Friday, January 13, 2012

Chapter 55: Leonard, The Dalai Lama and my Mom

I’m not sure if I can’t keep a job or if a job can’t keep me.

In the last six months, I’ve had as many careers. Diamond driller, landscaper, mall Santa, taxi driver, laundry truck driver and musician. Somehow, I keep managing to pay the mortgage and put food on the table and gas in the tank, but I wonder where all this is headed.

In many ways, having several casual jobs is ideal and suits my personality. There’s the adventure of not knowing what the week will bring and what will happen. There’s the flexibility of being able to choose whether you take a shift, play a gig, make a TV show, go skiing or biking. There is the total lack of golden handcuffs to shackle you to a life of pleasant and unsurprising prosperity and predictability. On the other hand, the calendar has become a dizzying patchwork of shifts, gigs and shuffling priorities. For instance, tomorrow, I start work at the Hospital laundry in Cumberland at 5 am. I drive all day around Vancouver Island, picking up and dropping off hospital laundry, at 7 pm, I am playing Santa at a Chevy dealership staff party, then my band is playing at the King George Hotel for a Christmas charity fundraiser. It is worth noting that we will be the first band to play there since the 1970’s. A lot of excellent local musicians will be coming and playing as well, it should be grand, but a long day.

We’ve also fired up the Improvised Soap Opera again. I call it Pleasure Craft Presents… This season the show is a science fiction theme, called Star Quest! A lot of actors showed up to take part and the audience has been very receptive to our first two previews. We have aliens, robots, space cadets, time traveling ambassadors, evil empires, ridiculous plot lines and subplots unfolding as we cross the galaxy to colonize a distant nebula called New Moosejaw.  Bella is coming along very nicely as a performer, she is confident and creative and is able to get up in front of an audience and improvise monologues and songs. Yaya has also got up the nerve to join the show as well, which is grand, she plays a kooky German crew member and has done very well so far. Now she understands the allure of the limelight and the thrill of improv, the bug has bitten once again!

Ava is ultra cute as our front of house manager, she sits at the door to the theatre with a wooden bowl and asks for donations. Who can refuse a kid so dang cute? With Pancake the dog as her sidekick, too sweet. The soap opera thing is a great tonic for the winter blahs and Mondays in general. I have great hopes for this season. It’s the most amount of fun, for the most amount of people with the least amount of effort. I made a poster for the show, which I will burn on a silkscreen, then we can make posters on canvas, wood, cloth, anything and hang them up around town.

Also, the other day, we made a Christmas TV special. That was fun. This time, instead of renting a studio and charging people to come and hiring people to shoot a show, I took up the folks at SHAW TV on their offer of use of their Campbell River studio. I arranged for some kids to come, we brought our own kids and the girl’s friends Sophie and Ella came. Some home schooler kids from Denman who have been loyal supporters came and then elf costumes magically appeared. It was a pretty good show, I haven’t seen it yet, the folks at SHAW are still editing it. We went through letters to Santa, wrapped presents for kids and elves spun the wheel of fun, gave away prizes and played games. No Beard did some juggling then I dressed up as Santa and fell over and knocked down the tree. The usual.

Being a taxi driver is actually a pretty interesting job, yesterday I drove a Punjabi girl to the college to take her accounting exam. I was struck by the absurdity of the situation when I began to song her a Punjabi Bollywood song I knew. Driving cab, you get to see every corner of the Comox alley and every subspecies of humanity that dwells therein.  Little old church ladies, little old crazy drunk ladies, smelly old infirm men, people who lost their license to drive, jet setters and oil patchers to and from the airport. Well-heeled revelers making it safely home from suave soirees in the Crown Isle Golf Resort and welfare hooch guzzlers schlepping back to their ramshackle trailers and tenements.

About 1:30 am on Fridays and Saturdays, things get a bit sketchy and dodgy, the nightclubs vomit Chachis and Stellas onto the pavement to brawl and cackle and stagger about in their stilettos and short skirts. Playing out the time honored mating rituals of our pathetically shallow culture. Mewling girlfriends coax their brutish lugs into taxis to hang those antlers in their nest and turn that beast into a prince.

 That’s when people need to get to the after parties and the cocaine and other goodies need to change hands. And how do these late night people and goods get around? In a cab of course.

If driving a cab is an education in humanity and dealing with all sorts of people, driving a laundry truck is an education in working quietly by yourself behind the scenes. The loading docks and storage rooms of industrial facilities and the open roads are my backdrop. I have missions to accomplish and there is a distinct sensation of beginning and ending your work, which is fulfilling. Some people complain that a job like that is too mindless and repetitive, but I enjoy that. It gives me a chance to think and reflect and focus. During my shifts, I run a big, bright blue brand new Kenworth rig with a 40 foot trailer, a proper trucker. Every time I swing up into that cab and rev up the roaring motor, I hear that Eagle’s song in my head, “well I’m a runnin’ down the road tryin’ to loosen my load…”

The Cumberland laundry does a lot of laundry, something on the scale of thousands of tons a year. Every sheet, towel, uniform, diaper, pillow, quilt or cloth used in every hospital and nursing home from Nanaimo to Campbell River comes in and out through our doors, day after day.

It’s a union job, which is cool. Slack that works in favor of the employee is cherished and cultivated, rather than slashed and discarded. It pays well for a Cumberland job, with benefits and stuff. Another good thing is that it is a ridiculously short commute. I can leave home at 2:27 for a 2:30 shift and be on time. The main problem is running into bears on my way through the woods, seriously. On my first day of training I came around the corner and found myself a coin toss from a young black bear. He galumphed off at first, but before long he was circling back and checking me out, that’s one of those moments when I wished that I had brought a knife in my backpack instead of a spoon.

So, why is this chapter called Leonard Cohen, the Dalai Lama and my Mom? Well, those are three great role models for me, and they are all of the same vintage, each of them being manifestly spiritual and engaged in bettering the world in their own way. What I admire in these three is the certainty with which they approach their tasks in life. I know I am meant to be a father, husband and provider, but I don’t know if there is a career that I am meant to be manifesting. It would be so cool to be certain of what my goals are, then I can navigate with a destination.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Chapter 55: A Lake Called Quest

There are strange claims staked at old Quest Lake,
where the diamond drillers toil.
Where the rock's so hard,
and the earth is scarred,
'neath pulsing hose line coil.
"Twas there I passed my nights away
with the northern lights above,
questing for that yellow stone,
that fancy ladies love.
So down we pushed the steely rods
all smeared with gooey grease,
to penetrate the lithosphere
and grind it to release,
those cores of precious quartz and ore
the geos love to see,
in search of veins of golden ore,
to make moolah, cash money.
Into this land of trees and lakes
we dwelt in rounded tents,
encircled by a bear deterring
electrifying fence.
Around the clock we banged our skulls
against the densest matter 
with a flimsy drill at 45 degrees
coated in whale splooge splatter.
Near and far and all around
lay artifacts of rust,
left here to lay, till today,
by moiling men like us.
They also came not so long ago,
to see if the could wrest,
cash money, moolah, golden ore,
from beneath a lake called quest.
So suck it up ye workin' stiffs,
be glad to get a meal,
you can snap your backs
and have a heart attack,
looking for something real.
Just remember long from now,
when you are gnarled and old,
that you can still afford some H & B
if we can mine some f***ing gold!

I wrote that poem on the lid of a core box a few days ago as i was perched above the diamond drill, watching the steel rods spinning and grinding their way into the canadian shield. The guys here at camp really liked it, and Wes, the geo is going to ake it home and put it up in his office.

A few days ago a twin otter float plane crashed in Yellowknife, killing both pilots and injuring the seven passengers. It was the same plane that brought us here, and it had just been here at our camp 24 hours before it crashed, to pick up and relieve us of Duane, the dirtsnake driller that I used to work night shift with.

I was not sad to see him go. Even though he was only 39, he looked 60. Beaten up by years of crack addiction, two packs a day and who knows what else. Apparently he never sent money home to his wife and three kids but just went on a wild bender every time he got out of camp. He couldn't figure the drill out and working night shift with him was an agonizing nightmare. Working with Bob is much, much better.

This is a wild and rugged place. seen from the sky, it is an immense, unending sea of rock, dotted with infinite lakes and carpeted with lichen, weedy evergreens and birch. There are bears, moose, wolves and other nameless things here. I have heard several tales of bear maulings and about one guy who was feeding a wolf that came near his camp. It was a solitary female wolf. he went out onto the lake ice to feed her. She came back day after day. She demurely retreated and he followed, offering her food. She led him across the ice and into the woods, where the rest of her pack devoured him. All they ever found was part of his rib cage. So, I always keep my bear spray close at hand. There is a pump shotgun at the drill. the first round is an explosive bear banger, the next round is a rubber bullet, the rest are 12 gauge slugs.

I am working on the night shift on a diamond drill that runs 24 hours a day. After sleeping most of the day and eating a hearty meal, Buffalo Bob and I head out from our cozy camp across the lake in a fishing boat. It is customary to try to catch and release a few jackfish along the way. One of these days we're going to catch a big one. On the first day I arrived I hooked the biggest jack I've ever seen, but he gave me the slip.

So, we cross the lake, tie up our boat and then hike for half an hour through tamarack filled swamp and over lichen covered rocks to Quest Lake, where our canoe is tied to a birch. When we first arrived, they were brilliantly gold, now, day by day, as the nights grow longer and the freezing rains beat down, they are becoming skeletal and bleak. We cross Quest in a canoe, how many people in this day and age commute to work in a canoe? then we hike some more to the drill site. We tag off with the day shift and get all the engines roaring. Then we spend 14 hours toiling in the cold and dark, with wind, sleet and exhaustion banging at us. Lifting, cranking, wrestling with machines and rocks, mud and grease.

I keep a little fire going to warm up and rest by rom time to time. There have been some nights when the northern lights have come out to dance, as splendidly as I've eve seen them. Shades of turquoise and lavender dancing across the sky in great spirals and arcs. Reflected over the pure and merciless crystal clarity of Quest Lake. Buffalo Bob says that they are just waves of electromagnetic energy from solar flares, but i know better. when I see the lights come out, I pull my harmonica from my greasy, filthy overalls and play them a jig and they dance, as curious and playful as children.

So, all this work and toil should add up to a paycheck to keep the wolf from the door. Meanwhile my heart is sad from missing Yaya's birthday today, and I sure could use some hugs and kisses from my girls, but if I can stick this out, I should have enough money to be able to take the summer off to play festivals as Captain Thunderpants and continue my crawl towards intergalactic superstardom.

So, Beloved, as you lay warm in your bed, think of me for a moment, for I'll be up, and thinking of you.

Chapter 56: A Lake Called Quest

There are strange claims staked at old Quest Lake
where the diamond drillers toil.
Where the rock's so hard and the earth is scarred
'neath pulsng hose line coil.
'twas there I passed my nights away

Monday, September 12, 2011

Chapter 53: Karaoke is like Hitch Hiking

the Further Adventures of Trashy Drifter
Chapter 53
Karaoke is like Hitch Hiking

So, I am no longer a grizzly guide.

 Through some kind of karmic sweep up involving a gigantic invisible broom and dustpan, I have been made available for the next dance, but at this point, I am still the shy chubby girl with the floral dress meekly standing next to the punch bowl with my heart pounding and my palms sweaty, hoping I’ll be asked.

It would seem that it’s time for me to move on to the next chapter of my life, but right now, I have no idea what it will be. I’m on that blank page they sometimes put between chapters to make the book seem weightier.

I got up to start writing this because my head is so full of possibilities, hopes, fears and imaginary music that I felt behooved to finally spill a long overdue chapter of my life’s blood across a blank page. A message in a bottle.

The spring has arrived and daffodils and crocuses are busting through the green grass to the sound of frogs croaking and chainsaws clearing winterkill. Backyard BBQ’s and brush pile fires fill the air with a sure anticipation that long days of sunshine are coming. Veteran coasters who have been scraping by for years blink and smile. Those of us learning to get by on scraps and shreds hope and strive. Treeplanters put on their boots and bags, fishermen drag their nets from the lofts and some of us scratch our heads and wonder which way to jump.

After the bear season ended last year I dove into a bunch of projects and hobbies, all the while keeping my ear to the ground about getting some sort of permanent, stable employment tied around my neck. We looked seriously into going overseas to teach again. I turned down Saudi Arabia, but we were keen to work in Brunei, which didn’t pan out. I started an afterschool singing group at the elementary school, MC’d special events at Mt Washington, played a few gigs with the Dukes of Dodge, storytelling at festivals and libraries as CPTN THNDRPNTZ!!! Started a regular ceilidh, acoustic jam night, started a theatre company that did live improvised soap opera, became an apprentice stonemason and of course, served as a karaoke host.

Did you ever notice that karaoke is like hitch hiking? If you’ve done them both, then you know the uneasy, queasy feeling that you can get as you are taken for a ride by someone that you’d rather not have at the wheel. But no matter how you paw and clutch the door handle, there’s no way out, at least not until the end of the song. When someone gets that mic in their hand, they have the steering wheel and everybody’s ears are taken for a ride, like it or not. Sometimes that wheel/ song is a great and invigorating ride that renews you with hope and enthusiasm and philanthropy. It’s a great excursion in a sweet vehicle with a friendly competent motorist who buys you lunch and drops you off at your long sought destination and heart’s desire. Other times it feels like you’ve crashed in the ditch and rolled a few times and landed upside down in a bog before catching on fire by the time that a song has been thoroughly butchered, humiliated and ground into the pavement like festering roadkill that was once a sweet and nimble forest creature.

Actually, I quite enjoyed it. However, my enthusiasm for karaoke as a martial art and perhaps my bombastic southern preacher-like host stylings were not universally applauded. So, due to some mutterings and mutinous apostasy, my reign as karaoke lord was chopped short and my head tumbled from the guillotine and into the basket to be devoured by mangy vermin. At least that’s how it felt when that dreadful day arrived that the aforementioned giant karmic broom descended upon me and swept me up and snapped the tethers that kept me connected to my solipsistic concept of my place in the universe.

 So, here I am, here we are. The future is an open horizon of endless possibilities.

Now, if I just knew what to do next…

Chapter 54 Ropin' the Wind

the Further Adventures of Trashy Drifter
Chapter 54
Ropin’ the Wind

Oh Beloved,

It has been a very interesting season and I am long overdue in putting letters on a page to chronicle the ongoing saga of life and its strange turns. I beg your forbearance and indulgence in my ramblings.

First off, I should report that all are well. Bella has started at a new alternative school in Fanny Bay called Beachcombers, where part of the curriculum involves walking on the beach and rambling in the woods. Yaya got a job there as an educational assistant, 16 hours a week. Ava is here beside me, she’s also beside herself, because she absolutely refuses to go to school if her best mates Sophie and Helena aren’t in her class. Kicking, screaming, crying and running from the classroom have been her school activities so far. We’ll have to see how that all plays out.

Also, in big news, the ten acres surrounding our homestead have been sold to a developer, so we may become an island in suburbia soon, or who knows what. There is a palpable shroud of uncertainty hanging over almost every aspect of our lives here now, and I am beginning to feel like it is a symptom of Lotusland living to be suspended in a state of nebulous intangibility. In three years here, we have yet to get any regularity or reliable employment. That being said, I have recently embarked on a career path or two of sorts and experienced some success and some challenges.

Since being a bear guide, I have done a few different things. I mowed a few lawns with a friend’s landscaping company. I spent a week before Easter suffocating in an Easter Bunny costume, roaming the streets and avenues of the Comox valley, silently handing out chocolates while contemplating the absurdity of anonymously impersonating an ancient pagan fertility idol; panting and dripping with sweat and squinting out through obscure eye slits at the smiling delighted faces of young and old.

After several months of unemployment, scraping by and sucking slough water; I got into a self-employment program called Community Futures, that helps people create their own careers. On the strength of my plans for Captain Thunderpants and the Vancouver Island Film Institute, I was accepted into the program, paid a small wage and encouraged to make my big plans to conquer the entertainment world.

I set up a website and facebook page, shot a TV pilot and began booking appearances. Unfortunately, mid May is far too late to book into most summer festivals, but I did manage to book some festivals and a lot of library appearances.

One thing that I have discovered about ‘self employment’ is that it’s very difficult to know what one should do all day to advance one’s career when one’s career is to be a singing space pirate. It’s not quite the same as operating a lemonade stand, which I can barely manage to do.


One morning in mid July I awoke to a phone call from Gooey, the drummer from the Dukes of Dodge.

“Hey Trashy” he says, “You wanna go do some work?”

“Of course” says I, “As long as I’m done in time to go to Artswells festival.”

“No worries” Says Gooey, ”We’re just going to drill seven holes up in Port Hardy, we should be back in five or six days.”

Well, that was the beginning of an epic adventure; the likes of which I have seldom embarked on, the adventure called ‘real work’. Being a diamond Driller’s helper is honest to God, honest brutal work. Lifting, grasping, carrying, heaving, hauling, rotating, greasing, cranking, wrenching, breaking, pulling, pushing, yanking, pouring, twisting, tightening, loosening, dragging, hooking, reaming and a host of other verbs are on the agenda from 4:45 am to 6pm every day. Day after day after day without stopping for 6 weeks straight.

Well, actually I did stop for a week, because I sprained my ankle getting out of the helicopter.  I instantly knew it was sprained, and I got to come home for a week and rest while WCB paid my wages. I missed the Artswells festival. Which was heartbreaking. I had to cancel two library appearances, which was embarrassing. I made a crapload of money to support my family and give me some kind of hope of being a provider, which is priceless.

So, what were we doing? Well, there is a big company called International Power, they are investing in installing 55 wind turbines on the mountaintops of Cape Scott, above Port Hardy. They contracted Borea construction to build the $350 million project. Borea needed to know what was under the earth on the mountaintops, so they hired Peak drilling to drill core samples with a diamond drill at a fee of $5000 a day. Gooey works for Peak, he hired me to help him with this crazy project.

There are no roads up there, everything and everybody must be flown around in helicopters. So, I went from never having been in a chopper to flying 8 or 10 times a day and being the guy who catches the hook and attaches it to equipment to fly from drill site to drill site. I can tell you that the metal hook sometimes accumulates a mighty static charge and blows your teeth out of your gums as the chopper blades blow your helmet off your head and your drums out of your ears.

This weird mountaintop landscape is an untouched natural wonder. I got to see and work in a pristine place that few humans have ever, ever been to. Because it is so windy up there, the ancient trees are stunted and twisted, festooned with lichen and moss. It is an alien bonsai forest studded with tiny lakes full of lily pads and frogs. On a clear day, you can look out and see all of the northern tip of Vancouver Island, the coast mountains on the mainland and humpbacks and cruiseships out at sea. Of course most days weren’t sunny clear days. Most of July and August I wore long underwear and could see my breath and we were socked in by fog as thick as porridge.

On the day that I was scheduled to play at Artswells festival, I spent most of the day kneeling in the mud cranking greasy wrenches and dragging heavy hoses that kinked and wiggled like rabid anacondas. I shudder to recollect my dismal outlook on life at that moment.

On the flip side, we got to eat anything we wanted at any restaurant in Port Hardy on the company tab and my days and nights were spent in the pleasant company of Gooey, Buffalo Bob (an old redneck hippy logger who knows more jokes and tells more tall tales than anyone I’ve ever met) and Darren, a Geotechnical Engineer who spent his entire days carving walking sticks while I sweated and toiled like a slave. He received a nickname from Buffalo Bob that stuck. Dingledork.

I met a whole slew of folks while working that I otherwise would never have met, who I could name and describe here at great length. But suffice to say, that there are a lot of colourful characters involved in roping the wind.

As it turned out, I was able to get off the mountain on the morning of August 20th. That night, I played a solo show at the Gorge Harbour marina on Cortez Island, for an appreciative audience of campers and yachters. Yaya and the girls came with the Boler and we camped for several days. Glorious. The adage is true, only a man who works hard can truly enjoy leisure.

Upon returning to Cumberland, I received a call from a producer at SHAW TV. Turns out that they want to air my program! How exciting is that? So, I met for coffee with this exec and told me that everyone really liked my demo and they want to air it across Vancouver Island. They’ll air any more episodes that I make as well. This was very good news, the down side is that they don’t pay. However, they will help me shoot and edit the program at their TV studio in Campbell River, so I can do a show with professional equipment before a live studio audience at minimal cost. Who knows? This could get picked up by a network and turn into something actual and TANGIBLE. The show is kind of a mash up between Raffi, Oprah and the Price is Right, all hosted by a deranged space pirate. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.

 After that I got to spend the week with cash in the bank and ten different gigs at libraries across Vancouver Island that went very well. I finished off my gigs playing at the Blackberry Faire on Denman Island, which is an old timey country fair, complete with pie contests and petting zoos. We stayed at a B&B which was a complete luxury. I am proud to say that I am the first performer that they have ever hired to play at that festival. So, things on the CPTN THNDRPNTZ front seem to be proceeding beautifully, which gives me great satisfaction and hope for the future.

As we speak I am on deck to head to Yellowknife. Perhaps on Sunday or Monday, I’ll get on a plane and head north for at least a month. This time we’ll be living in tents at the edge of a lake called Quest Lake. We’ll be drilling 24 hours a day until it freezes up and we can’t get around any more. Soon we’ll be flying around in helicopters and grinding diamonds to drill for gold.

Until next time Beloved, keep yer chin up and smile.

P.S. Since writing that last bit, Ava has been accepted into Beachcombers school as well. She is getting in as a two for one deal because Yaya is working there. This is wonderful because now all my family including Pancake will be attending a great school together. It’s ideal. When we went there the other day, there was a mild earthquake and the school was evacuated; hopefully not a common or fatal occurrence.

In two hours I’ll be getting on the plane for Yellowknife. Quest Lake, here I come.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Chapter 51-Crepuscular development, Hostages and the Suicide Honeymoon

I had a fitful sleep last night. Partly it was because I was worried about what I’ll do to support my family two weeks from now. Partly it was due to too much caffeine intake. But mostly my sleep was disturbed by the incessant squeaking and chattering of some otters below my window.  I stuck my head out the attic window and did the classic, “Hey! Shut up down there!” I even poured a bottle of fresh urine down at them, but they just kept on yipping away, all night.
As I wavered in and out of consciousness I became aware of a mother bear and cub swimming over to the lodge, coming into the guide shack, climbing the ladder up into the attic and just sitting beside my bed, observing me. There I lay, helpless and plump, jammed full of roast pork loin and pecan pie. I was going to turn over and shoo them out, but I couldn’t manage to wake myself up. So I just laid there sleeping and waited for them to eat me. When I finally awoke, they were gone, not even leaving any footprints, which was mighty genteel of them.
Bears are crepuscular after all. (Which is, if nothing else, a helluva swell word.) It means, more active at dawn and dusk, but should not be confused with the strictly nocturnal or diurnal, matutinal or vespertine. As a matter of fact, bears just seem to be active all the time, especially at this time of year, when they go into hyper-phagia, which basically means, they are super hungry all the time, and if there is food, they eat, and eat, and keep eating.
Eagles don’t over eat. They can’t, they wouldn’t be able to fly. All they can do is eat enough to power themselves through the day. That’s why native Indians call a fellow lying Indian ‘Walking Eagle’. He’s so full of shit that he can’t fly. But I digress.
The bears compulsive gluttony reminds me of the morbidly obese obsessing over their plans to go on an all you can eat buffet cruise. It really doesn’t matter where the cruise goes, just so long as that buffet is on board. For it is not enough for a bear to just eat enough. There is no such thing as enough, they need to store up enough fat to last through five or six months of sleep, and if they are nursing cubs, they will be haemorrhaging fat stores to feed those thirsty furballs.  Hence the round the clock search for food.
Of course, all this gluttony is a preparation for five months of hibernation, which is a good excuse indeed. I’ve lately discovered the connection between the word ‘Bear’ and ‘Burial’.  Somewhere in our forefather’s hazy caveman days, the dead were placed in the earth to regenerate and come back to life, just like bears. Perhaps the ancient human remains found with bear bones clutched in their hands and covered with bear skins were emulating the bear’s ability to go into the earth and sleep like the dead, arising with the spring, to new life, resurrection.
Lately it has struck me that I am kind of like a happy prison guard escorting hostages around. People who come here are generally of the ‘package tour’ variety and they have purchased a package. So, they don orange jackets and jumpsuits, just like prisoners and I escort them around with my bear spray and very large knife and policeman style walkie talkie.
Yesterday, I dropped a huge cinder block by the bus, for the elderly to use as a step. I dropped it iinto the mud and a geyser of muck splooshed up into my face. Comedy.
When we get to the spawning channel, I carefully release them from the bus, and usher them up a cattle ramp into a cage on stilts from which they cannot escape. Hahaha! Hostages, we won’t release you till you pay your bar tab and leave a tip!
Also, I think that the epic journey that salmon make would be a very compelling premise for a movie, hell, Finding Nemo was a smash hit, this would be even better! And its true!  Think about it, the movie begins with a wordless epic journey of the hero’s parents swimming upstream and spawning and dying, all set to some heroic music, perhaps Beethoven. Then the tiny boy fry and girl fry are hatched out of neighbouring egg nests and they become friends and swear to return to spawn when they grow up.
The movie could follow their trials and tribulations against enormous odds. As fry, they are preyed on by larger fish, herons and ducks. When they swim out to sea, they must pass through the gauntlet of predators and past the fish farms, where they are drawn in by the eerie lights to be devoured by crazed caged cannibal salmon. Then there’s the onslaught of sea lice that hover around the salmon farms, like millions of tiny vampires, sucking the tiny fish dry.
Then those who finally make it out to sea, must face the perils of dolphins, seals, drag nets and pollution, before finally beginning the journey back to spawn. Actually, this doesn’t sound like much of a Disney comedy does it? But somehow, against all odds, the two little lovers finally make it back to their home stream, past the claws of bears and eagles, lures of fishermen and all. Their happy ending is that they are reunited in laying the seeds for the next generation before their ragged, half rotten bodies give up the ghost and wash downstream to be devoured by various scavengers. Yeah, maybe if Elton John did the sound track and Eddy Murphy and Lady Gaga did the voices. Hmmm.
Anyhoo, the season is almost done; I’m flying out this morning for my final days off. Then one more shift and it’s upwards and onwards to the fabulous unknown.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Chapter 49 Opium, Shame and Bruno’s Reproach

One hundred years ago, this cove was the home of the ABC fish cannery. Where our lodge is now moored, there were a bunch of buildings, docks and accommodations for workers. The Scottish managers lived in modest houses, the Japanese fishermen shared shacks, the Chinese girls who gutted fish all day dwelled in a cramped bunkhouse and the Indian fishing village nearby was of shantytown description. I had heard it said that some of the Asian workers were paid partly or completely in opium and that the shards and remains of opium bottles could be found at low tide. Well I finally found one last week. It is a tiny brown bottle that had at one time been filled with little sticky black balls of opium and plugged with a cork. I suppose that’s one sure way of keeping your employees around, keep them narcotized and addicted to something only you can provide for them. I wonder who had owned it and at what moment they let the empty bottle slip from their grasp. What pipe dreams did they dream beneath the clouds of poppy smoke? What hopes and fears filled their head as they looked out across the same cove I do? There is hardly any record of the lives that were lived here; only rusty old wash basins and barnacle coated machinery provide a hiccup to the amnesia here.
Back in those days, there were many languages spoken in the cove, Asian tongues, native tongues, Swedish and Norwegian and English speaking loggers. Many languages are still spoken here, but they are spoken by tourists who come to admire the wild, not to harvest it. If the sweat and blood covered loggers of years ago subsisting on meagre rations and moonshine could imagine what the future would hold, I’m sure they would have lifted a sweaty and muscular eyebrow in perplexitude; people coming from around the world, to feast and admire the uncut logs and the wild beasts roaming through them. It’s a topsy-turvy world indeed.
This year’s pink salmon run is officially a disaster. Last year at this time, the breakwaters were full of burping and farting seals, the trees were cluttered with bald eagles and I could hardly avoid steeping on salmon as I pushed a skiff full of guests upstream. Last year, we could sit at the platforms and watch hours of uninterrupted feasting, digesting and lolling about by dozens of bears. This year, I catch momentary sight of furtive bears desperately circling the spawning channel, anxiously seeking a meal that just isn’t there.  The eagles know the score, they can see that the river is mostly empty, and they have moved along. Where I saw thousands of pinks last year, now I see dozens or none at all.
Bruno is a big male bear. He has a crescent shaped scar on his right hip. Normally he doesn’t show himself, but salmon season and the promise of an easy meal draws even a big galoot like him out into plain view. The other day he came and graced us with his big hairy majestic presence. He didn’t just visit the spawning channel, he owned it. When he walked into the stream, the 500 pound female who had been sitting in the centre scurried off at a frantic lope and left the scene. Bruno strode to the centre of the stream and looked into the rushing water. Like a king on his throne, he waits for the meal to come to him. The stream should be full of fish. He knows that. So he waits, he sniffs, he watches.
Finally, he senses a pink coming up and he springs into action. Water sprays everywhere as the huge grizzly pounces at the fish, he leaps this way, that way and into the deep water, frantically and fruitlessly, he churns the water and claws at the fish that has slipped away.  After some more powerful sweeps and concentrated gazes, you can see that he goes slack and sighs a deep sigh of resignation. He sits back in the stream with a splash of defeat. He pauses for a fulsome moment of agony, fully aware of all the eyes and cameras aimed at him. Then, with the unmistakable look of shame in his eyes, he glances quickly up and catches my eye. He holds my eye for a moment. In that moment, I feel his hurt, his shame and his anger.
The baleful gaze of the grizz is a mystery to behold; it has not the sharpness and fierce wildness of the wolf, neither the wary watchfulness of the deer nor the predatory malevolence of the weasels. They observe you as if from a great distance or in a dream, there is a watery and elusive quality to their eyes, as if they are veiled from human understanding.
However at that moment, I did understand him. He was pissed off. And the shame took a bite at me, here I was, a white man, the most dreaded and sinister creature to blight the earth since the reptiles ruled.  We have scraped the forests off the mountains, choked the streams with our filth and the skies with our machines and fumes, annihilated the locals and enslaved nature. That which we could not control, we destroyed. And here we are, a dozen well fed white people, fresh from a feast of fish and chips with thousands of dollars worth of camera gear amusing ourselves by watching this beast try to catch a bite to eat. The only reason that we are so fascinated by bears is that we have driven them to the brink of extinction and now we pester the survivors as they struggle to avoid starvation. “I hope you’re proud of yourself”, he seems to say “Didn’t your mother tell you it’s not polite to stare? Maybe you should take these people on a tour of the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver and then you can watch people eke out an existence picking food out of dumpsters.”
I was seized by a radical whim of generosity, perhaps I could throw myself off this stand and into the mouths of these hungry bears to help them make it through the winter, that’s what Buddha did. Then I think, no I can’t do that I have a lovely wife and two sweet daughters who’d miss me. But who’d miss that pudgy couple from Shropshire? Hmmmm. And then the spell is snapped and Bruno moves along. I haven’t seen him since.

Last night, an English lady slipped while removing her wellies, fell and broke her wrist. It was too late for the planes to come out, so the giant search and rescue Cormorant helicopter came blamming in at night, with massive searchlights slashing through the forests and blasting gale force winds around looking for a place to land. The thing was too huge to land anywhere, so the SarTechs repelled down by rope into the spawning channel, while it hovered overhead. When the square jawed super handsome commando medic arrived in his orange jumpsuit festooned with harnesses and equipment, Miss Hewson was smitten. The heroes gathered up the aged victim and her hubby and lifted them into the night sky with a rope, then roared off to the hospital. It was an action adventure comedy romance, but that’s another story.