Never buy camouflaged slippers. I spend half my evenings looking for them. One is starting to curl up. I am a bit annoyed. I paid ten dollars for the garden slug green rubber numbers in the East Kootenays just last summer!
Meanwhile, here in Ladysmith on Christmas Eve afternoon, it has begun to snow. Huge white soggy biscuits of the stuff. Many kids will be overwhelmed with joy right now but this seasoned old winter driver is staying home. In a hillside town loaded with wide-eyed folks careening about, it’s best to hunker down when the world is covered in this white grease. It may be pretty but it’s dead dangerous especially with all the other drivers out there who don’t get it. While I’ve pecked out this paragraph, a second call to arms from the fire hall siren has wailed out. Another wreck. Nothing like giving a potentially covid-infected stranger mouth to mouth.
Six days later, it’s still snowing. Shoveling snow is good exercise but I’d rather be floating down some Mexican beach like Bo Derek. You could call my version of the film “3,” or perhaps “Thump”. My wife has been horribly ill with a massive gastric affliction. I’ll avoid the graphic details and yes, we’re sure it’s not Covid-49 or any other deadly version. She’s had eight days of intense “cleansing” but I wouldn’t recommend this as a weight loss adventure. The title of this blog is a quote from her. Still, every time these days that you sniffle, cough or fart you find yourself wondering is this IT?
We do live in strange times. In a local pharmacy cashier’s line-up I thought I had misread a label on a toy. The item was a tiny plastic dog, with a push-stick which fit into its back. It had four stiff legs and a wheel between the front two. There was a packet of tiny plastic treats you fed into its mouth. Then apparently, it fired them out a tiny orifice beneath the tail. There was a little scoop to pick them out. Really! The toy was named something like “furRealPoopalot.” I almost bought it. “Mommy what’s that old man playing with?” You can order them through Amazon. Go ahead, I know you want one! Next there will be a “Covid Collie”. There’s no limit to profit possibilities. Maybe we could form a “Poopsalot support group.”
Now it’s New Year’s Eve. We’ve had several snowy days and the temperature has plummeted to a horrific -4° C. Every year someone proclaims this one an especially severe winter but I remember ones far worse than this, like the one when it snowed four feet in one night ( I have photos) or the winter in the late eighties when the February temperature went down as far as – 20°C for several dayss while the wind howled incessantly. I don’t recall BC Ferries missing crossings because of extreme cold then. I would describe this as a normal coastal winter. Folks need drama and apparently Covid is not enough. This afternoon we’re under a thick blanket of snow and a wind chill of – 12°C. But it’s OK, we’ll forget.
By anyone’s estimation it is a good year to put behind us, let’s call it a learning experience and move on. Hopefully the next is one when we all have someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to. There really is nothing more, it’s that simple.
Happy New Year.
If you don’t think you can be happy, or at least content, try missing a few days. It’s the only moment you’ve got. Avoid dancing on tables and remember that hangunders are always worse than the one before. Being pissed as a newt is no way to start the next year. We all make plenty enough bad decisions sober!
“Deep breaths are very helpful at shallow parties.” Barbara Walters
I suppose this’ll hit the ceiling and bounce back from cyber space on January 1st, 2021 even though I’m posting it on New Year’s Eve. So Happy New Year to the world. May your balls drop and may everything glitter. I truly mean that without reviewing any of the weary rhetoric about the past year. Three hundred sixty-five days ago who knew what a Covid was? Who’da thunk that investing in a face mask business would be a good bet? Well onwards and sideways. Now turn your head to sneeze please!
Yesterday I met a fellow who was enraged that I would not buy into his proclamation that the entire pandemic is a hoax. No one has actually died of a virus. It’s all bullshit!
I told him that the Flat Earth Society has members all around the globe and that I hoped he did not wake up staring at a beige hospital ceiling with a load of hoses stuffed up his nose. Incredible! And yes, I’ve just had acquaintances die due to the virus.
If I can say something of value at this moment it is this. I have seen grown men have a fist fight over differing views on one social issue or another. When their hard-as-stone opinions were dissected it turned out that all of their certitude was based on something they had gleaned from the media. They were slugging it out over something about which they knew nothing. If you really care about any issue, you must do a lot of research, from many different perspectives. You can’t just settle for a view you want to swallow. Here’s an example.
If you ask the average person about the Boeing 737 Max 8, they will tell you with conviction that they will never ride in one. They know it is the world’s worst aircraft ever! As old Paul Harvey would have said, here is the “Rest Of The Story.” As a lifelong aviation enthusiast, a former pilot and aircraft mechanic I like to stay in touch. Pilots I’ve spoken with who have actually flown that model (and loved it) as well as a close relative who is an airline pilot who keeps a broad overview of the whole industry made these points. The 737 was developed as a regional jet or RJ to serve short and medium range routes. One of the larger markets for that airplane is third world countries. Bear in mind that there were thousands of flight hours logged in the aircraft in the Western World without incident. Both tragic crashes occurred in third world countries. The simple difference is the training standard offered by third world airlines is not as comprehensive as it should be. With a major market for Boeing with those airlines they cannot risk offending their customers by pointing that out. Competitors like Airbus, (Who have had plenty of their own products fall out of the sky, killing hundreds) are always hot on their heels.
So what’s my point? For your own sake do not accept what the media has to say. I decry negativity and recently lost a friend when I challenged him over his insistence of always offering negative perspectives. However, keep in mind that all media sources are businesses who need to make a profit and so must offer an enticing product made so by gross exaggerations, misrepresentation and skewed data. It is always reasonable to challenge what is thrown at you. Perhaps it is even a social and moral obligation to hold a questioning mind.
As we enter our second year of the Covid pandemic be mindful of what you choose to believe. We now have the hope of miraculous vaccines, oddly all concocted within days of each other. All have been formulated in less than a year. Previous successful vaccines have taken many years to develop and prove. I hope my cynicism proves unjustified but I am always stunned and appalled at the herd’s willingness to accept easy answers. Good advice is to sleep upwind and drink upstream of the herd. “Sheople” an acquaintance calls folks. We have a naturally questioning mind and these are the times to not bury that instinct further. Ask questions. Be positive but ask questions!
When I sat at my desk this morning to proof-read this blog, night was grudgingly yielding to the last dawn of this year. A low layer of fog hung over town like a broad cake of congealed cooking fat. On the mountains immediately above us thick rolls of fog muffled the peaks and ridges. The moon, full two days ago, sank from a clearing sky into those banks. Then for brief moments a burst of sunrise back-lit the water drops in the shrubbery outside the door. Now the sparkling diamonds are gone, again just more winter wetness beneath a pallid overcast. But, those moments of light will carry us through the day. Life goes on.
Apparently our provincial chief medical officer has issued an edict prohibiting the sale of alcohol this New Year’s Eve after 8 pm. This is in an effort to prevent irresponsible decisions. It is the stupidest thing I’ve heard lately. She should have made this decree a couple of weeks ago. Not only is she distancing herself from the people she is trying to protect, she is encouraging certain folks toward rebelling and being even more drunk and disorderly. And capitalists that we are, even as I write, someone is printing up a batch of T shirts for sale that say, “Let’s get together and make some bad decisions.”
As for me, I’ll probably be sound asleep when the midnight din breaks out. I learned long ago that deliberately making myself sick is not an auspicious beginning for another year.
Happy New Year and sincere wishes that everyone has someone to love, good things to do and to look forward to.
2021 is going to be your year.
So dust off your shitkickers and let’s get started.
It seems that the gods can send messages in unexpected ways. I play YouTube roulette sometimes, just to see what randomly pops up. I’ve discovered incredible musicians from around the globe, found amazing inventions, wonderful stories and once in a while stumble on something that I can only consider as a tiny personal kick in the butt. Today I came across a video about a sixty-three year old cowboy still riding broncos in the rodeo. He’s the real thing and had some eloquent things to say. One was about hitch-hiking, something real hand-to-mouth cowboys do regularly. They don’t all have big-fat-wheeled diesel pickup trucks. “Have a saddle along, it’ll gitchya a ride every time.” (In my hitch-hiking days I had a red toolbox and an old military duffel bag that worked quite well.) He mentioned, after a litany of all his broken bones, how folks tell him he’s crazy to still be at it. “I ain’t never gonna grow up. I’m old but I ain’t never grownin’ up. You’re judged by that third and forth try in life and I think I’ve got one more try.”
There’s some inspiration in those words. Grit! I’ll take a bag please. Course ground!
There are some rodeo days in my ancient history but I soon lost my desire to be slammed around by any angry beast. There may be some momentary beauty in all those arched postures and flailing, jingling rigging and hoofs but it all hurts and years down the trail, those hurts come back to haunt a body. As I age, I wonder at why we continue to do such primal things if for no other reason than the cruelty to the animals. In our latitudes a successful rodeo ride is eight seconds. In Mexico I’ve seen bulls ridden until they collapse. Sport? It might seem manly but I’ve come to consider testosterone a poisonous substance. Mix it with alcohol and you have a bomb about to go off. Those two juices, mixed or not, are at the root of nearly every woe in the world, ever.
The heat, dust and din of a rodeo seems very alien to the dark and thick rain of pre-Christmas coastal BC. Just days from the winter solstice, the darkness here is crushing, even at high noon. Further north the daylight is progressively shorter and the weather much harsher. A nice day is often when the rain simply falls vertically and is not being driven by a blasting wind. I don’t miss it. How people endure it year upon year on the North Coast is a wonder. But they do and even thrive in it. There are different kinds of grit I suppose, but up there with all that rain it’s often just called mud. When I lived and worked on the mid-coast, locals would go south for a few days and arrive back home expressing profound relief at being out of “that mess.” I know what they meant but Geez Louise, watching the moss grow between my toes is no pastime for me. Today the gelatinous rain, almost frozen, doesn’t bounce. It just splats down and heads from the nearest drain.
As usual I’m listening to that radio station in Goldfield Nevada, although I’m enduring an overload of Christmas tunes. (Note I didn’t say music.) Some is traditional, some mutant-traditional, some innovative, some weird and some completely bizarre, even rude. (If this old salt thinks it’s rude, it is definitely rude!) All the music is about Christmas and that’s beginning to wear a bit thin. The songs are punctuated with local anecdotes about winter hardships and historical storms with six feet of snow in one night, -30°F temperatures and horrific winds. There are accounts of people freezing to death in the high desert country which I can well believe, it almost happened to me one night on a high Nevada desert plain. Considering the bleak desert winter who can begrudge them their fun? Apparently this is how the season is observed in the Nevada desert.
Fortunately for them, Goldfield is a day north of Las Vegas where cacti begin to grow and the Mexican border is another day’s drive south of there. Theoretically they can escape winter easily. This station has no news broadcasts. That on its own makes it a winner in my books. Their advertising is for small local businesses like restaurants, hardware stores and a tow truck service. There is nothing from box stores, shopping malls, car manufacturers or fast food chains. Public service announcements describe events of common interest like a local highway improvement project. The local “dump road” is temporarily rerouted along the cemetery road. Country logic rules, the dump and the cemetery are side by side.
As I edit what I’ve just written I realize it is all about what I’m absorbing from my electric babysitters. I offer no accounts of what I’m doing because I’m not doing much of any account.
I’m struggling with the second chapter of my third novel; something over a decade old. And it is indeed a struggle. Good creative writing happens when the story writes itself and the writer scrambles to keep up. It’s not happening. The southwestern deserts may seen far away but I’m stuck in my own suburban wasteland. Walking with Jack twice a day out in the drizzling gloom is my high adventure. We do see lovely, colourful wee birds, yesterday it was a brilliant red-headed woodpecker then a flitting flock of golden-crowned kinglets. The flashes of bright yellow on their tiny heads brought instant cheer but the light was too dull for photos with any sort of camera.
Today Jack snoozes in front of the fireplace. Part of that time was spent with his head on my lap. He’s warm. By two this afternoon the dull light was fading, and rain or not, we had to make at least one outing. We took a muddy path beside a local stream which was swollen to the top of its banks. These two soggy old mutts plodded along and then homeward, eager to get back by the fire. The rain was so insidious there was an absence of birds, no croaking of a single raven, not even the timid chatter of one chickadee. They’ve all found a place to hole up. I saw one tiny titmouse bouncing along a salmonberry limb. It promptly vanished into the underbrush once it saw what foolish lumps were out trudging in the driving rain. I imagine that, being that size, each thick raindrop must seem like a bucket of water would to me. Home again, I’m content to sit near the fireplace.
Jack is sound asleep again, dreaming of chasing rabbits, perhaps in a daisy-filled meadow. It is sunny and warm wherever he is and he is young again. And me…I don’t need to close my eyes to hear the rustle of palm fronds overhead and smell the salty warm sea air as a frosty lime margarita jumbo is placed in my hand. It is made from a smokey local tequila and the prawns and fish have come out of the bay right out there where that humpback is breaching. Mariachi music plays somewhere up the beach. Beep, beep, beep… the oven is ready for the bread. My fantasy vanishes as a fresh blast of wind and rain batters the window. And what bliss to smell baking bread. Weather be damned, I’m going to eat something!
The big day is close enough now so I’ll wish all Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, pleasant solstice, oh yeah Happy Hanukkah. For the rest of you, Bumhug!
Then there’s the New Year.
Like that old cowboy said, one more try.
“I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.”
I sit at my desk writing this blog and listen to my beloved Goldfield Nevada radio station online. Goldfield is not far from the Black Rock Desert where the annual Burning Man event occurs. I describe Goldfield as being the full-time Burning Man. They seem to have an alternative perspective, quirky, earthy and creative, right out of the box; after that has been thrown away. I love the humour gleaned from this station. The above title is an acronym from KGFN 89.1 which represents ‘Department Of Fixing Things That Ain’t Broke.’ I think there are some quality times spent around a table in that only saloon in Goldfield. Wouldn’t it be fun to collaborate on bits of trivia like that? An announcer with a gravelly desert voice went on to jest about a government complaint that their weather burros were not of sufficiently mixed gender and where were they going to find a female burro to send to Gabbs?
Times are tough. I am living in a flat financial state these days due to circumstances which I am determined are temporary. It will pass, one of the joys of getting older is knowing that all things change. Yes, it’s my fault, I tacked when I should have gybed and then I hit a reef. So I am not feeling the joy and wonderI am apparently expected to feel at this time of year. “You vill hazze fun vezzer you lak it or nut!” To get more exercise and avoid burning precious gasoline I try to walk everywhere possible. Jack and I are getting in a few extra kilometres of exercise each day. He doesn’t prefer any particular route so long as he gets out and comes home again where he can flop on the couch for several more hours at a time. It is “Like, hibernating season dad!” Some days I join him.
Occasionally we return along the gentler slopes of Ladysmith’s main street. Today we walked by the cookery shop with its stunning array of gleaming copper pots and stainless kitchen utensils. (That shalt not covet thy neighbour’s pots!) Then we passed the bakery pulsing with aromas of fresh coffee, cinnamon buns, ginger bread and still-warmbread. Next came the pet shop with kittens in a window cage and shelves full of dog treats. Right next door is the town’s butcher shop, a traditional venture with the windows full of succulent treasures like deep and crusty meat pies, fresh fish, thick succulent steaks, whole free-range chickens and my favourite, thick smoked pork chops. Jack, straining back against his leash, wanted to savour it all. I simply wanted to go on by and get home out of the cold rain.
I have known very lean times. Hitchhiking and job-hunting in the severe cold of northern Ontario winters as a young man I endured the numb pain of hunger and the insidious agony of frost-bitten appendages. The only thing that hurt more was when you were finally able to thaw your parts out. I was a skinny flat-bellied wanderer and I am eternally grateful for the kindness of a few strangers. I imagined walking past these same windows with a similar hunger. Cold, dirty, with no-one to go home to, nor any home for that matter, no change of clothes and nothing to dare hope for. Perhaps there is a metallic taste in the back of your throat from your last meal of something like cold, tinned pasta something and you have no toothpaste or brush to rid yourself of the taste. And how you would love a simple cup of warm coffee. No cream? No problem. This coastal winter damp with kill you as surely as deep sub-zero temperatures, it justtakes much longer. Do not doubt, good people, how close we all live to being in that state. Your present situation is fragile regardless of what you think and do not condemn others for being down and out. They have not chosen that situation any more than you would. The stories of some of those living rough are terrifying. Some even hold jobs and have to live like that.
You also do not make good decisions when your back is to the wall. A few simple poor choices may well put you into a state of desperation. One panicked choice leads you to more bad thinking and once that hairball begins to roll downhill it is very hard to stop. We all live at the top of a slippery slope. Smugness and arrogance can easily precipitate the beginning of a slide. It is happening to more and more people these days. And do not dare tell me there is no such thing as bad luck! If my words provide discomfort…good.
There is a reason we don’t sing carols like the one about old King Wenceslas very much anymore. Greed has dulled our humanity. So let me suggest a radical solution to caring for the homeless. It’s simple. All those grand, posh, heated and usually unoccupied church buildings: unlock the doors or start paying tax. Fortunately there are many organizations who try to provide shelter and nurturing for the desperate but they can’t keep up. Overwhelmed, they stand against long odds to make a difference and never get, or want, the recognition they deserve.
Perhaps it’s time to open the old book and review some basic Christian teachings. Note that I am not of any particular religious flavour. Both Christians and Muslims have slaughtered millions and enslaved the minds of even more in the name of divine love. I want none of that mindless double-speak. It was the religious folk who executed Christ. I am, if I fit any pigeon hole, now of a pagan persuasion. Spirituality and religion are two very different things. Whatever God or Gods we create, we are all endowed with the capacity to see and hear the wonderful universe around us. The choice to tune in, or out, is a personal one.That desire in turn offers the wisdom to get along with each other on this splendid planet where we are such ungracious guests. If you want to have “Dominion” over the planet, understand that the word also mean “Responsibility.” It is not complicated.
I’ve fumbled with the above four paragraphs like a three-legged dog trying to make love to a greasy football. Should I post them or not? Out walking with Jack this morning I decided to delete them, it’s Christmas and supposed to be a season of light. Then I happened upon some tattered tarps strung up within a blackberry thicket. Nearby, there was a ubiquitous pirated shopping cart heaped with what appeared to be junk. To me that was a simple essay on the sickness of our society. This person, whoever they are, probably poorly-clothed and marginally fed, whose concern would logically be their next meal, or fix, and better shelter, is obsessed with collecting stuff. There is a strange sense of security in having stuff, any stuff, and our instincts are poisoned with that compulsion to the basest levels. So my acid Christmas comments remain. And yes, I did say CHRISTMAS! Regardless of what anyone believes, it is a Christian-originated celebration. So, if ”Stick it where the sun doesn’t shine” is politically incorrect; AWESOME!
Well something did bend me toward a Christmas sentiment the other day. CBC radio was playing some Sunday morning choral music and hit on ‘Oh Fortuna’ by Karl Orbst. It is a grand stirring piece, one of mankind’s favourites. You’ve heard it no doubt whether you knew it or not. There are many renditions on YouTube. It was written about eight hundred years ago. With no computers, no electronics or recording devices through the centuries it has endured, one of those timeless tributes to the genius of man stripped of all the crutches we have so easily and wilfully come to depend upon. The things we are truly capable of!
As I write, my Nevada radio station is playing as usual. This morning their Christmas music began. Most traditional songs are bastardized or are some new effort, neither of which do much for my grinchiness. Somehow, “Jingle Bells” with banjos does not resonate with me. But then, a line from the next song caught my ear. “Tis the season when the greedy give a dime to the needy, then wonder who’s gonna stuff their socks.” That was closely followed by a ballad about pack rats raiding the Christmas stockings then returning a pair of long-lost eyeglasses.
Ah indeed, ‘tis the season!
“A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together.” …Garrison Keillor
I have spent parts of my life living where -40º temperatures were normal at mid-day for weeks at a time. The coldest I’ve ever known was -72º one night on the Cote Nord of Quebec. We did not even try to fly in that weather, our helicopters stayed wrapped up on the ground. It seemed you could break things just by looking at them everything was so brittle.
As a hitch hiker I have sat on the roadside in Northern Ontario for two days and nights while a January blizzard raged with deep sub-zero temperatures, high wind and heavy snow. I cannot describe how long a winter night can be when keeping a fire going is your single reason to be and the urge to fall asleep is massive, and fatal. But I have never known a more penetrating cold such as I felt on the shore of the North Sea at Christmas time in Northeast England. I doubt the temperature was much below zero but it penetrated instantly to the bone despite a heavy layer of winter kit and lingered long after finding warmth again. I remember the fabulous blended aroma of Indian cooking in the stinging cold air of that Tyneside night and being forbidden to eat any because “I canna stand the reek of people who’ve eaten Indian! It just oozes out of their pores.” I love curry and Indian cuisine. It seemed that every restaurant that night offered some. Most of the chippies had become curry houses. It was an exquisite torture to inhale that blended aroma in the dank night air yet not have any. Then we travelled together northward into Scotland for two days in a very small car absorbing each other’s porridge, dark beer and herring farts. Much better!
The Brits are known as masochists. I know, I am a direct descendant. “No pain, no gain.” At sea a heavy damp sweater often took the place of a heater. A horrid finicky gimbaled one-burner stove might help warm some tea water or soup. “Wot? Pleasure! Comfort? NO! We’re British!” And don’t ever build a sleeping bunk that is comfortable. Ever! In fact, until in its last few years in service, the Royal Yacht Britannia provided only hammocks for its crew. STRUTH!
I just watched a YouTube video where a fellow with a broad Cornish accent demonstrated how to make a heater with a tea candle and a flower pot. I’ve dubiously replicated his model. Sorry mate, that is NOT heat! And think of folks like the Vikings in their open boats, or Highland shepherds with the breeze around their kilted knees. Their families waited at home in a drafty fieldstone hut with a smouldering chunk of peat in a fireplace where most of that thin warmth immediately rose up the chimney past the dripping sod roof. There’s not romance in any of it if you have to live it. I feel like a pathetic wimp in comparison when I can turn up the gas fireplace with a click of the remote control.
Well, a mystery has been solved. A friend and fellow blogger enlightened me that my un-named vine is in fact a “Wild Clematis” otherwise known as “Old Mans Beard.” That harks me back (How’s that for old English?”) to some old lines which are so bad they’re rather good.
-There was once a man named Beebopbedo
who spent his days swinging on vines (Clematis I suppose)
and telling folks how life was fine.
One day, down by the river
he suddenly felt a pain right in his liver.
Down he came with a mighty crash
his ribs were broke
his head was bashed.
He struggled up to his feet
and wandered off to smoke some grass
but on the way a snake bit him on the toe
and the was the end of Beebopbedo.”
I can hear my readership ratings crashing even now! Remember what I say about laughter; even a chuckle will do.
Dawn arrived this morning like a hung-over deckhand coming on watch; grudgingly. The thick darkness gave way to a heavy low gloom. The yard lights where I live have stayed on all day. I leapt out of bed one toe at a time. But, I finally had an appointment today with the anaesthetist at the hospital. We can go ahead with this hernia surgery…hopefully in January, this coming year perhaps. We don’t want to rush into things, it has only taken six years to get here.
Next morning, same old deckhand! The cold and damp seize me up, I can’t ignore them like I once did.
A buddy loaned me a copy of ‘Book Of The Hopi’ by Frank Waters. For some reason I have developed a fascination with the land and indigenous people of the American Southwest. The Arizona desert fits a big piece in my puzzle and I can’t wait to return to that bleak yet beautiful place with a pocketful of time to spend there. One of the centres of the Hopi culture was within a radius of places with names Oraibi, Hotevilla and Mishongnovi. There are several of these difficult but lyrical names which are still tiny communities clinging to their culture in a place which, to outsiders, is apparently inhospitable. Perhaps that’s part of the idea! They’ve been there for thousands of years. They have a deep spiritual connection with the land and the universe which bears a worthy consideration. The book is still available and I think a fascinating handbook for those interested in our ancient cultures. In an odd way, the Hopi account of man’s history on this planet parallels biblical legends.
Further south in Arizona I have spent a little time in the lands of the Tohono O’odham people. I love their traditional desert home and how they maintained their culture in a desert which would kill me, if left to my Pacific Northwest backwoods knowledge, within days. I ache to return there as alien as I may be. Their sacred mountain Baboquivari is a very special place, I can feel magic in the air there. This old sailor can’t explain his affinity for the desert. It is a similar feeling to being at sea out of sight of land. I know that would terrify many others, it is a feeling for me of absolute completeness. There is certainly plenty to absorb right here at home beside the ocean. The coastal First Nations of this region have a rich culture. Yet it is the desert which calls me.
Part of which fascinates me about these ancient cultures is a spiritual wholeness despite the bleakness of the people’s environments and the paucity of basics, like water. Yet they thrived and even had enough reserve to produce beautiful art. In my world where there is an overwhelming abundance of nearly everything, except spiritual fullness, inner peace and contentment have somehow been perverted to yet another commodity. Everything has been reduced to monetary values. That is never more evident than in this season which was founded on the premise of hope and common humanity. It is up to each of us to find the spirit which cannot be wrapped up and tied with a ribbon.
This blog’s quote comes from the inside of the front cover of the ‘Book Of The Hopi.’ In consideration of Mr. Trump’s recent public denigration of Mr. Trudeau, this stands as sufficient political comment.
“ There is no such thing as a little country. The greatness of a people is no more determined by their number than the greatness of a man is determined by his height.” …Victor Hugo
(Click and drag red play line to the left to see video from the beginning)
Christmas is past. The birds and squirrels are back in the trees. Isn’t it a miracle how these tiny creatures survive an extreme wind? The devastation on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands has been massive. Thousand of trees have blown down onto houses and power lines. Power poles, in many places, were broken like match sticks. The overhead wires have been snapped like string and macramaed together with tangles of tree limbs. Roofs have been stripped bare all over the south coast. I am amazed to repeatedly see incredible carnage in a specific area and yet a few hundred meters away, things appear almost unscathed. Water supplies, fuel supplies and groceries have all become commodities that have moved from a taken-for-granted status to desperate scarcity. Portable generators are unavailable at any price. The snarl of power saws and brush chippers can be heard in all directions near and far. Some folks, nine days later, are still without electricity. The line trucks and crews are still out there, wearily restoring power. Fortunately, so far as I know, there was only one fatality attributable to the blast.
Our population, with its modern urban sensibilities and softness, is unable to cope with a relatively minor disaster and the basic realities of survival. We’ve all had a wake up call. We need to be reminded about what frail creatures we are and how we become seduced into total dependency and subsequent vulnerability. These few hours of wind on December 20th do not begin to compare to a full-blown hurricane, earthquake or tsunami. It is very sobering. Even an old bush rat like myself realizes how spoiled and dependant I am on an infrastructure that is delicate at the best of times. I have good backwoods survival skills yet here, softness creeps in. Vancouver Island has 3 days of supplies ahead at the best of times. Most of us cannot even cover that gap. Some folks have had a very lean and cold Christmas. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the planet, Indonesia reels from another massively deadly tsunami. We can can our blessings indeed.
Time is ticking through the last hours of 2018. It’s over. For me it has not been a memorable year. I have achieved little other than staying alive, which is always a good thing. My life seems to have been what I did to pass the time between medical appointments and that I resolve to change. Yes, there are some things to look forward coming along very soon. I thank all those who love me and support me. You know who you are. It is remarkable how some friends and family continue to believe in you when you have lost all faith in yourself. That, in itself, is a blessing beyond any other wealth. I am grateful beyond words. So I will say it simply. Thank you. You’ve made a difference.
May everyone have a grand and wonder-filled year ahead.
“My pain may be the reason for somebody’s laughter. But my laughter must never be the reason for somebody’s pain.” …..Charlie Chaplin
Rain! It’s my fault. I’m busy ripping the windows out of my boat and replacing them. Then I plan on painting the cabin sides and the rest of the decks. Nature abhors a vacuum and so with each window being about eight square feet in size, guess what! Sploosh and whoosh!Actually it could have to do with the long weekend, we seem to seldom get one without wet weather and then in the days immediately following the skies will clear and I can carry on.
The guest dock here at the Ladysmith Maritime Society is filled with guest boats. The Ladner Yacht Club is here to celebrate its 60th anniverisary and the fleet which has arrived is one of pristine boats. Good on them! They are a group of very nice people with lovely dogs and I don’t need to worry myself about Canadian courtesy flags because none are foreign vessels.
A few days ago there was a fleet of US Tupperware tugs at the dock. Only one flew a visible courtesy flag. (When visiting any foreign waters in your boat it is basic marine protocol to display a small flag of that country above all other flags.) While I was at the head of the ramp a pair of our venerable Sea King helicopters flew over, low and slow. A lady from one of the visiting boats was passing and inquired if indeed these were military aircraft. Perhaps she was intrigued that such antiques were still in service. Being the quick quip that I am, my response was that since the insults uttered against Canadians by President Trump, we had begun a daily aerial patrol checking that US vessels were flying the correct flags. “Oh my!” she exclaimed wide-eyed, “ I’m so glad we have ours up.” Of course it was all in fun, but I’m sure she’ll pass the message on. I am really flummoxed that it is not an issue which our border personnel do not address but I suppose that’s the Canadian way.
Yesterday I was bent to my work on ‘Seafire.’ (which seems to go on and on) A strident female voice began to make inquiries on the marine VHF of “Ladysmith Maritime Society Marina”. Half of the boats on the guest dock leave their radios on at a high volumes. I can only surmise that it makes then feel saltier. The radio voice went on and on with sporadic silly inquiries, even when the boat, a Catalina 34, finally arrived alongside the dock space assigned to it.
The docking crew stood looking out at the little sailboat laying twenty feet or so away. The boat’s crew, a man and woman, stared back. Finally the voice erupted again, strident and indignant. “We don’t have a bow thruster you know!” I kept my mouth shut. Clearly, I am not Walmart greeter material.
(A bow thruster is a small propeller installed on a boat below the water line and pushes the bow sideways when attempting to dock.) This old salt reckons that the device is absolutely unnecessary on any vessel with someone competent at the helm. Some boats, complete with twin engines, have a thruster installed at either end of the vessel. The boat can be manoeuvred in any direction or turned in its own length but it still all depends on the nut that holds the wheel. Every extra device does make life easier at times, but it also increases dependability on that gadget and decreases skill levels. For me sailing is a religion of traditional skills and self-sufficiency. Enough said. I’ll carry on with my sanding and painting and keep my head down, like a fly on the wall.
The painting job on ‘Seafire’ has turned into a career; it goes on and on. It began simply enough with the intention to replace two windows and spruce up the window frames. Oh yeah, while I’m at it, I should update the lifeline stanchions seeing as I had a replacement set laying in the crawlspace at home. Then, while doing that, I damaged a side window with cleaner and decided to replace them all. While I had the stanchions off and the window frames off, it only made sense to paint the cabin and the side decks. I’ve tried repairing the paint on the cove stripe along the hull and have now decided to repaint that while I’m at it. One of the things my years have taught me is patience and that certainly is a prime ingredient for a job like this. Painting is not simply the act of apply fresh colour to a surface. First there is the preparation and therein lays the rub. Yep, a pun! Preparation is everything. There are incessant hours of sanding, and filling and more sanding. My fingers are abraded down to near-bleeding stubs. Then, if the sun is not too hot, or the threat of rain not too imminent, there is the application of a smooth gliding coat of liquid colour. Not too much however, it will run and drip. Once that is done, I stand back to admire the fruit of my labour and flies begin to land in the sticky gleam. Bugga! As I finish one section, the rest of the boat looks shabby. Also, with the new shine, all the manufacturing defects in the fibreglass are revealed. But, there is progress each day.
If refurbishing the boat is not enough challenge I am also in the middle of consummating a relationship with a new laptop computer. It is a supercharged gaming computer, the Grand Ferrari, something with all the giga-properties I need to use the film editing program which I’m trying to teach myself. The computer is a delight, but Windows 10, and downloading updated programs is a huge challenge for my old-school thinking. Mix that all in with my painting career on the boat and you’d think that all this masochism might indicate an English ancestry. You’d be correct.
A friend called to remind me of the British car show at the waterfront park in Ladysmith. I’d gone in previous years and was not eager to go see the same few dozen vehicles. WOW! Apparently there were over 200 cars and motorcycles on display. All ran, most were driven to and from the show. All have been lovingly restored and maintained. The spectators glided about in hushed awe, thrilled at what they were seeing. British cars are famous for their design and craftsmanship as well as their demands for incessant fiddling maintenance and enduring unreliability. For a very long time, British automotive electrical systems were hopelessly complex and comprised of components built by Lucas, known by many as the “Prince Of Darkness.” Yet there is a mystique and romance built into English vehicles that no-one else can match.
When the day is done, I read myself into sleepy oblivion with a copy of “Lord Jim” by Joseph Conrad. I haven’t tackled this novel in over half a century and it is clear why I first laid it aside. This guy did not have a word processing machine of any sort yet he stuffed every word possible into anything he was trying to say. Lots of folks love to gush about what a wonderful nautical author Conrad was. I find him lugubrious. One sentence can, at times, fill half a page. There is far too much wrapping around the golden gift of his story. Yet I find the weight and cadence of his writing evocative of the days I’m living at the moment. Here, in closing, is one sentence.
…”Such were the days, still, hot, heavy, disappearing one by one into the past, as if falling into an abyss for ever open in the wake of the ship, lonely under a wisp of smoke, held on her steadfast way black and smouldering in a luminous immensity, as if scorched by a flame flicked at her from a heaven without pity.” ….PHEW!
“It is not that life ashore is distasteful to me. But life at sea is better.” ― Sir Francis Drake
I posted my last blog ten days ago. When I awoke the next morning it was beginning to snow, just a wee skiff to keep the children happy; so I thought. I’ve spent many years in the great white north where a metre or more of snow overnight was not newsworthy. You just carried on. I regularly drove hundreds of miles on wilderness roads in extreme conditions of cold and deep snow. If you ended up in a ditch or broken down it could prove fatal so you drove accordingly and carried a few extra items in the event of emergency. If you saw someone off the road you stopped and made sure no-one was in trouble. It was all in a day’s passing. Here, if there’s enough snow to cover the ground, it is best to simply stay home. Today, the forecast is for 17 or more centimetres. A few people will die out there. Only half that fell and the sirens still wailed constantly all day.
The white stuff is slippery and if you have experience as a winter driver, you know that no amount of ability is enough when there is zero traction. Superior drivers use their superior experience to avoid situations which require superior skill. Unfortunately there are many motorists who apparently have no clue about winter driving. Steep hills covered in wet white grease and littered with goggly-eyed drivers stuck in their suv’s is reason enough to stay home. Those television ads depicting an all-wheel drive vehicle bursting through a bank of fluffy, dry snow forget to tell you one thing: you’ve got to stop sometime. Last night I saw a plug for an Alfa Romeo suv. (Stupid Urban Vanity) It was a gorgeous vehicle! But somehow I doubt the Italians fully understand Canadian driving conditions, not that many of these look-at-me-mobiles ever leave pavement. So I stayed home that morning and sat here pecking away at my writing.
Then there was a horrific train wreck just south of Seattle. It was the very first run with paying passengers on a new high-speed rail service between Seattle and Portland. The train leapt off the rails and crashed down onto the main interstate highway in the state of Washington. The carnage incurred prevents this from being a hilarious story. To ad to the ludicrous tale, our boy Donny Trumpet (He’s always blowing his horn) was tweeting within three hours of the crash that this was a great example of why his infrastructure funding bill should be passed forthwith. The gormless ass! There were still people, dead and alive, trapped in the wreckage as he massaged his pathetic ego! Here on Vancouver Island we have solved any issue with railway safety. We cancelled our rail service.
Now over a week later I slide this blog off the back burner of my writer’s stove with a story from today’s local newspaper about a visiting Calgary man who “Spun a few donuts in the snow at Transfer Beach last week to clear a path for his 70-year-old mom to walk.” There’s a photo of a little car sitting in the middle of several circular furrows. That this was a news-worthy story says a lot about the pace of life in Ladysmith. I’m wondering how long this dude has had his mom going in circles. Such is our existence between Christmas and New Years. The days are grey and wet, the nights are long and wet. My sense of humour is short and dry. Outside on the final Friday of the year, I go to the local pool to swim my final lengths for the year. This morning I crawled out of bed one toe at a time and now dawn reluctantly squeezes the black sky to a porridge grey. A thick fog descends with a syrupy penetrating drizzle. In the afternoon, the drizzle turned to snow.
When I went aboard ‘Seafire’ to check on her, it was colder inside than out, like a tomb. This old boat has been my home, warm and snug through some long winter nights. I feel as if I’ve abandoned her and wonder where I will be this time next year. Well, life has to be lived as it comes, one moment at a time. When you look back, even 365 days, you’ve already forgotten so much of the blur. Just this moment, it’s all we have.
I wish everyone the best in 2018. May we all have something to do, someone to love and something to look forward too.
“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.” … Hal Borland
Black Friday has past. It may become known as the day that Darth Vader got stuck in the chimney. Forget the Star of Bethlehem, it’s Star Wars part 49. Bzzt, zap, whoosh! I’m not a fan, especially when the marketing of this film has be forced on us for months. “May the force be with with you” takes on a new meaning. What a way to start a celebration of love and peace and warmth and fuzziness! So it must be getting close to Christmas. Each morning there are deflated Santas and elves and snowmen lying on lawns nearly everywhere.
!The sacred act of consumerism is in the air. Even before mid-December advertisements for Boxing Day sales already clog the media which all the while keeps insisting that this year is a tight economic time, with housing and grocery costs at outrageous highs. Well, maybe so but as I drive by the malls, there does not seem to be many empty parking spots. Tap, tap, tap, click click. I’m not talking about the little drummer boy! Remember the ad, “Just say Chargex?” Jaded and cynical, I’m just not in the mood for anything other than peace and rum.
Online, folks are posting yummy recipes. I have some good ones too but gluten, glucose and alcohol are bad for you, at least this year. I don’t know what happened to trans-fat, but apparently eggs, butter and coffee are OK again. My Christmas cake is delightfully heavy, dripping with syrupy alcoholic elixir; one slice is guaranteed to bring on a case of acne. Then there’s my glug, a mulled concoction of fruit completely desecrated in a blend of wine and brandy and other secret flammables with exotic spices. This year it’ll be cranberry juice and soda crackers. It’s the high life for me.
Once a simple pagan celebration of winter solstice and a return to lengthening days, this time of year was an affirmation of hope and familial security despite the long winter ahead. It was a simple defiance against the elements, things that went bump in the long dark nights and all there was to dread. It is supposed to be a celebration of life. Then religion imposed it’s toxic notions and Christmas was gradually perverted into an orgy of money grubbing. I’m well aware of the entire Christian story, I was force-fed on it for too many years. It’s dark and cold and wet outside tonight. There’s homeless folks out there, lots of them, and all the church doors are locked. In Victoria recently I saw security personnel guarding a church entrance. Homeless people were setting up camp for the night on the grass boulevard in front of the church. Shopping carts and garbage bags just didn’t look like the makings of a warm and safe winter night; in front of a church. Remember the stable?
I do have golden memories of Christmas from a childhood many decades ago. A sudden aroma of home-cooking, woodsmoke or the tang of frost, the smell of wet woollens and barnyards (Yes, good old cow shit) the pungence of a real tangerine, fresh-cut conifers and a puppy’s gentle musk are among the stimulants that bring those old memories back to life in an instant. I know folks wrung their hands back then and worried about what the world had come to and how things just couldn’t go on like this much longer but by today’s comparisons, it was, at least for me, truly an age of innocence. That smells can induce memories, good and bad is an affirmation of our primal origin. I wonder about all the other senses which we have stashed away in the dim light at the back of our caves beneath the hanging bats.
In this particular area on Vancouver Island some hummingbirds spend the winter. This morning I was contemplating the brilliant multi-coloured led lights decorating a neighbour’s tree. A hummingbird zoomed down and began examining each light. Clearly, I’m not the only thinking creature confused about reality. With the thousands of lights gleaming through the night in Ladysmith It’s a good thing the wee bird is not nocturnal.
I’ve busied myself with a few projects on ‘Seafire.’ First a thorough cleaning in the main cabin and the galley. I was stunned to realize how much cooking effluent had accumulated behind and on the curtains and in niches my regular cleanings had missed.That accomplished, I turned my attention to a long-delayed project. The foredeck was slightly flexible. There was no issue with strength; I simply wanted to feel a rock-solid deck beneath my boots. Besides, the deck beam job will incorporate more book shelves and storage space in the forward V-berth. “Idle hands do the devil’s work” is something people liked to say when I was young.
I am not sure that boat projects are not devil’s work but it helps maintain some level of sanity within my chosen madness. While I’ve been fiddling around inside ‘Seafire’ different sorts of madmen are hard at other endeavours. Francois Gabart has just returned home to France on his massive trimaran after sailing around the world in 42 days and 16 hours. He set out on November 4th. I can remember where I was on that day, it is that recent! I’m not interested in going hyper fast on a sailboat, but I respect the achievement. To be alone and drive a boat that hard without a catastrophic mechanical failure while staying mentally and physically sound all the while is a miracle. It must seem very strange to be back ashore.
Feet on the ground, now there’s a concept. The massive storm of inappropriate sexual behaviour accusations leaves me afraid to even smile at anyone of any gender, however many genders we now recognize. This tsunami of innuendo began with Bill Cosby and now anyone with eyes and hands is a suspect. I don’t want to dissect the issue, nor sound dismissive but… The US president openly bragged about his aggressive misogynistic sexual behaviour before he was elected. If an avowed pervert is running a country with impunity, surely that raises several obvious questions. He’s not welcome on my boat.
One of the ways I endure winter is to have something good to look forward to. Last year I had sequestered myself away in Shearwater and missed my annual pilgrimage to the Fisher Poet’s Gathering in Astoria. This annual event is held on the last weekend of February in Astoria, Oregon where poets and singers gather to celebrate the many aspects of the commercial fishing industry. It is a wonderful festival of blue collar eloquence and Astoria is a fantastic town to visit for any reason. You can learn more by going to the Fisher Poet Website (FPG.org)and can even hear some performers, including myself, read their work. If you’re in the area and want some late winter cheer, check it out. By the Way, Astoria has some of the best craft beers and ales anywhere.
Well, back to Christmas. I’ve just received a Christmas card from an uncle in England. The photo he enclosed shows himself and my aunt. It was hard to accept how they’ve aged. I have been receiving letters from him since childhood. They used to come on tissue-thin blue Royal Airmail paper. The letter cleverly folded quarterly with two sides reserved for the addresses. They were self-sealing and were bought prepaid, like a postage stamp. The sender wrote in as small a font as possible in order to say as much as possible on the six blank quarters. Somehow, the Brits had a style of handwriting that was generic. Everyone’s looked the same. That’s all gone now along with the whole fine art of letter-writing. Uncle’s handwriting is unchanged after all these years. There’s a comfort.
The English journalist I mentioned in my last blog, Johnathon Pie, is actually a self-described political satirist whose real name is Tom Walker. He also calls himself a “Devil’s Advotwat.” His work, which appears on You Tube, is impeccable and utterly cutting as he rants about local and global political issues. He is crisp and irreverent and convincing, confirming my contention that our contemporary philosophers often appear in the guise of comedians. That, of course, should not be confused with a clown appearing in the guise of a politician.
Yep, as the song goes “It’s starting to look a lot like Christmas.” But I’m not dreaming of a white one. If you are celebrating the season, do it with your bow into the wind and your sheets hard. Wishing everyone empty bilges and full sails.
“The Supreme Court has ruled that they cannot have a nativity scene in Washington, D.C. This wasn’t for any religious reasons. They couldn’t find three wise men and a virgin.” …Jay Leno
“So what’s Mr. B.N.D. doing up here buying a dinghy?” A friend’s wife queried me when I arrived in Campbell River to purchase a used tender for ‘Seafire.’ It was a fair question especially when my last blog was about buy nothing days. It was also a fair question in consideration of the wintery weather. A viscous rain was being driven by the rising sou’east wind. The water in Discovery Pass was a mass of building foaming hard lumps, the usual meringue of wind against tide. I know this piece of ocean all too well, but for once I was ashore. I’d come to buy a nine foot fibreglass dinghy already modified to hang almost perfectly from the davits on ‘Seafire.’
I already have a nice little kayak and a splendid inflatable tender. There’s no place for the kayak on mothership in the winter where it doesn’t get hammered by the wind, or partially filled with water. It also blocks visibility from either helm. Getting into it in winter weather raises a good possibility of a frigid dunking as I try to finesse my Rubenesque thorax into the bobbing little cockpit while clad in clumsy boots and rain gear. The willowy, flat-bellied former younger self still hiding within my senior mass cringes as he realizes what he has become. Gawd! The Michelin man in a kayak.
The Achilles inflatable is a wonderful little speedboat but also an awkward thing on the davits. It refuses to accept being lashed solidly under the davits and has caused me much grief during heavy weather passages. The drain hole in it’s transom only allows shipped water to dribble out; not a good thing in big seas. It constantly moves no matter how I secure it to the transom of ‘Seafire’. Chafe is a sailor’s worst enemy on a boat. This inflatable is built from hypalon, a very tough, long-lived material, but it won’t live long if I allow it to continually wear on parts of the big boat. If it were a hard-bottomed dingy there would be little problem with the davits but I wanted an inflatable that could be rolled up for long passages. I refuse to tow a dinghy any distance for several other good reasons. Every thing is a compromise. Oddly, my first boats all had a hard dinghy; I longed for an inflatable.Now I’m back where I started.
The fibreglass dinghy affords me a way to get ashore from an anchorage and still provides the hope of being a life boat in dire circumstances. It already has solid lifting points and two drain plugs in it’s keel. I can also carry it about 30 centimetres higher than the inflatable, so there’s less chance of flooding it in rough weather. The little cockleshell was also reasonably priced. Nautical items tend to be less money at this time of year; about half-price in fact. So there, I’ve blogged half a page to explain my spending spree on Black Saturday. The drive home took two hours in a nasty downpour, darker than black. It was one of those night drives when your headlight beams are eaten in the spray and other drivers were demonstrating their worst motoring manners and low skill-sets. I arrived home to find a blog from friends in the Caribbean showing idyllic anchorages in clear tropical water. Swear words! It just ain’t right! In the morning an e-mail comes with photos of the beach in La Manzanilla, Mexico. Curving miles of golden sand, surf on one side, palm trees on the other. The TV weather girl tells us it has been the wettest November here since 1953.
I step into my tiny garage/workshop and there lingers an aroma of spring and of hope. The fresh smell of curing paint is aroma therapy to me. Suddenly I can hear twittering birds and feel warm sunlight, all of that in a whiff of paint. It is December 1st today and I’ll cling to whatever I can as the rain drums on the skylight above my desk. Bumhug! It’s Christmas time again, already, so soon! As if there would be a chance of forgetting. Happy Consumermas. Two days later it proved to be a sunny Sunday. Jack and I went exploring and found a lovely walking loop beside the local river which I’ve been driving past for over thirty years. Then in the afternoon Jill and I drove to Crofton to take the ferry to Saltspring Island to see a movie in a 120 plus year-old building call the “Fritz.” The film was the “Viceroy’s House” which never played in the mega theatres of Nanaimo. That is probably because there are no explosions, gunfire or graphic violence. And that is probably why it lost out to film titles like “A Bad Mom’s Christmas.” Tis the season!
“Viceroy’s House” was spectacular in all regards and helped clarify how much of the mess in India was created by the British colonialists. I heartily recommend it. All that adventure in one day! The decadence of travelling to another island just to see a movie did not elude me, so we crowned the afternoon by having a lovely dinner in a humble but wonderful Thai restaurant in Chemainus. Now it will be all dénoument for the rest of the month. Then the daylight will begin to increase each day. Yeah right!
While I’m in a complimentary moment, check out Johnathan Pie on You Tube. He’s a British journalist who manages to turn every report into a very raw rant. His ability to provide candid in-your-face opinions is very refreshing indeed. He has clearly been around for a while but he’ll probably disappear in mysterious circumstances. Catch him while you can.
The fibreglass dinghy is now hanging from the back of ‘Seafire.’ It rows beautifully and fits the davits perfectly. Jack sat in the back looking like a little prince surveying his realm, clearly enjoying the ride while I rowed the royal barge. I love it when something works out and even the ship’s dog is happy.
“ If it’s a wrong number, why did you answer the phone?” James Thurber