Pop Went The Wonton

You’re kidding! It’s a BALLOON we’re looking for!

To break the humdrum of winter, China has provided us with a little comic relief. Aviation has been my fascination and passion for all of my life. I no longer maintain my pilot license but I still hold a keen interest in all things to do with flight. When I learned that a high-altitude Chinese balloon had trespassed through Canadian airspace, I was instantly fascinated. At the time the story first broke, the aircraft was already over central Montana and being born toward North Carolina. The US Airforce shot it down there just after it had drifted out over the Atlantic and away from causing potential civilian damage on the ground. At least that’s their story.

One of the military bases the device had to have passed over was the Canadian fighterbase at Cold Lake in Alberta. It is where we train our F18 pilots and surely they would have loved a real target to practice on. Whether it was a meteorological flight, or a surveillance mission, it was a simple balloon! The media speculated that balloon was at an altitude of 60,000 feet and possibly beyond the service ceiling of Canadian and US military aircraft. It think it is a hilarious, embarrassing bungle. We spend billions annually to maintain a super hi-tech defense umbrella. It was completely comprised and had been passed by before we little people learned of the air invasion. Old Nostradamus warned us to “Beware the yellow peril.”

Clearly he knew his business. Maybe “keeping it simple” is a clever new military strategy.

My warped brain imagined the radio com yesterday between base station and the assault aircraft. “Eagle defense, eagle defense, clear to engage.”

Roger base, firing one. Oh shit, oh no, there’s writing on the target! It says, “Woo Li World Famous Wontons.” POOF!

We all saw news footage of the deflated silk envelope fluttering earthward. I imagined Putin saying to his boys, “So that’s what they’re sending to the Ukraine. They can even shoot down balloons! Imperialist devils!” And think of the thousands of miles it travelled without burning a single drop of fuel! Green Wontons Rule! Suppose they’d had one of those American hostages aboard. He was trying to win his freedom by taking photos, tying the SIM cards to pigeons and heaving them overboard. Wars have started over less. There will be a bad movie, or two, out soon.

Oh yeah, have you heard? We’ve just learned of a serious program being developed to defend our planet against asteroids. Uhuh?

One huge sky One tiny balloon

If black boxes survive air crashes, why don’t they make the whole plane out of that stuff?”
– George Carlin

Quiche

Anchor watch. Ho hum, just another day waiting for a berth in Vancouver. Too cold to paint, God knows how they pass their watches. For once there are a few minutes of sunrise.

Another dreary winter day, snowing again. It’s a left-over quiche kind-of afternoon. Every other day it’s leftovers. Cook one day, warm-up left-overs the next. Some foods, like soup and stew, often taste better after they’ve been left to ferment overnight. Blah month, blah weather, blah food, blah attitude. Seen one, seen ’em all. Where’s that bottle of hot sauce?

Between the sleepers. Toadstools grow on our abandoned railway.
“Now, THIS is an old growth tree.”
“Yeah, beats the heck out of a mulberry bush.”
This old workshop is one of my favourite buildings in Nanaimo. I like to imagine that it was a blacksmith shop. I can hear the clang of hammer on anvil and smell the coal smoke belching out of that old chimney. One of the cornerstones of photography is to take the picture when you see it. This building is being outflanked by new subdivisions. It’s a matter of time and the rain-wet added something special.

One of the good things my mother did for me was to get me cooking at a very early age, about three as I recall. I soon learned about hot stove tops when I’d stand on tip toes on the kindling box at the wood stove and stir up a batch of porridge or some other blupping concoction. I was lucky not to be seriously scalded or loose a finger splitting firewood.

Having a reasonable understanding of basic meat and potato cooking has served me well at times. I always had a place working on the tugs because of my culinary skill. Savoury, plentious meals are deemed a due of the job and woe to anyone in the galley who produces slop. You knew you’d done well when conversation around the supper table fell silent. The crew was too busy stuffing their pie holes. A skipper once offered an accolade, “you’d make a good wife if you weren’t so f―king ugly!” Terms of endearment, right?

The dog watcher. Now the salmon are gone a little dog must look tasty on a cold winter day.
Joined at the hip. I have become completely smitten with these two little rascals.

I have a lot of funny anecdotes about cooking at sea. Full-time cooks on the coastal tugs were rendered redundant. Deck hands were then required to prepare one meal a day on the day watches, lunch and supper. Apparently grub often improved over what the cooks had been producing. I took the mate’s watch, twelve to six because on the night watch I often had a few free hours to write. The crew worried who I was writing about.

Heron Beach winter afternoon. As the tide ebbs the ducks work the retreating shallows to scrounge for edible tidbits.
High fungus. Edible? Smokable? Dunno. I’m not going up there to check it out.
Under the volcano, 91 miles/147 km away. Mt. Baker from my house.
Another telephoto view taken with my mobile phone. Amazing I think.

One afternoon we had been very busy putting together our tow. I did not have the time left to put together a full effort meal so I slammed two cans of chicken soup into a pot, added some vegetables, lots of spice and a little seafood. While that was simmering up on the back of the big diesel stove I knocked together a quiche with lots of spice and a little seafood and bacon. I often referred to this meal as “Quicky” and to hell with what real men eat. The skipper expected his supper served on time, so he could eat without rushing to his watch in the wheelhouse at 18:00.

At 17:30 hours I was hauling the quiche out of the oven just as he was stepping into the galley. “Wots that shit?” he queried in great suspicion with his usual screeching voice and weary red neck perspective.

It’s uh,,,tugboat pie, skipper, something new!”

Looks like freakin’ quiche to me! Jeehesus!” Just then our new engineer was stepping into the galley. He was a sweet young fellow from Kitsalano. “QUICHE? I LOVE quiche!”

Keehrist” Exclaimed our captain. He made his way up to the helm with a bowl of soup and a plate of peanut butter sandwiches.

On another trip, with that same old red-neck captain, a new deckhand had come aboard and was clearly determine to make a good impression on his first-ever trip. He stowed his gear in the foc’sle and was putting a few cookbooks up on the galley window sill. Into the galley stepped old “Turkey Neck”, our nickname for him. “Jeesus! Cook books! Wot kinda freakin’ cook are you? Cook books?” Most novice deckhands would have been quivering at that point. This boy calmly looked the skipper in the eye with determined insubordination. “Skipper, when I come up to the wheel house I’m going to find drawers full of charts, collision regulations, tide books, sailing directions and lord knows what all else. Tell me sir, what kind of freakin’ captain are you?” Those two got on famously for the entire trip. Every ship needs a cat but this kid wasn’t it.

The spider web
Just reach in
Troll’s throw. When you turn away you may get cracked on the back of the head.
In the troll’s den
Still too wet to plow
I buried Jack here a year ago today. Feb. 2nd
How I miss my beloved friend Jack. He will be a part of me forever.

Never trust a skinny cook.” so saith the Fred

Christmas Zoom

 

“Thazzit?” Hopefully the White Christmas business is over. Thank you!

Two days before Christmas I sat watching the desert fly by. Cacti, and rocks and dust fling by the handle bar of a motorcycle where a video camera was mounted. The bike is participating in a rally in The Baha desert. I love the desert by I can’t understand why anyone would want to beat themselves, and their expensive piece of machinery like that. Just because I don’t get it does not mean it’s wrong, it is just not for me. I’d love to be there in fact, right now, on a motorbike, but idling along; Fred Quixote, the happy wanderer. I’m a lover not a racer. Outside my window here, a grainy snow sifts down, ahead of a forecast for a heap more snow, then torrential rain.

And the creeks did rise. There was flooding which subsided quickly.
"Follow me. Don't worry, it's too cold for snakes."
“Follow me. Don’t worry, it’s too cold for snakes.”

Television news this week is full of reports of cancelled flights and backed-up air terminals as people complain about who is to blame. There are claims of never having known storms like this before. Really? Do you actually believe yourself? It doesn’t taking much digging into records to see that there have been plenty of winter storms, fiercer, colder, snowier than this. A funny thing happens when you plan to travel during winter, you have to deal with winter storms. Yes really! Your agenda has nothing to with what the weather gods determine. It’s called reality. Don’t take it personally. It is not the fault of any airline, or weather forecaster.

I find it ludicrous that Canadians expect that by stepping through a few doorways, and waiting a few hours, you can move from a country known to be a wintery place and always arrive, on time, in some lower latitude tropical paradise. Even telephone calls don’t always get through. Reality, and our expectations, are often very far apart. There are still seats available on the all-inclusive Christmas tour of the Ukraine. For no extra charge, you can pick out an orphaned dog or cat and bring them home with you. And then, there are the children.

Bacon ‘n eggs. The pig is committed and the chicken is involved. Actually this one’s a rooster!
Winter weather brings the elk down to low ground. They’re very tasty too but it’s wonderful to see natural wild herds on the roam.
The bulls have shed their antlers already, but they’re still noble creatures.
This old farm boy will admit to hating goats. But, I’ll also admit, they do have a certain charm.

With Christmas past, the weather has warmed, the wind and rain have hammered away much of the snow. We have survived our day of grief missing those we so loved and are now gone. The wee dogs and I will soon head out, hopefully there’ll be no more slush-hopping. With wind slamming the trees around it may be a good idea to stay out in the open. Four days later, after another “weather event” of biblical rain, the snow is completely gone except for the receding heaps we shoveled so high last week. Now our lowlands are flooded as usual after heavy rain. Folks, as usual, are looking for someone to blame. Frankly, I’ve little pity for people who are determined to live in bottomland that is repeatedly flooded. Hello? Hello?

End of the home stretch. One more spawn at Christmas time. The colour is right.
Five on the hook, waiting for a cargo just before Christmas as another storm blows in from the sou’east.
Winter sleep
A glorious visual moment after two hours of snow-shoveling. It’s pretty up there.
Spider morning.
Follow me. He’ll never catch us. “Gawd, I hate spiders!”
The trekkers
United we stand.
Winter park.

And so we have survived into a New Calendar year. Fireworks intermittently hammered under a beautiful clear sky until after 3 am. It sounded like yet another assault on Kiev. Life goes on whether we like it or not, suck it up and go do something. Wishing everyone health and happiness with good things to look forward to. May you find contentment in the moment.

The watcher. From deep inside an old alder, yet another bark owl peeks out.
Juniper. We’d be shocked to learn how old this venerable beauty is.
Trincomali Bonsai. A  winter view toward Ruxton Pass during a solstice high tide.
Thet yer RV? A good mattress and two saddle bags, all you need. Due South!

You are never too old to reinvent yourself.” Steve Harvey

Rite And Rong

Welcome To Campbell River. This aged Beaver CF-GBV is mounted on a pylon and marks the entrance to town.
In the colours of British Columbia Airlines, this beauty has survived the years and lumps and bumps without any apparent modifications.

Back in the jungle again. You know the tune, sing it Willy. The home front had enough of me, and I of it. Without much contemplation here I am back in Naka Creek with the whales and other urban refugees, and as it turns out, some international ones as well.

As I left town a great wall of smoke rose rapidly from the south, America is burning I hear. To add an apocalyptic touch, someone turned hard right and rammed head-on into two rows of vehicles waiting for a traffic light. There was a heap of carnage, a muddle of arriving emergency vehicles and a herd of geriatrics in spandex on bicycles running in dithering circles waving their arms. We make movies in Ladysmith. We’ll call this one ‘No Fault Insurance.’ You can be part of the problem or part of the solution. I let the wall of smoke chase me northward. It found me by next morning.

By the next day the smoke from US forest fires surrounded us.
BUMP! Floating just on the surface this old loader tire would definitely grab a sailor’s attention if they hit it.

I arrived at Naka Creek, my favourite place on Johnstone Strait just in time to see three southbound cruise ships returning from another Alaska jaunt. I remember meeting these gleaming behemoths in these waters when I worked on the tugs. It is an incongruous sight in the deep dark of an upcoast night. I imagine the passengers trying to dance their arses off after yet another gourmet buffet dinner all the while oblivious to the incredible natural world sliding by in the dark, but then endless miles of wilderness is not really what they came to see. It makes a lovely background for the ‘binderdundat’ mug shots they’ll proudly show back home in Donkey Shin Kansas or wherever their bombers takes them. By the time they’re home they will be crawling with viruses they’ve found on the cruise or the homeward flight but that strawberry creme flambe was worth it all. Laugh damnit, all humour is cynicism.

My old bush ape eyes spotted a strange fungus on this pine tree over the water’s edge. It proved to be a single remaining insulator. There must have been hundreds at one time carrying telephone or telegraph wire. Yet another coastal mystery lost to time.

My prefered spot was taken by an expedition vehicle with German license plates. It was one of those monstrous offroad boxes with the big wheels, too big really to squeeze along many of our roads. Still, I fancy them and wanted to chat with the owner. He pulled away and left. Incredibly another German RV pulled in to the same site a short time later. Soon the new neighbour befriended me. He and his wife were from Berlin. Their motorhome was built on a Citroen cab and chassis, powered with a Fiat diesel. The rest of the unit was built in Slovenia. It had a German license plate. How exotically European is that? With over 160,000 nautical miles of sailing offshore catamarans he, and she, who works as a wedding videographer in Quatar, had some interesting yarns to share. Avowed vegetarians, they declared that they ate “nothing that had parents or eyes.” And so the day passed with something else to consider.

An Adria, a European beauty. He couldn’t find any 240 v trees to plug into.
Gotcha! Berry pie a la road. Ursus Thumpus. Mounds of bear droppings on the road prove an excellent year for wild berries. Hit too many of these you’ll need some front-end repairs.

On Monday morning the day comes with overcast smokey skies. A dry rasping call of a solitary crow announces the stealthy arrival of his cousin, a brilliant blue Stellar jay. Fog rolls and curls along the water. It is quiet, it is peaceful… until an hours-long yuckfest developed on the beach and overwhelmed everyone else. Other campers clearly do not come for the same things I do. Tranquility, solitude, the music of nature; I prayed for rain. It did not come. I launched my dinghy and left. I powered north into the flooding tide and switched the engine off to simply drift and dream. The water was calm and the thin sunlight soothing. Soon I could hear voices. I could see nothing but eventually a flotilla of kayaks appeared from the far shore. The wilderness tranquility they came to absorb eludes them. Despite my persuasions, peace is not part of the urbanites agenda. The reason they see few whales and little wild life is beyond their grasp.

Out of the sunset a brilliance doth approach.
So where are the regulation navigation lights?
‘Grand Princess’
In the daylight they look like this…still out of place.
Yuk. Yuk Yuk, Yuk. Yuk.
Getting away from it all.
My beloved window. It is why I bought this old camper.

A call home on my mobile that evening informed me that an emergency was unfolding. I needed to return south quickly. I broke camp and stowed everything in the trailer. My friends had left earlier and so I went to nurse a beer alone on the beach as the last of the sunset faded. There was a roar, a blaze of light and grinding of gears. I refused to turn and acknowledge this latest intrusion. Yet another expedition vehicle! And yes, once again, more Germans! This machine was a monster military green box with a huge Mercedes emblem on the grill. As the growling diesel shuddered into quietude a thick German accent shouted at my back, “Are you vatching ze orcas?” Oh sigh! Isn’t GPS with backroad maps a wonder?

I left at 04:30. In the impenetrable darkness, fog swirled in heavy banks. Visibility was down to twenty feet in places. Over the mountains, into the valleys, across narrow bridges, around switchback corners I finally arrived on the main road out and began meeting loaded logging trucks with their bright lights. Their dust mixed with the fog. There is no headlight that deals with that. By the time daylight arrived I was back on the pavement, southbound for home by noon. All’s well that ends.

Jackson
Vinny meets Ayre
Covid Beetle or government drone?

Soon the rain and darkness of autumn will settle over this island. Perhaps I can go into the woods and be alone then.

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Home Again

Hey, that’s me! No, not the squirrel. I found this amazing work in a live red cedar in Sayward. The detail is great and the theme is perfect. The carver deserves  huge recognition.
This eagle with a salmon is incredible too. Well done, Greensides.   Glenn Greensides is a local carver in Sayward. His work is widely distributed. He has a website, just look up his name.

Muh dog’s gonna eat yers!” Ever have a period in your life when every little thing just seems weird? You begin to question your own sanity. If I’m a common factor it’s got to be something to do with me. Right? On Sunday, I tried to pleasantly ask a neighbour about an unfamiliar car apparently abandoned in our common property. I was met with a resounding shout, “Fuck Off Asshole!”

Um, ok?” Two days later there was a timid apology, which I accepted. This woman’s mother, my neighbour, had suddenly died and I understand the unpredictable emotions. What was bemusing was a man who appeared immediately after my rebuff. He refused to give his name, determined to stand belly to belly announcing that he was “The executor, ya know? The EXECUTOR!” Weird!

Last night at a campground in Sayward, just after arriving, little Ayre ran next door to greet two fuzzy little dogs. A trailer door opened a crack, a corpulent female figure appeared and roared out my opening sentence. I wanted to reply, “I see you’ve snacked down a few puppies yer own self.” but I’m learning to curb my own quick tongue. This morning, yet again, there was another apology. Geez Louise, is it my cologne? I keep having these strange encounters so hopefully the guy in the mirror comes up with an answer. It was a new moon last night, is that it?

Hey neighbour! This former German firetruck is an expedition vehicle capable of going nearly anywhere.

We’ve just arrived back at the Naka Creek campsite. Ahhh! Despite a light rain, the birds are singing, the neighbours here are friendly and I feel like I’ve come home to a sanctuary in the backwoods.

Home! Let it rain. Beautiful downtown Naka Creek.

I soon discover that I have managed to leave the power cord for this laptop at home. So, after doing some photo editing I’m down to my last giga-doodles of battery. The weather is wet but I’ll have to live a few days without life depending on my computer. It is lovely to just focus on the waves lapping on shore and all the birds exchanging insults with each other. Three northbound orca whales passed a few minutes ago and there may be more to come.

Ayre soon found herself a dancing partner. They could have waltzed all night.
Ayre  quickly found a way to launch herself up into the bunk. The view fascinated her.

Life without a computer, fancy that!    Well we’ve survived a week living together in a camper and now we’re home again with no more weird encounters of any kind.

There’s a hot spell ahead. You can feel it first thing in the morning. Heat domes we call them these days. I’ll bite my tongue and refrain from further comment. We’ll survive, like it or not.

Another Johnstone Strait sunset
Hope springs eternal.
There are a few places where the real old growth timber still stands as it always has. These Douglas fir are 12 to 15 feet in diameter at the butt and well over 200′ tall. These venerable grow with signs are any human interference. I won’t tell you where they are, you have to find them on your own.
Magic!
Look high, then look low.
Ripe.
Outstanding in the brush.
Sayward taxi.
Downtown Cumberland.
Stay cool.

Without deep reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people.” Albert Einstein

North

Nothing like the peace a nice little camp fire brings. The wind break marks my preferred spot on the beach at Naka Creek Camp
Ready for another night. The axe shows the wear of over fifty years of proud ownership. I bought it at the Squilax General Store, on the side of the Shuswap Little River BC

Sunday morning, Naka Creek. I sit inside my camper with a fresh, stout black mug of coffee beside this keyboard. It is chilly. I couldn’t be bothered to stoke up my propane furnace so instead I wear a heavy flannel shirt. Outside a low overcast races before a westerly wind and balls of drizzle wash over my campsite. I had the happy foresight to stow things away while it was still dry. Soon I’ll be on my way.

The view from my bunk.

Across Johnstone Strait a sail advances in the murk, westbound into the wind. It is bucking against the wind and tide. When the tide turns fully and the ebb begins to run in the boat’s favour, but against the wind, the seas will rise and those lumps will continue to hold him back. The boat is fast but for every six miles it tacks the position on the chart advances only a mile. I used to do that long ago, just to feel manly and salty but I eventually gave it up and motored directly toward my destination, having decided to bring a gun to the knife fight. Still I ache to be out there, cold and wet though it may be, it is in some people’s blood to suffer for the religion of the ocean. I am one. I think this boat is a participant in the R2AK motorless race to Alaska. Whoever is out there bashing along deserves full kudos for their drive and spirit. Puget Sound to Alaska is one bloody long way, I’ve done it often enough in a tug boat and even that was wearisome. Travelling the coast in my own sailboat was a dream. There was a time when the globe was being discovered by Europeans. This coast was explored entirely by wind power and muscle alone.

Then came the night again.

From where I sit I can see northward to Blinkhorn Pennisula, beyond famous Robson Bight and marking the entrance Beaver Cove. Past that are the radio towers of Cormorant Island and Alert Bay. In the far distance are the shoreline humps near Port Hardy, where the island shoreline turns sharply to the northwest. I know these waters with their labyrinth inlets and archipelagos. I ache to own a boat once again so I can vanish into secret anchorages.

The hard slog northward racing in the R2AK. The expanse and distance of our coast is overwhelming. At this point, after several days enroute, the race is not yet a quarter complete.
The big easy, southbound. One salmon says to the other “Look at all the canned people!”

Advancing from behind the sailing boats and passing quickly out of sight ahead is a gleaming white motor yacht. I wonder how many barrels of fuel per hour it burns. Powering along, level, warm and dry I wonder at other perspectives on manliness. Then I nod off, my thick old fingers on the keyboard produce two pages of ppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp’s. Time for a walk. I clamber up to the secret waterfalls which are as beautiful as ever. I muse that on my last visit here my beloved companion, Jack the dog, was with me and I plunge myself into momentary sorrow. He will always be with me and I try to cheer myself with recollections of all the happy moments. He loved this place. Once again I can see him rolling happily on his back in the long grass and daisies as well as the smug look on his face when he had returned from running off on his own to visit other campers and their dogs. He never made an enemy. Today I have some lovely neighbours and new friends. I am grateful.

Our secret waterfall. It is about eighty feet high.
The fool’s caravan.
“Got a horse in there?”
“Naw, just a friend.”
Nuts!
The view from my camper side window. The crows were picking my old corn cobs out of the fire pit.
Here’s a story. How does a very old brake shoe end up in the gravel on the beach?
A burger tree. Actually it is a fungus. When baked dry then lit to smoulder, the smoke makes an excellent insect repellant.
An organic nose flute. Just more fungi growing on a stick. It is amazing to see what is under the leaves.
Organic camping, becoming one with the earth again.
I wonder about the child who rode this. Grown now, with children weary of tales about Naka Creek.
The Mack Attack
I’ve been driving by this truck for nearly forty years. I reason that one day this North Campbell river landmark will be gone. A simple photographer’s tip is to take the photo while it’s there.
From when men were men and their arses were sore. Note the lack of stereo, air conditioning, air bags and upholstery. You hooked one arm through the steering wheel and used both hands to shift those three levers in unison with much double-clutching. If you blew a shift you had no gears to hold you back on a hill. The brakes would soon overheat and the pedal sank to the floor.. What a feeling!
Be still my redneck heart. Ain’t she a beauty? Someone has done a wonderful job on this restoration. I wannit!

The weather evolves from winter-like conditions to a flawless summer day in a few hours. I change costumes and emerge with my fluorescent shanks sticking out of old camo-patterned work shorts. How have military motifs ever become high fashion? That bemuses me, the old poster boy of the thrift stores. I’m “stylin’.”

Home again it is time for tinkering on my little circus caravan. Minor repairs, some upgrades and I’ll be back into the woods somewhere on this magic island.

Ayre my new little dog put on a very happy face for my return home.

Let’s have a moment of silence for all those North Americans who are stuck
in traffic on their way to the gym to ride the stationary bicycle.h Earl Blumenauer

It’s Official

Last Camas. To see more come back next spring. Life rolls along no matter how we feel.

After a continuum of applications, fees, phone calls to yet another number, then another, emails and dictums ad nauseam (Computer wanted to respell that as nutcase) I am officially accepted as the BCbogtrotter.com. It’s signed, sealed and delivered. Now here I sit on the first Saturday of June, and yes it’s raining a little more. I wonder where to go from here. Funds have run out. I’ve done some repairs on the truck and am trying to set up the new old trailer for my specific needs.

Then comes the Lupins

Meanwhile there are moments of delicious hot sunshine before the next front creeps overhead. The media is determined to predict massive flooding and devastating wildfires. I just want to get out there and perhaps get flooded out for a few weeks. At home, life is a wade through suburban mediocrity. Ayre the wee beast is in my lap as I type. The din of a small town waking up is amazing, if you listen. There is the hum, roar and howl of the highway passing below the town. There are often sirens. Often we don’t even hear them they are so common. Is it an emergency or another run to Tim Hortons? A large murder of crows nearby argues over some point of bird decorum and then the neighbour fires up his lawnmower. In the distance an excavator with a chattering rock hammer gouges out the footings for another million-dollar bungalow and from that white noise emerges the clatter of a passing helicopter.

My name is Moses. This old Min Pin is nineteen years old and still has lots of light in his eyes.

Doggy now sits in the window of Jill’s office howling like a little wolf trying to will her Alpha human to come home again from her day’s work.

Ayre the backwoods marauder. She is discovering the big world out there and loving it all.

Well now! Near-silence. Several days after I began this blog I now sit on the shore of Johnstone Strait at Naka Creek Camp. If you have enough out-of-town savvy to find this place, you too deserve this little piece of heaven. I’m sipping hot mint tea at noon after a lazy morning and a late brunch. A US Coast Guard cutter powers its way southward against the last of the morning ebb. The throb of its engines is clear above the mild clatter of my tiny generator, charging up camera and laptop batteries. Soon there’ll be only the twitter of birds, the lapping of water on the shore, the gentle whisper of the wind in the trees, and the eternal hope of seeing more whales.

A Maple Flower
Mountain Lilies, strangely growing by the beach. There is only one clump and it blooms briefly each spring.
By all means. Spring turns into summer and thequest to survive goes on everywhere. This little folwer took root in a niche in an old piece of driftwood.

This place is an old logging camp. The forest is trying to take it back. Slowly it wins. It is essentially maintained by the users and although much loved by these folks, the jungle is creeping back to claim its own. I can see the progress since last year. Jack, my old dog, loved it here and I miss him dearly. I remember his joy exploring here and visiting with new dogs and their owners. This was a place I held hope of bringing my daughter but that is never going to happen. My wife is busy with things only she can do. I try not to feel sad or lonely but I watch couples and families and groups and yes there is an ache. Thankfully, the area is occupied with few this weekend and those folks all seem to hold a reverence for this oasis of peace and sanity. Kindred, even if we never speak.

“Honey, we’re getting down on eggs!” At a farm market Ladner.
“Whazzamatta? Never seen a pig on a roller skate before?”
In the belly of the whale. Yep, that’s my tiny piglet parked in with the hawgs. I’m thinking of having a vest embroidered that says “Hardley A Davidson.”
Old, tired, rotten and cracked but centered and well-spoken.

At night the camp fire burns reluctantly, the wood is damp. The sea air seems to suppress any defiance to its eternal shroud of dampness. Still I nudge the fire, my feet to the warmth while holding a partial mug of rum.

There are worse ways to spend an evening.

It’s all in how you look at things.
  • “If you are depressed you are living in the past, if you are anxious you are living in the future, if you are at peace, you are living in the present.”            —Lao Tzu

Away

Every pole tells a story. This is some native art along the way in Port Alberni.
The back side, facing the sunset.
Beautiful whale totems tucked discreetly away.

Nothing! No light in the overcast sky, none anywhere around. Without illumination from the Hemoth there would only be blackness. No sound, no wind. There is only a damp, penetrating cold. It is just past five pm. A long night lays ahead, daylight won’t begin to appear for another fourteen hours. How did the indigenous people survive winter? Were they simply tougher than we are? They had no wool underwear, no hi-tech winter clothing, no heat pumps, or anything else that came at the turn of a switch. Their homes had no insulation and their roofs probably leaked.

Bark whale. A perfectly proportioned effigy of an Orca made apparently, from bits of beach flotsam.

It’s hard to imagine. Jack and I are in the camper tonight somewhere between the beaches of the open Pacific and the shore of Kennedy Lake. We’re at an intersection of logging roads deep in the boggy desolate second-growth woodlands near the extreme Western edge of Canada. Being a tight old sod, I did not want to pay a ridiculous nightly rate for a spot in a campground. It now costs more than twice what I once paid for a decent motel room. And what sort of nutter goes off rambling with his dog in December? I am supposed to be at home absorbing global gloom and consuming my bottom off; or on as the case may be. Truly, I prefer the deep silent darkness of the swampy black forest. I know being here would probably terrify the average urbanite. Jaded as I be, Consumermass holds little appeal.

“Ya want me to eat that bowel of yuk?” Roughing it, camper style.
“Mind the gap” Jack sniffs out the jeep that awoke him.
Deep in the boggy backwoods. The stumps are all that remains of the old growth forest. The re-gen timber, or second-growth , desperately needs to be thinned if it is ever going to become anything like the ancient forest was. Even these small trees can be turned into valuable forest products.
Looking into Kennedy Lake from the back side where it drains into Staghorn Creek.
Staghorn Creek becomes a small lake becomes the short Kennedy River. It has a stark beauty and is not hospital country.
Winter looms

Round about midnight, snugly cuddled and deeply asleep in our comfy bed, there was a sudden blaze of light. I thought I was dreaming. Someone in a Jeep needed to pass on the road I was partially blocking. I recognized that particular engine sound as it crept by within inches of the camper. Being an old farm boy I know to always latch the gate behind me and never block a road, any road. I’d parked in the most level spot I could find while leaving passage space and out here in the back of beyond… who’da thunk? What the hell was anyone doing out here at that time? I spent the rest of the night waiting for the next vehicle.

Morning arrives with a tatter of blue visible beyond the blanket of fog overhead. The day turned out to be perfect. After touring neo-Tofino I realized that the camp ground prices were a bargain by local standards. They’ve jammed paved cycling paths through the rain forest jungle leaving heaps of shattered vegetation and stumps along the sides of the asphalt. A center line has been painted. It’s quite contrary to the surfer spirit which helped advance Tofino to it’s present gaudy self. The old school, when loggers and fishermen and hippies were the mainstay, has been driven out of town. Nevertheless, Jack loved the beach and for a short while the sunny sands helped him forget his old bones. But oh lawdy, the cold wind sure clutched at mine. I’ll let my photos tell the story.

What we came for! It may be weeks until anyone sees a sunset again.
A glorious afternoon in Cox Bay.
Bliss
Phodographer
Surfers. They now populate the surf, in all weather, like flocks of seabirds. In my passion for the sea, unfortunately I can only wish I were young again and will never know that particular intimacy of dancing with the waves.
An old familiar friend
It’s called progress but it is certainly not the flavour of the Tofino I remember.
Nor this!
Even the RCMP have gone for the glitz.
Yes really! There are now miles of paved paths with centerlines carved into the rainforest. It completely destroys the feeling of the place. There are at, least, no fast food outlets. Kudos on that.
The V Dub van museum. Struth! It is in immaculate condition, completely unlike any that the first wave of surfers drove. Perhaps next door they’ll put up a tree museum.
Roughing it. I could see why the fee was up there. Their map shows over 600 spots, each with dead-level graveled parking, a steel fire pit, picnic table, drinking water, electrical supply and sewage hookup. Yes, there’s internet. The beach is a short walk away and there is even a dog shower. There was not one sign about dogs…what a treat!
The central washroom facility. It IS very impressive. There are others around the perimeter. Someone has made a huge investment.
The only highway in and out of the Tofino-Ucluelet peninsula is experiencing a massive upgrade. It is long overdue and will be ongoing for a good while yet. The drive to Port Alberni is breathtakingly beautiful.
May you never lose your urge to fly.

 

 To myself I am only a child playing on the beach, while vast oceans of truth lie undiscovered before me.” – Isaac Newton 

A Happy Day

The dawn on the day in question. There were no gaily frolicking dolphins, it was even too wet for them.

Driving in the coastal morning dark can be hell. During a hard rain the sucking gloom becomes a black hole, like the inside of a bear. The wet slashes down and sticks to the windshield like thin, cold oil. It will not wipe away. Some other cars hurtle madly past on the lemming highway and promptly vanish as if sucked into a celestial black hole. Headlights in the spray become a blinding, impenetrable fog. Yet we arrived safely. I walked into the glare of the Duke Point ferry terminal.

But sometimes a day becomes a celebration of life, like it or not. It can happen even when the weather is apocalyptic. The day I’m writing about was one of those doomy days in New Westminster. The rain had persisted all the way from Vancouver Island. Thick heavy dark clouds scudded overhead only fifty feet up. The incessant cold rain hammered down and bounced back knee-high, chilling wet and bloody miserable. Full daylight never appeared.

My old truck and camper, now named the “Hemoth” is a dreadful daily driver. Lurching around town is a challenge and finding a place to park is never fun. Angle parking on main street is risky business. The truck, with dual rear-wheels is useless on wet hills without the weight of the camper and I want to keep the two together as a single unit ready to go south at the first possible moment. Its monster diesel engine likes to warm up and do some work, which can’t happen putting only a few blocks at a time. I don’t have enough money to get away at the moment so I decided to acquire a cheap “Winter beater.”

Beater World with dozens more inside. There was no razzle dazzle or any expensive suits, just simple decency and integrity.

I’d been questing a rough-road capable scooter but they’re incredibly overpriced, even with high mileage. For a few dollars more one can buy a new one. So I thought I’d apply that same budget to a small used automobile. Mission impossible. During my quest, I did discover a Rolls Royce SUV, (a mere $450,000.) just the ticket to drive up the mountain in hope of finding a grouse for supper, cheap meat old chap!

Eventually I found a vehicle for my pittance and off I went into the rain of the back waters of an old industrial park in New Westminster. There was a labryinth of twisting streets leading onto the far end of Lulu Island in the Fraser River. Even when the taxi arrived it took a minute to realize I was in the right place. It was a yard jammed with cars, no more than six inches apart. In the rain, you could not walk between the dripping fenders without soon becoming soaked. Still the folks were all congenial and I sensed that they operated with a rare integrity.

Everyone works together with a rare feel of harmony. There is an exotic air to the place, in part because the language they speak among themselves is Parsi which fascinated me. All seem truly interested in the customer’s best interests. Every vehicle I wanted to see was parked in a back row so there were other cars to move around first which required even more shuffling to find room to put them. And, of course, every vehicle needed its battery boosted. The prices were fair, there were no rip-off documentation fees and there was no argument when the vehicle I came to see proved to have too many problems. In fact the owner offered me a very fair price on another vehicle, which I ended up buying. It is an innocuous little silver car with plenty of miles but it runs well and was driveable without any repairs needed. My experience was quite pleasant and not at all like a “Big Slick” operation most of us have known. Some folks still understand the ‘golden rule’ and I can confidently recommend this place to anyone.

I’ll go back there again and heartily recommend Tala Auto Select if you need a low-price vehicle. You’ll find them online. By the way, should it matter to you, there was a large inventory of assorted BMWs and a large private collection stored inside. That is guarded by five feisty little dogs.

An oasis in the rain.
Going fast. I thought I should take a photo before I inhaled the whole thing. There was no need for supper.

Next door to this business is Rozzini’s Restaurant. They advertise an Italian, Greek and Indian menu. Their fare is superb, the prices are great, the service was grand. They’re online too and well worth the out-of-the-way drive for a positively unique experience. I was at the ferry terminal and sailing back to Vancouver Island before evening darkness fell, my belly full of roast lamb. The rain never stopped.

I should also mention that during weekdays, seniors travel on BC Ferries for free. I walked off the ferry, stepped right onto a bus and one transfer later I found myself at the Scott Road Station, in less than an hour from the ferry, for the lofty sum of $3. Bitch all you want, we’re doing fine. This old grump is truly pleased with all my experiences on Coastal BC public transit systems.

As I drove back to the ferry that afternoon, in the weaving traffic and endless rain, I realized that for the same money I could be out there wobbling along on a used scooter, raincoat flapping next to some cement truck’s wheels. Yep, it was a good day. Now all I have to learn is how to find such an ordinary little car where I left it in a big parking lot.

A morning with better weather…our local dog park.
Thazzal for now folks. The wind and the rain are beating the leaves from the trees.
Jack has always loved little boats. He did not leave this piece of flotsam easily.
A golden pond.

 

Fish rise within the reflections.
They’re baaack!
A never-ending drama that is never diminished in wonder when the salmon return each year.
Autumn low tide
Dogpatch, nothing ever changes. Abandoned boathouse and sailboat beside old pilings that I think would make a grand base for a new marine pub.
An explanation among the garbage on the beach.
Halloween rose
November Suckle
A local blueberry farm. It’s for sale.
Solitude
The municipal hanging tree
No-one could say when it began but slowly an ancient castle emerged from the ground in the forest.
The ‘Swell.’ This beautiful old wooden tug was launched in 1903 as the last steam-powered tug built on the BC Coast. I remember talking to her on the VHF through the years from various tugboat wheelhouses when she still worked as a Tug for Westview Dredge and Dock. After an extensive rebuild and refit she reappeared as she looks now, a fabulous mobile fishing lodge.

Electric cars aren’t pollution-free; they have to get their energy from somewhere.

Alexandra Paul

An Omen?

A friend, recently arrived in San Carlos Mexico, sent me a photo. He thought it was an interesting co-incidence that he’d found a boat named ‘Seafire.’ It was in fact, my old boat!

The photo that stirred all the memories. I instantly recognized every bolt, sliver and line after all these years.                                                                                                                 Photo is courtesy of Cliff  Robb

Here’s the rest of the story. When I arrived on Vancouver Island, I had a tiny trailerable sailboat called a Northwest 21. It was poorly built, not particularly pretty and certainly not intended for rugged upcoast sailing. Guess who sailed it to the top of Vancouver Island in March. Yep! “Smart as he looks.” This coast is still definitely in winter at that time of year but can switch back and forth between seasons in minutes. As spring comes sniffing around there are some huge battles between the elements of wind, rain, snow and very troubled waters where the massive North Pacific gyre collides with the mountainous coast of British Columbia.

That little boat was never intended for voyaging; anywhere. It had no insulation inside the thin, sweating fibreglass hull, no real heat, no cook stove, had only squatting head room and little sensibility aboard. Driven as I was I spent my days cold, wet and even terrified bashing slowly northward. I had a small propane catalytic heater which produced more water vapour than warmth. There was a tiny one-burner propane camp stove and I ate generally tepid, half-raw, half-burned muck. My nights, (long and dark) anchored in some black bubbling backwater were spent huddled in damp bedding wondering what the hell I was doing. Yet I was driven to get out on the ocean and so I ventured onward.

Late one soggy afternoon, (I think it was in Potts Lagoon) a couple on another boat took pity and invited me over for dinner. They were young newlyweds on their way to Alaska to skipper tour boats for the summer. They were then planning to cruise down to the Marquesas at the end of their work season. Their vessel was a gorgeous and immaculate wooden 38’ Atkin ketch. My life was forever changed when I went below into the soothing warm ambience of their Dickinsen diesel stove. I can still remember the inspiration of their mutual dreams and the encompassing sense of well-being aboard that cozy boat. The vessel’s name was ‘Seafire.’ I returned to the dank chill of my own little pisspot later that night transformed with a new awareness of who I was and what I wanted to do. Suddenly I understood the magic of the coastal labyrinth where I trespassed. I was not the only character playing with my needle out of the groove. The coastal back waters were loaded with the likes of we.

I learned the following year that on their southward trek that fall, the crew of ‘Seafire’ had allegedly been attacked and sunk by Orca whales somewhere to the west of Panama. The crew had survived but I heard no more of them. The memory of those few hours spent aboard with them is indelible. Almost forty years later I am still infused with their inspiration. I became familiar with, and fell in love with, a sailboat design known as a ‘True North 34.’ Ones built in Asia were known as ‘Noon Oceans.’ They were a Stan Huntingford design, a traditional heavy displacement boat intended for long passages. Their bigger brother was known as a ‘Rafiki 37’ Many folks mistook the True North as a Westsail 32,’ a standard of offshore cruising boats for decades.

The boat I bought was hull #1 out of the mold at Tradewind Yachts in North Vancouver. It had been the home for seventeen years to a fine fellow named Frank Poirier who was the caretaker at Malibu Lodge. That was far up Jervis Inlet, located on a neck of land beside a tidal rapids which one transits at slack water to enter Princess Louisa inlet. The lodge was built by a man named Hamilton. To this day a totem pole stands there and on its base is carved a three-bladed aircraft propeller. Hamilton was the inventor of the constant speed aircraft propeller and his timing coincided with the beginning of WWII. He made a fortune and built a retreat for the rich and famous. There’s the rest of the story. Frank had finished building the boat himself and his work was “rustic” but the boat held a certain charm in part due to the hundreds of books which filled its shelves and of course it had a Dickinsen oil stove with its wonderful cozy heat. The trip to pick up the vessel and bring it home was unforgettable. My brother came with me. We had been separated for over twenty years. The journey was a great way to bond and all these years later we still talk about it.

I ripped and tore and rebuilt that boat in a manic surge that went on for years. The name was changed from ‘Sunward II’ to ‘Seafire’ in honour of my inspiration of that young couple. Getting the vessel to Mexico was my ambition but alas it was not to be. My wife and I chartered her, hosting guests from Europe. I reluctantly decided to sell and build a bigger vessel more suited to chartering and living aboard. The plan was to have a boat that could earn her way as she travelled.

Isn’t she gorgeous? Little has changed since I last stood on her decks. The original wooden mast still stands. The dodger, the boomkin, the bowsprit, the trail boards, the gallows, and all the other things I built, they have all endured.
Flattery indeed.                                    Photo courtesy of Cliff Robb

The years hurtled past. Plans and fortunes changed. Several boats later I’d found an ideal motor sailor to take from the West coast to the Baltic and on through Europe. Once again I embarked on an odyssey of refitting another boat. One of the first steps was to remove the vessel from US registry and re-document her as a Canadian vessel, home port Victoria. When I walked into the Transport Canada office in Victoria I was greeted as “Mr. Seafire.” They had come to recognize me from all the different boats I’d owned. I was told that my timing was co-incidental. One of the names available, because a routine registration renewal document had not been filed was, believe it or not, ‘Seafire.’ The boat had gone to Mexico and vanished.

It seemed, to me, like an omen and so the name ‘Seafire’ sailed again. That boat was my home for several years and our adventures up and down this coast are many. Then in bitter regret I had to sell her, my finances had crumbled and I had no choice. The day I last stepped off her decks, it seemed my life had ended. It still does. A friend has told me “If you ain’t been aground, you ain’t been around.” Perhaps a high spring tide will yet float me free of the reef where I find myself stranded. I can tell you that life is mighty dry without a boat. I can also tell you that the old mantra about “Go simple, go now” is struth indeed. This moment is all we’ve got and what we regret most is what we don’t do. Just do it.

I know that if I found a rewind button for my life I’d make a whole new set of mistakes, but if I retained any knowledge from this life it would be an acute awareness of the “NOW” factor. All I can hope, is that even in its tiny way, and things ‘Seafire’ whisk through my being, it is indeed another omen of good things ahead. Have I come full circle? Perhaps, somehow, this blog will again be known as the ‘Seafire Chronicles’… part three.

This has been a signature photo for decades. I shot it aboard old ‘Seafire’ close-hauled on a port tack northbound past Thormanby Island.

A photo of my second ‘Seafire’ is in the right hand sidebar.

One of the great cosmic laws, I think, is that whatever we hold in our thought will come true in our experience. When we hold something, anything, in our thought, then somehow coincidence leads us in the direction that we’ve been wishing to lead ourselves.” Richard Bach