Sunday, May 31, 2009

Chop wood, carry water. The art of tending fire.

All winter long we keep a fire burning in our woodstove and it goes through a lot of wood. It takes some skill to relight it in the morning and to tend it through the day so that the room temperature hovers around 70 degrees F. Over the years we have learned the tricks to do with stoking the fire at just the right moment ( too soon and we are cooked out of the house, too late and the room cools down and the chimney sends blue smoke drifting out among the tall evergreens that surround our home). We have even found that opening the door to the cold sunroom can be used to balance up an over-active blast of heat. Bunkering down for a long slow overnight burn requires just the right kind of wood (a big piece of maple, not too dry) to burn slowly through the night and keep the house temperature from plunging too low. The real challenge, the real test of skill, however begins with the milder temperatures of early Spring.
With the outside temperature in the 50 degree range, it does n`t take much of a fire to keep the indoor temperature up to normal once the initial morning chill is gone from the kitchen. We are now into finessing the fire to keep it burning cleanly in only a portion of the firebox. It is a sign of defeat to have to open the doors and windows to cool things down and the sunroom is now picking up it`s own heat from the morning`s sunlight. We switch to smaller pieces of wood that will provide quick pick-me-ups for an almost burnt out fire. We have to check the fire more often. Soon we will be able to burn a quick fire in the early morning and then let it go out and rely on the sun to boost us through the day. Finally, just to turn things around and keep us on our toes, in the summer there are no more fires and we will be drawing the curtains and keeping the windows closed to maintain the morning`s coolness against the heat of the day. All in all we spend a lot of thought and energy on managing an even temperature and I haven`t even mentioned the different layers of clothing required for different times of the year.

One would think that a thermostat attached to electric or some other automatic form of heating would be a great invention for us on our little island but that would run counter to the other important usefulness of our own involved heating routine. We have friends who have specially designated rooms for meditation so that they may practice being present in the moment. Set your thermostat, sit down and discipline your mind to zero in on the ground of being. We have fire to tend so when would we have time to be sitting around? Ah yes, is it possible that the discipline of tending fire is as close to the center of life as it is possible to get? Next no doubt we will be chopping wood and carrying water.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Amazon Adventure # 25. Close hauled for the Exumas.

From the Journal:
By morning the wind had swung into the NE. We were packed up and on our way to the Exumas by 9am. No sooner out past the reefs then we were into big seas. The course for Highbourne Cay required that we sail as close to the wind as possible. Fiddled with the sails to get the right set. A big catamaran came up behind us ( Celtic Cross) and passed close by to demonstrate his superior windward performance. They looked so comfortably dry compared to our crashing and spray. The girls stayed below and read. Heather emerged from time to time to take the helm while I salvaged and deflated Hippolyta who washed overboard, and trailing anchor lines washed off the decks. Doing anything on deck was difficult.

Midway we passed over the Yellow Bank shallows and I sailed with one foot on the tiller so I could stand up and watch for coral heads. As the day wore on the wind and waves increased ( forecast had said light and variable winds) and swung more into the east. Amazon was soon rushing along with her bows buried in spray ( me too). The Celtic Cross` mast eventually disappeared ahead and land appeared ( two humps and a radio tower). No tower shown on the chart. More distant bits of land. Where are we? Around 3pm we see a yacht anchored close to land. We are really roaring along now and partially luffing the mains`l. Very strong gusts but at least the land is blocking the waves at last.

We cross a sand bar and worry about rocks. We pass astern of the yacht whose crew is trying to furl their sails. "Where are we?" we shout, with salt encrusted smiles. A startled look: "South end of Normans Cay!" We sail into shore only to find the land is too low and gives no lee from the wind. We catch our breath and then motor around the point to find a whole fleet of boats in the next bay anchored in the gale. We move on to the better lee of Wax Cay. Heather leaps ashore and goes running up the beach still in her lifejacket. The evening sun lights up the gorgeous island and white sand beach. What a relief after that 40 mile multi-hour crashing session.

Heather comes back, exercised, and reports animal tracks -a rare mammal called a Hutia. We find once we get the tent up that the wind varies between dead calm and hurricane strength. Heather cooks while wrapped in the folds of the tent. We can barely hear ourselves for the sound of flapping fabric. The anchor lines are bar tight. Fortunately the Danforth anchors hold well in this sand. At last it is bed time. We take down the tent. Ah, blessed silence, but for the wind in the rigging. H. and I snuggle down under the tarp and the stars. Tired? I should say! Bill.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Four Corners. The transition from image to art.

Four Corners. Pollen.

The collection of sponges, a box of tissues and one brass knob were parked by the front door waiting to be carried up to the log cabin we were equipping for visitors. I recognized a ‘photographic opportunity’ in the accidental arrangement, so I placed them on a black background, carefully positioned the elements and took some photos of what was essentially an abstract image - abstracted from reality. The first step only in the development of a work of art.

Some while later when the photos was transferred from camera to computer I selected the most interesting and did some minor adjustments -mostly cropping and darkening the image slightly to blacken the background. Then I added a beautiful gold frame from a computer selection and the ‘cleaning collection’ was into the next phase of development. By framing it I had done the equivalent of placing it on the wall and asking viewers to think of it as a work of art - an abstract one at that. At this point I had created a point of difficulty for the viewer. Firstly, it attracted attention by it`s strangeness, it`s differentness from other pictures around it and that was the first important step: amid a sea of images, this one could engage a viewer, if only for a moment. It needed to hold attention however, and the collection of items had been arranged in a very symmetrical way so only the puzzle to be solved of what were the original parts making up the image could keep the viewers focus. Already, by creating an abstract picture ( and a photograph, not a painting, at that!) I had lost many potential viewers who would only interact with ‘beauty’ or ‘realistic pictures’. As they say in advertizing however, if you do not capture a person`s attention first, you will not be able to pass on your message. By creating a visual puzzle, I had done my best for this necessary next phase.

Having, hopefully, caught the viewer`s attention with solving the puzzle, was I content to step back at this point and let my photo make it`s own way in the world? What was it`s ‘message’ anyway? And how to nudge the viewer towards a deeper truth that transcended it`s elements. Once the sponges and so on were recognized, how to stop the viewer from wandering on with only a sense of cleverness. The answer had to be in the title which could not be ‘Sponges etc.’I was about to take the final step before turning the image loose to mess with the minds of the world.

I had to go back to what spoke to me when I first saw this collection and was attracted to make a picture of it. The colours and shapes certainly, but in it`s very simplicity and bi-symetricality it made me think of my visit of a year ago to the canyons and mesa country of the American South-West - to the imagery and the stories of the Navajo. Once again there was a clash between the essential traditional quality of the "face" of the image and the consumer items that made it up. I needed a title that would point the viewer in that direction. By ‘Four Corners’ I was placing the imagery geographically, by ‘Pollen’ I was relating the dominant yellow to Navajo ceremony and spirit. With these clues, could some viewers make the leap into the heart of the matter and complete the story within themselves? That is the essential journey that the arts call upon us to make.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Amazon Adventure # 24. After the Storm.

Drying out the wet bedding, and making lunch in a gale.

The wind roars in the trees but we are safe in our little bay. We stock up with water and ice and return to Rose Island so we can have a good start on our crossing to the island chain called the Exumas.

The journal:
After a poor night`s sleep -rain and wind - we woke(!) to feel the boat bouncing on the bottom as the tide had gone out again. Over the side quickly when sand sounds were supplemented by bouncing on rock sounds. Up all anchors, take in bow lines to trees and motor out to tie up to a large raft anchored farther out in the bay. There is much more wind and we surge back and forth in jerks. I got busy with the epoxy and fixed a cleat on a netting beam and one of the hatch covers. Meanwhile all bedding and the wet tent are hung to dry before they are stowed away. Heather helped A&E with their chemistry while Gwyn and I practiced Japanese lettering.

... after a final stock up on supplies we decided to make a start on our trip and under motor and stays`l we rush across to the opposite side of Rose Island with a strong NW wind. The anchorage marked on the chart is very shallow even for us. With me pushing from behind we finally get into the lee of a cliff. Up with the tent, and the girls are now cooking hamburgers and hashbrowns. Hope for a quiet night. Bill.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Amazon Adventure # 23. The big storm.

Over the next few days we explore Nassau and visit the Canadian consulate to collect our Christmas mail. Then we sail to nearby Rose Island to do some snorkeling on the coral reefs. What an amazing experience! The wind pipes up and we make a windy dash back to Nassau harbour for shelter. While other yachts put in a scary night anchored tightly packed together in the open harbour, Amazon creeps around in the shelter of Paradise Island as the wind shifts and spends the night tied into the beach in a thunderstorm as the wind roars through the casuarina pines on shore.

The journal:

Woke up early this morning to get ready for the big day ashore - boat people becoming tourists. Made lunch to put in our Current Island baskets. Put on skirts ( some of us) then piled into Hippo. What a come down! We wallowed and splashed our way ludicrously to shore with Bill, Anne and Elaine paddling valiantly against the wind and all of us trying to keep the yellow and blue dye off our finery. Stashed the boat on a corner of the public beach - suddenly we were in the middle of city traffic.... Heather.

Jan 21st.
... Finally got our refilled propane cylinder and battled waves and wind to Rose Island. Arrived at a beautiful beach -clear, clear water. Just as soon as we got there a tourist excursion boat ( a fake Spanish galleon that we called ‘The Thing’) came along and dumped tourists onto the beach. They were noisily here while we were snorkeling. Finally left. What to do with the peace and quiet? Why turn on the tapes of course!

There`s still a south-east wind but in a couple of days it should go to north 30 -gusting to 90 knots. Maybe the worst will pass to the north of us, and the wind not too strong so then we can make it to the Exumas? Anne.

All but one of the yachts anchored in the lee of Rose Island left for Nassau - they must have been conferring on the weather. We drifted partially out of the island`s lee ( the wind was way stronger farther out) and anchored beside a coral reef. We all went in and were wowed by the coral, fishes etc. H`s first snorkeling and the girls first real reef. Very, very impressive.

The other yacht ( Penopscott) left and we followed. We lashed everything down and left the lee of the point. Heather and I took turns on deck wiping the salt spray from our eyes. A fast but wet trip in 30 to 40 knot wind. We tucked into the lee of Paradise Island in a little bay near the golf course and had a pleasant afternoon with the wind roaring overhead. The girls went swimming for ages and Heather cooked supper in advance all the while expecting the thunderstorm front and a change in wind direction. A security guard ( Tony Russell) told us of a bay farther around the island so at five o`clock we motored around to a small bay backed by a sandy beach and tall trees to give shelter from the north where we expect the next lot of wind to come from. Only trouble is, the bottom is rocky and the anchors will not hold so we end up in a compromise situation with two lines to land and an anchor off to one side in the sand to prevent us swinging broadside to the beach. The tide is out and we are bumping on the sand but hopefully things will improve with a rising tide and a north wind to hold us off the beach.

We are now on the edge of the front with rain, and lightning on the horizon. We are trying the small backpack tent tonight. We are all crammed in for supper. Hard boiled eggs, salad and cold rice pancakes. We called Penopscott and told them we were safe and sound. Betty had offered to take the girls overnight as they were worried about us but in the end they themselves had an horrendous night at anchor amidst ‘the fleet’.I`d rather be tied into shore in our own little bay than mixed in with a lot of other boats ( anchors dragging etc.) in an open anchorage. Wish we would stop bouncing on the bottom though. Goodnight, dear diary. Bill.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Organization Man.

There is a drinking glass resting before me and if I close one eye and lean a little to the left and... up just a hair... then the ellipse of the glass` rim will line up perfectly with the round table top I can glimpse out on the patio. It is a completely instinctive activity, and something I have done since I was a child. I tend to keep this playfulness to myself and disguise my visual organizing as a casual shifting of position as I try to listen fully focused to a conversation ( with one eye closed!). I do this also on a grander and more complex scale while walking along a trail with my camera in my hand. The whole landscape is a constantly changing 3-D set of relationships which will sometimes marshal itself for me into a meaningful pattern and when it does I take it`s picture. Composition informed by a lifetime of visual organizing.

There is a deeper aspect to this that keeps me reaching past mere visual satisfaction: this is a form of meditation that, like for a patient fisherman, will be rewarded by a momentary removal of the veils that disguise the inner moods of reality. That sparkle beneath the overhanging arbutus tree where the gentle ripples of the ocean pass into the shadows: - just there, where light meets dark and twines together. Click! Further down the coast, two fir and arbutus trees line-up into relationship - a triangular composition that balances precariously but perfectly with the ripples on the sea`s surface. I move forward, a little to the right, hold my breath and... click! Oh, splendid world!

In March the pond is still frozen; the overhanging willow tree is delicately frosted in fresh snow. I am working beside it slashing out some brush from the roadside. A last thin beam of late afternoon sunlight filters through the alders and picks out one branch of the willow. Spectacular, but nothing stirs in my mind until I see the dark cross of cracked ice below the tree. I run for my camera but the sunbeam is gone by the time I get back but I don`t care because I have felt the subtle relationship between tree form and the dark slashed negative in the ice speak to me. It is even more obvious without the distraction of gaudy sunlight into this solemn shady place. I practically bow before I reverently take the picture. Click! - a thousand times, yes!.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Amazon Adventure #22. Skimming the shallows to Nassau.

The day started awkwardly with a request from Darren to carry a friend to Nassau with us. We refused, even though he had done so much for us, as we have decided to avoid possible complications of transporting people and their parcels in this shifting world of legal and illegal transactions. And really we are ready for some private family time on our little ship after all the visiting of the last few days.

Amazon sails fast over the sands and reefs which we can see so clearly beneath us. When it is very shallow the wake becomes full of waves and we have a sense of tremendous speed.

It is the underwater world that is so full of life and variety in the Bahamas and unfortunately the human pressure to turn all this diversity and beauty into cash is causing it`s destruction. Some fishermen are squirting bleach into the coral reefs to drive out the last salable creatures (with air hoses they can work on even deep reefs) and this kills the coral. All to supply Nassau , the big city for which all this diverse world of cays and reefs is the hinterland.

The journal.
.... Passed by many little rocks and cays as we followed the chart. The girls retired below to get some shade while I found shade behind the mainsail and dangled my feet in the water. We could see the high rises on Paradise Island at Nassau as little blobs on the horizon. Finally we were close enough and the wind light enough to furl sails and motor into the harbour. Boats all over the place. Madly trying to read the chart, call harbour control to announce our arrival and dodge other boats. All this civilization is unnerving. We cruised up the harbour checking out anchorages through bouncy waves from all the boat wash. We finally crossed to the Nassau side and anchored with some other multi hulls. I botched the anchoring ( what is called a running Bahama moor with two anchors out in opposite directions so the boat does not swing in a wide circle with wind and current.) Why is it that we can do this perfectly in deserted anchorages but not when there are 30 people watching from their boats while drinking their martinis.

We watched sea planes take off and two cruise ships leave harbour all lit up. H .and I listened to loud rock and roll music from a hotel ashore for half the night. Without being aware of it we have gradually adapted so well to the natural world of the out-islands that this entertainment world is hard to take. Bill.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Amazon Adventure #21. Current economics.

Back through the Cut.

We sail back to Current Island, go back through the Cut and anchor off the village. Darren continues to look after us; it`s obvious to him that we need it, with our little family and open catamaran/camping way of living and so we have the treat of being hosted by people who are already so well adapted to this sea/island life. We visit with Darren`s mother, buy some baskets and watch a video on one of the colour TV`s in their little home. We begin to understand that many young fishermen are fishing for more lucrative items than the crayfish and conchs that supplement their main income.
The drugs from S. America filter through the Bahamas en-route to Florida. This is what that policeman was warning us about when we launched way back in Tampa: yachts rubbing shoulders with the shady side of drugs, fast boats and isolated anchorages. How come this sounds like BC today?
The Journal:

We went into Hatchet Bay settlement and bought water ($.10 a gallon) and a block of ice. On the way to Current Island we had slow sailing for several hours until around four when we turned on the motor. Ya Hoo! ( only because I was bugging Dad the whole time about turning it on). At 5:30 we were trying to get back into the our original bay but it was too shallow with the tide out, even when we all got off and pushed. Darren came along and asked us to go through the Cut to the settlement so we did and then got up the tent because of the mosquitos. That`s all, Elaine.
The settlement.
Jan 16th.
Darren took us for a tour of his settlement. Up the hill and to the left. We passed quite a few houses all with women doing the washing. Friday is washing day on Current! We passed his house, it is a sort of greenish turquoise, and it had a huge satellite dish and two huge colour TVs even though this in a very primitive looking settlement. Darren says there is really nothing to do all day but watch TV. Then we continued down the path passed a couple of yellow and purple plum trees. Darren showed us how they prepared the sticks and grasses for baskets. We saw the lady who asked Dad if he was making coffee the last time we were here. Her name is Edith Brown and she`s really nice. Then we walked to the ‘creek’ where we were anchored last time and to the place where the ‘Current Pride’ came in. All the while the mosquitos biting. We went back to Darren`s house and we watched ‘The jewel of the Nile’ while mom and dad bought baskets from D`s mom.
Off to Gregory Town.

Dad went with Darren and Warren to Gregory Town to cash a travellers cheque so we could pay for the baskets and the rest of us settled down to do homework. A Defense Force helicopter circled us with a machine gun pointing out the side door. Must have seemed dangerous with Gwyn washing her white teddy bear on deck! We were starting to think they were going to land and search us! When the speed boat came back they took dad out spear fishing. Caught two and threw them back! We said goodbye because we`ll never see them again. Tomorrow we`ll wake up early and leave for Nassau. Anne.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Amazon Adventure # 20. Lost in a limestone cave.

Wow! This cave has BATS, girls.

Our Current Island friends pick us up and we all cram into a car and drive to explore a limestone cave. There is a tricky time when we wish we had unrolled a long string behind us as our guides become confused about the way back out to the sunshine and our flashlights are getting dim. Yikes! We visit a beach on the surf side of the island and then back to Hatchet Bay.

The Journal:
... Darren and Warren came roaring up and took us to the waiting car. All seven of us jumped into a four seater. We roared down the road at 70 to 80 miles per hour and turned down a dirt road named CAVES. We stopped in the middle of a field and suddenly Darren disappeared. The cave was just there! We went down some cement steps, got out our flashlights in a cavern and started our trip going two tight miles.

They lead us down manmade steps, then down a ladder and on and on. Warren showed us a water cavern and we continued `til " What light through yonder window breaks?"( "Shut up Gwyn", says Elaine.) we came to a little square hole of light coming down a shaft. As we could n`t climb up it we went back down into the dark and mom bumped her head on a stalactite. Wham! An earthquake! She had blood on her hat and of course on her head. GROSS!

After we finally escaped out to the field again we all jumped into the car and roared off to the surfing beach. The road was so bumpy that all but Darren, the driver, got out and walked. Mom and I went shell collecting then we headed back to the boat. Mom and Dad went shopping and D.&W. stopped to talk to Anne and Elaine. Later, we went out of the harbour to dump the toilet and then came back and anchored in a place where the wind could not get at us ( D and W could n`t either.) Gwyn.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Amazon Adventure # 19. A morning to remember.

Current Island morning.

Heather tells the story of our morning`s meeting with the residents of Current Island and our day`s travels down the coast of Eleuthera.
From the journal:
Woke this morning in what seemed a fairly uninhabited spot. Suddenly there was a chattering of voices, laughing and shouting. We peered out from under the tarp to find we were anchored beside what seemed to be a main path and along it were coming streams of people carrying produce and baskets to meet the ‘Current Pride’, a small cargo vessel bound for Nassau with stops along the way, parked off some steps at the entrance to the bay.
We received much interest and concern. "You all right? Gotta watch the tide." etc. Bill, in his pajamas, made the morning tea and carried on the conversation. It somewhat cramped our style to be in the midst of a throng when it came to tooth brushing and washing. Next, two speed boats parked in the bay came peeling over to us. Henry, who used to be a teacher and Darren, a shy 21 year old, told us about the fishing - chatted for half an hour and then Darren promised to meet us at Gregory Town to help us find fruit and vegetables.

Had our best sail yet! We just raced across the top end of the big bay enclosed by Eleuthera to the Glass Window - a gap in the rocky coast where it is only as wide as a road. We headed south to Gregory Town. It was hard to find as there is a small entrance to a perfectly protected little harbour. A noisy public school by the public beach: glad I`m not teaching there! Darren and a friend were waiting for us but there were no fruit and vegetables to be had as the mail boat had taken everything available to be sold in Nassau. They disappeared for a while and we walked around the town - fairly poor and not as friendly as some places. Then Darren and Warren appeared with some pineapples from Warren`s family farm. What a treat!

We sailed on south to Hatchet Bay - another hidden harbour well protected from a blow. We found a place to anchor and settled down to homework and supper making when who should arrive but Darren and Warren who visited all evening, shared our pineapple upside-down cake, and promised to take us to see a cave and the famous surfers beach east of Gregory Town. A very satisfactory day. So nice to meet and talk to people. Heather.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Amazon Adventure # 18. Spanish Wells.

We visit the community of Spanish Wells, get the story behind the ruins on Royal Island and sail on to Current Island, passing through the ‘Cut’ and into a shallow bay for the night.

The Journal:
The morning starts very well after a lovely night`s sleep with no midnight alarms; but feeling decidedly cool around the edges by dawn. A bright breezy day. Breakfast of coffee,(oh, what a treat!) fresh baked buns, (last night`s baking) and home made lemon curd. Then a mad dash to get ready for sea. We motor out of the bay and then hoist sail and really fly down to Spanish Wells. A very neat and prosperous town. After getting gas and dumping garbage at one marina we cruised down to the other end of the harbour and beached on a sand bar at the edge of town. We went exploring and found all the stores shut!! Ah, we remember, it`s lunch hour. We strolled down streets, saw children in school uniforms walking and riding to school and bought some stamps at the post office.

We ask a Mr. Currie if he knew the real history of Royal Island and it`s ruins. It seems a Mr. Steward ( an American who made millions as a business consultant) built the place in the 1920`s, paying a dollar a day for labour. When he died (?) the locals ransacked the place and took everything of value ( thus raising their average wage) . In the 1960`s there was an attempt to farm the island to save on taxes but people from yachts ate all the fruit and scared the sheep. End of story.

We finally shopped, ( no fruit, no milk) and filled up our water containers. On pushing off the beach, the outboard quit and we were blown into the channel. A big motor yacht was coming at us full bore and we were drifting toward some anchored yachts. I threw the anchor overboard just as Anne got the engine going. We must not forget to hook up the gas tank next time! Ah well, I don`t suppose there were more than twenty or thirty people watching us do our comedy routine.

After lunch we set sail for the ten mile trip to The Cut - a channel between Current Island and Eleuthera. Amazon really zipped along in the cool, fresh breeze. We followed the compass course toward an unbroken shoreline. Closer and closer. Where is the Cut? It finally opened up and we were swept through in a swirl of tidal current.

There was a beautiful sunset fading behind us as we edged around Current Island to find a sheltered, shallow bay. We felt our way in, bumped gently on some coral and managed to get into the very corner of the bay. We expected the NW wind to shift in the night so we must have shelter from the north and east. We beached on a lowish tide on white sand and set two anchors in the shallows. The sea was warm compared to the air but we noticed it got cooler on the edge of the beach. Just the opposite of home.
A rush to furl the mainsail and get the tent up. It is COLD! Now it is bright moonlight outside, the tent flaps in the breeze and the girls do homework as Heather cooks supper and thereby warms us up with the stove.
The tent comes down at bedtime because of the wind and Heather and I lie warmly under our trusty tarp and watch the stars swirl around the masthead above us. This is not a bad life ya know.