Monday, April 30, 2012

The Sleeping Island

Just when you get used to something, someone pulled the rug out from under you.  Blooger has a "new look."  Let's see what new learning curve is needed to get back on board.

"The Sleeping Island: The Story of One Man's Travels in the Great Barren Lands of the Canadian North"  by P. G. Downes (Pub 1943 by Coward-McCann, Inc., New York, 296pp., B&W photographs.)

While I wasn't so keen on the last book, this one is a must-read.  P.G. Downes tells a story as exciting and compelling as Jack London; only this is not a novel.  It is a truth so clearly told that his presentation of life in the far North is only possible through his two great skills: that of an exceptional writer, and by his great gift in communicating to a broad spectrum of listeners or readers, a talent undoubtedly acquired through his years of teaching.  The book tells what it takes to live,and more to the point, what it takes to survive above 60-degrees North.  He takes you in his canoe and points out everything you'd like to know about the land's history, its creation, the peoples that endeavor to survive its challenges, and how every trip is indeed an expedition.  He tells about the wildlife that call the Barrens home, and how closely man and animal are linked in this land.

There is much to understand about the relationships of the Eskimos and various Indian tribes and how they relate to the whites who have entered their lands. Almost regardless of the book, the history, or the tale, much has changed since "long, long ago before any white man and any evil came to this country."  This is unfortunately the legacy that seems universal, and has been stereotypically spread around the world. Our only saving grace in the North is that all Indian nations seem to view the Eskimo in lower regard than they do the whites.  In two different regions, two different tribes gave shockingly similar opinions of the white man.  He is selfish.  He has the mind and temper of a small child, and needs to be humored.  He loses his temper, shouts and roars, "a habit unthinkable in a grown man, but pardonable and characteristic in children."  That's a wonderful legacy to leave behind, and yet we go into their cultures so convinced that we know best and that we need to be in their midst to save them from themselves.

I learned a lot from this book, and I know you will too.  One small piece of trivia I found interesting was the source of the expression about someone being "bushed" as opposed to just being tired.  The Barrens are referred to as bush country.  Trees are sparce, those that exist are stunted, and little else exists but permafrost, sand, stone, gravel, and bush.  Thus the pilots that have done most to open the country for commerce are called bush pilots.  To survive, the daily activity level must be frenetic through every waking hour.  There is no let up, no resting.  It is a race against the coming winter, a rapid tempo of checking goods, procuring supplies and provisions, gathering wood, making repairs, and improvising for what is missing or unavailable.  The pace of preparing to survive the next winter will wear them down until it affects not just their physical being, but their state of mind.  They become hollow ghosts of themselves.  Those around them agree that "they've become bushed," a condition resulting from their battle with their environment. 

You will love this book.  Cheers, jim

Friday, April 27, 2012

To Eastern PA - 12

We've fallen into a consistently predictable weather pattern that makes daily updates unnecessary.  Weather has been our enemy on this trip.  They had beautiful weather before we arrived: nights of 45 deg. and days of 65, but in our defense, we've pretty much solved their drought for them.  The weather now is cold and rainy one day, then winds of 30-40 mph the next, followed by another cold and rainy, then another day windbound, and so on in regular rotation.  In short, it's not paddling weather.

We had a spell of three days that were very cold with rain and high wind all together.  There is a stand of trees next to us that is covered in English ivy.  It was full of nests of young birds.  The bad weather totally wiped out all the nests and birds: a whole hatching of chicks obliterated.

This weekend is the annual car show in Carlisle.  It is one of the largest shows in the country, and it fills not only the fairgrounds, but all the camping parks, motels, restaurants, and anywhere else you may want to go.  If trying to drive anywhere, the smart approach is to try planning a route that involves only right turns, because making a left turn across the bumper-to-bumper on-coming traffic is both dangerous and difficult.

When we were sailing, I used to occupy myself with armchair sailing when pinned down by bad weather and worse commitments, which was getting out the charts and cruising guides and planning trips.  I'm now doing armchair paddling.  It not only whets the need for making a real trip when the situation improves, but helps to move a paddling trip up the list of priorities.  In some ways, I find the paper paddling almost as pleasant as some of the real trips: less mud, fewer ticks, mosquitoes, and flies, and no poison-ivy.

Nevertheless, if we hang in there, we'll get back on the water.
Cheers, jim

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The River Why

"The River Why" by David James Duncan (Sierra Club Books, 291pp., 1983)

David Duncan is a good writer.  He had me hooked on P.17 with his pledge of affection for water.  "From the beginning my heart and mind were so taken up with the liquid element that nearly every other thing on the earth's bulbous face struck me as irrelevant, distracting, a waste of my time."  I found in those lines a man I could be at one with.

In his rustic cabin on the bank of his beloved trout stream, his only companionship is his pet fish, Alfred.  Duncan's skill at artful writing is shown again in his explanation of why he'd choose a fish as a pet.  After admitting its shortcomings as a pet, like you can't take it for walks, or hold it on your lap, he adds, "But its compensatory virtues are overwhelming: it keeps itself exceedingly clean; it won't jump on your Sunday suit; it won't shed, won't bark you into an asylum; it will never roll in dead salmon rot, never scratch you, never bite the neighbor's toddler in the face, nor will it puke on your bedspread, piss in your shoes, or hump the leg of an important dinner guest."  A lot of his writing shows this tongue-in-cheek humor.

Eventhough it appeared as a recommended addition to the recommended Paddlers' Reading List, canoeing appears to any substantive degree in the book only once.  "In a canoe you don't just float down a river: you're part of it---a silent water creature responsive to every surge and flex of current, gliding like a fingertip over a naked green body."  A canoe was then picked up by the book jacket illustrator to show a man fishing from a canoe.  Other than this, it's a book about fishing and the narrator's association with a string of unusual characters, including his parents.

Two-thirds of the way through the book our character turns from fisherman to philosopher.  I know sitting idle for long hours under a brain-baking sun on an empty stomach can make one start to wander into another mental realm, but no, this was about shamen, and Taoists, and reaching spiritual equilibrium, allegories, Sufi, Zen, Kingdom come and fishers of men.  Our story had lost its way, and the author didn't know where to find it.  I was disappointed, but plowed ahead until I found the book plunging into an abyss.

Our fisherman, Gus, philosophizes and meditates until he finds his way to the line of light and love, a horizontal line that connects Gus and God.  When it came to the possibility of him finding himself inducted into the Army and sent to VietNam to kill and be killed, it all came down to who was on the line of light and who wasn't.  Some's destiny was to run to Canada,  some off to jail, and others to the jungles of VietNam, but since he was on the line of light and love, his destiny was to stay home.  In one terrible catastrophic crash, our story had leapt from the tracks and ended in a pile of rubble. 

Perhaps this was a story about a personal self-analysis, or some search, or maybe it was meant to be somehow cathartic.  I don't know.  I felt someone had come knocking at the door and shoved a religious tract in my hand: a six-paged tract, disguised as a book, veiled in a story about nature and fishing, but which would take nearly 300 pages to reveal itself.  I closed the book feeling cheated, hoodwinked, betrayed, and disappointed.  You've heard me rave about many of the books I've reviewed for you, and most that found their way to the reading list have been exceptional, but this one is coming off the list.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

To Eastern PA - 6-11

Unfortunately, paddling wasn't the priority for this trip, and it's a good thing too.  Priority one was to be here in Pennsylvania to babysit one granddaughter during her school break.  Priority two was to meet the newest granddaughter.  Paddling would hopefully occur when time allowed, and I was planning on time allowing.  Well, best laid plans of mice and men and all that....
Day 6 - shopping and installing the sewer line and emptying all the tanks.  I also finished reading "The River Why" from the Paddlers' Reading List, which I'll review.
Day 7 - We drove to New Jersey (seven hours on the road) to visit Jean's Mom in her retirement home. 
Day 8 - We had the chance to spend some time with Alaina, the infant granddaughter.  She is without a doubt the most contented baby I've ever seen.  As we near the end of our visit here, I still have only heard her cry three times.  We bought her a "Future Paddler" T-shirt in one year size, and it doesn't fit.  If she continued to grow as she has the first two and a half months, she'll be the first female offensive guard for the Steelers.
Day 9 - Windbound.  Winds to 40 mph.  Having been in Oklahoma the last five years, I had forgotten that you can hear the wind coming long before it gets to you.  Several seconds before the trees responded, we could hear the distant growl of the wind.  In Oklahoma, you know the wind is coming when the red dirt hits you in the eyes. 
Day 10 - Windbound.  We had used up all our reading material, so we went in search of a used-book store.  A retired Army officer and his wife operate a book store in a two-hundred year old barn that they've completely renovated.  The job they've done on the barn is beautiful in itself, but they have thousands of books on the implement floor and in the hay loft.  If you love books, Canaday's Book Barn is a must if you're in the Carlisle/Harrisburg area.   Winter returns.  Lows in the 30's.
Day 11 - Cold, raw.  North wind and light showers.  The dampness takes the chill right to the bone.  At least we now have a pile of unread books and a new can of cocoa mix.  Snow and sleet flurries.
Day 12 was our first paddling day, so I'll save that to use with the pictures.  The temperature rebounded to hit 88-degrees.  We had the air conditioner on one day, and the windows open two nights, but it was a passing and momentary thing.  Winter snow, sleet, rain, wind, and shivering chills all returned.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

To Eastern PA-5

I'm getting quite a selection of photographs to share with you when I get back, but I'm wanting to hold them to go with the stories.  Some of them are worth the wait (in my opinion).  We'll see what you think.

I came with the understanding that after visiting with the family and being introduced to the new granddaughter, I was ready to go paddling.  No one had differed with that understanding until it was time to go.  Then, oh my gosh, I couldn't be gone on Easter. 

I often read about the contortions people go through to try justifying a few hours of paddling and relaxation.  There are work commitments, church commitments, civic commitments, family commitments, honey-do commitments, maintenance commitments, and I could go on, but what's the use.  I heard one man patting himself on the back because he had been out on the water once a month.  I can relate, really I can, but let's face it---that's pathetic, folks.  There are priorities, but getting to the end of your life too spent and run down to enjoy your life is certainly not one of them.   So, I went back to explore how many reasons there are for not going paddling.  I mean there's at least one holiday, usually numerous, everyday that could require your presence and attention.  Let's look at a few.

No kidding now, these are real.  You can check them yourselves.  There is diversity month.  Couldn't time on the water provide that?  Car month, brussels sprouts and cabbage month, overeating month, frog month, holy humor month, guitar month, math month (yeah, right!), letter writing month, grilled cheese sandwich month, kite month, bat appreciation month, pecan month, karaoke month, cardboard box month, cleaning for a reason month (as if you should need one), whistlers' month, and those are just a few for April alone.  There is also workplace conflict month, which arises because people can't get off to go paddling.

There is a pooper scooper week, hate week---after you get those two, who needs more?

There is atheist day, but I can't believe in that, tongue twister day, St. Stupid Day (no kidding!), love our children day (just one?), peanut butter and jelly day, tweed day, square root day, vitamin C day, rat day, deep dish pizza day (now we're talking), fun at work day, drowsy driver day (!?), teflon day, beaver day, pillow fight day, metric system day, a day without shoes day, safety pin day, and on the 10th, you can choose between be kind to a lawyer day, or be kind to a farm animal day.

So, if you go paddling and miss a holiday, don't worry about it.  In a few hours there will be another one.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

To Eastern PA-4

I was in for a surprise this morning.  Since trip planning is one of the things we try to discuss, here's one for that category.  On the trip back from Florida, I ran over a piece of steel in the dark that ruined a tire, and now it was to appear I wasn't done with tires.  In preparing the trailer for the trip east, I had greased bearings and checked the tires for pressure, cuts, blisters, etc.  In the process, I notice the tire tread and thought, "These tires just aren't wearing.  It looks like I'll be replacing tires next year."  I check the hubs at every stop enroute, but hadn't looked at the tread further until I stepped outside the trailer this morning.  It was one of those "holy crap" moments.  The tires were bald.  There was an image of a tread, but bald.  It was obvious these tires would never make it back home, or anywhere else.

I called the dealer I had purchased the trailer from to ask about how best to align the axles.  It seemed obvious that could be the only cause of tires wearing so rapidly.  Normally, my experience has always been that tires were normally replaced for dry rot before they ever wore out.  After a short discussion, he finally asked if the tires were wearing on one side or evenly.  When I said "evenly", he said, "Then it's not the axle alignment.  I hate to have to admit it, but they put the cheapest tires they can find in China on these trailers.  They just don't last."  To sound like I knew they were wearing prematurely, I had taken a mileage atlas and added up the miles from our trips.  The tires had worn totally out in only 6,730 miles.  Incredible.

So I spent the rest of the day jacking up the trailer, taking the wheels off one axle and getting them replaced, and then during the garage's lunch break, putting them on, jacking up the other axle, and repeating the process.  Trying to find a saving grace in the problem, I was at least really lucky none of them had blown before we got here.

I left the winter sleeping bag at home, and have been regretting it since.  Winter has returned, and night temperatures have returned to the low 30's.  In the mountains, where a lot of the lakes are, nights are still hitting low 20's.  What happened to spring? 

Friday, April 13, 2012

To Eastern PA-3

With another 6:45 start, we ran through the tunnels for the Alleghany, Kittatinny, Tuscarora, and Blue Mountains, and arrived at Western Village RV park, south of Carlisle, PA, at 3:30.  The total run was 1,360 miles.  After three days, it was just nice to come to a standstill.

To Eastern PA-2

Today started at 6:45, ended at 7 pm, and involved crossing the time zone.  We did another 500 miles, and stopped that evening at a Sam's Club, and got permission to spend the night in the parking lot.  Still on I-70, this put us just on the east side of Columbus, Ohio, (Exit 112) and put us in a good position to complete the remaining 360 miles the next day.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

To Eastern PA-1

Just a note on the first available laptop to let you know you haven't been forgotten.  We left early Sunday, the first.  We did 500 miles (for a round number) and spent the night in Robertsville State Park, west of St. Louis.  It was the first day of the park's season, but there were only two RV's in the entire park, with us being the second.  We were late getting in, and used the last of the day's light completing set-up.  Having the place all to ourselves would have been nice if we had had more time, but it was just a sleeping stop before pressing on. 

Ibi rides quite well on the roof racks.  Towing the trailer, we only do 55 mph.  Depending on wind direction, I've been running between 11.6 and 16.4 mpg.  I'd been hoping to attract the interest of another paddler in the rest areas, camp site, or at least a 'toot' from a fellow paddler along the road.  So far, I might as well be hauling a load of moon rocks.