The road to Utnapishtim


road-to-utnapishtam-3Where to begin?  Before Enkidu died he lamented to Shamash that he had become something he hated, out of love for his friend.  It has been a long journey for me the last couple of years and although not as heroic as the Epic of Gilgamesh, I feel a small piece of it travelled with me.  The last few months have not been a journey of discovery, but rather rediscovery.  That part of me that was dormant for some time has been clamouring for relief, for escape.  I’ve been trying to find my way back to a place I’ve already been.

The irony is that it was Enkidu’s friend Gilgamesh who underwent the journey, to find Utnapishtim and immortality, after the death of Enkidu.  In essence he gave up on his life in order to pursue everlasting life, to get the secret, the ‘how’ which the gods granted him after he saved humanity from the Deluge.

The problem with using Sumerian imagery is that I have a rather more optimistic outlook on life than they did.  Their motto seemed to be ‘life’s a bitch and then you die’.

Let me put things in perspective. When I first started writing this entry, oh about a year ago, my thoughts were:

Here is my bookmark, my line in the sand.  There was the ‘before’ and there is the ‘after’, with many changes in between!

But in the time since then I’ve stewed, steeped and generally fermented.  Things that seemed to be coming together in my mind came apart again, then reattached in other ways.  Eventually I came to the conclusion that while dramatic demarcations in our lives often do lead to new ways of thinking, there was no such thing at work in my brain.  A combination of inertia plus the distractions of a new house and job kept me from my voyage of rediscovery.

What I started off wanting to do was explore the distinction between becoming something new and recovering something ‘old’.   I can’t speak for other people, I really only know my own mind best, and even then it is cagey in how it hides information!  But I remember as a young boy being very idealistic, everything was black and white, right and wrong.  The more I grew and learned about the world, the fuzzier all those sharp edges became.  Instead of the obvious morality of the old fashioned comic book hero I was migrating toward the greyness of film noir, where bad guys do good things and good guys did bad.

So how does this lead us to recovery of old patterns of thought and behaviour?  Is it even beneficial to do that?  This narrow little path easily branches into intolerance and “fundamentalism”.  You wouldn’t think such a recovery would be difficult.  You’ve been there before, head back that way.  Yet things are never so simple, with age and wisdom some of the fundamentals underlying your personality change.  You can never go back, but you can revisit, contrast how you felt then and feel now.

Where are you going with this Doug?  The whole Gilgamesh thing was kind of cool, but now you’re drifting into something between metaphysics and new-age psychology.  Well the whole essence of my personality seems to be tightly connected to the explorer.  I thrive when I have new places to explore whether they be virtual or physical.  But rather than the clear object of Gilgamesh’s exploration I’m not sure where I’m trying to go.  And there is the rub.  The loss of my self because I couldn’t answer the ‘why’.  But the lack of answer doesn’t stop the desire, it doesn’t satisfy the voice that asks what’s this book about, or what’s around that bend.  Maybe it really is all about the journey.  There is no defintive answer about the ‘why’, just the potential to harness the desire.  The classical there is no Right, just Right Now.



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It all started when I was in the city learning how to scuba dive. It’s one of those things I’ve always wanted to learn and I was just about done. Since my car at the time was ‘a bit dodgy’ my partner brought me in hers, then went off with her mum on a road trip.

By the time I had gotten back to the surface, she had bought a boat.

The news hadn’t surprised me in itself, she loves boats, big boats, power boats. Her father always had a big cruiser that he’d take family and friends out on. The surprise was that she’d bought a sail boat.

The price was right, it was a ‘fixer-upper’, but floating (mostly) at the time. There was a foot of ‘seepage’ (as the owner called it) in the cabin, but overall it was on the right side of the water. Then she confided, she’d never been on a sailboat before.

Uh-oh, that meant I was the expert! When I was a teenager I used to sail my grandfather’s cedar canoe. It had two bamboo masts with 100 year-old canvas sails. Even at that age I had a healthy respect for the winds ability to knock a boat over, especially one without a keel! So I had fashioned outriggers and learned how to sail. I knew she knew this because I had told her my great tale about learning the importance of balancing two sails as I came about and frantically tried to unlash the rudder while barreling straight towards the rocks.

Then when I was in college my father had picked up a secondhand sloop. A lovely wooden 29-footer he called ‘Memories’. I would go out with him on fine Sundays when I was home, hank on the jib and raise the sails. We’d do the run around the Spectacle Islands and back to where he kept it moored.

So, my expert status confirmed in her mind she dove in to boat ownership.

The boat in question is 20 feet long and has a little cabin with a sink, galley and toilet. For someone who grew up with backwoods camping in a little two-man tent, it was Shangri-la! The first I saw of it was after getting back home from the checkout dives to find it up on blocks in the backyard.

Having bought the boat in late September, and discovering that it needed some work done before we dared the water with it, there was a long winter of daydreams and even repairs. Over the course of 9 months we worked on the boat, getting a new sail made, sanding, scraping and painting, reseating the keel, ripping out and replacing the electrical.

The first realisation that boating had changed since my days dodging rocks in a sailing canoe or crewing for my Sunday Sailor dad, was when the brand new main sail arrived. The original was in tatters and we solicited quotes from a variety of local sail lofts for its replacement. We quickly learned that the new main was going to cost over half what had been paid for the boat! We also learned that sail lofts speak a funny language and any time I emailed him I usually had to spend an hour researching on the Internet…

“What’s your boats P and E?”

“Eh?” was my carefully considered response.

“P is from the tack to the head, E is the boom length”


“What’s the model, I’ll look it up in our database.”

Even though we had a boat from an Ontario yard built in 1979 that from all accounts had gone out of business before the Internet era began, he was able to locate it. Some emailed photo’s of key components and sending the ragged remains sealed the deal.

The shiny new sail arrived and Lisa thought we should try setting it up on the mast and boom (which were lying on sawhorses in the backyard) to see if it ‘fit’. So we dragged all the gear out.

“Hmmm” I said.


“Oh, probably nothing….”


“Well, on my Dad’s boat, the bottom of the main sail fit in a slot on the top of the boom. I see the slot on our boom, but this sail doesn’t have anything on the bottom edge but two big rings.”


I was puzzled, and Lisa was starting to fret. A sizable chunk of pay had gone into the new sail and it wasn’t going to go on! I spoke soothing words and hit the email. First a little research, I discovered the ‘bolt-rope’ was what would fit through the slot, so I used that word when I asked the sail loft if we had everything.

The reply was quick and informative. Basically he said they had been making ‘loose-footed’ mains since the 20th century, and he included some helpful links about their merits.

So all we needed was a way to connect the rings (the ‘cringles’) to the thingys on the two ends of the boom.

At this point Lisa was questioning whether buying a boat that required a whole new language was the best idea. She had been reading one of the many sailing books I had accumulated over the years (all written in the ‘tight footed’ main sail era).

“I’ve been around boats all my life, I thought I knew all the terms I needed to know. But what the hell is a shroud?”

“One of the wires that holds the mast in place”

“I thought that was a stay”

“Well, the stays are fore and aft, the shrouds are port and starboard.” I said, simplifying and trying hard not to mention that there were inner and outer shrouds….

Usually at this point there would be some expletives directed towards sailors and their arcane terms…

More later, but first a photo!


Star Trek in the Amazon

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There are seven countries in South America that still have indigenous people having had little to no contact with the outside world.

That statement floored me. I had believed that since the days of Livingstone there was no one anywhere that hadn’t been greatly impacted by the juggernaut of modern civilization. The further you dig into the story tho, the more interesting it becomes. There is actually a job in the world that involves making first contact with isolated tribes! The sertanista of Brazil are (or rather, were) trained in first-contact, the idea being to reduce the impact of modern civilization on them as well as the impact of loggers and miners who often enter these remote regions in force.

One of the more famous, who was fired last year after he criticized the head of the department, has been promoting a doctrine of non-interference with the tribes. It all sounds eerily familiar to Star Trek fans as the “Prime Directive”. He has noted, over more than 40 years that once these tribes come on the radar of the state, they fell prey to disease they had no acquired immunity to, relocation from dams, highways and cattle ranches. But this paled to what happens as their culture is absorbed by the state and their mythic universe is lost to them. He described poignantly how people who were proud, even aggressive would over the course of a year become slack, emaciated and begging for food.

Q&A With Iconoclast Who Makes First Contact With Amazonian Tribes: Scientific American

Prime Directive for the Last Americans

It’s an interesting approach, one that seems almost a no-brainer to anyone raised on the adventures of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Draw a big circle on the map and don’t go there until you’re invited.

Of course that’s easier to do when there aren’t people lobbying for stuff inside the circle. For the longest time the Amazonian hinterlands provided protection enough, but there can’t be many blanks left on the map, contact is inevitable.

So is exposing a culture that is ignorant of our presence ‘right’? Morality issues aside how do you even prevent it when the state has little presence there?

About 359 years ago the idea of sovereignty within a nations borders was born. The Peace of Westphalia signed in 1648 introduced the concept of “territorial integrity”. So you aren’t allowed to invade, parcel up the spoils between your family and friends (or Catholic church, in the case of the 30 year war) and rename it as part of your own country.

Now it doesn’t take much of a history buff to realize how successful that particular doctrine has been over the last few hundred years. How do you ‘enforce’ it when state’s act like schoolyard bullies when given half a chance, usually rationalizing it as ‘national security’, ‘ethnic cleansing’ or ‘spreading the word’. For that matter, can you be a nation within a nation simply because they hadn’t found you yet? From our distant perch it seems like if you were there first you have ‘sovereignty’, but of course things work differently in the global schoolyard.

Without a higher authority to enforce such global rules, they inevitably fall to more local desires.



Sunset sail

Well if there’s one thing I’ve noticed about provocative keywords, it brings in the views from google! But this post really is about ‘obsession’.

I’ve been absent for months now from the virtual world and it relates to the topic. Something clicked, some tuning fork in my head rang sympathetically to a sequence of events and I became ‘obsessed’. It all started as I tried to wrap a story around a series of images I created called the ‘Hapless Photographer’. That story starts with ‘Hap’ going for a sail. As I immersed myself in the character I recalled how much I loved sailing my canoe when I was a teen, then sailing with my dad in his sloop during university. All of it came to a head as I breathed life into this characters motivations for the trip that causes him to be marooned (and thus ‘Hapless’) in the first place. But then my significant other, who has also been vicariously around other peoples boats all her life, lit the fuse with an offhand comment like ‘we should get a boat’.

It turns out my library has a LOT of books about boats. Not to mention that the dormant salty virus had ensured I’d picked up a few myself over the years. So I’ve spent a good portion of the last two months reading everything I could lay my hands on. I now know the difference between a lazy-jack and a spreader, between gunk-holing and ocean-passage… Didn’t get my feet any wetter, but I’ve found an undiscovered country in my head that I didn’t even realise I’d been living in. It’s like you wake up and there’s suddenly a whole new room in your house.

When I was young I always imagined myself as an explorer. When I look back at the things I really enjoy, they always have an element of exploration. Museum’s and bookstores, travel, biking, hiking, camping, photography, I’ve always enjoyed them when approached as facets of exploration, making the unknown world a little more known.

So, while I was getting PADI certified as an open water recreational diver, my partner in craziness Lisa went out and bought a little boat. It’s an old 20 foot sailboat, when you look at the hull from the inside you can see a couple of patches where it was probably bashed on the rocks in its time, and even signs the mast once went overboard. But it was floating and the price was right! Now it sits in our backyard on a makeshift cradle while we strip it down, replace all the rusting bolts with stainless steel, clean off the accumulations of previous owners and make it ours.

There is something satisfying about getting something ‘used’. Like a fine violin gets better over time as it’s played, I get a sense of its history. That’s why I love old houses and used boats. This boat could have been Hap’s, somebody found it, patched it up and used it for awhile before it moved along the chain to us.

Over our heads!