Away

Every pole tells a story. This is some native art along the way in Port Alberni.
The back side, facing the sunset.
Beautiful whale totems tucked discreetly away.

Nothing! No light in the overcast sky, none anywhere around. Without illumination from the Hemoth there would only be blackness. No sound, no wind. There is only a damp, penetrating cold. It is just past five pm. A long night lays ahead, daylight won’t begin to appear for another fourteen hours. How did the indigenous people survive winter? Were they simply tougher than we are? They had no wool underwear, no hi-tech winter clothing, no heat pumps, or anything else that came at the turn of a switch. Their homes had no insulation and their roofs probably leaked.

Bark whale. A perfectly proportioned effigy of an Orca made apparently, from bits of beach flotsam.

It’s hard to imagine. Jack and I are in the camper tonight somewhere between the beaches of the open Pacific and the shore of Kennedy Lake. We’re at an intersection of logging roads deep in the boggy desolate second-growth woodlands near the extreme Western edge of Canada. Being a tight old sod, I did not want to pay a ridiculous nightly rate for a spot in a campground. It now costs more than twice what I once paid for a decent motel room. And what sort of nutter goes off rambling with his dog in December? I am supposed to be at home absorbing global gloom and consuming my bottom off; or on as the case may be. Truly, I prefer the deep silent darkness of the swampy black forest. I know being here would probably terrify the average urbanite. Jaded as I be, Consumermass holds little appeal.

“Ya want me to eat that bowel of yuk?” Roughing it, camper style.
“Mind the gap” Jack sniffs out the jeep that awoke him.
Deep in the boggy backwoods. The stumps are all that remains of the old growth forest. The re-gen timber, or second-growth , desperately needs to be thinned if it is ever going to become anything like the ancient forest was. Even these small trees can be turned into valuable forest products.
Looking into Kennedy Lake from the back side where it drains into Staghorn Creek.
Staghorn Creek becomes a small lake becomes the short Kennedy River. It has a stark beauty and is not hospital country.
Winter looms

Round about midnight, snugly cuddled and deeply asleep in our comfy bed, there was a sudden blaze of light. I thought I was dreaming. Someone in a Jeep needed to pass on the road I was partially blocking. I recognized that particular engine sound as it crept by within inches of the camper. Being an old farm boy I know to always latch the gate behind me and never block a road, any road. I’d parked in the most level spot I could find while leaving passage space and out here in the back of beyond… who’da thunk? What the hell was anyone doing out here at that time? I spent the rest of the night waiting for the next vehicle.

Morning arrives with a tatter of blue visible beyond the blanket of fog overhead. The day turned out to be perfect. After touring neo-Tofino I realized that the camp ground prices were a bargain by local standards. They’ve jammed paved cycling paths through the rain forest jungle leaving heaps of shattered vegetation and stumps along the sides of the asphalt. A center line has been painted. It’s quite contrary to the surfer spirit which helped advance Tofino to it’s present gaudy self. The old school, when loggers and fishermen and hippies were the mainstay, has been driven out of town. Nevertheless, Jack loved the beach and for a short while the sunny sands helped him forget his old bones. But oh lawdy, the cold wind sure clutched at mine. I’ll let my photos tell the story.

What we came for! It may be weeks until anyone sees a sunset again.
A glorious afternoon in Cox Bay.
Bliss
Phodographer
Surfers. They now populate the surf, in all weather, like flocks of seabirds. In my passion for the sea, unfortunately I can only wish I were young again and will never know that particular intimacy of dancing with the waves.
An old familiar friend
It’s called progress but it is certainly not the flavour of the Tofino I remember.
Nor this!
Even the RCMP have gone for the glitz.
Yes really! There are now miles of paved paths with centerlines carved into the rainforest. It completely destroys the feeling of the place. There are at, least, no fast food outlets. Kudos on that.
The V Dub van museum. Struth! It is in immaculate condition, completely unlike any that the first wave of surfers drove. Perhaps next door they’ll put up a tree museum.
Roughing it. I could see why the fee was up there. Their map shows over 600 spots, each with dead-level graveled parking, a steel fire pit, picnic table, drinking water, electrical supply and sewage hookup. Yes, there’s internet. The beach is a short walk away and there is even a dog shower. There was not one sign about dogs…what a treat!
The central washroom facility. It IS very impressive. There are others around the perimeter. Someone has made a huge investment.
The only highway in and out of the Tofino-Ucluelet peninsula is experiencing a massive upgrade. It is long overdue and will be ongoing for a good while yet. The drive to Port Alberni is breathtakingly beautiful.
May you never lose your urge to fly.

 

 To myself I am only a child playing on the beach, while vast oceans of truth lie undiscovered before me.” – Isaac Newton 

Under The River

In the eye of the hurricane. Or is it between rivers?
In the dog park.
Clear the park, here comes Jack. It is torture to watch your beloved old dog shuffling stiffly where he used to leap and bound and race. His running gear is shot but there’s still light in his eyes and a frequent smile on his face. He still charms everyone he meets.
Wot a morning!

Here I sit, a steaming mug of coffee beside me as I begin to write. I am in my camper, the “Hemoth”, in a friend’s backyard on Gabriola Island, visiting old haunts and friends. This is yet another blog in which I mention the rain. The next “Atmospheric River” arrived in the night. The rain drums a wild fandango on the camper roof. I lay up in the bed snug and warm, cozy in the result of all my efforts. The new mattress is very fine, the furnace works like a good one should. I looked out through the now not-leaking windows at the thin grey dawn and went to the brand-new toilet. Then it was time to light the new-used galley stove and perk a pot of coffee. My day can begin. Sheer decadence!

Another river arrives. Day shift at the toilet paper factory.
Lemon Soup.

Storm surge. Storm wind out on the open strait pushes the high tide even higher in Degnen Bay on Gabriola Island.

This island was my home for a few years. I worked in the local shipyard and have wonderful stories, not all happy, about what I can look back on as the end of an era. The restaurant has burned down, the shipyard is closed, any hope of reviving the wooden boat school is long-lost. Rumours of an ancient Indian curse on Silva Bay ring true. I’ll meander around the island and then hopefully catch a ferry back to the big island. There’s been a crewing problem on the ferry due to a shortage of Covid-vaccinated personnel and several sailing have been cancelled. Like a turtle with its home on its back I’ll be fine, the old man who lived in an egg.

Home again, checking my email, I come upon the following ad from someone selling insurance. “Burial coverage that lasts a lifetime.” It’s a lugubrious mix of words which can be interpreted a few different ways. I wonder if the ad-writer woke up in the middle of the night realizing their gaff. “We’ll cover your ass.” “Out of luck, you’re dead.” It will be hard pulling your foot out of that one. Thanks for the humour!

Sometimes the gods send you an angel. Today I was tinkering on the ‘Hemoth’ where it sits in our storage yard on the back alley. I was about to drive away when a senior in their small enclosed electric scooter trundled up the alley, effectively blocking my exit. I sat and waited, allowing them time to clear the alley without my imposition behind them. Finally I idled up the alley as slowly as I could but there was the little red cart blocking the route. I sat mumblefluxing to myself about how to deal with the situation. The occupant sat inside the cart’s plastic enclosure peering back at me as if she wanted me to pass her. Finally she dismounted and came back to the truck. She needed help. Her battery was dead and she asked if I could tow her home to a senior’s housing complex two blocks away. Of course I would.

I secured a stout thirty foot marine mooring line to the front of her tiny buggy and we set off as slowly as I could. Up the hill, out onto the street, around another corner, further up the hill, around another corner. We arrived without mishap. I then pushed the cart by hand as she steered the remaining distance to her parking spot at her front door. All of the dark imaginings about what could have gone wrong on our wee jaunt vaporized as she introduced herself. Loriki was a very old tiny Japanese lady who was utterly charming. Jack was eager to meet her which in itself is a huge accolade. I gained a friend and feel blessed to have lent her a hand. Meeting her made my day. And to think how I could have bulled my way past her and left her to fate.

Kindness is a selfish thing, your reward is always bigger than your offering. I keep smiling at the image of my big lurching camper truck towing this lady up the street at the end of a long rope. There’s a cartoon there.

Two days since I began this blog the lid was jacked off another grim grey dawn. Another atmospheric river flows over us and rain pizzles down without stop. Jack’s outdoor water dish is full and overflowing yet again. As a former pilot from the old days when meteorology was a serious subject (right behind learning Morse Code) I was required to know about warm and cold fronts, trowels, troughs, high and low pressure systems, cloud types and what they meant in forecasting, isobars and dew points. Never among all that terminology did the term “atmospheric river” appear. It seemed logical that we knew how to look at a barometer and thermometer and what sort of clouds were blowing which way, then be able to predict what the weather was up to. Now we press a button and it is instantly available and explained. We can also turn on the tely and let some young nubile in a tight dress verbally machine gun a continuous sentence about atmospheric rivers. She’ll use words like “Prowr” and other illiteracies. Until recently, her term for “Atmospheric River” was “Pineapple Express.” I guess folks just aren’t content with the twelve month predictions in the Farmer’s Almanac anymore. And do you remember the catgut barometer where the little Swiss milkmaid came out of a tiny Alpine cabin for fair weather and the old man came out for the shit days? Yeah, I guess I AM that old.

Walkabout on a fine morning. The last of the fog burns off over downtown Ladysmith.
Allegedly the nicest main street in Canada!
Perhaps it is now…with a new public washroom. It cost us $100,000. and there are days I would have paid that! I like to think that my letters to the editor helped promote this notion of civilization.
It has been a very long time since I’ve gone to a barkeeper to rent a room.
Not exactly the Hilton, but I’ll bet there are a lot of stories from the years behind that door.
Two doors down from the cat. Children love the old machinery along our main street.

Next day another atmospheric river is meandering overhead. Through the day the rain steadily increases in volume and after nightfall, about 4:30 pm, a fog begins to rise. I need to nip down to the grocery story, the main street is resplendent in Christmas lights. The usual number of moron motorists insist on driving around with retina-burning hi-beam headlights. I am half-blinded as I creep through the four-way stop. Suddenly, immediately in front of the car’s hood, a black-clad, black umbrella toting pedestrian has appeared. How she got out there from the curb is stunning. Yes, I stopped in time. I gave her my best old sailor roar but she was adamant about her rights. I’ve said it before and damnit I’ll say it again. We see it daily on our roads. We have devolved to the point where the primal instinct, fear, which has kept our species alive for a very long time, has eroded severely for many people. Perhaps there is a FEAR App. for that ubiquitous cell phone. Beep, beep, termination imminent!

Must be a relative. I had to grab a shot of this. note the new driver decal and the crawl-through window in the back.
See the resemblance?

The premium app allows you to choose a celebrity warning voice. How about Porky Pig? “Tha, tha, that’s all folks!”

Black Friday Weekend huh?

Sunday morning, the rain continues. Monday, it’s stopped for a while. Jack and I are going for a walk.

Fredfessions :

Three blogs back I made the heinous error of describing the Farsi language as Parsi. Just one letter out but it is like describing Chinese as Japanese. I owe an apology to a very large ethnic group.

My second brainfart (to which I’ll admit) came today when an email arrived to which I stupidly responded. It was a scam. Now I am having to undo my knee-jerk foolishness. It is a time of year when we are all probably expecting a package and with current shipping issues, a damaged label seemed quite possible. They needed $3 to relabel and redirect the package. The scam really comes when you’ve given them a credit card number which is then reported to be not working and do you have another one you could use? Dumbo finally smelled the coffee and reported his stupidity. A new credit card is in the mail. I know, I know …as smart as he looks! You’ve been warned. Interestingly within hours, several ‘stranded package’ scams appeared. Scams must work, they keep coming. I’m not the only fool out there.

Looks convincing, right? Especially when you’re waiting for an overdue parcel. I’m smarter now!
Another ‘atmospheric river’ arrives. Actually, the river is a constant, flowing eternally as the planet turns. Sometimes there’s some junk in the water. The app you see is windy.com. It’s free to download.
Despite wind, rain, and frost there’s a little beauty still sheltering in the thickets.
Hang in there.

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” Plato

__________________________________________________________________________________

WET

This photo says it all. Thank the gods it is not snow!
Water Cress. The ditch in the alley above the house. “He drowned twenty feet above his roof.”

The rain pulsed down. For some strange reason I thought of some horrific sacrifical beast which bleeding horrifically and gasping with gusting, dying breaths. The tiny coastal town also lay bleeding and gasping. Chemainus, once a lumbering and fishing centre, had turned desperately to tourism when industry failed. Now it was a retirement town. Its houses sat small and mostly well-kept on tidy streets which undulated up the hills away from the sea. In a bid to attract tourist trade, tributes to the town’s early history and first nations heritage were generously displayed around the downtown. Block-long murals, now fading, and sculptures of native figures, now burdened with moss and slime, were everywhere.

On one side street, a small restaurant, favoured by local seniors, unchanged for decades, sat in the rain. Next door the visage of a local timber baron glared down from a multi-story mural. Aromas of good and simple food escaped into the chill dampness. There was a handicap parking spot immediately in front of the door. On Sunday afternoon, the first nightfall since the clocks had been turned back for the winter ahead, the door briefly opened and amber light spilled out to reflect on the puddles in the street. Inside there were two tables available, all the rest were full. We took the small one by the window. A large, elderly woman rammed her wheel chair fiercely into the other setting and planted herself as if to stake out the other seven chairs around her. Her body and her voice trembled with a dreadful palsy but undaunted she imposed a loud conversation with the unfortunates at the table next to her.

The morning before the rain began.
Baldwin behind glass. A municipal treasure, this old Baldwin logging locomotive is stored out of harm’s way…and public view.

It was the sort of place which was decorated with amateur oil paintings of landscapes painted on old saw blades. The one nailed over our table showed a crude depiction of prairie grain elevators poised between forest and rolling fields. Although the ocean lay two blocks away no nautical nostalgia was evident. There was a shelf filled with home-made jams for sale. A sign solicited any available canning jars. The little restaurant was a time machine into decades past.

An old man, grossly obese, sat across from us. His flabby white thighs burst out of his too-short soccer shorts, a pair of white knee-high socks added to the incongruity of his corpulence presented in an athletic costume. He sat watching his fellow patrons until finally he waddled off out into the spattering wet. More cars fitted themselves into the handicap spot. Watching those various lurching gymnastics was clearly prime entertainment.

A week later the rain continues to drum down. A forecast is up for a biblical deluge to sweep over us, 75mm in less than 48 hours. We are wearily resolved to a watery fate. In Ladysmith, the next town up the abandoned railway, I stopped at a local restaurant to pick up some take-out food. Incredibly, into that place shuffled the same old fat man from Chemainus. He wore the same costume in Chemainus. I’d recognize those wattles anywhere.

In the early morning rain…
Despite the deluge the communal faithful turned out to to put up Christmas lights. Bless them everyone, hopefully there were big bowls of hot butter rum at the end of their gambit.

Meanwhile the rhetoric about the Glasgow environmental conference thinly sputters to its next stage of incessant review. It’ll go on for months. Nearly every journalist presents themselves as an eco-expert while the participants, from Greta to Joe Biden continue to blither on. When you need a long parade of vehicles (85) and a squadron of transport aircraft to go save the world a few questions tend to rise. Now everyone who hoped to be seen at the conference heads self-righteously homeward in a storm of jet exhaust. Frankly I think the entire effort made as much sense as mufflers on a Tesla.

Yes there is a global warming trend, just as there have been many before in the history of this planet going back long before the human parasite showed up. We are contributing to the effect, but let’s not be so arrogant as to claim to be the exclusive cause of it. We will not begin to solve any issue so long as we remain determined to bullshit ourselves. Let’s take a look in the mirror and then consider what we can do personally within our own sphere of being. Resolving any issue is not about what someone else should do. Got that, Greta and friends?

Bambi Lane. In Oak Bay, where one risks being trampled by an urban deer.
I joked about the town deer wearing Gucci wrist watches. There are two local factions, one to cull the deer and one to save them. Think of all the places on earth where they’d love to have this problem.

Meanwhile our local forecast of gloom is proving accurate. The rain is pounding on the skylight like Charlie Watts is up there. Two months ago everyone was gasping in a summer-long heat wave. Only four or five months of winter ahead. Bugga! It has nothing to do with enviro-disaster, it is simply November on Vancouver Island. The rain has been falling since Friday evening and is forecast to ease tomorrow afternoon. Then there will be a mere 24% chance of rain. Think about that.

Rain dogs. After our plod in the wet, we came home to find an email from a friend with the following photo attached.
I don’t like Cabo but…I’ll be right down.
Photo credit: Ann & Randy

Two quotes I’ve stumbled across this afternoon:

I’m not getting old, I’m evolving.” Keith Richards

I ain’t draft dodging. I ain’t burning no flag. I ain’t running to Canada. I’m staying right here. You want to send me to jail? Fine, you go right ahead. I’ve been in jail for 400 years. I could be there for four or five more, but I ain’t going no 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people.

“If I want to die, I’ll die right here, right now, fightin’ you, if I want to die. You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. Want me to go somewhere and fight for you? You won’t even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs. You won’t even stand up for me right here at home. “

– Muhammad Ali

I can barely recall taking this image but such a moment will come again..

An Omen?

A friend, recently arrived in San Carlos Mexico, sent me a photo. He thought it was an interesting co-incidence that he’d found a boat named ‘Seafire.’ It was in fact, my old boat!

The photo that stirred all the memories. I instantly recognized every bolt, sliver and line after all these years.                                                                                                                 Photo is courtesy of Cliff  Robb

Here’s the rest of the story. When I arrived on Vancouver Island, I had a tiny trailerable sailboat called a Northwest 21. It was poorly built, not particularly pretty and certainly not intended for rugged upcoast sailing. Guess who sailed it to the top of Vancouver Island in March. Yep! “Smart as he looks.” This coast is still definitely in winter at that time of year but can switch back and forth between seasons in minutes. As spring comes sniffing around there are some huge battles between the elements of wind, rain, snow and very troubled waters where the massive North Pacific gyre collides with the mountainous coast of British Columbia.

That little boat was never intended for voyaging; anywhere. It had no insulation inside the thin, sweating fibreglass hull, no real heat, no cook stove, had only squatting head room and little sensibility aboard. Driven as I was I spent my days cold, wet and even terrified bashing slowly northward. I had a small propane catalytic heater which produced more water vapour than warmth. There was a tiny one-burner propane camp stove and I ate generally tepid, half-raw, half-burned muck. My nights, (long and dark) anchored in some black bubbling backwater were spent huddled in damp bedding wondering what the hell I was doing. Yet I was driven to get out on the ocean and so I ventured onward.

Late one soggy afternoon, (I think it was in Potts Lagoon) a couple on another boat took pity and invited me over for dinner. They were young newlyweds on their way to Alaska to skipper tour boats for the summer. They were then planning to cruise down to the Marquesas at the end of their work season. Their vessel was a gorgeous and immaculate wooden 38’ Atkin ketch. My life was forever changed when I went below into the soothing warm ambience of their Dickinsen diesel stove. I can still remember the inspiration of their mutual dreams and the encompassing sense of well-being aboard that cozy boat. The vessel’s name was ‘Seafire.’ I returned to the dank chill of my own little pisspot later that night transformed with a new awareness of who I was and what I wanted to do. Suddenly I understood the magic of the coastal labyrinth where I trespassed. I was not the only character playing with my needle out of the groove. The coastal back waters were loaded with the likes of we.

I learned the following year that on their southward trek that fall, the crew of ‘Seafire’ had allegedly been attacked and sunk by Orca whales somewhere to the west of Panama. The crew had survived but I heard no more of them. The memory of those few hours spent aboard with them is indelible. Almost forty years later I am still infused with their inspiration. I became familiar with, and fell in love with, a sailboat design known as a ‘True North 34.’ Ones built in Asia were known as ‘Noon Oceans.’ They were a Stan Huntingford design, a traditional heavy displacement boat intended for long passages. Their bigger brother was known as a ‘Rafiki 37’ Many folks mistook the True North as a Westsail 32,’ a standard of offshore cruising boats for decades.

The boat I bought was hull #1 out of the mold at Tradewind Yachts in North Vancouver. It had been the home for seventeen years to a fine fellow named Frank Poirier who was the caretaker at Malibu Lodge. That was far up Jervis Inlet, located on a neck of land beside a tidal rapids which one transits at slack water to enter Princess Louisa inlet. The lodge was built by a man named Hamilton. To this day a totem pole stands there and on its base is carved a three-bladed aircraft propeller. Hamilton was the inventor of the constant speed aircraft propeller and his timing coincided with the beginning of WWII. He made a fortune and built a retreat for the rich and famous. There’s the rest of the story. Frank had finished building the boat himself and his work was “rustic” but the boat held a certain charm in part due to the hundreds of books which filled its shelves and of course it had a Dickinsen oil stove with its wonderful cozy heat. The trip to pick up the vessel and bring it home was unforgettable. My brother came with me. We had been separated for over twenty years. The journey was a great way to bond and all these years later we still talk about it.

I ripped and tore and rebuilt that boat in a manic surge that went on for years. The name was changed from ‘Sunward II’ to ‘Seafire’ in honour of my inspiration of that young couple. Getting the vessel to Mexico was my ambition but alas it was not to be. My wife and I chartered her, hosting guests from Europe. I reluctantly decided to sell and build a bigger vessel more suited to chartering and living aboard. The plan was to have a boat that could earn her way as she travelled.

Isn’t she gorgeous? Little has changed since I last stood on her decks. The original wooden mast still stands. The dodger, the boomkin, the bowsprit, the trail boards, the gallows, and all the other things I built, they have all endured.
Flattery indeed.                                    Photo courtesy of Cliff Robb

The years hurtled past. Plans and fortunes changed. Several boats later I’d found an ideal motor sailor to take from the West coast to the Baltic and on through Europe. Once again I embarked on an odyssey of refitting another boat. One of the first steps was to remove the vessel from US registry and re-document her as a Canadian vessel, home port Victoria. When I walked into the Transport Canada office in Victoria I was greeted as “Mr. Seafire.” They had come to recognize me from all the different boats I’d owned. I was told that my timing was co-incidental. One of the names available, because a routine registration renewal document had not been filed was, believe it or not, ‘Seafire.’ The boat had gone to Mexico and vanished.

It seemed, to me, like an omen and so the name ‘Seafire’ sailed again. That boat was my home for several years and our adventures up and down this coast are many. Then in bitter regret I had to sell her, my finances had crumbled and I had no choice. The day I last stepped off her decks, it seemed my life had ended. It still does. A friend has told me “If you ain’t been aground, you ain’t been around.” Perhaps a high spring tide will yet float me free of the reef where I find myself stranded. I can tell you that life is mighty dry without a boat. I can also tell you that the old mantra about “Go simple, go now” is struth indeed. This moment is all we’ve got and what we regret most is what we don’t do. Just do it.

I know that if I found a rewind button for my life I’d make a whole new set of mistakes, but if I retained any knowledge from this life it would be an acute awareness of the “NOW” factor. All I can hope, is that even in its tiny way, and things ‘Seafire’ whisk through my being, it is indeed another omen of good things ahead. Have I come full circle? Perhaps, somehow, this blog will again be known as the ‘Seafire Chronicles’… part three.

This has been a signature photo for decades. I shot it aboard old ‘Seafire’ close-hauled on a port tack northbound past Thormanby Island.

A photo of my second ‘Seafire’ is in the right hand sidebar.

One of the great cosmic laws, I think, is that whatever we hold in our thought will come true in our experience. When we hold something, anything, in our thought, then somehow coincidence leads us in the direction that we’ve been wishing to lead ourselves.” Richard Bach

Bong, Bonk, Boink

Bong!
Bonk, Boing

The place on Lake Koocanusa where I now live and work is filled with those noises every morning and evening. There are over two dozen houseboats stored close together in the yard waiting for the return of summer’s high water levels on the lake. The sounds comes from the daily heating and cooling of the pontoons on these boats. As the air inside them expands and contracts, the sides of the huge aluminum containers flex according to the changing pressure. It’s a bit unnerving at first but after a couple of weeks I don’t even hear the daily percussive concert anymore. But I also do not hear sirens, traffic or any other urban din. At night there is complete silence except for the odd calling flock of migrating birds. It is bliss.

Needless to say when the occasional client arrives and cranks up their stereo I feel an instant fury. I don’t understand why folks come here to escape the impositions of their urban home environments and then impose themselves on their fellows. I understand I’ll have to endure this din all the summer long so I may as well learn to dance. Haar! Presently I awaken to the calls of redwing blackbirds, meadowlarks, the chatter of magpies and Stellar jays. Passing flocks of cranes and geese call day and night. Herds of deer graze within a few feet of my camper. My biggest joy has been to see a real mountain bluebird. Those fleeting moments of iridescent blue are indelible, what a fantastic sight. No, I did not have a camera handy.

Surprise! April 11th, returning from Alberta I found a nice place to spend the night beside the railway at Crowsnest Pass. This photo begs a moose to step into it.
It has been a long time since I’ve been near a railway. We don’t have a working one on Vancouver Island. They are fast and quiet, no more clickety-clack with all-welded rails. This is a westbound grain train.

A tribute in Sparwood to the miners who have died supporting their families and making the mine owners wealthy.

The weather here is amazingly fickle. It can be warm and calm then raining with a blasting wind and back to the former state of spring all within a half-hour. Deceived by a balmy spring day I headed off to buy groceries in Fernie wearing shorts and sandals but arrived there to find myself in a sleet storm. My fluorescent white legs were brighter than the snow on the mountains and I felt like a complete idiot. I lay awake at night wondering how this old fool ended up here so very far from the sea.

A fireless locomotive. filled with compressed air or steam this was used to haul lo ore carts out of the ground. It was crude but a huge improvement over using donkeys or women and children.
This mini behemoth sits beside the highway in Elko.
The Waldo Church. Turning off the highway at Elko the road to Koocanusa takes one by the place names of Baynes Lake and Waldo. This, I think, is the proper size for a church.

I find the work pleasantly challenging and varied. I may be bent over a boat motor one hour, then doing carpentry work for a while and then perhaps consulting about a fibreglass project all in the same day. I awake in the morning to see if there is any frost then sit with the gentle burble of the coffee percolating and wonder what the hell I’m doing here. Is this the end of the line for me or is it a window to new beginnings? That, of course, is entirely up to me. I’ve just bought a new mobile phone which is an amazing camera as well as a task master of several other abilities. We use our phones as a communication system around the eight acres where we work. To more easily charge the “device” I’ve also purchased a charger which works simply by sitting my cell phone on top of it. No plugs or brackets. It’s magic! I asked the clerk in the phone store if they sold a charger big enough for me to sit on. Struth! I need one.

‘Morning Bambi. Sitting inside my camper waiting for the coffee to percolate. She is feeding on the succulent new grass sprouting up among the carpet of pine needles.
Gold Bay morning, Lake Koocanusa

This anonymous quote was sent to me by a friend. Thank you to everyone for the tidbits you send me. They help.

The single biggest thing I learned was from an indigenous elder of Cherokee descent, Stan Rushworth, who reminded me of the difference between a Western settler mindset of “I have rights” and an indigenous mindset of “I have obligations.” Instead of thinking that I am born with rights, I choose to think that I am born with obligations to serve past, present, and future generations, and the planet herself.”

Signs

A sign of spring. What beauty in just one little crocus!

There seems to be signs for every occasion and every level of stupidity. Here’s one I saw recently which I liked. “I don’t like being old so it doesn’t take much to piss me off.” On a T shirt I read “the older I get the less life sentence means to me.” A caption on a short video I just watched says, “Everybody wants to be the captain until it’s time to do captain stuff.” That’s certainly been my experience. And then there are really dumb-assed road signs which say things like “Be Prepared To Stop.” Are there really folks out there who aren’t? There probably are!

Name this object and win two, shipping not included. It is a gadget I conjured up to allow the changing of a through-hull valve on a friend’s boat. I chickened out at the last moment when too many “What ifs” began to shout.
Nauty books for loan.
In a farmer’s boneyard.. Maybe this old delivery van had a second life as a hippy home on wheels. She’s a ‘Moho no mo!’
Morris in the woods
Remember this? The Dead Dog’s Memorial Christmas Tree? After the season passed the photos and decorations were removed. Now some bastard has cut off all the lower limbs!
Offering to the Squirrel God.
Jack passes Strangler Rock
United we stand

The recent Virtual Fisher Poets Gathering went extremely well. I’m amazed at the talent which coordinated all the performers from around the planet and threaded them together like pearls on a string. Kudos to all and let’s hope we don’t have to do it again. Here’s the link to my little gig, I am on right at the 1:18 hour mark.

Following is a little piece I wrote in tribute to the wonder of it all.

Fisher Poets 2021

I sit mesmerized in front of my computer screen

absorbing all I can of the lights and depths of musicians and poets,

my peers, my muses, my confessors and affirmers, my fellows

from around the long curves of the planet

who are possessed by the common bond of sea-bound masochism

and the thrust and sway and plunge of living water beneath our keels.

This strange gathering was all made possible by the discovery of the electron

and the spreading wake of technology

and now we take for granted our instant ability to see the universe

through the pinprick camera lense of our computer screen.

Try to explain this to someone fifty years ago,

We would have been considered as mad as a hootchie.

I watch as a senior fisherman named Gary reads to the world

from the confines of a spare room and uttered wisdoms

you only gain from the peace and terror long-lived at sea.

Through the open door of that room

I can see a lady, presumably his wife, in another room,

sitting in front of a window

through which I see lights of other buildings in the night.

She is busy with her own endeavors

painting a picture perhaps or maybe knitting

I feel very much an intruder in that home

and I marvel at the different worlds

so far apart

even though we touch mutually oblivious to our passing.

This particular poet lives in old Port Hadlock

A place I know well

I have anchored there on more than one long winter night

sheltering from a brisk Sou-easter

in front of the wooden boat school and a fine quaint restaurant

and who can resist a place with names like ‘The Old Alcohol Plant?’

I feel a familiar ache as I imagine the gentle rumble of

anchor chain on bottom, the flicker of my oil lamps.

I hear the echoes of my own addiction to the sea

duplicated in the words and tunes of my fellows

I am in the affirming company of fellow mariners

who I’m sure all long to reach out and

draw each other into firm embrace

but we sit safe in our homes

like goldfish in a bowl

only an arm’s length away.

This old wooden liveaboard boat burned to the waterline a week ago in Dogpatch Bight. A woman died. Jack and I had met her, she seemed nice. Today is the only one you have.
Kids!

Well, like the little pig stuttered, “Tha, tha, that’s all folks.” There are some big (to me) changes coming which will upgrade this blog to make it more suitable for plans ahead.

You’ll be the first to know.

All I know is just what I read in the papers, and that’s an alibi for my ignorance.”
― Will Rogers

Bottoms Up

HOPE

Recently during our annual snow event I found myself outside making busy with a shovel. Something did not seem right, (apart from the incessant desert longings in my brain.) Snow was zinging horizontally past my ears yet I could hear an incongruous sound. I finally realized what it was when the snow eased for a minute. High in the top of a neighbour’s tree I could see five mourning doves. To me there is no sweeter, soothing sound than the call of these birds. The quintessential song of the desert was alive and in person. That they managed to arrive in a mild blizzard seemed like some celestial message which I haven’t worked out yet other than being a song of hope. “Hang in there, there’s better things to come.”

The Edge of Spring
La Tuque
Keep a cool head
After the Blizzard

This is the time of year when I traditionally go join the Fisher Poets Gathering in Astoria, OR. It is uplifting to find spring has arrived just those few hundred miles further south and to mingle with old friends who are fine artists, musicians and story tellers. Looking forward to that event each year helps me get through the winter. This year, due to Covid, a fabulous effort has been put together, by many good people, to hold a virtual FPG online. My gig is a very short five minute performance on Thursday night at 8pm precisely. Somehow they are presenting upwards of a hundred performers in three nights. It is a massive piece of clockwork and I am very proud to be any part of it.

Truck side     Welcome to Astoria

Here’s the schedule and the links.

Thursday, Feb 25th 6pm – 9:30pm: https://youtu.be/6zUidoJQ_hM

Friday, Feb 26th, 6pm – 9:30pm https://youtu.be/JtLqx8mpUz8

Saturday, Feb 27th, 6pm – 9:30pm https://youtu.be/bxWVWtVMElk

These are great people from various aspects of the fishing industry around the world. They are witty and humorous. Many are tremendously talented and their blue collar perspective is refreshing to say the least.

You can get a great overview of the Fisher Poets group and a review of poetry reading (Yep mine too) by going to our website www.fisherpoets.org Then go to “In the Tote.”

I have a video produced for this year’s FPG which you can see via this link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Q6ik-vumIc&t=75s

Yep, moments of former glory

So, enough said. One of the wonderful things about Astoria is its many brew pubs. Once you’ve had a pint of something like ‘Bitter Bitch’ you’re doomed to go back for more. So I’ll raise a jar to you all for now. Bottoms up. Then two jars for next year.

Bitter Bitch
A sense of family. The view out from the Wet Dog Cafe onto the amazing Columbia River
One of our venues
It’s a beautiful town
Looking out over Astoria to the infamous Columbia Bar and the open ocean
FPG Shirt, the Alaska artist Ray Troll is part of the group
Here’s to the days when poor people lived by the sea and ate fish.

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” Henry David Thoreau

Chinese Salmon

An Arbutus Owl. Folks make these wooden birds from scraps of wood and install them in trees along paths. The practise has gained momentum within our pandemic. The birds appear in places where real birds might stealth themselves away.  I approve.

Sitting beside me on my desk is a frozen package of salmon fillets. The package has been labelled By Captain High Liner of Lunenburg Nova Scotia (Yep, on the Atlantic Coast.)

The claim is that these are “Wild caught in the North Pacific Ocean.” On the back of the package it is marked as “Product Of China.” No, it is nothing new but it still pisses me off immensely. I repeat my rant about the chicken farmer who goes to town to buy eggs.

I live, work, play and travel on the Pacific Ocean. I am almost as much a part of this body of water as this alleged fish. Lunenburg China? Where dat? Hell, the two oceans don’t even smell the same. And I know that China does not have a salmon fishery. I have been told that these fish were caught by Alaskan or Canadian boats, sent to China for processing and packaging, then returned to us marked up accordingly. We wonder what is wrong with our economy! When we go to Canadian Tire, or Walmart or any other box store it is tough to find products not made in China, including Covid face masks! Snot funny! China is not coming, it’s here!

Well, I edited out the rest of this rant. I’ll admit I should have first read the packaging on those pieces of tasteless pink protein. But geez Louise, can’t we even trust Captain Highliner any more?

Yes Really!

Yesterday I was placidly sitting on the couch when hit with a sudden muscle spasm in my neck. It was the sort of pain that causes you to squeal out loud without even knowing that you are. It was agonizing. I was writhing about like Quasimodo when a loud beeping began. Struth! The whole house was filled with a skull-shattering omnidirectional (My illiterate spellchecker didn’t like that one!) regular piercing burst of violent noise. Hobbling quickly with one contorted arm and curved neck I fetched the kitchen stool and began ripping smoke detectors from the ceiling. Reaching over my head was excruciating. Old Jack was desperate to escape the house and the metal-jacketed sound and my frantic efforts. The alarm continued, despite unplugging the devices and then removing their backup batteries. SkreeeeeP SkreeeeeP at seven million decibels. “Oh golly” I shouted in mounting frustration. (Yeah right) Then the phone rang; of course. This is just a bad dream I thought. But it wasn’t. I spat out the teeth shattered by the ultrasonic assault.

The culprit turned out to be a Co2 detector I had installed a few years ago, wondering at the time how we had ever dared sleep without one. It had been long forgotten as it sat there lurking like a terrorist device behind a piece of furniture waiting for the perfect moment to wreak havoc. My ginky neck is still with me, the instrument of pervasive sound is in the garage. Wanna buy a Co2 detector? It works really well!

Stragglers. At the end of January, the last few Coho spawners struggle in the stream at the end of their incredible journeys. It has been a spectacular season for them and an uplifting affirmation that nature works if given a chance.
So many Coho Salmon have spawned that latecomers have dug out earlier-laid eggs in order to deposit their own. I t seems sad but these will not go to waste and will sustain other creatures.
The amazing dipper bird. These little guys bob along in fast-flowing streams finding morsels to eat. They spend as much time underwater as above and often leave one wondering at what they actually saw. That these frail creatures  can hold themselves against the rush of water is wonderful.
Jack on High. On good days he’s still able to clamber about a bit and go survey his kingdom. I savour every moment with him.
Bobby McGee’s house. Notice the recurring theme of travelling and looking into the distance?

Pandemic

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath —
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love —
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

From Lynn Ungar’s first book of poetry,  Blessing the Bread

November Camping

Halloween blue moon over Sayward Junction.
A nautical superstition is to never begin a voyage on a Friday. We did.
Hoomak Lake dawn. A placid lake betrays the ongoing business of the North island highway and the rest area where we spent a long night. The traffic never stopped.
End of the road. A view northward from Port Hardy to the central coast and all points beyond. I miss my boat!

These breathtaking copper panels adorn the lobby of the new Kwa’lilas Hotel in Port Hardy. A venture of the local Kwakiutl First Nations the hotel is an elegant example of Neo-Westcoast architecture. It alone made my drive worthwhile. Each panel is about six feet tall and the mural portrays the history and culture of these people.

I’m starting this with the rain drumming on the metal roof of the camper. It has slowed enough for the moment to allow me to hear individual drops. This morning I first awoke to hear the wind roaring in the tree tops hundreds of feet above me. The din was like a passing high-speed train. The trees are massive ancient Sitka Spruce, already venerable when the first of us Caucasians stumbled into these swamps hundreds of years ago. The rain now crashes down again in barrel-sized dollops. Our shelter shudders under the assault. I worried about a tree falling on us but realized they had withstood far worse weather in the hundreds of years they had grown here. Many of the bases are more than ten feet across. It will take more than my dark karma to bring one of these down. The notion of a crackling campfire is a mad fantasy.

Finally! The objective after over seventy kilometers of rough muddy logging roads and a long walk. San Joseph Bay on the west side of Vancouver Island.
Jack galloped ahead as if he were suddenly ten years younger. The trek back was hell but he was determined to do it all on his own.
He trotted across the sand to inspect this creature emerging from the icy sea. It had no pockets or treats. Surfers pack their gear the entire distance of over 2.6 km in and then back out after a day in the water.
Mystery flotsam. How did this ball of copper wire manage to end up here?
A roll of bull kelp not to be confused with a load of bull.
Hawaii next stop. There are three surfers out there. What a way to celebrate being alive and young!
And then the reluctant turn back.
There is magic everywhere and the coastal rainforest seems filled with the presence of many spirits.
They lurk overhead.
They reach out as if to draw you into their boggy world.
There is magic under every root.
This beauty was about twenty centimetres tall
Berry nice
The entire ecosystem depends on massive amounts of moisture. At times it seems one can reach out and wring a handful of water from the very air.
Beneath giant’s feet. The wind thundered in their tops a few hundred feet up.
Whoosh! Beside the camp spot. There was no dry firewood.
The watcher of Nahwitti Lake
The whole damned downtown. Holberg  once had upwards of 3000 people living in housing built on log rafts. It was the largest floating community in North America. It is still an operational logging center.

We arrived the day before in pristine weather. I’d wanted to find a place called Palmerston Bay but on arrival discovered a simple ending of a logging road. The slippery scramble down and back from a rocky, surf-bashed shoreline would have been too much for old Jack and so we retreated back the way we had come. The described “recreation site” proved to merely be a wider spot in a muddy trail surrounded by old logging devastation, not a place to cheer my soul. Eventually we arrived at San Joseph Bay. I hadn’t been there for over thirty years and recall being able to drive almost to the beach. Could my memory be wrong? The developments since made by the Provincial Parks people are impressive. Their pathways are like narrow highways and meander through the rain forest in a circuitous route which is far longer than I recall. It is a beautiful walk and Jack bounded ahead, full of enthusiasm for what lay around each corner ahead. I thought I’d have to carry him back but how could I impose on his joy? He was exhausted on the return walk but soldiered along determined to stay on his own pins one staggering step at a time. What an amazing character! After a long sleep he seems none the worse for wear and is, as always, eager for the next adventure.

Near Holberg is Vancouver Island’s first wind farm. In a traveller’s stop in Port Hardy, a defunct turbine blade is a grand curiosity. Take a lunch if you’re walking to the other end. This massive chunk of carbon fibre is not recyclable and consumed massive amounts of toxic substances when it was manufactured. There are some obvious green questions about the hundreds of thousands of these machines around the world: Eco-politics versus common sense.
Where the Marble River drains out of Lake Alice. Free, clean constant energy, no dams or exotic plastics required.
I remember when this engine was still working as a back-up for the diesel locomotives and to haul eco-tourists out to show them active logging operations. It seems sad to see the logging locomotive relegated to being a lawn ornament in the venerable logging community of Woss.
Old 113 is a mere 100 years old and probably still capable of earning her keep.
This photo of her at work in 1944 is how I remember seeing her in the early 90s. I’d love to hear the whistle echoing up a valley again. How fortunate to at least have the memory.

The next night we are well on our way toward home. The rain is incessant so again I sit with Jack in our little box. The winter weather has certainly made it seem much smaller when forced into confinement. Jack is cuddled against me as I sit on the edge of the bed and write. The blasting rain has revealed leaks which will, of course, be addressed once home. It is damp enough for the wallpaper to be separating for the inside panels. I curse myself for my restless nature and being up here in these conditions. Of course I look forward to going to drier country so these test runs are necessary to ensure there are no nasty surprises ahead. Tonight we sit fifty feet from the high water mark on Johnstone Strait. The wind and rain are increasing again but we are warm and dry with full tummies. Who could ask for more?

“Right then, that’s being the welcoming party done with. Let’s find a dry spot for the night, it’s going to be a wet one.”
This doe and two very healthy fawns seemed very tame when we arrived at Elk Bay on Johnstone Strait.
The next morning. The rain eased for a little while but the rising puddle made it obvious, that along with mechanical problems, it was time to pack up and reload for the next adventure.
Even this former logger was appalled by such a devastated clearcut.

Driving southward, trees with leaves began to appear and now back in Ladysmith it seems we’ve regained a month. Only two and a half degrees of latitude on an island of rugged mountainous shorelines makes a huge difference. This massive rock angles out into the North Pacific and catches hell from a very long way off. Wintry wind and rain have followed us home but as soon as repairs are made to truck and the old man box, Jack and I will be off to some local remote nook. Covid may have us trapped here, but I know the Snowbird flocks have filled every possible private campground on the island. It’s clearly a great place to be, especially with a civil war looming just south of the border.

Splendour in the grass at the edge of the sea.
The tide in the raincoast jungle. It is flooding and ebbing just as it has for a very long time.
Not a friendly place for humans, it is an amazing ecosystem.

The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
― Albert Einstein

Sailor’s Sky

Isn’t it interesting how some nondescript sight, sound or aroma can trigger a memory long-buried? It happened to me a few evenings ago. I was tinkering on my little trailer as the day began to cool and when I looked up, this is what I saw. I have been doodling landscapes all my life and have always sketched this sort of sky in the background.

Painted sky, without clipper ship.

The cloud shapes and colours took me back well over sixty years. A happy memory of my childhood was when my father would take he and I off on a day-trip. Off we’d go with his ubiquitous military canvas gas mask bag slung over his shoulder. I’ve no idea what he carried in it but by today’s standards it was a way-too-cool man purse. He was the quintessential British trainspotter and so we usually began these trips with a train ride into Toronto. Trains meant rail yards which were his absolute delight. Steam locomotives were fast-disappearing in the late 50s and dad would almost wet himself when we saw one chuffing out clouds of steam and sooty smoke. Yep, that was over sixty years ago!

Look up!
Good to the last gasp. An hour later a horrific lightning storm crackled across Southern BC.

Rail yards are often built near waterfronts for obvious reasons and one day that’s where we ended up. There were rows of lake freighters moored near the grain elevators and nestled somewhere in the heart of it all was a small working man’s cafe. All I can remember is a vague recollection of a clock advertising Player’s Navy Cut Cigarettes. There was an image of a bearded naval rating that implied real men smoked. That old salty dog sold a lot of cigarettes; I don’t know how many people he killed. Clearly remembered of that distant moment is a large framed painting of a full-rigged clipper ship sailing before a glorious sunset just like the one pictured here. She heeled slightly to the wind with all her sails set, stuns’ls, t’gallants, everything she could carry was up and billowing in the rich red-gold of a sunset just like tonight. The white bone in her teeth reflected the light of perfection. I suspect that image did a lot to inspire me toward my lifelong nautical persuasions. Could something that fleeting and subtle influence the course of someone’s entire existence? I suspect so.

Hero                                                              trade mark Imperial Tobacco

A few days later I’m finishing this blog as rain patters on the skylight above my desk. It’s lovely! We need it. The forests are bone-dry and our streams are getting dusty.

Original paint! 1962ish I think. I was ten years old when this Ford Falcon was new. It’s in much better condition. It came as a compact car a few years after the end of the steam era. Seatbelts, airbags, child restraints, even radial tires were still in the future. It appeared in our parking lot and was a delight to see.

Anyone who lives on this island is fortunate indeed. What is left of California burns up and wildfires rage in our interior. In the wake of those clouds I photographed a spectacular lightning storm raged across the southern province. We won’t get all the rain we need but it is all a help as summer evolves with shortening days and cooler temperatures.

Dogs know no bounds about size, colour, gender, age or owner. Jack appeared sympathetic about the leash.

Walking with Jack in the heat of yesterday afternoon crickets were chirping their summer song and the tang of fermenting blackberries on the vine was in the air. As the berries become over-ripe they begin to ferment in the hot sun. Wasps become drunk on that nectar and buzz harmlessly but crazily in front of your face. There’ll be plenty of berries for several weeks yet. Blackberries have evolved to bloom sequentially and produce fruit over an ongoing calendar. There’s a bumper crop this year with more than plenty for everyone. Just remember to harvest your berries beyond the watery radius of dogs and old men.

Yet two wo days later, the sky is clear again. It is 10°C outside at the moment. Yep, it’s coming.

The primal old fart urbanite sitting with morning coffee by the facsimile campfire.
photo by Jill
Wet spots.  The photo says it all.

 “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.”

Zora Neale Huston