Razorbacks And Pit Bulls

Razorbacks and Pitbulls

Country roads and April dust

The mission, which I chose to accept, was to drive to central Alberta and inspect some boats for a potential buyer. I have never before driven through the Crowsnest Pass. It was beautiful and dramatic. The mountains capped with an entire winter’s load of glistening snow towered dramatically. Wildlife bounded all around and driving required open eyes. I emerged to turn north onto highway 22 which leads toward Calgary and all points beyond. I braced myself for the dull prairie drive ahead. I was heading for a town near Red Deer well into the belly of the province. It is a long way and I thought I’d be driving on and on, consumed with white line fever. But I did stop, repeatedly. There are winning photographs everywhere. Eventually you concede that you’ll have to leave most of them behind. This drive must be among the most beautiful in Canada, with the Rockies in the background, peaks peeking up behind the foothills and the rich ranch land in this rolling country. For me, it is the quintessential Canadian cowboy West. Perhaps all those rolling vistas remind me of being out on the open ocean. In any case I was driving in country new to me and I loved it.

Into the mystic brown prairie spring

I finally arrived just before dark at a motel near where the boat was supposed to be and settled in for a night. The long forgotten sounds of a nearby railway kept my weary head awake for a while but those rumblings and hootings are the anthem of the prairies. I drifted off with snatches of ancient cowboy songs about trains drifting through my brain.

A crow’s nest
Which way to the 7-11?

A morning rendezvous lead me up rolling dusty gravel roads to where the boat sat. Water is a far more precious commodity than the copious supplies of oil and gas in this province. I was amazed at how dry everything was for early April. But then, they’re having a drought and I’m a coastal boy. All the dry brown and sepia tones unsettled me but there is a stark beauty everywhere. At the end of a long country road there sat the boat, high and dry, looking incongruous and sad. The young man brokering this amazing find from Lake Diefenbaker in Saskatchewan had it towed to his uncle’s Alberta farm. He had apparently traded it for some Harley Davidson motorcycles and then hauled the old classic the hundreds of miles on a beautiful trailer which had no working brakes and jury rigged tail lights. I commended his temerity and he said that he reckoned folks would be “So amazed at seeing Noah’s ark rolling across the prairies that they’d never notice the trailer.” Uhuh!

The mission: 1999 Trojan 37′ mahogany-hulled former beauty queen. Her lines are still evident but rebuilding her to her former glory would be an expensive career.

The farm itself was a rambling collection of old trucks, farm machinery, a jumble of shipping containers, and a few mobile homes jammed together. The inhabitants I met were a few young men in steel-toe boots and baseball hats who were surrounded by a swirling mob of large pitbulls. Despite those boy’s angst I was easily able to befriend their four-legged pals and soon learned that their “Pig farm” raised giant razorback hogs which were then sold to various groups who liked to release them and then hunt them down. Sport? They are infamously vicious critters, (both the hunters and the hogs.) The boar was easily three hundred pounds and stood staring me down with his tiny pig eyes and clacking his six inch tusks. I asked if I could photograph them and after glances among themselves, the young fellows reluctantly agreed. I was told that they do not go inside the fence with these infamous creatures without a stout stick and someone standing by outside with a rifle. I began to remember the movie ‘Deliverance’ and remembered the part about being asked to squeal. Much to everyone’s relief, including mine, I left. I mused that maybe this could pass for a movie set of a meth lab. The place did not have a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Fat ladies with tiny feet.
They called her Cuddles. I wonder if there are any pig whisperers? Razorback hogs are not known to be good house pets.
A room with a view. This elevator apparently stores barley.

After a sojourn to Calgary to inspect some more boats that day I found myself in Cochrane, about thirty miles to the West. It had been a very long day. The slogan on the community’s welcome sign says “The West as it is now.” That is very sad. Endless rows of enormous shit-brindle brown houses are jammed together in a way that is reminiscent of old industrial English row housing. Eeech! Each house id large and verey comfortable but Geez Louse! There’s a whole prairie out there. There are many long beautiful hiking trails, moose are often seen in local parks, the mountain views are spectacular, but I repeat, eeech! I remember this place as a quaint little old cow town of less than five thousand folks. Now God knows how many people have swelled its borders and continue to infect it like a virus. A bedroom community for sprawling Calgary, the downtown of Cochrane has been made-over with a faux western theme now that lends a Disneyland effect to what was once a real cow town. Now everything is about impressions. Malls with all the box stores, car dealers, industrial parks and pretentious clone-box suburbs spread like cancer across rich farming country.

Big houses on the prairie. Even the lake is man-made.
Yes really!
The gas plant says it all. It was  farm land not so long ago.
This is how I remember Cochrane
A morning view from a dining room. A great way to sit with a morning coffee. Even this sailor found it incredible.
Got it?
Calgary in the distance. It is growing beyond anyone’s belief.

It was splendid to visit with some very dear friends who live in one of those boxes. They, at least, have a spectacular view from their corner lot. The light and the clouds change incessantly. That panorama is mesmerizing but they want to move. Folks in their area have an aggressively friendly manner. They peer into windows as they walk by and wave at you inside. They lean over the fence and gormlessly speculate on what my friends are doing in their own yard. Everyone means well I’m sure, but it’s hard to live with after a while especially if you treasure your privacy.

After a wonderful visit it was time to move on. My truck was reloaded, final hugs and promises were made. The starter on my truck decided to expire right there in their driveway. My finances are tight and it was certainly not what was needed but instead of being parked in a distant backwoods mud puddle, or a razorback hog farm, there I was on a dry concrete slab, among friends, in town. Their very gracious help allowed me to make repairs right there in the driveway. By that time late in the day they were stuck with me for another night. You’ve got to wonder how the god’s minds work. I’m not complaining. Thank you so much Ann and Randy.

The next morning I sallied forth with a few days to point my cameras at whatever I liked. And so I have. Eventually that day I parked on a level patch within the void between an intersection between two gravel country roads. These roads are smoother than many paved ones in BC and the locals hurtle along them at amazing speeds. They’d slow right down to ponder the spectacle that I must have presented. “Git the shotgun Doreen, there’s a stranger squattin’ down on the corner of Seemore and Didless! Dang tourist I reckon. Need to run him off afore more turn up. Goldang it anyhow.” I slept in the camper feeling as if I were in a boat, the wind buffeted and moaned all night. In The morning greeted me with a skiff of snow and dramatically changing light. It was wonderful.

A room with a view. Note the windmills in the distance.
Morning!
A sailor is called in Longview Alberta

I ambled along the back roads in a sort-of homeward direction contentedly taking photos and chasing windmills. This is a notoriously windy area and there are spinning windmills in all directions for many miles. Don Quixote rides on!

The purple towel hung by the front gate whenever her husband was away on another trip. A small store converted to a tiny downtown home.

Throughout the day, several snow squalls blew out of the north. In one place I hiked a kilometer from the truck to video a row of whirling windmills. I returned to the truck as another vicious squall struck and realized that I’d dropped my glasses, somewhere. I hiked back, bent into the wind and worried they’d be covered in the pelleting snow. Exactly as far back as I had first gone, I found them winking at me.

After one final stop in Pincher Creek I drove westward looking for a good place to park for the night. I’m writing this near noon of the next day parked beside the CPR mainline in Crowsnest Pass. It has snowed several inches overnight and more flurries continue. I’m in no hurry.

The tin yurt. a herd of white tail deer watched from from the distance beyond the aspens.

I’ve edited my heap of photos and videos and sit writing while wondering what to do with the remains of the day. Perhaps I should drive back up the hill to the highway before it snows more. Did I mention that it is April eleventh?

I have far too many photos for one blog so the next few will be a series of photo essays. I will be able to fill my evenings posting them while I settle into my new fate at Lake Kookanusa. Happy trails indeed.

The way we were
CLOSE THE GATE!

Instead of my usual ending with a quote here is a link to the time-worn sound of Wilf Carter singing ‘Springtime In The Rockies.’ It’s corny, but Wilf was a father of Canadian country music and his songs are the sound of a life much simpler. I, for one, miss it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpPIDiUt2ec

The Ides Of Marches

On the road to Tonopah Arizona. I wonder how the weather is there today.

Well there’s my tired clichė about the beginning of March. It can go right on the shelf beside the lamb and the lion, and oh yeah, the groundhog. Spring must be coming. Herds of dock inspectors roamed the marina yesterday, peeking into windows, thumping hulls and scanning boat rigs. After empty docks all winter, they’re back. It is nice way to spend some time on a sunny day, drifting and dreaming. Despite my despondency about parting with my boat, I too savoured the warm sunny day and I tried to see the world through the eyes of a landlubber. Like the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, winter still holds Vancouver Island in its icy grip. We do spells of clear skies, there is a little snow melting during the day and I did see some snow drops growing among the bushes. Other years there have been daffodils at the end of January. Both scenarios have the doom-gloomers declaring clear evidence of global warming. I’ll leave them to sort it out. And yes, I am aware of all the gasoline I burned on my recent trip.

There will be an incredible flower show in the desert in a few more weeks. I want to be there.

Of doom and gloom, the final transaction for the sale of ‘Seafire’ is a week away. I have spent days unloading the boat, one groaning, squeaking wagon-load at a time all the long way up the dock and ramp. Every time I have moved off of a boat I have been amazed at the “Stuff” a person accumulates. Now I’m giving my beloved her final scrub, removing winter’s grunge. And we all know that the deal is never done until it is done. The suspense is killing me. Oddly, there are two new inquiries, one of which involves delivering her to San Francisco, but truth be told, I am beseeching the gods for a last minute miracle which will allow me to keep my wonderful boat and travelling companion of so many miles. We have endured a lot together and I shall sorely miss her, and the whole idea of her, when the final day comes.

I have also decided to sell my old van. Wanna buy a camper van? It is a faithful little old bus but I know what I need now so I may as well clear the table and start over. I see other people settling into a comfortable retirement and the notion of a new beginning seems odd at my age but life is an adventure. I remind myself of Francis Chichester, who well into his seventies, and fighting cancer, set sail alone on an incredibly difficult-to-manage yawl ‘Gypsy Moth IV’, travelled around the world and then wrote his memoirs. Then a dark monkey on my shoulder asks, “So what’s your point?”

It can certainly be tough to stay positive and buoyant. On occasion I’ve let it slip that I have lived with clinical depression of all my life. I’m not complaining, just explaining. It has certainly been no sleigh ride and there are times when enduring another dreary day seems absolutely pointless. Being a blue-collar character I have lived in a world where such a thing is never admitted or discussed. That I live into “full maturity” (how’s that for a positive spin on ‘pre-geriatric’?) is, I think, a positive and happy story. On my recent trip I met inspiring people who deal with many challenges which would shatter others. Their life-force is a positive radiation and a wonderful influence which helps inspire their fellows forward. I consider how folks live elsewhere and marvel often at the obvious poverty and dreariness and wonder how people live a life which, to me, appears unbearable. There are secrets and courage which I do not begin to understand. As bleak as I’m feeling these days, I am struggling to finish reading a book called “The Bookseller of Kabul” by Asne Seierstad. It is an amazing inside look at the everyday lives of Afghani people, incredibly well-written and depressing as hell. The normal life of these people, especially the women, could make a stone weep. Their lives can only be endurable because they know nothing else. Are our expectations the root of our unhappiness?

I may be a creature of the sea but I left a piece of my heart at Baboquivari and in the desert . I will return.
I think I left a wrench here. I’m going back to find it.

I also marvel at the new things I see. In the desert, with the eyes of a newcomer, and a sailor, I saw flora and fauna which survive and thrive in incredibly harsh conditions. There is a reason for life to go on against massive odds beyond my comprehension. A joy which helps life make sense and have purpose is seeing those things and realizing that we too have a place in those circles, even if we don’t understand the total sum of the all the parts.

Stuff! It’s all just stuff. As much a personal temple as ‘Seafire’ has been, it is just stuff and there will be new pleasures in the future. The trick is finding joy in the moment. Belongings should never be a measure of who we are.
This delightful image was made and provided by my dear friend Kerry.

Giving up my boat is a step forward. While it feels like an ending, I know it shall be the beginning of a whole new set of adventures. Seafire Chronicles will continue to be posted under the same name. Comments from readers tell me there is value in what I do and in response, the sense of mission that I am afforded, in part, by this blog helps carry me forward. To give is to receive. Thank you. I often use the Lord Nelson quote, “Ships and men rot in port.” Staying busy keeps me alive; I subscribe to the mantra of “use it or lose it.” Some of my busyness will be to continue to hone my video-making skills. The first video from my trip is now posted on YouTube. It is a simple short clip made with my cell phone and a very good essay on the winter we’ve had. Here’s the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REe71VHzJxU See ya in the movies.

A storm always ends. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Remember that happiness is a way of travel, not a destination.”

Roy Goodman