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 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
(Remember that images can be enlarged by clicking on them)
I am determined to journey homeward in a meandering fashion, with no particular route planned. The journey, after all, is its own reward. After all the repairs and expenses I knew I dare drift no further eastward, away from the general direction of home on Vancouver Island. I arrived in Flagstaff, where it was cold, snowy and blowing. I found a McDonalds and checked my e-mail and the weather. With more real winter to come, I checked for an RV Park then entered the data into my dash-mounted GPS. It lead me for miles in all directions and finally in the gathering darkness, I fired the miserable little box. The Grand Canyon was in my sights so I headed westward, where I would turn on to Highway 64 and find any old place to camp.
The night was crackling cold. I piled on all my blankets and thanked the Gods for my propane furnace. The stars were amazing. By morning the potable water pump had frozen. I was worried about split plumbing but all’s well that ends. I arrived at the Park Gate, paid the horrific fee, and found my way to the snowy parking lot. I’ve seen thousands of photos and films of this incredible hole in the planet, but nothing can prepare a person for the moment when you first look upon the Grand Canyon. If you are not rendered speechless, then you are a sad creature indeed. My photos can only confirm that I was there; they cannot do justice to the expansive and overwhelming feeling of the place.
Unfortunately the price of being able to easily attend one of the world’s greatest marvels is that there are people, bus loads of them, steadily arriving in an endless convoy. They overwhelmed the place, with hordes pushing, shouting, being rude in every possible way and seemed oblivious to any sanctity or wonder. They’d come half-way around the planet to take selfies on their mobile phones and absolutely nothing else seemed to matter. I really do try to love all of God’s creatures and I hate categorization and racism so all I’ll say is that it is holiday time in celebration of Chinese New Year. “Gong Xi Fa Cai” with all due respect! These tourists were everywhere, I mean every-bloody where I was to go in the following days. Their behaviour was consistently rude and arrogant. Shop keepers and vendors expressed dread at their invasion. I’ve been in China, the folks there are charming and considerate. I cannot explain beyond my personal observation of what happens when they are visiting here. I should quickly add that I’ve found other cuacasion cultural groups just as abominable when on their vacation. People!
With the fabulous shifting light, I could have stayed, but after having actually been shouldered aside a few times, I decided to proceed forthwith. My plan was to drive on to a place called Cameron, where I could consider my options, but the road had been closed due to wintry conditions. Swearwords indeed! Why the hell could the National Parks folks not have made the closure clearly noticeable beforehand?
Frustrasted, with no other option, I headed the sixty miles back to Flagstaff, fortunately in part, on a different route. I ended my day in Page, Arizona on the shores of the great man-made Powell Lake where the Colorado River was dammed, and damned. Incredible scenery was sacrificed to make a huge recreational waterway. I had no interest in seeing it and headed off to see other wonders. Everywhere I go, I am boggled by what I see. The grandeur and vastness is too much to comprehend. I want to come back and slowly sponge it in and so the bottom is blown out of my bucket list. I am bemused that nearly all the best views are smudged by power lines. Or on clear days, by an endless parade of jet contrails streaking in all directions. I wonder repeatedly at how the world must have looked before it was “Settled” and how we have altered it so drastically and so quickly. Small wonder at the disenchantment of the First Nations People.
Finally arriving at the Arizona/Utah border I had to choose a route that lead approximately northwest. With a simple choice at a crossroads I left the natural wonder of the scenery of Kanab Utah behind and drove over yet another snowy pass into the wonderland of Zion National Park. I had barely heard of this place and can only describe it, inadequately, with photographs. I caught an incredible afternoon light and realized that everything was happening in a serendipitous order that makes perfect sense in retrospect, including some very wonderful people I meet along the way.
I’m writing at the moment entirely for my own sake. Truth be told, that’s why most writers write but that’s another story. Any creative effort is an affirmation of life and hope. Home is where the boat is and tonight I’m aboard without even my beloved dog for company. It’s dark out and it is cold. It seeps into the boat and into my bones. I wonder if I feel the cold because I’m getting older and arthritic, or if it is a psychological issue and I have a sense of coldness.
Certainly there was a time when cold was nothing to hold me back. I once hitch-hiked around Northern Ontario job-hunting in January. All I owned was in my pocket and in my backpack. That’s the time of year, in that part of the world, when it can warm up to minus forty degrees and then blow a days-long blizzard. I have interesting yarns about that ordeal and how I lived to talk about it. Let’s just say I truly understand being cold, and being hungry, and feeling utterly alone. Thank God for a few kind people.
I was the guy who always tried to prove he was tougher, be it about cold, or heat, or endurance of long hours, moving heavy objects on my own and generally taking unnecessary chances to prove how manly I was. I should have been dead at least ten times before I was twenty-five… that I’m willing to remember. I didn’t expect or want to live into senior years. Others were too wise to attempt similar feats of stupidity and quietly went about managing their lives and their finances so they could enjoy an easier life time in later years. Of course, I finally understand that I was merely demonstrating a monstrous insecurity. I am now suffering physically and financially for all that younger recklessness. That empathy does not relieve the price I continue to pay for those days. Sadly, those who have loved me have had to share my misery. I will always carry a guilt above those whom I have hurt.
I’ve declared at times that I’m not nearly as afraid of dying as I am of not living. To paraphrase some lines from a movie I recently saw, the protagonist said that there’s a place somewhere between living and dying where some folks get stuck and it’s not a happy place to be.
I know what he means. I’ve also said that the greatest distance any sailor can travel is the six inches between one ear and the other. Tonight I wonder if I have actually made that crossing.
Other quotes have to do with how living one day as a lion is better than spending a thousand as a sheep and how the moment is all we have. Keeping your “Pecker up’, as the British say, is the key to surviving but damn! It’s hard some days. Bad attitude brings bad luck which inspires more gloom until one very quickly finds themselves in a deadly spiral.
I know many other people have bouts of melancholy and regret, especially in winter. I wish I could offer magic words which could be an instant anecdote and at least bring contentment during the dark tunnels of life’s journey. All I can say at this point in my life, when I have more years behind me than ahead, that nothing is forever. This gig we call life leaves the station and constantly accelerates toward an inevitable wreck. The journey becomes a blur. Suddenly events of a half-century ago seem like mere weeks past. One day, somewhere, a clerk asks if you qualify for a senior’s discount. Shocked and horrified you go home and spend a long time peering at the wrinkled physog in the mirror. What a dark epiphany!
Then soon, you resolve that time and tide do not wait. You begin to capitalize by asking for senior’s discounts. Sadly no one asks to see ID. You really DO look that old! But, if you don’t like the look of things today, try missing a few. Sadly one absolute realization that comes with getting older is the value of seizing the moment. Friends and acquaintances start to fall ill and die ever more frequently. Time is of the essence.
I’ve spent the last year with my head down doggedly determined that I will realize my dream…..now. I haven’t yet, but things are a lot closer than if I’d done nothing and yet it has never looked bleaker. One wisdom of becoming an older bull is that you understand how often things look the most impossible just before they begin to fall into place. Sometimes you’ve got to stand your ground.
I don’t need a bucket list; I have the same ambitions now that I have held for the past thirty years. Nothing has changed there. I know I’m missing too many joys of the moment for the hope of delayed gratification. Then I think about the utter waste of abandoning several decades of denial and singular focus. It’s a frustrating balance of perspectives and I wonder if I’ve learned anything.
I had a buddy with whom I learned to fly when we were in our teens. We would regularly try to twist the wings from whatever we were flying, as happy to be inverted as right-side up. Once we returned to the rental base with a two-foot piece of tree-top stuck in the fork of the nose wheel. When I last saw him I was recovering from heart surgery and lamenting about how I’d squandered my life flitting from one adventure to another. He had enjoyed an illustrious career as an airline pilot and had then become a successful businessman. Yet he said he’d trade histories in a minute. It’s the ubiquitous tale of far-away pastures looking greener. He’d had decades of boredom and thought I was the one who’d had all the fun. Go figure!
Well I’m now finishing up this blog on the morning of December 1st. Time is going by so fast I’d best confirm what year it is! Work on the boat progresses according to the weather. A set of folding steps is slowly rising toward the masthead. I go up and dangle in my bosun’s chair whenever it is not raining and two or three more steps appear. I’m almost to the spreaders. It’s a job I’ve been avoiding since I bought the boat and once finally done will be the last of the major projects
The interior in the little Cheoy Lee is beginning to take shape and my teardrop trailer will soon be ready for me to head south. So like the thin light and warmth of a winter dawn, the dream burns on. Best wishes and bright dreams to all.