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Apr 24

Valdes Days (Daze?)

The Poseidon in calm waters

I started this article 6 or 7 months ago after weeks of email exchanges with Doris.  It’s sort or appropriate that I’m posting it today, Easter Sunday, because it is a bit of a resurrection….of the article, and of the memories.  This is not about Guatemalan life….it’s about my life.  It’s an overview of a grand adventure in the early ’70’s.  I hope you enjoy it.  Let’s start out, just like they do in the real books, with a couple of quotes.

I want God,
I want poetry,
I want danger,
I want freedom,
I want goodness,
I want sin.
— Aldous Huxley

Well, we lived on an island,
In old B.C.,
Got fruit from the land,
And fish from the sea,
Watched the eagles, flyin’ high,
Got to thinking….., by and by,
‘Bout Truth,
‘Bout Existence,
‘Bout “What in the hell is going on here, anyway?”

Words to a song written by my cousin, and islander companion for part of the time, Stephen Funk Pearson.

At the time of my graduation from Lehigh University in June of 1970, it was pretty apparent that the cultural revolution of the 60’s had failed.  We had just been shocked by the May 4th shootings at Kent State University in Ohio, where Ohio National Guardsmen fired 67 live rounds (pretty terrible for a non-terrorist group, don’t  you think?) into an unarmed student protest of Nixon’s recently announced invasion of Cambodia (guess they showed us….don’t protest our wars!), to kill four students, and wound 9 others, one of which was paralyzed permanently.  This was the establishment’s  coup de grâce that pretty much put an end to the generational euphoria that peaked three years earlier with the Summer of Love.  Heretofore, love, and just about everything else, shall have a price…again.

goverment sponsored terror

I felt pretty alone.   Most of my college friends had their career and marriage commitments cranked up on the front burner…cooking up a dinner for two that brought the curtain down on our four year communal romp together, through youth’s evergreen pastures at that time newly decorated with rock and roll, mind altering substances, and of course back dropped by the old standard mind muffler of the western culture, alcohol.  I was deeply disappointed and disturbed by this sudden conclusion and was not ready to give up on the vector that I found myself propelled upon.

Studying Henry David Thoreau in my high school English class made a deep impression on me.  Here was a guy who had marched to the beat of a different drum for sure, and since the general rhythm that I was just marching to (something maybe like Creedence’s Green River) had suddenly stopped, I needed to get on some other philosophic wave frequency to move on to the next stage of my life.  Walden Pond.  Yeah, the obvious, easily understandable, back to the garden variety interpretation of that of book was to go live in the woods.  And who had better woods than Canada?  At least the tranquility of their woods was not disturbed by sounds of youth being marched off to war, or posted with draft notices.  Seemed like a great choice.  And it was.

So, Cousin Stephen and I set off on a trip across Canada in my newly purchased used VW bus, beating out our own rhythms on the metal dashboard of Germany’s first mass export auto, searching for a paradise that was not completely lost or too vigilantly guarded

Hit the road Jack, and don't you come back, no mo....no mo

by cherubim and constantly swirling, flaming swords.  We were guided by a philosophic understanding that although worse could theoretically come to worst, it rarely, if ever, did.  And up and until then at least, it hadn’t for us, and actually we were usually pleasantly surprised by how much distance worse and worst achieved between themselves in our adventures.  But little did we know or realize, that we didn’t have much more chance of “getting back to the garden” than those original “Honeymooners”, Adam and Eve.

In Banff, Alberta, under the wondrous spell of a purple hexagram and in the company of a friendly leprechaun, I watched undulating planet waves caressing the landscape above Lake Louise.  However attractive and majestic, we still felt a strange pull to continue westward.

It wasn’t until the ferry ride from the mainland to Vancouver Island and its gulf islands that we recognized we had found what we were searching for.  I was overwhelmed by the beautiful, pristine waters (remember, this was 1970) with lovely small islands in the foreground, and the main island and its snow covered mountain peaks in the far distance.  Heretofore, family vacations of my youth had always been directed to the mountains or the ocean, but here, they were united.  I thought that I was entering Middle Earth or something, and that Gandalf or Bilbo was gonna pop up next.

I remember coming into Victoria and driving around trying to find a health food store or a head shop.  This is what you did if you were a new hippie in town.  Try to locate yourself in the whereabouts that other longhaired veterans of the failed cultural revolution or preferably, their recently estranged concubines, might frequent, and “hey, man” yourself into a conversation.  Then, gather whatever information might be forthcoming about any local ragtag groups that might still be trying to coagulate into some kind of cultural transformative force.  On this particular day, the strategy yielded no significant results.  It rarely ever did.

My gaff rig under sail

So we wondered around Vancouver Island for a few weeks, looked at some land that we fantasized buying, made a trip to the west coast to spend a little time amongst some logs on the beach there, and then, because of other commitments, returned East, knowing, that we had found at least, a promise of what we were looking for.  Approximately a year later, we were back on Vancouver Island looking for a place to land, and found it in a very small, extremely low rent cabin in Crofton, on the eastern shore of Vancouver Island.  Crofton was small sleepy town, dominated by the B.C. Forest Products pulp mill on the north side of town.  That alone, designated this as only a temporary solution, and the smells that emanated from the plant reinforced that idea daily.  But, hey we were on our own in the world, and we had a “house”.

It was here in Crofton that we met Crazy Pete.  He may have even introduced himself as such.  He was certainly not unaware of the moniker.  He also had some sort of pontoon residence in Crofton at the time, which was similar in its funkiness to ours, but was rapidly forthcoming about his plans to relocate permanently to Valdes Island, and invited us to do the same.

Valdes Island

After taking that boat ride, we were in full steam ahead mode to move to Valdes Island.  This island on the outer edge of the Gulf Islands, bordered on the east by the Strait of Georgia and the west by the inland waters of the Tricomoli, is about ten miles long and three miles wide.  Valdes Island is the traditional home of the Lyackson First Nation, but I had no idea about that at the time.  They claim that the Canadian Government has stolen 2/3 of their land and their present focus is to take back Valdes and relocate the majority of their people there, but I never saw any of them where we settled at Blackberry Point during the time that I was there.

Our first necessity was to buy a boat, and that we did; a small clinker-built with a small cabin with glass windows named “The Little Toot”.  We also purchased a used British Seagull, a marvelous little 4 horse power two-stroke outboard engine known for reliability, not for speed, to power the Toot.  The first task for the Little Toot was to haul “booms” that we tied together of salvaged dimensioned lumber pulled off discard piles of a saw mill near the water’s edge in Crofton.  The distance was something like 18 miles but it took 4 or 5 hours to get there pulling a lumber boom with a four horsepower engine.

Carlos and Stephen with some "fitties", Little Toot in the backround

With this wood, some poles cut from the woods, and some boards and nails salvaged from some ruined logging camp buildings, we built our cabin.  The siding was shingles cut from cedar logs which had washed up on the beach cut into bolts with a two man cross cut saw and split with a froe. The roofing was rolled tar paper nailed over the scrap and salvaged wood ceiling.  Somehow, we hauled a wood cook stove in our little boat to bake bread out of hand ground chicken feed grade wheat and heat the place in the winter.  Total cost of construction….$26.

And the annual cost of living was not a heck of a lot more.  I could go off shore on our boat and throw a silvery sardine shaped cod jig into the Tricomoli and it’d hardly have reached the bottom before there was a nice ling or rock cod on the line.  I had so much that I ended up salting and drying it…codfish jerky.  If worse ever even hinted at narrowing the gap to worst, there were always oysters.  They grew abundantly everywhere.  Roll those babies in a little flour, and fry them up in the pan.  The ever present standby supper.  And every once in a while, someone would stop by and give us some fresh salmon.  That was something beyond our technical reach at the time.  Salmon was caught using a trolling rig which we didn’t have.  But we got our share.

Kurt, Carlos, and Stephen....letting it all "hang out" on the Poseidon. You know, pictures can be clicked on for a better view

We also had chickens and a great garden.  We’d haul kelp that had washed up on the beach and dig that into the garden soil in early spring.  The vegetables just seemed to love that plan.  We also ate wild plants like stinging nettles.  They taste like spinach when picked young.  There were also young wild fern shoots that substituted for asparagus.  And although Blackberry Point where we lived had no blackberries, Shingle Point, just a short cruise to the south had more than we could ever pick.

Kurt aka "Poseidon" at the helm of a boat that I converted to a gaff rig, and sewed the sail for....sold it to him when I left.

My first Christmas there, alone in my cabin, I received a Christmas card and letter from my Grandfather, Dr. E.D. Funk.  It was all full of Christmas cheer and a check for $125.  I remember vividly thinking, geez, this is enough money to last me till next Christmas!

Social life on the island was very fun and interesting.  Shorty after our and Crazy Pete’s arrival, other folks with the same drive to find a paradise began to show up.  There was Phil and Goldie, who built a tiny cabin which we named the “Last Resort”.  Their rookie status was cemented by dragging up and leaving their boat unattended on the beach at low tide, only to have it roll over and swamp when the tide came back in, flooding the internal engine with salt water, rendering it useless.  These guys did not last long.  But they left their boat when they split, and we hacked out some oars for it and converted into a huge rowing craft, which we named the Cruiser Ship Dirt.  “Tide’s in…..Dirt’s Out!”

And then, there was Captain “P”.  Who knows what that P stands for now, but that’s what we called this guy named Mark.  What a character!  He arrived and moved about in a small sailing dingy which would prove to be his undoing.  He carved eagle head bowls and told tales of a misty mountain town in Mexico called Huatla (pronounced Wootla at the time), that began to reside in our psyches, and apparently was the inspiration for Donovan’s song lyric, “First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain.”  We were told that magic mushrooms just popped out of the ground everywhere and that once you enter, you might never come back.  It seems like the Beatles and Dylan did.

Captain "P", relaxing in his plastic house

Captain P moved to the next tiny cove up from Blackberry Point and built himself a house framed with poles cut from the woods and rapped entirely with transparent plastic.  I guess he liked the idea of living in a glass house, but wanted to be able to throw stones….or something.  It was very weird.  He and two “house guests” died on the day after New Years of 1972 when he tried to cross the Tricomoli with them and his German Sheppard against a strong north wind blowing.  His dog returned, totally exhausted, to clue us as to what had happened.

Kurt and Doris were the longest residents of Valdes in this era, other than Pete.  Their arrival came shortly after ours.  Kurt had a very cool small wooden sailboat with decks and a cabin called “Poseidon” and that is the name which we quickly hung on him, because he totally looked the part.  His young mistress, Doris, became “Dorista Turista”….well, maybe because she continually insisted that she was only going to stay for the summer (she actually turned out to be one of the longest residents) and her youth and slender beauty didn’t seem to blend with the rest of the rustic resident’s rostros.

These guys were a fun pair….at least I thought so at the time.  Having had many email conversations with Doris recently, I have understood that their relationship was not always “fun”, as many are not.  But Poseidon quickly threw up a beautiful rustic A-frame house, seemingly out of nowhere and they began their concubinial relationship on Valdes.  Kurt was an awesome craftsman and woodcarver.   He built a windmill on the beach to which we connected our Corona grain mill to grind our flour.  Only thing, it only worked when the wind was blowing pretty hard, and it also blew a lot of flour around as well.

"Rustic Resident's Rostros"....this is what I'm talking about!

Carlos, Thetis Island, 1972

Carlos, Thetis Island, 1972

The time that Stephen was living there with me (he had left for the majority of the first winter to go back east to study) produced a change in our relationship.  We had always been close as children but began to develop a relationship based on our common love of music.  This started in my room in our early teens, beating out rhythms together on the top of a Formica covered table, and the plastic front of a big reel to reel tape recorder that gave us a sort of snare type sound.  We called ourselves “The Desk Pounders”.    This evolved to him on acoustic guitar and me on a set of sparkly red bongos.  You could hardly keep us apart at this point.  I think that I got my first guitar at around 14, but never had a lesson until much later.  It was apparent very early (both of his parents were very accomplished musicians) that he was going to be exceptional on the guitar, and by the Valdes time, he already had an original repertoire of very complicated, unique, and interesting guitar pieces.  At that time, we were principally playing together with him on guitar and me on a silver flute.  I had a nice Martin D-28 guitar with me there and was hungry to develop some guitar licks, but he was not forthcoming to show me anything, and always found an excuse not to when asked.  This led to the individual ego triumphing over the unity of the duo and our musical partnership, though we would play together briefly in a band a few years later, was effectively ended there.

Such was the nature of my newly found paradise, but as it turned out, the whirling flaming swords were not too far off.  I guess they didn’t call Pete crazy for nothing.  As soon as we became neighbors, our relationship began to deteriorate.  I have since noticed this “neighbor” phenomenon in many other situations.  Who cares what those people over there in China are doing, it’s all about the guy next door.  Maybe his music is too loud, or he mows the lawn at the wrong time, or we just don’t like the way he walks.  In this case there were dog issues, garden rights issues, water rights issues, chicken range issues; just about anything that could produce conflict, began to do so.  And like the tides of the inland waters, rising and falling, his anger and frustration would ebb and flow.  But unlike the tides, it could not be accurately predicted.  As self appointed mayor of Valdes Island, he threatened from time to time to have the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) come and throw us off the island.  But that never happened…..to us.

The end of this Valdes era of my life was ushered in by a strange disease which cousin Stephen contracted called Reiter’s syndrome.  This arthritic type disease left him almost immobile and necessitated our return to the east coast.  So we headed off Valdes, back to Vancouver Island to where my VW bus was sitting in a field, with weeds grown up all around it.  Dang….it started right up.  Guess it’s time to move on.

Dorista Tourista on extended vacation, keepin' it clean

Doris told me the story recently about the “real end” of the Valdes era.  Without going into all the details, let’s just sum this up and say that the cherubim and seraphim are on the job and know how to wield those flaming swords when necessary.  Love sometimes, when it cannot find its expression, is converted into hatred and the desire for affection frustrated gets channeled into violence.  The longing for paradise becomes the realization of the “Lord of the Flies”.  Pistols were fired and houses torn down, and in the end the RCMP did come.  Ok, you guys, back to the real world….get yourself some car insurance, a 30 year mortgage, and a electric bill.

Let me end this with a couple of verses from Jackson Browne’s, The Pretender.

I want to know what became of the changes
We waited for love to bring
Were they only the fitful dreams
Of some greater awakening
I’ve been aware of the time going by
They say in the end it’s the wink of an eye
And when the morning light comes streaming in
You’ll get up and do it again
Amen

I’m going to find myself a girl
Who can show me what laughter means
And we’ll fill in the missing colors
In each other’s paint-by-number dreams
And then we’ll put out dark glasses on
And we’ll make love until our strength is gone
And when the morning light comes streaming in
We’ll get up and do it again
Get up again

Thanks to Dorista Tourista for the majority of the pictures…..the great email conversations, the memory refreshment, and the perspectives on and reflections of a magical time.  Thank God I was there!

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