I’ve often lived where the howl of wolves or coyotes is a regular sound. This morning I sit writing while waiting for the coffee to perk as early dawn softly filters through the trees. The coyotes are there. I love their sounds. Others may curse them but for me it is a song of wildness and freedom that is very comforting. I’m up early so I can beat the heat. In the afternoon the stifling interior of the shelter where I work in a welter of dust and itchy fibreglass is unbearable. Now I sit wearing a jacket. It’s chilly, for now.
Tonight I’m exhausted and feeling like an old man. Somedays it seems extra stifling and tonight, in addition to the dust there is a heavy acrid tang of wildfire smoke as well as a warm and fuzzy aroma from a broken fitting in the septic field. It’s a little taste of hell. Still, we’re doing fine and when I hear stories of more Covid19 outbreaks, lockdowns, droughts, floods and military actions around the world, I know we’re OK. I also am happy to report that my old camper now has a functional water heater. It certainly seems decadent to get hot water out of a tap after many months of heating it in a kettle.
I can also report that due to my contribution, someone in Cranbrook is waking up in clean underwear between clean sheets. I took my laundry to town yesterday and it was promptly stolen from the dryer and replaced mysteriously with someone else’s. The price of replacement bedding and clothing is stellar. I found a few items in the thrift stores and then the box stores but I still paid a small ransom to replace my rags. Although we are in the heat of mid-summer, trying to find summer togs was almost hopeless and so somewhere there may go a naked clown. I’ve got his costume. How about jungle camouflage and plaid? I did find some great deals on parkas! *
My tenure here has descended into a sort of madness which I will not discuss but at least now I’m now doing the work I came to do. I’m fixing boats for my duration here and then I’ll be going on to new adventures. So it’s warm drinking water and tepid beer with dreams of palm trees and cactus. I’ve been pre-conditioned.
On Sunday night I sat outside with the computer when a vicious sou’west wind began to blow. I had sat like an old, panting dog and that wind felt so very good. Pine needles and cones rattled down, then the wind eased as quickly as it had begun. Minutes later a solitary raindrop fell on my bare back; then another. A gentle warm rain began and I sat in bliss with the rain on my skin. I considered running naked in the rain and then I saw headlines in my imagination about the sighting of a geriatric sasquatch. So I just sat and savoured every spatter of moisture on my skin. So simple, so pleasant! I came inside and prepared for bed. The air was cool and sweet and dust-free. I checked the temperature, it was down to 27º C. It almost felt chilly! G’night.
Morning dawns with a low muggy overcast. August 2nd, almost halfway through summer. A first vehicle comes crunching down the gravel road above this little community. Another day begins.
One of my heroes of fifty years ago was a character named Charlie Farquharson who was played by CBC’s Don Harron. This pithy and earthy character wrote a book and produced calendars often punctuated with Astriks as above. They were followed by “feetnotes” and so here are my ass tricks. This morning a co-worker arrived with an armload of folded laundry. Within the stack was most of the laundry I thought had been “stolen”. I was gobsmacked. What the hell? It seemed like a very weird dream. I know I had removed it from the washer and stuffed it into my laundry bag. I used the washroom next door then picked up my bag, tossed it into my truck and headed for town. All I could puzzle out was that some well-intended soul, trying to be helpful, somehow put the right stuff in the wrong bag. Dunno, dunno! That would explain why there was strange laundry in the machine at the laundromat in town and why the review of surveillance video showed no-one tampering with anything. Damn this is confusing. If any four-legged creature wandered out of the woods and began talking to me, I don’t think I’d be at all surprised. Weird! The latest word is that this has happened to other folks here. Apparently we have a prankster. Now I have to go back to that town laundromat and try to retrieve the laundry that had been left there. Good grief! And here I am writing a blog about laundry. Good grief again.
“You see, back when we were all young kids we had these things called imaginations. Some of us still have ’em, and we control our lives much the same way we ruled over our imaginary childhood kingdoms.”
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
Friends report nasty weather in far away places wet and hot, wet and cold,depending where you are. Here on Vancouver Island the weather is superb for the beginning of August, exactly what one would expect. We’ve had a little rain now and then and there is a gentle breeze so the temperature rising through 28° C seemed perfect for a long-weekend Sunday morning. Without a boat, what was there to do but go for a drive? Driving a near 200-mile route in a circumnavigation of Southern Vancouver Island it was soon obvious that Paradise has been fully discovered and over-run.
The small town of Lake Cowichan lies inland on Vancouver Island at the east end of the lake from which it takes its name. The lake, and its sister named Nitinat, almost bisect Vancouver island into two halves before draining via the Cowichan River into Cowichan Bay. The two lakes drain in opposite directions. It is the short stretch of solid land, about eleven-hundred metres, between their head water streams which formally keeps Vancouver Island a single entity. The name Cowichan is an anglicized perversion of the original Coast Salish Quw’utsun which means “Warm valley.” It is lyrical and easy to remember, especially when used so often. The name is synonymous with fantastic handmade native woollen goods as well all the wine now produced throughout the area. I’ve joked that among some of the undulating vineyards here, you can almost imagine you are in Provence.
It was certainly a warm valley today with the truck thermometer peaking at 32°C (89.6ºF) while stuck in the crawling traffic on the main street of the little town. Stopping to photograph the chaos would have just added to the danger and chaos. Folks wandered everywhere and the sights were amazing. Bobbling mounds of human anatomy, apparently held together with stringy bits of clothing, looked absolutely out of place as folks in various states of undress wandered through the swollen traffic of a historic, rustic community. I am no prude, nor a letch, and I’ve long-ago accepted gay rights (I’ve yet to hear of a heterosexual rights parade) but geez people! Obese rights? Bummer!
Rafting down the Cowichan River from town is a summer tradition. You could have walked the river without wetting your feet. It was jammed with flimsy plastic donuts filled with squirming, squealing pink creatures of various shapes and sizes. I thought of spawning jellyfish. There was no place to stop and photograph the incongruous sight. Plastic debris in the planet’s waters is clearly an urgent situation even well inland. There is also probably a carpet of aluminum drink cans on the bottom of the river.
The drive was a frustration of strange driving habits. I coined several terms for the characters encountered along the way. ‘Dufus’ will do to cover them all. Is the plural, Dufi? For some reason, there were repeated near-head on collisions with motorcycles leaned hard over on the wrong side of the road’s curves. Have you ever noticed how folks tend to use a common driving quirk on any given day? Laws of random stupidity were clearly in effect. There is a paved logging road stretching between Lake Cowichan and Port Renfrew which is on the open outer coastline of the island. It can be a beautiful leisurely drive of about an hour. Yesterday’s little trip was not. There is no centre line painted and expecting the next WTF was soon an obvious requirement. It was impossible to drive and also admire the scenic splendour of the route. There was no relaxing. I took no photos.
Every spot providing any access to the clear forest streams was clotted with parked vehicles. Each tiny camping nook held at least one group, all campgrounds were seething with weekenders. It seemed impossible that the backwoods could be so overrun. Botanical Beach Park at Port Renfrew was so clotted with people and parked vehicles that creeping along the access road was a challenge. All this in the name of ‘getting away from it all.’ How I miss my boat! Finally hunkering down on a tiny bit of roadside beach, the Strait of Juan de Fuca was airlessly, flat calm. Very eerie indeed; this is a body of water known by many professional mariners as “Wanna Puke Ya Straight” in respect and dread of its often huge tormented seas, a product of days of usually strong winds against eternal massive tides.
Returning homeward along what were once back roads, one of which, after many decades of use is now blocked, was also hell. More WTF! New routes led through what was once a distinct suburb of Victoria. Langford is now a sprawling, faceless, soulless mess of grey boxes which folks call home and blurs into a megalopic sprawl. Where they’ve come from, and what all the people do here is a mystery to me. There is no fruit to pick, no more lumber to stack, few fish to pack. WHAT do they all do? It would seem that everyone must be hard at it building ever more houses for ever more of the inbound. I am reminded of all those dreary British row houses, but they at least have a bit of character, and a regular displacement of pubs. Here, it seems, the most common vendors of distractive substances are now marijuana dispensaries.
The final leg back to home is the gauntlet of the Vancouver Island’s highway. Even though I drive it often, there is always another new subdivision and even more shopping which has sprouted up like another patch of toadstools. The quaint charm which drew me to Vancouver Island seems lost. Perhaps I am simply jaded, but the swelling population on the south island has precluded what once was. I keep seeing something new and find myself asking, “Hey isn’t that where the old ……….. once was?” Victoria just feels like any other city now. The city’s inner harbour has been mutilated with a monster yuppie yacht marina. Folks in boats of less than fifty feet appear to be an endangered species. There is now a plan in place to ban the ubiquitous horse-drawn carriages. I suppose flowers will be next on the hit list. Or perhaps the Parliament Buildings; a great location for more condominiums. I admit I am a tiny part of the problem and this island is not much like the place it was when I arrived almost four decades ago.
A comment about our drinking water and how carelessly we consume it, I put it together after buying some bottled water to carry in my vehicle. I discovered the water had been bottled in Texas! Of all places! With its dusty aquifers, from where does Texas import water. Sudan? Well, (There’s a pun!) please give it a thumbs up if you like the video at all. I truly appreciate every bit of help.
With a tough enough time selling my own books I seldom flog someone else’s work. However, I have just finished devouring ‘The Devil’s Highway’ by Luis Alberto Urrea. The writing itself is tremendously artful, combining the subject of illegal walk-in immigrants trying to cross some of the most hostile deserts in the world, with the convoluted bumblings of politicians and bureaucrats in both the USA and Mexico. This book gave me a new understanding of the US Homeland Security effort and I am very sobered as someone who likes to walk in the desert. My jokes about ‘Homeland Insecurity’ will be subdued from now on, these folks have a thankless job and their efforts are as much about saving lives of those lost in the desert as about catching illegals. Even if you do not have a fascination with the area, or care anything about it, the work is an absorbing read and one of the best pieces of writing and research you’ll find in a long while. We gringos do tend to take so much for granted.
Today has become a glorious cloudless, hot, calm holiday Monday holiday afternoon. The local British Columbia Day fireworks had Jack the dog in a fury last night. Now all is placid. Traffic on Mad Max Way, aka the Island Highway, seems to be humming along nicely without, for the moment, any chorus of sirens. Is it time to get out there and become part of the problem?
“We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” Jacques Cousteau
It is the second day of July. Last night the holiday fireworks resolved into a mere two huge explosions. Then all was quiet. I hope there were at least a few survivors. This morning it is raining, a beautiful steady warm rain. The doors are open and I listen to the music of water gurgling in the downspouts. There is a lovely aroma of freshness. We need this, desperately. There were a few hours of precipitation last week, the stream beds did not swell at all. Now this. I swear I can almost hear the parched earth soaking it up. More please! This blog will be a simple photo essay about life in my little patch here on Vancouver Island. Rain or sun, bring your hat.
“ For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out. James Baldwin.
Coddiwomple, Old English slang meaning to journey purposefully toward a vague destination. It is also the name of a cute little boat recently arrived on the dock. Of course I had to look it up. It could be the description of a person’s life. Then there’s the timeless oxymoron about military intelligence. Two young men in naval uniforms complete with black life jackets and black crash helmets arrived yesterday morning at the dock in a hefty inflatable boat. When it was time to leave, their outboard motor would not start. I watched the performance which largely involved frantic heaving on the starter rope. This old mechanic finally volunteered to them that for whatever reason the motor was not getting any fuel and that they should check the connections on the gas line. They thanked me and continued to jerk the rope. I couldn’t go have a look, I was in the midst of my final bit of painting. There was prolonged loud discussion with mothership on their vhf radio which descended to a focus on the fuel primer bulb. “No, no, the bulb is still soft.” (It becomes hard when full of fuel and the system is pressurized.) After nearly a half-hour they finally clipped the fuel hose back onto the tank and zoom-zoomed off into the sunrise. Sleep tight, your navy is awake!
I’ve watched folks become infuriated with their dead outboard and pull away on the starting rope until it broke or until their arms nearly dropped off. There’s nothing to diminish your spirits like the sound of the starter recoil spring zlithering and sproinging around inside the engine cowling. Then, finally, it is discovered that all along, the ignition safety switch was off. To further the frustration, it takes someone else to make that discovery. Yep, I’ve done it too. Remember the movie “Sling Blade?” There’s a wonderful scene where the village idiot quietly watches the local lawn mower mechanic fight all day with a dead motor. Finally the protagonist announces that he “Reckons it’s outta gas. Uh huh.” Start with the simple things first.
The painting is now complete on the boat, so instead of having been on the dock at first light to beat the sun, I sit here enjoying the decadence of writing while sipping coffee. Of course, today there is some cloud cover, perfect for painting. You can tell I am not an enthusiastic painter. The secret is in the preparation which can means hours of sanding, filling and sanding. Pull marks from a dry brush or runs from too much paint are the marks of carelessness. Then there are the spatters, especially when applying a dark colour near a lighter one. There is a technique of applying the paint, first by roller then followed by brush, not too dry, not too wet. Painting in direct sunlight is an invitation for disaster, the paint wants to dry faster than it can be applied and there is a sticky mess waiting to happen. Only experience can teach the best method. Then in gleaming glory, the paint begins to dry, all the while attracting all sorts of insects, airborne seeds, hairs and pieces of lint. Finally you peel off the masking tape and…SHIT! It ran beneath the tape. Actually, there is no substitute for good masking tape, which, of course, is the most expensive, but you get what you pay for. I’ve found a product called ‘Frog’ which works really well.
I learned to hate painting when, as a boy, I often made a little cash schlocking white on fences and houses. My passion for painting is right next to mowing lawns and anything involving shovels. Then there’s picking berries. At least there is a reward at the end of the endeavour without any delayed gratification. Jack and I went out at first light armed with a bucket. A light breeze prevented any dew; perfect! Mourning doves wha-coo-hooed while a bumper crop of rabbits kept Jack entertained. I dealt with the bumper crop of blackberries. The first ones are ripening and there will be a harvest that goes on for weeks. I’ve never seen so many.
The biggest, sweetest berries are at the end of the highest thorniest vines, well above where dogs may have peed. Having leathery old mechanic’s hands is a bonus. I hold a smaller cup-sized container beneath the fruit I’m picking and then transfer that, when full, to the bucket. That saves a lot of painful moves among the brambles and speeds up the gathering. There’s your blog-tip from this hunter-gatherer-mechanic. Now as the sun rises and the world heats up, it’s time to head to the boat for some finishing touches. Just another perfect early-summer Sunday on a beautiful Pacific Island.
“We are all the architects of our own despair.” …Jill Bailey
The dog days of summer are over. It is wasp season. The little buggers, drunk on fermenting blackberries, buzz in your face and drive Jack the dog mad. Spiders are weaving big webs everywhere. Young swallows sit on the lifelines around my boat twittering, hovering, preening and shitting in my scuppers. I don’t mind a bit. They’re getting ready for the long flight south and I find marvel in the tenacity of this tiny yet feisty creature. How I want to fly away with them!
It has been a few weeks since my last blog. The days blur by in a grind of stoic effort to get ready for the coming winter. Hopefully there is still a way of getting old ‘Seafire’ south before it’s too late in the season but that leaves me a four to six week window to find the money I need and do the remaining things that need to be done. Whether or not the boat goes south, there are also annual maintenance items to be accomplished before the big wet dark winter descends. If this plan utterly falls down for autumn then I’m scheming how to take a small travel trailer south to Mexico for the winter. I’d leave it there, and maybe my truck, coming home in the spring to pick up the boat. There is an an awful lot of Mexico inland that the average yachter can’t access.
Plan F involves leaving next spring to harbour-hop south until the late summer hurricane season again eases enough to prudently move into Baha. After over twenty years of dreaming and planning it is very hard to resolve myself to waiting another year. I’d really rather get out there and just do it, without even seeing the beach until entering Ensenada, Baha to clear customs into Mexico. My Buddy Jim Poirier, on his Corbin 39, has just made the passage from Vancouver to Morro Bay, in Southern California in 13 days. He’s poised now to enter Baha waters on his way to the South Pacific. I’m very happy for him but I can’t say that his achievement cheers ME up. I’m still here.
For reasons of respect I won’t explain the personal circumstances that keep me tied to the bedpost but they must be resolved before I can leave. Being responsible can be onerous and frustrating but I want no reason that means I must come back. I want to do things I wantto do instead of having to. Carrying this dream alone is a plodding ordeal of ‘I must do’ instead the serependipitous adventure it should be. Well now I’m beginning to whine and that definitely contravenes the standing orders on this little ship. Everything would look very different if I had a little money and only my attitude and persistent determination will change things to full launch mode.
It’s a cool, foggy Saturday morning on Labour Day Weekend. The butter has gone hard for the first time in months. All is blessedly quiet on the white plastic gringo boats. We locals are all counting the minutes until the weekend is over and the summer ‘Cruising’ season officially ends. I know one is supposed to try and love all of God’s creatures but damn! Some of these folks make it bloody difficult! Going about one’s daily life should not be part of someone else’s intrusive amusement. While bent to a very focused task I had one fellow who kept trying to tell me how to insert a screw in a hole!
After several brusk but restrained one-word responses I finally vented and bust forth in full red neck eloquence. His response; “Oh wow!”
I told another guy who was drowning me in free advise that if he “Truly knew that much about what I’m doing, then he’d know enough to shut up and leave me alone instead of yapping at my ass.” I’ve tried to explain to some about the little signs in garages which joke about doubling the rates when customers want to get involved. I’ve told folks that this is “Not an amusement park and just because I look like a clown doesn’t mean I’m here to entertain you!” I try to be a little more reasonable if there are kids in tow but when I look at a man’s hands and see that he has never done a stitch of real work, well, it’s time he tasted a pinch of blur collar perspective.
A couple of years ago, one summer visitor began quizzing me about the wind generator mounted on my boat. I seized the moment. I told him that it was a fan that enabled me to continue to sail when the wind quit. He was impressed and wondered, “What’ll they think of next?”
I know, I know, it’s time I went sailing.
September 1st this morning. Wow! Already! The way time flies it’ll be the 15th by this afternoon. I spent the night in Pirate’s Cove on DeCourcy Island. It was the home of Brother Twelve, an infamous local cult leader and generally slippery character, who lived here in the 1930’s. His old communal farm lives on as a lovely working farm. His group was so bizarre and paranoid that you can still find the remains of machine gun entrenchments in the encroaching woods.(After having spent yet another summer in the marina at Silva Bay I can imagine how he felt.) Last night was, despite a gale warning, absolutely flat calm. It was warm and the sky was crystal clear. The stars filled the night sky and were reflected on the water. There were a few meteorites. Satellites and high-flying aircraft crossed the arcing dome on stately courses. There must have been a festival on Gabriola Island. Across the water came the echoing throb of drumming, all night. It took little imagination to conjure exotic images. The seals fishing outside the reef became crocodiles and the drifting log, a dugout canoe.
I know, I know, it’s time I went sailing.
I chatted up some folks aboard a Banjer 37 in the morning. This, in my opinion, is an ultimate motor-sailor, Dutch-tough and very salty. It turns out to be the very same boat I was bidding on at the time I bought ‘Seafire’. ‘Wanderer’ of the Salish Sea is apparently in good hands and being well loved by Al and Lyndi, two nice people. I’m a bit jealous of their jewel, but happy to say I love my own boat and all her unique quirks.
Home again now in Silva Bay, the long weekend is over, it’s safe to be back. The bulk of the weekend warriors are now gone till next Easter. There is a mass mindset about “Boating Season” which I won’t try to understand and in fact feel thankful for. From now on through the winter, most cruisers will be those with the sea actually in their blood, and will generally be reasonable and interesting folks to chat with. Yes, I’m a snob. But after nearly half a year of again enduring mobs of the nautical wannabes and lookatmes, I’m more than a bit jaded.