It is strange to think how routine my life can be at times, for all the extremes I go to. Yet this year is different, and I begin the year not visiting my relatives, but in the middle of a big job that isn't done yet. I was lucky that the worst of it was over, I had the boat raised and the horrible job of mucking out the muck and scraping every inch of encrustation inside and out was done, and I didn't have to keep jumping into the cold, murky water every day. last year's tour journal ended with New Year's Day, when Rob came by and we took a sail down the North Fork of the St. Lucie in his boat, finally anchoring up by my boats to enjoy a incredible sunset and enjoy an couple hours of evening with talk and a few songs on the guitar. The next morning we were both up at dawn to get back to it.
I was able to leave the Hurley for a bit at last. She was cleaned and anchored and floating secure. I cleaned and packed up all the gear I'd used in raising the Hurley.Now I had time to do a rebuild on my rowboat, the dory "Percheron". I was amazed and sincerely grateful that she had held together for this tough job. What a boat. I'd built her so many years ago, one of my first. And while others I'd built had been lost or stolen, she had survived. Though I was pretty careful stepping into it as the bottom was getting soft.. just plywood and 15 years in the water. It had been stolen and lost and found after months sunk in the mangroves. When I had come back to Florida to do the boatyard trip, my newer dory, "Pony" had been stolen, so I'd wrapped new gunnels on the Percheron, the old ones had been eaten up by torredo worms as she had eneded up jammed upside-down in the mangroves, and used her again. After the hurricanes she was still there, lashed to the deck of Dueodde (the steel boat) and I pitched her into the water and got to work raising the Hurley. And she did the job, back and forth, lifting chain and anchor, ferrying barrels and gear, day and night. Now I was at at point I could stop long enough to do a serious repair job on her.
I also decided I should go up to north Florida and visit my Dad and his family at the same time, calling and saying I could visit if I could do the rebuild on the Percheron in their driveway while I was there. This was fine with them, so I loaded the gear and went. I usually visit there on my way down from Virginia about mid January, but I had to head straight down and get to work this year, though in another way, this was really just getting back on schedule.
I headed up and spent a week visiting and rebuilding the Percheron. I sanded her down and dried her out, then fiberglassed the entire bottom for the first time, repaired some damage to the bows, and put a couple coats of white epoxy paint over the topsides and bottom, then a couple coats of black bottom paint. She looked like a new boat again, though she'll always have some odd lines. I'd built her on the beach of an island out of salvaged marine plywood and driftwood. Though her top lines were beautiful sweeping curves of a true dory, her bottom had a few odd curves in it from being built on a less than level surface.
But I couldn't stay, still so much to do, and as soon as the paint was dry I was headed back south to get back to work. Though the first job was really completeing the rebuild on Percheron. This meant flipping her upright now that the epoxy had cured and the paint was hard and doing the same to the inside, which had never had as thing done to it, just left it bare wood. After so many years exposed to the elements, the sun had turned the surface layer of plywood to something like fluffy paper. In a few places worms had managed to make a few inroads, though the epoxy in the marine plywood had mostly kept them at bay. I gave it a mild sanding and scraping up the last of my epoxy I patched and glasses the seams, re-enforced the transom, and managed to get two thin coats out of the last of the epoxy paint. Now she really looked like a new boat!
Now "stage two" began in earnest. I had to get the Hurley out of the water and onto the trailer. I had thought about finding a boatyard with a lift, having them block up the boat right on the trailer, then welding a cradle up right as she sat. But a few enquires showed the old problem, first, most yards won't let you work on your boats. And all the yards were full of boats anyway of course, it really was not that long after the hurricanes. In the end, I really just decided that I didn't have any money to spend on boatyard bills, I'd gotten this far without any help, and I figured I could finish it myself.
I'd had time to think while I worked on the Percheron, and I had a plan. I'd been gathering planks out of the mangroves to deck the trailer with. I had another bit of luck thanks to Rob. Jeff was cleaning out the old building on the farm and had a bunch of old steel to get rid of, and offered me any I wanted to haul away. The next day it poured rain so I headed down to the farm and loaded up some serious steel beams. Though I could have gotten beams from the scap-yard, this just seemed a sure sign to my way of thinking, where the forces of coincidence are aligned with the direction you should go, t'ings are Right, mun.
This was the plan. I had no idea what the shape of the hull was exactly under the water. But I knew how the hull and deck was shaped above the water, I could measure it and draw up plans to fit. I drew up a plan to place four uprights on the trailer tall enough to almost reach the decks. From the tops of these I could extend adjustable braces to lock the hull in place from the top. I still had no idea how the boat would balance on the trailer, just had to make an educated guess from experience, and leave myself ways to adjust. I planned to use the uprights just like a lift at the boatyard, running slings from post to post under the boat. With my heavy come-along on a sling I could lift the boat and then hook a chain to hold it, suspended in the sling, moving the come-along back and forth as needed to adjust the slings. In a final wrinkle, I also wanted the work I was doing to be useful after the boat job was done, after all this trailer was really meant to haul cargo to Alaska, then haul logs and lumber and materials to build with. So I designed the uprights aligned and spaced exactly to hold plywood sheets for the sides and top of a trailer, or as uprights to hold logs or lumber like a logging truck. I drew up my plans and got started.
I had to clear off the trailer as well, no room for the sea-kayak, Horse, or the rowboat at night. So I shuffled things around to get the kayak on the roof. I rigged a mooring about waist deep off-shore. I wrapped a chain around a piling of the dock and hammered over bolts to clip it solidly together, then buried the whole thing in the sand leading out to an anchor and a bobber on a short chain. All this went to a padlock uo on the bow of Percheron. I can leave her in the water at night, safe from waves and meddlers. And she does loads of work now as I take loads of stuff out to Dueodde to leave out there, sails and
Of course, everything wasn't perfect. It always seems that I do best with people, and with the odd coincidences, and the sort of underground network of regular people.Like getting the steel from Jeff, or driving down the street and pulling over at a yard sale, and finding a new hitch for the van that was just what I needed. A lot of people, both the old local "crackers" and well-off folks who visited the park to walk or run their dogs, treated me with respect and even admiration for what I was doing, and accepted that I was certainly out of the mainstream, but still a good person, and a good citizen. But I do have troubles with American society as a whole, with the corporate machine and the cops and authorities and people who feel they are better than others and "concerned citizens" have to "do something" to harrass other citizens who are breaking no laws and just trying to live their lives, honestly and respectful of others, just minding their own business and excersing their rights to liberty and freedom. Unfortunately justice isn't equal, not in America, so rich can call the cops to hassle poor folks, and poor folks can call the cops and get nothing. Me, I've been hassled a lot, though I have been a exemplairy citizen. But I have also been an American gypsy, living on the road, and a sailor, living aboard, and a street performer,out on the street among the people, and a hippie, outside the status quo, speaking out for peace, love, freedom and justice, and as just a poor man, unable to fight back with lawyers and money. As such, I have been harrassed and hassled and threatened all my life by the cops and by "concerned citizens" who find my simple law-abiding existance an affront and believe that "something must be done" and call the cops. As one cop told me, in all seriousness and with maybe some sympathy, when I complained that I wasn't breaking any laws, "you know, if we want to, we can always find something" or plant something, because there are ways, so many ways, if you are stupid or naive enough to expect to have freedom and liberty in America, that they can hassle you at least, and nail you to the wall if they chose.
The end result is I spent days and days looking for a place I could work on the trailer and feel safe from being hassled. I didn't want to work in the park, though I probably could have.. they'd had cranes in their pulling boats and cut them up with saws-alls after the hurricane. I was barely noticable doing my work compared to them. But I personally didn't want to work there out of consideration for the other users of the park, both the noise of the generator or the actual danger the welding arc poses to unprotected eyes (it is bright as the sun). So I spent days searching for a place to work, slowly working out into the farmland fringe, trying to find a place I wouldn't get hassled. I ended up at a place Rob suggested, coincidentally enough, right beside the canal I'd taken the boats through across Florida. Irrigation pumps and a crane salvaging a sumken hull made my little noise seem inconsequential, and I was under the highway bridge, out of sight, with no one living anywhere around there.
I also got ripped off by Pep Boys, who sold me a "20 amp generator" that only put out 10 amps and wouldn't run my welder or compressor. Then they wouldn't take it back, even for credit to buy a real 20 amp generator. So I went and found a real 20 amp generator for the same price at Home Depot. I still bought a more expensive one from them, since they were honest, and I was willing to pay a bit more for the extra features I got. Just like people I guess, there are corporate chains who try to decieve you and rip you off, like Pep Boys, and those who don't, like Home Depot. Live and learn.
The welding itself took several days, simply because the little welder I worked pretty slow, a 10% duty cycle meant it had to cool down 9 minutes for every minute of welding. But I am so glad it worked at all. I originally got it for working on the thin metal of the deck and cabin of Dueodde, not these heavy steel girders I was using for uprights. I fashioned brckets for 4x4s at the top of the uprights, so they could slide in and clamp the hull in position. crossbraces and finally an adjustable barce forward for the forefoot of the boat to rest on and keep the boat from sliding forward. Every night I went back to the park to make dinner and sit out on the end of the dock and play the guitar and sing a bit before I went to bed. Then there was nothing left to do but do it. There was no way to test it except by trying. I spent a day getting everything ready and went for it.
Once again, I ended up somehow doing things the extraordinary way, I don't know why this happens to me, it just does. Or maybe its because I am not afraid to do it extraordinarily, if the ordinary way doesn't work. Maybe its because my life has always been so extraordinary so often, those routine extremes, that it just seems normal to me, its only extraordinary to other folks. To get to the point, well, I did go borrow a little outboard from Rob so I could just motor the Hurley the few miles upriver to the boat ramp beyond the bridge. But in the morning as I got the anchors bobbered and cast off, it started for a minute, and died. Then it wouldn't start again. I pulled and pulled, but these little outboards are finicky, I had one once before it was stolen, and once you get to know them, they'll work for you, most of the time. I tell people that I have a rowboat because oars work whenever you want to make them work. I knew the tide was with me if I left right then, and the wind was light but in my favor, so
I got back in the rowboat, fixed a towline, and rowed away out into the channel. The Hurley is a fine, easy moving boat, no problem to tow, and I moved along easy and steady and a ok speed. Well, maybe I shouldn't call it speed, but it was a beautiful day, though I got seriously waked by several boats (none of which offered to give me a tow, of course). As I neared the bridge, the wind had freshened so much that I was hard put to keep ahead of the Hurley. I was actually steering it, not pulling it, as it wanted to turn broadside and sail across the wind and I struggled to keep the bows pointed up-river. I finally made the difficult pull through the narrows under the bridge, full of tricky cross-currents and in to the comparative calm behind the bridge. It must have been a sight as I calmly made my turn into the channel and steadily rowed up to the ramp. As always, the problem is I never have someone to take pictures! It must have been a sight from the bridge, from anywhere. Somehow, it just happens.
Oh yes, and the day has just begun. Now the tide is almost high, I am right on time. I tie off the Hurley in one of the ramps, then grab my bicycle out of the boat and race over to the park to grab the van and the trailer. I am back in a minute and have to unload everything off the trailer so I can back the trailer and van downthe ramp till the bumper hits the water and I'm almost blowing bubbles out the exhaust. I hook the comealong to the eyehook where the bowsprit's bobstay chain had been attatched and start cranking her on. The trailer is at such an angle that I have to keep rocking the boat so it tips back, and I rig ropes to keep her coming stright and so she can't slide back. The eyebolt took a tremendous beating when the boat was sunk and the bowsprit shattered. Sure enough, it finally snaps, but the ropes hold the boat steady, and she looks like she is on. I rig the clamps and wonder if the van will be able to haul it all up that steep ramp or if she'll spin and slide back into the drink. Silly me, the van is a beast. I give her the go ahead and she lifts the boat and trailer right up and out of the water like they aren't there. Again, no one to take pictures till its all over. What a moment, all the sudden effort and rush of the last hour, the final go for broke test of my plan, the culmination of all these weeks, months of effort, and I am there. Standing back to look at the Hurley, on the trailer, dripping water as she is lifted to dry land. What a moment.
But of course, it isn't over yet! Is it ever? Well, well ponder that question some other time, I have work to do! I load all the stuff I've piled onto the ramp back onto the trailer, including the 200 lb generator, and ease over into the parking lot. The Hurley looks funny, the mast still up and the whole boat is canted forward at the angle it hit the trailer at when it was level in the water and the trailer was on the ramp, but it is on, it is there, we are here. I get out plastic sheeting that I'd brought for this job and begin scraping off all the accumulated growth from below the waterline, a heavy incrustation of barnacles and water weed that is going to start to rot and stink and dry and stick harder than it is already. I forget how long I was at it..eventually I stopped, openned up the kitchen on the side of the van and made dinner. I was right by a major road, in the middle of a brightly lit parking lot by the boatramps and the soccer fields but I was elated, I'd done it. By this time I figured all the cops had to know who I was and what I was doing. I never tried to hide. And I wasn't going anywhere till I got the boat straightened up and the mast down, anyway. Sometime after dark, I locked up, took the bicycle back to the park and picked up Sienna, who'd spent the day in the cool of the brush as she usually does. She's ridden in the bicycle before, so it wasn't a big deal to load her up and head back to the boat ramps. At some point, about midnight, I called it a day. I ate dinner and crawled in the back of the van to sleep. Tired as I was I still lay there for a while, just awash in all the feelings of amazement and gratitude, wonder and satisfaction, exhaustion and relief. I had done it.
Well.. I'd almost done it. In the morning I get up and make breakfast and keep scaping. The authorities show up, Fish and Game (who haven't I talked to yet?) just makin' sure you know that its really my boat. I just give him my id and "hope you don't mind if I keep working" and "yes, I 've laid down plastic and all the stuff I'm scraping off will end up in the dumpster", everything is ok, ok? I am oddly enough, a responsible together person who just raised his boat and dragged it out of the water onto this trailer I welded up, happens every day, you know. The fact is, I would probablt have shaved an easy week off this entire job if I didn't attract so much attention, and I don't mind talking to folks abut it, satisfying their curiosity. Sometimes I get glimpses of what it must be like to be living a relatively normal life and stumble on someone like me living way outside the bell-curve, though it seems to me many many people have been involved in at least some extraordinary experiences in their lives. Especially the older folks, the world was a bit wilder place 60 years ago.
Anyway. I got it scaped off. What a job. Then I got out the come-along and prepared the slings, and it worked. I lifted the boat, straightened it up and swung it forward, slow, steady and sure. I adjusted the 4x4 clamps and their plywood and carpet pads against the hull, trimmed them off, and tightened down the bolts. I ran a line off the roof of the van, loosened the shrouds on the mast and lowered it down into my arms, set it down and slid it forward. Just about sunset of the second day in the parking lot, I had it all tied down and took off for the park, back to my spot outside the gate. Of course, it still isn't over (is it ever?). Percheron the rowboat and Sienna, my cat, are still back at the boat ramps. I ride back over, toss the bike and the kitty into Percheron and cast off. We have a pleasant row across the still calm water in the middle of the night, back to the park again. I drop off Sienna on the dock and anchor Percheron a bit off-shore, then we walk back to the van and boat together.
Now we are really almost done. I have a few adjustments to do, like adjusting the plywood-carpet pads to a perfect angle on the ends of the 4x4s. I spend another day securing everything aboard the Hurley and the trailer. I've decided to take up Jeff's offer to leave the Hurley at his place for up to a couple years while he's off sailing. I have done enough for one year, and realistically, it is late Spring now and I still have other things to do before I head north. But it is good drive so I want to be sure everything is secure. I rig chains and blocks and ropes to secure the boat, and I'm ready to go the next morning.
As I was getting ready to leave the park, a passer-by at the park commented that he was an engineer, and that what I'd done was an impressive bit of engineering. It was a nice compliment, but made me think how engineering was really just common sense practicality, a practical nescessity, as people had to build bridges and houses long before "engineering" was a term people used. You just knew your materials, knew the forces at work, and built something that would work. Well.. some did, and some didn't. I guess those who did could be called "engineers", and people understood that it took both a natural talent, and knowledge and skill to be a shipwrite, or a builder of houses, bards, bridges, or mills, or any of the many practical feats of engineering that people had to accomplish though practical nescessity.
Actually, I wasn't done with the boats yet. There was still Dueodde to think about. I had menat to work on her this year, but things don't always work out the way you plan. Then there was all the various loose ends hanging about. Like I had gone through the channels and snet a letter thorugh the DMV to whoever owned the boat that sank mine. They don't tell you who, just forward the letter. I get a really pathetic e-mail back saying how its not their fault, it was the storm of the century (which it wasn't, it wasn't even the storm of the year.. that was over on the west coast), how he has no money (the winches on his boat are worth more than the Hurley) and a few more predictable denials. I didn't even bother writing back. I did go down to small claims to file to find out about taking them to court. All in all, though I won't be able to get near what they cost me all told, and the state takes 10% of that, there is no time limit. My biggest fear was that the court proceeding would be impossible for me because I couldn't stay in town much longer at this point, and certainly couldn't fly down from Alaska or even Virginia. It still troubles me, because though I know the guy is at fault.. no matter what, he made the choice to not secure his boat after the first hurricane, before it sank my boat in the second. That is just negligence. But I do not trust the legal system. And it will cost a lot of money to file a claim, the 10% is wether you win or lose, up front. And I generally feel even more angry that I have to drag him to court. The fact is, if he'd been willing to accept responsibility, offered to do what he could to help me or make it good, I could have just let him walk. But to deny responsibility.. I feel like I have to take him down because he represents this whole attitude of responsibility, and even morte, he is a danger to everyone and should have his boat taken away at the very least, and maybe be taught that irresponsibility and negligence has consequences. In fact, all I really want is for him to admit he did wrong, even if I have to force it out of him. I hate just letting him wash his hands and walk away from what he did to me and my boat, but in the end, I'll probably have no choice. I have to deal with the realitt of my life, which means dealing with my responsibilities, unlike him, and trying to survive, and pay for what I have to do, and all of that means I don't have time or money to wait around here in Stuart to see through a court case.
It never ends. The day after I get back from dropping off the Hurley, another derelict boat that has been hanging just in front of Dueodde since the Hurricane finally slips back far enough to start hitting me. I race out in the rowbaot to seperate them. It is almost funny that Deodde got through the two hurricanes without a mark on the hull below the rails, the part of the boat I did in the yard the year before. But this derelict's boat (it isn't the boat's fault) that has been hanging out here, stuff hanging over the sides, unvisited in the months now since the hurricane while the owner is off (I quote) drinking up his FEMA money, bangs a chunk of paint off the bows before I can get out there. It can't get down to the steel.. the underlying coal-tar epoxy is too hard, but it takes off a chnk of white overcoat. Anyway, I go into gear (once again) geting out one of my anchors and rode (anchor line), then bobbering his anchors (his anchor lines are worse than a joke) and towing his boat across the cove to anchor it temporarily with my anchor while I go and raise one of his. No easy task, believe me. Using the come along hooked to Dueodde, diving down to dig it out of the muck, I finally get one loose. I take it over and hook it up, then get my anchor back. I leave a bobber on his other anchor, so I can show him where it is if he shows up before I leave. What a day. I drag myself in at last in the afternoon to drink some coffee and eat breakfast.
I can't say I am happy with people just then. It feels like I am spending my life dealing with the irresponsibility and dereliction, if not outright dishonesty, of other people. I can't get ahead against the overbearing weight of all the stupid idiots and evil jerks. It isn't really so hard to do what is right, usually. But people don't even try. Not to mention that I am out doing it on my own, while I know for ever person thet deserves they help they get from FEMA, there's another one, or two, or three that are scamming or profiteering off the disaster. Not to mention that fact that so much of it is avoidable. Imean, someone buys a boat, for $50,000 or $5,000, then won't spend $500 on a big enogh anchor and chain to hold it through really anything. I don't know what people down here can be thinking. For me, Hurricanes are a fact of life on the sea, not a disaster, unless you let them. In fact, compared to a lot of natural forces, hurricanes are much more survivable than say earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. Hurricanes, and all the faces of nature, are real and awesome forces. But you can be ready, you can prepare, and you can chose to stay out of their way. Its hard for me to call something so predictable and regular a disaster.. that people don't prepare, or set themselves up to be knocked down, or live in denial that the forces of nature are real, or decieve and lull others into ignorance and denial for their personal profi, that's the disaster. It's like calling it a disaster when someone burns down their own house. We have such hubris when it comes to nature, or such ignorance, though history is so clear.. most people seem doomed to repeat it. The whole Florida scene is some sort of unreal state of denial. Its all started with developers who bought off congress to provide federal insurance for areas that should never have been built on in the first place. A lot like nuclear power. Or building in flood plains. Should the government, ie the taxpayers, provide insurance so people can build houses inside the craters of active volcanoes? And these hurricanes are just this year's, they will keep coming and if you look at the maps of the historic tracks, lots of places in Florida and along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts are right on track to get smacked, sooner or later, this year or the year after, or whenever. Probably smacked hard, over and over, year after year. And they aren't even thinking about it, much less preparing for it. And people will die. That's the worst of it, though it is preventable or avoidable, and really man-made, it is still a disaster. It is not a matter of if, just when, and then, when again, over and over. That is nature. And with global warming, hurricanes and other weather related events most likely will just get more intense. Personally, well, I am ready. I got myself a steel boat, and I rig it right with huge anchors and chain, and then I still leave for Alaska. The boat will survive things that might kill me.
The job is not quite done. I still have to recover my anchor and chain, still tangled up with the green boat's anchors and the sunken boat that they hung up on. I am divng every day in the cold and zero visibility, finding chains and slowly working a float along them as I dig them from the mud, foot by foot. In the process I find a couple more anchors, these belong to the wreck. When I finally get to the end, I find my anchor, wrapped in a ball with both his anchors on top. I can't even lift them, but manage to roll them onto the wreck where I can stand up and grab gulps of air, then reach back down and work the tangle loose. His anchors are a joke.. one is the same size as the one I use for my rowboat. The other is some experimental shovel blade type that isn't even open, but is still folded up in its storage mode. Truly an idiot. There's almost no legth to his chain or his rope... there is no swivel, and the chain has twistwed and twisted untill it has bunched up like a rubber band does on a toy plane. Anyone can buy a boat, but it doesn't make them a sailor. I disconnect the anchorts from the chains and ropes and get them ashore. The cahins are still jammed under the wreck. I do what I can for the greenboat.. it isn't it's fault that it's owner is a irresponsible idiot. I can't stand to see it constantly hung up on the wreck, grinding it's keel on top of it. Sometime's perched on it when the tide goes out. I've pulled it off so many times.. finally rigging an anchor to hold it off till I get his loose and can use his little toy. The other one.. well.. I hook it back to the chain and toss it in. I put a barrel on my chain and see what I can get.. it lifts once, then jams.. so I take a hacksaw down and cut it lose. I am done with the Hurley, on to Dueodde.
Does it ever end? Back in late October, I was told that if I don't get down and do something about my boat they are going to dredge it up and haul it to the dump, and send me the bill. In the end, the guy in charge is actually pretty cool, willing to work with me. This is all detailed in the first part of the story, back in the 2004 Tour Journal. The point is that here it is, the beginning of April, and no sign of any salvage work. The Hunter is still sitting in the middle of the cove with it's mast sticking up. People have been telling me I ought to salvage it too. I know salvage law though and it isn't that easy. In fact, they make it hard to get the title to a sunken boat. If you ever consider doing this, the best option is to buy a sunken boat from it's owner for little or nothing, relieve him of the liability really, then it is your boat and you raise it. And make sure it is a boat worth raising, only some are, like the Hurley. The Hunter is actually a good boat, the old man who owned it was a sailor so it was probably rigged right. At the same time it has been under for months, and is covered with encrustation as bad or worse than the Hurley, and a lot more square feet of it. One night at Rob's place we talk about it and I ask him just what would it be worth, he buys and sells boats, not me, what would he pay for it? He say's that raised, cleaned, and at the dock, $1500. There are a lot of boats on the market, especially after the Hurricane. In fact, the best deal is in the boatyards, 6 months after the Hurricane, where boats sit, needing work, more work than the owner's realized, and the yards or owners are trying to sell the boats just to get back yard fees. It isn't worth it, though mostly because I have a boat, Dueodde, the same size as the Hunter, and what I want, steel. If I didn't have Dueodde, or the Hunter was the next size bigger.. a 36' or 40' boat, and an even better boat than the Hunter, one of the really great boats made, like the Hurley, I might have gone for it. Give me enough barrels and I can raise anything, with just my simple tools. But I decided to let it go.
Still, the fact was the date on the sticker had come and gone long since. The owners had abandoned it, but as yet, the state had not come and hauled it away.. so it was up for grabs. I thought about it for many days as I worked, trying to see if there could be anything wrong, legally or morally, about taking things off the Hunter. I couldn't see any reason not to. I also hated to see all the waste, a good boat hauled off to the dump. Even now, I had heard that they were buring all these boats in the landfill, with the workers having to sign a contract not to salvage anything off them.. thousands of dollars of good gear, wasted to protect boat gear manufacturers, while people like me do without because we can't afford the prices they charge. It is a shame. It all came down to late one night, as I walked out to the docks and the tide was way, way out.. the dark of the moon, and closing the locks so the river wasn't flowing. I jumped in the rowboat and went out to look at the Hunter. Don't ask me why, but in the dark and cold I took of my clothes and hopped onto the bow, now barely in reach of my feet. Holding myself down with a grip on the pow pulpit, I somehow slowly seperated and untied the anchor lines from the bow cleats. Looking back, it is still one of those things I do that even I can't quite comprehend. But once I was started, I just got caught up in it, the struggle, the adversity, the success..till I did it. I got each line loose, followed it out to the anchor's chain, and put a bobber on it. I bobbered two anchors, and headed for shore and sleep. I do some pretty crazy things sometimes, but it felt good. Those anchors at least wouldn't be wasted, even if they came and hauled the Hunter away.
The next day I went back to working on the other anchors and chains, but there came a day when I had the barrels and the compressor and battery in the rowboat, pulling my chain off the wreck. I finally cut it loose, but there was still time left in the day, so I headed for those bobbered anchors. I was cold from cutting the chain off the wreck, but I dived down deep and rigged the barrel to the anchor chain where it dissappeared into the mud. I came up and hit the air, and waited. A full barrel generates about 500 pounds of lift, and it took the whole barrel before the anchor finally dragged loose. I was right, though, he was a sailor, and they were good anchors. In fact, the first was one type of anchor I'd wanted but never had, a big Bruce. The other was a serious Danforth, and both had good heavy chain. The Hunter didn't move through the two hurricanes either, it had two good anchors with lots of chain and rode, it sank from being abandoned when the owner died, and their was no one to keep the batteries up and the bidge pump running, maybe the hatches were left open. A sad end for a good boat.
So I decided to take the mast off the Hunter. Dueodde's mast had been lashed to the deck during the hurricanes, but somehow whatever boat or boats bent the rails in smashed one of the spreaders right through the mast, so it now had a big hole half way up. The Hunter's mast was still in good shape and should fit on Dueodde, or I could make it fit. So I went for it, removing and cleaning the boom first, then removing all the stays and upper shrouds, then the lower shrouds and unbolting it from the deck till it hung there from the last shroud. I loosened it and it feel like a tree. I'd run a float up the main halyard, so the end of the mast couldn't sink. That gave me time to put a barrel on each end, then haul it slowly over to Dueodde and just as slowly lift it up on deck. The roller furling was destroyed, someone had tied their boat off too it and bent the aluminum tube that froms the core, but otherwise it looked good. The whole time I was wondering if they'd show up to haul the boat away before I was done. Now I wonder if the boat will still be there when I get a year later, a permanent wreck. I put a bunch of floats on it to mark the bow and midships, though at low tide the tops of the lifelines just showed, and some pole on the transom was always above water.
Now I really was at the end of the job.
Back on Dueodde, I chip the decks one more time, a depressing chore. I originally stripped them in hmm 1996, when I first rebuilt the boat.. then the shit hit the fan, year after year, and they were never finished. One disaster after another..and the guy who screwed me up and had me remove the tarps so he could live there and never did so they got covered in caked inches of birdshit. The result is the decks, though structurally strong, are rotting through in a dozen places. But I can't fix them now, once again. I hammer for a day and chip the rust and loose paint away, epoxy the holes, and paint the whole thing again. Try to make it last another year. I leave it white and shining again. Between coats of paint I visit Rob. One extra low tide I go down to check out a wreck, not much but the hull left of a big houseboat. The water is so low I am able to root around in it and come up with a fine yahtsman anchor! The only anchor I am missing in my collection, so it is a great score. I make some new solid plywood hatches and a door for the companionway from pieces I salvaged off the beach. When the painting is done and dry, I bolt them down solid, bolting the companionway from inside, then crawling out through a cockpit hatch before I bolt it down. The next day, I paddle out in the rowboat, because the oars are already stashed below decks. I haul Percheron up onto Dueodde and lash it down in the cockpit. I take one last look around, and put my rubber poohbear and the small fighting conch shell just behind the doghouse where I always leave them on watch. I climb off the stern and swim back to shore, holding the short paddle. I am really done.
I look back and think "what is missing from this story?" Well, the music for one. The songs I wrote, for even as I worked, my mind was free. At many nights I sat out on the end of the dock, or by the van as dinner cooked, playing the guitar and singing. Occassionally I got the dulcimer out and played for people in the park, from passing tourists to the highschoolers who came by regularly. I even went into Stuart a couple times and tried playing, but it didn't really work. Tpp small a place for a street scene, and people just didn't know what to think. They had an art fair, one of the corporate productions that have infiltrated the art & craft fair circuit. They spotted me right offf and told me not to even try playing. I was a step ahead of them.. I knew their operation and had just been telling the booth person I'd been talking to what their scam was.. getting musicians to pay for booth space to perform and sell CDs. Something I won't do. I strolled around, moving through it all in a detached way.. a fair without any spirit or community, no heart or soul, just this guy's little scam, well, a big scam.. he does these things all over the place. I wandered down the street I found a cool shop at the edge who was fighting back by setting up its own local band in front, trying to draw some of the crowd over. Later I came back and jammed with some of them and played for their friends there on the porch in front of the shop, have a glass of wine, sing some songs. Again, the strange world I live in. After the dead fair, suddenly I somehow become the spark for this cool, spontaineous scene full of life and energy, out on the street. Its a warm tropical night, playing and singing with some people just being people, no matter where we all come from, and its a good time.
Yes, and all the people. The whole time I was doing all these things, raising the Hurley and all that went with it, I was somehow being something special for so many people. All the world is a stage, and I show up and somehow take this role, like I seem to all through my life, a role I still am not sure I understand. How can I come to be so important to people, to be the life of a party or the life of a park. Is it because I am different, that quantity, that quality, outside the staus quo. I am something out of another world, something extraordinary, an individual doing it my own way, not asking for anything, and doing what is right, not making a big deal of it, not blowing a bunch of hype or ego, just quietly going about my odd business, not interested in all the shallow flash and illusion that so dominated the status quo. I somehow seem to impact people somehow, wether they stop by once and talk, or come by regularly to watch the progress, watch the story unfold. And yes, I play the part, as I talk to people, as I always have.. it's a strange role.. or maybe it is that I just that I am what I am..this character I play on the stage of the world, this person I have become over these many years living this odd role. How I speak directly to people, without the games and pretense, without defensiveness or offensiveness, with honesty and sincerity, trying to stimulate conciousness, intellectual, spiritual, or emotional, and lead thoughts or conversation from the shallow to the deep. It is, in fact, the greatest question in my life, trying to understand what it is I am, and even more, what I should be doing with it. Even I know that despite the fact that I did something great raising the Hurley. I did what was right, something extraordinary, something I can be proud of, feel good about. Still, it was really a distraction from things I could do that would better use my abilities. It was unnescessary, a waste of my time by the irresponsible person, who really just represents a whole irresponsible culture, that sunk my boat and cost me so much time and trouble for no good reason, just their ignorance and negligence. So that's the strange end, that after all the satisfaction of a job well done, I return to the greater picture and reality which is far from satisfying, that thew more important things I need to do concerning the music and the dulcimer lanquish undone. And undone still, as a critical time was lost, momentum was lost, and years are lost between producing something again. Even as I struggle to get back to these projects, I have to take even another step back and wonder if the dulcimer and the music is just another level and layer of distraction from things I might be doing that are even more important.
I leave Florida in mid-April, back on my normal schedule, back to the routine. So I'll try and make it a bit briefer. I get tired of telling the story over and over, when the story is really in the details that make even my routine different every year. I live a routine that is almost always unique. It is the nature of what I do. Every time I play the fair it is full of new scenes, that's what makes it worthwhile. Though it seems sometimes I am going through the same scenes, many times, with different people playing the parts. The little kids dancing, the young girl who stands and shines at me, teasing or tempting or just caught up in the magic, the romantic dream we seem to be hovering at the edge of. Though she never stays, and the crowd finally goes home, and the fair ends, or the night on the street gets late, and I head back to the van and on to wherever it is I am going next on the road I'm on. Oh yes! This road I'm on...
I leave Palm City and head north to my Dad's in Gainesville, Florida. I'm right on schedule for the annual canoe camping trip on an island just noth of Cape Canaveral, a beautiful wild place called Mosquito Lagoon. I have just enough time to do some repairs to the kayak, my new "Horse", enough to try and use it on the trip. I launch the kayak for the first time, it is so familiar, even for Sienna, who gets right into it. She lived on it with me and Keena for many a winter when we lived in the far western islands of the Florida keys, on beyond "key west". It was a great trip. A few parents and a bunch of kids, fishing and kayaking, catching a bunch of shrimp by moonlight for the final feast. At night I play guitar and sing around the campfire late into the night, playing everyone's requests.
This year I have a special adventure all my own. I looked at the charts and I believed that there had to be a place I could land on the barrier island and walk over it to the Atlantic. I saw a narrow spot, right at the end of the access road there. From what I knoew of people, there had to be at least trail leading from the end of the road to the water. I tried several times over the weekend, the first time I made a wide loop around through the bay, wishing I had my sails ready to fly. Then I cut back trying to find a pass through the maze of islands, shallow banks, and channels. There is nothing that small on my charts. I find it, though, as I've done a lot of this. Following my sense of how water flows, feeling the pitch of the land, how the water and tide have to lead off somehow, and I find a narrow snake-like pass, cutting through the biggest island, then I work a way out through the shallows and island almost in a direct line to camp. I try it again the next evening, but am driven to race back as a huge storm rolls out of the west. The final afternoon I make a last try and I make it. I am right, and there is even a road down to the water. I anchor the kayak a a beach of stones in a rising wind and walk across to the Ocean. I stand there for a while, watching the big rollers break, listening to the hiss and roar. The sand stretches away into hazy distance north and south. I am alone. The sun is getting low, and they are making the final seafood feast back at camp, so I turn away and head out. The sun sets red over my bows, and I find the narrow pass without problem even in the dark. I am good at this. I have that in me that likes to explore, and I am good at finding a way, and then remembering it again. Some attention to detail, and some strange sense of place and direction which tells me where I am at and where other things are, like a passenger pigeon I guess. I spent years wandering around in hourse, my old folbot kayak exactly like this one. It is all so familiar, I am revelling in the whole trip, I only wish I had my sails ready! Well, I will next time, and maybe leads a whole group through to see the Ocean, amke a great trip for the kids, for everyone really, a real adventure. Everyone hallos when I show up, the first round of plates is just being filled, and it is great! One of the guys is an exellent cook and does the feast every time by popular demand. Its an amazing fresh seafood gumbo, and I am one happy camper, the suond of the ocean still in me, my body a feeling both a little sore and a little strong from a long paddle, eating a great feast by the campfire. Afterwards I play guitar and sing a few songs for a pretty tired crew. In the morning, I pack up early before Sienna can head into the bushes for the day, like last year. I take her back and settle her in the van with my gear, then head back to the island in the empty Kayak. We are going out to breakfast at a restaurant on the water maybe a mile from the island, so I paddle over while other folks take the motorboat and canoes to the dock and walk. I can hear them on the road and keep pace, arriving just as they do. Afterwards, Dad askes for a ride, so we both take the kayak back to the island, and I help him and the others pack up before I head across and put the kayak on the roof.
Next on the aganda is visiting some old friends I haven't seen in probably 30 years. The internet is a wild thing, seems lately people from my high school days have been searching me out and writing me. These folks happened to live not that far from my Dad, so I arranged to stop and visit on the way back from the camping trip. They are having a small family reunion the same week, so it all works out good. It turns out fine. They are way out in the country, which I like. I hang out and talk, getting reaquainted, meeting folks, helping do some work sround the place, cleaning up brush and junk. After dinner, I play the dulcimer for them all for a couple hours. It is good. Again, it is all so familiar.
In the morning, I head for my Dad's place, and spend a few days there setting up their computers on a home wireless network and a cable modem before I go, resurrecting an old computer so both the kids have their own PC workstation. We look at the videos of me raising the Hurley and they get an idea of what I've been up to. As I look at it, even I am impressed. I sometimes just have a hard time grasping what I am doing till I look back at it in the video and just find it hard to believe I really did all that.
But I am on schedule again, so I bid farewells and head for Virginia, pulling in May 1st
Back in Virginia I am still playing catch up. So many things that slid while I was taking care of ma. I try to make progress, sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. What really happens is that I work constantly, all day every day, from a list a page or two long of things to do.. many of them just the next step in some ongoing project. So I constantly make progress, but on such a wide range of things that some barely move, or even get ignored all together. I tried to flight case the music gear, getting two gator cases, one for the dulci and one for the DAW. In the end though, I left the DAW behind. I couldn't get the computer set up in a new case that I'd customized to rack mount in the flightcase, with the extra large PCI cards of the PARIS system, there wasn't room for a floppy drive, a hard drive, and a optical (CD-R or DVD-R) driv. I'll have to try again with a new motherboard that can boot to CDR and not need a floppy drive. I did major work around my ma;s house, hiring a crane and bringing in an old friend who is a tree climber and taking out a couple dead and dying trees, including a huge old oak. I'll plant a red maple in it's place, one of ma's favorite trees, not to mention we have a yard full of oaks. I tune a dulcimer from China for a lady who was once in the national orchestra there. She missed playing, but never had to tune it and didn't know how. She'd gotten one, with an instruction booklet (in chinese). But the note diagrams used standard notation with english letters so I could understand that. The thing about it that impressed me most was that this traditional chinese dulcimer was actually tuned the same as mine, essential the traditional American version. It was a testiment to the universiality of the dulcimer, and its reflection of the basic pronciples of music, or harmonics, that are universal, the universal language.
I play the street every weekend. They have passed rule prohibiting amplifiers, so I have to struggle with an acoustic show while jets roar by overhead. I take it all in stride, one of the advantages of having been at it so long. I move out to the fringes as loud acts move into the center of the dock, regardless of who else is playing. I am good enough to do ok on the fringes.. its been a pretty regular theme in my street performing.. getting moved off to the periphery by the more aggressive people, then finding some out of the way place and making it work, at least, good enough to survive.
One thing I always like about playing here is the high percentage of people from other parts of the world. Americans always have this inhibition, this prejudice against street performers. They can't understand how a professional would be playing out on the street, or assume I must be being paid by the city or someone to perform out on the dock. To Europeans, professionals performing on the street is a accepted tradition, in fact, they can't understand what people who can't play to professional standards are doing playing on the street, to them that's not right. And then there's folks that don't know quite what to think, but they know the music is great, so they listen, even when they don't speak english. Often they recognize the instrument, and I keep collecting more names for it in more languages. And most everyone knows the Beatles, or Jazz standards, or songs from old movies.. the folk music of the world. I can play a wicked ripping samba, or "Condor Pass". With all its ups and downs, the irritations and problems, I still love those moments of beautiful, pure spontaineous theater on the street, the scenes that can't be planned or expected, but are just simply great. Wish you were here. And the times I shine, when I lose myself in the music and just play some really great stuff, and people just stand there spell-bound. I ride the great waves when they come, when I can, and forget about the rest for a while.
Eight weeks go by pretty fast, and after the big July fourth weekend, I'm packing to head for Alaska. I've set up a ticket that will take me to Seattle and Missoula again. I'd planned to spend a month in Missoula recording, but in the end, I'll have to change that because I have to leave the recording equipment behind. But at least I'll be able to touch base with Joe, and get back in touch with my friends in Seattle. Up to the last minute though, I am hoping to take the gear with me and working trying to get it ready. But the case proves to be one problem after another, and finally I have to accept that I won't be able to do all the modifications to make it work in the time I have, so it will stay behind and I'll have to try in the fall, if I can.
I arrive in Alaska in the middle of July. I fly into Anchorage and am able to spend some hours with a couple of my my old friends. I haven't slept much. Our plane had problems and a connection was missed. I miss a night's sleep and cross four hours of time zones. But it still is good to see my friends. I really miss folks when my circuit has become so restricted from lack of a vehicle up in alaska and by losing most of the western circuit. I finally can't stay up any longer and nap an hour or two on my friend's couch before it's time to head downtown and stay up all night in the hotel lobby waiting for the bus to Delta Junction. But it comes and I am on my way.
I get there and Dave is ready. We've planned to make a summer trip up to the mountains to try a second dig before the fairs. We spend a couple days getting ready and we are heading to Fairbanks to pick up supplies and head for the mountains. It is high summer, and there is almost no water where we dig. The whole creek is channelled through the sluice box and it is barely enough. But the weather is hot and the sky is blue and we work in our T-shirts through the long arctic days. In fact, in mid-July, there really is no night, just a period of twilight and a long sunset that turns into a long sunrise in the hours we sleep. Strange days in the gold mines though. When we arrive late, I hike up with my bedroll to sleep on the mpountain while Dave stays back in the valley with the truck. There's some weird people up there. They are in the cabin when I arrive. I don't like the feel of it, and I live by intuition, so I bed down under my spruce tree and they never even see me. We meet them in the morning when Dave and I haul up the gear. I basically keep my distance, while being unoffensive and quiet, and taking my gear down to set up my camp right at the dig, as if it is what I always do, though they've offered to share the cabin. As we get going, it is pretty obvious that some strange goings on have been going on. There's garbage everywhere, and they may have been illegally running a suction dredge, or someone has, and leaving dams and garbage everywhere. Its all pretty shady. These guys are basically the type that figures they can do anything, break all the rules, work other people's claims, and move on again before anyone notices and not come back. Or they are just ignorant and feel that there are no rules out here. They don't realize that this really isn't as out of the way as a lot of places, not with the pipeline so close And they just don't care.. they figure the worst is they'll just get run off and find some other place to do it again. Alaska is still a big place. At the same time, they may just be fools, and just not my type of people, with their booze and cigareetes and noise. I give them good advice on where and how to dig, since I try to help everyone, and I am fair.
I get to work. My planning has worked well. With all the willows and fireweed and everything else we replanted as we dug grown up, they have dug up and down the creek bed right past our dig without noticing it. I settle in, make a camp in the places I preserved with stone walls last year, and get to work clearing out the caved-in face where I left off.
The fair, well, is the fair. There's a new entertainment director, but I discover that I have become sort of a fixture at the fair, strangely enough. So I go into my routine, playing the stage almost every day, and spending the rest of my time playing in my regiular spot under the big gazebo. The fair, it's the same and different. The bezerkly folks, Skip and Kirsten, aren't there this year. But Miles and Chad are. I meet some new musicians, and say high to some old. Annie from Eagle stops by and then brings her guitar down and jams with me at the gazebo for a while. One new thing is that I end up selling gold at the fair. I sell all my big nuggets from last year and one of the big ones from the summer dig. I am able to break out my new digital scale and weigh out gold from my pouch.. well, from my plastic vial, and pass it on for cash and a handshake. John the Guesser ("Guess your weight!") is there, and he's got his own scale. He'd been e-mailing me the whole story over the winter of finding one and shipping it to Alaska. I help him set it up, a huge classic carny thing of cast iron and counterweights, a real machine. The funny part is when he has me get up on the scale for a test.he guesses, but he's wrong, how can that be? How can I be so heavy.. then I grin and take off my belt bag and let it drop.. and I weigh what he guessed (he's good, believe me). What's in the bag? well, we go inside his truck and I show him, since he's a gold miner too, in the the Valdez Creek area of the Alaska Range.
Is it always like this? That there has to be a girl in the story? The last weekend she flies by and when I laugh and say "don't go" she laughs and says I won't get rid of her so easy. The next day, the last day, she comes by in the morning and sits and listens to me for a couple hours, while I play a for a couple beautiful, funny, deep, inspired hours. It is beautiful, and I thank her for it, in the honest way I am. Though her face is already a little fuzzy, or maybe I tried not to look to close, so she wouldn't haunt me that way. But I asked her her name, and it was Loraine. She'll show up in a song, maybe, someday. She's beautiful, and a singer, and all the things I've dreamed of, and I know she couldn't be out of highschool yet, and that's the way it goes. It is a world of might have beens, but the truth is, more people were stopping to listen, and I had my job to do, and I let her kiss me on the cheek and walk away, though it hurt me in ways I probably couldn't explain to her, don't know that she'd understand what it's like to be alone as long as I have, longer than she has been alive. How hard it is when someone appears like a dream, a dream I know, and I know it's not real. One more time, though I can't help but hope that maybe it is, at last, because hope springs eternal and I'm not dead yet. But I have no belief that there is a reality for me, I think. Hope is just that, hopes that spring up to hurt me again, a bit, before they fade again. I see it all with a detatched sad amusement at my own humanity. I just want to believe so bad, so I let myself believe for those couple magic hours as I play just for her. But even if she was willing, and these days, she might have been.. well, I'm not. Not just the fact that I have some ethics, but that I don't have a belief that she'll have what it takes, when no one ever has. The truth is I am too emotional, have been hurt a lot, both by trying and by being alone, and have too much of a emotional and spiritual need in me to just fool around.. it would hurt me more, haunt me more, than it is worth. And I've already been hurt too much. The hazy memory of those couple magic hours is bad enough, or good enough. It still haunts me anyway, these many months later. Finally, she has to go away, and I never see her again, and I leave the next day, because the fair is over, and I have to go. Maybe someday I'll find someone like her that won't leave, and asks me right out what it will take for her to stay, for her to go with me, when I do. I can't refuse someone who can sing along, like the golden girl years back, but still I'll resist, till I know it is right. The fact is, that no matter what I might think or want, if they don't have what it takes to run with me, well, nothing I can do can change that. I've been hurt too much to give in easy, let down all my walls, and let them inside, till its obvious that they are going to stay. I know I live in a different world, I accept it, and would be glad to share it with someone like me. I don't expect other people, friends or strangers, to be like me, but we have common ground, and I love to play for them, and I can still talk and flirt and dream, play the game, but well, its all part of the act really. I don't even know that I can be honest with myself in the end about all that I feel and have felt, what the truth really is. The truth, as always, is not so easy.
There's another fair the next weekend, Deltana in Delta Junction. It is the small local town fair, without any of the commercial pretense of the big fairs. A nice simple time. I play my hours on the stage, then sit with the dulci out on the picnic tables by the food vendors, talking to people and playing during lulls in the mainstage music, or jamming with whatever music is coming through. Its good to see local folks again, and do my part, and play where there is no pressure at all. I am still tired from the ten long days of the State Fair, but I relax and enjoy my way through the weekend, me and the dulci.
A couple days later we are off to the mountains again for the regular fall dig. We are heading up to meet winter as she finally storms off the polar cap and rolls over us on the way south. But first we blow a water pump 50 miles north of fairbanks, and have to limp back and camp outside of towwn while Dave replces it. I take care of camp and food, and we have a great evening with stunning northern lights. We get a rare treat as sheets of green and red move right over us, and we are able to look right up into the lights. Of course, might not be so good to have all those cosmic particles raining down through us, but so it goes, life in the arctic, bathing in cosmic showers.
We arrive at the creek to find the place happily deserted. We move into the cabin, the nights are already cold. We've brought a sheepherder's woodstove and get it set up right off. After we get the gear up, we do out usual routine and Dave goes off to leave the truck at the village, about 15-20 miles away, and hopefully get a ride back, while I start on the digs.
The rains come, and then the first snows, and we have lots of water. Now we are building dams to force most of the water off down one channel and out of the sluice box. It is fall in the Brooks range, with the snow moving down the mountain peaks slow but sure. The sun almost never comes out for almost the whole time we are there, it is cold and cloudy, lifting enough for us to see the snow coverted peaks before it closes in again. Sometimes it clars a bit at night. We have night now, with the northern lights and the stars so bright. The cabin is good and the woodstove lets us relax in the evening after dinner. In the mornings I fire it up to make breakfast, sitting next to it in the chill cabin with my coffee. Dave is usually smart enough to stay in bed till everything is ready.
I am doing fine, happy to be there, glad no one else is, even though I have doubts about the future. But all told, it really isn't working for Dave. He's got some real problems back home, and its good for him to get away, but it doesn't help. He's suffering physically as well.. a bad shoulder agrivated by working it too hard as he takes out his anger and frustration on the dirt and rocks, which unfortunately are tougher than we are. I understand, and don't try to stop him, usually, though I do make sure to keep it from getting out of hand.. really just breaking the mood by distracting him from whatever wheels are spiinning away in his head, before he hurts himself too much. I've been through times like that and worse. The fact is, the gold isn't that important. There's times I tell him to just stop fighting it and go take a walk up the creek, or take the detector out and hunt nuggets. Maybe its also that I have had a lot more experience with the emotional storms and I've learned to ride them out, and know when to let him go and let it out and when to intervene by calling for a coffee break or just stopping to talk. He also started in on a new cut right from creek level. I know its not going to pay, at least right off, but we probably need another drain, and well, he has to do what he has to do. Self-destructiveness is an odd thing. You have serious troubles and so you set yourself up to fail some more.. is it to distract yourself from the real problems, or is it a spiteful indirect self-destructiveness, I don't know. But it happens. I've been there. Fighting things instead of working on them, your mind not on your work, but running in angry raging circles around thoughts like beating drums.
It's also just a fact of gold digging. It is never consistent. I spent a solid week removing overburden to get to where I was at.. day after day getting rid of the top twelve feet of dirt. one of the hard parts of the mining is getting through all the dissapointing days and keeping on, not losing motivation, not getting distracted. I've dug over bedrock where the gold just didn't settle. We both dug in from the creek to open this hole and got almost nothing that first year, so it wasn't suprising that he found nothing making a new cut from the creek. But even when he got in and found a nest of boulders, they produced little as well.. still not deep enough into the hill.. the old streambed we were following heads deeper in at that spot. It is a hard dig for him. Though I produce as well as last year, he produces almost nothing, so we do about half as well as last year. So it goes, we still come out with three ounces between the two of us for a couple weeks. That is another difference, for me, that is doing good, while for Dave, he has other options, and in fact, can make more money back in Delta Junction. Or perhaps it is the letdown of finding that big nugget last year, and not finding any more.
I do find one really beautiful half-ouncer.. with a great shape full of plates and pockets, clinging stibnite crystals and quartz bits, and so clean and shiny as if it hadn't traveled at all in the stream bed. Funny thing is I find it when I am shoveling overburden, cleaning out the hole. I look down and see it, right in front of the point of my shovel.
Though there are serious problems and doubts surfacing this year, at the bedrock, it is working for me. I am happy out there in the wilderness, with a way to spend my energy that I can justify better than just walking about taking pictures, and I can stop and do that still anytime I feel like it. I can write a song or take a walk. With all the ups and downs, we are finding gold, enough to turn the Alaska trip from a barely break-even trip to a profit, all due to the gold. I am living in a way I enjoy, workingin a way I enjoy.. this hand mining like the old timers, living in an old cabin one of them built, making my own little camp there at the digs, living simpply in the beauty of the mountains.
Before I left Alaska, Dave and I had a talk about it, not looking for answers, just laying my concerns on the line. Its not just the crazies having discovered our quiet little creek, maybe ruining it for everyone, or just making it a place I don't want to be, for the same reason I left other digs and sought this out of the way place in the Alaskan arctic mountains. I can see it isn't working for him, and I'm not sure what we can do.. especially in the long run. It is working for me, but my expectations, and needs, are a lot lower than his. If I make even fifty dollars a day while taking a break from the music and living in the wild mountains of the Alaskan arctic, I am doing good. I don't have a home and a partner and a life that needs my attention somewhere else, and I don't have other things I could be doing to make more money like he does. All I have is the music, and I need a break sometimes. But the music is what I should do, or I'd be happy to stay up in those mountains all summer till winter drove me out. It isn't hurting me physically, in fact this last year I took it a bit easier just to be sure, while he is having some severe problems with his shoulder, hurting so bad he can't sleep nights. Maybe we can find a way to work around it, if he can find what is wrong. Maybe we can go back to metal detecting and give up the dig.. a few days of sluicing will be enough to pay expenses, really. Or I can sluice while he detects, then we can both go prospecting after I've made enough to cover the trip expenses. Prospecting for a real strike is less stressfull and more fun than digging. Or maybe he'll use the backing he can get to buy a claim and go back to working with heavy equipment, without the same physical stress of hand mining. Though he'd probably go that way alone, I have too much to do with the music really, and no money to invest in a claim that I'd feel required me to make a serious job out of working. My real life's work is the music, not gold mining. I can still hand mine on my own, or go back to prospecting again. And who knows what the situation up there will be next year, if the crazies will be back or what. It is a hard question. I have no answers, just a lot of doubts. The BLM did finally show up to investigate during our fall trip. Of course, the crazies were long gone. But they actually liked what we were doing, working within the rules, and making it work, gold in the pan.
It is funny, this year we run out of time while the weather is still holding fine. Of course, it is probably just a matter of days, winter has to come, but the arctic is feeling global warming seriously. And the whole time we've been there the sun has almost never shone. But we are out of time. Dave has to get back, we have spent or full two weeks here, and it is time to go. This time though we are able to stop in Wiseman and visit some of the local folks. We talk if the few bits of land available up there, though really, I don't want to live in the village, with the generators and planes, but it is about the only place you can build a home up in those mountains I love to be in. I can rig the van, or even a schoolbus, and live up there in my gypsy wagon way, but I can't build a permanent base. My friends are doing well with the rebtal cabin business up there, as more and more people come to visit the Brooks, and they pave the road as well. But it is like getting a claim, I could invision getting a place and setting up a hostel, mapping hiking trails, even getting horses. But that is something anyone could do, while the music and the dulci is something only I can do. That is just the way it is. So I dream of bring the studio up in the van, or a bus, and working in my studio up in those mountains for the summer. Except summer is prime time for playing music, festivals and fairs, or the street at least. The fact is, what I want has never been a big factor in my life, while playing the music is, and trying to open a few more hearts and minds in the process, lift a few more spirits.
But the truth is the gold-digs are working for me though. It is a simple, contained break from the strain and pain of the music, the ups and down, the emotional rollercoaster. I am happy out in the beautiful mountains, amid the intensity and beauty of nature and living out in it and loving it. I love walking back through the damp woods at the end of the day, lighting a fire in the woodstove of that old cabin and making dinner and talking a bit, of playing a bit, before I stretch out gratefully and ease my tired muscles before I sleep deep and wake early. I'm making it pay, so I don't have to worry about taking too much time away from the music, though I need a break from it, but I need to survive and more, make the money to pay for all these new efforts to record and distribute the music. I can hike down in the morning listening to the wild things, maybe I'm working on a song in my head, or just singing one that is running now, letting any bears know I'm coming. The energy is simple and clear, I'm not hurting anyone or anything, I'm outside the bell curve and the rat race, even while I'm finding the stuff that they care so much about, though to me they are just pretty rocks I have no desire for. I like the digging, and the search for buried treasure, and the thrill of finding a nice nugget, or seeing the sluice start to pack up with little nuggets as the day goes by, or when we hit a hot spot and each bucket we run leaves a visible pile of gold when the the dirt has washed away. I love to stop and look out across the valley at the great mountain, or the fog and mist, or the snow, or blue sky and sun, or watch an eagle gliding by. I can sit back in my chair over a cup of coffee and a bowl with a good friend and a warm fire, taking a break from the hard work on a cold wet day, and I feel fine.
We head back to Delta Junction. The cold is here, freezing nights, and Dave gets to work. I have a couple weeks to spend before I leave, and it is a strange time. the first few days though I am sleeping in a camper shell over on my land, I head over to their place to make myself coffee and breakfast, do the same for my mid-day coffee break, then come back to make my dinner and visit for the evening. But I can't take it. The important point here is that I was just reminded of the fact that my friends are my friends, but I don't expect to and just can't live like them, nor do I expect them to live like me. Lanna can be a sweetheart, but she smokes, and drinks beer pretty steady because she prefers it to pain pills for her literally smashed back, and watches TV all day, even if she's not watching it. Not so different from normal. But I am way different from normal. These are unfortunately some of the things that I personally hate being around the most: TV, beer, and cigarettes. One of the reasons I don't dwell in the status quo places generally. I finally just reach my limit when I bring the dulci in to play for one of her friend's birthdays. I really want to play, and be there for people, but it is too much for me in the end. Several people chain-smoking in a small cabin, drinking a lot of beer. I am sitting by an open window trying to breath. The next day I come in from the fresh air of the spruce woods I slept in and the TV is on and the house reeks of stale beer and tobacco, and I turn and go out.
From then on I stay at my place. I build a fire pit and camp out like I usually do. In fact, if I was up in the mountains I'd be happy doing this, living in front of my fire, cooking my simple meals, watching the snow melt and vaporize as it touches the hot surface of my boots and pants. The air is cold and sweet, the quiet is natural. I am in my world, not theirs, and am content. I go over once or twice a day and visit for a short while. Lanna puts out her cigarette when I arrive and I leave when I see her start to fidgit with the craving for another.. it works. After all, we are friends, and understand each other and compromise without pushing the limits.
Its snows, then the sun comes out, then it snows again. I spend my days clearing a spot for either a cabin or a shed or maybe just a garden on the far side of the property. I've given up doing anything with the end I am camping on. The trailer park style cabin development is going in right over the property line and I have no intention of living next to it. So I work on the far side each day. I clear a site, then fell and dress the bigger trees for sills, beams, and posts. I dig down to gravel and set up stumps for a foundation for the sill logs. I think a lot.
I come to the serious realization that I really am done here. I am even done with Alaska in a way. I have succeeded in what I wanted to do, I have established myself here. I have a base, a place, but now I need to move on to other things, focus on the music. Alaska can go onto the back burner now. I am not giving up on it, quite the opposite, I feel I am firmly established enough to go onto other things, and Alaska will wait. I still have a simple, clean circuit I can make up here, and in some ways I feel likeit would be good to keep up a presence here, maybe even expand a little. Though I can also see skipping Alaska for a season or two now. I just break even with this trip, when I need to get ahead. It is only with the gold that I get ahead, and that is neither sure nor that big a thing. I even have a lot of doubts now as to how long the gold dig can last, I may be back to prospecting any season. If I am going to seriously put out CDs and pay off the debts for the audio and video equipment I need to do more than just break even, at least for a while. And there are other places I want to go, especially around the world, before I think of "settling down" here in Alaska. Alaska still figures into these plans as a stepping stone to the entire asian/pacific part of the world. Alaska is definitely still central to my long term plans, but just that. In the short term it may be hard to justify for a bit. Though I realize that I am drawn by my own desire to build, and to settle, and to prepare for the future. And just as honestly, by the vague dream that I'd be more likely to meet the type of woman I'd want, and the type of woman who would be happy living a life like mine, here in Alaska. But the future is still far away, and frankly, there is no guarantee I will get there. The present and the projects I need to get done are what I need to focus on, now that I have secured my base here in Alaska. All I really need to do is pay off the land, which is nearly done. And maybe get a shed or a cabin set up with whatever slavage material I can come up with. Especially someplace to store up stuff for an eventual place.
I think about the boats in the same way, how they are an integral part of my long term plans, and my short term plans as both transportation and housing. The problem is for several years they have been the focus of my energy for the winter season, instead of music. At first it was the boatyard for Dueodde, then raising the Hurley. Now I need to put them back on the back burner, again, something I work on in my spare time between playing music. Though I need to get one or the other boat mobile again so I can go where I need to to play, just like the van has to run, even though it isn't the focus of my energy.
I think a lot about the coming crash as this unsustainable culture and economy slowly grinds down into recession or depression. With the oil running out in a system based on cheap oil and gas, or the multiplying costs of global warming, or so many things that America is just not ready to handle on any level. Years ago in the 70's I talked about homestead farming as an "economic ark" to weather the coming economic upheavals by being self-reliant, insulated from the vulnerabilities of the American house of cards. I gave up on a personal life to serve the rest of the world, though, and basically decided that rather than excape the crash, I'd stay with the ship of fools, doing what I could to change the inevitable, and just use my wits and ability after the ship goes down. I can swim, while most folks don't know how. Less prosaically, I can survive, I can live off the land and sea, I am used to doing without what others consider nescessities. When I left my cave in the wilderness to participate, to join the people, my people, but I never took advantage of the system. I tried not to consume, not to make money. I have lived on the street and on the road, getting by with next to nothing, doing without what most take for granted, living poor, and I'm good at it. The urban masses will be basically helpless, I won't be. I'm still not much concerned about what happens to me. Still, I can't help but recognize that the boat and the land in Alaska are still little arks, places I can survive, though not near the intentional communities I planned long ago, not near what I could do on my own if I bothered. But enough to survive. The truth is that thogh I think about it more as the skies get darker, well, I'm still not worried about it, because I'm still not worried about me. I am more worried that I should be doing more, whether it's the music or that unknown whatever I could be doing that haunts me so terribly.
Which brings us to the end of the story. After my week in Seattle, I am back on the east coast, hoping still I might get the studio up and get the new CD done. But it really was a dream, and I think I knew it. There was just too much to be done here, too much left undone when I left. From the fact the I had to reassemble the computer back in the old case, since I'd basically left it half-way moved into the case that didn't work, to the remains of three trees still lying around my mom's yard where I'd left them in July. I started playing the streets weekends so I'd have some money when I started out down south, and dealing with a long list of things that had to be done, and had been left hanging when I left. My website is in some limbo along with pan.com.. I haven't paid in months yet it seems they've forgotten my wesite is even on the server, but it could easily just dissappear one day. Or finding a check from The Orchard, who I vaguely remembered getting involved with back in 2000, which had now evolved into a digital distributor and was making it happen, and I had to get up to speed with them. Trying to get the videos up and going and take advantage of Google's new video site. I notice as I write this tour journal that I'm not taking photos the way I used to, the images I remember in my head I took with the videocamera now, and I wonder if eventually I'll have to just use stills from the video cam. Video is taking the place of the camera.. maybe just because of time or focus, or I forgot to buy film! Maybe mow that I have video tour journals going up on the web I'll be able to integrate this text/photo tour journal with the video, the way I have added text background stories to each episode of the video tour journals, and integrated them all in the VTJ directory.
I've been busy here at the house, from installing a woodstove in ma's house to help with the heating bills, to stacking all the wood to burn in it. I have really done nothing but work day and night, on a huge list of things, and I quickly gave up on getting any recording done. I have to even go back to the manuals since I have forgotten how all this complicated hardware and software works. If there is any good side to this, it is that I am actually getting a lot of things done. some are directly related to the music, though not the new CD directly, like the Video tour Journals, and getting the recording system at least working again, and getting a new website and email accounts set up, and re-writing the website ready for a change of server, recontacting the lumber mills about wood for dulcimers. Others are clearing the way to work in the Spring by taking care of things here at ma's house, though there will be plenty more, still, I have to keep making progress. I am finally stacking the last of the wood from the three dead and dying trees I took down just before I left for Alaska. I went and got a tree and set it up for the holidays, solstice till just last week, end of January. But technically, we are now intruding into 2006, and this is the 2005 Tour Journal, so time to call it done till next year.
There's one incident that seems worth telling, because it does reflect one of the consistent threads this year, and seems to reveal so much as I think of it. Its roots strike deeper and deeper, and connect to more and more, like when a floating chunk of ice is revealed to be just the tip of the ice-berg. It sometimes feels like I have the same conversation with many people, certain themes or subjects just seem to be in the air, keep coming up, whether I am talking to one of the folks at the Park in Florida or one of my old friends in Seattle. In fact, it really hit me when I was in Seattle, walking around downtown with an old friend I'm visiting and we pass a lady babbling to herself. He doesn't know what is going on, while to me, I hardly notice because for me it is a pretty normal thing. I have to explain to him that she's just a poor crazy person. After they cut funding for mental hospitals and generally for help for poor folks as well, where were they supposed to go? Lots of them ended up on the streets, of course. And as a person of the streets, I know them, they are part of the life, some good, some bad, some just sadly confused and trying to cope as best they can. I realized then that even my friends, who are mostly pretty liberal, are also often pretty sheltered, and don't realize what it is like on the streets, or among the poor folks and the have-nots. I am a pretty smart guy, and a lot of my old friends come from the same background. But I chose not to take advantage of my opportunities. And here in Seattle, almost exactly like on a walk in the park in Florida, I am trying to explain why someone with my abilities hasn't "done more", succeeded in the ways of society, am still basically living on the road or on the street, when they know I could do so much more if I chose. Perhaps it is that over this year, as I have tried to explain, I have up with an explaination of sorts, in part really.. but a clear part is better than nothing. It has to do with ethics. I developed early on from a solid classical education a extreme sense of ethics, of honor and justice, of doing what is right. This led me to the simple conclusion that I couldn't participate in systems that I could not accept ethically. I became in many ways a concientious objector to the American way of life. From the economic system of unsustainable and expoitative self-indulgent over-consumption to the inherent and hypocritical structures of injustice and classism, I just couldn't do it. If there were haves and have-nots, the priviledges and the excluded, I couldn't take advantage of my ability and opportunity to become one of the priviledged, one of the wealthy, one of the upper class when it meant to me being complicit then in a system I couldn't accept. So I became a non-consumer, I chose to be one of the have-nots. I didn't go to college, because so many people are excluded not because of lack of ability but because of economics and class. I could not accept being rich when so many are made poor by the system. I live without health care voluntarily because that is what the poor are forced to do, and because I see it as a corrupt system of institutionalized corporate blackmail aided by a corrupt and complicit government. I have refused the benefits of a system that denies those benefits to so many who deserve them just as much as I, refused to accept the priviledges I might get from a system of priviledge. The way I saw it, I had no choice, and I could do nothing else. I became a conciencious objector to the "American Way of Life". While at the same time, I feel I am upholding the true principles this country, this republic, was founded on, "live free or die", and to the "core values" of liberty and tolerance, or individuality and civil rights, of justice, and social justice and peace, and to me their natural extrapolations into environmentalism and sustainability, to do what is good for the people as a whole, not a few priviledged individuals and their corporate fronts. I believe in a republic created to nuture all citizens, and protect them from all threats, from the power of government or of private or business interests, neo-aristocratic oligarcy and simple criminals, and and the age old forces of intolerance and bigotry that still threaten the world and still cause a sad parade or tragedies. When I could have stayed in Costa Rica or travelled the world, gotten away to somewhere else or dissappeared into a self-reliant homestead in the mountains somewhere, I didn't. I felt that as an American, it was my duty to do what I could to stop my country from destroying the world, try to do what I could to change it. That simple picture encompasses much of what has shaped my life. Though it is still true, and essentially a pretty good explaination, in part, and something people seemed to understand.
In fact, I have participated and compromised to participate primarily to try to be a force of change, or to serve others, or to serve the music.. which really was basically doing what people have asked me to do. I left the wilds because though I knew I wasn't do much harm, I was also doing nothing to stop America from destroying the world, stopping the few from exploiting the people. So I came down to talk to people, try to raise conciousness since the fact was, we knew the solutions to the problems of the world, the real problem was a lack of conciousness: an excess of denial, ignorance ands misperception, selfishness, inconsideration, insensitivity and irrationality. I quickly learned that people listened to me, we really connected, when I sany, so I did. At the other extreme, one of my greatest disatisfactions with myself is that I have done so little. Though I have always believe as a principle that I do not need to do great things, that is the desire of the egotist, and it is enough to do little things, as long as you are doing something. I strove to be anonymous, quite intentionally and literally. Yet I worry sometimes that I have hidden my light because I, a quiet person who loves the seclusion of the wild, did not want to be in the spotlight. Yet is that not in itself giving in to the desires of my ego, even if those desires where for anonymity rather than fame, poverty instead of fortune. It troubles me.
Still, I tried to explain as best I could, though even still it is not near as complete a picture, as it leaves out some very equally important points. Like I'm not a picture of self-sacrificing nobility, it isn't nearly so dramatic. I really am spiritually and emotionally motivated, focused on the heart and soul. So the lack of material things, the lack of money, sleeping in my van at night and wandering the streets during the days, or camping out in the wilds, or living in a small sailboat and sleeping on desert islands, playing on the street because I couldn't get gigs, all this and more really didn't bother me. I can look back and I though it was sometimes hard or harsh I never felt like it was a hardship, in fact, I enjoyed it a lot of the time. Being an outdoors person, or a sailor, means enjoyng the intensity of a certain amount of, well, physical discomfort. While avoiding outright pain. Still, all my early training meant that a lot of physical things didn't bother me, and a life in the real world meant that a lot of things many folks would consider a hardship just was a part of life to me, and no particular problem. I've often had some strange encounters with city people who I've come to realize have lived an isolated, sterilized, sanitized and perfumed life, and have little connection to the natural real world I have lived in, and just how far apart our frames of reference are. Back to the point, the things that have bothered me, and still bother me, have their source in the physical and spititual.. the lack of love, true love, the emotional bond, not the sex everyone seems to confuse with love these days. Or my disgust and anger at the American system and the mess its making of the world, and the mockery its made of the principles this republic was founded on. Sleeping in a van or a car never bothered me, but living in fear, always hunting for a place I could sleep unmolested by criminals or the cops, living in a country where freedom is a crime, if you dare step out of line, this bothered me. I chose to practice the principles of liberty and freedom that the so called "patriots" say they are defending, and found myself hunted and persecuted by those same "patriots" who are really right-wing fascists (who always call themselves "patriots"), those righteous hypocritical zealots. And yeas, that bothers me. I have lived through a lifetime of persecution because I belonged to the counter-culture, watched my friends and those like me slowly hunted a down in a "war on hippies" that is still going on. I am troubled that ignorance and denial, hypocrisy and distortion, arrogance and inconsideration have become an acceptable norm in America, while the progressive, populist, liberal left has been demonized. I am troubled I have so much intellectual ability, so much ability in many things, yet I have been restricted and excluded from contributing to society the way I wish I had, simply because on one hand I couldn't violate my ethics and on the other, greed and selfishness couldn't motivate me. I refused to compete, I see no gain in playing a game where someone has to lose so I can win. As a kid, I decided to play by my own rules, which were to make people feel good by letting them win, if it mattered so much to them, and mattered not at all to me. So if my life has been hard, it hasn't been in the way most people seem to expect when they meet me, but from my feelings of compassion, my beliefs in duty and honor, in reason, justice and freedom, from the motivations of my heart and soul. "Live free or die."
So all in all, it started as I worked in the park, talking to folks about what I was doing and how I lived and all the rest. Soon it became another of my standard routines, and I used it all year, sort of the theme for the entire year. It goes sort of like this:
"You see, I am just holding up my end of the bell curve. Most people are normal, that's why they are the norm, and there's a few people like me, outside the bell curve, maybe way outside, though not as far as those who have dropped off the edge all together! The fact is, though, that there's a lot of people would would like to be normal, but they are, well, not quite as normal as they look, maybe even dangerously close to the edge of the curve! If it wasn't for people like me holding out the end of the bell curve, well, they might slip right out of their slim margin of normalicy and be strange. That would be terrible, and I'd hate to be responsible for making them strange by being too normal. So it's my duty to hold up my end of the bell curve, just to save these poor folks from the terrible beauty of being different. So they should thank me for being strange, because it is only people like me who keep them normal."
And now, I have to get some sleep, another big day tomorrow, try to finish everything and head south to start the old extreme routine once again.