Archive for July, 2006

Is History at an End?

July 31, 2006

I wrote this rant a few days after 9/11, and somehow, sadly, it seems appropriate to remind myself (and anybody else who happens to read this) of how history can change one’s perspective. This is an incongruous interruption of my travelogue (which will continue…), but hey, I’m all about the incongruous.

Is history at an end? One asks this in light of momentous, horrible and seemingly (though not definitively) cataclysmic events. Symbols of global capitalism and American financial hegemony are toppled and crumble to dust before our eyes. All this a disastrous manifestation of the supposed struggle for recognition. While Fukuyama’s dream of a historical end (or an end to history) in the triumph of liberal democracy (if ever an empty, hollow shell of an ideology existed, this is its name) may be overstated, Rome is hardly being overrun by barbarians. In a sense the notion of a continued, progressive, positive march of history towards an end remains solvent in the ultimate resilience of the forces of order, and in the mindlessly unsentimental resolve of a technocratic state and its managerial President. His are the words of a scientistic governing force devoid of life or any sign of humanistic humility.

Is history at an end? Not all share in the assumption of victory on the part of the great shambling mass of rotting vagaries that is Western liberalism. There is descent in the global ranks, and in an effort to secure good order and discipline, may not the very reasons for assumed unity be undermined? In order to triumph over the chaos and eternal complexity of history, may not this oversimplification have to be eventually shelved?

Perhaps history is at an end in one sense. Events of such magnitude can provide the framework for a sense of totalistic, holistic understanding. Are these the flowering of dark seeds, planted by years of disruptive turning of the earth for the sake of economic and imperial gain? The dust of which has only now settled on the New York streets. Can we finally hope for an end not to history, but to the tyranny of a narrow, technocratic rationalism completely blind to human difference and any other form of subtlety? It is in this sense that one hopes for an end. Yet a longer, pre-Enlightenment (or perhaps anti-Enlightenment) notion of historical reality presents itself as an alternative.

Thus humanism and even a kind of Catholic scholasticism beckon as possible models. It is perhaps no irony that one of the most “reasonable” responses to recent events was voiced by an archbishop, who called for the need to turn the other cheek, and resist the tendency towards jingoism, racism and ethnic hatred.

If only American institutional power presented such a stern and wise face. Instead, threats to liberty, individuality, and free expression loom on the horizon. Liberal democracy may prevail, but only because this is the name nationalistic, xenophobic and authoritarian expressions of the managed machine state give it. History is a long, ever winding path with many dark valleys and majestic vistas, not a straight, unyielding line to desired ends.

Perhaps it is time that this notion of history come to an end.

Many of these ideas — expressed many years ago — seem relevant to me these days. How times change…


July 26, 2006

I couldn’t totally cover the Hornby Island experience (are you experienced? have you ever been experienced?) without mentioning something about Helliwell. Rarely has a short hike up a hill through lovely pine forests ever been more worthwhile, since you emerge out into this magical land. It is something like a dry, crunchy alpine field, but you are standing on a 200-300 ft. cliff looking across the strait. And of course there are beautiful, truly inspiring views. If it weren’t for the wind and the baking sun, you could sit out there all afternoon, totally entranced by the place. I’m posting a picture, but you really just had to be there.

And so it was with that (well, at least in memory) that we finally said goodbye to Hornby…now Irina is suddenly talking about this place called Tofino, which a friendly native of Vancouver Island currently ensconced in Montreal also told me I just had to see. Wonder what it’s going to be like…

1 July (Canada Day), 2006, Hornby Island BC

July 22, 2006

Today we’re on Hornby Island. Had to take two short ferry rides to get here — one from Vancouver Island to Denman & then another to Hornby. These islands are to the east of Vancouver Island in the Straits of Georgia. You are three ferry rides from the mainland — definitely off the beaten path. Beautiful. Hornby is a little hippy paradise. Just one road ringing the island — cute signs for guerilla-style craft operations (potters, painters, etc…), small organic farms, and only one store — an eclectic co-op where you can buy anything from produce to fishing tackle. The community bulletin board alone is a journey into transcendence and the mysteries of the universe…

Right next to the ferry dock as you get off is this little bar and restaurant called “The Thatch.” It’s a funky hobbit-hole of a place with wooden decks hanging over the beach. It earns its namesake from the wild grass lawn growing on the roof. I half expected to see a herd of goats up there…

After finding a spot to camp and put Betty into action as a makeshift “tent” we headed over to the beach. Spent all afternoon there…A beautiful sheltered spot where the water was really warm. Did my first swimming in the Pacific, avoiding the large clumps of sand dollars in the silky soft sand. Not only is the water nicer than in say, Maine or New Jersey, but you also play Frisbee and get a tan while looking at incredible snow-capped peaks. There were even a few southerners who had decided to come up the coast for Canada day, and we befriended one. He was a little blond to fit the role, but Pancho (a.k.a Brent) certainly smoked like he’d come right from the barrio.

After returning from the beach and dusting off the sand, we spent the evening going back and forth from pub to campsite. Had an amazing buffet dinner and sat listening to a local band of girls from 12 to about 20 playing xylophones and other percussion instruments. It could have been the Caribbean if not for the mountains.

Watched the sunset from a point where you could see in every direction; almost a 360 degree panorama. Breathtaking and peaceful all at once. Like few other spots in the world I’ve ever seen. Simply magical. We kept drinking and when the dusk finally subsided there was a little fireworks display — nice. Continued drinking, smoking and sitting by the fire long into the night. At one point I wandered out on my own in the dark — fueled by booze, dope and other mind alterants and looking for adventure. Almost fell through the rickety old dock — made by hippies, maintained by hippies — but barely survived to make the journey home. There were other stragglers among us, and the collective hangover on the island the next morning was palpable in the air. And yet what air.

Sitting and waiting for the ferry home I remember being in Betty behind yet another VW van with custom paint. In this case it was a rosy-cheeked gnome with the caption — “Zwerg is our co-pilot.” Some wise man (judging by the head gear) came out of the van with a staff in one hand and a book (of koans, no doubt) in the other. He smiled and waved a benediction as he passed, walking down the road like Moses heading out into the desert. When the ferry came there was no one in sight and the tribe had obviously just wandered off, leaving their conveyance behind. It’s OK, on Hornby there’s usually another ferry coming around eventually. I can certainly imagine not being in much of a rush to leave, either. Maybe someday I’ll come back and never leave…

30 June, 2006, Courtenay BC

July 19, 2006

Went “riverwalking” on the Puntledge today. Area near town called Stokem Falls where you can walk on the smooth rocks of the river. The water just trickles down wide expanses, like a miniature floodplain. Nothing like a river I’ve ever seen. Really unique. In spots, there are deep pools, holes naturally bored into the soft shale of varying sizes when the river runs high and strong in the winter and spring; from little ones that can catch a leg to some the size of a big deep bathtub. Amazing. There are also larger pools under the falls, some that invite jumping…

Was taken around by a local guide, Kerry (in above picture behind me), another charming and friendly guy Irina knows. He’s a fit little fellow, a true “native” of BC, and I stuggle to keep up with him as we wade through currents, slip over rocks, and generally try and avoid spills and broken bones. Have only been out west here on the island for less than a day and already the cold mountain water, the sun and the clean air are making me feel like a new man. I imagine how much fun it would be to explore every little nook and cranny of a river like this. It reminds me of an old haunt, the falls near Montgomery Center in Northern Vermont, where I used to go as a teenager. But it’s bigger and better.

Later in the afternoon we go back to Irina and Brent’s place for a big BBQ — lots of booze (the local Vancouver Island beer — Lucky Lager — and some Bombay Sapphire and tonic for the civilized touch), smoke and food. Badminton on the back lawn and another endless evening. Tomorrow we are going to Hornby Island — even the locals find this a little exotic, so I’m really psyched. Another exhilarating day.

29 June, 2006, Courtenay BC

July 18, 2006

A first sense of the vast expanse I would eventually traverse hit me at 20,000 feet, coming down over the Rocky Mountains about 300 miles out of Vancouver. I was looking north, up the spine of those great peaks, and they never ended. As far as I could see there were snow-capped mountains, disappearing off into the horizon. I was dazed…Stunned. My mind was still reeling as we touched down in Vancouver, and after meeting Irina, my constant companion and right arm in this escapade, whisked through the city to try and catch a mid-afternoon ferry. To a Montrealer, Vancouver all seems quite new…But pretty. Some architectural influences from the orient and a modernist feel. And yet what truly stands out is that every main street in the city is backdropped by some beautiful mountain. Nature is the real architect in this part of the world…The human space just tries to compliment it. And in many spots, it actually works.

Sat on the Vancouver-Nanaimo ferry in the warm afternoon sun. As we move out into open water, the wind picks up. At the front of the ferry, it’s incredibly strong. We sit in a sheltered spot for a while, soaking up the view. The smell of the sea puts me in fine form, and the hour and a half ride is magical. It’s over too soon.

Nanaimo hugs the coast and is nice. After finding Irina’s truck in the lot (hereafter referred to as “the big hot honking truck from hell” or “Betty” for short), we drove Betty up the island highway to the Comox Valley, stopping briefly at a sharp little pub and microbrewery for dinner and a nice pint of raspberry beer. After Nanaimo the road turns wild, and there’s trees and mountains aplenty.

As one reaches the valley there is a completely breathtaking view, and a first look at the Comox Glacier (The above photograph was taken in winter). To actually live in a valley looking up at a glacier. Incredible. We get off the main road for the final stretch of the drive through Royston and Union Bay; two cute, timeless towns on the coast. Looking east across the water, you can make out the Cascades beyond the softer, greener coastal mountains. In among the trees and ferns are little homes, seemingly all decorated with an old decrepit and derelict VW bus. So many of them. I think I even saw one being used as a planter…Some of these people must have just driven out here and never left. I can’t blame them…

Upon arrival we sit and talk and smoke on the deck, and I meet Irina’s friend Brent. He’s the perfect beach boy, bleached by the sun from working outside all day. His humour and good spirit are infectious. I suddenly wonder what I’m doing reading books and writing for a living. Maybe there’s something for me out here, I think.

The sun never seems to set. I insist on sitting there till dusk disappears entirely…That happens around midnight. The stars sparkle in the crisp, dry mountain air. By the time it’s actually dark I’m tired; content enough to say goodnight and see more of it all tomorrow.

My Summer Vacation

July 15, 2006

I’ve just returned from one of the most amazing, awesome, inspiring, transcendental and generally mind-blowing trips of my life, and would like to share with you, gentle readers, a chronicle of this epic. Given the nature of the experience, there is to be a key visual component — You get pretty pictures along with all the gory details.

In keeping with my continued interest in playing with time through this medium, the travelogue will be in the form of a retro-active journal. Each day in the next couple of weeks will be a day in the life on the road, taken from both memory and an old-fashioned paper copy of a travel journal I kept…

So, stay tuned. Day one, the 29th of June, the day after my 36th birthday, finds us on a plane to Vancouver. The places we go from there stretch pretty far and wide across this breathtaking, vast and utterly beautiful country…


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