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 

A Happy Day

The dawn on the day in question. There were no gaily frolicking dolphins, it was even too wet for them.

Driving in the coastal morning dark can be hell. During a hard rain the sucking gloom becomes a black hole, like the inside of a bear. The wet slashes down and sticks to the windshield like thin, cold oil. It will not wipe away. Some other cars hurtle madly past on the lemming highway and promptly vanish as if sucked into a celestial black hole. Headlights in the spray become a blinding, impenetrable fog. Yet we arrived safely. I walked into the glare of the Duke Point ferry terminal.

But sometimes a day becomes a celebration of life, like it or not. It can happen even when the weather is apocalyptic. The day I’m writing about was one of those doomy days in New Westminster. The rain had persisted all the way from Vancouver Island. Thick heavy dark clouds scudded overhead only fifty feet up. The incessant cold rain hammered down and bounced back knee-high, chilling wet and bloody miserable. Full daylight never appeared.

My old truck and camper, now named the “Hemoth” is a dreadful daily driver. Lurching around town is a challenge and finding a place to park is never fun. Angle parking on main street is risky business. The truck, with dual rear-wheels is useless on wet hills without the weight of the camper and I want to keep the two together as a single unit ready to go south at the first possible moment. Its monster diesel engine likes to warm up and do some work, which can’t happen putting only a few blocks at a time. I don’t have enough money to get away at the moment so I decided to acquire a cheap “Winter beater.”

Beater World with dozens more inside. There was no razzle dazzle or any expensive suits, just simple decency and integrity.

I’d been questing a rough-road capable scooter but they’re incredibly overpriced, even with high mileage. For a few dollars more one can buy a new one. So I thought I’d apply that same budget to a small used automobile. Mission impossible. During my quest, I did discover a Rolls Royce SUV, (a mere $450,000.) just the ticket to drive up the mountain in hope of finding a grouse for supper, cheap meat old chap!

Eventually I found a vehicle for my pittance and off I went into the rain of the back waters of an old industrial park in New Westminster. There was a labryinth of twisting streets leading onto the far end of Lulu Island in the Fraser River. Even when the taxi arrived it took a minute to realize I was in the right place. It was a yard jammed with cars, no more than six inches apart. In the rain, you could not walk between the dripping fenders without soon becoming soaked. Still the folks were all congenial and I sensed that they operated with a rare integrity.

Everyone works together with a rare feel of harmony. There is an exotic air to the place, in part because the language they speak among themselves is Parsi which fascinated me. All seem truly interested in the customer’s best interests. Every vehicle I wanted to see was parked in a back row so there were other cars to move around first which required even more shuffling to find room to put them. And, of course, every vehicle needed its battery boosted. The prices were fair, there were no rip-off documentation fees and there was no argument when the vehicle I came to see proved to have too many problems. In fact the owner offered me a very fair price on another vehicle, which I ended up buying. It is an innocuous little silver car with plenty of miles but it runs well and was driveable without any repairs needed. My experience was quite pleasant and not at all like a “Big Slick” operation most of us have known. Some folks still understand the ‘golden rule’ and I can confidently recommend this place to anyone.

I’ll go back there again and heartily recommend Tala Auto Select if you need a low-price vehicle. You’ll find them online. By the way, should it matter to you, there was a large inventory of assorted BMWs and a large private collection stored inside. That is guarded by five feisty little dogs.

An oasis in the rain.
Going fast. I thought I should take a photo before I inhaled the whole thing. There was no need for supper.

Next door to this business is Rozzini’s Restaurant. They advertise an Italian, Greek and Indian menu. Their fare is superb, the prices are great, the service was grand. They’re online too and well worth the out-of-the-way drive for a positively unique experience. I was at the ferry terminal and sailing back to Vancouver Island before evening darkness fell, my belly full of roast lamb. The rain never stopped.

I should also mention that during weekdays, seniors travel on BC Ferries for free. I walked off the ferry, stepped right onto a bus and one transfer later I found myself at the Scott Road Station, in less than an hour from the ferry, for the lofty sum of $3. Bitch all you want, we’re doing fine. This old grump is truly pleased with all my experiences on Coastal BC public transit systems.

As I drove back to the ferry that afternoon, in the weaving traffic and endless rain, I realized that for the same money I could be out there wobbling along on a used scooter, raincoat flapping next to some cement truck’s wheels. Yep, it was a good day. Now all I have to learn is how to find such an ordinary little car where I left it in a big parking lot.

A morning with better weather…our local dog park.
Thazzal for now folks. The wind and the rain are beating the leaves from the trees.
Jack has always loved little boats. He did not leave this piece of flotsam easily.
A golden pond.

 

Fish rise within the reflections.
They’re baaack!
A never-ending drama that is never diminished in wonder when the salmon return each year.
Autumn low tide
Dogpatch, nothing ever changes. Abandoned boathouse and sailboat beside old pilings that I think would make a grand base for a new marine pub.
An explanation among the garbage on the beach.
Halloween rose
November Suckle
A local blueberry farm. It’s for sale.
Solitude
The municipal hanging tree
No-one could say when it began but slowly an ancient castle emerged from the ground in the forest.
The ‘Swell.’ This beautiful old wooden tug was launched in 1903 as the last steam-powered tug built on the BC Coast. I remember talking to her on the VHF through the years from various tugboat wheelhouses when she still worked as a Tug for Westview Dredge and Dock. After an extensive rebuild and refit she reappeared as she looks now, a fabulous mobile fishing lodge.

Electric cars aren’t pollution-free; they have to get their energy from somewhere.

Alexandra Paul

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

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

Finally

Gold Creek. A final glimpse of local summer haunts. Now the whole Kootenay summer is in the rear view mirror.

It is October first, a stellar Kootenay autumn day. The sky is a deep blue, the leaves are turning shades of rich bronze, yellow and red. The tamarack are beginning to turn an amazing gold. The colour comes to the top of the trees and then settles downward until half the forest is brilliant with autumn. A few more cold nights and the bull elk will be bugling. There are indelible sounds I’ve heard in the woods such as the call of elk challenging other bulls and the scream of cougars. The howling and yipping of wolves can never be forgotten and this morning I awoke to a serenade of coyotes. Familiar and comforting, to me it was a fitting song of farewell. I’m leaving, going back to Vancouver Island to reckon out what comes next.

Fred’s travelling circus.

Even my little buddy Squirelly seemed to know I was leaving. He came closer to me than ever before and was not, for once, skittish when I moved. It would not be long before he’d be sitting on my knee taking nuts from my hand but he’s best off to remain wild and self-reliant. After a day and a half of packing, my tools and most of my other belongings were stowed into the truck camper and trailer. I have acquired no new “stuff” but could not fit in all that I had brought with me in the spring. I cannot explain it. I’ve left behind my barbecue and my deck shelter, aka the wedding tent. There is just no room. Both are well-used, they owe me nothing but an explanation about the mystery of expanding stuff. My little trailer is groaning under its burden, the axle and drawbar are bowed from their load.

Don’t laugh, it’s all paid for…. And it does everything for me that $200,ooo. of mortgaged shiny RV does!
Feel free to feed the Sasquatch!

I’ve finally driven northward from the Newgate area. Wistful about departing I did not look back. The Kootenay region has a flavour which I love but the job went sour (or was it me) and I’m now eager to discover what lays ahead. At the moment I feel old and tired, my body is complaining about all the young man work I’ve been doing, but my projects are complete, the best is next to come, out there, somewhere around the bend. Tonight I’m sitting in some open meadows along a back country road beside the marshland along the Kootenay River just downstream of the village of Wasa. I could here the loud calls of migrating birds as the sun set. Now there is only the distant howl of tires on the highway and the throb and clatter of trains passing along the transcontinental mainline, about a kilometre distant. It is a moonless night. The stars throb and pulse in a black velvet sky. G’night.

The Kootenay River above where it becomes a man-made mess.
The Wardner Bridge. This is where the Crowsnest Highway crosses the Kootenay River and where the upper reaches of Lake Koocanusa come. In the name of progress a very beautiful river and valley have been turned into a smelly ditch for the benefit of others who never come here. A playground for Calgarians who live in a bleak prairie city, this reservoir cannot begin to compare to the Pacific Ocean.

In the morning I’m up with a fresh-perked black coffee watching as the world emerges from the dark. Despite a forecast of clear skies there is low cloud catching a tinge of pink. A bad sign, “Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning.” Yet the subtle colours are a visual feast. I move on. 

Lost on the highway of life, something I’m good at writing about.

Sometimes you’ve been too beat up

or haven’t healed enough

to know a good thing when you’ve found it.

Sometimes you just gravitate to the pain,

it’s what you’re used to

it’s how you recognize yourself.

It feels like home

it feels more familiar to you than love.

So that’s where you go.

You don’t know how to hold on to love, but you know how to hold on to hurt.”

…Bruce Springstein

Welcome to the swamp! A morning near Wasa.

Did I mention the wolves? I learned about a wolf sanctuary near Golden and drove a long distance out of my way to see it. It tears my heart to see beautiful wild creatures pacing incessantly behind chain link fences yet it is a necessary evil to inform the public about the incredible ignorance imposed on wolves both by government and various organizations who choose to cling to fairy tales about these magnificent and misunderstood creatures.  These were difficult photos to take through the metal fencing. The wolves are well cared for and clearly loved as they pay the price of lost freedom to hopefully improve the plight of their fellows.

A Red Wolf
“Perhaps if I lay low and blend in, he’ll go away.”
“Maybe if I give him some stink eye.”
“Just ignore him, damned human.”
A Grey Wolf
Yum! Fresh Elk roadkill.
Elk again! Elk, elk, elk!
To freedom.

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