Three years ago I started training to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc, aka the TMB. Every year since then I get nostalgic about that and start hoping that I will get the chance to return to the Alps and wander about from refuge to refuge. So far that hasn’t happened. This past year has been a write off for the world of course, so there was no hope to go to Europe let alone sleep in a refuge full of people who might have Covid 19. This summer it might be possible, if I could get up the nerve to go. However, someone will be doing the TMB and I hope they have a great time. If anyone is interested I wrote a book about my hike, which I have announced her before and am going to do so again, because I added a page to the blog called Tour du Mont Blanc, where I have posted a slice of the book to give you an better idea of what it is about. It’s under the heading above called Tour du Mont Blanc.
Category Archives: Travel
Just finished this one. Hiking season in the Alps should be open now, but with Covid 19 still about, I wonder how the refuges will be affected? This is on the climb from Tre-le-Champ up to the trail called Le Grand Balcon on the opposite side of the Chamonix Valley from Mont Blanc, that big white hulk in the centre background. Most hikers end the Tour de Mont Blanc with this hike, which on a good day affords the best possible view of the great mountain, from a trail that is. This was the last day of our 11 day trek, and I finally convinced Terry to wear the camo boonie hat I had given him.
To get the whole story, you can buy my book A Walk Around Mont Blanc.
North America was “discovered”, in a manner of speaking, by Lief Erikson, about 1000 years ago.
Lief got here first, and yet Chris Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci got all the glory. This must be corrected! Here are some suggestions to correct the injustice.
First, the USA shall become the USE (United States of Erika) and Canada will become SUPER, (Somewhat United Provinces of ERikland). When referring to what was previously called America, the new term shall be USESUPER.
All references to the term Columbia will henceforth be replace with the word Erika, since Chris Columbus was not first, and therefore by all logic, second rate, explorer-wise.
The Columbia River will become the Erika, and the province of British Columbia will henceforth be known as Icelandic Erikland, i.e. IE. The District of Columbia will become the District of Erika, etc.
Washington DC will become Washington DE, or Duh for short.
Now is also the opportune moment to replace all those missing and soon to be melted statues with new ones, of Lief the Lucky. We can use the bronze in an environmentally sensitive manner by recycling it in electric furnaces powered by solar energy. Those bare and empty podiums need something! Fortunately, statues of Lief already exist in many cities throughout North Erika, such as Duluth and St. Paul, Minn., as well as Seattle, Boston, Milwaukee and Chicago. Cities that can’t afford new statues, shall replace the head of the offensive existing ones with Lief’s head, change the plaques and call it a day.
The man had guts, good looks and was a damned fine sailor. His name has a natural sound, like an electric car; environmentally friendly and zero pollution.
Apart from statues, the USE (United States of Erika) already has a national holiday for Lief; October 9th.
In these tough times, we need a new hero!
Onward, Lief the Lucky! Long live North Erika!
Photo Credit: Steven Pavlov – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15950672
I wrote this story for the Cold Hard Type project, but it didn’t get accepted, so here it is!
ALIENS DON’T USE TYPEWRITERS
©D. J. Nathan 2018
I was sitting at the kitchen table with my morning tea when it happened. At first I hardly paid it much heed, since the house was quite bright with the sun shining in the window. Only after I’d finished the first cup did I notice that the power was out. It’ll be back in a few minutes, I thought. There will be a beep from the microwave, the stove, and the computer upstairs as it reboots. I got up and went to the pantry where the cookies were. I brought the package to the table and poured myself another cup of tea, and had to go to the fridge for a little more milk. There wasn’t much left in the carton so I made a note on the shopping list that we always kept on the bureau in the dining room. I wrote milk and cookies on the list. I put a dash of milk in my tea and put the carton back in the fridge.
I picked up my book and went to sit in the living room in my favourite chair, a yellow corduroy recliner with worn out cloth on the arms. Then I decided to call my wife and let her know we had no power, in case she wanted me to come downtown and then we could go grab dinner out somewhere. I picked up the phone but it was dead. I opened the browser. The news would have something about it. I was certain I could find out why we had no power in less than a minute. No message, nothing. Nothing.
It was just after lunchtime, when I heard the front door open and close.
It’s me, she said. We have no power at work.
It must be out everywhere, I said.
I walked home, she said. I tried to call but cell service is dead, too.
Where’s the transistor, I said?
She opened the bureau drawer and pulled out the little transistor radio. There was only static. We waited for the news, but it didn’t come. She put the radio down on the table and lowered the volume so it wasn’t quite so disturbing.
This is weird, she said. Usually there’s something on the news.
I looked at her face, and she looked very scared. I’d never seen such a look before, and it worried me to see it. I tried to be nonchalant, being the brave man, the take charge guy who was supposed to figure out what to do at times like this, but I was getting nervous. This wasn’t like any other power outage I’d ever experienced, and I’d been in lots of those in my life. I poured two cups of tea and we shared what little milk was left, and ate a few cookies.
The next morning we walked to the grocery store and there was a line up going down the block. The door was open and a policeman was letting people in, a few at a time. I got in line and decided to see if I could get something when my turn came up, anything I could. People were talking, but it was mostly rumours. It was as if the world of information had just vanished in an instant. I could hear the diesel generators roaring behind the store, and when I got to the door after three hours the store was lit by just a few emergency lights.
How many are you shopping for, asked the cop at the door?
Me and my wife, I said.
You have ten minutes, he said, and one shopping bag full, no more. No hoarding; that means nothing in excess – understand?
I knew where everything was, so I quickly grabbed one bag of food and went to pay. It was cash only. The cashier had difficulty counting my change, after having relied on the cash register to think for him for so many years.
You owe me three seventy, I said.
He looked at me and handed me my change.
Thanks, he said.
I got home and we made some tea and put milk in it. I couldn’t believe how good it tasted. We cooked the hamburger I’d acquired and ate that with bread and some frozen vegetables, and the last of the salad greens.
We should go to the garden, she said. We have lots of kale and chard still growing.
After dinner we walked over to our allotment garden, about a mile from the house. When we got to our plot there was nothing left. All the vegetables had been cut down by scavengers. Crows were pecking all over where produce had been ripped out, leaving clumps of overturned dirt.
Within a month, the grocery store was a wasteland of overturned shelves and broken glass, like all the shops in the mall. We were all living crammed into one house for safety and warmth, the kids and grandkids and my sister and brother-in-law. Using bricks, stones and bits of pipe, we constructed a fireplace in the house with primitive masonry skills, and survived the winter burning bits of scavenged wood and furniture. Soon we knew all our neighbors by name.
The women did the cooking, and the men went out every day to find food or work. The deer in the park had been shot and the meat given away through central distribution at the police station. The police were keeping a semblance of order, due to their having guns and a chain of command. They got food for their efforts, or they would have quit and gone home like everyone else. Many months passed, and people got thinner and thinner.
There was a rapid transition to a barter economy, where practical skills were the most valuable ones. People who didn’t know any useful things had the worst of it. Suddenly if you could fix a bicycle, you could barter that for food. If you could handle a saw and a hammer, you could eat.
Nobody had a job but for the bare essential services, like doctors and teachers. Slowly but surely the fuel supply dwindled and what little was left was reserved for fire trucks and ambulances. Police went back to walking the beat or riding horses. Digging outhouse pits became a hot business. The library was packed, since there was nothing to read but books. Teachers, who kept working even though classrooms had no light or power, could write on the chalkboard and read books to the class. Kids were paying much closer attention in class and writing skills showed vast improvement.
Winter came and everyone was outside shoveling and playing in the snow. Kids skated on lakes and ponds until the sun went down. Still, nobody knew why the power was gone.
News began to arrive in the way of typed sheets of paper that made the rounds of the neighborhood. One day a paper came that said someone had just sailed into the harbor from Japan, and they were in the same condition we were. At the bottom of the page was a plea for help with writing communiqués. Also, we are in desperate need of typewriters, it said.
I showed this to my wife and said, what do you think?
Don’t give them a typewriter, unless you get something.
Later that day I walked to the police station with an old typewriter in my backpack. There was a lineup of people needing to speak to somebody in authority, and no other way except by being there, and waiting.
The line was hardly moving, so after a half hour I asked the guy behind me to hold my place for a minute. I ambled to the front of the queue and stood there until the first person was done. The cop looked at me with impatience, as he had a right to do with people trying to get information out of turn.
This better be urgent, he said, or else wait your turn like everyone else.
I have a typewriter, I said.
A typewriter, he said, eyes lighting up. Where?
In my pack.
OK, leave it here, he said, I’ll take care of it.
I’m not leaving it, I said. I want to see whoever it is that wants it.
The woman at the front of the line gave me a pained look, and sighed.
They desperately need them, I said to her.
The desk cop left for a minute and was back with a woman right on his heels. He pointed my way.
This guy, he said.
Hello, said the woman, please follow me.
We walked down a dim hallway past a series of open doors that let light in from adjoining rooms. I entered a room where a dozen people sat near the windows, typing on manual typewriters.
So, you have a typewriter, she said? May I see it?
I slung the bag off, unzipped the back flap and lifted out a typewriter in a pale green case.
This was my Dad’s, I said.
Does it work?
Oh yeah, all his typewriters work.
All his typewriters, she said? Do you mean there’s more?
Yeah, there’s a few, I said. How many do you need?
We could use six, she said, and other offices need some. We pay good money, nothing comes free these days.
There’s a fixed price, five hundred.
OK, but I want a job, I said. I can type.
I’ll need ID, she said.
I fished out my DNA chip card and she looked at the picture.
OK, at least it looks like you, she said. We have a job for a typist, if your typewriter works.
Did you ever hear of a Hermes 3000?
No, she said. What’s that?
According to my Dad, the best typewriter ever made, I said.
Every typewriter is the best typewriter ever made, if it works, she said.
Yeah, I suppose so. This works. If not, I can get one that does.
Alright, she said, let’s see if you can type. Set it up here. I’ll be right back.
The paper was in the platen and I was ready to prove my typing skills, when she returned with a man.
Hello, said the man. I knew your father. So this was his?
Yes and no, I said. My Grandfather collected them.
I see, he said. Well, what matters is you’ve brought us a typewriter. We don’t need typists as much as we need translators. Can you speak any other languages?
I started to name some; Polish, Russian …
You’ll do, he said.
I have a Russian typewriter, I added.
We need it, he said. Can you bring it tomorrow?
No problem; if you hire me, that is.
Understood, he said. I should have known Terry’s kid would be a linguist! What’s your name?
Welcome aboard, Leo, he said, grabbing my hand and shaking it vigorously.
What about the typing test, the woman interjected?
Forget it, said the man, I need this fellow for something more important. Come with me, Leo, you need to meet someone. Just leave the typewriter for now.
I ran up the stairs after him and he knocked at a locked door. It opened and there stood a man in a white uniform with a short grizzly beard.
Leo, this is Captain Flint, he said. Like the pirate in Treasure Island.
Never read it, I said. Pirate treasure didn’t interest me.
Flint snorted. Too bad, he said. But we’re after a serious buried treasure.
What isn’t serious these days, I asked? I mean, how long can we exist with no power?
There are worse problems than no power, said Flint. Mankind lived without electricity for eons. Power outage is nothing compared to what we’re up against.
What are we up against?
The end of the planet, said Flint. The extinction of all life on earth … unless we stop them.
Aliens, but you didn’t hear it from me. I know you can keep a secret.
How is that, I asked? You don’t know me at all.
But I do, he said. Your Grandfather was a member of the Typerati.
I had to snicker.
That was a joke my Dad used to tease my Grandfather about, I said. He fancied he was saving the world with his old manual typewriters; writing stuff no one could spy on.
That was their cover, said Flint. They were a secret worldwide organization – like the Resistance in the Second World War.
What did the Typerati do?
They kept tabs on threats to the world and to civilization.
But what can be done about this, I asked? Are they going to restore the power?
One step at a time, said Flint. Do you get sea sick?
I’ve never been to sea, I said, but I don’t get car sick.
That will have to do, he said. We sail at the next tide. Get your things ready and be back before dawn tomorrow. And bring that Russian typewriter.
Where are we going, I asked?
Do I have to go?
Do you want to save the world, Flint replied?
I walked home puzzled by what had happened, but no matter how much I thought on it, nothing made sense. I had a feeling that I was soon going to learn a lot more about the situation.
The old wooden ship had been a tourist attraction for years when they hauled it away to the naval yards to be refit. It was a good thing the Navy still trained sailors on sailing ships or we wouldn’t have gotten past the mouth of the Juan de Fuca Strait. We beat into the wind past Cape Flattery and set course for the South Pacific. It was the unlikeliest voyage imaginable; fifty young sea dogs, one typist, Jim the pigeon master, and Jack Flint the would-be pirate captain, all heading to an unknown destiny on a small wooden ship from the century before last.
As soon as we passed Flattery, Flint heaved his prosthetic leg into the water and had the carpenter make him one from a thick dowel, which he strapped to his stump with a heavy leather belt. I was installed in a cabin across from Flint’s, where he kept me busy typing communiqués, after which Jim would tie them to a pigeon and send them off into the blue. Every few hours we received a communiqué, but I had no idea where they came from.
That night I found it hard to sleep, so I went up on deck and saw Flint looking out to sea, muttering to himself and shaking his fist at something. He was completely mad for all I knew, but he was captain and master of us all. Weeks went by and we sailed on through storm after storm, while I typed and typed and Flint sent pigeons into the blue and took readings with his sextant.
One night after I had dined with Flint and the officers in the Captain’s mess, Flint came into my cabin with a bottle of rum. He pulled up a chair at my tiny desk and poured out two long shots, then he handed me my cup and said, Leo, I guess you’re wondering what the hell is going on?
Yes, Sir, I said.
Well, it’s time you knew. I want you to write this down so nobody ever accuses you of making it up, and I’ll be your witness.
Do you want me to type it up right now?
No, just listen, you can type later. Drink up, man, this is the best rum we’ve got in the whole damned Navy!
I sipped the rum, which I hated, but tried not to show it.
Good rum, I said, feeling like a damned liar.
You don’t have to flatter me, said Flint. Just drink and listen.
He began a preposterous tale, but considering the circumstances in which I found myself, I was inclined to believe it.
Leo, the day the power went out, the earth was attacked by aliens. Now don’t laugh or start thinking the old goat’s off his rocker. I may be, but this is God’s truth.
Aliens, I said?
Flint nodded and looked straight into my eyes. The look in his eyes chilled me.
An entire fleet, he said, slowly and emphatically. Just like that!
Why haven’t we seen them, I asked?
Because they don’t give a damn about humans. They don’t want what we have. They need the planet, period.
You mean to live on, I asked?
No, for the energy. We have to stop them before they release the core’s heat.
Release the what?
The core of the earth is a ball of molten iron, said Flint, as we all know.
They don’t teach that in school these days.
Never mind, said Flint.
He shot back more rum and filled his cup. I drank down my cup too, as I had a sudden urge to get drunk. Flint filled my cup, and carried on.
With their superior technology, it was a simple matter for them to land at strategic points on the globe and shut down all power generation within minutes. They jammed all radio communication, and began drilling through the earth’s crust. Every last site is under water, fortunately for us, because that’s where the aliens made their big mistake.
What mistake is that, I asked?
Failing to realize that humans have learned to communicate with dolphins. What do you think of that, eh?
A little hard to believe.
Yeah, so it is, but so is a cockamamie story about aliens sucking heat from the core of the earth, wouldn’t you say?
I would, said I.
Good, said Flint. Thanks to our trained dolphins, when the aliens began drilling, the Navy was notified. The problem is, all our ships depended on radio communication, and as you know, the aliens were able to block and disable all that.
And they assumed we couldn’t do anything to stop them?
Right. We may be worms to them but we’re not about to go down without a fight. One thing we learned was that aliens can detect metal ships, but not wooden ones. We’ve been testing them. Trust me; we wouldn’t be here if they could detect us. This is where it gets interesting. You remember what I said about the Typerati?
Yes, they keep tabs on threats to the world – but so what?
The aliens do no surveillance, in the mistaken belief that all human communication has been stopped. The concept of typewriters to them is unimaginable. All this time, police and security agencies have been collecting information from all over the world. Our main problem is sharing information, which has to travel the old fashioned way. Who’d have thought the fate of the earth would be decided by pigeons!
Not me, I said. But why are the Typerati important?
Networking. The Typerati have long maintained a clandestine network of typewritten communiqués, and this allows our intelligence to flow around the world once again, all in top secret. By using codes, Typerati send messages ordinary readers can’t decipher.
Why use codes, I asked?
Flint snickered. The last thing we need is for the secret to get out. Leo, we have one chance to stop these aliens, but it requires perfect timing, coordination and total secrecy. At this very moment ships like this from all over the globe are heading towards alien landing sites. This is the greatest military operation since D-Day, and if it fails it will be the last.
There I was, halfway across the Pacific Ocean, typing coded messages in Russian on my Grandfather’s old Olympia Progress typewriter, while Jack Flint filled my head with tales of aliens and talking dolphins.
He had his own copy of Treasure Island that I often saw him reading on the poop deck in the evening, his old white sailor hat tied onto his big grey head with a thick cord to keep it from blowing off. He was always puffing on a big cigar, the aroma of which pervaded the air. One night he suddenly shut the book and leapt to his feet.
That’s it, he said, that’s the last time I’ll ever read this book. What a damned shame!
He handed it to me.
Here Leo, I want you to have this. It’s the best study of men and the sea that you’ll ever set eyes on, except maybe for Moby Dick. I prefer Long John Silver to Ahab any day. Ah well, what does it all matter? Come, I have something to show you.
We went down deep into the hold, below the waterline. There I beheld a grey oblong tank the size of a small whale. Two sailors jumped to attention at the sight of Flint.
Flint saluted and said, at ease boys. How’s my baby?
She’s fine, Admiral Sir, said one sailor. We’re keeping her clean and dry, Sir.
Excellent, said Flint. Let’s hope she’s still waterproof.
I followed Flint back up to the rear of the poop deck. We stood together, looking down at the wake as we ploughed through the blue-black sea, riding huge swells in one endless undulating motion.
Do you know what’s inside that thing, he asked?
I have no idea.
The most powerful bomb ever devised on this planet, he said. Outside the Navy, you are the only civilian who’s ever laid eyes on it.
And what are we to do with it, I asked?
I was afraid to hear the answer, in case it was something like; we sail up to the aliens and detonate it.
We sail up to those aliens and detonate it, said Flint, a hint of satisfaction in his voice.
How are we going to manage that, I asked?
Well, it’s simple really, said Flint. What you saw was not an ordinary submarine. It’s a submersible, designed to float along with ocean currents. That’s where my dolphins come in. They’re going to guide it in.
Do they know about the bomb?
No, but they’ll be long gone, said Flint, like you and this ship. As long as we get the right drift, all’s well. If not, we gave it our best shot. Your job is to record it all, everything, including our little talk here, and type up the record, then send it off on one of those pigeons. These boys will take this bucket back to Seattle if anybody can, and maybe by the time you get back it will be a new world. Maybe, or maybe not.
And how will the bomb go off, I asked?
Well, let’s just say old Jack Flint’s going to take care of that.
He took one last drag on his cigar and tossed it out into the night. The glowing red ember traced an arc in the inky blackness and went out in a blink. Then Jack Flint hobbled off without another word, leaving me at the rail, speechless. I stared into the night for a while and went down to my bunk.
The next day I was busy writing communiqués and didn’t see Flint at all. A storm blew in and we hunkered down in raging seas that nearly sunk us. I didn’t dare go up, but there was activity aplenty on the ladders and much shouting of commands. All hands were on deck, then dropping through hatches on and off all day, until the storm blew over. I didn’t know how far we had blown, but we didn’t strike sail so we must have covered a lot of water.
Three more days passed and one morning, at dawn, I heard whistles going fore and aft and scrambled from my bunk. The entire crew was on deck. The submersible was coming up out of the main hatch on a huge chain block, rigged to a monstrous gantry that hung out over the starboard rail. The crew maneuvered the thing up and out over the water, where it was let down and sank almost to the hatchway on the top side.
It bobbed with the waves and then the hatch opened and up popped Jack Flint’s head. He climbed out so that his upper torso was visible, and the First Officer shouted for order. The entire ship went silent. Jack Flint stood up tall and gave the salute, at which the crew snapped their right arms to their heads like they had one mind.
Salute done, the First Officer shouted Hip-Hip, and the men followed with Hooray, thrice. Flint nodded and then the hatch came down. Minutes later the submersible gave a little blurp and disappeared beneath the surface, leaving a small spiral disturbance that was gone in seconds. We hove to and slowly came about. The sails filled out and I felt the ship lurch and catch the breeze, then surge forward.
I could have written this on my Omnibrain Thought Transfer Device, but after what happened I couldn’t bring myself to use that again, so instead I got out my Dad’s old Royal 10 and typed it. Halfway home we were intercepted by the Navy and they confiscated my Russian typewriter, which I could not get back no matter how many inquiries I made. Then one day, about five years later, it mysteriously appeared at the front door, with a note in Russian code;
Don’t believe everything they say, or even what I say.
Back in May when my son asked me to go with him to hike the TMB I immediately agreed. I had no idea how difficult it would be, but I had a pretty good idea this might be the best shot I’d ever get at doing such a trip. Once I said yes it was too late to back out, something I knew would be a great disappointment to the both of us.
As soon as I read about it I knew that I would have to train hard. Luckily there are some trails right outside my door – one that goes around the lake, and another that goes up over a small hill. One go round is about 5.5 kms, and involves about 100 meters of climbing. The other hikes I had at my disposal were a slightly higher hill of about 200 meters, and another lake walk with a few minor hills, totaling about 5.8 kms.
First I needed boots. With extra wide feet, there aren’t many boots I find comfortable, but I discovered New Balance made boots in 4E, so I bought a pair of those, model 978. Although they were a little light for the very rocky bits, they worked well and I didn’t have any serious complaints, or any blisters, despite the fact that I defied convention by wearing thin socks.
As for a pack, I checked out all the well known brands and found them very expensive. By chance I found a shop with some old stock of internal frame Kelty packs on sale at half the cost of most other packs. I bought a Redwing 50, and it performed beautifully. I liked the fact that this pack had lots of zippers and pockets to keep gear handy when needed. My son’s bag was merely one large sack that he had to dig into every time he needed something from within. The Kelty has one single curved back stay that carries the load down to the excellent waist belt, which cinches very tightly due to compound leverage.
Once I got my essential gear in order, with new boots and a new pack, I set out on regular walks with weight in the pack. To start I had 10 pounds, then I increased it to 20 once I gathered my gear and determined I’d have about 18 – 20 lbs. With my pack and boots I began training as often as I could. The first problem was the heat, which this past summer hit 28C fairly often. This is very hot for these parts, and although it’s not so bad for normal living, 28 is a mite warm for strenuous exercise. Nevertheless, it had to be done, so I was out in the heat hiking away the miles, and sweating profusely. This also proved a problem for me feet mostly, which were very hot. That is why in the end I settled on thin socks.
I also began a journal of my daily training hikes, using a Strathmore notebook with heavy cotton paper pages suitable for watercolours. For practice I did a few, but mostly I recorded my mileage and observations of how I felt. There were many entries about how tired my legs were, and how wet my shirt was. Some days I had to keep myself soaked down with a wet kerchief to keep from overheating. I became quite attached to my boonie hat too, a US army surplus item that fulfilled every requirement for a warm weather sun hat admirably. Tested in Vietnam, so no surprise it works well in heat. The brim is just the right size, and it can be flipped down or up to suit the sun. I should perhaps have been more patriotic and worn a Canadian Tilley hat, but I feel they make me look like an old fogey, and besides which they aren’t any better than the boonie, and somewhat heavier and harder to stow when not in use.
After the whole thing was over I tabulated my training and found that I had walked for 86 hours and 274 kms. That’s 1.6 times the length of the TMB, not exactly a lot, but in my case certainly better than nothing, as I am now convinced that without that I would have been done in after the first day or two. On the other hand, my son who is 36 and super strong, did zero preparation and of course was way out in front of me when he wasn’t behind, ready to catch me when I tripped. What 30 years can do to you, it’s terrible! No complaints however, as I got through it on my own steam and no worse for wear.
As for my best intentions of watercolour sketches, all I have to show are some pre-trip sketches, one solitary sketch from the hike, and a few done before and after. Fortunately I did keep a daily journal, so I have that and a lot of photographs as a record. Now that it’s over I wish I had it to do again! No matter how much you can recall from writing or pictures, nothing can compare to the joy of walking through a beautiful landscape, no matter how difficult it feels at the time.
Some watercolours from France and Germany:
And some from my pre-trip journal:
“The guilty undertaker sighs
The lonesome organ grinder cries”
“I Want You”, by Bob Dylan
As I noted here a month or two past, I spent an inordinate amount of time in deciding what sort of sketching media to take with me to Europe and the TMB hike. Once on the trail I soon discovered that there was no time for sketching. You hit the trail just after 8 o’clock, hike for an hour or three and then eat lunch in pleasant exhaustion while recovering for the afternoon. Maybe you eat a 2nd lunch at 2 p.m. No matter, it’s highly unlikely you are lunching and have energy or inspiration to pull out the sketchbook and paint box. At the end of the day when you get to the next refuge, you dump your stuff and if lucky, you get to sleep for an hour before dinner. Then you talk to folks, and write in the journal.
However, I did do some sketching before and after the hike, when I had plenty of time to sit and observe. My first stop was Dusseldorf, a beautiful city on the Rhine River. Among the attractions is the alt-stadt, where the streets are full of people, not cars. How ridiculous! Also there are some lovely beer gardens that dispense alt-beer, a dark and flavourful brew which, unlike most German beer, is top fermented. Unfortunately most German brew-masters who emigrated to North America brought with them lager beer, which in my opinion isn’t half as tasty. But you can still get alt-beer in Dusseldorf, a drink I enjoyed while sitting at a bar in the alt-stadt with sketchbook at hand.
While lolling on my stool I discerned a faint sound coming from down the street. Soon I realized I was hearing a hand cranked miniature pipe organ, from which pipes came a sweet folksy tune. Shortly, before my eyes appeared a real live organ grinder. He parked his organ beside me and took a seat at a table; then proceeded to smoke a full pipe, after which he shut his eyes and had a snooze. Refreshed, he got up after a half hour and returned the way he came, grinding out a new tune.
Stealthily, I managed to capture him on camera and in my sketchbook. Maybe this is so commonplace in Europe that organ grinders are taken for granted, but to me it was a magic moment. As for the question of whether or not he was lonesome; if you spent all day pushing an organ around, who could you talk to?
As I have repeated here, perhaps too frequently, due to my last novel I became enamoured of the Royal 10. I did get one after some hunting, but I thought that they were hard to find – until last week. We spent a week as we often do this time of year in Washington, camping and of course scouring the many antique shops. So what did I find? Yes – many Royal 10’s!
Sadly I couldn’t own them all; the one I have is perfect for me, but if I didn’t already own one… well that might be different. One in particular was in beautiful condition, and it was the least costly. Go figure. It was a rebuild, too, as noted on one shift key – by Regal, on Varick Street, NYC.
All were post 1923 with single glass sides, some with the gauge on the right side, which I don’t know the purpose of. I’m sure someone reading this will educate us on that! It was ironic that so many typewriters in the wild have little signs forbidding typing – I’d like to see signs that say “type away”. Do these sellers think that a Royal 10 that has lasted for 80 years can be broken? How absurd!
There were other interesting oldies too:
The Corona folder was exciting to see, but it was not in working order and well over $100! Had it been working… maybe. One other new to me phenomenon in these old junk stores is the proliferation of the Erie iron pans, Griswold being the next big thing. Some shops had huge collections of these, priced into the hundreds! Imagine paying $100 for a frying pan when you could buy a Royal 10 for less. More absurdity!
We got as far as Portland and just happened to park one block from Powell’s Books, the largest bookstore I’ve ever been in – it’s like a department store – think a Walmart dedicated solely to books. One thing struck us; the foul language we heard coming from the mouths of people just talking on the street. I suppose all the books with swear words are simply indicative of the general debasement of language skills these days. But what’s with all the f*cking asterisks? Just spell it if you plan to use it. Only one author among many seemed to feel thus, which is commendable, although not admirable.
Portland reminded me of Seattle, except it’s flat. Aside from the cool bookstore I can’t say it was impressive. Lots of canyon streets that feel oppressively dark, and of course the usual sad cases of homelessness. No one pays attention any more. Not that this is uncommon here either, just that it emphasizes how our society in general has failed so many people.
The thing is, when it comes to all the pseudo-wisdom spouted in the endless river of self-help books, there is no solution to the real problems. It’s all focused on the self. The age of ME. F*ck off, self help authors!
We had 5 days out camping around Southern Vancouver Island. On day 1, before we got to out first destination we stopped for lunch then went to a thrift store nearby, where I bought a typewriter for $10. I hadn’t thought to bring one along with me, but this seemed like an omen. If it wasn’t for that I would not have written these two poems. I present their edited versions, and some pictures. We had a variety of geography on this voyage, from the ocean to a lake to the alpine zone. Lucky for us to live so close to all this!
First stop was an ocean-side camp at a rocky beach called French Beach. We camped in the forest of tall trees, and rode our bikes down the road to the beach where we swam in the frigid water in wet-suits. This was on the Juan de Fuca Strait, looking across at Washington and the Olympic Mountains.
Ocean Beach Summer Night
Briefly a rush of truck tires from the road nearby
Then a softer sigh, we look to the sky
A raven so black whooshes through the air
Voyaging from perch to perch in treetop bare
Campers pass soundlessly with dogs
None barking, quiet like beach logs
Tiny flies flit there and here
End up dead in our beer
We pick them out and drink up
We have no fear
Next to us the water tap and garbage bins
Two outhouses, one women’s, one men’s
Through the trees waves endlessly pound rocks
Where earlier we stood without socks
Watched them rolling thunderously, splash
Sometimes offset, sometimes one great crash
A zipper dumping energy like a long liquid spear
Which makes its mark and instantly disappears
To reappear in the following frame
Tag for the ocean is a favorite game
Any hour may bring change
Fast, unpredictable as a sneeze
But tonight there is a warm breeze
And the happy waves play without fights
Like children do on summer nights
August 28 2017
French Beach, BC
Up the road a ways we camped on another coast, beside the air force. Jets and big choppers were flying around. We were on the inland waters, looking eastward into the endless mountain ranges of British Columbia. Some of the most inaccessible territory on the planet, yet so close by. There are no roads north from there, no “civilization” for hundred of miles, only countless square miles of forest and mountains.
The Force Is With Us
Roaring jets remind us how
Beside this camp an air force lurks
Ever ready to strike if called
Who or what we don’t ask
Sitting in this field of grass
Writing, reading as the sun sets
another long day in the car
another camping meal enjoyed
chirping crickets and songs of birds
announce the end of their day
chirping and hunting for prey
the road gets longer year by year
how long it seemed to get here
travelling is not so easily done
a short trip is as hard as a long one
or are we weary from the sun?
still, we do enjoy these camps
discovering new places like tramps
later we remember them again
forgetting how we endured pain
remembering sunshine forgetting rain
fondly recalling pleasures from simple things
reading by lantern light and optical illusions
playing cards against a chain link fence
warm nights and stars, noises from cars
snuggling into a narrow bed, banging your head
tired and dirty we are now
in a day or two we’ll have forgotten how
we walked across a field before bed
felt the cold descending, instead
sitting inside on comfortable chairs
do the wash, arrange socks in pairs
go upstairs to bed, turn on a light
lie inside the covers, say goodnight
set the alarm, close our eyes
sleep to be awoken by surprise
August 30 2017
Kin Beach, Comox, BC
From here we made a day trip to hike in alpine meadows. Driving from the beach we looked ahead across the valley to a huge glacier on top of the mountain. Once in the alpine we walked through a pristine wilderness of forests, lakes and meadows full of berries and flowers. Then a rescue helicopter arrived to help an older lady who was backing up to take a picture and fell off the boardwalk, breaking something in her shoulder. A strange sight to see a chopper setting down between tall trees into a tiny clearing.
We just did the fairly annual week of the Juan de Fuca Festival in Port Angeles, followed by a few days off camping.
The festival was great this year; we saw many amazing acts, like Leroy Bell here, an amazing songwriter and singer.
Then we headed off to the wild Pacific coast to camp.
June is never particularly warm around here, but we lucked out for a few days with lots of sunshine. I swam in Lake Quinault, which was freezing cold, but after a while I just went numb to it and it was wonderful.
There weren’t any good typewriters in the few antique shops I found, but there was an interesting old LC Smith on display in Olympic Stationers in P.A.
When it isn’t raining the beaches are wonderful.
We always love to see restored vintage camp trailers like this one, an old Shasta.
Saw a lovely butterfly, too.
I regret not doing more sketching, but with driving, cooking & eating, sleeping late and general laziness I only had time for a few watercolours.
Before the Olympic Games came the Olympic Mountains. The latter occupy a large peninsula up in the top northwest corner of the USA, aka the bottom southwest corner of Canada. A simple twist of history and the Canada US border might now be the Columbia River, and the State of Washington – the Province of Olympia, or something. But nevertheless, we love the place, even though it costs $81 just to get there. Lat weekend, plus a few vacation days, we did a quick circle tour of the Salish Sea. That name has been given to the great inland waters that divide and unite us up here/down here as the case may be. On and surrounding that sea can be found the great cities of Vancouver and Seattle, as well as many smaller ones, and innumerable towns and villages.
We began our tour by being refused room on the ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles, this on a Thursday. Where did all those tourists come from? So we toured clockwise, leaving via the BC Ferries route over to the US Border crossing on the mainland. When we arrived we saw that all Canada bound traffic was being turned back. Had the refugee/illegal immigrant/future brother-in-law crisis reached the great north/south west? No, it seems there was a gas leak.
First stop in the US was Langley, Whidbey Island – where the annual Djangofest was getting underway. We love this town, it is hip but unpretentious, has cheap and pleasant camping available, a lively arts scene, great food, numerous coffee shops (and no *bucks), and world class pizza, not mention world class NW microbrew. We are in the golden age of beer, thank Dog I lived to drink it.
We had breakfast here:
One night there, complete with concert and fifteen minutes of jamming, then across Puget Sound by ferry (love these boats) to Port Townsend – yet another great little town full of history. They were having film festival – outdoors! A giant inflatable screen and hay bales occupied one block of the downtown core.
On the street, Port Townsend:
How can I resist this one?
Not for sale..but I did buy an old Eversharp fountain pen, with 14k gold nib, at a consignment/antique/art/clothing/furniture/jewelry/carpet shop.
Next stop Port Angeles, where they were having a beer festival. I know this just sounds too fantastic to be true, but it is true. However, we had our own mini beer festival courtesy of Safeway, and retired to the National Park to camp. With only five days we had to keep moving.
Next scheduled stop was to be the Olympic Hot Springs, up the Elwha River valley, but alas the road was closed for repairs. So we went to the Sol Duc Hot Springs instead. These are your tourist type hot baths, basically concrete tubs full of bored looking folks and always some Russians. (Russians – what’s the story?) Not that we mind them, we just prefer to hike two miles and bath privately naked in the wilderness (or at Harbin – see previous post). Warmed and relaxed to the point of narcolepsy, we had to return to the highway (US101) to camp, since the campground at Sol Duc was full – of course! But in this way we turned adversity to opportunity and discovered yet another gem in the way of Fairholme Campground on Lake Crescent.
There we watched the super moon rise over Lake Crescent, an awesome site indeed.
Next day we went west and south out to the big wet called the Pacific Ocean, where we camped on the shore and listened to the lullaby of thundering surf. All this time we were enjoying blue skies and sunshine, incredibly.
Then the sea, the endless sea.
The trip ended the next day but not before we had a great breakfast in Forks (Vampireville, USA) at one of those perfect little restaurants which we pray for constantly when hungry. Why is it so difficult to cook one egg perfectly? Who knows, but one cook in Forks sure can do. Then we were back in Port Angeles and on the Coho ferry home to Victoria.
for typerati only..seen on safari: