In Passing

In Passing

Photos in my last blog of the Squilax General Store inspired a surprising response from some readers. Assuming that no one would relate to the old brick building I was surprised it had been part of other’s lives as well. Go figure! The little store sat in the shadow of a high, long wooden bridge which took travellers over the Little Shuswap River to the upper reaches of big Shuswap Lake and also to Adams Lake and remote locations beyond. Place names like Scotch Creek, Celista, Anglemont, and Hard Scramble come to mind. There was a spattering of summer homes and a marina. It was an area essentially undiscovered to the outside world… then.

What’s in a memory?

I had come to the area due to a strange series of circumstances. I found myself working on a ranch belonging to a religious organization. I soon moved over to a neighbouring ranch and have indelible memories of life and all that I learned up in Turtle Valley. I sometimes wish I’d never left. At the bottom of the steep dirt road was the location of Squilax Station on the CPR mainline. The ranch family I worked for had bought the old station building, put it on log skids and dragged it behind the ranch bulldozer all the way up into the valley and set it on new foundations. That was over fifty years ago and other ranchers are still peeved about ripped-out portions of fence, wandering cattle and general mayhem. Country folk are often quite parochial and that event is part of the fabric of local legend. The old building is still there so far as I know, still in it’s very faded, peeling railway burgundy paint. There is a novella lurking about my rich experiences there. Looking back, everything seems larger than life, including the Squilax Store.

Imagine all that has been seen through these windows

At the bottom of the Turtle Valley Hill was a looping ramp which rose from the Trans-Canada highway and made a three-quarter turn to the long wooden bridge across the Little Shuswap River. There was a traffic light at either end of the single-lane bridge. Invariably there was a long wait for the light to turn green. I drove a ‘64 Buick like a maniac on the daily trip to work at the Holdings Sawmill on Adams Lake. A co-worker had financed a brand-new Datsun 240Z and insisted on pushing his sports car to the limit. He rolled it over on that approach to the bridge. The old abutments are all that remain of that bridge now. They stand beside the replacement bridge, a two-lane concrete affair with no character but a necessary concession to modern times and a growing population.

The store sat beside the highway on the south bank of the river. I do not know who had built the red brick construction but it stands as solidly as ever. Fifty years ago it already looked as if it had been there forever. Old Mr Herring claimed that he had been a young man working on a British whaling vessel off the coast of Kamchatka. That was where he had met his wife. I recall how everything was priced by hand and all sales were recorded in a ledger. She wrote in cyrillic alphabet which to me was an exotic mystery. She was an elegant silver-haired lady, always in a bright flowered-print dress. He was a bald old man with tiny round-rimmed glasses and sparkling eyes.

One last look before we drive away…if we bothered to stop at all. I can still hear the tinkle of the bell as the door opened.

They lived in the back of the building, the store in the front was very small but offered a wide variety of goods and obviously they had enough trade to provide themselves with a living. There were accounts of another store which they first operated in Fort St. John. I so wish I’d paid more attention. The Squilax store was lined with glass cabinets which had rows of wooden kegs sitting in in front of them. A hinged plank covered the kegs of nails and other hard ware, foodstuffs sat inside the cabinets. You could not buy a piece of cheese from one of the huge blocks without first being offered a sample. The product was cut, weighed and wrapped in brown paper and then tied with string which hung from a spool suspended from the ceiling. The price was carefully marked in cyrillic on the package and also in the ledger. Even then, it was a step far back in time which I did not appreciate. It is long-gone, forever.

The house where I lived back in the day. It’s hard to comprehend that half a century has passed since that age of innocence.

I remember the tinkle of the bell whenever the door was opened and closed and believe I recall a small round wood stove in the storefront. For years I treasured a telescopic fishing rod which travelled with me in my backpack and I still have a splendid axe which has served me well through the years. They both came from that store. One day Mr Herring took a phone call. (Yes, it was one of those old crank-up style phones) There had been a suicide on the Shuswap reserve across the river and the inquiry was for some muslin cloth to prepare the body. There was none in stock but the old shopkeeper had cheesecloth and assured the caller that it was perfectly acceptable to use what was on hand. That led him into a story about a too-small coffin in their former store and how they managed to cram the body into it by sitting on the lid so it could be screwed down.

Looking southward from Turtle Valley, over my old home into Paxton Valley, the location this year of a dreadful wild fire. The pasture in the foreground was once forest. I cleared it as I learned to be a logger.

Well, that’s not much for memories from over half a century ago. Maybe with more dredging I’ll come up with more. I’d love to hear other’s accounts of the Herring’s and their business. Whomever the owners now are, they have heaped the old store with junk and clearly do not appreciate what they have. Such is life. The traffic whizzes by on the highway, and as is so often the case, few appreciate the significance of one obscure place.

I used to have a peaceful life until you came home and started dragging me out in the rain.
arbutus berries and wet bark
They bloom every fall
Another sure sign of the cool damp of autumn. Some of these fungi are nearly the size of plates

At home I’m settling in while I make repairs and upgrades to my RV. There was a tremendous welcome from Jack but it is hard to admit how he is aging. He still has a sparkle in his eyes but his old body is clearly worn out. He can barely walk. I took him to visit friends. A spectacular lunch was prepared and say waiting on the table while we visited. Through the corner of my eye I caught Jack, slowly but deliberately, pulling on the table cloth and inching lunch off the edge of the table. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

What would Squirelly think of this? The back fence is a highway to the hazelnut tree. It’s nuts!

Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.

Franklin Pierce Adams

The Frost Before The Dawn

A kind of hush. Like a steaming kettle, the lake gives up its summer heat. Soon it will freeze over.
A beach all to myself
Jack was with me on a previous visit and loved this pond. Suddenly I missed him desperately.
Simplicity and complexity
Breathe

The title is just not a pliable metaphor, it’s a fact. I’m sitting in my camper watching the day’s sunrise. As so often happens, a while before the first golden rays poke through the trees a hard frost suddenly forms. I sit inside beside the furnace, hot black coffee in hand watching the day evolve. I drove out of my way to be here, Kentucky-Alleyne Provincial Park. It is a special place to me for its chain of small crystalline aqua lakes. I thought I’d have it to myself. Fool! It’s a holiday weekend and there are RVs everywhere. Worst of all, they’ve paved the road in to the park and there is heavy machinery and mud all over. There goes the ’hood. Why the hell we can not leave things alone is a compulsion I don’t understand. If you’re coming out to a place like this to get a taste of the edge of wilderness, why urbanize it to be just like home? The missionary complex! I suppose there will soon be a McDonalds. Bugga!

I could hear Joni Mitchell singing “they’ve paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
For the tree museum.
Roughing it. Perhaps the road was paved so these behemoths would not be damaged while hurtling out to relax. Perhaps those beautiful pines should come down. They may interfere with satellite dish reception.
Says it all

A few days ago I awoke to the smell of cowshit and the sound of a nearby rooster. It was thoroughly pleasant, a vignette from my long ago farm boy past. I was at a friend’s home on the banks of the Shuswap River where it passed through the hamlet of Grindrod. While I put the coffee on, the first vehicle over the bridge was a bulk milk truck headed off to local farms for its morning collection. Places like this still exist despite the encroachment of condos, subdivisions and gentrified hobby farms. Some days I am happy to be the age I am.

End of fire season. One of the joys of driving in BC is the ever-changing geography. This was taken a few miles east of Revelstoke.
Beautiful downtown Grindrod
…And daughters
The Shuswap River from downtown Grindrod, two doors upstream from the pub. The idyllic  setting is punctuated often with the thunder of Harley Davidsons leaving and arriving.
The feed mill at Grindrod. This has been a landmark for a very long time. It was there over fifty years ago when I used to deliver logs to a nearby portable sawmill from the ranch where I worked.
Looking up from downtown Salmon Arm. A few miles over that mountain was “Old Grassy” the summer range land of the ranch where I worked. I used to ride my horse up there, checking our cattle and also hunting. It was another lifetime.
A glimpse into the way I remember things. Beautiful ranchland everywhere is being encroached upon with sub-divisions, trailer parks, storage yards and ostentatious country manors. Sadly the original buildings are disappearing.
Another memory. At the foot of the road down from the high valley where the ranch was, this was the store one passed. i have fond memories of the 1880’s-style general store and the colourful old couple who where the proprietors; Old man Herring and his Russian wife.
I remember passing beneath this sign when it was in perfect condition. This sight leaves me feeling very old. The Squilax Store was located beside a high single-lane wooden bridge which crossed the Little Shuswap River. The bridge was replaced long ago. This site is where paddle-wheelers travelling from Kamloops to Sicamous once stopped to take on more firewood.
Hostile Hostel?
No mail today
A wooden monument to the past probably on the endangered list. This one-lane bridge at Pritchard where it crosses the South Thompson River. I have spent many wonderful afternoons above the grassy plains over the bridge at places like Pinantan Lake.
From the bridge, looking upstream to the east. The river has a system of buoys as it is considered a Canadian navigable waterway from the days of the paddle wheelers. It is hard to believe when the river is so shallow at this time of year.
Quilchena Lake moment. A jewel in the middle of some gorgeous country.

I’m driving a circuitous route homeward, savouring old haunts at a beautiful time of year. Unfortunately my little circus train cannot always stop for the best photos I see; the roadside is too narrow, the traffic too heavy. All the government camp grounds are closed, most private ones too. Spots where I assumed to be able to just find a place off the road seem very hard to find. I drove on and on finally finding myself in the swirling madness of the lower mainland and travelling westward into a setting sun beaming through a filthy windshield. Once aboard a ferry I crawled into the bunk in my camper and slept through the whole crossing. I parked for the night in a secret place and arrived home in the morning.

The ocean! Home!

It was raining lightly when I pulled up in front of the abode and to my horror there was a trail of rainbows behind me on the damp pavement in glowing LGBTQ colours. Of course that would offend someone. I had a serious oil leak and was very lucky to not have run my engine out of oil. I braced myself for the inevitable acid strata council letter. Sure enough! It arrived. Welcome home. You can guess what my plans are. Due South. Open the border por favor.

All is well!
Thanksgiving Sunday in the park.
Home Port, Ladysmith
One of two happy old dogs reunited.

Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” – Maya Angelou

Ends And Beginnings

Kootenay country roads. One last look back at Newgate. I will miss the country.

There is an old saying that goes “If you’re being run out of town, get to the front of the crowd and make it look like a parade.” And so I go. No one is running me out, I’ve had a grand time here, the country is breath-taking and the job was generally reasonable. But it is time to move on. I’m getting too old to take any crap from upstarts and I just can’t kneel, contort and manoeuvre as required to get the job done anymore. My days as a boat artisan are nearing an end. It’s a sobering moment to find yourself in tears of frustration when your old body won’t allow you to get up from the job where you were kneeling. You can’t move out of the boat where you worked and you’re too proud to call for help. You find a tide of uselessness rising over your head.

A Federal bus; a make I’m not familiar with the brand but there must have been many. It’s amazing what you can find nosing around “out back”
No airbags, no seatbelts, no drop-down entertainment system.
Apparently Federal made their own engines.
Out in the back of the yard where dreams are parked to die. They’d make beautiful RVs…but what a lot of work! The license plate on the GMC is 1966.
Trunk junk
Original paint

I know it is my attitude which turns the remains of my days into an ordeal or an adventure. I’ve been watching music videos of Chris Rea, a fabulous blues/rock musician most folks in North America have not heard of of. Despite surviving pancreatic cancer and enduring several daily injections and handfuls of pills, he’s still onstage in his seventies playing concerts and mesmerizing audiences. I wonder how I measure up against folks like that.

For me I believe that several months of long ambling walks in the desert beside the sea would be a good foundation of restorative therapy. Fresh seafood and a regimen of lime margaritas have a definite medical value. So….open the borders damnit! We have an unbelievable system that allows Canadians to fly south into the US but not drive. A friend has discovered that he can hire a transport company to move his vehicle to Seattle (For a tidy fee in US dollars) He can then fly down, retrieve his wheels and drive to and across the Mexican Border. I’ve long-given up trying to make sense of of bureaucratic thinking. I’ve cancelled plans of travelling to Manitoba to visit family. The dread of some sudden new Covid decree which would keep me marooned in that wintry province is holding me back. Suspicion and paranoia have become a way of life. I’m hoping to get home to Vancouver Island before the fences go up again.

Now THAT’s a coffee shop!
There are some amazing log buildings around Jaffray.
More of the same.
ET indeed.
Good coffee too

This morning finds me sitting in the waiting room of an RV dealer in Cranbrook. I’m having the propane system in the old camper inspected and hopefully repaired as required. I’ve been using my barbecue all summer because the oven won’t work. Mechanic I may be, but propane is nothing to mess with if you’re not sure. I leave it to the pros. It turns out the oven is so old that the required thermostat is no longer available. I’ll let this turn into an adventure. A solution will ultimately reveal itself. Meanwhile it is a bright sunny early autumn day and I’ll take a back road home to Newgate.

The other objective of this little jaunt is that this is the first time I’ve had the camper on the truck and I wanted to do an overnight test to make sure that everything was fine. All went well with only minor tinkering required. I have not driven in the dark for a long time and will make note that a lot of motorists now don’t bother with the simple courtesy of dimming their headlights. I parked for the night in a turnout just off the highway. I lay in my bunk amazed at the terminal velocity at which many vehicles hurtled along. It is a stretch of the road clearly marked with warnings about wild life crossing. Clearly, fear is a primal instinct which folks have given up in the madness of present times. A lemming season is upon us.

Boating, mid-sixties. The first sea trial
The one project boat complete. There was a time when this was a grand yacht, Fiber-glass was a new-fangled product that was a passing fad. Wood was the real thing.
The other project boat completed.
Good bye Amigo Squirelly

Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut your doors behind you. Take cover, for in a little while the fury will be behind you.” Isaiah 26:20

Around The Bend

Who knows what’s around the bend?

I’ve spent the summer working in the breathtaking, beautiful East Kootenays. Despite the grandeur all around it has been an unhappy summer for several reasons and it has been hard not to trip over my bottom lip. There are days when on this road of life I want to flop down in the ditch and declare myself done with the whole senseless gambit. Yet I often sustain my spirit by going around just one more bend in the road. There is seldom much point but there can be something wonderful that makes the entire journey worthwhile. That faint hope is sustaining. You find that new wonder just beyond where you were going to turn around.

Recently I was in Cranbrook on my weekly jaunt for errands and groceries. I’d taken a new-to-me back road through the forest. It was a rugged first gear bush trail and I loved it. The bumpy old trek whetted my appetite for more exploring but I knew I’d have to content myself with life as it was for the time being. Eventually I arrived in Cranbrook and soon crossed off the items on my list. It was a perfect weather day with a clear Kootenay blue sky, the temperature was perfect. It was early afternoon, I had nothing to do and nowhere to go except home. And, I was alone, as usual. That realization washed over me like a bucket of black paint. So I just drove. I passed the mouth of a driveway where an old motorcycle sat in the bushes and marked that particular home. I drove on but turned back to take a photo and so met the property owner who proved to be an interesting kindred spirit. If I had not been in that place at that time, that moment would not have occurred. And so for a while, life seems to make sense. Encouraged, one travels on, just to see what’s around the next bend.

The marker that caught my eye.
Original paint! A 1952 Buick Eight. The inline eight cylinder engine whispers like a dream. This car is so ugly it’s beautiful! It is the same age as me and I fear may be in better shape.
Original interior too! No padding, no seat belts, no airbags. The joke was that if you had a head-on collision in a car like this, you just hosed off the dashboard and sold the car. Incredibly, despite all that heavy metal rolling on bias-ply tires and the crude long-stroke engines of the day, these beasts got essentially the same gas mileage as today’s wonder cars. Struth!
Wonder of wonders! a few feet into the bushes from the motorcycle lay this old life boat. Now there’s an interesting story I’m sure.
Ship’s carving on the little boat. I could not completely interpret them.

I have a new friend. I call him Squirrely. He or she is a very gregarious red squirrel. On the coast they have been driven out by invasive, and much larger, black and grey squirrels which were imported from Europe. Here in the East Kootenays the native red squirrel is still master of its universe. Their nature seems to demand being loudly territorial. They can sit on a limb above you and scold for hours, a loud squeaky chirp that announces your presence to anything within a half-mile. As a hunter I’ve cursed them many times.

This character will sit in a tree above my little deck and curse me for an hour on end. Sometimes it descends the tree, still scolding, and will approach to within six feet. I bought a sack of peanuts in the shell but so far all the squirrel has done is scatter them about. It does not recognize a new food source. Eventually Squirelly decided to like them and packs them off as fast as I put them out. It has to be furtive and fully aware. Two feral cats team up to hunt and he is their prime quarry. They sit like stones for hours staring at his little tunnel and I fear I may be hastening his demise with my treats. There are no stupid old squirrels.

My new neighbour.

The little guy has dug a burrow under the shed and it sits in the entrance watching me in my burrow. Some times I swear it heaves pine cones down at me. It is the time of the year when the cones are releasing the seeds within and so it must be a propitious time to lay in winter stores. I make certain to keep the door closed when I’m not home.

Squirelly reluctantly agreed for a few quick poses just as it was getting dark. Now don’t go getting attached. There are two cats which hunt him incessantly. Who would have thought I’d ever become a squirrel-hugger?

On a previous vehicle I installed an Asian-built low priced rear view camera. It was powered from the vehicle’s back-up light wiring. All worked very well, until something went weird in it’s little cyber brain and the whole wiring circuit failed permanently. Now I’m about to install my camper on my truck and will also be towing my little trailer. I need a rear-view camera. Previous experience had taught me to buy an American-made product and after some research I chose an item made in Kansas. It is, apparently, a clever little device, mounted on the top of the camper’s rear and takes its power from the clearance light wiring. It has a wifi transmitter, which, through an app, sends an image to my mobile phone. Brilliant folks those Amuricans!

My Hopkins vueSMART RV camera has proven to be a total disappointment. After several attempts of keying in codes and passwords it came to life with a brilliant led array. Finally, after more fiddling, my mobile phone (Itself another huge frustration) produced an image of what lay behind the camper. I was thrilled, until I realized that everything was reversed from left to right and vice versa. Try backing up a trailer with that arrangement! After more poking and cursing I phoned the good folks in Kansas for help. I explained that a blinding back-up light came on each time I switched on the clearance lights, whether or not I wanted to use the camera. “Yep, they all do that, perfectly normal.” I then explained about the reverse image and was again told “That’s how they all work. Lot’s of folks complained about that, but that’s the way they work. You can try selling the camera if you’re not happy.” Really! I’ve ordered another camera…made in Taiwan. Wanna buy a back-up camera?

On certain brisk, calm winter days tiny flecks of frost flit and drift aimlessly in the air. Outside my RV windows there is a similar phenomenon. But the tiny flecks of bright-coloured fluff are microscopic flies. I’m new in these parts and don’t know what they are called but they seem innocuous. They don’t bite and make no sound although they have reason to exist even if I don’t understand. They drift and dream; quite like a lot of people. The “Wifi” beetle I described in my last blog is properly named a Ceranbycid. This one is of an Asian variety and is a nasty wood-boring, tree-killing critter. Thanks Wayne for the help.

Fluffy flies on a burlap coffee sack. They’re impossible to photograph in flight.
Our lives…like tracks in the dust

Well time drifts relentlessly on. I have been rebuilding two small boats and can now see the completion of both projects. After that I have idea of what’s next but it’s coming…. around the next bend.

The future depends on what you do today.” … Mahatma Gandhi

Abbey Knoll

The poser.
A very healthy fawn.
Using the same pose she has taught to her fawn. Deer have the uncanny ability to appear calm and yet are eternally poised for flight.
Home stretch

Our gravel lane which angles down from the paved main road is called Abbey Road. There is a grass knoll above it which I have named Abbey Knoll. It is a spot which has beckoned to me all the time I’ve been here and finally I’ve gone for a wander over the knoll. There are many things in life we don’t get around to. Places nearby, things to see and do or taste or hear and we never just go do it. I marvel at both visitors and staff who come to this magnificent wild area and see none of it. They roar around in their flashy boats, ATV’s and off-road vehicles with stereos throbbing and see nor sense any of the magic they are helping to destroy. Many of the employees here are unaware of the incredible forest and lakes all around us. They have no interest in the wildlife and don’t even seem to see the mountains.

I arrived at my jobsite here in the Southeast Kootenays in early April. Now we are already in the declining days of summer. Time flies whether you’re having fun or not. I notice a few limbs of tamarack turning gold already and one morning in the next few weeks there will be frost. The evenings darken ever earlier and there is a chill in the air. Soon I’ll be gone from here.

Wild deer fascinate me. They are always a joy to simply watch. This old hunter may not come home with venison anymore but I savour some of my photos with deep satisfaction. My only weapon now is my camera. The remainder of this blog is images.

Abbey Knoll
Not the best time to be heading into the woods for a walk but…it’s when the critters come out.
Looking south a long way into Montana. The open grassy areas are entirely natural. Oh for a horse!
Just the way the gods left it
Aha!
Dance. On a recent visit to Fort Steele I looked across the Kootenay River and saw three whitetail deer frolicking in the meadow beside the pond. One deer can be seen beside the small spruce tree.
Happy trails
find the deer. There are six in this photo. After a lifetime in the woods I’ll wager that for every deer we see, there are ten we don’t.
During an all-day downpour this young buck showed up behind my camper to savour some fresh, wet greens.
Deer, like many creatures, seem able to know when you mean them no harm.
Across the province several man-made nesting sites for Peregrine falcons have proven quite successful. Three adjacent nests all had maturing chicks. One annoyed parent chased my truck along the road with load screeches and several low passes.
Dad takes off to chase the big red truck.
Down from Abbey Knoll.  I thought I knew where he’d be hiding… right where mom told him to.
Can you see him?
How about now?
Domestic beasts. They’re a formidable pair, weighing not more than ten pounds between the two of them. I must be getting old, I now like little dogs too.
This barn looks like I feel all too often lately. I drive the back roads as much as I can and find sights like this.
Whatever their official name, I call these guys Wifi bugs.
On closer inspection, they are beautifully marked.

Free Range day for the cows at the water park. They were promptly moved along by ladies in housecoats.
“Well me son, de arse is outta ‘er.”
The horse agreed.

It’s a strange and insufferable uncertainty to know that monumental beauty always supposes servitude. Perhaps it’s for this that I put the beauty of a landscape above all else- it’s not paid for by any injustice and my heart is free there.” …Albert Camus

Frolic

“Hey wartlips! Ever think that of all the frogs you’ve kissed, some might have been toads?” This tiny guy was in the garage. I put him in the weeds where he was much safer.
My greeter at Fort Steele. She’d be four feet tall…laying down! Methinks there’s a baby donkey soon to arrive.

Where I live in my camper there is an adjoining parcel of land. The small lot is rented by a family who keep a large holiday trailer there. They spend a lot of time here and their two lovely children are often in the yard with a screaming mob of their friends. Last night, the small blond freckled girl sat alone in her swing and began to sob. Between choking wails I heard her repeat “my puppy, my puppy.” I believe she was grieving for the old family golden retriever ‘Roxy’ who had to be put down recently because the old girl was suffering horribly. Of course this “grumpy old bastard” (as I’ve recently been labelled,) was in tears himself. There was no way I could comfort the poor wee thing without someone taking umbrage. I sat thirty feet away and shared her sorrow.

On a cheerier note I have a chipmunk living in my woodpile, darned if I can get a photo of the tiny beauty…yet. And, we’ve had a lovely, steady two day rain. It was bliss to drift off to sleep in my bunk with the drops drumming over my head, and to awaken with the same music. I guess I’m a coastal boy, through and through. For the moment the dust is settled. I took advantage of the weather to visit Fort Steele, a preserved historic town site a few miles north of Cranbrook. I reckoned that with the unpredictable weather, and soft light, it would be a great day to take some good photos. There were few people there and I had a grand time with both still and video cameras. So here is a photo essay about a wonderful place.

Fort Steele was an outpost set high on a bluff overlooking the tumbling green waters of the Kootenay River. I stood looking down on the river and thinking what a good fishing hole I was seeing when a movement drew my eyes up the opposite bank and into a small meadow beside a clear pond. Three whitetail deer, two does and a fawn, were frolicking. They hopped and bucked, whirled round and leapt. They seemed to be dancing. I was too mesmerized to raise my camera. As so often happens, the best photo of the day was the one that got away.

Automatic, fully enviro-friendly, self-fertilizing lawnmower beside a square-hewn log wall. Downtown Fort Steele. Imagine if we traded our lawnmowers for sheep.
Boiled lawnmower complete with recipes on the label.
Lots of selection, so long as it’s in a can. All the homes had big gardens.
Gardens like this, complete with deer fence and outhouse. Solar clothes dryer in neighbour’s yard.
The poser. a black cat from the Blacksmith shop
Northwest Mounted Police headquarters and a glimpse into the old parade square. In the back, stables and barracks were hard to tell apart. How times have changed!
Nothing personal I’m sure. These guys were more interested in breakfast than in me.
The ubiquitous one-room school. apparently there were up to ninety students at times.
Enough said
The assayer’s office. Mining was the center of all activities in the area.
In the blacksmith shop. Branding irons, wheel assemblies and a faller’s saw.
I have an affinity for blacksmith shops and feel completely at home. Maybe in a previous life…?
A trademark image of Fort Steele, I always thought it was a bastion or a guard tower. It is in fact, the town water tower. that’s not so disappointing.
Hooped. Old wheel rims.
He were going’ ninety mile an hour when the wheel fetched off into the ditch. What is the real story?
Plenty of parking in the back.
Even big wheels eventually make a final turn. And so the rest of the Fort Steele portfolio will have to wait until next blog. Happy trails.

 

Discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

Weird

Another day bites the dust

I’ve often lived where the howl of wolves or coyotes is a regular sound. This morning I sit writing while waiting for the coffee to perk as early dawn softly filters through the trees. The coyotes are there. I love their sounds. Others may curse them but for me it is a song of wildness and freedom that is very comforting. I’m up early so I can beat the heat. In the afternoon the stifling interior of the shelter where I work in a welter of dust and itchy fibreglass is unbearable. Now I sit wearing a jacket. It’s chilly, for now.

A secret
Indelible boyhood memories
More childhood memories in the making

Tonight I’m exhausted and feeling like an old man. Somedays it seems extra stifling and tonight, in addition to the dust there is a heavy acrid tang of wildfire smoke as well as a warm and fuzzy aroma from a broken fitting in the septic field. It’s a little taste of hell. Still, we’re doing fine and when I hear stories of more Covid19 outbreaks, lockdowns, droughts, floods and military actions around the world, I know we’re OK. I also am happy to report that my old camper now has a functional water heater. It certainly seems decadent to get hot water out of a tap after many months of heating it in a kettle.

I can also report that due to my contribution, someone in Cranbrook is waking up in clean underwear between clean sheets. I took my laundry to town yesterday and it was promptly stolen from the dryer and replaced mysteriously with someone else’s. The price of replacement bedding and clothing is stellar. I found a few items in the thrift stores and then the box stores but I still paid a small ransom to replace my rags. Although we are in the heat of mid-summer, trying to find summer togs was almost hopeless and so somewhere there may go a naked clown. I’ve got his costume. How about jungle camouflage and plaid? I did find some great deals on parkas! *

My tenure here has descended into a sort of madness which I will not discuss but at least now I’m now doing the work I came to do. I’m fixing boats for my duration here and then I’ll be going on to new adventures. So it’s warm drinking water and tepid beer with dreams of palm trees and cactus. I’ve been pre-conditioned.

On Sunday night I sat outside with the computer when a vicious sou’west wind began to blow. I had sat like an old, panting dog and that wind felt so very good. Pine needles and cones rattled down, then the wind eased as quickly as it had begun. Minutes later a solitary raindrop fell on my bare back; then another. A gentle warm rain began and I sat in bliss with the rain on my skin. I considered running naked in the rain and then I saw headlines in my imagination about the sighting of a geriatric sasquatch. So I just sat and savoured every spatter of moisture on my skin. So simple, so pleasant! I came inside and prepared for bed. The air was cool and sweet and dust-free. I checked the temperature, it was down to 27º C. It almost felt chilly! G’night.

Morning dawns with a low muggy overcast. August 2nd, almost halfway through summer. A first vehicle comes crunching down the gravel road above this little community. Another day begins.

Dry
Tired old loaders still earning their way. That’s me on the left helping out in a local gravel pit.
Unbelievably I used to sell this type of loader in the early 80s
Fifty-plus and still working. This old GMC truck has a Caterpillar diesel engine. If it can be started it’ll work all day.
Creature comforts, 1970 style. Now just stick the orange wire in here and the blue and pink one there, it should go.

* Astriks

One of my heroes of fifty years ago was a character named Charlie Farquharson who was played by CBC’s Don Harron. This pithy and earthy character wrote a book and produced calendars often punctuated with Astriks as above. They were followed by “feetnotes” and so here are my ass tricks. This morning a co-worker arrived with an armload of folded laundry. Within the stack was most of the laundry I thought had been “stolen”. I was gobsmacked. What the hell? It seemed like a very weird dream. I know I had removed it from the washer and stuffed it into my laundry bag. I used the washroom next door then picked up my bag, tossed it into my truck and headed for town. All I could puzzle out was that some well-intended soul, trying to be helpful, somehow put the right stuff in the wrong bag. Dunno, dunno! That would explain why there was strange laundry in the machine at the laundromat in town and why the review of surveillance video showed no-one tampering with anything. Damn this is confusing. If any four-legged creature wandered out of the woods and began talking to me, I don’t think I’d be at all surprised. Weird! The latest word is that this has happened to other folks here. Apparently we have a prankster. Now I have to go back to that town laundromat and try to retrieve the laundry that had been left there. Good grief! And here I am writing a blog about laundry. Good grief again.

Mid-summer boys
Who me?
Let”s hoof it!
There…hidden.
Don’t wiggle your ears, no-one will see you.
Spring twins. big and healthy and being weaned.
Ahhh
All the deer in these phots are mule deer.  Just after this photo a moron on a jet ski charged this pair and chased them off.
The upstream tack. Sailing close-hauled up the Kootenay River.

You see, back when we were all young kids we had these things called imaginations. Some of us still have ’em, and we control our lives much the same way we ruled over our imaginary childhood kingdoms.

Yohancé Salimu

Smoke And Mirrors

Sunday Morning
Smoke and mirrors. The hamlet of Wardner languishes on the west bank of the Kootenay River. The smoke is everywhere. You cannot see the surrounding mountains.
Here’s why. I took this photo from downtown Cranbrook a week ago. I could see six separate fires from where I stood, there are over 280 burning in BC at the moment. Bring wieners! This fire is still not under control.

The fading calm of a smoky Sunday morning is punctuated with the steady drip of my galley sink tap. It’s first of my chores for the day. The neighbour’s children are up and playing peaceably but as the day wears on their harmony will become a series of screams and silly sounds. Last night at eleven pm they were still at it. But who am I to complain about the sound of happy children? I have the day off, first on my list is that damned tap. On the gravel road above me vehicles begin to arrive, many towing flashy boats (For which I’ve found a nasty name of course) on clattering trailers and once again the dust billows over us. I’ve learned to associate the sound of tires on gravel with choking dust. It s a wearying sound.

Under the volcano. Big Red sits with a wildfire in the background. This truck is growing on me. I love the clatter of its big diesel but parking it often means a long walk to the store. It does not fit in any regular parking spot. Apparently it’s a highly prized truck, known for its reliability and endurance.
Fredville.
Less the golf cart, this whole little travelling circus packs up and  fits together nicely. Mexico or bust!
Beauty eh? Even I like the look of this small, over-powered ski boat.
Ugly to the bone. I’m dissecting it and will rebuild it well but I am reminded of John Steinbeck’s remark that some boats are built to sail and some are built to sell.”

 The smoke and dust of another hot day begin to build. In the work week ahead I have some challenging jobs waiting for me, one of which involves the itch of fibreglass slivers and the dust and fumes of rebuilding a boat’s complete floor and framing. I swore I’d never do again but here I am now taking half the wages I used to earn for the same work. Sweat constantly smears my glasses, when they are not slipping off. I’m angry as hell at myself for feeling lonely and depressed and being without the vigour and stamina I once had. No-one could outwork me or endure extremes like I could. I want to scream. What the hell have I done to end up here, at my age?

Here is a photo that some of you missed in that vanishing blog. There is certainly more to life than work…and it’s all free!
These guys are incredible. They leave very strange meandering tracks in the dust. This one was only 4 centimetres long, other get quite large. Yes they can fly.
These guys have been around for several weeks. On the coast they don’t begin to appear until mid-
august. They click and clatter about here by the thousands. The birds love them.
Blue Willy. I don’t know what this cocoon is but it reacted violently to my touch. I did not want that blue thing poked into me and let God’s green creature continue on his way.

It’s especially frustrating when all around are the sights and sounds of folks trying to convince themselves they are having fun. Not that I’d know. I think I’ve forgotten how. My co-workers here don’t want to socialize much, just as I don’t, so we retreat into our cocoons of solitude and recharge ourselves as best we can for the next day’s work. Some of the younger workers wind themselves up late at night in a frenzy of gormless noise and occasional drunken foolishness but they deserve the excesses of their youth which will pass all too soon as it has for us who have already travelled that road.

Right colours, but nobody else was there.

So here I sit in my little fibreglass box, a crotchety old man. The dust piles up in a thick patina which I’ve given up trying to wipe away, there’s no point, it is as thick as ever by every day’s end. Sometimes I catch myself staring into space, picking the mud balls out of my eyes and nose. Clogged sinus’s lead to achy teeth and it all becomes another test. Eeeech! Snot funny! If you wipe off a table or counter and spill a little water it rapidly becomes a little mud stain. On the coast, it is black mould to contend with, here it’s dust. There’s only one cure for this malaise and that’s to go do something.

I took the old kayak out for a few hours and had a grand time but this man-made ditch is not the ocean in any sense. I can find no point in inflating my Achilles boat and ramming around in all the debris in the water. Besides I had no idea how so much of the shoreline has been developed into large trailer parks and even subdivisions. I took no photos of any of that, I was disgusted. I need so little to get where I need to go and here are people who have millions they clearly do not know what to do with. It’s the same on the coast where marinas bulge with exotic yachts that never leave the dock. I don’t understand how in an effort to escape the tedium and crassness of their daily world, so many folks manage to bring it with them.

It just ain’t natural. Lake Koocanusa near it’s high water mark. The water is lovely and warm for swimming.
Up the creek. Gold Creek as far as the reservoir water will allow me top go.
As usual mergansers are wary and fly off to find solitude. There’s a lovely play of light here.
Intrepidly the aging explorer worked his way up the jungle stream on his lifelong quest for the lost city of Gunnado.
He knew he must be approaching the village of the Moo Tribe.
I’ve travelled many a mile in my little plastic kayak and seen many splendid sights including whales. I’ve surfed huge waves and trespassed in idylic lagoons and on rushing rivers. It’s an old friend who’ll see me through many more adventures.

When I arrived back from my paddle-about I discovered a fellow had set up a day camp at the foot of the boat ramp. Amongst the gear he had spread around, he lounged on a deck chair beneath an umbrella. It was the oddest thing I’ve seen. I asked if he rolled out his sleeping bag on the center line of highways but his logic and mine did not coincide. He seemed rather miffed that folks backing their boat trailers into the water required him to keep moving out of the way. Hello? Then another aberrant character decided to appoint himself ramp cop and accosted me with fabricated allegations. I loath folks trying to empower themselves at other’s expense and I responded rather badly. He did not want to challenge the willy-nilly camper at the water line. Wazwithat? Damnit, those were the first hours I’d taken in weeks just to be. I’d found the peace I sought, then that! I was very close to quitting. Ultimately only I can let someone else ruin my day, but how do dark moments manage to often come in batches? How is it that after a lifetime, a person can still deal with certain situations so poorly?

I subscribe to a mantra called the Four Agreements:

-I will always do my best

-I will take take nothing personally

-I will assume nothing

-I will respect the power of my words

That’s it. Simple huh? Try it!

When I find myself in a sticky situation I review it later and assess what I could have done differently. An ordeal can at least become a learning experience. Those agreements certainly sound simple, and easy, but they are broken regularly. However an awareness of them and a sincere intent to improve helps ease the path through life…. for me.

Life goes on. Even with its roots extending past the crumbling cliff, with the inevitable obvious, this venerable bull pine stands majestic.

The week passed. Now it’s Sunday again. The smoke is thicker than ever with some occasional ash falling. There is still a list of jobs for the old camper which I need to tackle but I think I’ll take the kayak out later…somewhere else.

In Cranbrook I was delighted to discover an authentic Mexican restaurant. The owner is a real Mexican and a fine gentleman who cooks and also serves. He cheered me up immensely.
Oddly, my beloved Jaffray Pub has just imported some new Mexican furniture.
I love it!
His ‘n hers. I love the colours. And on her bike…
Says it all

Children are those who let someone else make all their decisions.” anon

Hot

When cars had character. I can’t tell them apart anymore.

With technical difficulties behind I’ll try posting another short blog and hope for the best. This is a tribute to all the motorheads out there. These are folks whose passions lay with vehicles and where their particular tastes may take them. I make my living twisting wrenches and care only about travelling safely from A to B. Other people see vehicles as an art form and turn the mundane into the beautiful. Enough said. These photos were taken within an hour on a very hot Saturday afternoon in the parking lot of the Jaffray Pub. So hot in fact that my mobile phone/camera refused to work, displaying a message about being overheated and refusing to take more photos. Really!

Personality
A two door
This is more my flavour
I doubt that many new trucks this year will make it to this age.
It’s hard to believe this truck is sixty-some years old. The green International was old at that time.
Another International from the early fifties
Beautifully restored things like this add-on toolbox look like they belong.
This was every schoolboy’s dream. A few of them, geezers now, managed to fulfill that passion.
Butt-ugly, boring family transport from the sixties. The appeal of this beast is that it is entirely original, even the faded paint.
The interior is in amazing condition, the seatbelts were an optional feature.
Whatever floats your boat. It doesn’t suit my tastes but the work on it is amazing.
Even the radio antennae sport a hot rod cartoon character. Ratfink stands on a skull.
Just paint some flames on the sides.

I’m writing in the cool of dawn before another work day. The air is smoky and dust-filled. It is choking me. Water bombers orbited above us yesterday tending to a blaze a few miles south. It was probably ignited during the previous night’s thunderstorms. There is a weary hush outside. A robin and then a raven call mournfully. The only other sound is the white noise of my neighbour’s incessant air conditioner. There’s another long day ahead.

Nature’s purple flames growing in hot, bone dry dust
Beside the path

Sometimes you just have to jump in a mud puddle because it’s there. Never get so old that you forget about having fun.”

Tom Giaquinto (Be A Good Human)

Pink People

Pink People

Rumble Mountain.
While on a visit to Fernie last week, for my second covid vaccination, I watched this cumulonimbus cloud quadruple this size in less than a half-hour. A huge anvil was forming on its top as I left town.
Even these high peaks looked hot.

After a reluctant spring, summer descended like a squadron of dive bombers. We were obliterated. Even my young co-workers staggered about panting. Those working on the docks easily burned from the sun’s reflection on the mirror-calm lake surface as if they were in a micro wave. We were being nuked. Temperatures hovered around and above forty degrees Celsius. I found myself sitting in the emergency ward of the hospital in Cranbrook for seven hours when I thought I was exhibiting a few stroke-like symptoms. I waited that long because ambulances were arriving almost bumper to bumper with heart attack victims due to the heat. I was told, after a series of tests, that I was working too hard in the heat. I knew that. But there’s no fool like an old fool.

Yes Really! Inside the camper at ten pm.
Kinda says it all
Fernie street art
The mark of a civilized town, a public loo.

Tonight I’m sitting outside of my camper in a sultry wind blowing off the lake. Temperatures have plummeted down to the mid thirties. It feels chilly. The tree tops roar like surf and dust blows past in swirls. I’m loving it. There is always a patina of dust on everything and I remind myself that life in the desert is just like this. Repairs to the camper have stalled, I’ve been too exhausted to do much with my evenings except wait for the temperature to cool enough for sleep and consume every sort of fluid available. And so the summer passes at the moment, one weary day after another. Visitors I was looking forward to seeing are cancelling for various reasons and frankly I am feeling quite low about life in general. This too shall pass.

One of my many projects, our floating cantina
A morning coffee on the roof watching an inbound houseboat
‘Amazing Grace’ draws close. It looks like a floating wedding cake to me. While nowhere near my idea of a boat they are a highlight of many folk’s lives.
Here we go again
End of the day, my sweat-crusted shirt

One of my bemusements here are the folks who come to enjoy the new water park. It opened on July 1st. My employer purchased an inflatable world from a Chinese (of course) manufacturer which was then held up in customs for almost two months. There was much puzzling and re-anchoring and inflating but it finally came together. Skeptical at first I am now amazed. From toddlers in diapers through amazingly obese human apparitions to geriatrics barely capable of walking on solid ground, these folks clamber, crawl, slither and roll along these inflatable floating obstacle courses. They squeal and scream and squeak in a cacophony of unbridled joy. Most are not confident swimmers so they are provided with life jackets. It is delightful to watch as even elderly folks become children again. The old adage about the best amusements being simple things proves itself true.

Where adults can shamelessly be children again
Wheee kerplunk

I can also see that a thriving future business will be tattoo removal. Good grief! Don’t folks realize that those beautifully crafted flowers, dragons, tigers and graphic fantasies will evolve as time goes by. When their skin sags, wattles and wrinkles those tattoos will slowly evolve into abstract patterns and more closely resemble street maps of places like Moscow. Then there are the thong-string bikinis which do nothing erotic or tantalizing fopr the wearer or the observer. Pockety alabaster mounds (both genders) balumping down the dock only confirm statistics about rising Canadian obesity. Clearly this old fart, who is in no way a prude, is missing something about contemporary physical appeals. “Shake it up baby.” What’s white and red and squeals when it gets near water? A Canadian.

The fleet in the morning. By mid-morning the dock bustles like a train station as swarms of new charter folks arrive with all their food, booze and other baggage. Then there are the maintenance folks desperately preparing the vessel for the next trip.
The boat won’t go anymore! Landlubbers feel safest close to the shore…where the rocks are!
I have never before seen such a neatly trimmed propeller hub. The speed at impact must have been tremendous.
A much prettier set of three blades, completely intact. These flowers grow in baking hot, bone-dry, powdery alluvial dust. They are incredibly beautiful.
Growing
Growing
Bloom
Bee happy

By the end of the day some of these creatures have turned a vicious fluorescent pink. They plod up a very steep hill to a dusty yard where their cars are parked with blast furnace temperatures inside. They drive for at least an hour to get anywhere back out toward their world yet next day there are more folks squealing and pink. Word of mouth is an ultimate marketing tool and clearly folks are very happy. Meanwhile the fleet of rental houseboats comes and goes as ever more folks enjoy a unique vacation. I am amazed at how my employers saw this opportunity and have made it work so well. All things are possible.

Another job on the docks done, next one now! Still smiling!
photo by Krista Fast

Enjoy life. There’s plenty of time to be dead.” – Hans Christian Andersen