We’ve begun to experience autumn weather with bouts of blustery wind and blasts of rain. Leaves and needles are knocked off the trees and our green summer frippery is on the turn. I understand the changing seasons but I’m puzzled about fir needles. The wind can perfectly insert one beneath a vehicle’s windshield wiper. Consequently it is always located exactly where the arcing streak of water it causes provides maximum visual irritation. No matter how hard it rains or the wind blows, or how fast you drive, that fir needle lodges itself firmly beneath the wiper blade and rides back and forth until you personally remove the wee bugger. If it occurs once, well shit happens, but how can that repeat so often? That mystifies me.
I’ve just sold my lovely wee red scooter cycle. I’ll miss it. This old fat boy felt like a pig on a roller skate on that little beauty. Every time I went ding-ding-dinging down the road with those tiny wheels spinning among the potholes there was an uncomfortable angst. The Honda Navi wasn’t intended for off-pavement use so wobbling along desert roads would have been a disaster. I’ve recently wondered if maybe being over 70years old isn’t good reason to leave motorcycles behind. It is clearly not. The fellow who bought the little Honda is 80! He’s taking it to Mexico. Enough said. Wait til you see what I’ve bought. Haaar! Courage mon vieux!
Yom Kippur today, and all the world is at war or on the edge of it. Even the Israelis are tussling among themselves. Perhaps that will give the Palestinians a bit of a break. After thousands of years of swords, spears, and shields nothing is going to change overnight. I’ve never been to that part of the world but images I see make it look a horribly bleak place to fight over. What strange creatures we are! Save the planet? We can’t ever get along with each other! We don’t even want to!
Here, on the 25th of September the greenery outside is lashing about in a vicious gusting wind and rain hammers on the skylights. I’m going 40 miles north to bring home my new motorcycle. Smart as he looks, smart as he looks! Two days later it is still drizzling and raining as if it has forever. It feels like it. The thought of the winter ahead leaves me wondering how the hell I’ll make it through to spring. A week ago some folks were complaining about how hot and dry it was. Isn’t life odd? Absolutely nothing is forever.
The rain finally eased and I took my new motorcycle out for a spin. I stalled it and fell over right at the turn out onto the street. No harm done and I teetered off at the back of the parade all the while lecturing myself that I had to drive as if I knew nothing. What I used to do fifty years ago means zero. To underscore all the skill that I’ve lost, my front brake suddenly quit. Nice feeling! A hydraulic fitting had come loose, I repaired that quickly. Once again the lesson hit home, assume nothing. The bike soon proved to be the right one for me. There are some mechanical tweaks, and some old man tweaks, but what a joy to be flying along with an machine that is comfortable in its task. However, the damp air soon ate through me and I came home a popsicle. Warm riding pants are a must, the ones with the skid pants on the bum and knees. There is one type of weight loss which I’d as soon avoid.
Yesterday seemed reasonably warm so off I went to visit friends in Nanaimo. The bike and I made it home in one piece, albeit a little humbler. Relearning how to smoothly work the clutch and throttle is a bit challenging, especially when I start to think about it. Somebody went home last night telling about an old fart doing the herky jerky motorcycle dance in an intersection. I must have been a sight. Be warned, I’ll be back at it today. This may kill me, but that’s fine. No lingering hospital departures for me. I’ve been there. Shit-brindle beige is not my colour.
I’ve made another lovely trip into the back country. I love the bike. 250cc is more than enough to fling me along well over any speed limit or up any mountain. Why I’d need more is beyond me. Although, I recently sat aboard a 1800cc BMW and will admit to a little tingle. Do they come with knobby tires? For me more power seems decadent as well well as having to pick up a heavier bike when I fall over. I’ll make my little adjustments and inspections now. I want to feel absolutely ready to go south at my earliest convenience. Steeling my mind for winter here leaves me cold and feeling dead. Somehow, this year I’ve got to get down there. If only this motorbike could fly. What an image!
“Make yourselves sheep and the wolves will eat you.” Benjamin Franklin
I really hate it. Why do some people force you into a situation where you have to be an asshole? I arrived at my beloved Naka Creek campground looking forward to performing a few chores and generally relaxing. Libby was with me and I didn’t want to force her through anything extreme. What a tremendous dog and friend she has proven to be! This was her first time in the backwoods and we both needed it to be an entirely pleasant experience. As I was setting up camp two vehicle loads of folks arrived together. Eight people tumbled out with their three dogs. One of the joys of a place like this is that you usually meet other kindred spirits. Not this mob, “Weah Heah!”
There was a flat tire on my trailer and I immediately set about changing it. In the middle of the job, while pulling on the tire iron, the matriarch of my new neighbours promptly stumbled over to announce to me that I had a flat tire. “YES, I do.” How does one respond?
“Really? I hadn’t noticed” or how about “Naaw, just practising, just in case… you know?” I was polite but bent back to my work. They were a rowdy yuckity-yuck sort of gang and managed to be boisterous until very late. They constantly bounced frisbys off my camper until 10:30 in the evening, hooting and stomping right beside the vehicle despite acres of free space all around. I was quite proud of my restraint despite a huge urge to explode outside for an ugly confrontation. Eventually the din moved up the road, little Libby’s growls subsided and we drifted off to sleep.
I was going to refinish the roof on my trailer. Awake by 05:30 I decided to wait until my neighbours arose and had a chance at breakfast. They had set up several tents over a hundred foot radius . There was no point in deliberately antagonizing an apparently tense situation. I decided that there was no point in seeking any blessing from these folks so i just went to work. At 10:30 I fired up my generator and sander and went to work, hoping to finish quickly. There was a breeze but it was blowing away from both our camps. After a half-hour of my industry there was only ten minutes until I was finished. That’s when the shit the fan. While up a ladder I was accosted by mom and pop, who despite the obvious wind direction, claimed “All my dust was blowing all over their table.” I replied that I could see it was not and that I’d be done in a few minutes, sooner if they left me alone. They slunk away, befuddled by the geezer who was not going to back down.
The second night was as rich with rudeness but I still didn’t react. What’s the point? Later, next morning, while taping the edges of the roof the manure started flowing again. This time it was about what would happen to me when I dared to start spray painting. Stupid people! Spray painting? Really? The innuendos about what was coming my way were stunning as were the threats and photos of me “Fer evidence.” “We’re gonna report you!” Clearly some folks watch too much TV. I resolved to outlast them. When it became clear that I was not about to budge on their account, they began deflating their big rubber ducks and set about the arduous process of loading up all their “stuff.” Their prime objection had been that I was “In a project and not fishin’.” It’s a splendid free camping area with plenty of room and no need to be near anyone else. Why they had chosen to be in my face is a mystery. They were gone when Libby and I awoke from our nap. I have a knack for finding confrontation. I don’t want it, I do not look for it but damnit, I won’t back down when people want to be bullies.
I understand how so many of our people are in dire financial circumstances. Our greed has caught up with us. We all live under the constant dark clouds of multiple wars, the after effects and implications of covid, as well as the growing loom of terrifying possibilities such as more pandemics, artificial intelligence, ever higher taxes, impossible housing costs. There’s a lot to worry about but there’s no reason to try to punish other people because they don’t conform to your expectations. Well blither and blah, blah. Have a nice day! Smirk, smirk.
And now for the “Rest of the story.” Remember Paul Harvey? Good…day! Now I know how old you are!
When my father died, now well over twenty years ago, I kept a few trivial personal items. One was a kite in a wee bag. It ended up in a jumble of miscellaneous items in a locker on my boat and then eventually found its way into my old camper. I’d never really looked at it and had forgotten about it until cleaning out some storage in the camper. I decided that I’d celebrate the exodus of my nemesis neighbours by trying to fly this forgotten toy. My old dad would have been ninety-nine in another two days, so this seemed fitting. He’d died exactly on his birthday like the old English train spotter he was; right on schedule. Now another marker, still on time.
Libby and I set off to a rocky promontory beside the mouth of Naka Creek. The wind along Johnstone Strait was warm and steady. I planted my carcass on a folding camp stool and soon launched the relic aerodyne. Damn! It flew beautifully. I was a boy again! The kit rose steadily, tugging firmly and soaring upward like the proverbial homesick angel. Soon at the end of its string I spliced on another piece of fishing line and she climbed ever upward. Then the stool collapsed. You know what happened. The spool on the bitter end of the string skittered away across the rocks and then in a welter of spray crossed the creek like the tiny wind-surfer it was. The kite dipped for a moment and then rose higher yet as the spool snagged on the last limb at the top of a spruce tree. There would be no climbing up to fetch my airspace hazard. Now anchored firmly the kite rose to maximum altitude. I had filed no flight plan. It became a tiny coloured speck in the sky, like a Chinese spy balloon. I wondered how long before the F-18s showed up.
“Well” I mused, “this is a grand ending to all the dark memories about me and my father. I’ll always see his kite stuck up in the clear blue sky. Closure!” Then I thought, the wind will quit after dark, that kite is coming down! Day VFR only. Libby and I treked back along the beach, back through the campground, along the road across the bridge, past a lone camp trailer with two vicious dogs and finally into the log sort about a half-kilometre downwind of where I’d lost my kite. All the while we’d had our sky beacon to guide us. Finally we stood directly beneath the prodical kite and I reckoned where it might land when the wind dropped after dark.
We returned early next morning, full of vague hope. Libby trotted eagerly ahead, her tiny feet setting up tiny puffs of dust. I knew there was slim chance of ever seeing the kite again but you cannot catch fish if you don’t go fishing and I needed to feel that I’d done all that I could. A log sort is a huge cleared area used to store and sort logs before reshipping them to a distant mill. This one is about twenty acres in area. Unused for a while, young alders have sprouted up about two feet in height all over the huge clearing. “There’s no hope” I thought. Then Libby raced ahead to where the kite lay, neatly folded by someone. Much of the string was tidily wound around a stick. After my previous anus-a-thon, my faith in people was completely and instantly restored. What else can I say? Thank you certainly seems hardly enough.
And so the good mysteries of life float to the top. Things that matter. Naka Creek is enduring an overpopulation of mice. They’re everywhere, Libby was intrigued. I have a folding plastic table with crossed metal legs. How do these cute little guys manage to get up onto the table and leave their poop spore copiously? How?
Are you a reader? I mean, are you someone who reads a lot? Books? I believe that one of my obligations as a writer is to read. When I begin reading a book I feel a silly obligation to finish it, no matter how much work that may become. It is partly out of an obligation of respect that someone convinced someone else to take the risk of publishing their work. And that work I know, if the writer has done their own research and editing, is horrific. All books, I suppose, are intended to entertain. They are all, even if not intended, also to educate and will alter the way we eventually think and perceive. So even the ones I find as boring as a dried turd must be endured. There may be a nugget in the manure pile.
Someone once declared that a book is the last place you can go to be alone. So is writing one. I sit on a dull but sunny early summer Sunday morning. There is no breath of a breeze. This afternoon may well be a warm one. An airplane drones overhead. Someone dragged their arse out of bed and had enough money for gas to auger their way up into the sky to enjoy the view down through a crystal clear sky. I miss those mornings. I miss a lot of things, like waking up on my own boat on a morning such as this. Perhaps waking up on a stormy morning was much better. If the anchorage was safe then there was a simple resolve to stay put and do nothing. There’s nothing like being on a rocking vessel, warm and dry while the wind and rain screech and rattle outside. I look forward to more of those.
Meanwhile life ho-hums along while everyone else seems to be up to something meaningful. Even those dudes in the mini-sub who spent a quarter-million each to go down and get squashed like bugs went out in a wet flash doing something interesting. My latest thrill was to be out scootering along, enjoying the warm cool of riding in and out of the forest shade. I was wearing shorts and feeling like a part of the universe when it hit me; the shrapnel sting of a bee hitting my inner thigh. Bam! Just hang on old boy, don’t end up in the ditch. Wobbledy wobble! I hope this doesn’t hurt any more than it does already! The last thing to go through the creature’s mind as it mushroomed into my tender blubber was his little bum; but he was quick enough to point his stinger in kamakazi mode. I was happy to keep my little scooter wheels pointing where they should and that the little exo-skeletoned beast had not made it further up my leg. Let’s just say that it has been a long time since anything down there swelled up that quickly. Hey baby, wanna see my bee sting? Uhuh! It’s funny now. Bahaha.
Now it is the Canada Day Long Weekend. The highways have been clogged with hurtling Rvs (Sounds like a rock band) all week long. BC Ferries have once again managed to have a major breakdown. Now their parking yards have become campgrounds, no campfires please.The fury to go hurry up and relax always amuses me. To hell with the price of gas, they’re going to rush out to a reserved camp spot and pretend to be hairy people. Parking a mortgaged Rv between hidden stumps ten feet from someone else and having a person in a brown shirt regularly reminding folks of all that they can’t do is no part of any wilderness experience. Then they’ll join the lemming rush toward home where they live with millions of others in the biggest clearcut in the province. Think green!, camping
For some reason friends and heros are passing away in numbers. That always seems to happen in multiples and hopefully it’s over for the time being. Their time on this planet has made it a better place. My pal way up north on his motorcycle is soldiering on in his grand adventure. He’s made it to Tuktoyatuk on July 1st but finding the Artic Ocean breeze too brisk and the price of accomodation also too brisk, promptly began the southward trek and is camped near Inuvik. Me, I’m going to cool my cold jets and putz around on the back roads looking for another bee. Last blog, I’m the one who mentioned the apparent lack of bugs!
On a final note, I recently watched a smidge of a ‘Save the wild creatures’ program which, admirably, must leave a lot of people realizing the value of wildlife of all sizes. The good people were trying to save a baby red squirel which needed to nurse. The problem was successfully solved by finding a lactating rat. “Now then,” I thought, “there’s a band name!”
Shall we have a contest?
“There is a planet in the Solar System where the people are so stupid they didn’t catch on for a million years that there was another half to their planet. They didn’t figure that out until five hundred years ago! Only five hundred years ago! And yet they are now calling themselves Homo Sapiens.” – Kurt Vonnegut ‘Timequake’
I was enjoying a few minutes of bliss wandering along a local sandstone beach. The dogs scampered happily among the driftwood. The sun was warm and the seabreeze entirely pleasant. A Rubenesque woman, clad in black spandex and blending in to the shadows, was squatting on the end of a log and suddenly shouted out “Yer dog jes took a shit!” I replied calmly as I walked on, “It’s OK. She’ll put it back.” The woman was sitting with her bumbas hanging over her perch as if she might be “taking” one herself. I wanted to point out that the scat from seals, otters, racoons and all the birds were strewn all over the beach. No point; “He who argues with a fool,” you know the rest.
My little girl Libby did her business discreetly underneath a log where no-one could tread if they wanted to. I don’t want anyone to suffer anything due to my dogs but I also refuse to step outside the bounds of basic reality. Shit happens. And so it goes.
My friend on the motorcycle odyssey called me early this morning. Jimmy is in Dawson City, cooling his jets and waiting for the arrival of his brother on a motorcycle. They’ll ride together on to Tuktoyaktuk, the apex of the journey, and then begin a fast but meandering journey homeward. All is well and I wish him every joy on his trip. We discussed a few current news items and got stuck on the missing mini-sub at the Titanic site. It had been four days since the alarm was sounded, they’re out of oxygen now, they’re dead. As a mariner, I mourn their loss, and empathize with their long wait in the cold and dark. At least now they sleep.
A sudden update announces a debris field which would indicate a severe malfunction and that the five aboard endured a quick and merciful end, probably only a short while into their descent.
Jimmy related a conversation he’d recently had about this same subject. It covered all the resources spent, financial and economic, to save the lives of five wealthy people enjoying an exotic adventure. The Titanic is a grave site. It contains the remains of hundreds of people, or at least the memory of them. Now its ghosts have claimed five more lives. Leave it alone. It should be a sacred place. There are other mysteries to spend money and interest on. We have turned it into another commercial venture. But then, in another week , this too will be an abandoned story.
A week ago, an immigrant vessel off the coast of Greece, capsized and sank with hundreds of desperate souls aboard. They all invested all their resources in a mere chance at a new life. Locked below deck within a mass of terrified fellow human cargo, in the disoriented darkness, one can only image the immense horror of a slow excruciating death. We endured three days of speculation and generally uninformed opinion and now will hear nothing more. Mothers and children, in the hundreds, refuges of war and poverty, are already a forgotten news item.
Yesterday 227 migrants were rescued off the Canary Islands and in a separate incident 39 died when their inflatable boat sank. Within the past month over 5,900 refuges have been helped off the Canaries. There has been nothing on the evening news about any of this. Apparently human lives have differing values. The carnage in Ukraine continues, Sudan is an ongoing disaster, earthquake survivors in Turkey and Syria continue to grapple for basic needs. They are not newsworthy any more. We move on to the next saleable media item, such as the Glastonbury Music Festival in the UK. Mountains are swept under the rug.
“If people in the media cannot decide whether they are in the business of reporting news or manufacturing propaganda, it is all the more important that the public understand that difference, and choose their news sources accordingly.” Thomas Sowell
I have a friend. Surprising perhaps, but actually, yes I have a few. I’ve always reckoned that if someone claims to have lots of friends, they may well have none. Perhaps acquaintances are considered friends by some, but you find out quickly whom your true friends are and who are not when the chips are down. You need to be relied on at all costs, and vice versa. I have a few of those and of course they have me.
Jimmy is a buddy whom I have known over forty years. Anyone who can put up with me for that long is worth keeping in touch with. He’s also the same age I am and tonight as I write he’s setting up his tent somewhere in Northern Yukon. From here I can hear the whine and bump of bugs outside the thin fabric as he settles down to rest from a long day and recharges for the next one ahead. An avid and seasoned motorcycle dude, he has ridden his Suzuki DR650 toward Tuktoyuktuk.
Once he’s had a sip of Arctic Ocean he’ll turn southward to return home to Ladner, an entire trip intended to be completed in six weeks. Phew, there’ll be no moss on his wheels! You’ve seen other folks making videos about similar feats, but Jimmy and I are the same age. We’re firmly into our seventies. He has previously ridden a motorcycle all over the continent and also sailed several boats all over the Pacific. You can’t keep a good man down and…there’s a lovely wife who provides him with excellent ground support; long-suffering Donna.
I’ve been following Jimmys progress on Goggle Earth. Donna sends me his position on SPOT and I survey where he is. Tonight his wee tent is set up about fifty feet from a huge bear pile, right behind a blueberry bush. His next town will be Dawson City. I’ve noticed that just to the north is the place name of Off Leash Dog Park. In all of that vast wilderness that’s got to be the town for me!
As a young man I was deeply inspired by Francis Chichester, an Englishman in his mid-seventies who incidentally also had cancer. He had already become famous with global exploits in his tiny Tiger Moth biplane. Now in a newly-commissioned huge and hard-to-sail yawl he sailed off to go around the planet once again. Crews of younger men have since tried to re-create parts of the original voyage in that same boat. It beat them down until they had to head for port. It’s clearly all about attitude. I’m afraid mine is terrible at the moment. I don’t want to discuss issues here but I do want to thank the inspiration of folks like my friend Jimmy. My sense of mission in life is to create a little light in other people’s eyes. You’ve certainly done that for me amigo. Thanks!
By strange coincidence I stumbled on a YouTube video about a 94 year old man who still rides his fleet of Triumph motorcycles. He began racing Triumphs in 1952 (The year I was born) and became known as ‘Fast Eddie’. So he’s been riding all my life and is still going strong although he can barely walk out to his barn full of kick-start motorcycles. Inspiring!
There is no glory in vicarious adventure. No-one will ever be recognized for what they watched on television. You’ve got to get out there on your own and light your own little star. I can also state from personal experience that often there is a quiet courage in the business of simple daily living. As I get older and my body decomposes while yet I breath, like everyone else, I endure physical pain as well as the guilt and frustration about all the things I could have done differently. There is great anxiety about not being able to do what I want due to lack of funds. Still there are people who make excuses and those who get things done. The two seldom mix.
There are a lot of folks my age and younger in a similar situation. Trying to make it through the month on a tiny pension without ending up a little further in debt is an acheivement now. Bought a cabbage lately?
Inflation is when you pay fifteen dollars for the ten-dollar haircut you used to get for five dollars when you had hair.” ― Sam Ewing
Nothing at all. That’s what I’m doing. It’s hard. The surf thunders on the beach beneath a cloudless sky. The long crescent of sand and shingle is miles long and we have it nearly all to ourselves. We are backed up to the driftwood at the top of foreshore at the Pacheedaht First Nations Campground near Port Renfrew. It looks out on the bay known as Port San Juan. Only a two hour drive from home we are in a different world here on the opposite side of the island. The sea air from the open ocean and the sweeping view are bliss.
Port San Juan looks directly across the mouth of Juan de Fuca Strait to Cape Flattery and then the entire Pacific Ocean. That is the Northwestern tip of the State of Worshington (As they say) and also that of continental US. Last night, just on the horizon I could see the instantly familiar rhythm of the Cape Flattery Light, on Tattosh Island which marks the gateway in and out of the straight. Considering the strong tides, it is perhaps more of a hinge to that long and deadly gate. This is an area known as the Graveyard of the Pacific where the bones of ships are littered, on average one per mile. I could see radio tower lights on the ridge above Neah Bay and the twinkle of stars overhead. An outbound deep sea vessel shows her green starboard light.
Tonight in this bay moonlight from a gibbous moon sparkles on the waves. A cold west wind subsided as the day’s warmth faded but I relished the heat of my small campfire. Of course I ached to be back out on the ocean, where I feel truly at home. I’ve anchored boats here when a trip along the outside of Vancouver Island met opposing tides and winds and seeking shelter here made sense. It is a rolly place to sit on the end of an anchor chain but the only option in consideration of the thrashing a boat would take out on the open sea. Being here now on the beach with my wife and two little dogs is enviable, especially in mid-week. This place is a mecca for surfers who come in droves and party hardy through the night. When the surf is right in the daytime they don neoprene suits and hone their skills in the bitter cold waters. They’re still working at the office in the city at the moment.
This certainly beats hell out of the small town environment and the strata-titled patio home where we live. That tedium and mediocrity is a fate worse than death. It is also the first time since Jill’s horrible health ordeal that she has been able to get out away from home base. THAT is something to celebrate. She is cold, cold, cold and I’ve given her one of my old fat boy shirts, which seems to help against the chill sea wind. We listen to the pulsing rhythm of the surf angling along the beach, there is a clatter of round hard stones which are first cast up the sloping sand then drawn back down; a grinding and polishing routine that is eternal. Sleep comes easily.
Morning comes sweetly and a day without an agenda unfurls before us in the rising wind. Campers leave, others arrive. It’s a campground after all. There is a field of monstrous logs and stumps cast up beyond the beach. The debris is scattered thickly for over a mile, a testament to the incredible power of winter storms at high tide. It would be a wonderland for children with all those spots and niches to hide and explore; a nightmare for parents trying to find their wee ones again. And there are goggles of sticks and stones for creative young minds to play with, no batteries required. What a place for children to roam, especially the city-bound, adults too! Down the beach someone flies a kite.
Despite the incredible ocean panorama most campers settle in by shutting their Rv window blinds shortly after arriving. I can’t understand but it’s none of my business. Then a young couple arrives in a small car which bounds over the bumps and huge potholes. They soon claim the furthest picnic table and strip down to skimpy bathing costumes despite the shrill chill wind. Minutes later my old eyes see these two enjoying a vigourous round of rumpy bumby up on the table. Despite the privacy of all those logs, where they could indulge in hours of afternoon delight, they are having sex on stage. I understand some folks find thrills in being exhibitionists. Part of me is a little jealous, part of me wants to find a big stick. I’m no prude but there are children on the beach as well as others who must find such stray-dog behaviour offensive. In the end, their hormones assuaged, they leave as quickly as they arrived. The surf rolls on.
Just before sundown, a burly bicycle trekker arrives wearing a huge flourescent jacket. She transports huge bags of gear and I wonder what possesses folks to indulge in such an ambition. I’ve done remarkable things alone in sailing boats and in tiny airplanes and I’d like to do a few wee trips on a motorcycle, but a bicycle! I’d rather walk and hitch hike but then who in the hell would stop and pick up the likes of me. They’d have to be more nutters than I am. This bicycle lady expertly erected a bell tent and disappeared inside. She was gone at first light.
As darkness falls a convoy arrives, parking trailers and motorhomes in a circle, pitching tents all around where their dogs roam free. The little community settles in for a serious party, but they’re quieter than expected. Sleep comes easily. Then one great farting Harley Davidson motorcycle arrives, touring slowly past each camping spot, looking for someone. I start thinking of that big stick again. Later, after midnight, I’m awakened again by brilliant white lights slashing into our quietude. Someone next door is out there at 01:30 erecting a tent and using their hiking headlamps. They mean no harm, they just want to sleep but their lights are annoying and so I lay listening to the surf until its zen rhytmn fades my senses into peaceful sleep; finally.
Next morning we return home on the same route through the abandoned remains of raped first growth forest. I used to travel this road before it was paved. One would follow as closely as they dared behind a massively loaded off-highway truck. The dust would billow biblically and fist-sized rocks would be flung up from the tires of the behemoth vehicles. Other vehicles would emerge out of the dust and appear in the rearview mirror. It could be terrifying. It was my first practical use for air-conditioning which pressurized my vehicle against the ingress of smothering dust. Now that it is paved the road is bliss although dips and twists make it a different sort of challenge to navigate. Morons in vehicles, both locals and transients, travel far too fast for the road surface and don’t understand why they should stay on the right hand side of the road. So, in a new way, the road can still be terrifying. The surrounding forest is the collateral damage left after the original timber were systematically levelled about a century ago. That decimation continues, now often in stands of second-growth which arose on their own, without any help, only to be cut down again.
Our forest industry has become a complicated issue. Many factions each demand to be given control of our vast forestlands. Few seem to know what the hell they’re really yelling about. Within less than two centuries we have managed to obliterate much of the original forests we marched into. We did it with the spirit of men who posed proudly beside the massive stumps they would leave behind as monuments to an age when making daylight in the swamp was a good thing. It is pathetic that so much of that resource, and its wealth, have been squandered at the hands of men who have probably never held an axe, let alone used one. A group has rallied against the logging-off a remaining stand of original timber at Fairy Creek. I don’t agree with all of their perspectives but what little is left of those pristine groves must be left in their natural state. They hold a value beyond anything monetary. So says someone who spent much of his life involved with various aspects of logging.
There is one remaining spruce tree along the roadside. Not all the old forest was comprised of trees nearly so big but it was certainly not the tangled mass of windfalls and thick debris left behind by loggers. It is excellent fodder for fire and at the moment a hard to fight conflagration has closed the road to Port Alberni. Traffic from the far side of the island is being re-routed along rough logging roads into the Cowichan Valley and back to paved roads and civilization. I can only imagine the urbane sensibilities of folks trying to navigate a rough, dusty, rocky trail in a huge Rv while dodging other Rvs and logging traffic. Hopefully no-one chucks their cigar butt, or joint, out the window.
“Forests may be gorgeous but there is nothing more alive than a tree that learns how to grow in a cemetery.”
― Andrea Gibson
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?
“If black boxes survive air crashes, why don’t they make the whole plane out of that stuff?”
– George Carlin
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
“You are never too old to reinvent yourself.” Steve Harvey
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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