Isn’t it interesting how some nondescript sight, sound or aroma can trigger a memory long-buried? It happened to me a few evenings ago. I was tinkering on my little trailer as the day began to cool and when I looked up, this is what I saw. I have been doodling landscapes all my life and have always sketched this sort of sky in the background.
The cloud shapes and colours took me back well over sixty years. A happy memory of my childhood was when my father would take he and I off on a day-trip. Off we’d go with his ubiquitous military canvas gas mask bag slung over his shoulder. I’ve no idea what he carried in it but by today’s standards it was a way-too-cool man purse. He was the quintessential British trainspotter and so we usually began these trips with a train ride into Toronto. Trains meant rail yards which were his absolute delight. Steam locomotives were fast-disappearing in the late 50s and dad would almost wet himself when we saw one chuffing out clouds of steam and sooty smoke. Yep, that was over sixty years ago!
Rail yards are often built near waterfronts for obvious reasons and one day that’s where we ended up. There were rows of lake freighters moored near the grain elevators and nestled somewhere in the heart of it all was a small working man’s cafe. All I can remember is a vague recollection of a clock advertising Player’s Navy Cut Cigarettes. There was an image of a bearded naval rating that implied real men smoked. That old salty dog sold a lot of cigarettes; I don’t know how many people he killed. Clearly remembered of that distant moment is a large framed painting of a full-rigged clipper ship sailing before a glorious sunset just like the one pictured here. She heeled slightly to the wind with all her sails set, stuns’ls, t’gallants, everything she could carry was up and billowing in the rich red-gold of a sunset just like tonight. The white bone in her teeth reflected the light of perfection. I suspect that image did a lot to inspire me toward my lifelong nautical persuasions. Could something that fleeting and subtle influence the course of someone’s entire existence? I suspect so.
A few days later I’m finishing this blog as rain patters on the skylight above my desk. It’s lovely! We need it. The forests are bone-dry and our streams are getting dusty.
Anyone who lives on this island is fortunate indeed. What is left of California burns up and wildfires rage in our interior. In the wake of those clouds I photographed a spectacular lightning storm raged across the southern province. We won’t get all the rain we need but it is all a help as summer evolves with shortening days and cooler temperatures.
Walking with Jack in the heat of yesterday afternoon crickets were chirping their summer song and the tang of fermenting blackberries on the vine was in the air. As the berries become over-ripe they begin to ferment in the hot sun. Wasps become drunk on that nectar and buzz harmlessly but crazily in front of your face. There’ll be plenty of berries for several weeks yet. Blackberries have evolved to bloom sequentially and produce fruit over an ongoing calendar. There’s a bumper crop this year with more than plenty for everyone. Just remember to harvest your berries beyond the watery radius of dogs and old men.
Yet two wo days later, the sky is clear again. It is 10°C outside at the moment. Yep, it’s coming.
“There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.”
“Our fears are like dragons guarding our most precious treasures.” Ray Wylie Hubbard
How can those few words from a Texan country singer not tug at your heart. They apply to all of us. Consider how you feel about our present times. They really hit home for me as I regard a present visitor. Ayre is a 3½ month old tiny dog. She weighs less than 3 kilos (about five pounds.) This five-pound monster has stolen my heart. I find myself taking to her in silly voice puppy-speak. Jack gives her a deep warning growl when she comes prancing at him; he’s doing his part in mentoring her. She’s cute as hell even when she tries to sink her tiny needle teeth into my fingers, growling with all the ferocity she can muster. Of course that bravado is a mask for all that frightens her. “The best defence is a good offence.” Who could want to harm her? There are those who would and some creatures see her as a tasty snack. I can’t imagine how the world must look to a being so tiny and newly arrived. When I pick her up I’m afraid I’m going to break her frail-feeling bones but soon the warm wriggling fragrant bundle of puppy licks my big old hand with a tiny soft pink tongue and there is a moment of joy and a gush of paternal instinct. Awwwww.
Of all the negative things we can find about human beans one of the rays of hope is our indefatigable instinct to care and protect tiny creatures. This little dog can soon prove itself a pain in the ass, demanding attention and food then more attention. Yet an old bush ape like me finds patience and tenderness much to my own amazement. She’s running the whole household, both innocently and deliberately. I’ve know little of the horror of a screaming baby in the night but I suspect this is much the same. There is some override wiring which brings patience and caring without contemplation. Mothers possess a courage and stamina I don’t grasp.
Today is August 3rd, a provincial holiday, BC Day. The weather is languid, the streets are quiet (After a bout of wailing sirens at 04:00) The mourning doves are hoo-hoo-hooing and all seems calm, Covid be damned.
Recently some friends and I held a conversation about the correct, and also the legal way, to merge into traffic. I found myself contemplating this again while out walking Jack this morning.
I’ve some some research online. In BC there is a bit of a grey zone about this with references to “being socially handicapped” and “it’s the polite thing to do.” It is clearly stated however that a vehicle making a left turn, or entering traffic on it’s left is always the give-way vehicle. If there is an accident involving any merging vehicle it will be always that vehicle deemed at fault. A vehicle in the moving traffic lane must not impede the flow of traffic it is in to accomodate a merging vehicle. Our traffic laws were generally written based on marine traffic rules and it makes sense that a vessel entering a busy channel must give way to others already underway. In the air, or on the water, a vessel with another on its right is the stand-on vessel.
I have a notion that folks demanding you merge ahead of them, or go before them at a four-way stop for example, are often actually empowering themselves rather than trying to be nice. There are no “Nice Police” and usually simply playing by the rules is the nicest thing to do, then we all have a notion of whazzup. I’ve held a drivers license for fifty-two years without any crashes. With all of the driving I’ve done I like to think I’ve done something right. I’ll certainly admit that as I age, my reaction time is beginning to slow as well as my ability to see things as quickly. Being honest about your abilities is a good way to help stay safe. Ever notice how no-one admits to being a poor driver? It’s always the other guy.
Blackberry season is now in full swing. Men with plastic buckets lean into the brambles picking the succulent treats. Except for one. He stood watching and holding a full pail while his elderly wife worked on filling another, all the while she was holding a big German Shepard on a leash. It did not like the brambles. I wanted to kick that old misogynist’s arse but he would have spilled the berries and the dog would have bitten me. Isn’t it interesting what one can assume from a glance? Everyone seems extra testy these days so it’s best to keep to oneself. At least we’ve had no explosions. Working in the backwoods I learned how even twenty pounds of ammonium nitrate could crack away a big piece of granite mountain. Nearly three tons of the stuff in downtown Beirut is like a nuclear bomb. That thousands, out and about living their daily lives, were not killed is a miracle. Bang. How quickly life can change!
Jack and I have just come back from our morning walk, or in other words, shuffle and sniff. It rained last night and there is a subtle perfume of freshness. We met that old couple with the dog again. Pops was holding the dog this time and his wife was breakfasting on wet blackberries. All three seemed pleasant and amicable. So…three friends, instead of enemies.
The fourth agreement: “ I will respect the power of my words.”
Jack and I walked our normal morning loop down at the waterfront and around the old coal terminal here in Ladysmith. I call it the “Black Beach” because of all the coal left over from that era. Jack loves it there. Blackberries and rabbits thrive and he often gets to socialize with other wonderful dogs. The sun hung as a huge white ball low over the glassy waters of the harbour. No boat stirred its surface. There was not a breath of wind. The morning air was cool in the shade and warm in the light. A heavy dew had settled this morning. The seasons progress.
For some reason I recalled a labour day sixty-two years ago today. It was 1957, I was five years old. My father was a manic gardener and could produce amazing heaps of vegetables out of the red clay soil of Southern Ontario where we lived. Across the street from where we rented a tiny house there sprawled a large playing field. Several games of soccer often went on at the same time. I can still hear shouts in Italian and Portuguese as flashing balls ricocheted back and forth on the broad field and see swarthy men pelting about in pursuit. Every spring a circus came to the Oakville arena on the far side of that expanse. When it left town there remained warm pungent heaps of manure. Elephant, camel, horse, monkey, lion, tiger; dad swore by the properties of these exotic mounds and he would trot with his wheel barrow back and forth across the park with his freely-acquired aromatic garden elixir late into the night. He certainly could conjure monstrous vegetables out of that brick clay mixed with circus dung.
On the particular Labour Day I’m recalling, he built a fire in the backyard and installed a cauldron over it. We harvested from the garden and mom boiled and canned a large part of our winter’s preserves. We were living in town, newcomers from dairy farms, but even then, in post-war suburban Canada, it was an unusual thing for folks to do. Dad had survived the war in rural England, mother grew up on a prairie homestead through the depression and survivalist sensibilities came naturally to them. They possessed and taught me skills which I now take pride in when most people around me live in a push-button culture. It was hot, dirty work but even at that tender age I was expected to work like a little man. A friend from up the street wandered by to ask me to come play but was told I had to stay home until the day-long job was done. I complained that it was a holiday and dad responded that on Labour Day everyone was expected to work, no matter what other folks were doing. I believe he was serious.
The very next day was my first ever at school. I walked, on my own, the better part of a mile to find my way to kindergarten. When, years later, I visited these old haunts as an adult, I could not believe that my parents had pushed me out into the world like that. I suppose that is how baby birds learn to fly, flap or crash. I learned skills which have served me well throughout my existence. My parents were martially strict yet would allow me great latitudes in how far and how long I wandered. Apparently, when I was outside of their presence, God was expected to babysit. When I pass a high-school and see the parade of vehicles transporting teenage students I wonder at these kids and their skills to go out into a digital world and cope with basics like food and shelter. I cannot even operate a modern mobile phone competently but I do know how to survive without one.
A few weeks later that fall, Sputnik orbited over our house. I recall, even now, how everyone stood out in their backyards staring up at the clear night sky not sure what they were looking for. Suddenly someone cried, “There it is!” and soon we all spotted, in muted awe, a very bright star hurtling across the darkening cosmos. The world changed forever that night. We seldom look up now to count all the satellites stitching across the sky in all directions. We don’t even look up from our texting as we step into the traffic.
My parents, consummate fundamentalist evangelical Christians had been indoctrinated that Soviet Communism was the epitome of Satanic evil and surely the mark of the “end of days.” This mysterious Russian weapon (or whatever Khrushchev was scheming) now violating God’s heaven and spying down on us surely heralded Armageddon. We were living through the era leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis and paranoia of being fried to a crisp was rampant. I recall the air-raid sirens and the drills at school when we would all crawl under our desks and kiss our little asses goodbye, again. A gas explosion destroyed a house a few blocks away that winter. There was a huge thump, everything rattled horrifically. I can still remember my deep terror that this was IT. The Pinkos had struck!
Well, here I am well over a half-century later. I survived it all including my high-school years which is a fabulous story in itself. All I’ll offer of those days is that there was grave concern for a few years about the next encroaching ice age. Yes really! Then Ralph Nader came along and the tiger crap really hit the fan. The profit of paranoia is still imposed on us as never before history began to be recorded.
It is nowa beautiful, flawless late summer day. I need to get up from this desk and do something. Despite backyard burning being illegal in this town I am tempted to find some beets to boil and go make a fire. I could explain to the volunteer fire department that I was following a cultural tradition. Yeah right. There is a rising breeze and if I turned on my marine radio I’d hear a string of Maydays. It happens every summer long -weekend. Yachters from mainland Canada must return across the Strait Of Georgia and as soon as a tiny whitecap appears, panic sets in among the Tupperware armada. It used to amuse me but now that I’m boatless a dull knife twists in my gut. I know that all those millions of dollars of nautica, which never leave sight of land, belong to most folks for nearly every reason other than a love of the sea. Once in the home marina most of these “look at me possessions” will languish abandoned until Easter. Money isn’t everything but I sure could stand a change of problems.
“C’mon Jack, let’s go for a walk.”
…”The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.”
I muse on this every year. Each blackberry season the berries do not ripen all at once. If they did, most of the harvest would go to waste. The berries ripen in sequence, so that each day there are more newly-perfect delicious treats. A person can go back every day, or every few, and pick a fresh crop of tasty bliss. The vines amortize themselves. People and birds both have an ongoing feast through the month of August and often well into September. The untouched berries left over eventually dry on the vine and become winter stores. Some fall on the ground to sprout in the next year but most feed the birds for a good while after the first frosts. Among that macramaed tangle of formidable stalks, rabbits and other creatures find refuge through the seasons from predators. In spring, tender new plants springing up from the fallen seeds provide fresh nourishment for those furry wee beasts which will soon give birth to their own progeny. Their droppings, in turn, help fertilize the thorny thickets. Nothing goes to waste. No one could manage any human endeavour quite as well.
I beg myself to know what it is that naturally occurs among mindless thorny vines to manage their assets when I don’t have a clue about managing mine. I never have. I don’t even have many left to manage. I have made and lost fortunes. Maybe, as the tide turns, I will have finally learned something. In my advancing years I find myself skint beyond any way of describing my pathetic situation. My finances have always been a tumbling hairball of advance and retreat, bad management, bad luck, bad timing and bad choices in general. I am aware of a deeply embedded sub-conscious need to self destruct and I know there were values and practices taught, and not taught, in my formative years. I am not blaming anyone else but I sure wish I’d learned values other than work hard, spend hard, fall hard. The chapters in my book about working smart just haven’t ever been there. Despite all my personal insights, I have managed to arrive a place in my life where I just don’t have the energy to start over yet again but I do not want to dig the hole that I am in one spoonful deeper. Enough! I’ve burned myself up in every sense clambering through the vicious cycles of my life’s game of ‘Snakes and Ladders.’
I have no love of wealth, I manage to eliminate any I come across. However, money is a tool everyone in this culture needs to do the things that give their life meaning, security and direction. It is all about choices. I’ve never understand how to make make more money with what you already have. All I’ve known is to work myself like a donkey and spend whatever I bring in before someone else gets their claws on it. My body and soul are now worn past the point of being able to continue doing what I know and no-one seems willing to hire someone for their experience alone. That sense of being discarded onto the big pile of worn-out shovels does nothing to inspire confidence and self-faith. There are many people around me who are smarter, skilled in financial strategy,yet who are in the same bin as myself despite all their cleverness. They have risen higher and fallen further. They perhaps once offered smug advice to others about managing their affairs. That awareness leaves me feeling no better. And so there you have it, a great mystery called life. I am not complaining, just explaining. And yes, I know what Einstein said about repeating an effort and expecting different results: insanity.
I also know that fortunes can change in a flash. Negative mental energy will bring more darkness; positive thinking and activity lead toward light and goodness. Each energy feeds on itself. The trick is finding the empowerment to jump aboard the right train, not in front of it nor beneath it. There is always risk involved in anything worthwhile. “You can’t get at the fruit without going out on the limb.” I have wonderful creative skills and even a sense of mission about what to do with those endowments. The doldrums where I find myself at present, are they the eye of a hurricane? Will the wind suddenly reverse and blow me in the opposite direction? Staying hove-to and waiting for that shift is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Doing nothing is a terrific challenge. The wisdom of the old sailor is to know when to put the helm down and sail on again. God grant me that knowledge.
This morning, while walking with Jack the dog, a crow sat on a limb above me and performed a strange self-grooming dance all the while singing a piece of crow-rap gibberish. Or was it offering a message, which in my self-absorbed misery, I am too out of tune to understand? Being in tune with nature is intrinsically important to me. Fitting in with the human world around me means little other than having the tools to go where I feel led. Later, after hours of pondering, it occurred to me that thatwas the message. I’ve lost touch and it is time to get my beak out of my belly button and flap my wings.
So why am I bothering to write this? Everyone has their own gig to deal with. I know that there are many other folks living in desperate circumstances. There is no comfort in that knowledge. Our current history is being written as a grand, global, widening deliberate division between the poor and the wealthy. The middle class faces a holocaust. My mission in life, which I’ll admit I tend to forget at times, is to put a little light in other people’s eyes. If I can take a positive note from the call of the crow, then perhaps I can make the flame of someone else’s flickering light flame a little brighter, help them make it through their night.
Like manna from heaven, a few hours later while flipping through YouTube, I found this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBaHPND2QJg The video was made in Sabadell, Catalonia. The music is Beethoven’s ‘Ode To Joy.’ This flash mob performance made me shiver. In a time when the news seems to be about yet another mass-shooting and in Canada, a bizarre manhunt which has ended with a total of five deaths, this is something worth sharing with everyone. There is hope; even when we cannot see it. Namaste.
“Much of human behaviour can be explained by watching the wild beasts around us. They are constantly teaching us things about ourselves and the way of the universe, but most people are too blind to watch and listen.”
Coddiwomple, Old English slang meaning to journey purposefully toward a vague destination. It is also the name of a cute little boat recently arrived on the dock. Of course I had to look it up. It could be the description of a person’s life. Then there’s the timeless oxymoron about military intelligence. Two young men in naval uniforms complete with black life jackets and black crash helmets arrived yesterday morning at the dock in a hefty inflatable boat. When it was time to leave, their outboard motor would not start. I watched the performance which largely involved frantic heaving on the starter rope. This old mechanic finally volunteered to them that for whatever reason the motor was not getting any fuel and that they should check the connections on the gas line. They thanked me and continued to jerk the rope. I couldn’t go have a look, I was in the midst of my final bit of painting. There was prolonged loud discussion with mothership on their vhf radio which descended to a focus on the fuel primer bulb. “No, no, the bulb is still soft.” (It becomes hard when full of fuel and the system is pressurized.) After nearly a half-hour they finally clipped the fuel hose back onto the tank and zoom-zoomed off into the sunrise. Sleep tight, your navy is awake!
I’ve watched folks become infuriated with their dead outboard and pull away on the starting rope until it broke or until their arms nearly dropped off. There’s nothing to diminish your spirits like the sound of the starter recoil spring zlithering and sproinging around inside the engine cowling. Then, finally, it is discovered that all along, the ignition safety switch was off. To further the frustration, it takes someone else to make that discovery. Yep, I’ve done it too. Remember the movie “Sling Blade?” There’s a wonderful scene where the village idiot quietly watches the local lawn mower mechanic fight all day with a dead motor. Finally the protagonist announces that he “Reckons it’s outta gas. Uh huh.” Start with the simple things first.
The painting is now complete on the boat, so instead of having been on the dock at first light to beat the sun, I sit here enjoying the decadence of writing while sipping coffee. Of course, today there is some cloud cover, perfect for painting. You can tell I am not an enthusiastic painter. The secret is in the preparation which can means hours of sanding, filling and sanding. Pull marks from a dry brush or runs from too much paint are the marks of carelessness. Then there are the spatters, especially when applying a dark colour near a lighter one. There is a technique of applying the paint, first by roller then followed by brush, not too dry, not too wet. Painting in direct sunlight is an invitation for disaster, the paint wants to dry faster than it can be applied and there is a sticky mess waiting to happen. Only experience can teach the best method. Then in gleaming glory, the paint begins to dry, all the while attracting all sorts of insects, airborne seeds, hairs and pieces of lint. Finally you peel off the masking tape and…SHIT! It ran beneath the tape. Actually, there is no substitute for good masking tape, which, of course, is the most expensive, but you get what you pay for. I’ve found a product called ‘Frog’ which works really well.
I learned to hate painting when, as a boy, I often made a little cash schlocking white on fences and houses. My passion for painting is right next to mowing lawns and anything involving shovels. Then there’s picking berries. At least there is a reward at the end of the endeavour without any delayed gratification. Jack and I went out at first light armed with a bucket. A light breeze prevented any dew; perfect! Mourning doves wha-coo-hooed while a bumper crop of rabbits kept Jack entertained. I dealt with the bumper crop of blackberries. The first ones are ripening and there will be a harvest that goes on for weeks. I’ve never seen so many.
The biggest, sweetest berries are at the end of the highest thorniest vines, well above where dogs may have peed. Having leathery old mechanic’s hands is a bonus. I hold a smaller cup-sized container beneath the fruit I’m picking and then transfer that, when full, to the bucket. That saves a lot of painful moves among the brambles and speeds up the gathering. There’s your blog-tip from this hunter-gatherer-mechanic. Now as the sun rises and the world heats up, it’s time to head to the boat for some finishing touches. Just another perfect early-summer Sunday on a beautiful Pacific Island.
“We are all the architects of our own despair.” …Jill Bailey
“So how’s it going?” asked my doctor. I explained that I was having a major relapse of depression and nothing seemed to work to conquer it. “And if you could do something to change things, what would it be?” I talked about moving to Mexico, where I would live in my boat close to rural seaside villages and assimilate the minimalist ways of the locals. I explained about their clear uncomplicated values, their richness despite not even owning shoes at times, their ability to find joy in the moment so long as they can feed their children for the day and how I could still live there for less than it cost here. It is an environment where I know I can do some good serious writing. “And what’s holding you back?”
“Money” I replied. We both laughed. “Well maybe this will help.” He smiled and handed me the prescription in the following photo. Not only do I have a doctor with a sense of humour, but you can actually read his writing. Now there’s a keeper!
Lately I’ve had some well-meaning advise from friends on dealing with my clinical blues. I appreciate their concern but is not an affliction I choose nor one I embrace. I don’t want it. Get it? Misery is not something anyone reaches out for. And it is just not bad attitude. Nor is it an addiction that one clings to like a bottle or a needle. It is a chemical/electrical dysfunction of the brain. It can be a short-term episode or last a lifetime.
Some days, an hour can be an eternity and no-one willingly embraces the darkness, loneliness and hopelessness of uncontrollable, bottomless gloom. One friend accuses me of “having no balls.” But in fact, after enduring this affliction for most of my sixty-plus years without French-kissing a 12 gauge or stretching a rope, I’d like to think my fortitude is pretty damned good. If you won’t understand the courage it takes to openly write and talk about this very tangible yet heavily stigmatized affliction, I should simply tell you where to go; but I won’t. When I was a child, people who were diagnosed with cancer were often stigmatized and ostracized. They frequently lived out their days, or years, sequestered away. We finally decided that cancer was not contagious and perhaps that’s the problem. We all have our mental and emotional flaws and we fear how they may bob visibly to the surface. Hopefully we can grow beyond the fear of our own human frailties, accept each other for who we are and all work toward a higher self.
Another friend suggests keeping busy. Right. Good advice. No-one can match my frenzied creative bursts which have often earned me a reputation for being able to outwork anyone. I’ve written several books, including one about growing up with the nurture and nature factors of chronic depression. And I’ve got a whole damned boat to busy myself on, if there’s enough money for supplies. One tube of marine sealant now costs $30. and the price of things like a small plank of marine-grade wood nearly requires a third mortgage. Boatt is now spelled with two t’s: Break Out Another Ten Thousand. Fortunately elbow grease is still free.
One of the best descriptions of clinical depression is a lack of vitality. Truly, even a simple act can be challenging during an episode of depression. To motivate yourself to do anything requires a focus of willpower, while other inner demons are telling you what a useless, lazy bastard you’ve become. “Pull your socks up,” my old English dad used to demand. He was the one I inherited this horrid disposition from (He never did well with his own socks) and I’m content to have no children of my own to risk passing this on. I’m not complaining, just explaining.
I have taken up the challenge of being open about what is called manic depression or bi-polar disorder. If this good old blue-collared, thick-fingered dufus can overcome the stigma and talk openly then perhaps a fellow sufferer will find a bit of solace and others a little enlightenment. Modern medicine, as with most health issues, seems largely content to treat the symptoms with various prescriptions. No symptom, no problem right? Despite this being a major health issue in our culture it is often dismissively brushed under the carpet. There are other more trendy health issues to focus on. Plenty of creative people through history have had to endure this curse and what we wouldn’t give just to have a regular sine wave. It seems, all too often, to be the price of having a gift worth sharing. “Geez, you seem sensitive about this issue.” Yep! enough said.
This past weekend was hot and dry and lovely. A summer high weather system had moved on to the BC Coast and the Northwest wind blew steady and warm. It piped up during the night. I loved it but Jack seems to have lost his sea legs. Taking spray over the boat while it heeled and plunged is no longer his cup of tea and so we explored local haunts we’ve spent decades passing by. It was wonderful. I am assuming that my readers have access to Google Earth and can look up place names so I won’t elaborate on geography. The inside waters of the Southern West Coast are blessed with an archipelago of islands. In Canadian waters they are known as The Gulf Islands and in the US as The San Juans. Although many of these islands have fallen into private ownership, there are also many parks and it’s still anyone’s world up to the high tide mark.
The scenery is breath-taking, soothing, inspiring and enticing all at once.
Twice a day the tide floods and ebbs between the Strait of Georgia and the waters inside the passages of the Gulf Islands. Porlier Pass is a violently turbulent tidal passage dividing Galiano Island on the South from Valdez Island on the top side. Galiano is sparsely populated, Valdez is essentially uninhabited. Anchored in a tiny bight out of the swirling current, I took Jack ashore on Valdez at first light to watch the world come to life in mid-summer. I sit on Vernaci Point with a view of the entire Southern Straight of Georgia, also known now as the Salish Sea. Out past the surging waves and swirling tide, a bell buoy clangs steadily, like a rural Mexican church calling the devout to morning prayer. Sea birds wheel and cry. Eight eagles screech their dominion over the world before gliding down to feast again on a seal carcass on the beach. They are joined with a dozen vultures and the ever-belligerent crows
Seals paddle effortlessly in the roaring clear water. Often Orcas hunt both seal and salmon here. I watch as the light brightens and hardens, the wind warms and increases, the air fills with the scent of dry arbutus leaves, fir cones, juniper and grass. It all mingles with the tang of the sea, an aroma therapy for any weary soul. If only it could be bottled and sold as “Gulf Island Breeze.”
I found the desiccated remains of two Bald Eagles. Both lay on their backs deep in the long dry grass as if placed there deliberately. They were a considerable distance apart and clearly their souls had flown off at much different times. After a night’s contemplation, and the good omen of eight eagles in one place, I left a treasured brass piece from the boat and burned some feathers in respectful exchange for a skull and some feathers. It is how I acknowledge my respect for this powerful gift from the maker as well as my need to live in harmony with my world. I know little of native culture and hope that my efforts are adequate. The tide was easing and beginning to shift from flood to ebb. It was time to weigh anchor and sneak out between the rocks in that short time available to transit the pass safely.
On the evening before, I watched the setting sun’s light relinquish it’s grip on the purple loom of Mount Baker across the strait. The distant shore lights and then the stars began to glitter. Now in consideration of Jack’s angst we move north to the top end of Valdez Island, coasting on the last of the favourable flood through Gabriola Pass and into Dog Fish Bay, tucked inside Kendrick Island. Here, over a beautiful sandstone reef one can see most of the Southern Strait in one single, breath-taking panoramic sweep. Due north is a view up Howe Sound. In the snow-crowned mountains beyond, a massive thunderstorm illuminates the world. Ragged clouds exchange billions of volts in flashes of orange and pink light. Arcing our view a little further south the lights of Vancouver glitter and pulse around it’s harbour and up the surrounding mountains. Then a massive fireworks display begins over there and for a few minutes, breath-taking colours and patterns boil in the sky over the heart of the twenty-three mile distant city. All the while, further to the south, as if on a continuous string, the landing lights of aircraft descend and rise from the airport. The whole view is an indelible image. Nearby the tide bubbles and murmurs in the dark as seals hauled out on a nearby reef squabble and mew. The indelible experience is preserved with the regular swilling of good rough red warm wine straight from the bottle. Sleep comes long and sweet and deep.
On the tip of Valdez behind the bay sits the remains of an abandoned homestead taken over by the province of BC as a Provincial Park. I recall a time when sheep foraged along the ocean’s edge. Now the farm, it’s orchard, garden, meadows and paddocks are slowly returning to the forest which from which all was so laboriously carved. The old farmhouse, small and stout, is beginning to show signs of it’s abandonment. Finally someone has broken in but respectfully left everything untouched and then had re-secured the locks. I follow suit. After all these years of passing by I reason there will be the ubiquitous goon who will eventually do serious and permanent damage. I see this little house as a shrine and I want a sense of how life here must have been.
Inside, the tiny building is still sound and free of moisture damage. There has been no vandalism, everything seems just as it was when the last occupant left for the last time.
The latest date on a stack of newspapers was November, 2001, fifteen years ago. I found a framed teaching certificate belonging to someone named Don Wardill. It was dated 1936, numbered 491 by the Education Department of British Columbia. There was a list of “Special Subjects, the ink now too faded to read. The walls were covered in water colours signed by the same man. They were primitive in style yet beautifully rendered and portrayed a long lust for, or perhaps experience of the South Pacific. I imagined a lonely man, painting his vibrant pictures by lantern light while a winter storm raged outside. I’ve no idea who he was, possibly he still lives and I’d love to learn anything I can. His spirit is still there and I imagined restoring the house and grounds to their former state of a working subsistence farm, where people managed to live in harmony with the world around them. I leave the house as it was found.
We need to retain some examples of how people lived contentedly without the buzz and flash of electrons and computers and glittering facades. Giga this and mega that and Armageddon is eminent every time the internet crashes. The sun goes up, the sun goes down, the planet provides our needs. The rest is up to us.
“ This country was a lot better off when the Indians were running it.”
Despite the dark and dour tones in my last blog I managed to say some positive things about Orion magazine. This time I have three more kudos to offer despite my declared intention not to promote any commercial endeavour. It is sad that being treated right is remarkable, but all too often we have come to expect something less than represented. When I find something local, on my own island worth a little rave, I can’t resist.
There is a small local company you can find with a simply search online. Seaward Kayaks is located in Chemainus here on Vancouver Island. They hand-build beautiful cruising kayaks in fibreglass and kevlar which are internationally-renowned. As a side-line they are also agent for a few other brand-X kayaks. They make little money on these and I can see how it must be, at times, a nuisance to their main business. Nevertheless, yours truly bought one of the cheaper products and had troubles. (The darned thing would not track straight and insisted on a hard turn to starboard) I returned it, and at their suggestion, tried a few different boats until I found one that works great and suits my needs. To be treated with patience, empathy and respect in exchange for a minimal return to them, especially when they were at the peak of their busy season, was absolutely wonderful. Thank you Jacquie and Steve and crew. These folks build great kayaks and they treat you right. If you’re in the market for a proper locally-built Westcoast cruising kayak and want the best, check out Seaward, you won’t go wrong.
Another very pleasant recent experience was also enjoyed right here on Southern Vancouver Island. There is a maze of lovely backroads in the Cowichan Valley and there are moments when you can even imagine you are in Tuscany. There are dozens of vineyards with tasting rooms to visit. Climbing a hill away from the beautiful Cowichan River there was a glimpse of a massive bull elk in the roadside forest and a minute later the road opened to the crossroads and the general store of Glenora. It is also where you’ll find the Zanatta Vineyard. Fortunately, as it turned out, their bistro had just closed and so the tour continued. A stop at the Blue Grouse vineyard for a tasting was delightful and eventually the Sunday meander ended at the Merridale Cidery near Cobble Hill.
The last visit here was ten years ago so it was amazing to find a wonderful sprawling facility with a tasting room, gift shop, excellent restaurant, a unique wedding chapel, self-guided tours around the orchard which included copious evidence of a resident population of fairies. There is also a bakery, brandy distillery, trout pond, and some yurts for folks wanting to stay overnight. There was something to please, even fascinate (without batteries), children of all ages and one has to admire the energy and imagination which have turned a simple orchard and cider farm into a unique experience. By the way, all their various ciders are excellent (I really liked the scrumpy) and the restaurant fare was mighty fine.
There is not a lot of signage, clearly reputation and word of mouth are relied on for marketing.
Once again, going online and searching for merridalecider.com will bring you to a great website complete with maps.
My final happy experience to report is a product called a Sunbell Solar Lamp. It is a product from Norway made by a company called Bright Products and is available in Canada through Amazon. It is a solar-charged lamp/ flashlight and cell phone charger with amazing longevity, (up to 100 hours on a single charge) and practical versatility. It actually works as represented and is quite affordable.
While I’m promoting things let me recommend a really great book called ‘The Tiger’. It is an amazing account of modern Eastern Russian history and an essay on the ecology surrounding the last of the Siberian tigers. In many ways the book is a splendid overview of man ruthlessly exploiting his environment everywhere he goes. Somehow the book becomes a text about sociology, zoology, history and general intrigue. I learned some fabulous new vocabulary with delightfully lugubrious German words like umwelt and ungebung. They sound like terms for the bathroom but were in fact introduced by a Baltic German named Jakob von Uexküll in his book ‘Theoretical Biology’ . Now look it up if you dare, you’ll learn something! I did. To be entertained and educated all at once is a wonderful thing.
Vaillant’s research is amazing and his writing is as brilliant as in his other wonderful books, ‘The Golden Spruce’ and ‘The Jaguar’s Children’. End of commercials.
Summer is whizzing past in a blur. I’m determined to stay south but economics, or the lack of them, may soon drive me north. I’m getting some health issues sorted out and then something has to happen. Money isn’t everything but poverty really sucks. I watch the gringo boats come and go while ‘Seafire’ languishes with a growing coat of barnacles on her bottom. This too shall pass but it is agonizing to endure.
However one of the delights of this season is the abundance of fruit and produce. The weather has been warm and intermittently rainy. Fruit, berries and gardens are yielding copiously weeks earlier than usual.
Often, these seasons of extra plenty are followed by harsh winters but only fools and newcomers predict the weather. We’ll see what comes. We can’t do anything about it so we may as well eat orgasmic while we may. That wasn’t a typo. To eat warm succulent organic fruit straight from the tree, with the juice running down your chin and happy bees buzzing round, is a profound pleasure, decadent, erotic. Pick a word. The experience sure beats hell out of gnawing on chemical-imbued lumpy, pocked flora from some factory farm way down South.
The wild blackberry crop this year is overwhelming. The berries are fat, juicy, sweet and tart all at once. There should be some great brandy and wine this fall.
The dream of getting south soon is flickering but alive. The trailer has been used regularly and I’m glad to have not sold it. It is a perfect mobile abode and is revealing several advantages. It tows well and with dual axles has double the braking capability and displacement on soft ground. It is handy to back into tight spots and quite easy to set up camp. The trailer can be unhooked and left while the mother vehicle is free to go exploring. When packing up, it’s “Boots and saddles” in minutes. People who own bigger trailers come by to see it and admire with envy. And…it is paid for! I point out that I’d be happy to build one for them. And you too! Fairwinds and away.