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
On the exact day of my sixteenth birthday I took my driver’s exam. I failed. No one ever made it through their first attempt. As soon as possible I took the test again and passed. A friend of a friend loaned me their car, a shining three-year old 1965 cream-coloured Plymouth Belvedere. I remember it clearly. It was beautiful. I already had a car of my own, a 1957 Vauxhall Victor. It was a piece of crap the day it was built and it was a worn and rusted-out old junker when I bought it. I recall that the fenders were rusted through along the sides of the engine hood. The gaps had been filled with steel wool then slathered over with body filler. The whole car was patched like that but it was my first car and I doctored it with deep pride toward the day when I could drive it legally.
The day my driver’s license arrived, in the mail, I loaded the car with my friends and we went for a tour. We had only one bottle of beer between us so we had to pretend to be drunk. That night I wiped out ninety feet of chain link fence and destroyed the car. It was probably the best thing that happened to me. I never forgot the price of a moment’s stupidity. I paid for fence repairs which cost more than the ninety dollar price of the car. I then managed to find another Vauxhall for twenty-five dollars. I already had spare parts. Eventually I had owned a long line of tired old British cars. Most required pumping the brakes vigorously for every stop and often I carried a bucket of used motor oil in the trunk to top up the weary old motors. I worked in a service station so old oil and used tires were always available. To this day, the scent of an oil-burning engine instantly produces waves of nostalgia. But I haven’t had any serious accidents despite a life time driving long distances for business. That has a much to do with good luck as anything else but maybe I learned something that first night on the road.
My first American car was a Buick. It had power brakes. Set belts were still an option and I firmly planted more than one friend against the dashboard with my old habit of pumping the brake pedal. It was also the first vehicle I owned without a hole rusted through the floor. I traded that vehicle off for a 1952 Studebaker pickup truck which had been partially customized with a monster engine and big wheels. I regret ever parting with it and here I am, fifty years later, still buying rusty old trucks. My latest acquisition is a 1995 Ford F-350 diesel crew cab pickup. The thing has the size and smell of a small locomotive. It carries an old Bigfoot fiberglass camper which is the whole point of this endeavour. The vehicle requires a government safety inspection before it can be registered and so the camper needed to be removed. It is a very tight fit and once again there was a dilemma which required some help.
The jacks which lift the camper up for removal and installation need to have the bases rebuilt. The bases were clearly not intended for repeated use. Once again I have another old camper to refit with several projects ahead. The truck is mechanically sound but looks rough which, with the old camper, is perfect for travelling the back roads of the Southwest and Mexico. New trucks and campers are very nice but can easily cost up to two hundred thousand Canadian dollars and all that shininess screams come and rip me off. My rig will fit in with the folks I like to meet. If the camper proves sound enough I’d like to reinstall it on a new 4×4 industrial truck and deck. For the moment, I’m plenty happy to call this my summer home. I’m living in a very inviting piece of the world and I’ll want to do more than spend the whole summer tinkering after days at work tinkering. The lake is rising, the townies are arriving and personal free time is precious.
I’ve been working every day of the week and summer has arrived. It can be bloody hot here especially when there is no breath of wind. Working in the heat and vacationing in it are two different experiences. The temperature inside the camper is still in the mid-thirties at eight pm. I’ve installed some wonderful little fans and this country does cool off nicely once the sun goes down.
A few days further along and finally the old Ford truck is registered into my name and all the convoluted paper work is behind. After two weeks I have wheels again. Whohaa! Now I have to sort out all the new old truck repair issues which are not overwhelming. Hopefully in a few more days work will settle down to a steady dull roar and there will be some regular leisure days to explore in the surrounding woods and out on the lake. Local temperatures are forecast to rise into the mid-thirties every day. I’ll have to learn to deal with sweat in my eyes with a background of happy holidayers and their squealing children. It always pisses me off to endure folks on vacation while I am at work but that is reality. I remind myself that the average Mexican, in example of many countries, does not even have the luxury of imagining a vacation. We are blessed in our corner of the world beyond our comprehension. We even have the option of living in a tent and sleeping on the ground all year round. Not all in our country have that choice. Without our ability to make choices, not much is fun.
“ I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything.” -Bill Bryson
The place on Lake Koocanusa where I now live and work is filled with those noises every morning and evening. There are over two dozen houseboats stored close together in the yard waiting for the return of summer’s high water levels on the lake. The sounds comes from the daily heating and cooling of the pontoons on these boats. As the air inside them expands and contracts, the sides of the huge aluminum containers flex according to the changing pressure. It’s a bit unnerving at first but after a couple of weeks I don’t even hear the daily percussive concert anymore. But I also do not hear sirens, traffic or any other urban din. At night there is complete silence except for the odd calling flock of migrating birds. It is bliss.
Needless to say when the occasional client arrives and cranks up their stereo I feel an instant fury. I don’t understand why folks come here to escape the impositions of their urban home environments and then impose themselves on their fellows. I understand I’ll have to endure this din all the summer long so I may as well learn to dance. Haar! Presently I awaken to the calls of redwing blackbirds, meadowlarks, the chatter of magpies and Stellar jays. Passing flocks of cranes and geese call day and night. Herds of deer graze within a few feet of my camper. My biggest joy has been to see a real mountain bluebird. Those fleeting moments of iridescent blue are indelible, what a fantastic sight. No, I did not have a camera handy.
The weather here is amazingly fickle. It can be warm and calm then raining with a blasting wind and back to the former state of spring all within a half-hour. Deceived by a balmy spring day I headed off to buy groceries in Fernie wearing shorts and sandals but arrived there to find myself in a sleet storm. My fluorescent white legs were brighter than the snow on the mountains and I felt like a complete idiot. I lay awake at night wondering how this old fool ended up here so very far from the sea.
I find the work pleasantly challenging and varied. I may be bent over a boat motor one hour, then doing carpentry work for a while and then perhaps consulting about a fibreglass project all in the same day. I awake in the morning to see if there is any frost then sit with the gentle burble of the coffee percolating and wonder what the hell I’m doing here. Is this the end of the line for me or is it a window to new beginnings? That, of course, is entirely up to me. I’ve just bought a new mobile phone which is an amazing camera as well as a task master of several other abilities. We use our phones as a communication system around the eight acres where we work. To more easily charge the “device” I’ve also purchased a charger which works simply by sitting my cell phone on top of it. No plugs or brackets. It’s magic! I asked the clerk in the phone store if they sold a charger big enough for me to sit on. Struth! I need one.
This anonymous quote was sent to me by a friend. Thank you to everyone for the tidbits you send me. They help.
“The single biggest thing I learned was from an indigenous elder of Cherokee descent, Stan Rushworth, who reminded me of the difference between a Western settler mindset of “I have rights” and an indigenous mindset of “I have obligations.” Instead of thinking that I am born with rights, I choose to think that I am born with obligations to serve past, present, and future generations, and the planet herself.”