Razorbacks And Pit Bulls

Razorbacks and Pitbulls

Country roads and April dust

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.

Into the mystic brown prairie spring

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 crow’s nest
Which way to the 7-11?

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 mission: 1999 Trojan 37′ mahogany-hulled former beauty queen. Her lines are still evident but rebuilding her to her former glory would be an expensive career.

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.

Fat ladies with tiny feet.
They called her Cuddles. I wonder if there are any pig whisperers? Razorback hogs are not known to be good house pets.
A room with a view. This elevator apparently stores barley.

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.

Big houses on the prairie. Even the lake is man-made.
Yes really!
The gas plant says it all. It was  farm land not so long ago.
This is how I remember Cochrane
A morning view from a dining room. A great way to sit with a morning coffee. Even this sailor found it incredible.
Got it?
Calgary in the distance. It is growing beyond anyone’s belief.

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.

A room with a view. Note the windmills in the distance.
Morning!
A sailor is called in Longview Alberta

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!

The purple towel hung by the front gate whenever her husband was away on another trip. A small store converted to a tiny downtown home.

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.

The tin yurt. a herd of white tail deer watched from from the distance beyond the aspens.

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.

The way we were
CLOSE THE GATE!

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpPIDiUt2ec

A Dog Named Stoppit

Home waters, a last glimpse for a while.

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.

Front row seat. “When you’re being run out of town, get to the front of the crowd and make it look like a parade.” The ferry fare was a small fortune to me.
Imagine what the other guy paid for a ticket. His RV went on for another six feet and…he was towing a vehicle. And…he was from Covid Ontario.

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.

I drive the line. My preferred route around the lower mainland megalumpalous is along Zero Avenue. It is the forty ninth parallel and the Canada/Us border.  That’s Amurica in the ditch. Note the vertical line in the fresh snow above the road on the ridge in the distance, it goes on like for the next few thousand miles. The need for speed bumps is obvious and a reminder of Mexico.
TOPE!

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.

Boys will be boys. If they had not been kicking up dust I would never have noticed them. Big Horn Sheep.
What you get when you combine redneck sensibilities with a n old German car
Osooyos, a view from a lookout on Anarchist Hill
Ever want to be a bug on someone’s wall? This is a friend’s house in Penticton.
A splendid gift. There’s a lot of love in those jars. I must return the empties.
Just a little imagination can be a lot of fun.
Days gone by. Pirated from an old photos of former glories in Rock Creek. The dogs all wore moccasins on their front feet, except for the lost one.
Memories for me. I learned to cook on a woodstove much like this.
A hint of spring comes in the interior.
Over the keening of the wind I can hear the faint tinkle of children’s laughter.
This is in a gorgeous valley which lays beneath Anarchist Mountain. This old homestead has been a favourite on BC calendars for decades.
The old line shack. Imagine winter nights alone.

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.

Where the pipeline crosses the railway along the Moyie River
A noisy welcome.
Summer Kerplunk
A wonderful place to camp. A delicious leftover curry and an elk’s jawbone for a poker. There are beasties everywhere…until hunting season.
SLAM! A few miles before Cranbrook I see this. Of all the vehicles I’ve owned I loved my old Toyota FJ. This guy has a yard full for sale.
Be still my beating heart!
Lake Koocanusa, “that’s easy for you to say!” I had to cross the bridge to get to the my jobsite. It’s simply know by the employees as “Sunshine.”

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.

First impression
“We’re here because we’re not all there.” No I wasn’t stuck…just stretching my legs after a very long drive.
A small circus train or, clown in transit.

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!

After the squall

Moved on. All that dreaming, hard work, hardship and then it gets left behind. ” The plans of mice and men.”
Hoof it! The Koocanusa speed controllers. They’re everywhere, skittish, fat, sassy.
Some wear shoes.
Some don’t. That’s a deer track, the whitetails are huge
It’s hard to walk without stepping in these, the woods are like a barnyard.
There’s all sorts of wildlife

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.

Big enough? Parallel park this puppy on a hill in town. Allegedly the world’s biggest truck… at the time.
Clamber…up there! When you get to the top the first thing you notice is a whole lot more mountains. So you go back into the valley and start climbing again.

Bad Decisions

Amaryllis for the New Year. Any colour is gratefully accepted during this gloomy season.
Even orchids will do
How about a pepper, a boot and a propane bottle on a frosty morning?
Yep, even a child’s painted rock will do, perhaps it’s the finest of all!

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.

Budy Whumpgut Zapata
This little guy has been my dashboard travelling companion for thousands of miles and in many different vehicles through the years. He’s ready to head out on the road. Very ready.

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.

The Memory Tree. A local tradition along one of our walking routes is to decorate this tree for Christmas and include photos of beloved dogs who once walked here but have died.
It is very poignant.

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!

He used to love puddles. it is hard to believe we live with a high risk of forest fires come summer.
Slowly, in the pouring rain, there comes a beast. Jack’s old bones dislike the damp as much as mine.
The woods are alive with the sound of dripping.
Washed toad stools.

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.

Hey Baby! Wanna spawn!
Lookin’ like we’re almost out of time.
Waiting for a frog. This heron sat in a tree top in the driving rain waiting for something edible to pass by below. Fortunately neither Jack nor I looked fishy enough.

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.”

My two dollar door. I found this at a local Habitat Store and used it to provide a finishing touch to my old camper. The hole is for access to a snag-free latch. The horseshoe came from an arroyo in the middle of the Southern Arizona desert. I will return.

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.

Christmas Eve morning
Fetch! The same morning. A dog retrieves his stick.  We’ve had little sun since.
Don’t look back. It’s OVER! Dry your wings and fly into the new year.

Dear Self:

2021 is going to be your year.

So dust off your shitkickers and let’s get started.

All my love,

Me

The Plan Was

Napa Moon, October 1st. Smoke from the fires in the Napa Valley once again coloured our skies.

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.

Nice doghouse. Jack has accepted the camper as home and loves watching the world from the door.

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.

In a quandary in a quarry in the fog. The view must be amazing on a clear day.
For the tree huggers. It is a bleak view indeed… to the untrained eye. There’s a lot more there if you care to see.

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.

The way out seemed much shorter than the way in. It sure felt good to break out into the open and away from the lashing alder branches.

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.

Can we stay here huh? Can we, can we? The first thing Jack did was to flop on his back and luxuriate in a long wriggling happy scratch.
Camp on the Nitinaht. It’s all ours and nobody wanted money!
The view from the camper door.

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.

The rushing river water is crystal clear. We could clearly all the spawners. Here we can see a cutthroat trout hoping to pirate a few eggs.
Males and female. In a few days with eggs laid and fertilized, the fish die and become nutrient in the water and forest. It is an incredible drama.
Our fascination with the spawners is shared by others. This male is in prime condition and had a surly swagger.
A pink porta-pooper. A great idea, the portable composting toilet. Shovel and paper not included. Bookshelf optional.

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.

Out from under the clouds on Lake Cowichan. The stars were fabulous.
Morning fog
A visitor drops in. I think it was a flying lesson for someone learning glassy water landing, perhaps the most dangerous part of float flying.

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.

Second-growth forest.
Autumn on Lake Cowichan
The remains of a pier where steam log trains dumped their loads into the water to be towed by steam tug to the mills and rail head at the far end of the lake.
There was a certain romance to the rape of the majestic old-growth forest. One has to admire the tenacity, brawn and skill of those people who truly believed they were doing a noble thing.
Old school. Not many loggers could do this anymore. This is called a “strap” used for securing a block in a specific place. It was piece of very stiff 2″ cable with two beautifully spliced and tapered eyes. It would have been made by hand using a stump, a few railway spikes, a marlinspike and a hammer.
If you couldn’t buy it, you built it. Recycling was part of the logger’s skillset.

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.

Good night.

Abraham Maslow: In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or step back into safety.”

Was That Summer?

They’re baack! Always wonderful to see. Imagine human existence if we died after we reproduced.
Would we still have parties?

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?

Late summer tension.
Life goes on, even in the fog. I was intrigued by this monstrous crane custom-built to the barge.
Life still goes on. In the evening the unloading is over half done. It’s a tremendous pile of logs.
Off at dawn for another load. Long ago I used to work on the tugs …and yes, I miss it.
It grew in the night.
Something found it a bit yum.

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.

A local site which long warmed my heart and provided inspired memories for countless young people. This photo is from three years ago.
Now this…in a community which saw fit to install an open portable toilet on main street during a pandemic. I love this town but somebody needs their ass kicked!

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.

Autumn flowers are in bloom.

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.

September harbour, half moon, no smoke. A view during supper in the camper while parked on the waterfront. Wonder how the poor folk are.

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.

“When I grow up…if I don’t get stepped on.”
“Look son, just shut up and cross the path.”

You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” — Mae West.

They’re Gone

They’re Gone. Trilliums and other lilies won’t be back to until spring 2021. Sounds strange doesn’t it?

So who’s gone? The lilies. Ils sont partis! Some rain, some wind, poof, not there anymore. Come again next year. This morning was a gusty day. With the wind rumbling in one ear, looking up showed the trees bending in the opposite direction as the wind on the ground. Aircraft, on a well-executed final approach to the nearby airport where we walk, suddenly found themselves trying to land downwind. This old pilot found myself looking up and muttering “Go ‘round, go around.” A Fedex flight forced its way on down. That’s awfully hard on the airplane, especially if you bend it. But commerce first, that’s what got us into this Covid mess. It’s another one of those pandemic days. Many of us seem to be making weird decisions. But in the woods berries are forming and any day now, the first wild roses will begin to appear. The planet’s life cycle goes on; whether we like it or not.

Bucky has breakfast. It is amazing to watch what, how much and how fast they munch.
For every one we see, there are dozens we miss.
Outstanding in his pond. It is difficult to take a bad photo of a heron.

After writing a blog, I usually let it sit for a little while, rather like making bread. Then I edit it, punch it down, and let it sit again. I don’t work under any deadline although sometimes I pretend I do and see what I can turn out in short order. Working under pressure can be a good thing. The last blog I posted was not a careless effort. My remarks, both about government and environmentalism, were a bit polemic and on the edge of being rants instead of simple amusement. In fact, I let it sit and ferment for a few days before deciding not to rip it apart and flush the whole thing. Finally the upload button was pushed. Then a few more typos appeared; it never fails.

Hooker’s Fairybell and an earwig.
The tattooed biker was a big man but he could not outlive the name his mother had given him: Hooker Fairybell.

In this time of special duress, I feel my best effort is comic relief. I certainly do not want to offend anyone. I want to help dispel anger and frustration, not add to what is already heaping up out there. But, that which has some folks doubled in laughter renders others livid with indignation. So, stir the pot, and review what you’ve got. Do your best, screw the rest. If you’re going to put it in writing be prepared to stand behind it, not like some politicians.

Arbutus Man. I suddenly spotted this wonderful carving while driving through nearby Chemainus. It marks a driveway and is executed in the trunk of a dead and seasoned arbutus tree.
T & J. Are they still together? Do they have children? Maple and moss, their love was not lost.

Now here’s a horrifying thought. Imagine finally winning a big lottery prize and sprinting off to the lottery office. There you find that to claim your winnings, you must first produce a receipt for your ticket. Well golly! Nobody told me that! I’ll just go buy tickets for another forty years. That’s a story I learned yesterday for a lady selling me a ticket. In these tense times, there are plenty of obstreperous people out there. “No, you didn’t win.” When push comes to shove we’re all at least a bit grumpy living under this overcast of doubt, and gloom and threat.

Miner’s Lettuce.
Found in thick beds, miner’s lettuce is a delicious wild green and makes a great salad.
A Field of Rape and Onions. Some images demand to be taken. Although it looks like somewhere near Yuma, AZ it is on a backroad here on Vancouver Island.

If some cheerless sonafabitch has not thought it up, another will concoct a worse yarn. There’s always a piece of information which can change a person’s perspective and stir their doubt bucket. Certainly the last few months have deluged us with new and often opposing information. Now there is apparently evidence that folks in North America were ill with Covid 19 as far back as December. That changes the whole picture. I’m arriving at a point where I don’t much give a damn about what any of it means. All I have is this moment and I’ll live it according to my conscience and as fully as I can so long as I am not endangering anyone else. That’s the best anyone can do, pandemic or not. “Someone to love, something to do, something to look forward to, while doing no harm.”

Poster Boy. Jack knew instantly that the new bed was HIS!

Last blog I mentioned the recent Michael Moore production, ‘Planet Of The Humans.’ Now videos have been posted which refute the claims made there. They point out that a lot of the information is severely outdated and skewed toward the sensational. Probably so. So are the ‘Think Green’ diatribes. One man’s truth is another man’s lie. It has always been so. So long as folks are urged to ask questions and can be inspired to take a personal responsibility about our world, perhaps the end does justify the means. It is not up to them to make a change, it is our personal obligation. Us, us, us! We need to get that into our Covid news-confused heads. Meanwhile, my dog Jack and I are going for another walk in the woods.

Mobile social isolation unit. I moved this beauty off the path before someone stepped on it. It was going as fast as it could.

Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.” Henry Van Dyke

Honesty, Stupidity And Little Green Lies

“Nevermore.” This crow sat in the same spot for a couple of hours cawing out a message of dubious meaning.

While posting the previous blog, it was pleasing to realize that my text had not once used the C word which now nestles in our vocabulary to a point of not being noticed. It is like the word “like” which has become a painfully misused preposition. I’m like so in love. I’m like going fast. I’m like really hungry. WTH? What exactly are you doing if you are doing like something? Is there a parallel existence that is like this one? Ya know, like, it really pisses me off. Like actually? How did that misuse of basic language creep in along with all the other strange anomalies we don’t even hear after a while? The word “cool” is now long used to express the same appreciation which, when I was a child, was “hot.” Awesome! There’s yet another. An English friend was accused of having an English accent. He responded “No mate, I am English, I don’t have an accent.” You’re hearing me with your accent. Now then, could you like pass me a beer eh? Yup, I can see how English is a hard language to learn.

Know the feeling? Try to keep your bow pointed for open water. The tide will return.
Reserved parking or recycling? There was a time when old cars were used to try and prevent erosion along riverbanks. Folks were as well-intentioned then as we are now. Maybe we’ll learn yet.
Down the creek just before the sea.
Up the creek. A vital salmon stream encroached on by subdivisions, light industry and shopping malls.
I can hear happy children jumping from the bridge on a hot summer day. This photo is at low tide.
Camp Runamuck . Someone is living off-grid in social isolation beneath the tracks on the edge of town. The site is clean and…mortgage free ocean front. I admire the dignity.

CRA, now there’s another disagreeable C word. Canada Revenue Agency; Mr. Turdeau’s mafia. For reasons of health I am no longer able to do the he-man work I used to. For reasons of age I am apparently not a desirable hire-able. I do under-the-table jobs which a lifetime of experience permits me to do when others can’t or won’t. For reasons of poor luck, translated to honesty and stupidity, I am not financially secure. I’m flat-assed busted broke. But being a responsible citizen, I filed my tax return in good time, weeks before the dead line. There were a few hundred bucks coming back which I really need.

The wooden leopard. Disguised as a dead limb and poised to strike. This rare wildcat waited for its prey above a dog-walkers parking spot. It had acquired a taste for fluffy little dogs.
YouTube, me tube, their tube. This wooden water pipe is part of a network taking water to a nearby pulp mill.
Two of these pipes run for miles to the mill. Pumping water from the Nanaimo River, through more pumping stations, under rivers and streams, never mind the salmon, all so we can have products like toilet paper. Five feet in diameter, they are amazing engineering.
Zzzzzt! It’s a matter of time. A little more wind on a rainy day and this arbutus will provide a cracking light display.
Vanilla Leaf plants. Hung in bunches and dried, these plants have a pleasant smell and were used traditionally as an insect repellant.

Then the Covid Crisis was acknowledged and the government began handing out money to anyone who came up with a vaguely reasonable story, honest or not. Just apply online, three easy questions. The country is being bilked, scammed, and ripped-off for an astronomical sum we have not begun to calculate. I know there are dire and legitimate needs but there is a part of our society which has no conscience nor consideration of consequences. Meanwhile, trying to be an honest citizen receives punishment. After a lifetime of contributing to the GNP I’m treated like I don’t matter. I can also reiterate, from experience, how shabbily a small Canadian entrepreneur is treated. A free spirit? Scum! And over seventy percent of our economy is small business-based.

Another one! I’ve been walking by this carving for a very long time before I finally saw it. Brilliant!

A blurb on the evening news casually mentioned that tax returns filed on paper, the old-fashioned way, had been delayed because of all the other emergency activities. Well, I’m old-school. I checked the mail again, nothing. In the morning I phoned CRA and after a maze of numbers to push I waited for almost fifty minutes to speak with an “agent.” Wonderfully her accent was standard Canadian, and she was pleasant, both unusual in my experience with government agencies. I provided the data so that funds could be direct-deposited to my bank account. I asked the question “When?” I learned that in fact paper-filed returns have been suspended.

Well, guess what queue I’m going to go stand in? My income has been cut-off due to the Covid crisis. Coincidentally, our illustrious Prime Minister has announced today, that the government has banned over 1500 makes of assault-style firearms. Hmmm, interesting timing! Coincidence? A long-time hunter, I know that nobody needs a Kalashnikov to hunt deer. For once I agree with our supreme dude but remember that one pissed-off old citizen with a shotgun can still damage a politician! A pitch fork will work too! Beware angry geezers. They don’t have much to loose!

A little later, I return to my desk after shovelling some gravel for a neighbour. I feel much better and muse about the therapeutic values of splitting fire wood and other simple mindless manual labour. There’s nothing like a good zen sweat. I miss that pre-fossil fuel which warms a body at least twice before it is burned. I watched a documentary about life on a nearby Gulf Island and listened to a fellow who proudly uses firewood for heating and cooking, brag about not using fossil fuels. Stunning! He cuts it with a gasoline chainsaw, brings it home in a gasoline truck and has clearly never thought about what coal and oil came from. Yeah man; ancient composted vegetation, like you know, trees! Then there’s the question about carbon footprints and how many cubic metres of Co2 he produces being environmentally friendly.

This guy has raised his family in a yurt while he builds a big wooden house, with asphalt shingles, glass windows and a deep concrete basement as well as many other exploited resources. When do we ever figure out that each of us is part of the problem? Stop the bullshit and work out the difference between need, want and greed. I understand that there are a lot of very well intentioned people who are poorly informed, even misguided.

Here’s a tiny bit of environmental homework. Do research on the mining and smelting of sand to make all the glass we use. And what of concrete? Mining the rock, crushing it into powder, baking it to make cement all so we go and smother more natural earth somewhere else is a monstrous environmental disaster which few consider. The impact is huge! The production of concrete is one of the planet’s single largest sources of carbon dioxide. And just think of all the energy consumed to make glass, concrete, steel, toilet paper! All those exploited resources, and the energy to take and modify them to suit our ends, so much going into housing, schools and hospitals (Boarded up or not) commercial and industrial buildings, roads, malls, churches, airports all of which will be ripped up and replaced within a few decades. The environmental cost, for example, incurred to produce windmills is huge and not questioned because if we can put some of those twirling giants on display we’re clearly in the groove. Are we doing what we do to be thoughtfully in tune with the planet or are we going through the motions of appearing cool? A friend describes our madness as “Fornicating for chastity.”

I’ve just reviewed the latest Michael Moore documentary ‘Planet Of The Humans.’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zk11vI-7czE

I’m not a great fan of Mikey but he was clever enough to keep his pudgy face out of this one. He is facetious, as capable of bending statistics and evidence as his targets, and probably as profit-motivated. I do love the indignant howls of various environment organizations targeted in this film. The information presented is perverted but so are many of the notions he challenges. The message is clearly, “Green Energy” demands as much energy, if not more, than it would have taken to simply consume fossil fuels in the first place. A wise old man once told me that the key to long-term survival is to realize how little we really need. Just think of all the paper tissue products we consume; all for the extravagance of ease and comfort. It is not complicated. CONSUME LESS! WASTE LESS! The documentary is meeting mixed reviews but it does provoke questioning dialogue. If folks would just ask questions the world would begin to improve. Unfortunately we all live in a very broad comfort zone where complacency rules our choices and allows politicians and corporations (One and the same it often turns out) free rein.

My favourites. Chocolate lilies. Rare, fleeting, fragile and beautiful, they mark the ending of the spring lily season.
Chocolate lilies. Then they’ll be gone.
Camas Jack. What’s happier than a wet dog? …a wet dog that’s rolled on a dead salmon!  “I love you dad, let’s cuddle!”
Puddle Break! C’mon, lay down and drink. Taste the mud. None of that clear fresh rainwater for me.

When I was a child the notion of rolls of paper towels would have been dumbfounding. When clothing was too worn to patch anymore, (An alien concept now) it was torn up for rags, which were even washed and reused. Toilet paper was not novel, but many of us with outdoor facilities used newspaper and old book pages. It was how I learned to read. The planet advanced nicely without our present decadence. Think of all the environmental devastation wrought simply so we can clean our bottoms with triple-fluffy poo pillows. Hell, some ads even have the bears using the stuff. Trouble is, the woods where those bears live are being cut down to make dunny rolls. When the Covid panic hit, folks rushed out in panic to gather all the toilet paper they could find. Priorities first!

Here’s one more thought. Suppose some persuasive enterprisers are able to convince the world that the gyprock drywall used in nearly every building is a deadly carcinogen. It has to go the way of lead-pipe plumbing and asbestos products. Can you imagine? Sleep well.

See what happens when you mess with a taxpayer. You get him thinking!

Shack Island squall. These islands, in a beautiful natural bay, were populated during the 1930s. I think it should be a heritage site. Newcomers want the buildings razed although they are all owned in perpetuity. It is a splendid example of people adapting to tough times.
Piper Island woods. A rain squall hit and drove everyone off. We had all this beauty to ourselves and Lord knows, we’re not made of sugar!
Piper’s Lagoon, after the squall. Within minutes of the storm’s passing, whole families magically appeared. The urge to get outside is clearly overwhelming.
From the woods, Jack and I watched a squadron of racing sloops bash their way around Five Fingers Island. We both ached to be with them.
Right then, on my count, stand up and reach high as you can. 1, 2, 3. Hello? Hello!
Young engineers. It is wonderful to see what a little driftwood and imagination can produce. Beats hell out of any video game. My father’s ashes are scattered in the wild roses here.
May you find tranquility,
Splendid isolation…
…and a good neighbour.

 

On a positive note. We still live in a part of the world where we are free to openly voice criticisms. Imagine enduring this pandemic, for example, in Syria or India or an African state. Throw in Ebola, drought, civil war and general desperate starvation. When schools and casinos will re-open are not a concern. Finding a hospital, any hospital is a challenge. A friend travelling in Zimbabwe last year ended up in hospital after an accident. To be viewed, her x-rays were taken outside and held up to the sun. So how many ventilators might they have on hand? Face masks? Yeah right! Toilet paper; what’s that? We’re doing OK.

After hours of shouting ” Six feet, six feet” to the people on the path, Heckle decided a ‘see nothing’ policy was much easier.

You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make.”
Jane Goodall

Nooks Overlooked

It is a time of social isolation. Even the snails are doubling their shells. I’d stopped to photograph  lilies below and found this character hiding out.
The rabbits are already expert at avoiding Covid creatures.

I watched a presentation about flying a home-built gyro plane in the Florida Everglades. It was dream-like. This blog’s quote is something the pilot said in that video. I think it is profound as a metaphor about life, perhaps especially in these times of being forced to travel low and slow which as any pilot will tell you, is dangerous. There’s really not much to add to what has already been said. All the angles have been examined. Every possibility has been covered, many so dark and ludicrous as to be boggling. But then the ludicrous has become normal, even boring.

Something new. I assumed they were fawn lilies. It turns out they are yellow glacier lilies, usually found high in the mountains. These grow beside a stream beside a ditch beside an old railway siding, about 40 feet above the sea shore. How’d they get here?
Obviously, I’m impressed.
Spock Blossoms. I’ve forgotten the proper name of these weirdly wonderful alien flowers.
Even the back alley is ablaze.
Dogwood time again.
There’s plenty of pollen in the air. And it’s not a time to be sneezing around out there.

It is clear and calm this morning. If you listen, you can hear the dickey birds breaking wind. No, that was a squirrel! It is absolutely quiet out there. Not one distant blatting motorcycle, no vehicles of any sort. Once again, that Omega man feeling. Then comes the twitter of song sparrows and a chorus of cooing from the mourning doves. Ahhhh!

I found myself thinking “In like a lion out like a…. nope, that was March! Today is the last day of April. How’d that happen?” How time, despite the tedium, has whizzed us to here is amazing. A third of the year is gone! I know it’s Thursday, the neighbours have set their trash out. So, time to get my stuff together. Garbage day is not a great way to mark the passage of your life!

Hot Wheels. “How was work today honey?” No-one was hurt. My videos made it onto the evening news. The truck’s trailer was empty but wouldn’t it have been fun if it were full of popping corn?
All over but the drinking.
The Border from the “other” side. This spring has been spectacular for its flowers everywhere.
Bird orchard beside the tracks. These feral apples were planted by the birds or…were apple cores thrown from a train window back in the day when we still had a passenger service.
Upstarts

Jack and I continue to explore local nooks we’ve overlooked and sometimes I’m stunned to realize how this or that have gone unseen by me for years. And I arrogantly consider myself to be observant compared to most folks. What don’t they see? Off we go again to wonder as we wander.

Please turn your head and cough into your elbow. I’m delicate, and trying to hide  in social isolation.

If you can’t smell the flowers you’re flying too high.”

Click

Morning. In the bedroom an hour ago. Mobile phone, simple subjects. Lighting and composition, that’s all.

The chill overcast of early morning gave way to a warm calm. I began imagining that I could hear the budding leaves emerging. Jack and I went off to one of our mutually favourite wandering spots, the old Swallowfield Farm. I set up to take a shot along the mud road beneath a canopy of blossoms and chlorophyll green with a background of bird songs. A helicopter buzzed overhead, from another corner the scrape and bang of heavy machinery echoed across the fields. Now an old WWII fighter plane clattered by, a Yak attack. I know and love that particular airplane but gimme a break, I’m trying to shot some video here! It was joined in a chorus by some goon on a mufflerless Fartley Davidson. Geez Louise! Part of the art of making videos is often the accompanying sound track and my amateur skill level does not know much about erasing and over-dubbing or applying any of the wobble-quavers which the pros can do.

The shot in question. Can you hear airplanes?

That in turn got me thinking about how I’ve arrived at this point in my experience as a photographer. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve become a snapshot artist instead of the fully involved disciple of the medium format film camera and the dark room. I used to spend long hours working in a tiny, chemical-saturated space producing the perfect print, both black and white, colour and cibachrome (Printing from colour slides. It was especially toxic.) I even started a business printing folk’s personal photos, but circumstances prevailed that moved me on. How was I to know that digital photography was coming and monster companies like Eastman Kodak were to become a memory? Finding darkroom equipment, paper and chemicals has now become an expensive challenge. I’d love to go back to it again, appreciating it as the wonderful art it is.

From the darkroom. Cheung Chau Harbour, January 1986. A moment long gone yet saved forever.
There’s something about black and white photos which is elemental for indelible images. This beautiful wistful girl is now a beautiful, sensitive middle-aged woman.
A third product from my darkroom. Simplicity always works and if in doubt, crop, crop , crop.

I watched a biography about Ansel Adams recently. If you don’t know who he was, you’re just not interested in photography but you’ll know some of his work. He photographed landscapes and is famous for his work in Yosemite Park and the High Sierras. He lugged cumbersome box cameras with their glass plate negatives to mountain tops and developed stunning prints which captivated the world. A master of light, composition, depth of field and opportune timing he was also a chemist, perfecting solutions for what was needed to maximize his images. He always used only natural light so far as I know. His work inspired the founding of National Parks yet his work was a simple portrayal of a beautiful world so many of us look at but never see. Portraits, abstracts, wildlife photos were not what he was known for. He inspired me as much as the thousands of other spellbound photographers. He was a landscape artist.

I first took a serious interest in photography as a boy. My camera was a ubiquitous Kodak Brownie, crude, battered and abused as it was. I would carefully load of roll of 120 format, 12 frame film in and tape up the worn case latches to prevent any light leaking in. I can still recall the first photo which thrilled me. It was of a herd of cows resting beneath a spreading elm tree on a hot summer afternoon. By accident I’d caught the light and composition almost perfectly. I’d love to see that little square print again. Time and technology have moved on.

While laying among the lilies, videoing them swaying in the breeze, look what I found right in front of me! Allo, allo!
Sssssnap.
Spider and snake. It is amazing what you can see if you become still and let the world come to you.

Years later I took up serious photography using manual cameras which required every shot be manually calibrated for correct exposure, shutter speed, depth of field, contrast and any necessary filtration. Then it was off to the darkroom. I recall photography with a darkroom being described as having a leash without a puppy. I was never a gadget collector and take pride in doing good work with simple equipment. That of course is product of having limited finances, but no camera, no matter how exotic, can produce a good frame without a skilled person to utilize it. And no camera, no matter how inexpensive, has been maximized by anyone. Modern mobile phones are now sold for their photographic capabilities. Gidgets, gadgets and other toys are extolled as absolutely requisite to make good photographs. Photo magazines are filled with ads admonishing that you won’t get your ultimate shot without yet another product. All I’ll say to all of that is simply: Bullshit! Keep it simple, stick with basics.

Keep it simple. A good image needs impact to catch the eye and depth to hold the eye. Can you find Brio and Jessie in this view?

I am deeply offended when someone says “Your photos are awesome, you must have really good cameras.” No damnit!

Do you want to be an equipment collector or make good photos? You can either peer through some multi-thousand dollar telephoto lens or you can learn the habitat and habits of your subject and get up close for a splendid photograph with an affordable piece of equipment along with all that you experience gained in the process. I recently watched another documentary on the work of Indian photographer Raghu Rai. Thousands of dollars worth of Nikon equipment dangled on straps from his neck while he shot projects with his mobile phone.

The photographer’s dog. Jack enjoys the sun as he  waits on me and surveys his kingdom.

Ansel Adams did not have the equipment to machine gun his subjects and then go to his computer photo programs to determine and manipulate a best shot. Each exposure had to count. In any case, a day out with any camera is still a way to maintain contact with whatever view of the world is important to you. Photography is the simple, yet long-learned art of seeing and then sharing your vision with others. In these days of social isolation it is a wonderful endeavour, even if you don’t want to share what you see. And try as you might, it is an art you’ll never master as much as you’d like. There’s the challenge.

Fawn Lily perfection. This is the shot I set out to make. Everything else happened along the way. (Walk softly and carry a big click.)

Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.”
Peter Adams

Social Isolation

Run Takaya. Run free.

Takaya is dead. A few blogs back (Feb. 1st) I wrote about this splendid, and particularly beautiful lone wolf, who found his way through the city of Victoria and across tidal rapids to survive and thrive on Discovery Island. He lived alone, in social isolation for several years, managing to hunt successfully and to endure his solitude. This spring, in his mating season he returned to the main island, looking for a mate some think. He was eventually tranquilized and relocated deep into the woods of Southern Vancouver Island. He has now been shot dead by a hunter about fifty metres from where he was released. I am enraged and heartbroken as apparently are many others globally.

I have been a hunter who has lived in rural areas and eaten plenty of wild game. There was never a sound reason to kill a wolf. They posed no threat to anyone or anything despite any myth which can ever be conjured up. A few years ago, on Northern Vancouver Island, a grizzly bear was sighted, the first ever there to anyone’s knowledge. It was promptly shot. When our government conservation officers attend a human versus wildlife situation, quite often a wild creature is killed.

Wolf, man, dog, sea.

At the moment, tidal waves of fear about a deadly pandemic wash around the planet. Our entire social fabric is under tremendous pressure. The implications of this disease are far-reaching with all its fear and doubt. It is a time for introspection. I want only to put a little light into other’s eyes and yet today I share a little more grief. Damn us all. That wolf will never howl from the depths of the forest again, nor will any offspring. There is silence in the swamp.

Beguiled into leaving his wolf brothers, the dog is perhaps one of man’s highest achievements.

The wolves knew when it was time to stop looking for what they’d lost, to focus instead on what was yet to come.” Jodi Picoult