I did not get a photo. I was laughing too hard. He was a brawny four pounder, four inches across at the shoulders, bristle-faced with two gleaming black eyes. Jill and I have each been awake half the night trying remember his name but we can’t. (Recalling our own names can be a challenge.) It was lugubrious and meant something like unconquerable. What was truly amazing about this wee beast was how he peed. He stood up on his front legs, extended his little pinky and squirted away. How he avoided soaking himself is another trick. We both saw it. Is this an evolution of simply cocking a leg? Is it a provocation of his name?
A little research says that it is not that uncommon. It is a little dog’s attempt to “overmark” other dog’s pee mail. No big deal and come to think of it, a huge number of humans do the same same thing, at least figuratively. Everything is a pissing contest for some folks as they try to compensate for a sense of inadequacy. We do tend to wet our own knitting all too often.
Temperatures in Ladysmith lately have risen to the mid-thirties. Funny what happens in August. It IS very, very dry and the usual summer westerly wind is howling. I’m terrified of what can happen if there’s one fool smoking a joint in the bushes. Yes it actually keeps me awake. Our Volunteer Fire Department Emergency call-out siren blows regularly. I’ve helped fight forest fires and there is no romance in any of it. With the present winds any flame will become a monstrous blowtourch that nobody can outrun or control. There is a campfire ban for the whole province, I think no-one should be allowed into the woods, anywhere. I suppose the BC Ferry campgrounds are safe enough, all the trees were cut down long ago.
The smoke thickens. It seems half of the interior in BC is ablaze. The smoke has settled over us here on the coast thickly, one can even taste it. I’ll keep my own opinions to myself and hope desperately that no runaway fires burst out here on Vancouver Island. Further to the south, Mexico has been hit from the Pacific by Hurricane Hilary. There is extreme flooding. My beloved Barb’s Dog Rescue, presently caring for four hundred dogs has had its decrepit electrical system wiped out. They can’t even pump drinking water at present. They’re desperately reaching out for any help folks can offer. It’s a perfect time to win a lottery. One of my joys would be helping certain folks out… and telling others where to go.
I cannot explain it. I am by nature a creative character; I can make a mess of anything. I do like what I can do with my writing and my cameras but this year I’ve had a hard time forcing myself to make videos. I find that work very challenging and my technical abilities remain primitive. Nevertheless I’ve put this effort together:
I hope you like it and I would love any comments and suggestions. I watch a lot of travel vlogs on YouTube and feel inclined to bend that way. I’ll start with routes and back roads locally. So there, now I’ve posted a commitment and I’d better get out there. Have scooter-cycle, will ride.
I should mention that I have not heard a lot of whinging about the heat this summer. That seems most unusual. Perhaps with all the press about our province-wide wild fire devastation we all realize how fragile our existence really is. One flipped cigarette butt and we could face a horrible doom. Life is that close to the edge. The streams are all running dry and we are only mid-way through summer. But then, think of all the other places we could be living. There is nothing we need or want that we cannot take for granted. And so far, we are still free to leave. So far we can still feel safe flying in Canada in our own private jet.
By the way, it’s a blue moon month (Two full moons in one month) Thursday the 31st, last day of the month. Be on the highest local peak for the moonrise, just bring your dancing boots and don’t worry about what to wear. Get naked!
Saturday morning. Sirens wailing. Woo, woo, woo. Another wreck on the highway where people hurtle through town in a quest to hurry up and relax? The sirens stop abruptly, somewhere nearby. Perhaps another old soul in the neighbourhood has a medical crisis. Dogs bark, the children next door make the noises of happy children. There’s a country song coming out of all this. Goldang!
Sunday morning. Overcast sky, it feels good. There’s a forecast of rain two days away. We’ll see. Joey is barking out her morning sonata. This poor old German Shepherd has been at it for the fifteen years we’ve lived here. She’s a fine dog who never gets walked and has a path worn along the inside of her back fence. She sounds fierce but I can pet her and give her treats. It’s the silent rottweiller she shares her existence with to watch. Everyone wants to shoot the dogs for their incessant noise, I want to deal with the owner. Occasionally there is a shout of “Joey shaddup” but that is a token of showing she cares. I don’t know what to do to ease the torture of these poor creatures. They turn the back alley into a gauntlet for anyone walking by. The neighbours complain to each other, nothing changes.
The long weekend is past, we’ve had a wee sprinkle of rain. Despite their best efforts there have been no heaps of traffic victims on the roadside waiting for their helicopter ride. It has to be a miracle that dozens don’t die on our roads daily. They sure work at it. Enough said.
I went to see a surgeon yesterday and am now on a list for a new knee. Something within the next year. Now that’s something to look forward to. I understand that the healing process is long and painful but the reward is to have no more pain and crunching parts. The old knee is worn down to nearly the last kick. I was warned, but life is wasted on the young and I can’t think of one thing that I’ve proven except that I’m an idiot. The new synthetic knee is a marvel of engineering. I examined one yesterday. Once the Canadian Tire label is gone it will look good on any fireplace mantel. It is a result of modern technology, cleverly designed and built. The stainless steel knuckle will cause hell in airport security but we will deal with it at the time. I asked if I could get one with a grease nipple. The surgeon has a sense of humour, everything will be fine.
This blog was slid to the back of the shelf to ferment, or perhaps, desiccate. Days have passed. There are no dramas or points to ponder so we have just sat. Even I’m finally admitting that it’s bloody hot today. There’s a lovely Westerly breeze blowing but it is like a blast furnace when you step outside. I am cooking supper on the barbeque, it would be too warm to bake a meat loaf inside. All the fans in the house are murmuring away. It feels relatively cool in here at my desk, but the air seems to go muddy again, I stare blankly at the wall. Perhaps that is an achievement.
Sunday morning again, suddenly it is a week later, still the sirens wail. Woo, woo!
“We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.” ― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
I’ve never understood why, when we live on an island plenty big enough to be a country, that everyone does not want to be on the perimeter shore that faces the ocean. But then, there’s a lot I don’t understand. Some folks prefer to go to the inside of the island and settle on the edge of a lake. Such is Youbou.
Once a bustling logging community, it is now a retirement and summer home village where certain people were once smart enough to buy properties at giveaway prices. No-one then wanted to live in such a place. The next nearest community is Lake Cowichan itself which is situated on the east end of the lake of the same name. The nearest full-sized town is Duncan, about twenty five miles eastward. There are now good roads and a regular bus service. If you are driving across to the west side of Vancouver Island, Youbou is the last place you can get gas, some groceries, beer, and a restaurant meal.
It is the gateway to places with names like Carmanah, Walbran, West Coast Trail, Bamfield and is a back road to Port Alberni. Youbou is also where you run out of pavement and must continue along active logging roads. Turn your headlights on, unfasten your seat belt so it doesn’t strangle you, and prepare to endure a washboard and pothole-studded tire busting trail onward. Use your air-conditioning to pressurize the cabin of your vehicle to keep most of the dust out. Always assume someone will be coming around a curve at you on the wrong side and never assume the right of way over a logging truck. These are not simply country roads. These are vicious industrial work routes not intended for the urban weekend warrior.
Distances are measured by the sign boards nailed to trees, if they haven’t fallen off. Forget the time, you’ll be there when you arrive. After turning onto the Nitinat main road, I drove several kilometers to discover a road block saying the road was closed due to extreme fire hazard. Fair enough but why the hell wasn’t the sign put where you turn onto the road? I back-tracked and took other routes I know. Don’t expect things to make sense and top up your fuel tank whenever you can. I finally arrived at the native community of Nitinat where a sign advised me I needed to buy a permit for the camp ground I wanted to go to. No-one there knew who sold the permits. I didn’t feel like driving another thirty kilometres to be turned back so I’ve retreated to a nice spot I know on the Nitinat River. It was very hot and dusty so I stripped down and flopped into a lovely clear salmon pool here on a river bend. I’ll deal with tomorrow when it gets here. It is so pristine and peaceful here that staying put is a definite option.
Morning arrived after a night of wonderful quiet. There was only the gentle murmuring of the river. An owl called once. The stars gleamed and splotches of faint light from galaxies I can’t begin to know were all visible through the moss-laden spruce branches. A meteorite streaked straight down trailing a tail of light. Seeing and hearing the earth as it should be I slept peacefully. The dust and clatter of the morning’s road lay beyond.
Downtown Nitinat, early Thursday. No luck. The Doobeh Campground was closed. I learned that after a fine fellow phoned around until he found someone who actually knew. That’s the way it was and there was no point in asking why. These are good people, I didn’t meet anyone I didn’t like. I fell in love with a local dog. He was a year and a half old, black and white, with a head like a bull, built like a terrier and with a grin like a clown. After a few treats we were buddies. The fellow running a little shop told me he’d turn his head if I wanted to load the dog up and go but I just couldn’t do that. Somebody loved him but I can’t get him out of my head. He’s a long way behind me now. There are many kilometres of horribly rough logging road now past. There are detours set up on back roads. They’re hellacious.
I’ve ended up on the edge of Barkley Sound near a little spot called Poet’s Nook. I’ve repaired things which came adrift on today’s jaunt. There is dust everywhere. I can find no romance in any of it. Plastic sport fishing boats herd in and out of the marina in the ‘Nook’. The sky is cloudless but the beauty of the rugged islands in the sound is shattered with old logging cut blocks everywhere. Tonight I’m parked on an old equipment ramp where logging machinery came and went on barges. I was once fully immersed in the forest industry and have to accept my part in this rape. I often point out that folks can’t live in pretty, we need lumber to build our boxes and I’ve no idea how you can have a cake and eat it as well. No point in ruminating and cogitating about things you aren’t going to try to change. Think I’ll go and watch the sunset. That’s where my heart is, out there, over the dust-free horizon.
Day three of this masochism took me on a strange meandering route. Refusing to go further into this labyrinth of tortuous roads and ridiculous prices I back-tracked. Thumping and slamming my way along through swirling clouds of dust I finally arrived back at old Franklin Camp which is essentially the belly button of this part of the world. A massive project is underway to properly build a paved road to Bamfield. It seems that maintenance of the existing roads, and detours, is minimal and what do you do with hard rock and dust. When it rains the dust turns instantly to clinging greasy mud. In dry weather like we are having at the moment there also is the incessant threat of fire. One flipped cigarette butt can instantly become an explosive conflagration; a biblical disaster. To endure roads like this merely to look at the aftermath of extensive logging was not uplifting nor intelligent.
I made my decision and headed toward Port Alberni. Incredibly, after finally putting pavement under my wheels I chose once again to plunge onto yet another logging road. There is a route along the south side of Sproat Lake which, on my map, showed the possibility of several places to park on the beach. They were all taken, every one. I wanted to assemble and use my inflatable boat and motor. They have been stored for two years and need a workout. I want to find a place where I can just sit for a couple of days which will justify all the effort of shaking out the wee boat. For the last three days I’ve been enduring some sort of bladder problem. The agitation of the rough road has me needing to pump ship every few minutes. I have little value as dust control and feel generally poorly so it would indeed be grand to just park and relax. Of course the rules of the back road include one that forces cupboard to contents to flip over and spill. The camper held the wonderful aroma of curry, soya sauce and olive oil. A nice melange, just not in the cupboard. At least, unlike some new Rvs, my cupboard doors have not dropped off.
I finally found a spot on the rocky bank of Taylor River, well past the west end of Sproat. The water is crystal clear and cool. I sit on a rock with my feet in the stream, a beverage in hand, and wonder what, just what. Traffic, across the river by about two hundred metres whizzes past. Old Jack and I once spent a night here. I have a surge of missing him and wonder what’ll come of me. In the morning the traffic has swollen to a high-speed parade. I’ve had enough. Everyone seems to be out on the road. It is about two and a half kilometres to be at the spot on the highway across from my camp. I wait for one of those German off-road monster camper trucks to leave and I follow him out. By the time I’m on the highway across from last night’s stop, someone has taken my spot! It’s nuts. Passing through Coombs, I realize it is their rodeo weekend. Cars jam the shoulder of the road and folks wander in the traffic for miles on either side of the venue. It is madness. Then I pulled out onto the main island highway. Lemmings!
I’m home finally. Ayre the dog is happy to see me. What else is there? Later, I sit out on my back deck, another beverage in hand and look up again at the stars. It’s just not the same sky as the backwoods. I listen to the crickets sing their long summer song and wonder again, what else is there?
“ Some people try to turn back their odometers.
Not me, I want people to know “why” I look this way. I’ve travelled a long way and some of the roads weren’t paved.” – Will Rogers
It is eerie. Sunday morning in Ladysmith, dead quiet. An early flight out of the airport is gone overhead and now there is nothing. A Harley Davidson clatters along the highway, accelerates to beat a yellow light then mumbles off into the distance. It seems very odd, there is usually a distant cacophony of traffic, sirens, lawnmowers and other distant noise pollution. All I can hear this morning is the eternal ringing in my own ears which come from too many years around noisy machinery. And, this is a quiet little town by general standards.
“Expect a flippening in U.S. Stocks.” That is what an ad read as I checked my e-mail. Well our weather has flippened. Finally we have some temperatures in the 30 degree range and I hear babble about heat domes and records being broken. “This is the hottest it has been since 1940.” No, it is called summer time. Simple. Normal. We can all check the records. It gets hot every summer and there is no need to go set yourself on fire. We’re not acclimatized and about the time we get used to some summer heat the trend crashes and someone is howling about a rainy day. STOP IT! Enjoy it while you can.
I sat waiting at the Gabriola Island ferry terminal a few days ago and looked across the harbour. In my brain I wrote, “Nanaimo shimmered. A band of hot air lay over the harbour like a layer of dancing prisms. There was no breath of wind. Waiting passengers left their cars to sit in the waiting room, basking in the air conditioning.” Yep, summertime!
Such is life. I’m now picking up this blog after the August 1st long weekend. I know, the tardy old blogger! The pope has been and gone. Poor old geezer! He was hauled around like some battered trophy scalp and demanded to offer apologies for sins that go back over 500 years. The scapegoat in the housecoat wore every silly hat someone could think up for him to teeter on his old head. Good grief, who would want his job? I see the guy as a figure head, just like presidents and prime ministers; a puppet on a string. He says the words his board of directors told him to utter and now he is back home being prepped for his next mission of placation. Oddly he was not brought to British Columbia, a focal point of Canadian residential school atrocity which brought the whole issue to a boil.
I’ll keep my low opinions about all religions to myself and simply say that when the corporation of the Catholic Church, one of the wealthiest organizations on the planet, decides to embrace biblical humility and universal love, they’ll hang a REMAX sign on the Vatican and get on with the real teachings of Christ. It should be noted that the Catholics apparently administered approximately two thirds of the government-sanctioned cultural remodeling in these schools. The rest was left to protestants who were equally determined to crush the “Indian” out of aboriginal children. That is another part of the same ugly, tragic story which we have not addressed yet. The time will come.
When one nation conquers another it has always been standard protocol to impose ethnic cleansing, especially upon the children. Some purport that we were very close not so long ago to becoming a German-speaking people. At present China is trying to crush the Uyghar people in every way possible. That has always been a dark chapter in the history of man. It will never end. Power and control, that is our instinct. And so on and so on. Blah, blah, blah. We’ve heard it all before. Nothing changes.
The back to school ads are up, soon Christmas sales will appear. If you let it, the swirling madness of our modern world can crush you.
Today I drove by the huge plastic-bound round bales of hay in the fields. They look like huge rolls of toilet paper. I reminisced about chucking hay bales up onto wagons in summer heat. If you could, you’d wear a leather apron to save your clothes from the ripping straws and thistles in the bales. You did it because you had to, the crop had to come in before rain came. I was a sinewy flat-bellied young man then. I couldn’t manage many minutes of that old heave-ho now! I recall how we did it from first light to last or so long as the dew was gone. The survival of your livestock, and so your farm, depended on a barn full of hay.
What a different world today. Now hay is handled entirely by machine. No human hand touches the hay or the cow anymore. One man in an air-conditioned tractor can do more in a day than an entire haying crew in the old days. I actually recall some folks bringing in loose hay, not even bothering to bale it. That was an art in itself. And yes, grain was collected in “sheaves” which were then stood together on end in a process called “stooking.” You did that by hand after the sheaves had been collected and tied together by a machine called a binder. The stooks, once sufficiently dry, were then collected by hand and loaded on a wagon to be conveyed to the barn for threshing. It was complicated and all hard work but it was all folks knew. People survived, thrived and didn’t complain. Amazingly, farms much smaller than today’s were somehow able to support a few families each. It is what we call progress.
This evening is already the third of August. It is overcast and a chilly 20 degrees. It is spitting rain.
The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.― Albert Einstein
After a reluctant spring, summer descended like a squadron of dive bombers. We were obliterated. Even my young co-workers staggered about panting. Those working on the docks easily burned from the sun’s reflection on the mirror-calm lake surface as if they were in a micro wave. We were being nuked. Temperatures hovered around and above forty degrees Celsius. I found myself sitting in the emergency ward of the hospital in Cranbrook for seven hours when I thought I was exhibiting a few stroke-like symptoms. I waited that long because ambulances were arriving almost bumper to bumper with heart attack victims due to the heat. I was told, after a series of tests, that I was working too hard in the heat. I knew that. But there’s no fool like an old fool.
Tonight I’m sitting outside of my camper in a sultry wind blowing off the lake. Temperatures have plummeted down to the mid thirties. It feels chilly. The tree tops roar like surf and dust blows past in swirls. I’m loving it. There is always a patina of dust on everything and I remind myself that life in the desert is just like this. Repairs to the camper have stalled, I’ve been too exhausted to do much with my evenings except wait for the temperature to cool enough for sleep and consume every sort of fluid available. And so the summer passes at the moment, one weary day after another. Visitors I was looking forward to seeing are cancelling for various reasons and frankly I am feeling quite low about life in general. This too shall pass.
One of my bemusements here are the folks who come to enjoy the new water park. It opened on July 1st. My employer purchased an inflatable world from a Chinese (of course) manufacturer which was then held up in customs for almost two months. There was much puzzling and re-anchoring and inflating but it finally came together. Skeptical at first I am now amazed. From toddlers in diapers through amazingly obese human apparitions to geriatrics barely capable of walking on solid ground, these folks clamber, crawl, slither and roll along these inflatable floating obstacle courses. They squeal and scream and squeak in a cacophony of unbridled joy. Most are not confident swimmers so they are provided with life jackets. It is delightful to watch as even elderly folks become children again. The old adage about the best amusements being simple things proves itself true.
I can also see that a thriving future business will be tattoo removal. Good grief! Don’t folks realize that those beautifully crafted flowers, dragons, tigers and graphic fantasies will evolve as time goes by. When their skin sags, wattles and wrinkles those tattoos will slowly evolve into abstract patterns and more closely resemble street maps of places like Moscow. Then there are the thong-string bikinis which do nothing erotic or tantalizing fopr the wearer or the observer. Pockety alabaster mounds (both genders) balumping down the dock only confirm statistics about rising Canadian obesity. Clearly this old fart, who is in no way a prude, is missing something about contemporary physical appeals. “Shake it up baby.” What’s white and red and squeals when it gets near water? A Canadian.
By the end of the day some of these creatures have turned a vicious fluorescent pink. They plod up a very steep hill to a dusty yard where their cars are parked with blast furnace temperatures inside. They drive for at least an hour to get anywhere back out toward their world yet next day there are more folks squealing and pink. Word of mouth is an ultimate marketing tool and clearly folks are very happy. Meanwhile the fleet of rental houseboats comes and goes as ever more folks enjoy a unique vacation. I am amazed at how my employers saw this opportunity and have made it work so well. All things are possible.
“Enjoy life. There’s plenty of time to be dead.” – Hans Christian Andersen
A few days ago in mid-afternoon I was kneeling up on the hot aluminum roof of my newly-acquired old truck camper. I was dolloping out roofing tar to reseal a previous repair. The thick black goo had been used previously so there was no choice but to use it again. I thought of how I must look up there, a Fred on a box and came up with various lines about “hot tin roofs.” They were all rude. The roof wasn’t leaking…yet. Wonderfully it is made of a single sheet of sturdy aluminum. But some preventive measures in the heat and dry of late summer seem in order. It’s almost forty years old; a little TLC is due. It’s small and light, and warm and dry. It has a propane cook stove and a furnace! Good enough. There’s no hot tub but sometimes roughing it is just what you have to do.
One of the popular truck campers is called an “Arctic Fox.” I’m thinking of hanging the name on this old beauty of “Fartic Ox” and putting a little sign on the trailer that says, “Feel free to feed the Sasquatch.” Neighbours have noticed the box and say “I see you’re going camping.” Somehow I’ve never considered sleeping in an RV as camping. Camping, when I was young, involved travelling by canoe and sleeping beneath the overturned hull if it rained. My fantasy was a ‘jungle hammock,’ a military surplus item that came with a roof and mosquito netting all around. I’ve just checked, they’re still available.
Many recreational vehicles now have rooms that pop out, automatic levelling devices, satellite entertainment devices which align themselves to the appropriate signals. By the time all the flip-out items have ceased their whirring, and the generator is purring, there is a fair-sized modern home set up in a commercial “campground” four feet away from someone else’s “wilderness” dream. The cursing begins when all the transformer bits won’t pop back into place so you can go “get away from it all” somewhere else. A diesel pickup truck will easily haul it all at 110 kilometres per hour to re-establish the pitchings a few feet from someone else where you can compare notes. It doesn’t much seem to me like a sensible way of reconnecting with the natural world or of “thinking green.” But…no payments until January!
Almost a week ago it was Labour Day weekend. Already we’ve arrived in late summer and the hottest part of it. The weather forecast is for clear skies and temperatures in the 30s. The sunrise was red from all the smoke in the air from as far away as California. There is a 70,000 acre fire burning in the Yakima area. What a blessed thing to live here on Vancouver Island. We made it through the long weekend without any fires here. Last night the upper winds began to move the smoke back to where it came from and the stars gleamed and twinkled. I often go out for a celestial meditation before bed in an effort to put the day’s concerns into perspective. My little woes against the vastness of the universe puts everything in place.
On a clear night, one can seldom look into any part of the night sky without seeing at least one satellite within a minute. Dull or bright they zing over in all directions unnoticed. For a while last night I could see three at once all on different vectors. There are also all those man-made stars in fixed orbit also known as geosynchronous satellites which sit up there unnoticed to our eye. Those ones must really piss off the astronomer who thinks they’ve discovered an unknown star! They are as pervasive as electrical lines or contrails marring a view of the natural world. It’s a sad essay that so few folks notice them. Today’s check says there are currently 2,666 satellites up there. And we thought the beer cans in the ditch were a problem.
Anyway, folks ensconced around their portable campfire beneath a string of patio lanterns, safely inside their electronic mosquito net-bubble (yes really) watching the ‘Simpsons.’ That we all know who the ‘Simpsons’ are underscores the age we live in. We are as oblivious to the geosynchronous satellites relaying our television signals as we are to lost primal skills like melting spruce gum over an open wood fire so we can patch our home-made canoe. I am well familiar with the “Old School” and the non-romance of doing things like using an outhouse at -40°, or making a bed from spruce boughs. I don’t miss it.
While perusing the latest camping gadgets I can across a small portable cooking stove that burns any “bio fuel.” It also uses the heat to charge a lithium battery which has a USB port to run a small light or charge a mobile phone. So now we live in the age of the electronic campfire. When your rocket stove has started a wildfire, you can call to report it if…there is a geosynchronous satellite in place.
Parts of Oregon have now exploded with wildfire. Cities are threatened with devastation. It seems that half of California is in flames, Washington State is in a critical situation and British Columbia is also adjoined to the crisis as part of the Pacific Northwest. Here we can smell and taste their smoke in the air. With the Covid numbers rising again we are all together in living with a sense of tension. What a year!
I’ve been working on the camper in the cooler part of the morning and then retiring to the shady cool inside the house during the afternoon. About 9am today a thick column of grey/black smoke rose into the azure sky then drifted off in the upper winds. Helicopters with water buckets began passing overhead. I feared the worst. A new bush fire or a serious plane crash could look like that. As it turns out a metal recycling yard, a few miles away at our end of our airport, has caught fire. An online news story had images of heaps of burning crushed cars and a mountain of burning tires. It is the sort of fire which is very hard to extinguish and produces a variety of nasty toxins. Ironically the advertisement immediately following the story shows a young father and son cheerily roasting marshmallows over a crackling campfire.
By evening the wind has shifted in our direction and the tang of burning rubber is heavy in the air. You can see it and taste it. There are no hydrants near the burning scrapyard so all water has to be trucked to the inferno. It’s going to be a long night for those fighting the fire and for those with adjacent properties. It will be a long night for those of us trying to sleep downwind. Damn! I miss having a boat.
“Civilization is a conspiracy. Modern life is the silent compact of comfortable folk to keep up pretences.”
I have always wanted to have a boat named the ‘Brass Monkey.’ As I contemplate selling my beloved boat and replacing it with a smaller trailerable boat, I believe I would name it the ‘Brass Monkey.’ I’ve never seen a vessel with that name. ‘Seafire’ was very close to having that handle but fate intervened and she ended up with the name of a previous and beloved vessel. It’s a complicated story best saved for another time. The Brass Monkey fixation has to do with my perverse sense of humour. Over breakfast this morning I mused about a new blog called “Tales Of The Brass Monkey.” It could begin: “Hello my name is Balls; Claude Balls. Perhaps you are familiar with my first novel “Tiger Hunting in Burma.”
“Bah ha ha, I get it, I get it!”
It’s a tired old joke from my elementary school days so very, very long. I recall we could get ourselves doubled over in gales of laughter about ‘Rusty Bedsprings” by I. P. Nightly. Was I ever really that innocent and so easily amused? Such are the weird mental meanderings of a creative old sailor on the Saturday morning of the beginning of a long weekend. It is BC Day this time. Years ago an edict was issued that declared there would be a statute holiday in every month of the year. That’s very civilized I suppose.
It meant moving Thanksgiving from November to October. Halloween was apparently not an adequate excuse for an official day off with pay. I don’t think Remembrance Day should be a legal holiday but there’s no point in blowing against the wind. When you retire, every day becomes a sort-of holiday and all too often you have to grope to remember what day it is. Too soon it will be guessing the month; and then the year. Your existence can become something measured by the space between medical appointments. I’ll tell you right now that I’m becoming increasingly suspicious of the whole damned Western Medical system and wonder about how many Porsche payments I’m helping make.
The weather continues to be clear and hot. There are several forest fires burning on just on Vancouver Island including a local one of over 190 hectares. All due probably to some idiot with a cigarette. So each day is smoky and airless. Last evening, even with hatches open, the boat’s interior was 43º C, that’s 108ºF! I’m painting the boat’s cockpit so for me it is up in the early morning to put the next coat on before the baking sun rears its angry head once again. I’d love an ocean breeze but I’m glad the firefighters don’t have any more wind than the fire itself creates. I know, from younger years working in the woods, what a hellacious ordeal forest fire fighting is. There is no romance in any of it.
Wot a life! I met an old man this morning racing down the sidewalk in his electric scooter. He was resplendent in flowered Bermuda shorts flapping around his skeletal legs which were wrapped up in knee-high socks. He wore thick, huge sunglasses beneath a broad straw hat. A smouldering cigarette was stuck in his pie-hole. He complained about the smoke in the air. How do you respond to blatant idiocy? The smoke is acrid enough but nothing compared to the weekend past when a dock caught fire in Port Mellon over 30 miles away. The choking stench of burning creosote filled the air for most of the day. It is a toxic funk that sticks in your throat and nose, strongly reminiscent of a time when everyone used either coal or wood for cooking and heating and thought nothing of whatever might be spewing from local industrial smokestacks. Bleaach! Despite our local air quality warnings, there are millions of folks on the planet still living daily in far worse air pollution and know nothing different. Oh, the things we take for granted!
Our marina is so crowded with transient vessels this year that member’s slips are being assigned whenever possible. The revenue is most welcome I’m sure as we continue to expand and improve our facilities. Two temporary neighbours this week were tied on either side of the same finger. One, a typical fibreglass trawler, clone was crewed with two pre-geriatric couples. Drinks flowed copiously accompanied with loud guffaws and “Golly-gee, I think we’re having fun” raucous, imposing laughter. I said nothing (because I seem to have forgotten how to have fun.) Their dock mate was a cruise and learn vessel belonging to a lady who has run a successful sailing school on her boat for many years. In the morning she held class in the cockpit and then coached a teenage girl who, incidentally, backed the big sloop out and away; quite possibly for the first time ever. She did a great job. All the while, the trawler’s matrons stood up on their top deck with hands-on-hips, watching and making comments, especially during the backing out manoeuvre. The body language and mindless quips were entirely inappropriate and distracting to the student. Gormless people, finding entertainment with someone else’s dire circumstance, infuriate me. I tried to keep my head down but finally spontaneously offered that the student really did not need an audience. Two blank faces turned and regarded me with the all the deep wonder of pigs having a pee. I know, I’m just a cranky old curmugeon, but the instructor grinned and waved. The next day another guest dumped out the dock’s dog water bucket because he “Didn’t know what it was for.” Later he complained about the purple martins “Picking on him.”
As Jack might say, “Grrrrr.”
For every goof there are also very many lovely people, with gorgeous boats and even some with wonderful dogs along for the cruise. I’m quite proud to be a small part of the Ladysmith Maritime Society which has become an ultimate cruising drop-in spot for vessels from as far away as the bottom of Puget Sound and even Southern California. One appeared the other day with home port displayed as Isle Grosse, Michigan. I don’t know where the boat is really kept but… goshdernit;we’re famous!
At the moment, I’m finishing up the final licks of the face lift on old ‘Seafire.’ The cockpit has lost its grubby tugboat ambience. Now if someone could do the same for me. I’m also working on an engine in a friend’s 1946 Chris Craft. This beautiful old wooden classic is the sort of boat I watched in the harbours of my youth. Whodda thunk that one day, nearly sixty years later….! Actually I do work on these old beauties every once in a while and it is always a bit of pleasure. No computers!
The final painting in the cockpit is now done. That, in itself, feels good. Also, the heat has eased and we have actually had a few sprinkles of rain today. Does this mean we’re on the slippery back side of summer already? Between the showers, the sun breaks out through a brassy pall of smoke. At least we’ve had no fire-starting thunderstorms, here, yet. I might be frustrated with my little life but I’m not bored. Summer wears on.
“Don’t judge other people’s ability by the level of your own incompetence.” … Old Grumpy hisself
At first light the air was cool, pure and sweet. There was a brown pall over Vancouver. I assumed it was smog. By mid-morning a high, thick overcast covered the sky. One could smell smoke. The gloom was cast out from the forest fires burning in the interior of the province. Late afternoon was airless, the sun’s heat was fantastic and oppressive. I recalled cruel children cremating live insects under a magnifying glass. For a moment I felt a sense of smallness. I recalled when, as a young man working in the woods, I would be summoned to fight forest fires. The incredible heat, the smoke, the ash, the spark-laden dust, the long days, the weariness and thirst, the harsh din of machinery I drove, snatched moments of dreamless sleep during the dark hours and the fatigue in rising at first light to do it all over again. I feel that fatigue now but it is because I’m older and perhaps because I worked too hard when I was younger.
I’m on my first time-off from my new job. I’ve commuted home for two days from Comox and don’t feel at all like going back to work. I’ll return in a few hours so I’ll be there in the morning. In my younger years I’d just get up earlier and put in a full day once I arrived. My doctor shakes his head at my determination to keep on chasing an income despite his advise otherwise. Poverty is a hard master. You don’t hang up your debts, or dreams, just because you’ve reached a certain age. I drive north squinting into a copper sun. A fire has broken out up-island near Nimpkish Lake and the smoke mixes with the general funk already filling the sky. I can smell and taste it. It is only the first of August and we could have three months of volatile fire season ahead. We were all dismayed at the long wet winter and spring, it seemed that it had been wet and miserable forever. That seems a distant memory now.
The summer wears on. At 0:600 this the morning the thermometer reads 17 degrees. It feels chilly! The forecast temperature will double later today. In Mexico this weather is what a person goes to enjoy. Working in it at home is an entirely different situation. In the afternoon the sound of singing and chanting carried in from the bay. Eventually over two dozen native canoes passed up into the mouth of the Courtenay River. It was part of an annual event called ‘Tribal Journeys’. Canoes from Puget Sound and southern regions are making their way north in an armada that may have up to 2500 participants. It looked like thirsty work, all that paddling and chanting and drumming. I found the sight and sound of it all quite uplifting. I hope the builders and paddlers of the canoes find empowerment and pride in their grand adventure.
Two days later, before the sun had risen, in the smokey first light, songs and chants carried across the water. Silhouettes of the canoe flotilla appeared and then faded into the blur of dawn as their journey northward continued.
“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”