Category Archives: Summer

A Honkin’ Good Time

Skies are still a bit hazy from the wildfire smoke, but somehow the geese have found their way to the estuary. Many of these birds will move on further south, but many will stay for the winter, putting up with wind and rain, and possibly a day or two of snow. The farmers’ fields will provide food for them with leftover cobs of corn and grain seeds that have missed being harvested. In case of severe frost or snow, the geese have the estuary to find food as the salt water doesn’t freeze.

The arrival of the geese always tells me that summer is ending and the northern latitudes are cooling off already, driving the birds south.

For now, life is still comfortable for them and they chat and preen and enjoy the warm days and nights. Some stretch their wings while others preen their back and neck feathers. A few are resting, some are dabbling at the water’s edge, and the farthest one has his neck stretched up tall and alert. It’s like kiddies’ day at the beach.

Just before leaving, I snapped one more quick picture. When I got home I noticed that one of the geese was flying past the camera just by the tree on the left. Or was it? I zoomed in for a closer look.  You can see it on the next photo.

Here, below, is the flying goose at the end of a skinny branch.  It’s all dressed in leaves. Sure had me fooled.

Mrs. Goose is on the loose,

Chattering, she’s quite obtuse.

“There’s a party at the beach,

And I hear it’s out of reach.

Nobody will bother us,

We can honk and spit and cuss,

Holler loudly as we wish

And the place is one big dish.

Food aplenty ‘cross the way

in the fields  where corncobs may

Still be lying on the ground,

Seeds are scattered all around.

People stop and look at us

But they’re harmless, make no fuss.

It’s just heaven being here

Even though the winter’s near.”

“Honkin’ right,” the gander said.

“Still some pleasant days ahead.”

“Watch your language, Gander Dear,

Bloggers won’t approve, I fear.”

Gander stretches out his wings,

Rolls his eyes and up he springs.

Goosey scurries, much impressed,

Goes to give her mouth a rest.

 

 

 

Bar’s Closed

Photo courtesy of Bjorn Larrson.

http://www.timetableimages.com/maritime/index.htm

An alternative to driving the long way around from Ancona, Italy to Patras, Greece, is to go by car ferry.  On the day we wanted to make the trip, many years ago, third-class tickets for the “Mediterranean Sea,” were sold out, so we had to buy first class. After waiting in line for hours, our VW van was crammed aboard into one of the last available spaces, a cubbyhole with a low ceiling and steel walls on three sides.

Three days later, when it was time to unload, this cubicle became an oven. Temperatures soaring over 100 F. and the chaos of impatient passengers and disorganized unloading practices had us nearly suffocating on the engine exhaust of cars started way too soon in the closed-in car deck. (In those days in Italy, there were no safety regulations such as we already had in Canada and still do.) An overeager passenger in dire need of driving lessons backed up his trailer at a weird angle behind us, making it impossible for us to move. Trapped in the scorching cubicle I felt like a chicken in a slow cooker.

But let me backtrack two days. Long before the unloading fiasco, we learned that paying first-class prices didn’t translate into first-class service.  Because of having first-class tickets, we had to take our meals in the first-class lounge. We put on the best of our jeans and T-shirts and took a seat at the end of one of the long empty tables in the middle of the room. The waiters leaned their shoulders together and muttered something to each other. Then one of them asked us to join a couple at a small corner table. We regretted spoiling their privacy at this secluded table, but it wasn’t our doing. We said hello. No response. Mrs. Ageing Princess dropped her eyelids, smoothed her long white silk gown, and stuck her nose in the air, up and away, presumably to draw fresh uncontaminated breath on her farther side.  Mr. Heir-to-the-Throne shot his cuffs from his tuxedo and patted her hand consolingly, making no effort to control the twitching of his upper lip and nostrils.

We directed our attention to the meal—served to their royal highnesses first—and watched the choicest morsels being loaded onto their plates. The swarthy waiter then came to our side of the table. I didn’t know whether to cry at the inadequate dinner of tired leftover bits he tried to serve us, or laugh at the way the tiniest remnants of French fries kept slipping from the fancy tongs he was obliged to use. So much for first class.

“I think you need to go refill the platter first,” my husband said. I watched as the waiter returned to the kitchen. At first I’d been annoyed that he tried to give us the dregs of the platter, but now that I saw him being jostled out of line at the kitchen pass-through window, I wondered if this explained his sparsely laden serving tray.

After that day, I watched the swarthy one at mealtimes. The other waiters scolded and bumped him, treated him abominably. On the second and last night of the trip, the grand finale after our meal was a surprise. The lights were suddenly shut off and the waiters filed out carrying plates of flaming Baked Alaska. Like soldiers on review, they stood, proudly displaying the Bombe Alaska. The diners applauded politely and the waiters extinguished their fiery platters, blowing out the last of the dying flames —all except our swarthy waiter. He blew on his flaming dessert in increasingly frantic puffs, eventually slapping at his scorching sleeves.

“Uh-oh,” I said. “He’ll be in the doghouse now.” And sure enough, the suave-looking head waiter grabbed the unfortunate’s burning plate, hissed something as he swept past him, and the two disappeared into the kitchen. “Poor guy! He’s getting an earful now.”

The next morning, before we had both eyes open, we were rousted out of our bed  to pack and get ready to disembark. No showers, no breakfast—grab suitcases, leave the cabin. Sure enough, land was in sight, but it would be a while before the tug could maneuver us into the harbour.

“I’ll get us a cup of coffee while we wait.” I found our swarthy waiter friend wiping down the bar in the lounge.

“Can I get a cup of coffee, please? I’ll pay.” Other meals had been included in the ticket price until now, but I could see that they wanted to clear us out and further meals would not be included in the fare.

The waiter snarled at me, “Bar’s closed!”

I took a step back. “Wow!” The cycle of mistreatment would perpetuate itself. He was getting ready to move up in the pecking order.

*****

*Note – Both of the ferries travelling between Italy and Greece (the Mediterranean Sea and the Mediterranean Sky) are no longer in service. The “Sea” (later renamed Mediterranean Sun)  was dismantled and the “Sky” was sinking at the wharf in Athens and so was towed across the bay to sink in a more private (out of the way) place.

You can see the “Mediterranean Sky” lying on its side in the waters of Eleusis Bay, near Athens behind the island of Salamis. Just click the link for a satellite view of it.

https://www.google.ca/maps/place/Eleusis,+Greece/@38.0242441,23.4880591,687m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x14a1ae4c9ab8d99f:0x400bd2ce2b97e50!6m1!1e1?hl=en

Patras, Greece

Ancona, Italy

Salmon Sharing

Humans and animals live on this planet together and no one group has more right than the other to its resources. Some species “kill” plants for food, some hunt and kill other animals, some kill both, but that’s just natural. It’s the way it is. Fishing is just another form of hunting. Humans do it, and other animals do it. Seems there could be some competition at times.

Commercial fishermen hunt for fish to provide them for the general public’s consumption. Many people love to eat fish; few have the means to go out and get them. Someone has to do the deed.

At this anchorage on the west coast of the Queen Charlotte Islands (now renamed, but still the same place), killer whales show up to cruise the waters for salmon, one of their favourite foods.  It just happens to be what these trollers are also targeting. There’s enough fish for everyone, but the fishermen aren’t happy to see the killer whales because they terrify the salmon who then disappear from the area.

 009The sight of an orca fin is not happy news for a fisherman.

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In spite of a certain fascination with the visitors,  the fishermen really don’t want these guys to be hanging around their trolling gear in the morning.

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Not only one hungry mouth to feed! Where there is one orca, there are bound to be more.012

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But the next morning, it seems there are still enough salmon for all to share.014

The Pileated Woodpecker Family

I feel a migraine coming on when I watch these beautiful birds drilling into the rotten wood, their beaks vibrating like mini jack hammers, but I’m very thankful for the woodpeckers, who eat of a lot of the insects we might otherwise be overrun with. They eat ants! So they’re welcome here any time. They also eat larvae of tree beetles that work at destroying our forests. Woodpeckers are very good for the well-being of our ecology.

It was hard to get a photo that wasn’t blurry. Their heads moved so quickly. This family of three was so busy they didn’t even notice me standing nearby taking pictures. If only I could have gotten them to stand still for a few seconds for a photo shoot. Can you see the third woodpecker above the red head of the one on the left?

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This part of my backyard has several old rotten stumps and broken off trees that we’ve left as they are, mainly because it makes great woodpecker habitat.

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That’s the mother with her head in the stump and the “baby” on the right, wondering what to do. I know he’s the baby because I saw the mother feeding him a bug just moments later. Maybe she found something in that stump.??????????

I always thought pileated woodpeckers were what Woody Woodpecker was modeled after, but apparently Woody is designed for the acorn woodpecker. I looked up the acorn woodpecker and can’t see the resemblance to Woody. To me he looks more like the pileated woodpecker, mainly because of the tuft of red hair (feathers) on his head.

 

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While the mother flew to a nearby tree, Junior worked over a broken off tree. The whole time he was chipping at the punky wood, he made muted bird-grunting noises that sounded a bit like, “Ehh … aaaa … ehh … ehh….”??????????????????????????????051Father, in the meantime, was taking on the big job of breaking apart the decaying  fir stump nearby, while keeping an eye on Junior. You might see a blurry glimpse of Dad behind the stump. Notice the small piece of log on the right of the stump next to the grass clippings.????????????????????Moments later, the small log to the right of the stump has company. As I watched, and took photos, a big chunk of bark fell down. Compare the two pictures, taken only seconds apart and you’ll see the progress the father was making with his chipping at the wood. All around the front of the stump too, are chips of wood dropped there by the woodpeckers’ efforts to get at the bugs inside the stump.

My yard is not manicured but the birds seem to like it that way. If I cleaned up their mess and removed the old rotten stumps they probably wouldn’t come back and I love to see them when they visit me.

What’s a Teredo?

Andrea, in my novel The Wind Weeps, asks the skipper, “What’s a teredo?” as she is about to powerwash his boat’s hull. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a type of saltwater clam several centimers to a meter in length that looks like a worm, hence the name “shipworm.” Teredos are the bane of wooden boats because they love to bore into the wood, and if not controlled, they will eventually destroy the hull. This is one of many reasons fishermen have their boats hauled out of the water once a year to work on the hull.

The boat below hasn’t been hauled out or worked on for a long, long time. How is it still floating?

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Since this photo was taken a long time ago, my guess is that it’s not floating anymore.

In places where the modern conveniences of a shipyard are not available, fishboats were often taken out of the water by placing them, at high tide, over a grid of timbers or a cement slab on which the boat would settle when the tide went out. As soon as the tide ebbed and the hull was exposed, the fisherman worked like fury to get the work done before the tide came back in and the boat  (if it was ready to go and didn’t need another low tide to complete the work) could be floated off the grid and back into deeper water.

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The next fancier way of getting the boat out of the water was with a cradle that the boat floated into at high tide. The cradle of heavy timbers with the boat tied on so it leaned slightly to one side, was then winched out of the water along a set of railroad tracks that went from the beach into the water.

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This is the kind of set-up Andrea was working in when she helped Jim powerwash his boat. I hope you enjoy this excerpt from The Wind Weeps.

Excerpt:

I held the nozzle at the distance he had shown me and began to wash the far side of the hull. Sticky, stinky copper spray flew everywhere. As I glanced down and saw the condition of the coveralls, I realized what Monique had been talking about when she’d told me I’d have to throw away my clothes after doing this job. I concentrated on the planks and cleaned them one by one. I felt all-powerful. Barnacles, mussels, and green slime—gone with one pass of my magic wand.

A long lump was sticking out between two of the planks and I held the nozzle a little closer to get it out. Just a quick zap. Didn’t want to put a hole in the wood. The lump was a bit stubborn so I gave it another quick zap. And another, and another. At last it was starting to come off. God! It was a long one. Must be one of those teredos Jim was talking about. Well, he’d be glad I found it and got it out of there. I blasted it the whole length of the plank until a long piece of it plopped onto the ground. I laid down the wand.

“Jim! Come see this. Get a load of this teredo I found.” Since I had gloves on I didn’t mind picking it up to show him. When he came around to my side, I held it up and he looked shocked, just like I figured he would.

He turned pale and stammered. “Wh-where’d you get that?”

“Right here.” I pointed to the space between two planks.

“Jesus Christ!” he yelled. “Didn’t I tell you not to get that nozzle in there so close?”

“B-b-but I had to get it out of there.” A stab of fear went through me.

“God dammit! You are the stupidest broad I’ve ever met!”

“I don’t understand.” I could feel tears welling up. I blinked hard so they wouldn’t spill, but it was useless.

“This is the caulking between the planks. It stops the water from getting in. Oh, Jeezus!” He threw down his wrench and stomped off in the direction of the shop.

I sat down on the retaining wall and stared at my boots. No, not my boots—Jim’s. My chin quavered as I fought to hold back more tears. I clasped my hands together between my knees and wondered what to do next. Should I get out of these coveralls and go home? No. I wasn’t a quitter. I had really messed up, but I had to make it better or I’d never live it down.

*****

Don’t forget, the e-book of The Wind Weeps is free. Just click on the book cover image at the side of the page if you’re interested. The sequel, Reckoning Tide, is available on amazon.

But on with the haulouts. It gets much better and more modern now.

At some shipyards they have Travel Lifts that can lift a boat right out of the water and drive it over to a spot on the parking lot. How cool is that!?

newcastle liftout 2015 -1

newcastle liftout 2015

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You see how the bottom of the boat isn’t sitting on the blocks of wood anymore? That tells us that the boat is ready to be put back in the water. Also, the hull has been copper painted (to deter those teredos and barnacles and seaweed from latching on), and the hull above the waterline has been spot primed, ready for painting at the wharf in the days to come. Obviously, the sun hadn’t co-operated for the painting to be completed on the top part of the boat, and the time was spent on the very necessary jobs on the lower parts.

While the boat is “parked” in the lot and is being worked on, the Travel Lift does not stay wrapped around the boat. It has other boats to lift out and put back into the water in the meantime.

Soon the fishboat is all tiddled up and ready to go fishing for the summer. The trip up the coast is absolutely beautiful. (This is also a part of The Wind Weeps.)

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Photo by Ken Johnston

Smile! I think the skipper is taking a picture of you!

Soon the lazy trip north is over and the hard work begins. You can see that he’s into fish because those seagulls only follow if there are fish guts being tossed overboard.

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And then, there’s the competition!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Photo by Ken Johnston

More Books Under the Tree

Today I invite you to come for a quick sidetrip to the Baja Peninsula, a state of Mexico, just south of California. We are going along with Shiree, a large woman who likes to throw her weight around, as she heads for the airport in Loreto. She has just nudged her ex-husband, Kevin, off the cliff with her car and is trying to make her escape.

This is where it happened!

armenta (1)

Warning: Shiree is a rough character and uses rough language. I apologize on her behalf for what you are about to read.

Excerpt: 

I was shaking so much I could barely manage to keep the car on the road. I only hoped that turning left at the highway was taking me south, back to Loreto.

“Dumbass Kevin! Such a stupid jerk. What did he have to go and fall off the goddamn cliff for? I mean all he had to do was say ‘Okay, I’ll share the money.’ Greedy bastard.”

I hoped he wasn’t dead. He was a nice enough guy, and I didn’t really want the kids to be without a father—for some reason they still cared about him. But still, why should I care about him anymore? He’d obviously moved on. That skinny stray he was with … God! You’d think he could pick a girl who wasn’t so undernourished. Scrawny bitch. What rock did he turn over to find her? But what did I care anyway? The bimbo was working on him at the bottom of the cliff, so maybe he wasn’t dead.

“Aw, who the hell cares? If he’s dead, I should get all the money. For sure I’ll check it out.”

I had to tighten my grip on the steering wheel. The roads down here were so goddamn twisted. You hardly got around a corner going one way and it started to turn the other way. Couldn’t they bloody well make up their minds when they were building the damn road?

“Oh, shit!” I slammed on the brakes. “What the hell are those? Goats? Goats, crossing the goddamn highway? Jesus, what a place.” They took their sweet time prancing across the road. A few of them decided it was easier to walk along the highway in my lane rather than keep crossing. I leaned on the horn and gave them a nudge with the car bumper. They scrambled down into the ditch.

“About bloody time,” I yelled out the window.

“Krikey! I’m losin’ it. Talking to a goat.” I groped for my purse and dug around in it for my ticket. I nearly went off the stupid winding road trying to read the departure time.

“Aw, crap! Might as well slow down. I’ve missed today’s flight out of here. I’ll have to stay at a hotel in Loreto and catch tomorrow’s flight home.”

*****

Next morning I parked the car and dropped off the keys at the counter. The rental people were nowhere in sight. Just as well. They wouldn’t see the damaged front end till I was gone.

Over at the airlines counter, I dug out my ticket and pushed my way to the front of the line to check in.

“My ticket’s an open return. I want to be on today’s flight.” I showed her my passport. “See? All in order.”

Momento, Señora,” the airline employee said. She picked up the phone and talked in Spanish so fast I doubted the person on the other end of the line could understand her. “Please come this way,” she said. She held up her hand to the next customer in line, telling them to wait. I smirked at them over my shoulder.

She took me to a side room. “Sit down please,” she said. “One moment.” Then she left, and I thought I heard the lock click on the door. I checked it and sure enough it was locked.

“What the hell?” I banged on the door. “You didn’t have to lock it,” I yelled.

It took a little longer than I expected, but at last the door opened. A police escort onto the plane? But a niggling thought wormed its way into my brain. Maybe I wasn’t going to get out of here so easily.

“I have a ticket,” I said. The two uniformed men ignored me. Maybe they didn’t speak English. I waved my ticket in front of their faces. “Ticket? See? I have ticket.”

“Señora. You must come with us. Please turn.” Next thing I knew I had cuffs on.

The nerve of them treating me like that. My throat felt dry and I swallowed hard.

“Hey! What the hell do you think you’re doing? I’m a guest here. I have a ticket to go home.” One was already propelling me out the door. The other grabbed my purse from beside the chair. Passengers standing in line turned to gawk at me. I stuck my nose in the air and looked away as I marched past.

Outside the air-conditioned terminal, the midday heat walloped me extra hard. I felt perspiration beading on my forehead. Things were not going according to plan. It couldn’t be about Kevin. Nobody could say I did anything to him. The stupid oaf just fell off the cliff.

The guy who had me by the arm opened the back door of the police car.

I jerked my arm away. “What do you think you’re doing?” I yelled. “I’m not getting in there.” He grabbed my arm again and pulled but I braced myself. Next thing I knew, I had a pain in my ribs and I went flying headlong into the back seat. “Police brutality!” I screeched. Surely there’s someone around who can do something.

The goons drove off. Yelling hadn’t worked, so I changed my tactic and tried to talk nice to them, but they just shook their heads and laughed as they talked to each other.

My body was drenched in sweat and my stomach burned.

***

Orion's GiftOrion’s Gift is available as a paperback or Kindle at all amazon outlets and as an e-book in all formats at smashwords.com.

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