I awoke in the morning with that damned old song looping around in my head. From beneath the blankets I could feel the grey outdoors and life seemed pointless. One of those mornings. Bathroom, coffee machine, morning grunts on the living room rug, then open the curtains and confirm what I already knew. Another voice from the past echoed in my head, “Can’t have gravy all the time.”
“Leave me alone” I wanted to shout, but still “Nowhere man” wouldn’t let me go. I suppose I’d been pondering the point of life, past, present and future and came up with a foggy zero. Another slash of rain rattled on the skylight. March 26th, Yeehaw!
My habit of late is to check the news and see if there are any significant developments in the Ukraine. The first story to stop me today is about a dog abandoned in a Ukrainian train station. There must be hundreds of them. I want to do something, but what? I ended up making a small donation to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)There are so many people who have to come before any dog but in my jaded brain I have a hard time accepting that a dog is less worthy of love than a person. And, no-one has ever been shot at by a dog! Yesterday while making up the bed in the Hemoth I noted a faint odour of Jack in the duvet. I will wash it or replace it, but it is a last link to my beloved friend who has already been gone almost two months. Well isn’t it all too bizarre and depressing? As a tugboat dispatcher in my past used to say, “She’s all bluebirds, just fuckin’ bluebirds.” On that note, the barn swallows have just returned.
Saturday evening passed with me watching ancient Sterling Hayden movies on YouTube then music videos of James Mcmurtry and Ray Wylie Hubbard. All the cheery stuff! All the while I snacked on Cheesies, washing that health food down with straight Demerra rum.
I’ve decided that it’s time to start looking for another dog. There are no merit points in mourning for Jack. He’s gone, life goes on. He will always be a part of me but my life is not complete without some canine company. I’m not rushing into anything and need to feel that somehow the dog finds me, but I’m open to possibilities. I have no breed or gender preferences, so long as the dog will be able to adapt to life in the Hemoth, or in a boat.
“Help Wanted. One dog. Job description negotiable.” Posted on the woofernet, March 31st.
“A boy can learn a lot from a dog: obedience, loyalty, and the importance of turning around three times before lying down.” Robert Benchley
Sun’s up. I awake in the bunk of my Hemoth, dead silence. I pulled in here last night as darkness was falling. It was almost dark, this spot was reasonably level and mudless; any port in a storm. I’m parked in the middle of a huge cut-block of second-growth timber on Vancouver Island. It is exactly that, timber and nothing but. Well, it was. There is no apparent sense of the sacred forest here; it is utterly devastated. I remember a distant planet named Greed where I lived long ago and where I did this for a living. I thank the Gods that I see things differently now.
Everything was calculated in cubic metres per hectare and the best way to get it to the mill. Now mechanization and computerization is so complete none of these trees will be touched by a human hand until delivered to a construction site. Few see the environmental aspects, not even the self-appointed environmentalists, not that second growth forest is any semblance of the original forest that evolved over thousands of years. At least much of that was harvested by hand, there was a human cost of sweat and blood, often life and limb, to reap those riches. Unfortunately, those who reaped the reward seldom paid a personal price.
The silence is broken by the passing drone and clatter of a helicopter, another chapter in my book of old stories. There are always memories. Then my mind drifts to the Ukraine where the sound of any aircraft could mean it’s time to bend down and kiss your ass goodbye. Even those high-flying jets here that we don’t even notice, could in the skies over Kiev, be the last sound you hear. I’m listening to Spotify and a song comes on called “Mercy Now” by Mary Gautier. This old crank is feeling mighty leaky-faced. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKUWvF8lcKI . There can be no better song for the present moment.
Last night during a break in the rain a moment of moonlight burst out. There is a large weedy puddle in the former forest floor and for a few minutes a chorus of frogs broke out. There is hope in the swamp. Now I hit the road not sure yet where I’m going. The forecast has been for eternal rain but at the moment I’m concerned that I don’t have my sun glasses. The day is bright as it can only be after a night of rain. The sunlight soon passes.
On this following evening I’m parked at the head of an inlet called Espinosa only a few miles west of a once-famous island town called Zeballos. Geographically it is in the center of North Vancouver Island but it is perched on the salt water of the West Coast of the island. Long winding inlets reach far into the hard rock, almost dividing the island in places. The last time I was here I realize, was a quarter-century ago. Logging was still a key industry then and I came in sunny weather. It seemed very different. The timber company is gone, the mining is long-finished, commercial fishing is a memory. I can’t imagine what keeps anyone here.
The rain is interminable, the world is the colour of dishwater. I’ve driven past some native housing, seen the trademark garbage, mangy dogs, children in t-shirts playing with plastic toys out in the cold spring rain beneath electronic signs displaying my speed. They are precious after all, you look out for them. How I want to scream at someone, “These are YOUR CHILDREN!” What’s my point? I know the kids are loved, but it’s a heartbreaker to try and understand.
A short distance beyond, the road to Fair Harbour is a trail of thin grey soup with potholes and course rocks for texture. Then I come upon a grader scratching the mud back and forth. It all conspires to crush my weary soul and I find a place to park the Hemouth for the night. I’ll go no further in the morning. There is no level ground but I shouldn’t roll out of bed. I go out into the rain to gas up the generator for the night and step back into the camper cursing myself for frying up onions on such a day. In this tiny enclosure the cooking stench is crushing. Thank goodness I saved the garlic. I prepare for bed wondering how many Ukrainians would eagerly trade me situations. The rain hammers down in waves. Mexico seems so very far away. “Ah quit yer bitchin.’ If’n ya had romance every night, wotchad be wantin’ then?” I wonder how any human can live here year after year.
I am on a large island in the North Pacific Ocean yet access to its shoreline is very limited. Most roads are built through the formidable granite at tremendous effort and expense. Costs and progress are marked by the metre. On the south island most accessible foreshore is privately owned or is, in too few places, government parkland. You know those places with all the brown wooden signs telling you what you cannot do. Every private parcel of any sort of land is festooned with signs forbidding you to take any pleasure. There are no signs here, no internet, no phone service, no-one knows I’m here. The school bus rattled by at 08:15, a few children from out Fair Harbour way off to the school in Zeballos. This is my first jaunt without Jack and I miss him horribly. The rain persists.
I head back toward the pavement on the east side of the island. The road to a place I know and love on Johnstone Strait is closed so I turn onto a route I’ve never driven before. The spring logging road is terrible. Second and third gear are the best I can manage. It takes an hour to travel twenty kilometres. I come to Little Bear Bight, a lovely campground beside the waters of Johnstone Strait. I park on a level nicely gravelled spot, there is only one other hardy pair of souls here, we wave but keep a respectful distance. As darkness falls I recognize the Walkem Island light across the strait. Home waters to me. That’s a comfort.
Morning brings no change. There is no wind, the rain comes in fitful bursts, the sky is low, there are twenty kilometres of potholes and mud to get back to pavement. I give up and head for Ladysmith. The Hemoth has proven my repairs are good and I make my plans. South.
“Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?” ― Haruki Murakami
Monday morning, February 28th. BC Ferries, Queen of Cowichan. It’s all grey out there, but the visibilty is thirty miles beneath the low overcast. There’s a wind warning up but for the moment it’s a piffling 15 knots, on the nose of course. It’s not my idea of how to go to sea sitting here at this tiny desk with herds of landlubbers stumbling by and yucking it up by my elbow. There’s a young fellow hovering around, practising his manly walks and trying to display the new tattoo on his skinny arm. He is the sort who gets duped into going to war. A young family settles at the desk beside me and tries to set up a card game with their shrieking youngster. Another BC Ferry announcements booms out extolling passengers to re-install their Covid face masks between each sip of coffee. And then …”Thank you for choosing BC Ferries.” Arseholes! As if we had a choice!
Once off of this old gutbucket there is a gauntlet ahead. There will be a freeway marathon around the north edge of Vancouver and then out into the grey bowels of the lower mainland. Hopefully I’ll be off that snot chute before rush hour begins, not that this old bogwump can tell when that might be. It seems like a lemming race to me all day, every day. At the moment this jaded old salt is looking out at Jedediah Island and the south end of cloud-wrapped Texada. I remember long black storm-tossed nights at the helm of some greasy old tug. There were other spells of sun-dappled days on one of my own boats anchored safely in some nook when you’d lost track of time and didn’t really give a damn. How I cherish those memories and long to feel a small vessel rocking beneath me again.
The ferry stumbles into its second notable swell of the trip. The whole vessel shudders like a monstrous drum. Rain now lashes the window. I look out and up Sechelt Inlet to more fresh snow on the distant peaks. I’ll close this computer, find a corner and try to have a nap. That’s how you get to meet any screaming babies on board.
A day later finds me in a friend’s brand-new apartment in Langley. Fifth floor, looking down on another of these box mushrooms rising up. First thing in the morning, the crew has set their pace at full plod. I get it, the rain is spattering down as the workers staple together the bits of lumber and soggy plywood. Safety first and how do you get motivated with hours of dreary travail ahead? Overhead cranes spin in a slow choreography, dipping and lifting all the countless bits and equipment in and out of place as required. Beeping back-up alarms, the din of hammers and air guns blend into a strange jazz for the ballet of industry.
A half-million dollars or more for each of these domicile boxes with rot built-in from the beginning but how do you erect a whole new city without working in the rain. Not much would ever get done. No matter to me if folks chose to live like stacked rats, the cancerous spread of this megalopian cancer is well to the east in the Fraser Valley. The high-rises look down on the last of the old barns and the new corner stores where soon the milk will come from China. In the distance I can see excavator booms bending and rising with loaded buckets as they prepare the foundations for more buildings. When I looked up this address on Google Earth a red teardrop placed it in a forest behind a farm. No-one will hear the call of a rooster or the bellow of a cow here ever again.
There was a time when home was a place where you could piss and then jump safely from the back porch, returning inside with a fist full of fresh eggs or an arm load of fire wood.
Now, peeing without a face mask ist verbotten, someone in a brown shirt will show up to charge you with inadequate exposure, the eggs need to be approved by the health department and the egg marketing board, the firewood must be certified ozone friendly with carbon taxes paid. Old George Orwell was a clever chap. I’m glad to be the age I am.
The week slips by quickly. All too soon the visiting must end and I find myself back on the ferry. This time I’m on a top deck and can stay in my vehicle. I put my seat back for a nap and find myself awakened over two hours later by the announcement that we are nearing the Duke Point Terminal. I race up to the washroom on the passenger deck and can’t comprehend why other passengers are glaring at me. I’ve forgotten my Covid mask. I complete my mission and return to my car. I can’t find it. I’ve long found amusement with the lost souls in panic stumbling the decks wondering what in hell…. now I’m one myself.
Welcome to the world of senility, where nothing is as it seemed. On the ferry, I always note the door I’ve used and the car was just where I left it, on the other side of a bulkhead. I’d simply had a brain fart. There was a local restaurant which mischievously placed a sign inside the men’s washroom which simply read “Women.” Same feeling.
Now at home again I sit at my desk and check the latest news. Once again, nothing seems real. It is unforgivable to me that an iconic aircraft, the AN-225, has been wilfully destroyed. The aircraft was a symbol of Ukrainian pride and achievement.
These are civilians, trying to live their lives, who are now fleeing with their children or taking up arms to try and defend their homeland. That such humanitarian horror has been imposed on a peaceful Western nation is terribly wrong. All because of one pig-faced short man. An indelible image for me has been that of a Russian soldier’s body laying spread-eagled on his back on the frozen ground beside the tracks of a burned-out tank. He is covered in an inch of snow. His comrades have not claimed his body. Even more horrifying, there are images of civilian bodies laying in the street where they fell. Wars have become real-time live entertainment and it is appalling that someone’s misery and carnage is our casual distraction as we sit down to dinner.
In our own homeland, greedy bastards have popped the price of fuel up by ten percent or more using the invasion of Ukraine as a thin excuse. Our roads are still jammed with hurtling traffic. No-one is thinking economy although (in my opinion) we are paying a dollar per litre more than we should. Life goes on. I’m loading up the Hemouth with beans and heading into the woods for a while.
“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones. “ Albert Einstein