Well there’s my tired clichė about the beginning of March. It can go right on the shelf beside the lamb and the lion, and oh yeah, the groundhog. Spring must be coming. Herds of dock inspectors roamed the marina yesterday, peeking into windows, thumping hulls and scanning boat rigs. After empty docks all winter, they’re back. It is nice way to spend some time on a sunny day, drifting and dreaming. Despite my despondency about parting with my boat, I too savoured the warm sunny day and I tried to see the world through the eyes of a landlubber. Like the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, winter still holds Vancouver Island in its icy grip. We do spells of clear skies, there is a little snow melting during the day and I did see some snow drops growing among the bushes. Other years there have been daffodils at the end of January. Both scenarios have the doom-gloomers declaring clear evidence of global warming. I’ll leave them to sort it out. And yes, I am aware of all the gasoline I burned on my recent trip.
Of doom and gloom, the final transaction for the sale of ‘Seafire’ is a week away. I have spent days unloading the boat, one groaning, squeaking wagon-load at a time all the long way up the dock and ramp. Every time I have moved off of a boat I have been amazed at the “Stuff” a person accumulates. Now I’m giving my beloved her final scrub, removing winter’s grunge. And we all know that the deal is never done until it is done. The suspense is killing me. Oddly, there are two new inquiries, one of which involves delivering her to San Francisco, but truth be told, I am beseeching the gods for a last minute miracle which will allow me to keep my wonderful boat and travelling companion of so many miles. We have endured a lot together and I shall sorely miss her, and the whole idea of her, when the final day comes.
I have also decided to sell my old van. Wanna buy a camper van? It is a faithful little old bus but I know what I need now so I may as well clear the table and start over. I see other people settling into a comfortable retirement and the notion of a new beginning seems odd at my age but life is an adventure. I remind myself of Francis Chichester, who well into his seventies, and fighting cancer, set sail alone on an incredibly difficult-to-manage yawl ‘Gypsy Moth IV’, travelled around the world and then wrote his memoirs. Then a dark monkey on my shoulder asks, “So what’s your point?”
It can certainly be tough to stay positive and buoyant. On occasion I’ve let it slip that I have lived with clinical depression of all my life. I’m not complaining, just explaining. It has certainly been no sleigh ride and there are times when enduring another dreary day seems absolutely pointless. Being a blue-collar character I have lived in a world where such a thing is never admitted or discussed. That I live into “full maturity” (how’s that for a positive spin on ‘pre-geriatric’?) is, I think, a positive and happy story. On my recent trip I met inspiring people who deal with many challenges which would shatter others. Their life-force is a positive radiation and a wonderful influence which helps inspire their fellows forward. I consider how folks live elsewhere and marvel often at the obvious poverty and dreariness and wonder how people live a life which, to me, appears unbearable. There are secrets and courage which I do not begin to understand. As bleak as I’m feeling these days, I am struggling to finish reading a book called “The Bookseller of Kabul” by Asne Seierstad. It is an amazing inside look at the everyday lives of Afghani people, incredibly well-written and depressing as hell. The normal life of these people, especially the women, could make a stone weep. Their lives can only be endurable because they know nothing else. Are our expectations the root of our unhappiness?
I also marvel at the new things I see. In the desert, with the eyes of a newcomer, and a sailor, I saw flora and fauna which survive and thrive in incredibly harsh conditions. There is a reason for life to go on against massive odds beyond my comprehension. A joy which helps life make sense and have purpose is seeing those things and realizing that we too have a place in those circles, even if we don’t understand the total sum of the all the parts.
Giving up my boat is a step forward. While it feels like an ending, I know it shall be the beginning of a whole new set of adventures. Seafire Chronicles will continue to be posted under the same name. Comments from readers tell me there is value in what I do and in response, the sense of mission that I am afforded, in part, by this blog helps carry me forward. To give is to receive. Thank you. I often use the Lord Nelson quote, “Ships and men rot in port.” Staying busy keeps me alive; I subscribe to the mantra of “use it or lose it.” Some of my busyness will be to continue to hone my video-making skills. The first video from my trip is now posted on YouTube. It is a simple short clip made with my cell phone and a very good essay on the winter we’ve had. Here’s the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REe71VHzJxU See ya in the movies.
“Remember that happiness is a way of travel, not a destination.”
I’ve now stayed for three nights in Ajo this time. I’m not sure I want to move on, but the long trek home has to begin and the meter of life is ticking. Deadlines and commitments!
The folks who run this RV Park, Belly Acres, are embracing, charming and provide a lovely place to stay. They had a Super Bowl Football gathering and pot luck supper with copious heaps of very good food complete with a keg of beer. I am not a football guy but how could I say no? All the folks here are lovely. There is a NAPA store and garage next door. They fitted my van repairs into their busy schedule and I can go back out on the road with a renewed confidence.
I’ve finally been able to get to really know an acquaintance of several decades. I know Frank through a mutual friend and we hit it off well. He took me for a drive into the desert in his SUV which was amazing; both the desert and Frank. The vehicle has a standard transmission and Frank has only one leg. The man uses a wooden cane to work the clutch as smoothly as anyone else. He is a genius and a very inspiring character, having courageously worked as an advocate for disabled folks for decades. He is clearly more enabled than a lot of folks who have the use of all their bits and pieces. That does not change the simple fact that he is a great fellow. I’m proud to count myself among his friends.
There is a vicious, cold wind blowing across the desert this morning. I ave had a sleepless night and am waiting for dawn to pack up and move although reluctant to leave this fantastic place. Ajo is home to one of the world’s largest open-pit copper mines, or at least home to a massive work of environmental devastation, now closed. The small town is also the hub of the American Sonoran Desert. With the Air Force Gunnery ranges and several intriguing places of interest, including Baboquivari, within a short radius, I could happily spend several months here. Adios Ajo, for now.
“To be upset over what you don’t have is to waste what you do have.” …anon
As is often said, there’s no fool like an old fool. An arduous climb, and harder descent lead me on to the next quest, the same day. I did not find the petroglyphs and ended up stuck in an arroyo for a couple of hours while I jacked the van, again and again, shovelled and stacked rocks until I finally found the high ground. Fool! You may tell me how clever I am to get myself out of my fix, as darkness fell but, this old backwoods man often recites the mantra “superior pilots use their superior knowledge to avoid situations requiring their superior skill.” All’s well that ends.
After spending a night at an abandoned cowboy’s corner in the desert I finally made my way back to pavement and the small native town of Sells. I emerged from the grocery store to discover coolant again weeping form the van. Oh Golly! Uh huh.
After an eighty mile quest for an auto parts store, whereupon checking the length of a new hose, I discovered that my young Yuma mechanic had not properly tightened a hose clamp. Exhausted beyond words I drove around Nogales arranging Mexican travel insurance, finding a friendly ATM for cash to turn into Pesos and finally a place to park for the night. I am writing this in MacDonalds in Walmart. The van is parked, it seems, a mile across the parking lot in the far corner. An antithesis from Baboquivari, but damn, they do have good wifi! I’ve discovered this during yet another sleepless night in the van.
When I walked back to my urban camp I thought my weary eyes were deceiving me. There were creatures snuffling all around it. To my utter delight, the creatures turned out to be Javelinas, a type of peccary and not a feral pig. I was stunned but managed to grab some cell phone footage of these Wal Mart wanderers. By the way, about my Ajo Bird in the last blog. A reader commented to suggest the bird was a curve-billed Thrasher. By guidebook to birds of this region confirmed that. So, at 03:30 from the Nogales Arizona Wal Mart parking lot, this blog’s for you.
“A smile is the shortest distance between two people.” …Victor Borge
I’ve been home a week now. If I thought things were a blur before…Wow! The memories swirl.
So much in such a short time; nearly 12,000 kilometres in five weeks. I feel like a big sponge, it’ll take a while to wring out. I’ve also managed to fall asleep while editing my photos and…well, there some incredible shots that you’ll never see. My banana fingers managed to keep on deleting after I nodded off. All the king’s techies can’t find Fred’s files again. BUGGA! You’ll have to take my word for it, there really were some amazing shots of Northern California and the South Oregon Coast.
Once out of the saddle I’ve taken my boots and socks off. Thus able to do the math I’m realizing how desperately financially broke I am for the moment. The good old truck, like a loyal pony, is dropping apart one piece at a time now that it’s home. So am I. The initial prognosis for my ankle is surgery. Of course the process requires that I help every medical specialist possible extract a Porsche payment from the system before the first diagnosis is firmly confirmed and a date for the grim day is set, and probably postponed, for some time far down the road. The weather here at home is cold and snowy and utterly miserable. In the last week a friend died tragically under very mysterious circumstances. I MISS MEXICO!
Old ‘Seafire’ is happily afloat and looking good. The recent snow has scrubbed her clean. She’s cold and damp inside but there are no apparent leaks and the old girl is tugging at her lines, wanting to get off the dock. I am now more confused than ever. I love this boat and all the dreams and assurances she provides me. She has been my home for a few years now. ‘Seafire’ is the cumulation of all the other boats I’ve owned and put so much of my life into. However, the epiphanies I sought and found are telling me things entirely unexpected.
For half of my life I have had myself convinced that I could not live away from the sea and that a man without a boat is a prisoner. If I did not own a boat, I felt like a worm. I am suddenly realizing that several hundred miles inland I survived healthily and happily. In fact, in the dry desert air, I found I could breath better than I have in years.
I actually found the same feeling of fulfilment in the vastness and mystery of the desert that I do at sea.
I have realized how much I have denied myself by accepting a barrier that kept me from travelling inland of the shore and accepting the richness of this planet which is available everywhere to perceptive people. I am also realizing the profundity of my own words when I condemn materialism.
Have I owned several boats or have they owned me? Why are my sailing friends with the most sea time also the folks who’ve never owned a damned boat in their lives?
The devastation of the ongoing recession in the US is clear. I saw people of my age, begging on the street corners. They carry home-made cardboard signs saying things such as, “We’ve lost every thing. Any help gratefully accepted.” How close we all live to the edge! I know the clear-eyed dignity of Mexican peasants and their children and realize that despite my awareness and all my words, I am as hard-wired for our superficial, consumer culture as anyone. I truly wonder who are the truly rich people. Is it those who know how little they need? In Mexico, the roadside crosses of the poor and those better off all mark people’s passing who are all equally dead.
I am among the growing numbers who ask questions and I do really want to end my days outside of the sheep pens most of us willingly inhabit. I remember George Carlin’s last time on stage and his parting words, “Folks, it’s all bullshit!” I met folks who have been freed of their life in a rut, their possessions and all the entrapment of contemporary North American life. They now live as happy wanderers and have learned to see each day for the glorious experience it can be. Repeatedly, I heard from each that one of their joys is realizing how little material stuff they actually need. Collectively they all seem to be enjoying a liberation and freedom previously unimagined. The lies which ran their lives are shattered.
I am NOT turning my back on my affinity for the sea, nor my sailing dreams. I AM realizing how wonderful it is to have my head out of that place where the sun never shines. It is wonderful to feel the affirmation of wind in my hair and the sun on my face as well of the cool darkness of deep water. I have some decisions to make and hope to find a balance to my life that I have been denying myself and those who try to love me. The journey continues. To have written and published the last two paragraphs, I hope, is a testament of progress which I claimed to seek when I first began writing this blog. Life is a journey, grow or die.
Once I’d crossed the border from Nogales, Mexico into Nogales, Arizona I collapsed for the night in the regional Walmart parking lot. Despite my aversion to the McWally world it is nice to have a safe, level place where you are welcome to park your trailer for the night and use the clean washrooms whenever you want. Dare I lament the absence of shower facilities? I mean really! Some people do appear to live in these edifices of tacky acquisition.
The next morning dawned on Valentine’s Day and I was amazed at the masses of Spanish-speaking people thronging into the place before six in the chilly morning to scoop up every card, chocolate, flower and stuffed toy.
I beat a hasty retreat into the desert. I turned Westward onto Route 289 which led me into the Coronado National Forest. The trees are twenty feet tall and a hundred feet apart. Some of the cacti are as tall. How many trees within sight of each other make a forest? As the sun rose at my back I travelled a meandering dirt track that led me through one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Rocky cliffs, caves and steep gulches form a maze that begs to be explored on horseback. I expected to meet a stage coach on every switch-back. If John Wayne or Gary Cooper stood beside a dead horse, hitch-hiking with only their saddle, I would have calmly asked then if they’d like me to brew up some coffee. I passed an abandoned mine town named Ruby and again marvelled at how the human race was able to map this country, develop it so rapidly and find rich mineral deposits so readily.
For hours I could see the telescopes on distant Kitt Peak and it seemed to take all day to drive a distant radius around Baboquivan Peak, a towering granite pinnacle which must have held great significance to the indigenous people. I stopped in tiny but lovely Arivaca, once a U.S Cavalry camp, now home to the tiny Casino Rurál and the lovely Cantina Gitana. I drove on through the Altar Valley and the massive Tohono O’Odham Indian Reserve.
This is all in the northern portion of the Sonora Desert. Once at the end of the twelve-mile drive up Kitt Peak, which rises a mile above the surrounding desert and yet still looks up at 7,738′ Baboquivan, you begin to understand the meaning of vast. You can see forever…well at least half-way to Nevada!
I can only wonder at the original inhabitants and their wonder at the abstract concept we white-faced creatures held of defining and dividing eternity.
Fortunately it appears that here, the native population truly holds a controlling interest in how the land is husbanded. I am told that only 25% of Arizona is held as deeded land. Much of the remaining area is Indian Reserve and State or National Park.
Sadly the paranoia of The US Homeland Security is at a fever pitch. They are everywhere, easily working their mandate up to a hundred miles north of the Mexican border with trucks, ATVs, horses, helicopters, drones, blimps and random checkpoints. They seem to operate carte blanche with an unlimited budget. At various check-points, many miles inside the border, huge tents cover both lanes of the road.
The guards, armed just like their Mexican counterparts are friendly and conversational. Hell, it’s lonely out there. I ask them if they ever actually catch any illegal immigrants. Their grinning, guffawing response assures me that indeed they do and that I, “Wouldn’t believe some of the drugs they try to bring in.” They really seem to enjoy their work.
The photos taken from Kitt Peak are wholly incapable of portraying the feeling of human smallness beneath the deep blue sky. The huge granite summit is dotted with several massive telescopes. It is a place where man tries to find his way home somewhere among the countless billions of stars all around us. Arizona is presently in a drought and there was deep concern about the peril of fire on the peak. To my wonder I noticed massive bald cliffs, thousands of feet above the valley floor, that glistened with the wetness of spring water still rising from deep within. It is a sad thing to find a tangibly spiritual place and have to move on. My funds were limited and I had a speaking engagement a few days away.
I stopped for the night back in the Belly Acres RV Park in Ajo Arizona where there’s a pistol-packing granny doing a splendid job of keep all things organized. As she did on the previous visit, I was warned about wild pigs, or ‘Javelinas, which’ frequent the camp at night and boldly scrounge for scraps. The end of the next day saw me in Earp, California on the banks of the Colorado River which is the border between Parker, Arizona and the final Western state. It is where old Wyatt himself is planted.
The next day saw me driving in hours-long straight lines through undulating desert which becomes known as the Mohave. It finally runs up against the Sierra Nevada Mountains where I turned north and paralleled the Western edge of Death Valley. It is stunningly beautiful, even in the dull winter tones of mid-February. This is country photographed by people like Ansel Adams and it is easy to understand how one could take an entire year trying to capture the amazing light playing on a few rocks or stunted trees. The desert here affords great solitude and peace. The quiet is palpable. The views are infinite. Mirages in the distance make perfect sense. Nights under the desert sky must be overwhelming. Mono Lake is the final jewel of the desert before it climbs into the mountains and the world changes its beauty.
Sadly there are others who see the desert differently. Areas for off-road recreational vehicles are provided restrictively so that the entire desert is not decimated but it still seems horrible to come upon an area where hundreds of motorcycles, ATVs, dune buggies and other roaring contraptions turn the desert into an apocalypse of noise and dusty mayhem. A ranch I passed has set itself up for this obnoxious activity and provides a huge tavern for the thirsty to come and tank up. Toddlers clad in body armour zip around with everyone else in this mad mindlessness. I can’t condemn something I don’t understand but it seems to me that horses and burros make a lot more sense. When the chips are down, it’s damned tough to eat a jeep.
I visited the quaint old mining town of Randsburg. It is an intact but mined-out frontier town where things seem to be much as abandoned. A handful of folks still live there and eck out a living from the tourists and more swarms of off-road warriors.
This entire desert seems to be pock-marked with abandoned mines, and the odd monstrous mess of open pit copper mines, some still working. The wealth of a few has permanently scarred the countryside. I wonder at all those who worked this dry, hard country spending and giving their lives for another man’s greed. I suppose some things never change.
Eventually, on the next day at dusk, I fetched up in South Lake Tahoe. Maybe I was exhausted, but this place is one of the most vulgar locations I have found. This beautiful huge mountain lake is rimmed with a throbbing strip mall of crass commercialism and dotted with towering casinos. Everything seemed cheap and tacky. The road westward was snow-lined, steep and winding. The rushing traffic was heavy but I drove on until I was able to park at a fairgrounds in Auburn, a suburb of Sacramento. It was a long day.
Eager to make my way to Astoria, I drove off the next morning determined to be on the beach in Oregon that night. I did not know that the photos I was taking would soon be lost.
Through the fruit and nut orchards I went, picking and eating oranges, trying to capture some of the abundance with my camera. I followed the Sacramento River northward for miles as the countryside slowly changed. I ruefully recall one photo taken in a popular waterfowl hunting area. An entire store side was painted with the message, “We Pluck Your Ducks.”
I turned west at Redding, stopping to copiously photograph the beautiful old mining town of Shasta. There was no one around, the light was soft and pure. I took some amazing pictures. They are indelibly printed on the hard-drive in the back of my skull. Westward in the thickening rain I drove the spectacular highway along the Trinity River until finally I found the ocean again at Fields Landing. Home, driving through huge thick timber, horizontal rain and crashing surf. `I wondered about the sunset down in Jalisco as I crawled into my cold, damp sheets in Bandon, Oregon. My little trailer rocked in the buffeting wind. Home! Yeah right.