Saturday, August 29, 2009

Spellbound. The Ganges Market Photo Shoot.

Another summer holiday long weekend and the little town of Ganges swarms with visitors. The open-air market is a big attraction and so it is strange that I, who hate crowds, should be here at all. I have decided that since I am bringing my visiting daughter and friends into town anyway, I might as well use the opportunity to take some candid photos of people at the market. Perhaps if I treat it as a safari, the idea of bagging some big game photos will add zest to the experience.

At first I cringe as I am engulfed in the tight-packed feeding frenzy of the shoppers that jostle among the stalls. My camera is set to a wide angle, automatic setting that allows me to inconspicuously snap pictures from waist level and at first I fire blindly away into the milling masses. It doesn`t take long however, before I start recognizing familiar faces behind the piles of handmade crafts and organic fruits and vegetables from islander`s farms. Even those folk I do not know personally look familiar and all smile back to their customers who, now that I am no longer feeling so engulfed, look remarkably friendly too. I take a grip on myself before I am sucked completely in: “Danger! Too nice! Too sweet!” Just in time I recognize that a Harry Potter-like spell is at work putting a glamour over the market.

I adjust my camera to a slow shutter speed, armour myself in bloody thoughts, and dive once again into the jungle, determined to capture the true nature of the beast I know must be lurking here in the soma laden air. Layers of bright fabrics, sweet tempered children, beautiful women, tomatoes, flowers and musicians dance in swirls across my camera`s lens. “ Surrender! Surrender! Join with us,” they cry. “Don` worry! Be happy now!”

I stagger to the edge of town, pounding my head and twisting my arm to shake off the spell. Saltspring Island`s market can be a dangerous place on a summer weekend, even for the experienced photo hunter. God help the tenderfoot!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tillikum morning.

At age five I was building rafts and poling them along the shores of Mill Bay on Vancouver Island. By six, a little rowboat increased my range. I was bow paddle for a retired friend and his red Peterborough canoe and with him I ventured beyond my little bay. Rowboats and kayaks took me out into bigger seas and wilder waters. My wife Heather and I bought a used Chestnut wood and canvas canoe in our early twenties to explore the Gulf Islands and we still use it today. Of course we have had a few sailboats too. When my son-in-law brought me a beat-up, fiberglass 16` Frontiersman canoe he had found left at the side of the road labeled ‘Free’ I knew I was launched on another canoe project, but one with a difference this time. I am now at an age where synthesis comes naturally, so the rebuilding of this ruin of a canoe would turn it into a rowing, sailing canoe: a combination of all my life`s experiences of messing around in boats.

This summer I am out in Saltspring Island`s Fulford Harbour most mornings, rowing fast for the outer point before the onshore breeze picks up. Ham sa, ham sa, I mutter with the stroke of the oars as I pick up the pace and the long slim hull makes the water sizzle in her wake. After my large, complex and expensive sailboats, the simplicity and direct relationship I have with Tillikum is seductively immediate.

At the outer point of the bay I check my watch - only twenty minutes today- and feel the developing calluses on my palms. I am in preparation for a bigger voyage if time permits. There is a breeze gathering itself together in gentle cats-paws so down goes the centerboard and rudder, up goes the lugsail on the mainmast and I settle myself on the floorboards, take the tiller in one hand and the main sheet in the other and we are off, at first reaching out past the Skull Islets and then running up the harbour, past the beacon, in the strengthening breeze. Under sail, Tillikum is very fast and the shoreline flows smoothly past. Wake from powerboats makes us rock wildly, but with my weight low in the canoe and the balancing pull of the sail we quickly slither through them. Sailing a slim canoe, requires a delicate touch though, and this is one of it`s attractions for me.

All too soon it is time to lower sail and row into the marina docks. Now I kneel, facing forward and push the oars so I can slip safely between the moored boats, angle through a narrow gap and suddenly I`m home again and marching up the wharf with the oars over my shoulder. Just an hour or so, the day is barely begun, but I have had another amazing experience with my resurrected, recycled, three masted canoe called Tillikum.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Big Woods Chronicles. Building a life.

The Amazon adventure is coming to an end and the next continuing story will be the adventure of our family`s move to Saltspring Island to pursue the ‘simple’ life. Giving up a good job and plunging into uncertainty with my family was the training we would use as the foundation for future adventures. Here is a little preview of this story.

                                                "Oh no!"says the chicken. " Not the CATS!"

Our Volkswagon van pulls to the side of the highway that climbs out of the Okanagan Valley and I stop my pick-up truck behind it. We are only ten minutes into the journey to the coast and already there is a problem. My wife Heather jumps out, looking green in the face, “Bill! The cats are puking and messing in the back!” she says, “ They will have to go in the truck with the goats and chickens”. As I delicately extract the cats in their cardboard box, while breathing through my mouth, I can see that our three young children, strapped in their seats, are close to gagging too. Those blasted feral cats that were pressed on us at the last minute by a fellow art teacher! Soon we are back on the road again, the cat box tucked into a space beside the farm animals and ‘Gus de bus’ scrambles on up the hillside ahead of me, a green fog wafting from all it`s open windows. ‘Upward! Onward!’ seems to have become our family motto in the last year since we decided to move ‘back to the land’ on a Canadian Gulf island.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Summer rain.

In the middle of the night I wake to hear the first tentative drops of rain on our metal roof and smile: we have had weeks of dry hot weather and this is a welcome change. By morning the sky is down to treetop level and weeping a fine soaking spray that is shrugged off by the hard dry ground. It will take several days to really make a difference, but we are welcoming to whatever comes our way. By mid morning the sun is already burning through, which is just right for our summer guests who measure their holidays more carefully than we do. We all go for a walk in Ruckle Park and down to the beach.

Just this little rain, but we can smell Fall in the air as we brush through the dripping salal and dodge dry maple and alder leaves fluttering down from drought-pressed trees. The beach at the head of the little bay is wet from the receding tide and slippery with cast up seaweed. High up the beach among the drift logs shoals of dry cracking arbutus leaves fill every crevice. The light touch of rain on the raised grain shows up the whorls and textures of the logs. How beautiful! How lucky that these twisted grains have made these logs unattractive as lumber or firewood.

Through the winter we dreamt of hot summer days, a bountiful garden, but now we smell the turn of season in this summer rain and begin to adjust our dreams to crisp Fall days, splitting wood and gathering the harvest.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

From Here to Eternity.

‘Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.’ Henry David Thoreau.

We are bathed in sweat as we zig zag up the forested slopes of Mt. Maxwell. It has been a hot day in the midst of a heat wave and we have planned this late hike in the hopes of some evening coolness. We pass the enormous boulder field and climb on up into the rocky dry-grass and oak mountainside and it`s fabulous view of the bay below us and the receding layer upon layer of blue hills and mountains on Vancouver Island. From a shady spot we watch the sun edge down to the horizon. There is something solemn about watching a sunset: somehow it calls for an acknowledgment. Vale, Vale, we should be calling to mark it`s passing.

I have a strong sense of de-ja vu : the heat, the sense of farewell on the high mountainside, are ringing bells of a tropical Samoan mountainside and the grave of Robert Louis Stevenson that we visited while sailing across the Pacific. This weird little feeling of having been here before is explainable, but the experience I had on Mt. Vaia was of having the curtains of perception yanked wide open for a moment. One of those flashes we all get once in a while that can change the way we understand the world.

Stevenson`s well known words were on the sides of the concrete tomb and there was a strong sense of his presence in the air.

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be:
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

The trade wind rushed noisily through the tropical trees on that high shoulder of the mountain, dove on down the hillside, skipped over our schooner tucked into the bay far below and rejoined the main flow that flecked the ocean with white caps to the horizon and beyond. There was a moment of eternity in this blend of poetry and the voice in the wind that spoke of timelessness, continuity and of how limited is our usual perspective of death as a finality. Eternity is a hard idea to grasp at the best of times but for this brief while I felt it. His words that spoke of being home took on new meaning in this setting: home, is this context was not the tomb beside us on the hillside but in the spirit of the wind that rushed through the branches and rejoined the main as it rippled the ocean far below. Out there were a million white crests of foam, created by the wind, that for a moment rushed down the face of waves before returning back into water: a moment of realization, of dancing in the sunlight and then home again until the next wave brought them flashing back again. The setting, the wind, the ocean, all referencing eternity.

We leave Mount Maxwell, slithering down the dusty trail into the gathering dusk pooling in the valley below and walk out onto the Burgoyne Bay wharf in the afterglow of sunset. Lights are twinkling in the community of Maple Bay across the water as stars gradually fill the sky. The quarter moon sets behind the flanks of Mt. Tuam. Here too we feel the echo of that moment at Stevenson`s grave. Even as the sun`s light fades, the stars are flashing like wave crests on the face of a greater sea. And, there is yet more day to dawn.

Raven over Burgoyne Bay.

In memory of John Kavelin.

Raven over Burgoyne Bay.

As earth`s hollows fill with night shadow,

A last raven circles on the pearly upper air.

Calls farewell to the fading light

And spirals firmly down to the welcoming dark.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Amazon Adventure #37. The longest day: crossing the Gulf Stream to Florida.

Last night in Honeymoon Bay.
Our last night in the Bahamas is spent swishing around in the roll of the swells beside the beach. We listen to the rhythmic heart beat of the waves, the voice of the wind in the palm trees. We are so much a part of all this as we lie out on deck under our old friend the orange tarpaulin. This dominant force of nature that has caused us so much aggravation over the last few months -the stressful crossings, the stormy nights wrestling with our big tent, the shallows and tricky passages, - became our most influential teacher. We have all adapted to being part of everyone`s birthright, everyone`s true heritage right back to the beginning of time: the natural voice, body and spirit of the world.

The Journal:

Up at 4:30am in the moonlight and got ready for sea. Up anchors and motored out. The wind is still rattling in the palms so don`t know what we will find once we are out there. NOAA promises S to SE winds at 15 knots. We started sailing with the genoa only but found we were only making four knots down wind. We had set our course assuming a 6 knot average so at dawn we got up the main and started to MOVE.

Heather saw something to the north looking like a submarine conning tower but it came up over the horizon as the bridge on a coast guard cutter that passed astern of us. The waves are higher now and Amazon is making up for lost time with wind and the strong current pushing us along.

We carry on and surf down the bigger waves. We feel it when we get into the center of the Gulf Stream as the waves become confused and steeper. I consider reducing sail but Amazon is still steering ok and we are not taking much water on deck. Amazon is lighter now without a great load of water and supplies and I can feel her bounce up more easily from the waves. We meet several yachts crashing along in the opposite direction. We must be a fine sight roaring along past them.

We begin to see the dots of tall buildings on the horizon - Miami? - as we angle in toward the coast. A blimp over a city -Fort Lauderdale? - and decide to take advantage of this rapid passage to go directly to Palm Beach rather than get into the Inter-coastal Waterway too soon. We get closer and closer to shore which is lacking in obvious landmarks - just flat coastline, lined with buildings. The old question on making a landfall - where are we? We call up a motor boat and they tell us we are off Bocco Rattan about 15 miles south of Palm Beach.

The afternoon marches by as we sail in steep waves past miles of sandy beach and high rises. What a different world in a few hours! We sight Palm Beach far ahead but now we are immersed in a rain squall and wind from dead ahead ( Hey, this wasn`t in the cards -an unpredicted cold front from out in the Atlantic.) Get our sails down and we start bucking into a nasty chop. We motor slowly into them edging even closer in shore past some big fancy hotel ( The Breakers) trying to find some shelter. It`s getting dark. Hippolyta fills with water and breaks the lashing on the bow trampoline. It is too heavy to haul out of the water! Should I take my knife, stab it to release the water and then throw it overboard? I finally haul it up and re-lash the trampoline.

Anne plugs in the navigation lights but they are dim because our battery is exhausted. At last we round the corner and enter the harbour. The Coast Guard station yells “Get your lights on sir!”and we slide into the beach back beside the Old Slip Marina. At Last! Twelve hours and ninety miles later. I try phoning customs - a busy signal for half an hour - I will try again in the morning. A tired evening. Heather makes supper while I read a story to the family from a school book ( ‘Gods and Heros’. Odysseus - quite relevant.) and so to bed. An end to this phase of the trip. Bill.


Over the next couple of days we pull the boat back on it`s trailer and begin the journey (always exciting) back across the continent. Because our return to Florida went so quickly we have some extra time before we must be back in BC for my Park Ranger seasonal job. We decide to turn left at Nogales and spend some time in Mexico`s Sea of Cortez. Now we are in a completely different environment; a cooler sea and tall dry mountains. We spent three weeks sailing and then haul again and head north. When we finally arrive home we know we have squeezed the maximum adventure from our winter holiday!

PS. The girls were all ahead of their stay-at-home classes at school when they arrived home.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Amazon Adventure #36. Trouble and Strife.

                                                                 Trouble and strife.
While waiting for the wind to moderate and swing into the southern quadrant for the big crossing back to Florida we visit the exclusive wealthy enclave of Cat Island to the south of us. We try to find the dockmaster to buy gasoline and finally give up and decide to anchor for the night behind the sand spit in the shelter of the bay. Heather is just baking some muffins when the dockmaster arrives on the spit and starts yelling and swearing at us to leave right away!. “Private!” I ask for time to finish the baking but things get ugly so we leave and head back to Honeymoon Bay at the north end of Gun Cay to spend the night.

               Gun Cay. Honeymoon Bay at north end.
The journal:
Today we woke up beside Cat Cay and decided to find a sheltered beach so we made our way to Honeymoon Bay. We checked out a wreck on the beach called ‘Sandy Lane’ ( Be careful what you call a boat) and met a family from Maine. Anne came to get us as Amazon needed to be pushed out some more off the beach and we woke up mom. We talked to people, went snorkeling and sunbathing and then decided to get water, food and gas so we went back through the cut to the Cat Cay Club.

We found that the dockmaster had gone off island so we couldn`t get water and gas so we bought groceries. We visited a boutique and talked to a man who had just come across the Gulf Stream. Rough, he said. Then having given up waiting for the dockmaster we started back to Gun Cay but decided to go into a cove near the Cat Cay Club for overnight shelter. We got the tent up and mom started cooking when the dockmaster came and told us to “Get out of here!” So he and dad got into a fight and the dockmaster sweared. Dad told him not to swear in front of his family. So while he was going to tell his boss we left for Gun Cay and Honeymoon Bay again. Now we are settled and dad is reading to us. Gwynnie.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Reflections: Seeing deeper.

“ He taught me.... how to sense the spirit in discrete things, the shards of the seemingly impossible that glitter beyond the edge of imagining.” ‘Sweeter than the world.’ by Rudy Wiebe.

My friend Carol uses a hand mirror from time to time while painting her complex watercolours: it gives her another viewpoint, a second opinion and a deeper perspective into what she is painting. Coasting along a rocky shoreline one calm evening in my canoe, I glance down the length of an oar as it dips the surface and suddenly grasp what she means.

The oar blade already stirs the mirrored surface into ripples, but it is pointing down into the interior of a mysterious scene: the shimmering reflection of the rocky shore I am rowing past. Before me is the real solid headland hotly facing the evening sun, and between us lies the inverted version of it, wavering and breaking now into rings and shards of light. Alerted to this fairy world that mediates, shifts and changes as I move, I too can look more deeply; take advantage of this second opinion on the true and total reality of the world.