It is the last weekend of February. This is a time which is one of the pinnacles of my annual life cycle; the Fisher Poets Gathering is on in Astoria Oregon. Composed of a large contingent of Alaskan fisher-folk, the event draws men and women from around the world. Various performers offer samples of their writing and music. The depth of talent is stunning. Uplifting and affirming to mix with other blue collar creative souls there is also humility in realizing the tremendous creative energy among simple working people. The website is fisherpoets.org If you click on ‘performers’ then go to ‘in the tote’ you’ll be able to find some of my work to read and to listen to. There are plenty of other performers listed there whose work is spellbinding. I am honoured to find myself among them.
This weekend in Astoria has been, for me, a great way to shake the blahs and recharge wintered-down batteries. It is a fabulous town to visit in its own right. I go to participate every year. But this year I’m writing this aboard ‘Seafire’ while moored in Shearwater, a very long way north of Astoria and the Columbia River. Health issues are keeping me here. It is snowing outside and a severe brown-out is settling over me. I have to get out of here. Now! I slip my lines and idle out into the thick snow well aware I’m totally alone. This is no cure for cabin fever, the boat looks the same inside but I have a sense of being in control, able to go wherever I choose. Soon lost from sight in the slanting snow, only I know where I am. My sense of isolation increases slightly but I feel slightly better.
Two hours later I am at anchor just past Troup Narrows. I began to turn in to my intended anchorage but found a neighbour’s boat already anchored there. In respect for their deliberate solitude I moved on. It would have been rude to impose my presence when there are so many other snug places to anchor. Here I sit, alone in a wilderness night and the driving snow of the Great Bear Rainforest. Almost asleep with my fingers on the keyboard I sit here in a thick stupor with a whole night of long black hours ahead. Those hours pass with a long series of nasty dreams and general anxiety. It is probably just my state of mind but I note that this is an area heavily marked with ancient pictographs and petroglyphs of local indigenous peoples. It is probably just my imagination, but It has happened to me in similar places elsewhere and I wonder if there is a presence that effects some people. It is probably all bugga bugga but still; what if? The sky is clear, swept by a brisk Northeast wind. It has kept the boat taut on the end of its anchor chain all night. It pinged and grumbled but the Rocna anchor held firmly as it always does. I finish my second coffee as the aroma of a pork roast in the oven fills the cabin. I’ve impregnated it with several cloves of garlic. The oven helps warm the boat on this chilly morning and I’ll have meat cooked ahead for several meals.
Time to go. The anchor comes up encased in thick mud, the best material to hold a boat. I intend to amble along a circuitous back route looking for petroglyphs and paintings. The sun, by 9 o’clock, is finally high enough to cast enough light to see but then the light becomes too harsh with deep shadows and the wind howls too boldly for me to take the boat close to the rocky unfamiliar shoreline. I resolve to be content with the day as a simple outing with nothing accomplished or discovered. People do that I’m told. It was actually rather pleasant.
The last days of February are bitterly cold. An older power boat stored in the yard requires attention in its engine room. The vessel was built around the engines, which after several decades, are balls of grease and rust. After fighting with seized bolts in cramped quarters in numbing cold, I am yet again confronted with the ugly reality that this is work for a younger, flat-bellied person. My Rubenesque form is not contorting as it needs too, the knees don’t unbend and my attitude is hardening and it seems that my lament is constantly about health and weather. March 1st daylight creeps reluctantly beneath a thick, dripping blanket of cloud. It is calm. Yesterday’s slush clings on. By the end of the week nothing has changed. I’ve prepared yet another old yacht’s engine room for engine removal. It too will be a shoehorn endeavour. For some reason similar jobs often occur near the same time. I remind myself that nothing is forever and that soon I’ll find myself looking back on this misery from a happier place. The weather, and the forecast, continue with wind, rain and snow. I’m having difficulty finding something of interest to blog about and the motivation to care about anything. Some folks here live within a drug and alcohol- induced fog. I can almost understand that.
The first weekend of March arrives in a snow storm. I take some pictures and go back to bed, feeling as motivated as a hose. N old hose. My ambition for today is defrosting the boat’s fridge and I’m going to savour that wild craziness for a while yet. Two hours later, the bright, warm sun is hanging in a clearing blue sky. I shut off the heaters, throw open the hatches and savour dry fresh air. The sunlight reveals layers of grime. I scrub away, disheartened at my slovenly boat keeping. Admittedly, the boat has been closed up tight since sometime in October while I’ve cooked and lived within. Yeech! At least the recognition and resolve of my detritus is a sign of hope and ambition. Haar! Yet there be life.
On Saturday evening the community got together and put on a Greek food evening. This old recluse was reluctant at first but ended up being glad he went. The food was spectacular, kudos to all who cooked. There were even samples of venison and moose cooked with Mediterranean recipes and someone made Baklava that was exquisite. The folks were all amiable and I will confess to having had a very pleasant time. It was wonderful to have exotic food in such a backwater.
On Sunday I stowed away on a water taxi running up to Bella Coola to pick up an employee.
It was great to just be a passenger with no responsibilities. Outflow winds at first provided a back-jarring ride but conditions eased under a cloudless sky. The vastness of this country is stunning. Shearwater is well inland from the open Pacific and Bella Coola is about sixty miles further inland within a labyrinth of deep inlets with vicious winds and swirling currents. The forest changes from coastal cedar and becomes predominantly fir. The mountains rise higher and become more rugged. After hours of travel one feels well imbedded in the continent yet on the chart it is clear you’ve barely begun.
Today for the first time I briefly looked on Mackenzie Rock, an ambition I’ve long held This is the site several miles seaward of Bella Coola where Alexander Mackenzie ended his fantastic westward trek in1793 when Heiltsuk warriors turned his expedition back. It must have been a massive disappointment to have travelled on Pacific seawater yet be denied the sight of open ocean horizon. The man stoically turned around to canoe and walk all the way back to Toronto. He originally came from the Isle Of Lewis, when just making it to the mainland of Scotland was a personal achievement. Wee Alex went on to tramp across and up and down huge parts of Canada. Eventually representing the North West Company he made his way to the headwaters of what would become known as the Mackenzie River. Then he canoed the massive river’s length to the Arctic Ocean. I have always been amazed how intrepid it was to come from a small country and set to hoof and paddle across incomprehensible distances. A few years later he showed up in Bella Coola, after a trip back to Scotland. That dude got around! Apparently he missed a meeting there, by a few weeks, with the dauntless George Vancouver. Eventually, at the age of forty-eight, he made it home to Scotland once again where he married a fourteen-year old girl and fathered three children. Hagis Power! I’m left feeling dead wimpey.
Boredom: “the desire for desires.” Leo Tolstoy