Mind The Gap

Escape. A winter sunrise in Ladysmith Harbour
Escape. A winter sunrise in Ladysmith

In the London Underground a recording of a woman’s gentle voice with a clipped British accent, chides passengers to “Mind the gap” whenever they are stepping between the train and the platform. Gift shops sell a variety of souvenir clothing items including boxer shorts with the logo and the phrase “Mind The Gap” emblazoned across the backside. I recalled that this morning while driving to the Gabriola Ferry as an anxious young lady hurtled past me on the right and then squeezed through the decreasing gap between me and the massive truck lumbering along in her lane. I was already driving well above the speed limit but, apparently, not fast enough. This person’s superior agenda was calling on her to risk her life to gain a few seconds of the day. She was risking mine too but that was certainly not a consideration I’m sure. It happens every day no matter where one drives. I used to drive like a maniac myself until I realized that for all the dangerous franticism, I never arrived more than a few minutes less late for all those ubiquitous meetings. It was exhausting, hard on the vehicle, burned lots of extra fuel and the only favourable argument was that all the adrenaline kept me awake while on the road. Yeah right! I also used to consume several packs of cigarettes daily.

An old collision, an abandoned bicycle slowly recycles itself
An old collision, an abandoned bicycle slowly recycles itself

So many folks through the years have remarked on the dangerous things I like to do at sea and at one time as a pilot. I’ve often pointed out the odds stacked against us all on the roads, where our fate is determined by the twitch of someone else’s wrist, are incalculable. It is a miracle that hundreds don’t die on the roads daily. Of course there are also those who wander, and drive, about in traffic while intent on their texting, or movies, or GPS. The police rocket about with a cell phone stuffed in their ear, at least one police radio and at least one laptop computer glaring into their face. One of their duties is to provide tickets to motorists for distracted driving! Modern gadgets have managed to displace even our most primal instinct, fear.

In Mexico, it seems that dying on the road is an honourable way to die, and at each fatal crash site crosses are planted unabashedly. The crosses line Mexican roadsides by the tens of thousands. It is clear at some places, there are numerous repeated accidents in the same spot. Next please! Driving there, or anywhere in Latin America I’m told, is certainly not for the slow-witted or the faint of heart. The experiences deserves at least a blog all on its own.

Los Cruces Camino, another fatal crashsite on the roadside next to a sugar cane field. Mexico's strong sense of family and a fatalistic approach to driving in God's hands.
Los Cruces Camino, another fatal crashsite on the roadside next to a sugar cane field.
Mexico’s strong sense of family and a fatalistic approach to driving in God’s hands.

Next week I’m driving to Astoria Oregon for my annual Fisher Poet’s Gathering. It is an event which draws folks who make their living at sea from all over the planet. Predominantly, the writers and musicians there fish in Alaska but some of us outsiders are invited to help flavour the stew. It is an orgy of blue-collar eloquence, a celebration of the working water person. Some of the work and the music is amazing. So are the products of the several local micro-breweries. Astoria is the gateway to Coastal Oregon and a truly breathtaking drive south to California on Highway 101. This route begins in Lund BC and eventually ends at the Mexican border in Tijuana. It ought to be as famous as Route 66 and is a wonderful, beautiful, trek that meanders southward along the Pacific Coast.

The Artful Dodger, all but invisible even when you've see him cross the road.
The Artful Dodger, all but invisible even when you’ve see him cross the road.


Happy Dory A 1930's fishing boat still going strong
Happy Dory
A 1930’s fishing boat still going strong

I won’t tempt the fates with any cracks about surviving the drive. See ya in the movies! Included is a preview of one of the pieces I’ll be reading in Astoria.

More hints of spring
More hints of spring

Behind every succesful man is a woman rolling her eyes.”

…Jim Carrey

La Bomba An abandoned navigation buoy at forest's edge on Gabriola Island...yet another untold story
La Bomba
An abandoned navigation buoy at forest’s edge on Gabriola Island…another untold story.


Breakfast By Desdemona’s

Pouring rain; Astoria, late winter, late morning. I’m hung-under. Ragged black pot-bellied clouds low over the river looking as rough as I feel. Fisher Poet’s time of year, somehow I see it as a hint of spring, an annual ritual for me, an affirmation of proliteriate elocution and blue-collar sensibility, birds of a feather flocking together. I’m from out of town, up the coast, and don’t really know my way around here but I like this place. It’s full of real people, ones who work for a living and say what they mean and mean what they say. We can relate.

My old truck sloshes down the street and across from Firehall Number Two I see a hand-made sign that reads “Breakfast Burrito.” Something about its rustic flare reminds me of real Mexico so far away this morning. I turn in. A wet power steering belt squeals as I park.

Slapping wipers grunt to a stop. I survey the immediate neighbourhood. Next door, ‘The Desdemona Club’ has settled firmly into the ground. It intrigues me. Instead of windows it has a row of bronze portlights along the front. That’s very salty. Another sign a few doors away announces ‘Annies’.There are no clear windows I notice, bars on a solid heavy door with a sign forbidding minors. The faded Neon sign sports a reclining blond and beneath is the weary lettering, ‘Dancers.’ I’m not confused, there’s little diversity, sometimes that’s the way it is. It doesn’t matter, some of the comfort provided is in their universal sameness; a sense of home. I’ve been to biker bars, and every town has at least one ‘Hard Luck Bar and Grill’. Astoria, I’ve noticed, has a few. Annies, and Desdemona’s, I can tell, are places where you’ll find fishing crews hard aground. I wonder how many Alaskan summers have been blown away here in a few nights, or maybe even one. A whole tuna season perhaps gone in a game of poker in one of these places. I’ll bet there’s a fistful of broken teeth out back among the splintered glass,used condoms and cigarette butts. I’m not inclined to visit either place. Two doors up, a sign announces a health food store calling itself ‘The Center Of Balance.’

I’ve seen these sort of places too many times and I’m not keen for more. Sometimes I’ve been persuaded to reluctantly join a friend or a crew, “Ah c’mon let’s just go in; check it out”. They are never a place to go into straight-up sober and you should always make sure to take a seat that puts your back to the wall. I can imagine the purple terry-cloth table covers, held in place wtih elastic under the round edges. Those covers are often beer-wet soggy yet have cigarette burns in them. Chances are the chairs and stools have purple naugahyde coverings tacked in place with heavy metal brads. The walls around the joint will be covered with ancient ball team photos and soon you notice that some of the old fart regulars leaning on the bar were once those same young men in those pictures. There’s a ressemblance, much-faded, but it’s there. You wonder about their lives and what stories they have to tell.

The heavy beer pitchers and glasses are pitted and chipped. You know they’ve been thrown and dropped more than once. Some sorry young woman may be gyrating on a small stage to an incongruous tune. She’ll look weary and bored and plain as she undresses. You can see what she’ll look like when she’s old, in another ten years or so. There might be needle-marks on her arms. You can’t tell if that far away look of disappointment in her eyes is because no-one is watching her, or perhaps because a few are. I wonder what stories she can tell. There’s always an air of menace in these places, especially if you’re not local.

A hand-lettered sign tacked to the back wall, beneath the one that reads ‘Gents’ , reads “No Touching The Ladies.’ There’s a thick patina of nicotine tar on the ceiling and the grey pickled eggs in the jar on the bar look like they’ve had a few anniversaries. There’s a rancid taste to the place in every breath. ‘Seen one, seen e’m all’ I muse, bending myself away from my gloomy vicarious preview. I remember a waitress dealing with a gang of rowdies in a dive somewhere far up the mid-coast. A table of drunks was growing out of hand. One final affrontery lit her temper but this big Haida girl calmly said, “Look you guys, you know I’ve been out there on my dad’s boat for years. You’re not impressing me. You’re all the same. You’re always talking when you should be listening. You catch all your fish in the bar and chase all your women whenever you’re out on the boats.”

When I was wrenching on the packers a fellow engineer, (Shrek, we called him) , closed the bar in Zeballos, talking as usual when he should have been listening. A big old logger tuned him up magnificently. At dawn’s early light Shrek was out on the street where he met his assailant of a few hours earlier. “Y’any smarter today?” Shrek’s face looked like a bowel of plumbs all battered and purple. He leered his classic broken-toothed grin. ‘Hah, ya didn’t get one by me didja.

A local fisherman in Astoria told me about the good old days. Desdemona’s was known as the “Dirty D”. There was a seiner’s bar and a trollers bar and a draggers bar and so on. I think I’ve been to a few dragger bars in my time.

In the restaurant the coffee is fresh and rich and black. The air is thick with aromas of culinary bliss. I order a shrimp burrito with heuvos rancheros. A belly-full of good food may help stave off the effects of too much rum. Or was it simply some bad ice ?

The waiter comes back apologizing. “Nada fresh shrimp this senor”; perhaps I’d like some ‘Langostino’ instead.

‘Si senor, por favor. Muy buen. Gracias.’ He smiles bravely at my mutilated Spanish and scurries off. Soon a plate is delivered that’s the size of a hatch cover. It’s heaped with steaming goodness and I eat till I’m full. Then I clean the plate. In happy agony I step outside where the sun now ladders down through the gloom. Out on the river, sea lions bellow and an old seine boat bucks up the river against the beginning of the ebb. I watch until it finally dissappears behind a desserted cannnery. Two pickup trucks are parked on the street beneath the faded blond. One has a load of crab pots, the other, a heap of roughly stowed gill net. Fishermen, at one of the bars. It’s hardly turned eleven o’clock. The rain begins again. I turn the key in the ignition. The starter only clicks. Dead battery! I realize I’ve left the headlights on. My front tire is in a pot hole. No hope of a rolling start. Four-lettered expletives!

Water cascades again down the windshield as I consider my options. That doesn’t take long, I don’t have any. First stop Desdemona’s . It’s closest.

I was wrong. It is clean and bright and friendly inside. The freshly varnished tables have no covers. There are no fishermen. I head for Annie’s.


The Dog Has A Gun

The sign read, “DANGER! The dog has a gun and refuses to take his medication.” To me, any expression of humour is an invitation to get closer but in this case it is clear that somebody has a claim on a piece of the earth and wants me to stay outside the fence they built. OK fine!

The longer I live the less I accept this notion of owning a piece of the planet. I do understand the aboriginal concept of respecting the earth and sharing it and thanking it sincerely for resources you need to stay alive and feed your family. Remember the animated film, “Finding Nemo?” All the gulls screamed “Mine, mine, mine!” That powerful metaphor was profound and describes our human nature as well as anything. Our time here is so fleeting. How can we possibly think we have an exclusive right to something which we are merely visiting? Somewhere I have a photo from the Gulf Islands of a lovely sign on a tree announcing a Bed and Breakfast. Spiked immediately beneath it was a larger sign declaring, “Private Property No Trespassing.” With that mixed message I’m not sure those folks enjoyed a brisk trade.

First flowers of spring. January Snowdrops on Gabriola Island
First flowers of spring.
January Snowdrops on Gabriola Island

Many of the Gulf Islands were a haven to hippies and draft-dodgers back in my good old days, the sixties and seventies. They arrived with nothing and I recall their whiny rants about peace and love and “Share the wealth man!” Once mom and dad passed on and they could acquire the turf they had so long squatted on, the “Private Go Away, My Land” signs began to appear on every tree. I’ve heard a capitalist defined as “A socialist who’s found an opportunity” and maybe that’s so. When I see someone with long white hair wearing a headband, and stepping out of their European SUV wearing designer gumboots, I’m really tempted to stroll over and say “Peace man! Share the wealth?”

Elgie Road in the morning, Gabriola Island
Elgie Road in the morning,
Gabriola Island

There are stories about new landowners appearing next to a neighbouring property where llamas or other exotic creatures roamed on that piece of already-cleared land. There were almost shooting wars about the newcomer removing his own trees to suit his needs and changing the view of those who were there first. I recently saw an old Western movie about the battles between cattlemen and sheep ranchers. Both sides were indignant about their “Rights” to overrun the natural world for their own needs. There were times when guns were drawn over the notion of fencing the open range. Of course, we‘re now understanding that “Leave it as you found it” has always been right but the fences won’t be coming down anytime soon. MY LAND!

The pioneers went to great lengths to import European cattle which still don’t really suit their new world. Now some agricultural circles are recognizing that the yield per acre in a given time period, factored in with the ability to be self-sustaining, from calving to finding water and enduring severe weather, indicates that bison are best-suited to live in their native habitat and can produce both profit and minimal environmental impacts. Who would have thunk? Wow! That’s amazing. Fields used to produce grain to feed cattle in feedlots, can be reverted to the natural grasslands they once were when the bison thrived splendidly in massive herds. We won’t need to burn any diesel harvesting the grain. And just think, ruminants were never intended to eat grain like birds. So, we could have “Gluten-free” beef. I admit I’m over-simplifying to make my point but nothing is perfect and nature has never needed our help, or interference, especially if we can be content with our truly simple needs. Now I just have to get my head around the bison being raised here on the Westcoast islands of BC. Shouldn’t we be raising elk here? They’re indigenous. Oh God here we go again sailor!

I often have the television on while I sit and write and sometimes there is something to draw me away from my keyboard. A few days ago there was a BBC program about a group in England who replicate various historical situations and film their efforts. At the moment they are working at the lives of tenant farmers on the land of a Tudor monastery, even complete with authentic costumes. “Hey Cedric, nice codpiece!”

If you were upper class you could afford to eat a varied diet with plenty of meat. The peasants and priests all lived on a near-constant diet of home-made bread and ales. Their concept of time was very different and they would work as daylight and weather permitted. There were few holidays or weekends off. Their lives as bipedal donkeys were usually over at age thirty-five to forty.

Kinsol Trestle Built by the railroad over the Koksilah River near Duncan on Vancouver Island. An amazing piece of engineering, no computers, just blood, sweat and brains.
Kinsol Trestle
Built by the CN railroad over the Koksilah River near Duncan on Vancouver Island.
An amazing piece of engineering, no computers, just blood, sweat and brains.

It occurred to me that their prime nourishment was almost purely gluten and I’m sure there weren’t many obese farm workers. Of course nor were there many geriatric ones. We’ve endured the paranoia about cholesterol, sodium, glucose, trans-fat and now gluten. This is especially poignant to me this week; I’ve just been diagnosed as being diabetic. That came as a shock! Most of those whom I know are diabetic were once chronic drinkers. I’m a bit portly but I stay very active and while I love good food and drink I have also worked on curbing the excesses which I once did embrace heartily. (Or is that heartlessly? How about mindlessly?) In the redneck world I knew for so long being a glutton was a mark of manliness. “Work hard, play hard!” Being overweight largely contributes to the onset of diabetes and one of the symptoms of diabetes is the weight gain it brings on. Cause and effect, round and round. The simple fact is that too much of anything, even water or air, can be a bad thing.

The rebuilt bridge sports miles of shiny sailboat rigging!
The rebuilt bridge sports miles of shiny sailboat rigging!

So the odyssey of Seafire and her crew takes an added twist. I must quit talking about healthy lifestyles. It’s time to do or die. I promote free original thinking and it is humiliating to admit I’ve fallen into a common state of mindless consumption. Maybe it is just the luck of the draw but there are things I can do to rectify the situation. Perhaps this is another example of my mantra about responsibility being the price of freedom. Another documentary titled “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” decries our collective dietary lemming race to the grave and also promotes the advantages of an all-juice diet for weight loss. The narrator also happens to be the owner of Breville, a company which markets juicing machines along with copious other kitchen gadgets. Hmmm! Do the potential plots ever end? Meanwhile my daily intake of pills is increasing and yes, I do have a conspiracy theory about that. There was a time when buying shirts, my concern was finding something my arms would fit into. Now it’s my belly. Yeah, I’ve got a lot of guts. Could you pass the chips please? Wannanother beer? This too shall pass. When I grow up I want to be a flat-bellied geezer.

Coincidentally, I finally saw parts of the famous documentary “Super size Me.” I’ll confess to indulging in fast food and that it is indeed both toxic and addictive. With the growing numbers, of people in poor health and the availability of instant malnourishment, we’re destroying ourselves in a gross and painful way. McDonalds, whom I can recall advertising, “Over a million served” now serves over forty-six million a day! And that’s just the big M. What of all the other purveyors of crap on a cardboard? We love the stuff! The marketing strategy seems to be “Eat shit, a billion flies cant be wrong.” And we buy it.

Koksilah River from Kinsol Trestle. Bungy-jumping? Kayaking?
Koksilah River from Kinsol Trestle.

One of my childhood icons has died. Don Harron was a Canadian actor and CBC Radio personality. Remember the wonderful voice of Peter Gzowski on CBC radio’s Morningside? Harron preceded him. He also developed a wonderful character named Charlie Farquharson. He nailed the mannerisms of an old Ontario farmer almost perfectly and, in his costume, was a dead ringer for my own  Canadian grandfather. His charm was in the way he misspelled things, writing them down phonetically. “Anyways if yer ready, put yer feet in the stove and we’ll git started with my oriole histry of Canada..that jist means it was took down by the wife Valeda, writin’ fast as Billy-jo jist as it come outta my mouth. I woulda writ it down myself, but Valeda says nobody’s gonna read writin’ when it’s written rotten.” Off he’d go about pre-Cambrian Shist and yer Plastocine Period.

He‘d ramble on about esoteric things Canadian, gently mincing it up such as describing the early fur traders as voyeurs-de-boys and if something needed special explanation he’d mark it with an “Astrix” and continue in his feetnotes. “RCMP means Roman Catholic Members Of Parliment and what they was doing with pillboxes, nobody knows”. His humour was dated and parochial and wonderfully innocent. Don Harron is gone, another piece of a lost era. An era, I’m afraid, of which I am part. Yeah I know, back in the good old days. I just don’t get yer CBC 49 and guys like Jeans-on Gomeshme. (Only Canadians have a hope of getting that! And he’s gone from there now because he was supposed to be a nasty piece of work.) Then there’s that George Stompsonalotofus!

My pals Tony and Connie from Victoria have arrived in Sri Lanka after sailing the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal on the way from Phuket. These guys are intrepid and have a wonderful way of mixing journey and destination into equal parts. They take the time to smell the flowers and produce a fantastic blog about their adventures. See the link in my right sidebar which will take you to ‘Sage On Sail’. Between two different boats this pair have now spent over ten years sailing the South Pacific. Other friends, Bob and Deb are somewhere in the American Southwest exploring in their Mercedes van which they did a magnificent job of turning into a modern gypsy caravan. They are apparently having a grand old time travelling in a land where everything is larger than life.

The earth awakes as January ends.
The earth awakes
as January ends.

Other friends are wintering at home in Australia. As soon as Ali recovers a bit from back surgery, she and Rodger will be back to their beloved wooden baby, “Betty Mac” presently moored in La Paz, Mexico. Off they’ll go again. The world keeps spinning ’round.

In a bay called Dogpatch, another old beauty dies a horrible death
In a bay called Dogpatch, another old beauty dies a horrible death

Meanwhile, here on the West Coast, it’s still too wet to plow and I’m laying by the door like an old dog waiting for the mailman. I’ve got some loose ends to tie up and then hopefully, will be soon be posting a blog from somewhere south. I’ll be busy this month preparing to participate in another annual trek to Astoria Oregon for the Fisher Poet’s Gathering. This is a fantastic event and celebration of those who work at sea. You’re all invited. Check out the Fisher Poet’s link on this blog’s right hand sidebar.

Astoria Oregon on the Columbia River looking out to the Columbia Bar and the open Pacific.
Astoria Oregon on the Columbia River looking out to the Columbia Bar and the open Pacific.

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: It would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”………C.S. Lewis