Sunday, July 25, 2010

Gonzales Beach

Lakes have their virtues, their waters being clean, fresh (under ideal circumstances) and suitable for drinking and washing. Lakes can enjoy beautiful settings nestled among verdant hills, home to numerous birds and animals, giving life to the forests and grasses. They can even be of vast proportions, like the Great Lakes. But without the oceans there would be very little life on this planet.
You can smell the life of the ocean as soon as you get off the bus at Gonzales Beach, especially when the tide is out. Gonzales is a pretty little beach at the foot of a pretty little cove. In Canada the foreshore is never privately owned, so although it is surrounded by rather grand houses, the public has free access to the beach. A well-kept green space, equipped with washroom facilities and a few parking places, has steps leading down through a stand of tall trees.
Not everyone likes that aroma of the foreshore, the reek of rotting organisms mixed with salt and all the other dissolved minerals, but I find it deeply satisfying and I don't like to be very far away from it.
As you walk toward the stairway, a glimpse of the cove catches the eye between the foliage of the trees, and that always gives me a bit of a thrill. I never get tired of it. Even from above you can feel the movement of the ocean through the earth. Maybe its a deep subsonic rumble I can hear through my limbs. It makes me think of the immense weight of the oceans rolling around in the hollows of the planet and that all that water is in sync with the moon and the sun. That means that the rumble is really an echo of the stars, and I am listening to the music of the spheres.
Then I walk to the edge of this immensity and let it nibble gently at my toes like a tame puppy.
It's a scientific orthodoxy, one which has become a commonplace among most people, that we are insignificant nothings. In the grand scheme of things we're no different than those slimy things that live in the tidal pools they say. And in the last few decades a school of thought known as 'deep ecology' has taken that commonplace one step further. They see the planet as holy, but they see man as a contaminant, a pathogen that is destroying the earth.
The Biblical perspective is that God created the universe for us, and if we think of God as the universe above the universe then he created the universe for us. If we humans are, as the scientists say, hardly any different from a chimp, their genetic makeup and ours being 98% the same, that certainly ascribes an awful lot of power to the double helix, if such a slight modification of it can account for human civilization. After all, it's not a chimp sitting here on a driftwood log writing these words, contemplating the beauty and grandeur of creation. It's me, a man.
It's a pleasure to watch the small children come onto the beach. As soon as they see the shoreline, they scamper as fast as their little legs will carry them straight to the edge of the water, letting out squeals of delight when they feel the cold water washing their toes. But right away they get busy with their shovels and pails and start making things with the materials at hand. Water and sand, digging holes, filling bucket with sand and water, moving things around, inventing. Thoughts and ideas tumble out of their minds and they are happily busy carrying them out.
A few sunbathers look on from their little privacy spaces behind driftwood, not so many yet, it's still early. Far out on the water with the Olympics for a backdrop, a big container ship coming in from who knows where.
These same waters that tickle my toes is the same body of water carrying that ship from so many thousands of miles away. So much there is to contemplate during a visit to the beach. And on the way back a rousing game of lawn bowling in Beacon Hill Park. Another day to be thankful I'm a Cracker.
As we grow out of childhood life becomes more serious. What used to be play becomes work, but work is play refined and elaborated. The impulses that move us to mess around in the sand as children are the same ones that move us to build roads and houses as adults. Those scientists tell us we are 90% water. That must mean that the ocean is within us, and our movements too are part of the same choreography that moves the oceans and the stars. It is a divine order and we are part of it. The deep ecologists are deeply wrong. Without us the universe is not aware of itself. We have awareness, we have reason which helps us understand the processes behind the things we perceive through our senses, and above all else, we are sensitive to beauty, and we know that beauty is good. There is much we can never understand, but if we understand that we will be all right.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Land o' Lakes

Victoria is surrounded on three sides by the salt chuck, and a tidal stream runs through it, so it's easy to forget that we have lots of lakes in the area, too. After stopping at Esquimalt Lagoon for a while toda, I decided to take a look at three of our lakes.
Thetis Lake Campground was my first residence in the Victoria area. The campground is not on the lake but on a hillside next to it. This must be in a nearly arid microclimate because the oaks, arbutus and Douglas fir like dry soils. Thetis Lake Park has lots of trails through the hilly woodlands as well as a shoreline trail. It's hard to believe we just exited the wettest, coolest spring I can remember. So much of the soils of Victoria are thin and rocky and dry out quickly. It can pour one day and the next day you would never know it. Thetis was the Mother of Achilles and I often wonder how the lake got its name. Perhaps it was the fifty Nereids. At any rate, those ancient Grecian Goddesses were a bloodthirsty lot, often demanding victims. Maybe that's why the lake periodically takes a life. The water is shallow near the little beach but quickly drops off. Almost every year there is a drowning here.
Prospect Lake is quite different. It's not part of a park so it's surrounded by cottages. The older ones are modest but comfortable, but the newer ones have taken on airs. The little park at the north end is fine for picnicking, but the water at the end is mucky and full of alga. Today the mud was alive with bullfrog tadpoles, almost grown. They had sprouted legs but still had their tails. Hard to see, they leap into the water at my approach.
Elk Lake and Beaver Lake are popular for swimmers, canoers and fishermen. Right next to the Pat Bay highway, these connected lakes are familiar to visitors coming from the ferry or the airport. Ducks and geese are so plentiful that they raise coliform count to unacceptable levels at times, leading to closures. But most of the time the water is fine for swimming. The bass don't mind swimming in duck doo, and I saw a young guy haul in a pretty big fish one day.
Thetis Lake and Elk Lake are accessible by bus. From the bus stop by the Shell station it's about a half kilometre walk to Thetis. There's a bit of a walk from Elk Lake Road to Beaver Lake, too.
As far as I know, no bus goes by Prospect Lake, but all three of them are quite accessible by bike. Thetis Lake is right next to the Galloping Goose, and Beaver/Elk Lake can be reached in a number of ways, either along the highway or on back roads. In fact, for a fairly fit rider looking for a good workout, a nice circuit could be made of all three lakes. From Thetis Lake take the Goose to Burnside Road. Then take Prospect Lake Road. These back roads are lightly traveled but are narrow and winding, so you have to be careful about cars being driven faster than the
driver's abilities. If you then turn right at Goward, the road leads to Interurban. Turn right again and turn left on Quayle Road Which connects to Beaver Lake Road. I used to do this route pretty regularly before old age caught up with me. Wasn't going fast enough, I guess.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Little Deuce Coupe and friends

Oil spews into the Gulf of Mexico, we are inundated every day with stories about global warming, scolded about our carbon footprint, warned that we're running out of oil, but it doesn't matter- we still love our cars. As could be seen yesterday when '32 Fords by the dozens were on display for crowds of admirers. Not only Fords, but mostly Fords, all souped up and customized by their proud owners.
Well, there's no need to feel guilty about global warming because it's been going on for over ten thousand years. The glaciers melted without any help from us whatsoever, and someday they will come back and there is nothing we can do about it. If only it were a simple matter of generating some extra CO2! So enjoy this blessed time. And don't worry about running out of oil, either. If we are allowed to look we will find it. And if an alternate theory of the origin of oil is correct, we will never run out. (The theory contends that oil is constantly produced through the activities of microbes that live deep inside the earth. A book entitled The Deep Hot Biosphere is available in our library which lays out the evidence.)
As for the Gulf of Mexico oil leak, it's a terrible thing. But I'm not entirely convinced it was an accident. At the very least it seems exceedingly strange the way remedial action was delayed and obstructed by the authorities who were supposed to be prepared for such emergencies.
Nothing that happened there dampened the enthusiasm of the people who came to see the old cars, or the people who rebuilt them. This is something we Crackers like to do- occupy our time with hobbies, and interests that have nothing to do with just making a living. It becomes a passion, a passion to craft something that doesn't exist in the natural world. To some of us work is something we do to support what's really important- our extra-curricular interests. And that's only possible because we live in such a productive society. And every so often something completely new comes from that urge to create, something that changes the world from then on. It's really kind of an amazing thing when you think about it.
No wonder so much of the world thinks we're nuts. Why can't we just leave things alone? But we can't. We're just a bunch of Crackers, what can I say?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Cracker Town

I learned a new word the other day- or I should say its a familiar word, with a meaning that's new to me. The word is 'cracker.' That's what I am, according to the argot used by a certain black activist in Philadelphia, and he wants to kill me. He doesn't know me, hasn't heard of me, knows nothing about me, but he hates me and wants to kill me. It's not personal, though. He hates me because I'm a cracker. I guess 'honkie' is obsolete. I can't remember the name of this character. Shazzam, or Shabubu, can't remember. He's pretty ugly to look at. Maybe that's why he hates crackers. He wants to kill all crackers, not just the ones who piss him off personally, men, women, babies, kill 'em all is his ambition in life. It's a matter of principle with this genius. I have a set of principles, too, but they are quite different. For one thing, I always believed that all men are created equal. That's what I was taught, that's what I've always believed. I was taught that God loves us all, and one of his commandments to me is that I should love my neighbour. That's why I have never cared for words like nigger, coon, spic, chink, DP, dago, kike, frog and the vast lexicon of contempt. But I guess it's all right to call me a cracker.
Anyway, I'm a cracker. I kind of like the sound of it. Maybe I'll change the name of the blog to Fat Man in Cracker Land, or Fat Cracker in Lotus Land. Nahh.
I'm not sure what it is Mr. Shabamba hates about us crackers, but my guess is it's because we live so well. I don't mean by that that we have a lot of goodies, and that one of our biggest problems at the moment is that we get too much to eat. What I mean is that we get along with each other pretty well, and we enjoy the simple things. We have interests to fill our spare time.
Art, for instance. This afternoon we had a Paint In on Moss Street. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the temperature in the low twenties. In other words, one of Victoria's patented summer days. And there were artists, and crafts people, and street musicians, and throngs of contented crackers just enjoying the day. It would have made Mr. Shampoo froth at the mouth.
Yes, the world is like that, my friends. As a thorough-going conservative I'm well aware that most of the artists and their patrons were thorough-going liberals. Most people of the artistic temperament are. That means they are for a lot of things I am against. Gay marriage, say. And they were all against the Iraq war, while I was in favour of it. Never mind. I love these people. Most of them just don't understand that they are hated for what they are by people who want to kill them, who spend every waking minute thinking how they will do it. They have no remorse, no sympathy, they delight in killing. Somehow, we have to learn to deal with it.
What was I doing there? I wasn't paying much attention to the art, I was there to take pictures of all these beautiful people. How lucky we are to live in such a place, at such a time. How precious it is.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

4th of July

I've been meaning for some time to take an up close look at Mt. St. Helens, and I finally did it last week. It was part of a pilot run for a longer trip I'm planning for the fall. The good news is that my van ran perfectly and averaged over 25 mpg over 800 plus miles of challenging roads. And how convenient when I'm tired to pull over in a quiet spot and have a nap in the back
I took the Coho across and turned right, taking rte 101 around the Olympic Peninsula. It was an overcast day and as the ocean got closer a heavy mist fogged my windshield. I got to stop at Ruby Beach, one of my favourite places, and at its mysterious best when it's shrouded in a damp mist so that it's hard to say where the sea stops and the air begins. The dark rock formations rising out of the sand seem to be precipitated out of the ocean salts. The last time I was here I was one of the young teens trying to climb the rocks.
All the way to the southwestern tip of Washington state is Cape Disappointment, where the mighty Columbia empties all the water and silt it starts collecting at it's source in Northern B.C. All of the waters that come from the Rockies directly to the Pacific flow into either the Columbia or the Fraser. On an overcast day it's hard to see the Oregon shore from the Cape. A fine campground is nearby and I had a nice spot by a small lake overgrown with water lilies. A bull frog serenaded me to sleep, but a small animal chewing on my van woke me up a few hours later. Still haven't figured out what it was. Possibly a possum, or it may have been the racoon that checked me out earlier.
The next day it was on to Mt. St Helens, travelling along the river on Hwy 4. Stopped for lunch at Longview as the sun came out. What a pretty little town, with shady tree lined streets. Didn't stay to look around and got on I5 for a few miles until I caught hwy 503. By this time it was quite warm and sunny, and the valley of the Lewis River was beautiful with lush pastures and small farms. At a cluster of small buildings called Cougar the road entered a national forest and the road became very windy and hilly as it got into the Cascades. Speed limits are often 25-35 mph, and for this road that's plenty fast. Requiring a great deal of concentration, it's almost too much windiness for a driver to enjoy the drive. A passenger would enjoy it a lot more as long as he wasn't spooked when driving along precipitous mountain sides.
About 1pm I got to the turnoff to Windy Ridge and was quite tired, almost ready to say chuck it, but I'll probably never be back that way again, so I went and I'm glad I did. If the previous road was a little scary, this one was almost terrifying. An incredible amount of work must be needed to keep this road in repair. Rock falls and washouts constantly defy the will of men. And a repair crew was at work where the edge of the road had partially crumbled away. I wish I had taken their picture. They looked like characters out of a western movie, and none of them looked to be under 70.
Sunday I was in Puyallup, taking in the local Independence Day activities. This involved a lot of eating- barbecued brisket, potato, salad, beans, and all the usual American picnic foods. The last time I was there for the fourth an older generation, now mostly deceased, had prepared the same dishes using the same recipes. Now I'm the older generation, and my sisters' grandkids were frolicking in the yard just like I did so many years ago.
Then the sun started to set and the fireworks came out, and for once I was glad that the weather had been damp for the previous few days. Americans have publicly funded fireworks displays just like in Canada, but they also roll their own- in spite of the fact that it is illegal almost everywhere. A mere technicality. The American Constitution clearly states that they have a government by and for the people, and Americans use the occasion to let everybody know it. So when my nephew started the proceedings he wasn't alone. The hills resounded with fireworks going off in every direction. It sounded like a war zone, and looked like one with all the 'rockets bursting in air.' And this is the main difference between Americans and Canadians. Americans had to fight for their liberty and the right to rule themselves, while Canadians had liberty handed to them. And I think many Americans know they are going to have to fight for it again.
On the other hand, Canadians were given a constitution and a bill of rights by the government. It's an important distinction. In Canada, the government tells us what rights we may have. Americans tell the government what powers it is allowed.