Thursday, May 31, 2018

Sunday May 31, 1998 - Little Qualicum Falls

Leaving Horseshoe Bay on the ferry to Nanaimo

Little Qualicum Falls, BC — sunny and warm

This time I made it out the door at 10 am, the truck already packed and ready to go. However I arrived at the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal just as the 10.30 ferry to Nanaimo was leaving so I had to wait for the 12.30 ferry. I was the second car aboard. Crossing the Georgia Strait I saw porpoises. On arrival at Nanaimo I hit the highway and drove to Parksville, where I turned off for the Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park to set up camp for the night.

I was travelling with my 16 year old dog Yohan, a Border Collie-Nova Scotia Duck Toller cross, in my 1991 red Chevy S10 truck. I bought the truck in 1994 because I really wanted a truck, and in 1996 I bought a canopy for the back of the truck so that I could use if for camping. My first test run was the following year, 1997, to drive from New Westminster where I lived to Toronto where my eldest son was getting married in October. Yohan came with, and he was a good road trip companion. Part of the impetus for my 1998 trip was to go out for one last trip with him and to go to his birthplace near Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Not that he would have cared but it appealed to my romantic side. The other impetus was that I had turned 50 the month before and I felt I needed to do something to mark the occasion. I convinced my employer to give me a 4-month sabbatical to do it.

Nanaimo ferry terminal
I constructed a bed in the back of the truck from wood that previously was used to build a bunk bed set for my sons when they were little. The bed was just high enough off the floor to be able to store Rubbermaid plastic containers that I kept my camping gear and food in, there was also space for a small battery-operated bedside lamp, a suitcase of clothing and a bunch of stuff that I thought I would use to entertain myself on the trip: some painting paraphenalia, some books and my banjo. As it turned out I never touched most of that stuff, I never sat around wanting to entertain myself. Yohan sat on top of stuff I stored behind the bench seat of the truck cab in a space large enough for him to lie down if he wanted.

Little Qualicum Falls was beautiful, as are most BC provincial park campsites. At a neighbouring campsite I met Bill O, a former QA engineer for the government in electronics. He retired at age 53 and was writing a fantasy novel. We talked for a long time, in particular about trout tickling, something I had never heard of. He could put his hand in the water and make movements that attracted trout fish to investigate, and then was able to stroke their sides which apparently they quite like. This is trout

I didn't get to bed until quite late and did not sleep well due to the heat and mosquitoes. I had made screens for windows and for the back hatch of the truck canopy, but there were still cracks that the mosquitoes could get through. This was a constant battle on my road trip, to try to get those cracks blocked sufficiently to keep the bugs out. I was only partially successful and hot summer nights were a trial.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Saturday May 30, 1998 - New Westminster

New Westminster, BC - sunny and warm

I intended to leave on Saturday but after cleaning and packing it was 3.30 pm and I had a panic attack — intense loneliness and fear. I drove into the city and dropped off the last of my freezer contents at Sam's and then went back home. I thought I'd feel better leaving first thing in the morning so I postponed my departure to Sunday morning. It's scary setting out on such a big trip all by myself.

I have packed everything I can think of that I might need, and then some. I have all kinds of maps, but only a vague plan of how I am going to do this. My 16-year-old dog Yohan is coming with, he travels well and he's far too old to be leaving behind in a kennel. I have this romantic idea of taking him to see his birthplace before he dies. The one thing I did have to plan in advance is the ferry from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert, at this time of year it is obligatory to book one's place on the boat. I chose June 4th, which gives me only five days on Vancouver Island. And since I am postponing my departure by one day, it is now only four days.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The grace of the world

Atlin Lake BC in 2000
From my Panhala poetry feed:

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.  

~ Wendell Berry ~

I like the phrase "forethought of grief". It's about not grieving tragedy in advance, about not letting despair around environmental destruction destroy you.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

May 1998, and a play

Middle-aged Yohan, in Ottawa
Not only is this month the fiftieth anniversary of les événements de Mai  it is also the twentieth anniversary of a personal sort. In 1998 I went on a four-month road trip across Canada, managing to visit every territory and province except Nunavut. I travelled in my 1991 Chevy S10 truck with my 16 year old dog Yohan. He died a few months after we returned from that trip. He was a good companion for road tripping and I knew he probably wouldn't survive the year, being so old. It was my fiftieth year and I felt I needed to do something to mark it. I managed to convince my employer to give me a four month sabbatical and took off toward the end of May. I kept a journal, I wrote emails and I took a lot of photos. When I got home again I packed it all away and focussed on my dog's last days. Then I moved on in my life.

I always intended to do something with all that material but it seemed like a daunting task so nothing happened. Yesterday I revisited that idea and hauled out the photo album and journal. I went through my saved emails and transcribed them to Word documents. At the time I was using a now-defunct email program, Eudora, so transcribing was a bit finicky. But it's done now. Then I went through the photos. At the time I thought labels were not necessary, my memory would suffice. Hah! In the journal I at first noted whenever I took photos so that looked promising, but apparently I soon dropped the practice due no doubt to unwarranted trust in my memory. Some of them are obvious but a lot are not.

Youthful Yohan, in Wolfville
Anyway, what I hope to do is post some of this material on the days that correspond to the journal entries. I don't know how far I will get, it's a lot of transcribing and scanning of photos. I may end up doing some of it retroactively. The most memorable part of the trip was from Port Hardy at the northern tip of Vancouver Island to Inuvik near the Arctic Ocean and back to Whitehorse in the Yukon. During that time I came close to losing Yohan which was traumatic. I would have cancelled the whole trip and headed back to New Westminster where I lived if that had happened. One veterinarian I took him to recommended that I let him go and I simply couldn't do it. But he survived and in some ways the rest of the trip was a postscript to that moment.

Old Yohan, in Toronto
What got to me yesterday was looking at photos of Yohan. For some reason I had consigned all the photos of Yohan to this album so for years I wondered why I didn't have any pictures of him, I forgot that they were in the 1998 Road Trip album. But there they were, especially a favourite taken when he was still a mature but healthy beauty. After he died I missed him a lot, I used to dream of his return for years after. In fact those dreams did not stop until I got Hapi, my current doggy companion.  When I looked at these old photos of Yohan I felt very sad. Not because I missed him but because I didn't. I had forgotten him. I looked at those photos and felt nothing, and that made me sad; that it was so easy to forget someone.

The feeling of sadness stuck with me for the day. In the evening I was ushering for a Stage Prophets musical, The Children of Eden. It was a joyful musical but I had a hard time feeling joyful. A friend of mine was responsible for costume design and the costumes were truly imaginative and amazing. the first act was about Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, the second act about Noah and the Flood. In both acts a host of animals participated, from mice to elephants, alligators to ostriches. The giraffes in particular were applauded. I do have to say though that the musical did not portray God ("Father") in a particularly positive light. he seemed a tad vindictive, who justified his actions as the exigencies of fatherhood. I don't know if that was intentional or not, but it was definitely an enjoyable performance. Not exactly a cast of hundreds, but pretty darn close.

FYI, the photos of Yohan here are clips from other photos which I did because I had apparently "lost" all my photos of him. I'll try to scan some of the better photos of him from that old 1998 road trip photo album.

Friday, May 11, 2018

May 1968

In 1966 I started my first year of university, I was 18. I had won a couple of scholarships that enabled me to live in residence and still have enough money to pay tuition and books, I had worked a summer job that also helped financially. It was my first time living away from home.

Even though I detested French in high school I had ended up going to a college that required all first year students to take French, and so was enrolled in a small class taught by an Englishwoman who happened to be fluent in French. Miss Dawes. She was a likeable sort and several of us used to hang about her office and she started encouraging us to go to Europe as students. She said we were at the age to truly appreciate it, and there were all sorts of savings and discounts if one was a registered student. A few of us were convinced and she helped us do it. We each picked a French university to enrol in and she guided us through the complicated and extensive paperwork to get ourselves registered. She cautioned us that the universities would try to enrol us as foreign students and we should insist on being regular students. In those days that was possible and tuition in France was ridiculously low, but the universities would prefer us to be foreign students because they made more money that way.

Long story short, I got myself enrolled as a regular student at l'Université de Rouen, which is half way between Le Havre at the mouth of the Seine and Paris. I worked my butt off that summer to make money to pay for this. My father was dead against it because he had been in France in the war and considered it an awful place. And in the meantime my personal life went all to hell and I very nearly did not go to France or anywhere else at all, but when I tried to explain to Miss Dawes why I couldn't go, she said that if I really wanted to go she would make it happen. And she did. I am indebted to her, my life would have turned out very differently were it not for her.

So I went to France in September of 1967. In spite of 5 years of lousy high school French and one year of very good college-level French, I was almost completely unable to speak the language and totally terrified when I arrived in Dieppe. But Miss Dawes spent her summer getting married to the Harbour Master of Dieppe, and I was able to spend my first few days with her and her new husband before setting off for Rouen. I never saw her again after that.

Of course there were a lot of adventures and scary moments and the year I spent living in France was probably one of the most intense of my life. But that is not why I am writing this. Well it is, but it's not why I am writing it now.

Last weekend I was browsing around on Youtube and came across a video documentary (in French) about 'les événements de Mai' in Paris France, 1968. I realized that it was the fiftieth anniversary. My French is pretty rusty now and I only understood half the dialog, but I certainly understood what it was about because I was there. I recognized Dany le Rouge even before they said his name.

Last night CBC Ideas did an hour-long radio documentary on the same subject, interviewing some of the players and witnesses at the time. I listened to it and it bothered me. In the broad strokes it was accurate and certainly I cannot argue with witness accounts, but I felt like the creators of the documentary really didn't understand, they weren't there. For one thing they kept harping on this idea that it all started from students in Nanterre wanting to sleep with their girlfriends in the university residences. There was a tape of Dany Cohn-Bendit saying that apparently, although I think he was just being cheeky. I'm sure it was said but to trivialize the whole thing that way was offensive.

I lived in residence at Rouen. The university was not actually in Rouen but in Mont-Saint-Aignan, a suburb on one of the hills surrounding the city. It was a new university like Nanterre, built to serve the huge numbers of young people going to college then. And men weren't allowed in the women's dormitory or vice versa, but it was done. Besides, most of the French girls I met in residence had zero interest in letting a man into their rooms. I think it must have been the same at Nanterre. Over the course of the winter I made friends with a group of people who met regularly in one of the guys' dorm rooms, Romain's, during the daytime. When Romain and I became close friends I spent the occasional night at his place, but we weren't sleeping together. We also did volunteer work together, fixing up homes for people who couldn't afford it otherwise. Some of the students in the group belonged to an organization called Jeunesse Communiste Revolutionnaire (JCR). I didn't think anything of it, they were my friends. Then the revolution happened.

It started in Nanterre and very quickly, almost immediately, moved to la Sorbonne in Paris. Le quartier latin became a battlefield between students and police ('les flics'), and we at all the provincial universities wanted to be part of it. So when the students in Paris occupied la Sorbonne, we occupied le Faculté des Arts. That meant we had to guard it against rightwing (fascist) students so we took turns occupying the building around the clock. When we occupied le Fac we mostly spent the night sitting around in the hallways, drinking coffee and listening to music. Mostly French pop music of course, but I remember Bob Dylan being played a lot.

When the Paris students occupied l'Odéon in Paris we were going to take le Théatre des Arts in Rouen. We marched en masse down the mountain and down rue Jeanne d'Arc (Rouen's main street) almost to the river and gathered shouting slogans in front of the theatre. All able-bodied policemen in the provinces had been sent to Paris, all that was left in Rouen were older men with batons. They formed a line in front of the theatre and smiled at us, all they had were those batons hanging from their belts. There was some shouting and some fiery speeches, but in the end no one wanted to beat up some old men. The crowd dispersed.

The unions went out on strike, many of the unionists came to the university. Classes had been cancelled and instead there were forums of students, professors and unionists, talking about how France could be changed to be a better place. It was very exciting. In the news the unions and the students were turning everything upside down, de Gaulle had left town and it really looked like change was happening.

I wanted to go to Paris to see what was happening there, the epi-centre of the revolution. I hitchhiked and got a ride with some other students going to Paris for the same reason. During the winter I had discovered this wonderful hostel on the edge of Paris that I knew I would be able to stay at, a very sympat place. All along the highway to Paris there were abandoned cars on the shoulders. Because of the general strike there was no gasoline, when you ran out there was nothing to do. The city itself was topsy turvy. People in business suits were walking into the middle of traffic trying to cadge a lift to where ever they had to go. And the army was there. We were standing on a sidewalk when a big army truck with canvas over the back pulled up and two soldiers with automatics over their shoulders got out and waved us to the back of the truck. We lifted the edge of the canvas and the truck was full of people. We squeezed in. The truck drove away and people would lift the edge of the canvas to peak out, when you saw the place you wanted to get off you shouted to the soldiers who shouted to the driver and the truck pulled over and let you off. We arrived at le quartier latin in that way.

The cafés were open and full of people. There were big oil drums here and there with fires in them and police standing around them. Lots of police, but no one doing anything, it was business as usual, shopping, lounging in cafés, nothing out of the ordinary except of course all the police standing around barrels of fire. We walked to la Sorbonne. As we got closer we saw the barricades and the torn up streets (students pulled up paving stones to throw at les flics). The entrance to la Sorbonne was guarded by a group of students, you had to have a student card to get in. Thank you Miss Dawes!!! I went in.

The main courtyard was lined with huge banners and signs with many students milling around. Everywhere were political discussions and signs to various forums being conducted in the lecture halls. It was a Communist Revolutionary's dream come true! I remember that one of the large banners hanging in that courtyard was a recipe and instructions for making a Molotov Cocktail. I went to one forum and listened. There were heated discussions about what the outcome to all of this was going to be. People were planning for a future in a whole new world, it was going to be a revolutionary society. The excitement and exhilaration of being instrumental in a huge change to the country was so thick you could taste it.

Later, outside, I was sitting at a café and people were getting ready to leave. It was almost 5pm and the unspoken agreement was that if you were on the street before 5 it was just a normal day but after 5 it was a war zone. If you didn't want to be in the war it was time to leave. I left.

I stayed at the hostel on the edge of the city that night and everyone there shared stories of what they had seen and heard. The next day I returned to Rouen. While I was away, the rightwing fascist students had attacked le Fac and taken it from the leftists. They burned all the student records in the registrar's office. Romain was in his last year and was devastated, he would not be able to graduate. We had become close but he left in the night without telling anyone. That upset me because he was my best friend, but I felt bad for him. Soon after I decided I needed to leave too. I went to England for a couple of weeks to get away from the intensity. I hitchhiked around, staying at hostels, and telling stories of what was happening in France. English students thought it was hilarious and told stories of how intense French students were about politics. In a way I was shocked by their cavalier attitude because I had been taking it all very seriously. After two weeks I returned to Rouen.

The revolution was over. There is a big sandstone cliff overlooking the city of Rouen, someone had carved la croix de Lorraine (looks like a cross with two horizontal arms instead of one) on it. To me, it was like seeing a swastika, it was the symbol of de Gaulle. The mood was glum. I saw a few friends briefly to say goodbye and then went to Paris to meet a Canadian friend who was coming to spend a few weeks of the summer travelling with me. I was glad to see her and tried to explain les événements de Mai to her but I could not convey what it really meant. She could not possibly understand. We had fun and I don't regret it but in my heart I was devastated. At the end of the summer I came home knowing that revolution doesn't work, it can't be done. Every revolution carries within it the seeds of its own demise.

I wrote a few letters to my great aunt Dora about my trip and she wrote to me. After I returned home she gave me all of my letters, saying I should keep them for my records. But I did not. I never took a camera so no pictures. I did buy a couple of books published later in the summer full of photos of les événements de Mai, particularly some of the many wonderful slogans and posters, but I never hung onto those either. A couple of friends in Rouen wrote to me of the aftermath, it was not good. The radio documentary on CBC tried to say that it changed the world but they did not specify how that was and my friends there did not think things changed for the better. Because of the timing most students lost their year, Romain lost four years because of the student records being burnt.

I particularly remember the great Gaulliste demo on les Champs Elysées, hundreds of thousands of de Gaulle supporters, a bigger demo than any the students mounted. the photo in the newspaper was so shocking, I could not believe that the people were that against the students.

But oh, it felt like we came so close! So close!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Babies in a dangerous world

The goldfinches have been bringing their youngsters to my bird feeder. They are very cute. I watched a demo one day, the parent goldfinches showing the youngsters how to use the feeder. There were two or three young finches in the branches surrounding the feeder watching very closely as the parents flew in, grabbed a seed and flew back to the tree with it. Then one of the babies tried it out, flew to the feeder and sat there bobbing its head:

"Is this right? Have I got it right?"

Yesterday I looked out the door window onto my porch near the feeder and saw a chickadee sitting on the porch floor in the sun. It was kind of fluffed up, one wing hanging a bit loose and its head slowly drifting downwards. Then it would suddenly pull its head back up and the downward drift would begin again.

Was it falling asleep? Or was it injured? I started to open the door to take a closer look and the bird perked right up and flew away. I think it was trying to have a nap in the sun. Probably another youngster who has not yet learned the dangers of falling asleep in open view of potential predators.

After walking our dogs at the reservoir, a friend and I were sitting in the sun discussing the state of the world (and the joy of sitting in the sun doing nothing) and I mentioned that I had not seen a single junco this year and probably not the year before either. He said he hadn't seen any either.

"Or Red Polls," I said, "Haven't seen them either."

We contemplated the loss of birds. The ones who remain are precious.