It seems to start gnawing whenever the television is on.
“ You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” — Mae West.