I began writing this blog about a year ago as a narrative of one old sailor trying to describe how he is working toward a dream. Sailors are generally free thinkers and prefer to live outside of any box, often much to the consternation of bureaucrats, politicians, CEO s and those who choose conformity as a way of life. I have found plenty of support and occasionally criticism about the regular insertion of ideas running against the grain which appear in my writing. Sometimes I hit a nerve and receive disdain and rebuke. That, I think is a good thing which encourages new insights and expanding thought. An old friend who is a sailor, and a very seasoned one at that, took deep exception to my last blog and my anti-military remarks. (Our exchange can be found in the comments section of this blog) He did not understand that I hold a deep empathy (But NOT sympathy) for military people throughout our entire human history, the ubiquitous lambs led to the slaughter. From my own personal loss, I mourn all lost lives, both in body and in spirit in conflicts around the world; and certainly not just on one day of the year.
Even a cursory study of history shows how it is the naive youth of our populations, those already in a mindset that they are invincible and immortal and so go off to better the world, vanquish the enemy and are certain they will return to a full life with a fair maiden. I challenge you to find a veteran, who is actually willing to discuss his combat experiences, who will tell you that they knew they would probably be killed or maimed and so went to war anyway. Invariably, they will tell you that they believed they’d be home again. Further inspired by the hype of his or her military commanders they went to war knowing they would be coming home glorious heroes. Of course, millions were wrong. Remembrance day is all too often used as a day to glorify our war dead, and the heinous crime of war. There is never mention of the millions of innocent civilians, who are also lost in man’s eternal pursuit of greed and power.
Never, never on Remembrance day is the futility and stupidity of our incessant warlike nature considered. I have no lack of respect for those who nobly and bravely served and serve our country, both dead and alive, even if their intentions may have been misguided. They did their best, they gave everything.
But when will we bloody learn? I say that in dire concern that we are well on the way toward a third world war. And folks just won’t look up and see it! As a writer, I am a devil’s advocate who encourages open thinking and questioning minds. I will not apologize for refusing to say “Baa.” If I can save or improve one other life by encouraging the use of the intellect we are born with, then my efforts as a writer are well rewarded.
The following is a quote I just received from a friend. Although written almost sixty years ago, it is very timely and profound. Thank you Mike!
“When you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing – when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods but in favors – when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you – when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self – sacrifice, you may know that your society is doomed.”
Ayn Rand ‘Atlas Shrugged’ 1957
On a cheerier note, the same friend who has just excommunicated me, recently forwarded me a YouTube link to a group of three British singers calling themselves ‘Fascinating Aïda.’
These not-so-young ladies are a wonderful blend of neo Gilbert and Sullivan and are elegantly rude. Their humour and music is uplifting and a celebration of fully emancipated feminism and humanism. Do yourself a treat and check out their video ‘Cheap flights’. I challenge you not to laugh, gaspingly. Go ahead, it’s good for you.
I began this blog on November 11th, Remembrance Day yet again. I have some very skewed views about that day. There was a time, now very long ago, when I wore a military cadet’s uniform and was always on parade November 11th. I have stood at attention in the cold pouring rain and sleet with tears blurring my eyes as the bugler played the “Last Post”. The heavy blue wool uniform sponged up the rain and I don’t recall any joy, ever, about remembering our military fallen. Once on parade, just when ordered eyes left while passing the dignitary’s review stand, a pigeon shat on my blue RCAF wedge cap. The mess ran slowly down my face. Of course I dare not falter in my precise marching so I held my rifle and left-righted on down the street with the rest of my flight, a good little cadet. There is nothing colder than congealing pigeon crap on your face in full public view when you can do nothing about it except pretend that it is not there.
My love and respect for things military have congealed as coldly. Close to signing up for a military career, my mind was changed after enduring a summer training camp for NCOs (Non-commissioned officers) The weary mantras about do or die without question, and the screaming irrationalities of feckless little men intent on reducing everyone to mindless, quivering gitts forever ended my military fascination. I have become convinced that any dog which is easy to train and conforms readily without question is not a clever creature. The ones which resist being programed are the individuals with a questioning mind and true leadership potential. (Editing note: After a great offense was taken about the preceding two sentences I am adding the remark that it is a fact, not opinion, that standard military procedure, time and world wide, is to reduce new recruits through physical and mental torture and sleep deprivation until their personal will is gone and they can then be reprogramed as dedicated killer robots. Those whose spirits cannot be broken are discharged. The process is often referred to as ” Basic Training”, and also “Brainwashing.”)
There was a brief period at that time when I was almost persuaded to join two other buddies in going to fight in Vietnam. (There were approximately 30,000 invincible young Canadian volunteers who actually went) We thought it was a cool idea that the US Army would teach us how to fly helicopters, for free! When the one who went on ahead promptly came home again in a glad bag, a new reality set in. We weren’t that invincible after all.
He was one of the lucky ones I think. I went on to work in the commercial helicopter industry and have since known several Vietnam veterans. Very few of these characters have been able to live a healthy life. Most are haunted and troubled painfully for being the pawns in a sick game that had nothing to do with defending democracy or home borders. Canada continues to tag along after the US and has provided troops to several other forceful interventions entirely irrelevant to our interests and proclaimed values.Meanwhile our own messes continue to stack up in both our front and back yards.
Canadian patriotism is running high at the moment in the wake of the recent killings of CAF members in Ottawa and Montreal. I hold some unpopular views about what our military, or anyone’s for that matter, ultimately achieves other than to necessitate someone else’s military. I choose to observe the day as a review of human stupidity and greed and how our natural nastiness has to be dealt with inwardly instead of externally. How many oppossed millions have died believing God was on their side? If only we all indulged in tending our own patch first and employed righteous example instead of indignation, what a pleasantly boring world we’d have. Yeah, I know, I can hear John Lennon too.
November 11th was a clear, cool and windy day. Usually remembrance days are dark and wet, suiting the sombre business at hand. The first Arctic high of the winter advanced upon us with icy outflow winds. We had this weather for several days so there was a big scurry on to finish up outdoor chores. At my friend’s house, just as I was finishing the downstairs bathroom, water began pouring out of the ceiling light fixture. It turned out that rats had been snacking on the discharge hose of the dishwasher. Murphy’s law prevailed and the hose burst at a cosmically timed moment. I spent a while pondering what in the hell I could have possibly done to bring on the deluge. The rats came back for autumn and so has the hammering, incessant rain. Now the first official day of winter has passed and there were some very thick rain drops on the windshield. Today we have had clear, sunny, warm periods. T-shirt weather between more icy deluges. Ah well, it beats choking on a bagel in a snow drift in Buffalo. My helicopter pilot buddy who is in Northern Saskatchewan at the moment reports, “Broke down, temp -34”. It’s all relevant, we’ll continue to try to “Bloom where we’re planted.”
Old ‘Seafire’ languishes at her new mooring in the old shipyard. She feels bewildered I’m sure about all this ‘Do South’ sentiment and where it has gone. Soon honey, soon. We will do this thing. It’s a dull month with bright dreams to keep out the dark and cold. Soon honey, soon.
“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm”. …Winston Churchill
November 1st. It is clear and sunny and warm in a November sort of way. I’ve done two things in the last forty-eight hours not done in a long time. For the first time in forty-seven years, as I recall, I celebrated Halloween. Friends invited me to join them in a local pub. I did not need to invent much of a costume, I usually look scary enough as it is. I had a splendid time, revelling in the moment and even found myself hopping about on the dance floor with other ghouls. There I was doing things I usually condemn or at least rationalize not doing. I enjoyed it all immensely. Thank you Ann and Randy!
I’m beginning to write this blog in a laundromat which is clean and well kept, and there’s hot water for the washing machines. There are no puddles on the floor from a leaking roof. I’ve just come from the local swimming pool where I swam leisurely lengths, then enjoyed a hot tub, a sauna and then a shower that had instant hot water, and was clean and bright with no mould or rust in sight. It felt like heaven after the crumbling rotted facility I’ve had to use for the past four years. It all seems so decadent after the stoic, monkish isolation and bleak existence I’ve imposed upon myself for several years. And what has brought it all on? You may well ask.
First of all, I’ve moved the boat from Silva Bay to Nanaimo. It now rests at a decrepit but secure dock in the old shipyard. I have friends there who can keep an eye on ‘Seafire’ when I’m away and as it is said, “A change is as good as a rest”. I’ll miss Silva Bay but a few disagreeable folks (With whom, I’ll admit, I’ve become a little too reactive… but don’t pick on my beloved dog! ) and a few other new realities forced my hand. An old Sufi mantra cautions to avoid “Vexatious people” although, it should be noted, one can never elude themselves. Now playing softly in the background, you can hear Bob Seger singing “Against The Wind.”
Because of where I was moored I bore the brunt of a vicious autumn storm a few nights ago. It blew hard on the boat’s beam and crushed us up against the dock. It was a long night and I realized it was indeed time to move on. A night with 40 knot gusts on the windward side of the dock’s end was bad enough. There’ll be some serious winds coming and I don’t want to be there should the ninety-six foot phallic symbol on the other side of the dock tear itself and everything else downwind loose. That includes a fuel dock, a floatplane and another marina. I hope I’m wrong about that but learned sailors use their learned judgement to avoid situations requiring learned skills. Besides, the way things have been going there lately, somehow it could all become my fault. Many people allude to an ancient native curse put on the bay when the Spanish arrived. Certainly, nothing ever thrives there and somedays I wonder if there’s something to it. This old salt knows when it’s time to weigh anchor and bugger off out. People change and move on, I might be back to this beautiful bay.
Life is a journey and so on we go. I’m now writing at the dining room table of a friend’s house which is located on some fabulous waterfront property. Sitting here, about fifty feet above the tideline, I can see across the Strait of Georgia to Gibsons, up Howe Sound to the mountains at Whistler, and a little further eastward lays the climbing sprawl of West Vancouver. Looking the other way past Entrance Island the view goes well up Malaspina Strait, the gateway to Desolation Sound. Later the mainland is just visible beneath a very low layer of cloud. Commercial marine traffic passes on a dull horizon as if suspended between sky and sea. Beneath the house, a rocky shoreline reveals a lovely sand beach at low tide. Sea lions, seals and birds populate the foreshore much to Jack’s continuing interest. It’s a huge piece of heaven and I’m frustrated at how to photograph it adequately.
I’m here to do some renovations and upgrades on a pal’s house before he retires. It rains nearly every day so I have to divide my time between inside and outside. Among my least favourite things, dry-walling is at the top of the list. The dust gets everywhere and even with a face mask I manage to inhale a bit of crud. I suppose that if I were a professional, there’s be a lot less sanding, and I’d have specialized equipment, but I’m not a pro and have no such intention. People do this as a lifetime career and I can only repeat that there are certain types of courage which I do not possess. I can’t recommend it as a healthy occupation. This fine dust sticks to sweaty hands and face as it must and I can only imagine what occurs inside a person’s respiratory plumbing. My writer’s brain devises a plot where some wit decides that gypsum is carcinogenic and that all drywall must be removed. That would involve almost every building in North America! Remember, there’s huge profit in paranoia. It is entirely possible.
It repeatedly occurs to me as I work around this property about how our stuff owns us. The incessant maintenance and repairs is a grinding weight, a millstone indeed. I know, I know, our “Home is our castle” and that it often used to tell the world about our perceived social status but, good grief! I’ve been doing home repairs on and off for a long time and I can tell you that there is a good reason for all those “Home Improvement” stores and specialty bath, kitchen, flooring, drapery, tile, lighting, and yard stores. An average kitchen renovation starts at between $40,000 to $50,000 and goes up from there. I won’t go beyond these next sentences to rant about the stunning fiscal and environment waste of home “Ownership” and landscaping in North America. Think of all the food we could provide on that same land! In our culture, our reason to be is to consume and there’s no fighting the madness. You can go your own way however.
I perceive a growing awareness about need Vs greed and ever more questioning minds. The recent and continuing economic crisis has forced many folks into a new awareness.
A recent magazine articles describes how some of the middle class who determined to maintain appearance with a nice house, fine clothes, and a new car, but have no pay cheque to pay cheque cash left to afford proper groceries. One blogsite to which I subscribe is “The Tiny House Blog’. Some of the perspectives there are skewed, and commercial, but there is also a great delight as people discover how little room they need to be safe and warm, to lie down and stand up. Not only does limited living space preclude the accumulation of all that unnecessary stuff, personal resources including time and cash are freed up to live more wholly. I’m not saying that living in a boat, as I do, is carefree. There is still important maintenance to do and always the ubiquitous ocean waits ever so patiently to invade your tiny space if you are not vigilant. But at least one can hold the illusion of being free to sail away at will.
My dear intrepid Australian friends, Rodger and Ali, are now in San Diego aboard their beloved ‘Betty Mac’ having left their other boat in the Arctic, they’ll be leaving in a few days to head south to Baja and somehow I hope to meet up with them there this winter. What a contrast! Summers in the land of ice and snow, winter in the desert-bound sea. Meanwhile, my broad ocean view is shrinking as the fog descends again and the Entrance Island lighthouse fades into the morning gloom. There are up to 15mm of cold, cold rain forecast today. Good thing I mowed the lawn yesterday!
The latest post from ‘Sage on Sail’ describes how Tony and Connie are refitting their boat in Northern Phuket. After seven months of dry storage aftera year’s sailing in southern watersthe boat requires a nasty ordeal of preparation before heading into the Indian Ocean. I sit here peering out into the cold rain still slanting down a day later. Winds are forecast to pickup to 60 to 80 kph later today. It could be another electricity-out sort of day. That is a regular event on a Gulf Island during winter months. Most trees still carry their leaves and so are far more susceptible to the force of the wind. There’ll be lots of trees blown down onto powerlines. It’s nature’s way of pruning the forests. Survival of the strongest. What winds will blow to thin out the human forest? I’m always shocked to realize that like everyone else, I am pathetically dependant on electricity and all the conveniences we take for granted.
During the winter season ahead, after a while, it’ll be considered a fine day when the rain hammers down vertically. A sunny day is a natural holiday. People suddenly reappear magically, sun mushrooms, gone again with the next precipitation. Those are also days to frantically try and patch leaks, at least temporarily. My bones ache for someplace south. Jack is holed up somewhere in a corner of this lovely big house. He’s got lots of hiding places here and doesn’t really want to be outside exploring on a day like this. I’ve found him. He’s gone back to bed. Good idea.
Sure enough! 11:47. The power’s gone off. I’m downstairs trying to glue some splash panels for a shower stall to the wall when I’m plunged into blackness. Of course my flashlight is not where it’s supposed to be in my tool bucket but somehow I manage to complete fixing the floppy plastic panel to the wall without gluing myself there as well. The panel has to fit perfectly and with this glue, aptly named “Liquid Nail”, second chances can be ugly.
I emerge to survey my ocean panorama and see a small sloop on an Easterly heading passing the lighthouse. The building wind is SE. Entrance Island is fringed with billowing surf and this little boat, tightly reefed, is sailing full and by into the teeth of the rising gale. I close my eyes and recall all those times when it was me out there in an open cockpit, soaked through, so bloody cold and feeling so salty and manly. On the edge of death and feeling so alive. Your watch mate, your watch.
“ Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don’t have to like it….