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
The day begins black as inside a bear’s belly. Dawn crawls out of bed one toe at a time. It’s like that a few days before winter solstice when there’s a forecast of another imminent “atmospheric river” which will bring an increasing deluge through the weekend. The forecast contains a “Special Weather Statement” warning of extreme wind and rain. I have the engine partially apart in the ‘Hemoth at the moment and will not work in a winter storm. I’ve done that all too often for a living and this job may have to sit and wait. There has been an exhaust leak and now a fuel leak. That demands I disassemble the fuel system and the turbo charger and finally a part of the exhaust system.
It is like doing brain surgery through the rectum. Assembly A’s removal requires the extraction of unit B which needs A to be out of the way first. Then item “F” appears. Add 25 years of exhaust heating and cooling it becomes a Rubic’s cube with dark squares. That used to be called “Catch 22.” I can’t find my magic wrench so I buy a few others, cut them up and modify them. Often, only another quarter-inch of space would make the job so easy! Meanwhile everything is covered in a thick frost which will dissolve once it begins to rain. Christmas cheer? Bumhug!
This old mechanic offers up timeless curses about the engineers who design this shit and have, apparently, never held a wrench. Then I curse my hands. They’re arthritic and clumsy from doing this sort of work over a lifetime. I spread a tarp beneath the project to catch the things I drop.
Finally I can see the vague silhouette of a tree against the sky. It’s time to let old Jack take me for a shuffle before I crawl back under the truck’s hood. I’ll go back to work like a three-legged dog trying to make love to a greasy football. Retirement! One of my subtle pleasures is to sit with my morning coffee and do something for my next blog. It gives me a sense of accomplishment early in the day and thus fulfilled I go on to other endeavours. Then I’ll see how long I last under the hood until that cold winter rain soaks me from the arse down and eventually sends me packing off for a hot shower and dry clean clothes.
We shuffled our way around the dog park. Jack left some splendour in the leaves which I promptly collected in the ubiquitous plastic dog bag, grateful for the hand warmer. Mornings like this remind me of the North Sea in this season. Brrr bloody brrr! To my wondering eyes old ladies began to arrive in a lower parking lot. They were clad in blankets and housecoats, bare-legged in wading shoes. I was stunned to see that they were hobbling briskly toward the beach. In moments these senior girls were frolicking in the water. I learn later that they do this every morning! You wouldn’t get me in there to my ankles…wearing boots! I’d go in a boy and come out a girl. Whoooo! I can only admire them. Of course, I’d left my mobile phone/ camera at home. (That underscores my enduring admonishment to always have some sort of camera along.) Well, while those Viking daughters now sit by someone’s crackling fireplace, or perhaps in a sauna, sipping fish eggnog and laughing raucously at their own bravado, I’m going up the hill and under the hood. Hand me that wrench please.
“If the road is easy, you’re likely going the wrong way.” ― Terry Goodkind
Here I sit, a steaming mug of coffee beside me as I begin to write. I am in my camper, the “Hemoth”, in a friend’s backyard on Gabriola Island, visiting old haunts and friends. This is yet another blog in which I mention the rain. The next “Atmospheric River” arrived in the night. The rain drums a wild fandango on the camper roof. I lay up in the bed snug and warm, cozy in the result of all my efforts. The new mattress is very fine, the furnace works like a good one should. I looked out through the now not-leaking windows at the thin grey dawn and went to the brand-new toilet. Then it was time to light the new-used galley stove and perk a pot of coffee. My day can begin. Sheer decadence!
This island was my home for a few years. I worked in the local shipyard and have wonderful stories, not all happy, about what I can look back on as the end of an era. The restaurant has burned down, the shipyard is closed, any hope of reviving the wooden boat school is long-lost. Rumours of an ancient Indian curse on Silva Bay ring true. I’ll meander around the island and then hopefully catch a ferry back to the big island. There’s been a crewing problem on the ferry due to a shortage of Covid-vaccinated personnel and several sailing have been cancelled. Like a turtle with its home on its back I’ll be fine, the old man who lived in an egg.
Home again, checking my email, I come upon the following ad from someone selling insurance. “Burial coverage that lasts a lifetime.” It’s a lugubrious mix of words which can be interpreted a few different ways. I wonder if the ad-writer woke up in the middle of the night realizing their gaff. “We’ll cover your ass.” “Out of luck, you’re dead.” It will be hard pulling your foot out of that one. Thanks for the humour!
Sometimes the gods send you an angel. Today I was tinkering on the ‘Hemoth’ where it sits in our storage yard on the back alley. I was about to drive away when a senior in their small enclosed electric scooter trundled up the alley, effectively blocking my exit. I sat and waited, allowing them time to clear the alley without my imposition behind them. Finally I idled up the alley as slowly as I could but there was the little red cart blocking the route. I sat mumblefluxing to myself about how to deal with the situation. The occupant sat inside the cart’s plastic enclosure peering back at me as if she wanted me to pass her. Finally she dismounted and came back to the truck. She needed help. Her battery was dead and she asked if I could tow her home to a senior’s housing complex two blocks away. Of course I would.
I secured a stout thirty foot marine mooring line to the front of her tiny buggy and we set off as slowly as I could. Up the hill, out onto the street, around another corner, further up the hill, around another corner. We arrived without mishap. I then pushed the cart by hand as she steered the remaining distance to her parking spot at her front door. All of the dark imaginings about what could have gone wrong on our wee jaunt vaporized as she introduced herself. Loriki was a very old tiny Japanese lady who was utterly charming. Jack was eager to meet her which in itself is a huge accolade. I gained a friend and feel blessed to have lent her a hand. Meeting her made my day. And to think how I could have bulled my way past her and left her to fate.
Kindness is a selfish thing, your reward is always bigger than your offering. I keep smiling at the image of my big lurching camper truck towing this lady up the street at the end of a long rope. There’s a cartoon there.
Two days since I began this blog the lid was jacked off another grim grey dawn. Another atmospheric river flows over us and rain pizzles down without stop. Jack’s outdoor water dish is full and overflowing yet again. As a former pilot from the old days when meteorology was a serious subject (right behind learning Morse Code) I was required to know about warm and cold fronts, trowels, troughs, high and low pressure systems, cloud types and what they meant in forecasting, isobars and dew points. Never among all that terminology did the term “atmospheric river” appear. It seemed logical that we knew how to look at a barometer and thermometer and what sort of clouds were blowing which way, then be able to predict what the weather was up to. Now we press a button and it is instantly available and explained. We can also turn on the tely and let some young nubile in a tight dress verbally machine gun a continuous sentence about atmospheric rivers. She’ll use words like “Prowr” and other illiteracies. Until recently, her term for “Atmospheric River” was “Pineapple Express.” I guess folks just aren’t content with the twelve month predictions in the Farmer’s Almanac anymore. And do you remember the catgut barometer where the little Swiss milkmaid came out of a tiny Alpine cabin for fair weather and the old man came out for the shit days? Yeah, I guess I AM that old.
Next day another atmospheric river is meandering overhead. Through the day the rain steadily increases in volume and after nightfall, about 4:30 pm, a fog begins to rise. I need to nip down to the grocery story, the main street is resplendent in Christmas lights. The usual number of moron motorists insist on driving around with retina-burning hi-beam headlights. I am half-blinded as I creep through the four-way stop. Suddenly, immediately in front of the car’s hood, a black-clad, black umbrella toting pedestrian has appeared. How she got out there from the curb is stunning. Yes, I stopped in time. I gave her my best old sailor roar but she was adamant about her rights. I’ve said it before and damnit I’ll say it again. We see it daily on our roads. We have devolved to the point where the primal instinct, fear, which has kept our species alive for a very long time, has eroded severely for many people. Perhaps there is a FEAR App. for that ubiquitous cell phone. Beep, beep, termination imminent!
The premium app allows you to choose a celebrity warning voice. How about Porky Pig? “Tha, tha, that’s all folks!”
Black Friday Weekend huh?
Sunday morning, the rain continues. Monday, it’s stopped for a while. Jack and I are going for a walk.
Three blogs back I made the heinous error of describing the Farsi language as Parsi. Just one letter out but it is like describing Chinese as Japanese. I owe an apology to a very large ethnic group.
My second brainfart (to which I’ll admit) came today when an email arrived to which I stupidly responded. It was a scam. Now I am having to undo my knee-jerk foolishness. It is a time of year when we are all probably expecting a package and with current shipping issues, a damaged label seemed quite possible. They needed $3 to relabel and redirect the package. The scam really comes when you’ve given them a credit card number which is then reported to be not working and do you have another one you could use? Dumbo finally smelled the coffee and reported his stupidity. A new credit card is in the mail. I know, I know …as smart as he looks! You’ve been warned. Interestingly within hours, several ‘stranded package’ scams appeared. Scams must work, they keep coming. I’m not the only fool out there.
“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” Plato
Well we’re all trying to smile and grin and bear it, or is that bare it? I once heard a situation described as hanging off a cliff with people dancing on your fingers and peeing on your head. Don’t look up!
More than a few of us know the feeling and there’s not much comfort in realizing we’re not alone. It’s raining and sleeting today, one of those miserable dark damp days when a warm sandy beach with palm trees seems to only be a distant fantasy. In the newsletters I receive from places like that, there are gringos like me down there complaining about Covid travel restrictions and how they are stuck down there. Well, bitch on! They want to come home, I’m willing to trade places if that helps them.
No civil war II has broken out south of the border, yet, and it seems, for the moment all is calm, all is bright. Ain’t it nice? On that note here are local recent images taken in the ongoing pursuit of finding beauty where we’re planted. Look all around, we live on a beautiful planet. So far, it’s still free to appreciate things.
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
It’s January 10th, already! My little life here on Vancouver Island is very quiet and that is not necessarily a complaint. I sure ache to feel the caresses of fragrant warm breezes fluttering the napkin beneath my sweating margarita and then whispering off through the cacti above the beach. Certainly my arthritic old bones also ache from the chill damp of another coastal winter. But considering all the other places where I could be dying of some terrible affliction I believe I am blessed to be in one of the best spots on the entire planet. And if I have to wrap my ugly mug in a mask on the odd occasion that I have to be among the public, it’s a small price to pay to not be quarantined inside my home. My reclusive lifestyle has not changed much.
A friend in France, each time she needs to go out for a few groceries, even to walk the dog, is first required to apply online for a permit number to allow her an absolute minimum of time within the parameters of the described activity. If an official catches her without her specific number, or outside the area as described, it’s essentially off to the glue factory with you. It is nowhere near that here…YET! But there are folks working on making it so.
We’ve all heard some of the tales from those who were either civilians or military folks during WWII. This pandemic is a picnic in comparison. No one is dropping bombs on us or trying to starve us. If our expectations and notions of entitlement were not so ridiculously high we would be a lot more content. “WHAT? You’re out of mint chip dip!!” If you don’t like today, try missing a few.
So far as comments on pandemics and politics, I’ll let the following quote say it for me. I’ll just post some local photos of daily life around Ladysmith.
“Due to travel restrictions this year, the United States had to organize a coup at home.” Martin Mesquita Watguri Hardie
Friday the 13th. The weather forecast shows the date and a thick grey cloud with heavy raindrops. That seems about right. At the moment however there is an attempt at a sun rise. A thin brassy light reflects from the neighbour’s windows and that damned insidious street cleaning machine is out there growling away again. It’s on a fourth pass now. The wind will blow everything back in short order. A day later the weather is the same with a cold rain in a gusting wind like only it can in November. By the following Tuesday when I finally post this, not a lot has changed.
There are two leaks in the camper which have eluded me despite all my attempts to find and cure them. All that was left to do was to remove the inside panelling and insulation. What the hell? There was some faulty wiring to trace as well. Between the inner skin and the outer I found some soggy insulation. I’ve removed it. The taking apart is done…I hope. It has rained sporadically for the past few days, the kind of cold rain that can leak into anything. I just checked; there is no sign of moisture! Grrr! I knew of course that this little old box would require some attentions but I had no intention for it to become a career. To keep things in perspective I know that there are plenty of people who’d love to have this one as a home, leaks and all.
I managed to strip out the final bit of forward interior in perfect co-ordination with a horrific rain storm which went on and on. The problem is now that the ambient humidity inside is so high that condensation forms instantly on the bare cold metal skin. Still I tracked down, or up, the source of ingressing water. In one corner just below the roof I found a mysterious cluster of tiny pinholes. I’ve concluded the cause is electrolysis, something I’m all too familiar with in boats. When dissimilar metals are placed in contact they begin to produce minute electrical currents known as a galvanic action. Add an electrolyte like water and an insidious corrosion occurs. Introduce an electrical current and things become really weird. What I found was that when the camper had been built small galvanized pieces of metal had been used to reinforce corners of the frame. So, combine thin aluminum, steel, zinc, 12 volt wiring, possibly lead-based paint, 40 years of time and copious rain. Bzzzt! Still learning after all these years!”
Just off the main street in Ladysmith sits an old building just behind our tiny museum which is a remnant from the town’s rustic past. It is flat-roofed and covered with a faux brick heavy tarred material which I recall was named ‘Insul-brick.’ It was an old store of some sort and for a long time displayed a faded sign that said ‘Food Bank.’ It has been boarded up for a very long time. On one corner of the building is a small porch built into the structure. A homeless person moved into that space and set up camp under a green tarp. They have been evicted and the empty porch is now caged in. A tent has been erected in the back of the soggy lot.
If I could wish myself into a larger fibreglass camper I would donate this one to someone who needs a shelter. In the meantime I’ll keep this old tin and stick box as a sort of earthquake plan. Isn’t that all we need now in winter on top of Covid?
I’ve just returned from a quick trip to a building supply store. As I drove out through the parking lot a character leapt in front of me oblivious to all except to be fumbling with their covid mask and text messaging in hand. I managed to stop in time; they never noticed. What’s that term? “Eyes wide shut.” We’ve even abandoned the primal self-preserving instinct of fear. “The Lemming Syndrome.” I’ll get back into my box.
“I’ve decided that a sign of aging is losing the ability to be amazed. That amazes me.”
I’m starting this with the rain drumming on the metal roof of the camper. It has slowed enough for the moment to allow me to hear individual drops. This morning I first awoke to hear the wind roaring in the tree tops hundreds of feet above me. The din was like a passing high-speed train. The trees are massive ancient Sitka Spruce, already venerable when the first of us Caucasians stumbled into these swamps hundreds of years ago. The rain now crashes down again in barrel-sized dollops. Our shelter shudders under the assault. I worried about a tree falling on us but realized they had withstood far worse weather in the hundreds of years they had grown here. Many of the bases are more than ten feet across. It will take more than my dark karma to bring one of these down. The notion of a crackling campfire is a mad fantasy.
We arrived the day before in pristine weather. I’d wanted to find a place called Palmerston Bay but on arrival discovered a simple ending of a logging road. The slippery scramble down and back from a rocky, surf-bashed shoreline would have been too much for old Jack and so we retreated back the way we had come. The described “recreation site” proved to merely be a wider spot in a muddy trail surrounded by old logging devastation, not a place to cheer my soul. Eventually we arrived at San Joseph Bay. I hadn’t been there for over thirty years and recall being able to drive almost to the beach. Could my memory be wrong? The developments since made by the Provincial Parks people are impressive. Their pathways are like narrow highways and meander through the rain forest in a circuitous route which is far longer than I recall. It is a beautiful walk and Jack bounded ahead, full of enthusiasm for what lay around each corner ahead. I thought I’d have to carry him back but how could I impose on his joy? He was exhausted on the return walk but soldiered along determined to stay on his own pins one staggering step at a time. What an amazing character! After a long sleep he seems none the worse for wear and is, as always, eager for the next adventure.
The next night we are well on our way toward home. The rain is incessant so again I sit with Jack in our little box. The winter weather has certainly made it seem much smaller when forced into confinement. Jack is cuddled against me as I sit on the edge of the bed and write. The blasting rain has revealed leaks which will, of course, be addressed once home. It is damp enough for the wallpaper to be separating for the inside panels. I curse myself for my restless nature and being up here in these conditions. Of course I look forward to going to drier country so these test runs are necessary to ensure there are no nasty surprises ahead. Tonight we sit fifty feet from the high water mark on Johnstone Strait. The wind and rain are increasing again but we are warm and dry with full tummies. Who could ask for more?
Driving southward, trees with leaves began to appear and now back in Ladysmith it seems we’ve regained a month. Only two and a half degrees of latitude on an island of rugged mountainous shorelines makes a huge difference. This massive rock angles out into the North Pacific and catches hell from a very long way off. Wintry wind and rain have followed us home but as soon as repairs are made to truck and the old man box, Jack and I will be off to some local remote nook. Covid may have us trapped here, but I know the Snowbird flocks have filled every possible private campground on the island. It’s clearly a great place to be, especially with a civil war looming just south of the border.
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ― Albert Einstein
It happened yesterday. After empty many threats it snowed.Only about a foot, but plenty enough to seize up our coastal sensibilities. Several feet of snow in one night many other places I’ve lived did not slow anyone much but here on the coast even an inch of white grease can be a disaster. We had almost a foot! I’ve also finally had my hernia surgery. Whoo Haa! The surgeon’s office eventually wearied of my incessant inquiries, “Are we there yet?” I know that if I had not made myself a pestering nuisance I’d still be waiting. No big deal in the course of the world but once again I’ll soon be able to hike and clamber. No more he-man lifting, I’ve finally figured that part out, but look out desert here I come. This time I can only say nice things about all the staff at the Nanaimo Hospital. They were pleasant and kind and had me out of there in five hours.
All my other experiences have been dark in that beige institution, with surly uncaring staff and a refusal to be respectful including not letting me know when they would let me go home or even feeding me some of that dreadful hospital slop once a day. So, it is very nice to have kind things to say for a change. I could not go to work there regularly for twelve hour shifts without sunlight or fresh air and dealing with all those anxious patients and family who are miserable with their personal issues. Kudos to folks who do a very necessary job and manage to stay positive and apparently happy. There are many kinds of courage I do not possess.
Now all I have to work out is how to deal with the hand transplanted onto my forehead.
Actually everything is fine although the swelling and bruising look like the Taliban had a go at me below the belt line. This too shall pass and soon I’ll be leaping over the outhouse like a spring goat. Well actually maybe I’ll probably be an old goat with his horns stuck in a board! It is certainly nice to have most of this behind me. Well actually it’s in the front but…I know, I know, too much information. At the moment it hurts like hell but no pain, no gain. Right?
Of course to bracket my little event it has snowed steadily for a day and night. Shovelling over and over was painful but there will be no more of that for a good long while. There are several neighbours here who have serious health issues and I felt obligated to make sure there was access to their front doors. Now they can look after me. Yeah right! Just sitting here at my desk is a teeth-gritting endeavour right now so I’ll have to behave; for the moment. I lay on the couch with Jack cuddled up watching the snow and rain blow by. Not much good at being a couch potato I have to keep telling myself “Down boy, down!” It will take months until all is fully healed.
And so that’s the shituation. Not much adventure to describe and I’ve promised to keep my political rhetoric to a dull roar. The local media seems fixated about what Prince Harry is going to do for a living once he moves here. The poor sod is down to his last thirty-nine million pounds. Maybe I could get him to come out and collect discarded beverage cans, an environmentally friendly statement old chap! Then there’s that old Harry Chapin song about the taxi driver with an opening line of “How are ya Harry?” Could he stay on the correct side of the road long enough to acquire his class 4 license? Frankly I don’t envy that couple without the bliss of anonymity and, granny is going to be too far away to babysit. Life’s tough.
“How horrible is man’s condition! He does not own one happiness whose source does not lie in ignorance of some kind.”
“It sure is pretty crazy in our part of the world right now. Our town was in the thick of it earlier in the week and is on alert again today but the closest active fire is 10k away. Very thick smoke.
There’s a wind change due in a few hours that will be good for us (not for others unfortunately). The size of the burnt and burning area in SE Australia is phenomenal!”
This is a quote from an e-mail I exchanged with some friends in Australia. I can’t imagine how it must be wondering how a wind shift will affect your fate. These friends live in Lakes Entrance, not far along the coast from Mallacoota where people had to be evacuated by boat to escape becoming crispy critters, just like millions of their wild creatures have. There was a time when fighting bush fires was, for me, part of being a logger and it does not take much to remember the feel of choking smoke in my throat, the grit everywhere, the incredible searing heat, the ominous apprehension, but I cannot imagine the apocalypse so many folks in areas of Australia are facing. The death toll is rising but I am actually amazed so few have lost their lives. I hold a healthy mistrust of all things media but I know the images we are receiving cannot begin to portray the horror of it all. The friend who wrote the above is a cool character at any time but he writes of fires being a whole ten kilometres away with that old Aussy tone of “No worries mate.” I remain worried. Bugga!
For those “doomers” who seize on this dark drama as proof of global warming, I am not convinced with your conjecture. There is certainly a human-caused factor in this but it is a drama which nature has repeated thousands of times in the planet’s history. It is in fact nature’s way of refreshing itself and the flora and fauna will return vigorously. It is hard for us, in the face of such a conflagration, to grasp our smallness within the natural order of the universe. Life will go on.
Well, here on Vancouver Island things are very different. We are not worried about wildfires at the moment. All any of us have anywhere is the moment and today, here at home, there is a tiny sniff of spring in the air. This hour is sunny, almost warm, buds are swelling, some blooms are peeking out. We know it won’t stay, the pounding bouncing rain will soon be back, it may even dump several feet of snow on us in one night as it has before, so we’ll seize the moment and enjoy it while it lasts. The nice thing here is that if you truly have an urge for the white crud you can go up any mountain right now and fill your boots. In the afternoon irregular bursts of thick rain fell on us like truckloads of splintered glass. Despite my heavy winter raincoat I sported my big black umbrella, like a real old salt; “Popkins the Sailorman.” The problem with that coat is that it funnels rain down onto my knees and I don’t really care about being tough anymore. Jack plunked happily through the puddles, savouring the moment as usual.
A week ago I enjoyed a splendid dinner with family whom I have been long overdue in visiting. Seeing myself as the ancestral storyteller I recounted some history of my mother’s second husband. He was a very quite man whom we all knew was a WWII veteran and did not talk much about his wartime experiences. After he died, I met his kid brother who gave me the rest of the story. His account was about young Jim’s experience in Dieppe as a member of the South Saskatchewan Regiment. He had personally killed German soldiers by hand then went on about the business of staying alive in battle conditions. I believed it was an embellished yarn and clung to what little I been personally able to coax out of the old vet.
Part of the brother’s story had Jim being named “Silver Stuart” and that there had been a Life Magazine article about him and his bloody feat using his personal battle cry of “Hi Ho Silver,” something he had acquired as a boy listening to the ‘Lone Ranger’ on the radio. I eventually found the entire Life Magazine archives online but could not find any cover stories about what I sought. After my tale at the dinner table my nephew later managed to find, within ten minutes, (and much to my considerable admiration) a story about the Saskatchewan Regiment in Dieppe. There was a paragraph about “Silver Stuart.” There has to be more to the story which was not written. The accolade of respect which Jim carried had been bestowed by his fellows before the war correspondent had written his article. What intrigues me is a photo that accompanies the article. I’ve spent hours carefully comparing photos of the Jim I knew to the photo of a young soldier looking into the camera on a Dieppe beach so long ago. There is a distinct resemblance between those photos considering the near-five decades between when they were taken!
Of course, there has to be more to the story. Jim had a box full of metals which he neither displayed or explained. He had seen service in North Africa and in the allied invasion of Italy. What I gleaned from my reluctant conversations with Jim when he was still alive was that it was not the carnage and hardships of years in the battlefield that had eventually driven a hardened warrior to chronic alcoholism. It was the realization that he was one of the “good guys,” many of whom proved to be as wholly capable of every human baseness as the evil enemy. He was buried by Canadian Veterans Affairs in their corner of a Kelowna cemetery, only a few places from the grave of W.A.C. Bennet, a revered Provincial Premier. It is timely to consider Jim’s awareness as we teeter on the very real possibility of yet another war in the Middle East.
Will we ever learn? Apparently not, despite all the wonderful words, we just don’t want to grasp some other way because, of course, just like them, God is on our side. I am steering further away from political comments, mainly because I don’t trust any media sources and am never sure of the true facts. Whom do I believe, whom may I quote with certitude? I’ll simply say this. The assassinated leader being mourned in Iran was second from the top yet everywhere his body has been taken, millions have turned out to mourn and revere him. There has never been, nor ever will be, such a massive display of national unity in our countries for any political figure.
We want to pick on these folks! They are far away around the planet from us, they do not threaten our borders despite what we’re told. While out with Jack yesterday we met a lady who told me what a wonderful thing it was that the US had taken out Soleimani; this man who had killed so many. I asked her if she had ever heard of him before last week. I also asked her how many innocents had been killed by US forces and weapons overseas in just the last decade. Questions, you’ve got to ask yourself questions.
Today, a week into the New Year, the cold rain hammers down as usual. The snow advances and retreats low on the mountain sides. Today, it’s too wet and gloomy outside for man or beast and too dark for good photos of the winter wet. One day, one hour, one minute at a time. But there are signs of spring and in the long dark of January’s dragging hours, we cling to hope of spring and rational judgements.
“You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.” ― Albert Einstein
It seems that the gods can send messages in unexpected ways. I play YouTube roulette sometimes, just to see what randomly pops up. I’ve discovered incredible musicians from around the globe, found amazing inventions, wonderful stories and once in a while stumble on something that I can only consider as a tiny personal kick in the butt. Today I came across a video about a sixty-three year old cowboy still riding broncos in the rodeo. He’s the real thing and had some eloquent things to say. One was about hitch-hiking, something real hand-to-mouth cowboys do regularly. They don’t all have big-fat-wheeled diesel pickup trucks. “Have a saddle along, it’ll gitchya a ride every time.” (In my hitch-hiking days I had a red toolbox and an old military duffel bag that worked quite well.) He mentioned, after a litany of all his broken bones, how folks tell him he’s crazy to still be at it. “I ain’t never gonna grow up. I’m old but I ain’t never grownin’ up. You’re judged by that third and forth try in life and I think I’ve got one more try.”
There’s some inspiration in those words. Grit! I’ll take a bag please. Course ground!
There are some rodeo days in my ancient history but I soon lost my desire to be slammed around by any angry beast. There may be some momentary beauty in all those arched postures and flailing, jingling rigging and hoofs but it all hurts and years down the trail, those hurts come back to haunt a body. As I age, I wonder at why we continue to do such primal things if for no other reason than the cruelty to the animals. In our latitudes a successful rodeo ride is eight seconds. In Mexico I’ve seen bulls ridden until they collapse. Sport? It might seem manly but I’ve come to consider testosterone a poisonous substance. Mix it with alcohol and you have a bomb about to go off. Those two juices, mixed or not, are at the root of nearly every woe in the world, ever.
The heat, dust and din of a rodeo seems very alien to the dark and thick rain of pre-Christmas coastal BC. Just days from the winter solstice, the darkness here is crushing, even at high noon. Further north the daylight is progressively shorter and the weather much harsher. A nice day is often when the rain simply falls vertically and is not being driven by a blasting wind. I don’t miss it. How people endure it year upon year on the North Coast is a wonder. But they do and even thrive in it. There are different kinds of grit I suppose, but up there with all that rain it’s often just called mud. When I lived and worked on the mid-coast, locals would go south for a few days and arrive back home expressing profound relief at being out of “that mess.” I know what they meant but Geez Louise, watching the moss grow between my toes is no pastime for me. Today the gelatinous rain, almost frozen, doesn’t bounce. It just splats down and heads from the nearest drain.
As usual I’m listening to that radio station in Goldfield Nevada, although I’m enduring an overload of Christmas tunes. (Note I didn’t say music.) Some is traditional, some mutant-traditional, some innovative, some weird and some completely bizarre, even rude. (If this old salt thinks it’s rude, it is definitely rude!) All the music is about Christmas and that’s beginning to wear a bit thin. The songs are punctuated with local anecdotes about winter hardships and historical storms with six feet of snow in one night, -30°F temperatures and horrific winds. There are accounts of people freezing to death in the high desert country which I can well believe, it almost happened to me one night on a high Nevada desert plain. Considering the bleak desert winter who can begrudge them their fun? Apparently this is how the season is observed in the Nevada desert.
Fortunately for them, Goldfield is a day north of Las Vegas where cacti begin to grow and the Mexican border is another day’s drive south of there. Theoretically they can escape winter easily. This station has no news broadcasts. That on its own makes it a winner in my books. Their advertising is for small local businesses like restaurants, hardware stores and a tow truck service. There is nothing from box stores, shopping malls, car manufacturers or fast food chains. Public service announcements describe events of common interest like a local highway improvement project. The local “dump road” is temporarily rerouted along the cemetery road. Country logic rules, the dump and the cemetery are side by side.
As I edit what I’ve just written I realize it is all about what I’m absorbing from my electric babysitters. I offer no accounts of what I’m doing because I’m not doing much of any account.
I’m struggling with the second chapter of my third novel; something over a decade old. And it is indeed a struggle. Good creative writing happens when the story writes itself and the writer scrambles to keep up. It’s not happening. The southwestern deserts may seen far away but I’m stuck in my own suburban wasteland. Walking with Jack twice a day out in the drizzling gloom is my high adventure. We do see lovely, colourful wee birds, yesterday it was a brilliant red-headed woodpecker then a flitting flock of golden-crowned kinglets. The flashes of bright yellow on their tiny heads brought instant cheer but the light was too dull for photos with any sort of camera.
Today Jack snoozes in front of the fireplace. Part of that time was spent with his head on my lap. He’s warm. By two this afternoon the dull light was fading, and rain or not, we had to make at least one outing. We took a muddy path beside a local stream which was swollen to the top of its banks. These two soggy old mutts plodded along and then homeward, eager to get back by the fire. The rain was so insidious there was an absence of birds, no croaking of a single raven, not even the timid chatter of one chickadee. They’ve all found a place to hole up. I saw one tiny titmouse bouncing along a salmonberry limb. It promptly vanished into the underbrush once it saw what foolish lumps were out trudging in the driving rain. I imagine that, being that size, each thick raindrop must seem like a bucket of water would to me. Home again, I’m content to sit near the fireplace.
Jack is sound asleep again, dreaming of chasing rabbits, perhaps in a daisy-filled meadow. It is sunny and warm wherever he is and he is young again. And me…I don’t need to close my eyes to hear the rustle of palm fronds overhead and smell the salty warm sea air as a frosty lime margarita jumbo is placed in my hand. It is made from a smokey local tequila and the prawns and fish have come out of the bay right out there where that humpback is breaching. Mariachi music plays somewhere up the beach. Beep, beep, beep… the oven is ready for the bread. My fantasy vanishes as a fresh blast of wind and rain batters the window. And what bliss to smell baking bread. Weather be damned, I’m going to eat something!
The big day is close enough now so I’ll wish all Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, pleasant solstice, oh yeah Happy Hanukkah. For the rest of you, Bumhug!
Then there’s the New Year.
Like that old cowboy said, one more try.
“I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.”