A Strange Week Indeed

Winter Blues
It’s just a little ice on a puddle and an excellent example of the everyday things we look at and don’t see.
A different perspective.
There may different ways to look at anything.
Look before you scrape.
The car windshield on a winter morning.
This man’s curse, and his dog’s joy.
Jack enjoys a roll in the crusty snow, then a slide on his back down the hill.
I hear birds, alway the birds.
A “murder” of crows.

My last blog was about poor old me worrying my way toward the final steps in the sale of my beloved ‘Seafire’ on this coming weekend. I thank those readers who have offered their warm support and kind comments to help me through the angst of the next few days. I am coping by staying busy indoors and out. I’ve sorted through my recent photo files, tinkered on the camper van, did some dog-sitting for friends and put together yet another short video from my recent trip. I am scheming ways to produce some income and looking forward to whatever comes next. This too shall pass. Idle hands find the devil’s work it is said. So it’s head down, arse up while staying gainfully busy. I am never stuck for things to do.

The W word.
My charges, Bella the Portuguese Water Dog and Louie the Poodle give me the eager eye in anticipation of their morning promenade.
Wanderlust, the incurable condition. Across the sea and over the mountains there are so many places and people to see and meet. A Vancouver Island view of mainland Canada.

And then it happened. The van sold, in less than a day of advertising it. Remember the song, “The thrill is gone?” Change the word thrill to van…yeah you’ve got it! Yes, I immediately bought a lottery ticket. May my karma not run over my dogma. Here is the latest video from the recent trip.

I need just enough to tide me over until I need more. …Bill Hoest

Song Of The Blackbird

After the wild storms all the way up the Oregon Coast, this is what I found at Cape Disappointment on the mouth of the Columbia River. Peace!
It was a perfect mid-winter afternoon. Folks were out and about to absorb every minute they could.
The Columbia River near Astoria Oregon. It is surely one of the world’s great rivers.

In Mexico, in the mornings, their blackbirds can conjure up a symphony of calls that sound like a jungle filled with a hundred different birds. It is splendid. This morning, Jack and I went for a walk at Swallowfield Farm. The wet snow had frozen so the long trampled path was easy enough for me clomping along in my winter boots. Jack trotted along happily on top of the untrampled frozen snow with a great grin on his old phizog. In the distance I could hear the call of red-winged blackbirds. I waited until I actually saw one to confirm it was the real thing and not some starlings mimicking the song. The blackbirds, with their red epaulettes, were real and their trilling song was true. It is a first sign of spring here, despite the harsh winter the northern hemisphere is enduring this year.

Home again. Note the heron in the middle of the image. He has a long wait until the tide comes back.
Have a long look then close your eyes and hear redwing blackbirds singing from the forest’s edge.

I look back on the last month’s mad travels (8,000 km/5000 miles in one month) and see how how I could have done things much differently. I should have stayed home and completed the deal on ‘Seafire’ then ambled south with nothing to rush anywhere for. With the harsh winter, and cool temperatures with snow throughout the Northern Hemisphere, It would certainly have been best to wait a while. Hindsight! Shoulda, woulda, coulda! In another two months the Sonora desert will be starting to bloom profusely. Maybe I can return there in time for that. I do know that I saw many marvellous things and met some incredible people with a perfect timing which almost seems predestined. I know that this old salt has left a big piece of his heart in the desert.

I have previously travelled to Mexico while towing a teardrop trailer. I learned a lot from that jaunt and I now have my experience with the old camper van. It’s not sexy but it did get me home again. I’ve made up my mind that I need a small, sturdy trailer of less than twenty feet which can be used for shelter in inclement weather. I have a blind fantasy of living outside beneath an awning at a small table but the weather dictates how that happens. I’ll pull the trailer with a 4×4 truck that is old enough to be affordable and also repairable by myself. The trailer can be dropped off while I explore especially rugged areas with the truck.That towing vehicle can then hold tools, bicycles, extra fuel, a kayak, an inflatable boat perhaps. The trailer has to be rugged enough to be eased along rough back roads without falling apart. Many new trailers being marketed as “Offroad” could not survive for long off-pavement. Putting knobby tires on a trailer is stupid and does NOT make it into a rugged offroad RV.

I could write about what are my does and don’ts, but those may not be especially helpful to someone else venturing out. There are many different ways to direct the same script. I found that Northern California was very expensive. I am told that the southern part of the state is considerably more ridiculous. The secondary roads in California are in dreadful condition, on a par, or even worse than back roads in Mexico. Diesel fuel, in many places, was more expensive than regular gasoline sometimes by a dollar more per tiny US gallon. Gasoline generally was up to a dollar more than in neighbouring states. I soon learned not to buy fuel at the first location in town that one comes to, sometimes the fuel in the middle of town sells for as much as sixty cents per gallon less. Most gas pumps will ask you for your zip code when you stuff your credit card into it. It was frustrating until I was taught that with a Canadian card, you enter the numbers in your postal code followed by two zeros. It always worked like a charm. in my case I found that the road signs in the US in many places were inadequate or downright misleading. My road maps often did not agree with each other and my GPS, at times, seemed utterly confused about which planet it was on.

In any case, do not put yourself in a space where you are regretting what you did not do. Today is all you have, go for it! In the blogs I have written about this trip, I have often alluded to the vastness of the states I crossed. Despite man’s imposition of change everywhere he goes, there are still massive expanses between the horizons of a majestic, sprawling land. There are many areas where you can view the planet almost as it has always been. Then, when a person looks at a map and sees they have only travelled a tiny scratch of the earth they become very humble. That is a good thing.

Perhaps not as fascinating as a cactus but this old, rough bark has its own beauty.

Presently I am unloading my beloved ‘Seafire.’ It is a big job which I hate, especially when performed through misty eyes.This vessel is a huge part of who I am. (I have arguments with myself about stuff being part of my identity.) She’s going to good new owners but, for me, it is hard to envision a future without her. I’ve painted myself into a corner financially, this is my way out. I intend to have a trailer and a powerboat in which I will live and travel and write into my dotage.

As I write, I close my eyes and can smell the sea air of Mexico, the pure silent wind in the desert; I can see red rocks and sand, cacti and palms, high-altitude twisted, stunted pines. I have fleeting images of jackrabbits, wild burros and horses and perhaps an illegal immigrant hiding in a thicket of mesquite. I think of people whom I met there who know only their world and are very content in it. My home is here on Vancouver Island, which folks come from around the world to see, because it is spectacular. I need never leave this island to have a full and wonderful life. But I am one of those who is cursed with a compulsion to see what is around the next corner…and so I go.

Jack regarded me with his special look of disdain during my first few days home. I’d been away without him. He’s over it now.

This Saturday evening came with bursts of heavy sleet and snow during the drive to Nanaimo to see a movie, ‘Green Book.’ It has many nominations and awards and certainly deserves them. I suggest that if you see only one film during the entire year, this is the one. I’ll end this blog with one of many great lines from the film.

Buddhy. He is my travelling companion, security system and charmer of officials at border crossings. “Who’d want to deal with one of THOSE nutters?” I believe that is what they might think. In any case, he works well  for me with his incessant grin as he sits velcroed to the dashtop. This photo is about his actual size.

The world is full of lonely people afraid to make the first move.”

They’re Gone

The last bird? A beautifully made Purple Martin condo on the dock in Comox.
It’ll be empty until next May. Time share?

 First things first. Last blog I described a plant as being a zucchini when in fact, as I have been corrected, it was an English Cucumber. I’m glad I didn’t try to name it something like a Nigerian Horse Radish. No fake news here! Around the docks on Southern Vancouver Island, folks build bird houses for Purple Martins. The birds arrive in the spring with their chittering calls. They swoop and dive and gobble up tons of insects which are then bombed onto the shiny yachts moored below. Some people gripe about the tiny blobs of potential bug bites on their boats but I’m quite happy to pay that small price for the presence of these happy and colourful birds.

They raise their chicks until they are peeking out from the bird houses. Their fluffy demanding offspring can’t seem to ever be fed enough. Once they are big enough to survey the world outside, it is only a matter of days until all the birds are gone for the year. Yesterday their thunderous absence rang out. They’re gone. South. There must come a moment when some sage old martin says “Right squadrons, it’s time to go. Now!” and off they all fly. Now the crickets and their tireless concert will chirp on night and day until the first heavy frost. Some swallows remain for the time being but the Martin houses are empty. One day soon, there will be a sad quietude. The swallows will be gone too.

Creatures know. Birds know when to leave on their migrations and they know where to go. Jack the dog, on the morning of the recent eclipse, went and hid in a closet, a place he never goes otherwise. People have those same instincts and intellects. We’ve simply buried them in our mad rush to do abstract things. Being in touch with our planet and it’s driving forces has lost value in our primal sensibility. That’s why for example, you’ll see a young mother, head-down texting, pushing her progeny in a stroller out into hurtling traffic. Apparently, in recent years, global pedestrian fatalities have soared due simply to people texting.

Summer is roaring by as I work for and with a fine bunch of people. The days pass quickly maintaining and preparing a fleet of yachts for the next round of charter customers. Most are lovely people as well they should be; they’re on vacation. Then there are others. I’ll simply say that the couple who own this business possess a courage and graciousness which I do not. The weeks go by in a blur. Repairing boats, inspecting them, delivering them and sometimes charging across the strait when they break down while on charter can all be in a day’s demands. There are few dull moments. I go home to Ladysmith for two days each week and sleep the whole time away. I feel old. I am having serious doubts about ever getting out and southbound on the open ocean. That, of course, is what this blog is all about. How I try to be like people who can simply relax in the moment and squeeze it like a sponge until every possible drop of life has been tasted. Working for tomorrow while folks around you are on vacation at the moment is torture.

The wake. Navigating in smoke.

Every morning begins with a huge flock of honking Canada Geese flying by low overhead. These airborne thugs practise a few circuits just over the mast heads like boys on motorcycles demanding attention. Then there is quiet again, but now it’s time to get up. Perhaps they are practising for a southward migration, deciding who will go and who must stay for the winter. It used to be an uplifting song to me, the ultimate Canadian anthem of travel, freedom, vast distance and self-determination. Now I curse these braying, flapping creatures with their bomb loads of greasy green excrement. When I was a child there was grave concern about these birds becoming extinct. They’re now the bane of parks, schoolyards and waterfront areas everywhere. The flocks which live along the shoreline are apparently barely edible. They taste strongly of their inter-tidal diet. But these grey flapper are certainly excellent organic alarm clocks.

Now THAT’S a lawn ornament! This is part of the ‘Welcome to the Comox Valley’ display. In 1967 as a young air cadet, I brown-nosed a ride in a Tutor trainer when our national aerobatic team was known as the “Golden
Cennetaires ” Yep, now long-known as the “Snowbirds,” their aircraft are that old.

My wife Jill is a voracious reader and I often read books she has  finished with. I found one book was very dull and she agreed, saying that she was not able to finish it. She declared that “Life is too short to waste reading boring books.” Perhaps writing dull blogs is part of that mantra. In my recent experiences there have been no explosions, leaping whales or exciting intrigues.’Seafire’ remains tied to the dock, a floating apartment, while I work on all the other boats around me. I’ll have to stir the pot and see what I can scrape off the bottom. I’m shrinking from my efforts here perhaps in response to some of the nonsense I hear on the radio. I think I’m writing about nothing! How a resource-rich country like Canada should be paying exorbitant spiralling fuel prices is stunning. That we push back with only a few mumbles is incredible. I’m sorry about the weather tragedy in Texas but there is no way it truly affects us. We happily live like chicken farmers who go to town to buy eggs and accept whatever we’re told, even that the recent solar eclipse is also reason to jack up the price of petroleum. Huh?

So what did Ethanol do wrong? Her sister’s still around! This pump is at the fuel dock in Refuge Cove where in summer, you should be content with whatever flavour of gas is available. The meters show quantity in litres, not price.

Speaking of things Fort McMoney, I am not aware of reciprocal interest this year from those people who accepted global help to prevent them all from being barbequed last year. Perhaps there is some concern and help from them. I’m not aware of it. As wildfires ravage British Columbia this year I do hear the media describe a “Drought” we are suffering. C’mon! We’re paying the price for decades of gross forest mismanagement. It is a normal hot, dry summer. Thazzit! A drought is when the streams and lakes dry up, crops and livestock wither and die, folks can’t find any water even to drink. All the car-washes are still operating. Life goes on, shiney as ever, even with the high price of fuel.

Today on our walk Jack and I met two gorgeous dogs, recently rescued from Iran. They had both been mutilated. Apparently some fundamentalists see dogs as unclean and fair game for torture and mistreatment even though the Koran demands that all of God’s creatures be respected, especially those which by nature live in families. Fundamentalists, whether Christian or Muslim, don’t need to dig deep to find excuses for heinous behaviour. We’ve all been at it for millenniums. For the record, I believe that dogs are one of man’s highest achievements. If you don’t like dogs, you probably don’t get along well with people either.

Jack enjoying the “drought.” Seriously, our fresh water levels are at their seasonal normal.

Labour day is now past. Once again the air is filled with smoke from numerous intense forest fires burning in the interior. We’re caught in one last coastal summer high pressure ridge. It doesn’t seem so long ago that folks were fed up with the long, damp, cool spring. Soon enough again we will forget these last warm days of summer. Let’s enjoy them while they last.

By the way, the swallows have now all departed.A t the end of the workday today, six southbound Sandhill Cranes flew low overhead trumpeting their unmistakeable call. They’re a month early. Whatever that mean’s.

Wild rosehips galore. Plump and plentiful, a sign to many that we will indeed have an early, long and harsh winter.
Blood sunrise, sailor beware! another day begins under a thick pall of smoke.
As the day advanced, the smoke settled until the mountains were lost from sight. This photo is of Deep Bay on Vancouver Island at 3 pm today.

I’m not nearly as afraid of dying as I am of not living.” …Old Fred the sailor.

Grid Work

Grid Work

Yesterday was a glorious weather day. Clear and nearly calm it was perfect for doing anything outdoors. I gave old ‘Seafire’ some long overdue loving. Early in the morning, when the tide was at high slack I eased her over the grid at the Ladysmith Fisherman’s Wharf to clean her bottom, polish up the propeller and replace the sacrificial zincs.

I should explain that sacrificial zinc anodes are designed to absorb stray electrical currents that affect every boat, especially in salt water. The process,, called electrolysis will destroy underwater metal fittings such as bronze thru-hulls to the point of them becoming a crumbling powder. The zincs, easily replaced, do the crumbling instead of the important metal bits on the hull. The dangers of an open hole in the bottom of a boat are obvious. Despite copious scientific dissertations there is a mystery to the process which we do not fully understand. Stray electrical currents in marina docks, and from other poorly wired boats are the most common culprits as well as the minute or severe fields created by each boat itself. Regular maintenance to check the thru-hulls and replace the zincs is essential. There are ongoing, sometimes heated, debates about what the mystery of electrolysis really is and what causes it. I have my own theories but awareness of its effects is more important, just like respecting lightning without understanding what causes it. It is also worth noting that all those folks who tell you how much they love sailing (Hint, hint) don’t ever show up to help with the dirty work. “Call me when you need crew.” I do, where are you now? Yeah, right!

On the Grid 'Seafire gets a shave and a haircut while on the grid at low tide.
On the Grid
‘Seafire gets a shave and a haircut while on the grid at low tide.

Instead of using a mechanical lift to take a boat out of the water, a centuries-proven method for working on a boat’s bottom is to position it over a grid at high tide. This is a platform of concrete, or treated wooden timbers, which supports a vessel’s weight when it settles with a falling tide. The boat leans against pilings to stay upright. When the tide falls low enough to allow work to begin, you go like crazy to get everything done before the returning tide prevents any further efforts. There is never enough time.

A backyard cabin on Vancouver Island. Someone's fascination with Mexico is clear. Note the guitar and the piñata on the porch. "Hola senorita! Donde mi margarita?
A backyard cabin on Vancouver Island. Someone’s fascination with Mexico is clear. Note the guitar and the piñata on the porch. “Hola senorita! Donde mi margarita?

Of course all of this has to be co-ordinated with the vagaries of the monthly tidal cycle. One first needs enough water to position a vessel over the grid and a tide which falls enough to allow the maximum amount of time to get your work done before the tide returns. It is also important to have enough water to float free on the next tide. Other factors affecting the tide’s height and duration are local winds and even distant storm systems.

Under the front. Variable spring weather. This row of lenticular clouds ran up the Eastern shoreline of Vancouver Island. It didn't move for hours
Under the front. Variable spring weather. This row of lenticular clouds ran up the Eastern shoreline of Vancouver Island. It didn’t move for hours

Barometric pressure, wind and run-off from local rivers and streams due to heavy rain or spring freshets may also affect the tide’s vagaries. There are tide books and computer programs to help with your planning but ultimately they are only guides. You must use your own experience and local knowledge to calculate. Here in the Pacific Northwest we have semi-diurnal tides which means that we have four tides a day to deal with. There will be a high tide and a low tide followed by a lower high and low tide. Tides are therefore approximately six hours apart, or twelve hours between useful high tides.

Old boys like to have fun too. Wrong number, no return.
Old boys like to have fun too. Wrong number, no return.

Due to phases of the moon you may find yourself working in the dark as each day’s tides lag the preceding day by thirty to forty minutes. Tides with minimum rise and fall are called Neap tides. Ones with maximum range are called Spring tides and occur at or near the full moon and also the new moon. Before grids folks “Careened” their boats by laying them against a steeply sloped soft bank, doing one side of the boat each day.

The required understanding for careening involves also knowing how to position the boat so that it floats free instead of filling with water as the returning tide creeps up. Nothing to it.Right!

Old Jack. Every day is a happy adventure.
Old Jack.
Every day is a happy adventure.

I’ve heard questions from landlubberly people who don’t understand tides. While rushing around at work while on other grids there have been variations of “However did you get that boat up there?”

Swamp creature. Mud, rinse, mud, rinse, but save some mud for the vehicle seats!
Swamp creature. Mud, rinse, mud, rinse, but save some mud for the vehicle seats!

The best comment was from a friend who overheard two old souls tottering along a seawall with one exclaiming, “I could have sworn there was a beach here yesterday!”

Hoo dunnit? The wooden owl fairy strikes again.
Hoo dunnit? The wooden owl fairy strikes again.

The grid in Ladysmith is next to a log sorting ground and a sawmill. The harbour-bottom around the grid is a foot thick in viscous black, reeking, sucking muck of organic origin. Standing in one spot requires a desperate struggle to retrieve your wading boots. Eventually water and muck creeps into your boots. You simply must keep working trying not to stand in the same spot for more than a few moments. It makes for a glorious mess and a desperate struggle to get the essential work done. Thank God I didn’t fall face-first into the ooze. I’d still be there, feeding the crabs. I scrubbed the bottom as best possible in the circumstances and removed any clumps of mussels and other fauna. The propeller was cleaned and polished and the zinc anode was replaced. Then came the usual interminable wait for the tide to return enough to float the boat free. The book time for high tide passed without enough water to float free. It was almost an hour late. Cold, wet, hungry and exhausted I had to remind myself that tide books are only guides and that reality writes its own course. The next high-slack always seems to be later and lower than predicted but eventually the same mystery which floats a vessel over an abyss floats it with only a fraction of an inch of sea under the keel. And so finally I returned to the dock in the last bit of daylight. Then the cleaning up must be done before you take the rest of the day off. God that mud stinks! But I scrubbed it off before it glued itself to the decks. The poor old boat has not received a lot of attention this winter while I’ve floundered at other things. Now she’s showing me her contempt for my neglect and there are a few projects to address before ‘Seafire’ is back in top shape. Once again, the old quote of Lord Nelson can apply, “Ships and men rot in port.”

The beauty of the beast. An old Baldwin Logging Locomotive ever so solely returns to the earth it once came from
The beauty of the beast. An old Baldwin Logging Locomotive ever so slowly returns to the earth it once came from
Recycling the slow way, textures among the rivets
Recycling the natural way, textures among the rivets

I was once famous for being anal about keeping things shipshape. After returning from a trip I’d stay with the boat until everything was ready to go to sea again. I’ll admit that pain-in-the-ass has gone somewhere else now but I still check my boat regularly and keep it shipshape, if not entirely shiny, at all times anymore. Still, despite near daily checks and a heater murmuring away constantly which kept the boat reasonably warm and dry through the winter, there are electrical issues. The dampness works its way into everything and without regular use some components begin to fail. I know these are simply symptoms of lack of use and the old girl and I need to sort this out. Of course everything in the lockers, which was stowed with a good logic, has somehow migrated elsewhere and soon the boat is knee-deep in stores and tools that need to be re-stowed as you look for the widget that you know was right here.

Old Tristan Jones famously said, “When in fear, or in doubt, raise your sails and bugger off out.” You have to keep a boat seaworthy in order to be able to do that.

A bridge over bubbled water. Tranquilty in the spring backwoods.
A bridge over bubbled water. Tranquilty in the spring backwoods.

And so spring advances. Early morning temperatures still hover down near the freezing point but the afternoons are pleasant if it is not pouring rain. The leaves and flowers are bursting out. Some are quite early this year, I saw Dogwood flowers already which is almost a month early.

See! dogwood blooms in April
See! Dogwood blooms in April

Perhaps it’s due to the “Blob.” This is a name applied by climatologists to an above normal temperature mass of warm water first noticed in the North Pacific last year. It is currently hugging our BC coastline. There is much anticipation about its cause and effects. We have warm years, cold years, wet ones, dry ones and various combinations thereof. The only constant is change and yet everyone is determined that no matter what happens, it is living proof that global warming is upon us and it’s our fault. Old time accounts from Vancouver Island of over a century ago have it that when Tofino was settled, the climate was much different. Tropical fruit plants were introduced there because it was that warm. People could easily swim in the sea, there were seldom pervasive fogs and fish stocks were quite different. Now Tofino is well known for its rain and fog and damp cold. It’s still temperate enough for Gunnera Manicata to grow prolifically. Indigenous to Areas between Columbia and Brazil, the giant rhubarb-like plant, with huge leaves over a metre wide, is now being eradicated here because it is not indigenous and tends to overrun other native species. It is like broom, gorse and bamboo, other introduced plants here which overwhelm their new environment, much like the non-native people who brought them here. What an interesting question! Why do people in quest of a new identity and opportunity, whom for good reasons chose to leave their native environment, have a need to bring along pieces of the old world they escape? We all have this missionary complex to some degree and often miss the value of assimilating a new environment with two ears, two eyes and one mouth. Anyway, I don’t believe that any of the foreign flora we’ve introduced here has done much to change the climate. The planet and the universe are in a constant state of flux and while we are an alien virus here, we need not be so arrogant as to believe we have an influence on things which we’ve never had any control over. Especially, when we tend to ignore the things we can change.

Another abandoned bridge in the woods
Another abandoned bridge in the woods

This morning, while Jack and I walked our Ladysmith waterfront patrol, I heard a sound which froze me to the spot. I’d just heard the call of a Northern Loon. A harbinger of spring the sound instantly recalled pleasant moments in my youth. Instantly I again knew magic mornings in cedar strip and canvas canoes, the soothing, gurgling coil of water behind each paddle-stroke, gentle banks of mist, light laddering down into clear water where fish could be seen gliding among sunken stumps. Echoing along the shorelines quavered the eerie cries of loons in chorus. Those calls will haunt me forever.

My father used to listen to bird recordings on lp vinyl. Damn, how I hated them! Dwibble, blap tweet, then a nasally dweeby man’s voice would declare something like: “Pink-bellied Flute Snoot, spring mating call.” One, called I think, ‘Birdsongs of the Northwoods’, suddenly emerges in my memory. I recall the narrative which I heard too often. “Across the rich gold ribbon of the rising moon’s reflection on the water, drifts a shadow. It is the shadow of a loon. It lifts its head and from its throat comes the cries of souls in torment.” Fifty-plus years back and now I remember that! What the hell did I have for breakfast? Now let’s see! Oh yeah. Nope. Hmmm!

Maple Flower
Maple Flower

If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable.”

…Lucius Annaeus Seneca