What if everything you’ve done so far in your life has all lead up to this moment when you realize it was all wrong? At this epiphany, does everything suddenly become meaningful and worthwhile? Does that make all previous events right if they lead to this?
Yes, if it effects a new plan, a deliberate change in direction and velocity. At sea, when on a collision course, there are two ways of avoiding disaster. One is to change your course, usually by steering for a place behind the point of imminent impact. The other means of avoidance is to change your speed.
Usually, slowing down is the prudent and courteous way to prevent that theoretical collision. If every moment of your life has, with all the changed directions, the starts and stops, the collisions and near-misses, placed you here at this moment, on the heading and speed as it is with the intentions and attitudes you have acquired, then perhaps there is a cosmic plan for our brief existence. Dunno? Me either!
Some days I feel like the fabled hoop snake. When threatened, It swallows it’s tail to become a hoop which rolls away downhill to escape. The trouble with that is the acceleration is constant until the inevitable abrupt stop. A friend, lost for more than thirty years suddenly appeared on the dock last week. All work came to a stop after the tearfully happy reunion with this person and their travelling companion. The next twenty-four hours were very intense and rich with a lot energy being exchanged. I felt drained at the end of it. It was a wonderful time of affirmation and closure about certain things but I felt the need to take the weekend off and recharge rather than carry on with the completion of my Cheoy Lee project.
I have a home in Ladysmith, in the Northern part of the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. I live on my boat, but it is rather nice to get away on occasion; especially with all the gringo yachters roaming the docks. I love the valley. It is splendid to explore and discover new things that have been here under my nose throughout the quarter- century I have lived in the region. I also confess to a great envious inner stirring with the blogs from my friends Tony and Connie presently touring in the South of France. So this blog is a photo essay on the Cowichan Valley, “Guys, don’t forget your homeland. Take this!”
A single dark event in the history of the world has produced an amazing positive result. All of the media posts of the world covered the story ahead of all else, and there are some dire circumstances out there. Of greatest interest to me was that throughout the day no-one discussed the tragedy. It was, I think, too poignant, too personal to toss around. I am writing about the suicide of one of my heroes, Robin Williams. I too suffer from chronic depression and like all of my fellow sufferers around the world it was easy to recognize in this incredible man. He denied being bi-polar or clinically depressed but I can tell you that all those manic, hilarious public highs we knew him for were often matched by similar private lows. From the various accounts I have gleaned, his death wasn’t an easy one. There are much easier, painless methods of ending your life than slashing your wrists and then hanging yourself in the closet with a belt. I know. I’m 62 years old and I’ve thought about it on and off for nearly a lifetime. He was determined to go.
When I first heard the news I was shattered and immediately plunged into a manic state of grief. Williams was an icon of positive reinforcement to me, an example of turning dark energy into something uplifting and joyful. He was a symbol of hope to me. Think of the light this one incredible comedian and actor left in millions of eyes. Clearly fame, wealth, and all the available options thatcan bring, while surrounded by adoring people were not enough to stay the massive urge to self-destruct. His sense of hopelessness overwhelmed him to a point of not being able to stand his personal pain anymore.
Depression is NOT simply weakness or bad attitude. It is a disease of the brain, electrical and/ or chemical. I like to see myself as one tough old blue-collared dude who was able to out-work, out-endure extremes of pain, cold, heat, loneliness, poverty; generally a tough old sonofabitch. I took a very long time, until I was forty years old, to admit I had a serious issue with depression. I shall always feel profound sadness when I think of all the pain I’ve caused so many who have tried and those who still try so hard to love me. I’m very bright and talented and I’m no axe-murderer but it must be damned hard to believe in someone who doesn’t feel the same way about themselves. I’ve written a book about my experience with this bastardly thing called depression and all the stigmatizing that society imposes.
Writing “Sins Of The Fathers” was somewhat cathartic but putting it out there was also the toughest thing I’ve ever done. The book is available online through ‘Chipmunka Publishing.’ My hope was that it would enlighten folks who don’t understand how severe depression is indeed a tangible disease which affects many aspects of a person’s life and well-being. I also wanted to offer affirmation to fellow sufferers. A sense of utter loneliness and feeling that no-one else can possibly understand you is often part of the incredible weight you carry. If you have any of all the myriad of other human afflictions, for example cancer or a heart problem, there is a ton of empathy and sympathy. When the human brain, easily our most complex organ, and probably most abused, doesn’t perform flawlessly, the sufferer is often shunned and treated like a pariah. That only exacerbates the problem.
That is why Williams death can be used as a positive thing. He has left a lot of joy and even wisdom behind that will have lasting benefit to us all. But that someone as prominent, as adored, deified, and as accessible to help as Robin Williams was, has killed himself stunned the world. The other thousand or more daily suicides never make the news. They never will but I believe this story has raised everyone’s awareness. One of four people, have, have had, or will have some form of mental illness in their lifetime. Look in the mirror. Think about it.
Na-Nu Na-Nu Mork.
“You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”
While on a gorgeous white shell beach on Saltspring Island recently I noticed a string of small signs on a fence erected just above the high tide line. The tiny signboards essentially said “Private Property, Keep Out” but in reality read something like: “You are presently standing on public property but beyond this line is land of Consensus Reality, please respect it.” Huh?
I get the no trespassing theme but “Consensus Reality”? Come on guys! Saltspring was the ultimate Hippie haven in the Gulf Islands but times have changed. It is now the home of folks wearing locally-made llama wool hats and hand-painted designer gumboots while driving exotic SUV s (Stupid Urban Vanities) that never leave pavement. Maybe old Winston Churchill was right, “Capitalists are Socialists who’ve found an opportunity.” Peace man.
While I’m playing with words here’s one in which I found great delight. As I write, moored across from me is a gleaming white fibreglass castle. It is a gorgeous piece of stuff, whether or not you are awed by status symbols. I descended on the name like the old wordhawk that I am. The boat’s name is ‘ARES’, the Greek god of war. Say no more Admiral! Most folks would read the name as ‘ARIES’, the famous star and Astrological sign. For a boat, that would make sense. However I imagined a conversation between the boat’s owner and a local good old boy who has accosted him. “Dang mister, you Amuricans just can’t spell English. That’s one purty boat but it ain’t the way you spell ARSE!” Maybe the owner is a former Rear Admiral.
While I was writing my little environmental rant in my last blog, a potentially massive environmental disaster was beginning to uncrumble. We don’t know yet how extensive it is. There lies in the BC interior an area known as the Cariboo. It is bounded on the West by the Fraser River and on the East by the Cariboo Mountains. Despite over a century of exploitation by miners and loggers it is is known for spectacular scenery and pristine waters. A mining operation at the Polley Mountain Mine involved establishing massive tailings ponds behind earthen berms to contain the toxic slurry produced. Slurry, in this case, is the liquified waste from the mining process. Using water is the cheapest way to dispose of unmarketable contents which contain various highly toxic chemicals. The dams on the ponds have burst and billions of litres of slurry flow into Quesnel Lake and all of the subsequent rivers that run between the lake and the Fraser River.
It is possible that a large portion of the heart of our province is being poisoned; unstoppably. Not one government department knows exactly what chemicals or toxins are being released nor what to do to stop the massive discharge. There should have been an ongoing analysis at least by the Ministries of Mines, Of the Environment, and Fish and Wildlife. That no-one knows is a testament of gross apathy and incompetence. This is a disaster which was imminently preventable. Our Federal government is relaxing environmental controls on resource industries and it is an interesting co-incidence with the angst about the Northern Gateway pipeline. Once again, the greed of a few is damaging a broad environment as big as some countries and all living things within it, including people, who live there and anywhere downstream, all the way to the ocean. Then where? Once again it is obvious that the government is in the corporate pocket. How can I not rant?
Well, I promised that this blog would be about a secret anchorage. It’s a place I’ve been passing by on tug boats and my own yachts for well over a quarter century. Actually I’m more interested in pointing out how we so often pass by wonderful things right at our feet in a quest to get as far away as possible whenever on a vacation. (No I’m not standing down my dreams about Mexico and Central America) I happen to live within the Gulf Islands on a boat, a piece of heaven by any regard. When there’s a good wind it is wonderful to see how far away you can sail in one day and there is generally a notion we all hold that going far is a logical thing to do. An extreme example are the kind of folks who brag about having “Done” Europe in ten days. We all know how much they saw.
The anchorage is no secret. It just seems that way when you’ve been going by it for decades in quest of someplace secluded and special. Less than two hours by boat from Silva Bay and within plain view of Porlier Pass it a place big enough to safely hold approximately six anchored yachts.
There is an abandoned farm and perhaps sawmill in this bay between two islands and one is left wondering about the people and their history here. Ancient native middens and old fire pits in this sheltered bay betray the long presence of the aboriginal people we displaced from this beautiful environment. I’ll be doing my research. Both Islands are privately owned but it is clear that visitors are respectful. There are fabulous beaches nearby and the Porlier Pass area is famous for it’s fishing. A bonus was a live blues concert held on one island. The music was as good as it gets, the band was tight and there was a great sound effect as it all echoed out through the forest. I’m usually incensed by someone else’s imposing music, but this was good. Really good.
Hundreds of yachts charged past to herd up in the popular anchorages to the North and South. Good for them! I prefer solitude. The photos say the rest.
“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”
The seasons have moved from late spring to mid-summer. We’ve had blistering hot weather, then a few days of rain. Now the evenings and mornings are cool. The butter in the galley is once again hard at breakfast time. It’s great weather for sleeping. My dog Jack and I wake up one toe at a time. The rain has helped produce a profusion of blackberries and some are already ripe for picking. It seems the plants are producing their treasures a month earlier this year.
Silva Bay is blessed with an annual migration of Purple Martins and Barn Swallows. They’re delightful as they chatter and zoom about through the rigging. I wonder if the annual influx of yachters aren’t a clever device which the birds use to attract the biting insects they in turn feed upon. This year’s brood of baby birds is well on its way to being ready to fly south. That magic is amazing. Birds return to mate and nest and produce tiny eggs. Those eggs in turn become ugly little dinosaurs which rapidly evolve into beautiful creatures born with a navigational intuition which which will take them as far away as Central America then back to this bay next spring.
An e-mail I received recently advised not to worry about old age: it doesn’t last that long. I forwarded that message on, explaining there are things to do before I end up as a few puffs of smoke in the crematorium chimney. A song playing on the radio has the lyrics, “If I die, I wanna die old.” Hey baby, there’s no if about it! As I rushed about the business of the day a lady discovered an inert heron floating by the docks. It was freshly killed. The bright crimson at the back of its head was evidence of a mortal tangle with an otter or a collision of some sort. In my haste I debated briefly about taking a photo but then rushed off to the tasks at hand. I can still see that dead heron. Beak slightly parted, bright, sharp yellow eye staring serenely into my soul, an image more indelible than any photo. This morning I open the hatches to a perfect dawn with the birds calling and chattering. There is a perfume of fresh newness as if the world had just been unwrapped, an incredible gift which we so often don’t quite see. Baby birds, dead birds, life, death, dawn, sunset, the days whirl by. Life has no apparent meaning for me. How I wish I could learn to enjoy life’s plateaus and find the ability to live fully in the moment!
Now the hot weather has returned. Yesterday afternoon when I stepped into the boat it felt cool. The thermometer read 29ºC. This morning the bird’s noises are subdued. Old men wipe the dew from their white boats. Flags lift and drop flaccidly. It’s going to be a blister! Forest fires rage across the continent and the global warming faction is saying, “See, I told ya!” Uno cervesa por favor.
Days later, the grand summer weather continues, thankfully today we have a moderate Westerly breeze. Yesterday was windless and airless, an absolute torture to work bent over in the sun, at least for this aging old fair-haired boy. Days like that leave me wondering at the feasibility of my Southern dreams. I say that even as I continue my research on Mexico and Costa Rica. That seems ludicrous in this paradise which is my home; but the nights are shortening. Another long, grey wet arthritic winter is coming. I’m also questioning the sanity of staying in a place that seems doomed to self-destruct politically, economically and environmentally.
My pal Jim has now arrived in Hilo, Hawaii with his boat. He has sailed a hurricane- pace tour of the South Pacific. His next stop will be back here in British Columbia. I admire Jimmy totally in his ability to realizehis long-held dream and I look forward to helping welcome him back. Much of his journey was cursed with a lack of wind. When you’re out there with your little windship rolling and rolling day after day, your rigging is self-destructing while your precious fuel and water supplies dwindle and the nearest ports are thousands of miles away, you are left feeling very tiny and somewhat doubtful. Fortunately on the leg from the Marquesas to Hawaii Jim had perfect winds and describes it as the sail of his life. The passage was made on one tack with only minor sail adjustments. Good for you Jimmy and mucho kudos to Donna, the wife who has provided ground support for him throughout the journey.
This place called British Columbia where we live is an ultimate home, especially for the mariner. We have 17,000 nautical miles of shoreline to explore. Even in the harshness of winter our weather is often better than summers elsewhere on the planet. Despite the rising social economic issues we’re having to face, we are privileged to still hold a claim on this piece of the planet. Unfortunately the politicians on our payroll won’t respect our will and are intent on wholesaling our assets to the first bidder. We pay retail prices at the gas pumps while there is a determination to pipe oil for many hundreds of kilometres from the environmental mess that is Northern Alberta to coastal shipping facilities. It is incredible, it is stupid. We are posing a monstrous environmental threat on our land and our waters to wholesale raw resources outside the country. We in British Columbia will receive little benefit once the project is completed. The oil will be shipped in vessels manufactured from some of our own iron ore and coal. Other ships line up to load raw logs from the docks of shut-down sawmills. I repeat my weary metaphor about the chicken farmer who goes to town to buy eggs.
Whose pockets does the money go into? What the hell is going on? I know this is all weary rhetoric but the threat of impending disaster seems to skip off the top of our heads. We should be in every politician’s office, on the lawns and in the chambers of every government building with our pitchforks and chainsaws and environmentally friendly weed eaters until we regain control of politicians and their weighty bureaucracy which is pledged to serve US, the people who hired them. If it were anyone else in our hire, we’d fire them. This blog is not a venue for rants. I can easily slip into pages of diatribe about the rape of our fisheries, our forests, our water and mineral resources but we’ve all heard it before.
The real problem is our complacency. We let the corporations and bureaucrats run our lives while insidiously steering us deeper into their carefully designed consumer rut. Until our own personal comfort zone is clearly threatened we won’t lift our heads from the drinking pool. It pisses me off! Wake up! Look around! Ask questions! Don’t believe everything, perhaps anything, thrown at us. We evolved with questioning minds for good reason. Use them!
Jill, my wife has just returned from a visit to her old homeland of Scotland. (Where the price of gas is double ours despite their own tremendous petroleum resources. Yep, more inept politics) She had two gruelling weeks of dealing with her ailing mom. For once the weather there was quite agreeable but she was held to a regimen of caring for the needs of family. She came back to Canada with a delightfully funny story about a dead parrot. Her brother and his wife live in an old school house. It is a wonderful building with two-foot thick sandstone walls, high ceilings curling stones on the front steps and rolling farm fields for a view. Even their mailing address is wonderfully quaint, being in part: The Old School House, Drumlithie. One morning one of the dogs noticed a bright flash of colour in the back garden which proved to be a dead parrot and an interesting toy. This is not an ordinary find anywhere, let alone in Scotland, a country definitely not known for any abundance of tropical birds.
After a wondering discussion, it was decided there wasn’t much else to do but put the mystery of the dead bird out in the trash. Of course the bird was soon mentioned at the local pub and the thistle telegraph buzzed with the story. Within hours the telephone rang with a call from a neighbouring village, a few miles across the fields. Someone wanted to come and claim the remains for burial. Old Hagis, we’ll call him, was retrieved from the tip bin and carefully cleaned of coffee grounds, bits of eggshell and other detritus. Two women arrived, mother and adult daughter. Both, apparently, were beyond Rubenesque These two very round people, both dressed entirely in black, had come to take their beloved Hagis off to the big limb in the sky.
It’s a wonderful story with a vivid splash of Monty Python.I can see both John Cleese and Michael Palin having fun with this one. Apparently the remnants of the Monty Python gang are getting back together to work up five more shows. They don’t have to pretend to be geezers anymore. Also, in the wake of the ‘Two Fat Ladies’ cooking show, BBC is now airing something called ‘The Hairy Bikers’.Two middle-aged blokes are trying to follow in the wake of Jessica and Clarissa. Fat chance!
I’m now writing on the first Sunday morning in August. The boat is anchored in a tiny bay in the Gulf Islands which I’ve been passing by for over 25 years. I can see through Porlier Pass to the mainland mountains over thirty-five miles away. Ancient fir trees lean over this little bight. Eagles call, kingfishers chatter, schools of tiny fish roil the water. The morning breeze is fresh and warm and fragrant, the day is full of promise. Jack is anxious to go ashore. There is some wonderful exploring to be done here and I can post an entire blog dedicated to this lovely secret place.
In fact, I will.
“On the sea there is a tradition older even than the traditions of the country itself and wiser in its age than this new custom.
It is the tradition that with responsibility goes authority and with them accountability.
…for men will not long trust leaders who feel themselves beyond accountability for what they do.
…And when men lose confidence and trust in those who lead, order disintegrates into chaos and purposeful ships into uncontrollable derelicts.”
“On The Collision of Wasp and Hobson” Wall Street Journal – Editorial 14 May 1952