After a reluctant spring, summer descended like a squadron of dive bombers. We were obliterated. Even my young co-workers staggered about panting. Those working on the docks easily burned from the sun’s reflection on the mirror-calm lake surface as if they were in a micro wave. We were being nuked. Temperatures hovered around and above forty degrees Celsius. I found myself sitting in the emergency ward of the hospital in Cranbrook for seven hours when I thought I was exhibiting a few stroke-like symptoms. I waited that long because ambulances were arriving almost bumper to bumper with heart attack victims due to the heat. I was told, after a series of tests, that I was working too hard in the heat. I knew that. But there’s no fool like an old fool.
Tonight I’m sitting outside of my camper in a sultry wind blowing off the lake. Temperatures have plummeted down to the mid thirties. It feels chilly. The tree tops roar like surf and dust blows past in swirls. I’m loving it. There is always a patina of dust on everything and I remind myself that life in the desert is just like this. Repairs to the camper have stalled, I’ve been too exhausted to do much with my evenings except wait for the temperature to cool enough for sleep and consume every sort of fluid available. And so the summer passes at the moment, one weary day after another. Visitors I was looking forward to seeing are cancelling for various reasons and frankly I am feeling quite low about life in general. This too shall pass.
One of my bemusements here are the folks who come to enjoy the new water park. It opened on July 1st. My employer purchased an inflatable world from a Chinese (of course) manufacturer which was then held up in customs for almost two months. There was much puzzling and re-anchoring and inflating but it finally came together. Skeptical at first I am now amazed. From toddlers in diapers through amazingly obese human apparitions to geriatrics barely capable of walking on solid ground, these folks clamber, crawl, slither and roll along these inflatable floating obstacle courses. They squeal and scream and squeak in a cacophony of unbridled joy. Most are not confident swimmers so they are provided with life jackets. It is delightful to watch as even elderly folks become children again. The old adage about the best amusements being simple things proves itself true.
I can also see that a thriving future business will be tattoo removal. Good grief! Don’t folks realize that those beautifully crafted flowers, dragons, tigers and graphic fantasies will evolve as time goes by. When their skin sags, wattles and wrinkles those tattoos will slowly evolve into abstract patterns and more closely resemble street maps of places like Moscow. Then there are the thong-string bikinis which do nothing erotic or tantalizing fopr the wearer or the observer. Pockety alabaster mounds (both genders) balumping down the dock only confirm statistics about rising Canadian obesity. Clearly this old fart, who is in no way a prude, is missing something about contemporary physical appeals. “Shake it up baby.” What’s white and red and squeals when it gets near water? A Canadian.
By the end of the day some of these creatures have turned a vicious fluorescent pink. They plod up a very steep hill to a dusty yard where their cars are parked with blast furnace temperatures inside. They drive for at least an hour to get anywhere back out toward their world yet next day there are more folks squealing and pink. Word of mouth is an ultimate marketing tool and clearly folks are very happy. Meanwhile the fleet of rental houseboats comes and goes as ever more folks enjoy a unique vacation. I am amazed at how my employers saw this opportunity and have made it work so well. All things are possible.
“Enjoy life. There’s plenty of time to be dead.” – Hans Christian Andersen
A few days ago in mid-afternoon I was kneeling up on the hot aluminum roof of my newly-acquired old truck camper. I was dolloping out roofing tar to reseal a previous repair. The thick black goo had been used previously so there was no choice but to use it again. I thought of how I must look up there, a Fred on a box and came up with various lines about “hot tin roofs.” They were all rude. The roof wasn’t leaking…yet. Wonderfully it is made of a single sheet of sturdy aluminum. But some preventive measures in the heat and dry of late summer seem in order. It’s almost forty years old; a little TLC is due. It’s small and light, and warm and dry. It has a propane cook stove and a furnace! Good enough. There’s no hot tub but sometimes roughing it is just what you have to do.
One of the popular truck campers is called an “Arctic Fox.” I’m thinking of hanging the name on this old beauty of “Fartic Ox” and putting a little sign on the trailer that says, “Feel free to feed the Sasquatch.” Neighbours have noticed the box and say “I see you’re going camping.” Somehow I’ve never considered sleeping in an RV as camping. Camping, when I was young, involved travelling by canoe and sleeping beneath the overturned hull if it rained. My fantasy was a ‘jungle hammock,’ a military surplus item that came with a roof and mosquito netting all around. I’ve just checked, they’re still available.
Many recreational vehicles now have rooms that pop out, automatic levelling devices, satellite entertainment devices which align themselves to the appropriate signals. By the time all the flip-out items have ceased their whirring, and the generator is purring, there is a fair-sized modern home set up in a commercial “campground” four feet away from someone else’s “wilderness” dream. The cursing begins when all the transformer bits won’t pop back into place so you can go “get away from it all” somewhere else. A diesel pickup truck will easily haul it all at 110 kilometres per hour to re-establish the pitchings a few feet from someone else where you can compare notes. It doesn’t much seem to me like a sensible way of reconnecting with the natural world or of “thinking green.” But…no payments until January!
Almost a week ago it was Labour Day weekend. Already we’ve arrived in late summer and the hottest part of it. The weather forecast is for clear skies and temperatures in the 30s. The sunrise was red from all the smoke in the air from as far away as California. There is a 70,000 acre fire burning in the Yakima area. What a blessed thing to live here on Vancouver Island. We made it through the long weekend without any fires here. Last night the upper winds began to move the smoke back to where it came from and the stars gleamed and twinkled. I often go out for a celestial meditation before bed in an effort to put the day’s concerns into perspective. My little woes against the vastness of the universe puts everything in place.
On a clear night, one can seldom look into any part of the night sky without seeing at least one satellite within a minute. Dull or bright they zing over in all directions unnoticed. For a while last night I could see three at once all on different vectors. There are also all those man-made stars in fixed orbit also known as geosynchronous satellites which sit up there unnoticed to our eye. Those ones must really piss off the astronomer who thinks they’ve discovered an unknown star! They are as pervasive as electrical lines or contrails marring a view of the natural world. It’s a sad essay that so few folks notice them. Today’s check says there are currently 2,666 satellites up there. And we thought the beer cans in the ditch were a problem.
Anyway, folks ensconced around their portable campfire beneath a string of patio lanterns, safely inside their electronic mosquito net-bubble (yes really) watching the ‘Simpsons.’ That we all know who the ‘Simpsons’ are underscores the age we live in. We are as oblivious to the geosynchronous satellites relaying our television signals as we are to lost primal skills like melting spruce gum over an open wood fire so we can patch our home-made canoe. I am well familiar with the “Old School” and the non-romance of doing things like using an outhouse at -40°, or making a bed from spruce boughs. I don’t miss it.
While perusing the latest camping gadgets I can across a small portable cooking stove that burns any “bio fuel.” It also uses the heat to charge a lithium battery which has a USB port to run a small light or charge a mobile phone. So now we live in the age of the electronic campfire. When your rocket stove has started a wildfire, you can call to report it if…there is a geosynchronous satellite in place.
Parts of Oregon have now exploded with wildfire. Cities are threatened with devastation. It seems that half of California is in flames, Washington State is in a critical situation and British Columbia is also adjoined to the crisis as part of the Pacific Northwest. Here we can smell and taste their smoke in the air. With the Covid numbers rising again we are all together in living with a sense of tension. What a year!
I’ve been working on the camper in the cooler part of the morning and then retiring to the shady cool inside the house during the afternoon. About 9am today a thick column of grey/black smoke rose into the azure sky then drifted off in the upper winds. Helicopters with water buckets began passing overhead. I feared the worst. A new bush fire or a serious plane crash could look like that. As it turns out a metal recycling yard, a few miles away at our end of our airport, has caught fire. An online news story had images of heaps of burning crushed cars and a mountain of burning tires. It is the sort of fire which is very hard to extinguish and produces a variety of nasty toxins. Ironically the advertisement immediately following the story shows a young father and son cheerily roasting marshmallows over a crackling campfire.
By evening the wind has shifted in our direction and the tang of burning rubber is heavy in the air. You can see it and taste it. There are no hydrants near the burning scrapyard so all water has to be trucked to the inferno. It’s going to be a long night for those fighting the fire and for those with adjacent properties. It will be a long night for those of us trying to sleep downwind. Damn! I miss having a boat.
“Civilization is a conspiracy. Modern life is the silent compact of comfortable folk to keep up pretences.”
I have always wanted to have a boat named the ‘Brass Monkey.’ As I contemplate selling my beloved boat and replacing it with a smaller trailerable boat, I believe I would name it the ‘Brass Monkey.’ I’ve never seen a vessel with that name. ‘Seafire’ was very close to having that handle but fate intervened and she ended up with the name of a previous and beloved vessel. It’s a complicated story best saved for another time. The Brass Monkey fixation has to do with my perverse sense of humour. Over breakfast this morning I mused about a new blog called “Tales Of The Brass Monkey.” It could begin: “Hello my name is Balls; Claude Balls. Perhaps you are familiar with my first novel “Tiger Hunting in Burma.”
“Bah ha ha, I get it, I get it!”
It’s a tired old joke from my elementary school days so very, very long. I recall we could get ourselves doubled over in gales of laughter about ‘Rusty Bedsprings” by I. P. Nightly. Was I ever really that innocent and so easily amused? Such are the weird mental meanderings of a creative old sailor on the Saturday morning of the beginning of a long weekend. It is BC Day this time. Years ago an edict was issued that declared there would be a statute holiday in every month of the year. That’s very civilized I suppose.
It meant moving Thanksgiving from November to October. Halloween was apparently not an adequate excuse for an official day off with pay. I don’t think Remembrance Day should be a legal holiday but there’s no point in blowing against the wind. When you retire, every day becomes a sort-of holiday and all too often you have to grope to remember what day it is. Too soon it will be guessing the month; and then the year. Your existence can become something measured by the space between medical appointments. I’ll tell you right now that I’m becoming increasingly suspicious of the whole damned Western Medical system and wonder about how many Porsche payments I’m helping make.
The weather continues to be clear and hot. There are several forest fires burning on just on Vancouver Island including a local one of over 190 hectares. All due probably to some idiot with a cigarette. So each day is smoky and airless. Last evening, even with hatches open, the boat’s interior was 43º C, that’s 108ºF! I’m painting the boat’s cockpit so for me it is up in the early morning to put the next coat on before the baking sun rears its angry head once again. I’d love an ocean breeze but I’m glad the firefighters don’t have any more wind than the fire itself creates. I know, from younger years working in the woods, what a hellacious ordeal forest fire fighting is. There is no romance in any of it.
Wot a life! I met an old man this morning racing down the sidewalk in his electric scooter. He was resplendent in flowered Bermuda shorts flapping around his skeletal legs which were wrapped up in knee-high socks. He wore thick, huge sunglasses beneath a broad straw hat. A smouldering cigarette was stuck in his pie-hole. He complained about the smoke in the air. How do you respond to blatant idiocy? The smoke is acrid enough but nothing compared to the weekend past when a dock caught fire in Port Mellon over 30 miles away. The choking stench of burning creosote filled the air for most of the day. It is a toxic funk that sticks in your throat and nose, strongly reminiscent of a time when everyone used either coal or wood for cooking and heating and thought nothing of whatever might be spewing from local industrial smokestacks. Bleaach! Despite our local air quality warnings, there are millions of folks on the planet still living daily in far worse air pollution and know nothing different. Oh, the things we take for granted!
Our marina is so crowded with transient vessels this year that member’s slips are being assigned whenever possible. The revenue is most welcome I’m sure as we continue to expand and improve our facilities. Two temporary neighbours this week were tied on either side of the same finger. One, a typical fibreglass trawler, clone was crewed with two pre-geriatric couples. Drinks flowed copiously accompanied with loud guffaws and “Golly-gee, I think we’re having fun” raucous, imposing laughter. I said nothing (because I seem to have forgotten how to have fun.) Their dock mate was a cruise and learn vessel belonging to a lady who has run a successful sailing school on her boat for many years. In the morning she held class in the cockpit and then coached a teenage girl who, incidentally, backed the big sloop out and away; quite possibly for the first time ever. She did a great job. All the while, the trawler’s matrons stood up on their top deck with hands-on-hips, watching and making comments, especially during the backing out manoeuvre. The body language and mindless quips were entirely inappropriate and distracting to the student. Gormless people, finding entertainment with someone else’s dire circumstance, infuriate me. I tried to keep my head down but finally spontaneously offered that the student really did not need an audience. Two blank faces turned and regarded me with the all the deep wonder of pigs having a pee. I know, I’m just a cranky old curmugeon, but the instructor grinned and waved. The next day another guest dumped out the dock’s dog water bucket because he “Didn’t know what it was for.” Later he complained about the purple martins “Picking on him.”
As Jack might say, “Grrrrr.”
For every goof there are also very many lovely people, with gorgeous boats and even some with wonderful dogs along for the cruise. I’m quite proud to be a small part of the Ladysmith Maritime Society which has become an ultimate cruising drop-in spot for vessels from as far away as the bottom of Puget Sound and even Southern California. One appeared the other day with home port displayed as Isle Grosse, Michigan. I don’t know where the boat is really kept but… goshdernit;we’re famous!
At the moment, I’m finishing up the final licks of the face lift on old ‘Seafire.’ The cockpit has lost its grubby tugboat ambience. Now if someone could do the same for me. I’m also working on an engine in a friend’s 1946 Chris Craft. This beautiful old wooden classic is the sort of boat I watched in the harbours of my youth. Whodda thunk that one day, nearly sixty years later….! Actually I do work on these old beauties every once in a while and it is always a bit of pleasure. No computers!
The final painting in the cockpit is now done. That, in itself, feels good. Also, the heat has eased and we have actually had a few sprinkles of rain today. Does this mean we’re on the slippery back side of summer already? Between the showers, the sun breaks out through a brassy pall of smoke. At least we’ve had no fire-starting thunderstorms, here, yet. I might be frustrated with my little life but I’m not bored. Summer wears on.
“Don’t judge other people’s ability by the level of your own incompetence.” … Old Grumpy hisself
At first light the air was cool, pure and sweet. There was a brown pall over Vancouver. I assumed it was smog. By mid-morning a high, thick overcast covered the sky. One could smell smoke. The gloom was cast out from the forest fires burning in the interior of the province. Late afternoon was airless, the sun’s heat was fantastic and oppressive. I recalled cruel children cremating live insects under a magnifying glass. For a moment I felt a sense of smallness. I recalled when, as a young man working in the woods, I would be summoned to fight forest fires. The incredible heat, the smoke, the ash, the spark-laden dust, the long days, the weariness and thirst, the harsh din of machinery I drove, snatched moments of dreamless sleep during the dark hours and the fatigue in rising at first light to do it all over again. I feel that fatigue now but it is because I’m older and perhaps because I worked too hard when I was younger.
I’m on my first time-off from my new job. I’ve commuted home for two days from Comox and don’t feel at all like going back to work. I’ll return in a few hours so I’ll be there in the morning. In my younger years I’d just get up earlier and put in a full day once I arrived. My doctor shakes his head at my determination to keep on chasing an income despite his advise otherwise. Poverty is a hard master. You don’t hang up your debts, or dreams, just because you’ve reached a certain age. I drive north squinting into a copper sun. A fire has broken out up-island near Nimpkish Lake and the smoke mixes with the general funk already filling the sky. I can smell and taste it. It is only the first of August and we could have three months of volatile fire season ahead. We were all dismayed at the long wet winter and spring, it seemed that it had been wet and miserable forever. That seems a distant memory now.
The summer wears on. At 0:600 this the morning the thermometer reads 17 degrees. It feels chilly! The forecast temperature will double later today. In Mexico this weather is what a person goes to enjoy. Working in it at home is an entirely different situation. In the afternoon the sound of singing and chanting carried in from the bay. Eventually over two dozen native canoes passed up into the mouth of the Courtenay River. It was part of an annual event called ‘Tribal Journeys’. Canoes from Puget Sound and southern regions are making their way north in an armada that may have up to 2500 participants. It looked like thirsty work, all that paddling and chanting and drumming. I found the sight and sound of it all quite uplifting. I hope the builders and paddlers of the canoes find empowerment and pride in their grand adventure.
Two days later, before the sun had risen, in the smokey first light, songs and chants carried across the water. Silhouettes of the canoe flotilla appeared and then faded into the blur of dawn as their journey northward continued.
“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”