I am a sailor. Above all else. It follows that I am superstitious to a point. I have learned to love the desert and I have also spent good portions of my life living in rural and back wood settings. All those environs have their unique taboos. As a mariner I do not begin voyages on Fridays, I’ve learned not to whistle in the wheelhouse, I never stow cans upside-down. I always coil my lines in a clockwise direction. I am not inclined to ignore omens even when it seems silly. When I do, I pay. I did not hold the traditionally-required ceremony invoking Neptune’s blessing for renaming my last boat to ‘Seafire.’ That beloved piece of my life is now lost. There are actually sound originsfor each higgery-jiggery even if the logic is long lost. We all like, even need, the notion of forces greater than ourselves. Just because we don’t understand something does not mean it isn’t so.
A few mornings ago as I opened the bedroom curtains, a hummingbird hovered outside the window. It stayed for nearly a minute, tiny black eyes staring into mine before rising vertically out of sight. I took that as a good omen. Hummingbirds are regarded universally as symbols of happiness and peace. Natives of the Pacific Northwest traditionally regarded them as spirit beings which brought healing, good luck, love and joy. The gods know I could stand a healthy dose of all the above so bring on the bumminghirds; I mean… Oh damn! Later, I sat outside with a cup of coffee as a mourning dove repeatedly flew overhead with bits of grass in its beak. There’s a nest being built nearby. Hopefully that too was a sign of good things to come. Peace, security, quietude. In a tree, at this moment, a dove is coo-cooing its morning song as I write. Ommmm… There is a place in the desert not far from my beloved Baboquivari. It is the ruins of an old mission. The doves are singing the same song there. I am transported.
Presently, low finances put few prospects in sight. I am bored and despondent. I have never before been in such a situation. There is usually far more to do than can be crammed into any day. I’m not much good at heaving-to, even in the worst of conditions, and I’m impatient to lay a course toward something important. There are books to write, films to make, photos to take, so many places and people to see and meet. Summer is passing and there’s a lot of folks out there having a good time while I sit around navel-gazing. It’s driving me crazy! Things will change but for the moment my hands need busyness. One activity prompts creative juices for other things. Boredom and inactivity inspires more of the same, as does action.
So I decided to do something, anything, get the juice flowing. Scrounging through bits of material stored away I found enough to build a storage box that will be mounted on the back of the next trailer. Dumb-assed perhaps, but I feel better. It is no big deal, nor a new career, but the simple fact of doing something is cathartic and no matter how hard you will something to happen, you must also get active. Nothing happens until there is motion. Wishing is not a dynamic force. Chances are I’ll find a trailer with a nice storage box already in place. So then, maybe someone will want to buy a really good box!
Often, when I am writing, I jog off into the internet to refresh my memory about that which I write. I went briefly to look up Baboquivari and I found this. It explains my fascination with the place and why I must return.
Edward Abbey on Baboquivari
Edward Abbey(12927-1989), a famed essayist and writer who lived in southern Arizona, wrote about Babo:
“The very name is like a dream; a hard place to get to—jeeps might do it but will be unwelcome; best come on horseback or like Christ astride a donkey—way past the end of the pavement, beyond the smallest sleepiest town, beyond the barbed wire, beyond the Papagoan hogans, beyond the last of the windmills, hoving always in the direction of the beautiful mountain.”
Perhaps I should modify my box to fit on the back of a donkey! Care to join me?
“Activity and rest are two vital aspects of life. To find a balance in them is a skill in itself. Wisdom is knowing when to have rest, when to have activity, and how much of each to have. Finding them in each other – activity in rest and rest in activity – is the ultimate freedom.” ― Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Sell, sell, sell! I warned you that there’d be a little bit of marketing in my blogs. Now posting my images for sale online with Fine Art America.com I’ve just received an e-mail from those folks saying, that to kick-start business in July, they are offering a $100. wine gift certificate with Naked Wines.com. Apparently the offer is valid in the US only but the gift card comes with any purchase of artwork, no matter how small the order. So, for a $15 mug you get a $100. worth of wine. Now you know. Apologies to my fellow Canadians. Damn eh!
A month ago, four blogs back, I posted a blog titled “Goldfield Calling.” I wrote about Highway 50 being described as the loneliest highway in America. The route runs East-West across Nevada. Even telephone poles along its length are a rarity. As you drive its long miles you are in the wild wide open west. Now I believe I’ve found an even lonelier road. While listening online to Radio Goldfield I learned of a community in Nevada called Gabbs. The name “gabbed” me. I’ve looked it up on Google Earth. I don’t think there will be e-mails from anyone saying “Yeah, ‘bin there, know it well.”
I can’t explain why but I love lonely roads and I will certainly drive this way on my next trip south. Here’s the route: on Highway 50, a few miles east of a half-way mark between Austin Nevada and Reno is a pinprick on the map called Middlegate. I’m not sure there is even a gas station there. Don’t blink when you are getting close in case you go on by. Hopefully there is at least a road sign. The junction sits a few miles west of Bench Creek Wash and Cold Springs, location of the Pony Express Station which I have written about. I had already decided to go back there to explore and photograph that old outpost so I’m not going out of my way at all by swinging down toward Gabbs.
Turn south to Middlegate, you’ll now be on Highway 361. Gabbs is about 30 miles away. If you look this up on Google Map you’ll see bleak, brown, bare, dry desert in all directions. Actually, that kind of country supports an amazing ecosystem if you care to look. There is certainly a lot more than tumbleweed, rattlesnakes and coyotes. For me that is part of the magic of deserts. It is all a mystery to me. Well aware that I am an alien there, it thrills me to see how much is going on in an environment that at first appears bleak and hostile, just like the ocean but in an opposite sort of way. If you leave me on a remote beach here in the Pacific Northwest, with just a pocket knife and a lighter, I may not be happy but I’ll be OK. In the desert I’m not sure how I’d survive. It is a very different world to me.
Gabbs looks more like a camp than a town, the landmark there is a huge open pit magnesium mine, now closed. Wikipedia says the population was 269; it will not be higher now. It is now unincorporated but there is a description of infrastructure which among other things includes a jail; a sure sign of civilization.Folks who live in places like Gabbs are not there because of their high social yearnings. They did not seek out seclusionso they could befriend inquisitive strangers. There are bullet holes in nearly everything in the US Southwest. It’s a cultural statement best heeded. Let reclusive people demonstrate their desire to interact, at their inclination. I meet plenty of lovely folks down there, but I remain aware that I am the intruder. I’ve never felt at risk but then birds of a feather know when to flock off. In fact I always feel better whenever I go into remote areas. The desert leaves me with the same inner peace I know when far out at sea. Locals who choose to live in isolation operate on similar frequencies as me and I find an affirmation in meeting them. I might be nutters but I’m not alone. Cities leave me with a very opposite feeling. When surrounded by urban throngs I seldom feel at ease.
Gabbs was named for a paleontologist who was fascinated with the large number of fossils in the area. So, there’s something else that may be of interest. A few miles south of town, a gravel road, even more remote and primitive, angles off the pavement to the southeast where it eventually passes the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project. In the photo on Google Earth it looks like a massive sunflower comprised of solar panels and it alone appears to make that entire back road jaunt look worthwhile. I’ll let you know.
There is another route, which is a paved road, but either way will eventually take you to Tonapah, civilization at last. Just look for the road signs if they are not too shot-up to read. Tonopah has several fast food joints, each of which will have wifi… so I can post a blog with photos describing my adventure realizing yet another little dream. This past winter I sat in the MacDonalds there trying to do exactly that. Other patrons stared me down for the stranger I was. Clearly, using a laptop there was a suspicious activity. At the table next two me, two bewhiskered old codgers loudly reminisced over their boyhood glory days in the South Pacific during WWII. Clearly, it had been the pinnacle of their life still worth reliving over seventy years later to anyone within earshot. Meanwhile, across the restaurant a near-deaf, geriatric couple shouted insults at each other. I recall deciding to do my work elsewhere. There is, by the way, another Tonopah. But that one is in Arizona, another place and part of another story.
The Nevada town’s name of Tonopah is an old Shoshone word meaning “hidden spring.” One of my joys in the US Southwest are those place names. They are lyrical, whimsical, even romantic. An illustrious place-name may now prove to be just more empty desert with little or no sign of human presence ever. What was once someone’s centre of the universe is now gone. Why it was ever there may be a profound mystery.
Google Map shows many funky little communities, or place names at least, spaced all over the desert including the perimeters of Area 51 and Nellis AFB, only a few minutes to the east by supersonic fighter jet and alleged home to strange events, including alien sightings and encounters. There are other remote but well-developed, large airfields which have no names, all very strange indeed. I’ve met people who describe themselves as “Aviation Archeologists.” They go out into the desert in hot rod offroad vehicles looking for the remains of crashed airplanes. The Southwest has long been a military aviation training region and there are wrecks littered all over the landscape. What a great excuse if you want to roar around the outback drinking, shooting and generally being a yahoo.
Whenever you travel in desolate areas it is wise to carry extra gas and you can never have too much water, the latter preferably in bottles so that any leak is confined to one small container. Not only is carrying a few basic supplies a good idea for your own needs, you never know when you might come across someone who needs a little help. In the desert, like any remote area, a simple mishap, like a simple vehicle breakdown, can easily become a matter of life and death. You must look after other folks in distress. It is the code of pay back and pay ahead, especially when there may be no-one else to come along for a very long time.
Top up with gas whenever you can, never assume you will find more before you run out. The gas station promised miles ahead may be closed. If you must pay a little more to fill up before you venture on, think of much you’d be happy to pay if you were to run out. Living in remote areas much of my life, I’ve learned that leaving town with a full fuel tank in a vehicle is like having money in your pocket. Spend wisely and keep some cash on hand; some places do not accept credit cards.“Failing to plan, is planning to fail.”
And..there are infinite miles of other back roads to explore as well. Looking at the vastness of the American Southwest, it is hard to grasp that, despite its emptiness, there is not one square inch that has not been explored. Every stone must have been turned over, at least once, in a quest for the mineral riches hidden among all that rock and dirt. I marvel constantly at mine locations. Profitable or not it is amazing how someone found, then extracted, that vein of ore exactly where they did. Their tenacity, both physical and mental, was huge. There were no roads, no automobiles, minimal technology, only deprivation, grit and single-mindedness. Even with modern technology, we cannot duplicate that spirit of endeavour.
Meanwhile my summer is passing on what proves to be a far lonelier and dustier road than any I’ll find in any desert. Sometimes the road of life offers barren distances which you must travel to get to greener places. I’m finding life without ‘Seafire’ an absolute dreary hell. I am now among billions of others who are landlubbers. The difference is that, unlike most, I know what I’m missing. “It is better to have loved and lost…” I know, I know. Bullshit I say, bullshit!
Nothing lasts forever, this dreary time shall pass, but I am restless and eager to move forward. No matter what one’s circumstances, you can only live one day at the time. I find myself trying to ponder good things to come. Fortunately, I can spend hours contentedly travelling virtually on Google Earth. What a wonderful technology! A daydream machine! This from a guy who often laments his cyber ineptitude! Now for the moment, I’m back from my desert musings.
Here on Vancouver Island we are having what is deemed by many to be an unusual summer. It is a slightly rainy July, which is not extraordinary. I recall that most years here we have a wet July. We certainly need all the moisture that comes. Every year folks seem to forget the previous summer. Most people complain no matter what the weather is doing, too wet, too cool, too hot, too smokey, too windy. Other reports from the Northern Hemisphere describe muggy summer heat beside the Great Lakes and on the East coast friends describe constant cold.
So we’re doing just fine on our island, a wonderland of moderate climate and gentle yet dramatic natural beauty. People come from around the planet to see it. Jack takes me on spectacular walks within a radius of a few miles of home. Some days I am able to actually see it all and marvel that I live here. This morning I napped peacefully on the banks of The Nanaimo River while its crystal laughing waters sang happily on their way to the sea. Jack snuffled and plunked around, chasing waterbugs and digging in patches of soft sand. He drank from the clear water and then chased more bugs before falling asleep in the sun-warmed ground. A deer wandered out of the forest a little way upstream to drink in the river. Flowers swayed in the breeze while birds twittered and flitted. I have no idea what the poor people were doing.
There are three kinds of people in the world:
The living, the dead, and those who go to sea …Aristotle
Business first. So to the complaint department: In the recent formatting changes of this blog, the comment box at the bottom disappeared. In its place, at the top right had corner, above the theme photo is a button called “Get In Touch.” That’s the new and improved way for contact and comment. If you’re like me any change in any cyber system is baffling. That’s why the dinosaurs disappeared. They could not assimilate a changing environment quickly enough.And now some advertising. Folks often tell me how they like my photographs. I love flattery. (It is something I’ve been doing for over fifty years and yes, I do miss film cameras and the old darkroom days.) Anyway, I’ve recently discovered a site called Fine Art America.com, FAA for short. I’ve joined up and now have posted over five hundred of my images from my digital photo archives. You can buy any of my work there, (or other artists of several disciplines) reproduced in many ways such as canvas prints, framed prints, shower curtains, T shirts, hand bags, duvet covers, coffee mugs and so forth. I receive only a pittance of each sale but it is great exposure for my work and a fantastic gift idea for anyone. There is an image to please anyone. Many of the photos which have appeared in this blog are available. Of course, folks can always contact me directly through this blog, or any of the popular social medias. I may have something to please your specific heart’s desire. Be warned, In future I will regularly flog this site on my blog. A direct link is now in the ads column on the top right hand of this page. End of commercial, we now return to the regular blogging program.I spent many hours in front of my computer editing my photo files, posting images and their descriptions one at time time. It was truly a pain in the ass after sitting day after day. But now I have an online portfolio, a true love-me effort I am rather proud of. Between digital images, slides and negatives, I cannot guess how many thousands of images I have squirrelled away from all my years messing around with cameras.I also signed in with Face book, LinkedIn, and with Twitter. Haar! Now I can exchange views directly with Donald. Considering that I have to drive to cross US borders twice to get to Mexico, I know that I do not want to deal with Homeland Insecurity if there is any sort of dark marks on file. Few of those folks appear to have any sense of humour and, I’ve learned, do not appreciate my jokes or smart remarks. So... two ears, two eyes, one mouth. Yes sir, no sir.
On that note, I’ve just finished reading ‘Into The Beautiful North’ by Luis Alberto Urrea. He is a Mexican who clearly understands the illegal Mexican immigrant story. This novel drew me eagerly forward with a wonderful account of young Mexican women smuggling themselves into the US in order to bring a few Mexican men back south of the border to protect their town from criminals. It is humorous, entertaining, insightful, and also a primer of Mexican Spanish and slang. I seldom recommend a book I’ve read but this one gets lots of stars from me. It certainly offers a fresh perspective to this gringo. This work enhances conversations and new insights I gained on my most recent trip down that way. There are certainly no valid black and white arguments once one begins to grasp all colours of the cross-border situation. Despite all the dark stories, I love it there and want to return as quickly as I can.Perspectives are often misleading and a person may look back on a view eventually realizing how inaccurately life can be seen and believed. For example, when I was very young, my father who loved brass bands and so too the Salvation Army, parades and military tattoos, provided my with plenty of exposure to that sort of music. One of my childhood amazements was trombone players. I was gobsmacked, how when playing their horns, they could slide that long brass tube up and down their throats without ever flinching. I was convinced they were as talented as sword swallowers. I held no desire to play the trombone. We listened regularly to the local radio station CHWO 1250 AM, “White Oak Radio.” I had been shown the station itself which occupied the upper floor of a small brick building in town. I listened enthralled, wondering how in the hell all those bands, orchestras, singers and musicians passed through that place, up and down the stairs, without ever making a sound. I waited interminably for someone to drop their cymbals, or cough, but nothing, always nothing. I believed all music in the radio studio was live. I knew nothing about recordings, we certainly kept none at home. My perceptions have changed.Often we believe something as solid fact which is actually unfounded and inaccurate. A part-truth is as good as a lie. We are immersed with a daily avalanche of information from the media. In their need to constantly produce a quota of content we are often under an overdose of babble and speculation until our brains are nearly exploding with a plethora of fiction. I watch folks sometimes come close to blows over a certainty about what they have gleaned from public news sources, the clergy, politicians, the weatherman or some other uninformed opinion either deliberate or accidental.
How many millions have died in wars and natural catastrophes believing God was on their side just as their enemy also did? Throughout history hype masters and spin doctors have determined what someone else wants us to believe. Even I, a self-declared cynic, am stunned at how incredibly gullible I can often be. I recently saw a bumper sticker that said, “Don’t believe everything you imagine.” In other words, ask questions. Always.
The cave you fear to enter hides the treasures you seek. Joseph Campbell
It is the second day of July. Last night the holiday fireworks resolved into a mere two huge explosions. Then all was quiet. I hope there were at least a few survivors. This morning it is raining, a beautiful steady warm rain. The doors are open and I listen to the music of water gurgling in the downspouts. There is a lovely aroma of freshness. We need this, desperately. There were a few hours of precipitation last week, the stream beds did not swell at all. Now this. I swear I can almost hear the parched earth soaking it up. More please! This blog will be a simple photo essay about life in my little patch here on Vancouver Island. Rain or sun, bring your hat.
“ For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out. James Baldwin.