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.
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.
‘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.
“To myself I am only a child playing on the beach, while vast oceans of truth lie undiscovered before me.” – Isaac Newton
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.”
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.
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.
Electric cars aren’t pollution-free; they have to get their energy from somewhere.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.
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!
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.
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.
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.
“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” – Maya Angelou
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 thisblog is images.
“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
Where I live in my camper there is an adjoining parcel of land. The small lot is rented by a family who keep a large holiday trailer there. They spend a lot of time here and their two lovely children are often in the yard with a screaming mob of their friends. Last night, the small blond freckled girl sat alone in her swing and began to sob. Between choking wails I heard her repeat “my puppy, my puppy.” I believe she was grieving for the old family golden retriever ‘Roxy’ who had to be put down recently because the old girl was suffering horribly. Of course this “grumpy old bastard” (as I’ve recently been labelled,) was in tears himself. There was no way I could comfort the poor wee thing without someone taking umbrage. I sat thirty feet away and shared her sorrow.
On a cheerier note I have a chipmunk living in my woodpile, darned if I can get a photo of the tiny beauty…yet. And, we’ve had a lovely, steady two day rain. It was bliss to drift off to sleep in my bunk with the drops drumming over my head, and to awaken with the same music. I guess I’m a coastal boy, through and through. For the moment the dust is settled. I took advantage of the weather to visit Fort Steele, a preserved historic town site a few miles north of Cranbrook. I reckoned that with the unpredictable weather, and soft light, it would be a great day to take some good photos. There were few people there and I had a grand time with both still and video cameras. So here is a photo essay about a wonderful place.
Fort Steele was an outpost set high on a bluff overlooking the tumbling green waters of the Kootenay River. I stood looking down on the river and thinking what a good fishing hole I was seeing when a movement drew my eyes up the opposite bank and into a small meadow beside a clear pond. Three whitetail deer, two does and a fawn, were frolicking. They hopped and bucked, whirled round and leapt. They seemed to be dancing. I was too mesmerized to raise my camera. As so often happens, the best photo of the day was the one that got away.
“ Discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust