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