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Green Leaves, Red Bricks

One fell hard amongst the springtime growth
Where ash and elm and hick’ry stood tall
His journey done, short though it be
His spring descended to his fall

On down the line gathered we
Within the walls he detested so
But who were we to begrudge the spot
The numbers, there, don’t fall, they grow

Embittered by the cruelty felt
We turned our backs and walked to new
One south, one west, one out to sea
We sought a path, bent to the hilt

Through book and drink and ocean trek
We sought the word of truth from high
Drive did distract, as well it will
The days did compile, changeless, shapeless

For what is reckoning, if not cruelly found
In depth, in breadth, in broader view
Than to see your image in a place
Once revered, always eschewed.

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Travel Young

Your youth offers an incredible platform for travel, experience, learning, and creativity.

According to the experts, that closely-held adaptiveness, and willingness to try, leaves us with age. If you aren’t listening to funk music by the age of 28, there is a 95% chance that you never will. Your youth is all about exposure and discovery, and an acceptance of the new and the weird, as our ability to embrace it fleeting.

There’s no fighting our brain’s pathology, try as we might. And while we can work against the breakdown, to rage against the dying of the light, it dies nonetheless.

So imagine the logic behind saving all of your travel days for a long-awaited retirement?

You’ve just got so much less to give. You need more sleep, you’re probably accustomed to greater comfort. Dietary restraints. Sore muscles refusing to lug a backpack up yet another flight of stairs in some dodgy neighbourhood.

There is a noted difference in the way that you are regarded, as well. The youth are afforded some more benefit of the doubt. They are greeted with more casual aplomb, less so as walking tourist dollar factories. And why not? You have more energy, more innocence, and being ignorant about local custom is far more forgivable.

Old age gives way moreso to a lust for wilderness, more than crowds, at least within my group. Late nights in the city gives way to touring rides, the club gives way to the campsite.

So don’t delay it. You have an entire adulthood in which to indulge your sensible side. Pack up and leave.

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After nearly eight years of scrawling on these pages, I’ll be shutting down CNG in a few weeks. Until then, I intend to start my day here. 

It took some decompression before I could really grasp why Vietnam hadn’t been as much of a killer time as I’d hoped it would. The weather had begun to turn in the north. We were nearly two months in to the trip, and stepping on each other’s toes. Getting our entry visa was a pricy pain. And like two independently-minded people, we sniped a fair bit in this stretch. I felt (still do) that because I was still working part-time while we traveled, that obliging the Girl to make the bulk of the accommodation bookings wasn’t a huge ask, but hey, traveling is a learning experience, no matter your level of experience.

But that wasn’t it. It was the canned experience. It was the led-by-the-hand nature of it all, whereby every trip and experience seemed to be produced by the tourism bureau or rent-seeking operators. They were packed, the guides were friendly and caring and spoke good english, and I really had no reason to complain about it – apart from the fact that it did not feel much like a genuine taste of the country. It was more of a highlight package, built to circumvent the nasty realities or less-than-marketable settings.

Tourism is a world that I’ve lived in and worked in, but it isn’t something that I choose to invest in. To most, travel is intended as a form of relaxation and enjoyment, a sort of breather-slash- live-action-theatre. It’s not my cup of tea. I struggle to relax if I don’t feel accomplished, if there wasn’t a struggle element to the day, a slog, or a something earned, even if it’s just a hike through town to the museum.

It can be frustrating, but at least through all the awkwardness, it’s still real. You are living as a foreigner, in a strange new place. So unless it’s 2am in Caracas, there’s no real reason short of cowardice not to take a damn walk.

Two close friends of mine have ridden from north to south through Vietnam, and kamikaze drivers aside, that strikes me as the way to go. They got a taste of the truest cuisine, the views that aren’t hidden behind hordes of trinket-sellers, and met that curiosity and kindness that comes from people who aren’t treating you as a target. Go and find those spots, if you want to travel. Otherwise, it’s more of a parade.

Nonetheless, the food was excellent, many people were very friendly, and the landscapes striking. We took the train from south to north, along the old french route carved out of the floodplains and mountainsides. We drank well, heard some truly striking tales of the war, explored some of the world’s biggest caves, and met some interesting people. It’s a striking, unique country, and I’m excited already for an inevitable return.

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After nearly eight years of scrawling on these pages, I’ll be shutting down CNG in a few weeks. Until then, I intend to start my day here.

I spent half a year back in 2011/12 living in Hong Kong, where many of my closest friends and coworkers were Filipinos. They were an absolute blast, loved a rum and a chat, and served as a welcome breather from the relative straight-arrow Cantonese or hard-living banking types.

Most came from Manila, and we headed there at the tail end of our Philippines trip for a few days prior to heading across the South China Sea to Saigon.


First impressions of the town is one of sheer expanse. The city is colossal. It stretches across the shoreline of Manila Bay, inland and elsewhere, for miles, primarily constructed of low-rise, yet high-density blocks. The roads are an absolute mess – moving 3-4 kilometres can take hours, sitting in the air-con, tunes on, your experience punctuated by lane-filtering scooters making considerably better time. Imagine Sydney or Paris with no subway system, and you will get an idea for the congestion.

We posted up in the business district, close enough to visit some key areas, in a hotel advertising this lovely rooftop pool (it was out of service). From there, we had the city centre, the ancient city of Intramuros, and a wealth of bars and restaurants on our doorstep. Manila loves a good cover band, and during the evenings they were belting out some great tunes with impressive accuracy.

It was here that we finally got up the courage to try a local delicacy, which had been available on the street since we arrived in Palawan: balut. An egg is allowed to develop – somewhat – before being removed from it’s owner and cooked. You then devour a slightly, or not-so-slightly developed, egg fetus. Once was enough.

Leaving almost as much an impression on us was Intramuros, where a military museum documented the brutal Battle of Manila. A Japanese general, whose carrier had been sunk by the Americans months earlier, had a bee in his bonnet and refused to vacate, directing his men to fight to the last man in this unique and once-lovely suburb, reducing most of it to rubble and killing tens of thousands. It seemed incomprehensible on the bright and warm day on which we explored.


A year after this trip concluded, a Chinese-Filipino coworker and I discussed the ongoing drug war occurring under Duterte. Her family is a reminder of Manila’s status as a global city: she is third-generation Filipino, but despite her passport, does not identify as such, preferring to stay closer to her Chinese roots. Trilingual, a professional, she surprised me with her support for Duterte’s goon squads.

‘Well, it’s only drug dealers who are being killed. They deserve to die.’

It was a strange lesson in the intergenerational quality of dictatorial love. She simply couldn’t conceive of the abuse of power, in spite of the examples in her homeland, either real or self-identified. It wasn’t the only time I came across this strange mode of thinking here, and given the growing influence of her ancestral home in the region, it likely won’t be the last.

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The Coron Fleet

I was hungover as shit when we boarded the fast ferry from Bacuit Bay, and The Girl knew it. Her kindness and patience is remarkable – I sure as hell wouldn’t live with me – but not so much when my misery is self-inflicted. Cue the snooze, albeit a light one, amid the din of the engines.

Once we landed in Coron, it wasn’t a long hike to the town, but the moto taxis called to us, and we found our way to the dockside spot we’d booked in due course. There wasn’t much protection from the sun, just a line of shops heading up to the main part of town. It held a dusty, rural quality to it, more so than the intense emerald green of the Palawan jungle.

But who cares? We were there to dive.


When a Japanese fleet was caught in the archipelago by an American carrier group in 1945, there were limited options. Fight it out, against a swarm of H-6 Hellcats, hide in the shoreside jungle, or run, with the scant hope of losing the enemy in the vastness of the open ocean. The positioning of the wrecks gives notice to their intentions. The first dive site, a torpedo boat, lay within a stone’s throw of the trees, sunk by surface fire. The wreck was interesting, but bad visibility – some Finnish peanut couldn’t get his buoyancy right and was stirring up the silt bottom – cut us short.

The second wreck held much more appeal. A refrigerated supply ship, it had been caught in open water and sunk, either by a glider bomb or a torpedo. Out of reach of the noobs, it lay on it’s starboard side, thirty metres down.

Once we descended down the anchor line, we turned to enter the aft cargo hatches. Our guides, a pair of lads who looked to be around 14, turned to me and slapped their palms. I then realised that they had forgotten to give me the requisite flashlight needed for constricted and dark dives. I love a good wreck dive, but there was no way was I swimming down the bilge line of an unknown freighter without lighting. They procured one, via a different guide who was familiar enough to navigate without one (!) and in we went.

It was still, and the lack of sunlight prevented corals from growing within the bowels of the ship. Only when bright sunlight greeted us in the amidships engine room – the site of the impact – were you reminded of the violence involved in its demise. You could have driven a bus through the hole in it’s shell plating, although the engines were in remarkably good nick.

The topside superstructure, exposed to the sunlight in this clear water, was alive with fan corals, snapper, and barracuda. We eased through the pilothouse’s now-horizontal doorways, to spend a moment looking out on the bow, angling our heads to the orientation of what would have been a fine vessel in its day.

Dust to dust. We ascended, made our safety stop, and rose towards the dappled blue of the surface.

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Ph Balance

Over the course of years, the Philippines hav escaped my grasp. They stood just outside the ‘casual’ trip from Hong Kong while I was there, on my salary anyways, and weren’t part of any greater trip planned during those formative years. They are vast, somewhat intimidating, and much of the world only hears about the crime in Manila, the ongoing Islamic rebellion in the south, and Duterte’s state-sponsored goon squads.

My younger self would have run off with little more than a guidebook and some drunken enthusiasm, but I wasn’t too keen on endangering anyone else on this trip, namely the Girl. So with some research done and some plans made, we had decided to head to Palawan, and spend a couple of weeks exploring this relatively quiet western corner of the archipelago.

Only a trick of the light, or misrepresentation on global maps, belies the sheer size of the Philippines. They are absolutely colossal, playing host to an incredible array of differing landscapes and populations, and defining them all as a singular landform or population seems disingenuous. It’s more like a collection of city-states, sharing only a flag. Multiple denominations rule the churches and mosques, and some striking tropical jungles and coastlines lie almost completely untouched. It’s an explorer’s paradise, and a spot that deserves far more of a my time. After a night in Bali, we flew through Manila, and on to Puerta Princesa.


Thailand has it’s tuk-tuks, Hong Kong and China the insane cabbies, Burma it’s monster busses, and Indo loves it’s scooters. But this was new. The cabs here were, in their most basic form, 1200cc motorbikes, but featured this fibreglass seating arrangement sidecar, with a bench seat. In the hundreds, they blasted along the streets of this sweaty, and somewhat dusty town. I liked them immediately.

The town itself was somewhat unremarkable, but it was mostly just a base camp for travels out to the south and north. Of course, we still got stuck in to the local cuisine, and sampled the well-sized beers and fish-heavy dishes. It was nice to be speaking english, and the locals had this kindness, a quality of default caring, which was notable after Indo. We felt it as soon as we landed.

We made out way south that week, to explore a remarkable saltwater cave system, before leaving for El Nido and the famous Bacuit Bay. With the scenery laid out in front of us, the Girl was determined to sort out her dive license, although it was somewhat depressing to see how rapid growth had impacted this area, which turned to the sea for so much of it’s tourist identity. The small rivers running through town to the beach were laden with oil and sewage, which was then caught in the surf and thrown up on the beach. Not a great look.

But as a dive spot, Bacuit Bay was fantastic. Not nearly as rich and varied as Komodo, and there were fewer large pelagic species roaming about, but the Caribbean-esque water clarity, and warm temperatures, made it a very chill spot to spend some time underwater. The coral was in fine shape. We even saw a pair of Guitar sharks (actually more closely related to manta rays) swimming about in the shallows.

The dive company we spent our cash with were fantastic, a german-run affair, started by an older lad who had spent most of the past 50 years in the Philippines. His operation ran with the subtle details of the perfectionist: both of his dive boats were immaculate, built in the way of the classic outrigger-supported fishing boat, built with the detailed eye of the craftsman, without straying from the local method. He had actually pioneered some of the nitrogen-oxygen mixes preferred by a lot of prolific and industrial divers, and was known to head off in to the archipelago, and dive on his own, on reefs that had never before seen a diver.

In due course, the Girl was certified, we toasted to the occasion, and headed to the ferry dock at 4am, to catch the ferry to Coron.





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He sits outside the Urban Piccolo most mornings, on his walker, drinks his latte, and shuffles on. He looks to be in his late-70s. He’s lined, tanned, and smokes with the slow satisfaction of the elderly, lifelong imbiber. He has blood stains on his shirt, from a recent fall. He’s lucky his wrist didn’t break when it hit the ground.

He doesn’t say much, but his eyes follow the young and hurried folks as they walk to the train station through this up-and-coming neighbourhood. Redfern has only recently been deemed so quite recently. Prior to that, it was a slum, by Australian standards, defined by junkies, crime, and indolence. In 2004 it hosted a riot, which burned down one of the city’s main train stations, a result of long-standing heavy-handedness towards the aboriginal community from the cops.

Brian must have seen this all through those glassy eyes, but if he thinks much of it, it’s hard to tell. His glance holds the faraway stare of someone who is resigned to their fate, and if he holds regrets about his life winding down, he appreciates the futility of the exercise. Why drag up those old bones? But I want to know more.

Does he regret the years spent working, instead of chasing travel and women? Does he regret settling down, and spending two decades of his prime mental years tiredly raising a family? The convention of your mid-thirties views such motions as the inevitable outcome, but why? An attempt at leaving a legacy? A passing of the time? Something owed to your ancestors? Can we truly not think of anything more creative or fulfilling? Even if you manage to run the pitfalls and raise a well-balanced, intelligent offspring, how could this drop in the bucket possibly battle such a tsunami of ignorance?

No one will ever tell you how much they regret following such convention. It has come to define them, and we grow more stubborn in our choices and views as we age, unable to consider how things could have turned out differently. But subtle signs, behind those watery eyes, might offer a hint.

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Gili and Komodo

After a solid week or R and R on Gili T, I was ready to move on. The area had the party vibe, but I didn’t, particularly – I’d committed to keeping a bead on my work over the course of this holiday, and it kept me from switching off completely. There were more than a few hours spent poolside or beachfront working through some of the lit I’d brought along, but the huge nights that would have dominated was I five years youngers were absent.

I can’t work, write, or think properly on a hangover these days, no matter how mindless my work can be. Days on the beers will stack up a hangover until all I can do is sleep, chug Hydralyte, and pray for death. I suppose I could have confined it to the weekends, but taking days off is still a concept I’m working on.

This was combined with the girl developing a solid case of Gili Belly. Eventually, we realised that this was due to our occasional use of tap water tooth-brushing reasons, a dumb oversight on my part that was due to a lack of third-world practice. It’s been too long, and the girl – and the toilet – paid the price, and cost her a chance to finish her dive license. Nevertheless, we were tanned and relaxed after this stretch, and after the inevitable transfer through Bali, we flew to western Flores, for a trip I’d been dying to do for over half a decade.

Komodo National Park lies between Sumbawa and Flores, and incorporates both Komodo Island and Rinca Island – both supporting populations of the infamous dragons. But it’s the underwater life that brought me there. This stretch of water, constantly swept by tidal currents running between the Indian and South Pacific, hosts some of the most diverse and well-protected reefs in the world. We spent four days and three nights on the Neren liveaboard, amid a diverse international cast, spending hours under the surface amid some of the best diving in the world.

Each day, the turn of the tide brought the cooler water from the Pacific back in to the archipelago, lowering the temp enough to necessitate a 4mm wetsuit. It played some havoc with your buoyancy, and the constant currents kept you checking your oxygen usage. But the constant wash created a plankton supply that fed a stunning array of corals, an incredible variety of reef fish, and encouraged pelagic species to come inshore, as well. From five-metre manta rays, to black and white-tip reef sharks, more turtles than I could count, eagle rays, enormous Giant Travelly, green and giant Moray eels, dolphins, banded sea snakes, and even whales, we were spoiled for diversity. We slept on the rooftop of the boat, a converted fishing boat replete with scant beam and high prow, amid the desert-island scenery.

The visibility was less than Caribbean quality, the result of the nutrient-richness of the water. The water held more of a light green than blue siren, and making out sea life more than ten metres away was a struggle. I’ve still never seen a whale shark in the flesh, and although they are present here, you would need to be very close by to make one out in the murk.

We made use of the tidal currents to perform some drift dives, where you essentially make yourself neutrally buoyant and slide past reef edges or feeding flats. If the sea floor was clear of coral, you would wait until you came across something worth a look – perhaps a manta ray in it’s cleaning station, where dozens of small fish picked the parasites off of it for a meal – and deflate your BCD, anchoring yourself to the ocean floor with your L-hook or just your hands, to take in the view. Along with some night dives, which came replete with ample lion fish sightings and some late nights, we were completely flogged by nightfall, and slept heavily.

We made it ashore on Komodo to take in the dragons, which lounged around the scrub and underbrush here for the occasional meal. They are essentially glorified monitor lizards,albeit closer to dinosaur than pet. Their bite isn’t venomous, but their saliva is so septic that one bite kills their deer prey within a week. With two guards keeping close eye on them, we snapped some shots.

These far-flung spots always give rise to interesting dive groups, and this liveaboard was no exception. We had a Czech polyglot, teaching in Rome, fluent in ten tongues. A Madrid firefighter, a devoted polyamorist and member of the United Nations Rescue Team. An english couple, who had recently ridden an 80 year old tandem bicycle through the Caucasus. I love being a transplant, but it reminded me how the combination of school, work restrictions, and my rent bill had made This Australian Life a somewhat singular pursuit. Once docked back in Labuan Bajo, we toasted to thrills and new friendships, and parted ways.

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Going Vertical in Lombok

My last Indonesia trip wrapped in 2012. It was the tag end of a year in Asia, and longer on the road overall, and marked the beginning of This Australian Life. As per my wont and budget at the time, I had gone well off the beaten track, to northern tip of Sumatra and Aceh province, searching out dives and solitude in areas still recovering from the 2004 tsunami.

It had overwhelmed me with its natural gifts. Lake Toba, Pulau Weh, green jungles and the towering volcanic peaks stood out starkly against the blue siren of the ocean. But a year in Asia leaves you jaded, and habitually brushing off locals, their sales pitches and kindnesses alike, becomes a reflex. You grow weary of the constant profiteering at your expense. Returning to a world of set prices, while comparatively expressionless and nannying, was a relief.

Amid the years spent combining grad school, a fledgling business, and the painful cost of rent in major cities down under, I had put off a return to SE Asia again and again. Apart from some domestic road-tripping, I hadn’t tasted the strange in years. At long last, after a skinny few months spent working and saving, we flew to Bali in mid-October, and headed east.


Indonesia is an odd one. A colossal archipelago of volcanic islands, it is blessed with some of the most incredible landscapes to be found anywhere. It’s larger population bases are primarily concentrated in Java, leaving huge areas largely alone. The surfing, fishing, and diving are among the best in the world. And yet, they also feel obliged to curbstomp their environment in a way that is almost unprecedented.

I can grasp the lack of sanitation and garbage collection. That comes with the poverty. But even some of the most striking landscapes play host to trees matted with plastic bags and other detritus, cast away without a second though. Your local dump is the vacant lot next door – but who would consciously choose to live next door to dump? Even among countries with a similar development index, they are remarkable slobs.

As our first order of business, we flew to Lombok to trek Mount Rinjani, rising nearly four vertical kilometres to the peak. The long ride across the island to our guest house gave us our first view of this island, a relative unknown, as we cruised past the large capital of Mataram, skirted past slow-moving trucks on dodgy mountain roads, and wondered at the towering minarets of the numerous mosques, which our driver dubbed ‘mos-kays’.

We arrived at the trekking house, were briefed on the following day’s early start, and crashed. The morning came quickly, and we began. The intense heat and sunshine of those first few hours spent in the lower altitudes came at a price – a slice of exposed skin on my back was sunburned to a crisp, while The Girl came down with heat stroke. She is an absolute trooper, and pushed on to base camp, largely without complaint.

We weren’t alone in feeling the pace, either – there was no shortage of people turning around during those first few k’s. With few tourist attractions on Lombok apart from Gili, the trekking shops played a bit loose with their recommendations, and their happy proclamation that the summit was doable by ‘anyone from schoolkids to seniors’ was a bit overenthusiastic. You needed some conditioning for this hike.

The angles slowly increased as the temperatures began to dip, with scudding clouds beginning to obscure the views in mid-afternoon. The vegetation changed from tropical to sub-tropical, and moss hung from the trees, to catch the moisture of the clouds. We stopped often for snacks and to refuel with fruit, courtesy of Josh, our lovely guide, and a pair of porters, who also did yeoman’s work at mealtimes.

The pitch continued to steepen as we approach the rim, and the dry season, now at an end, had turned the path in to a veritable skating rink. Thousands of pairs of boots had pounded the track in to loose gravel and dry sand, and more than one of us wound up on our hands and knees. We were relatively well-prepared, and we couldn’t whinge too hard – the local porters continuously rolled past us, sporting buckets of gear and water, clad in thongs, or simply barefoot. I wasn’t giving up my Merrells for love or money.

We finally made base camp after a solid nine hours of climbing, to sit and take in the views between the cloud banks that rolled in every few moments. The state of the camp, with considerable amounts of garbage and open latrines, wasn’t altogether to our fancy, but looking past it to the view of the crater reminded us of what we came for. We ate well and slept early.

Myself and Webs, a good friend, took off for the summit at 2am, our headlamps winking along the knife-edge track following the edge of the volcanic rim, the clouds soaking us through. A strong wind from the north meant we were finding volcanic dust in our packs for weeks afterwards. The path was perilous – comprised of granular volcanic soil, it was perhaps two metres wide, and dropped immediately away in to the void of the crater. We kept our wits about us.

With a thousand vertical metres left, the early start was meant to have us at the summit by dawn. The steep initial climb from base camp, as we pushed through ankle-deep sand and skirted past disenchanted climbers, nixed this plan. But it didn’t matter. After a final slog, we found ourselves completely enshrouded by cloud at the summit. Blasted by the gale, we could feel only accomplishment of the goal, rather than the thrill of a supposedly awesome view. After a few pictures of the grey, we reversed step, and headed to Gili Trawangan to nurse our aching legs.




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Ten Years After

In the crisscross of lakeside streets surrounding my family home, we always ran to the west.

To the east, a solid block of suburbia, the north, traffic-laden streets. To the south, lake. So we ran west, on the 3.5 ks that constituted Dad’s requisite devotion to health among his offspring. It wasn’t obligatory, but he’d make it known his disappointment if you balked.

Four blocks down, the street dips to a long-forgotten creek, now running through a storm pipe. One block down, one block up, with a steep finish, at just the right distance to make you question whether you could really be bothered that night. As you crested, you sweated past the old red brick buttresses of St. Jude’s Anglican.


My father had no use for it. His cathedral was the natural world. He spent his formative summers split between my grandfather’s lakeside cottage and his boyhood camp, where his thick glasses and distracted countenance – something genetics has kindly bestowed upon me – saw him develop somewhat of a competitive streak, and a love of the pines and clear waters of the north country.

Like my grandfather, he was booted from high school before completion. He spent his twenties racing motorcycles, winning junior championships, before a road accident quelled his enthusiasm. He then married, raced sailboats, and raised the lot of us. He grew a business from three partners to over forty employees, in part from his complete inability to relax his grip. Competitiveness and fierce independence permeated his style, both in recreation, and in business, while a Scots temperance dominated his downtime.

While his gawky youthful manner was passed down, this taste for rankings didn’t. I found myself naturally gifted at many of his chosen pursuits, but the drive to push myself like he did wasn’t there, which frustrated him. Why the investment, he asked, if there wasn’t any real devotion? But my quick-study nature and taste in books and music beget a source of pride, as it developed, even if the work ethic didn’t.

When he was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, his reaction was typical. He sat us down and told us his health was not good, but that we were financially secure. That was it. Phrases like ‘metastasized’ and ‘six months’ were left out. To my seventeen-year-old ears, he made it sound like just one more obstacle to be outwaited.

And he did. Five years passed. Five years of varying treatments, hormone adjustments, dozens of doctors, one sports-ish car – still practical enough for the snow – which we drove the Pirellis off of. We still spent each summer in the same manner we always had, sailing the Great Lakes, pushing further and further afield in to the northern reaches, just the two of us, his health issues backburned to the point of non-existence. We covered ground, to some nigh-untouched regions replete with wolf packs and caribou, having them all to ourselves. I’d fish during the early mornings and evenings. We read piles of books. We didn’t talk much. We didn’t need to.

I recall a harbour entrance one summer, during some foul weather, on Lake Superior’s wild east coast. The high cliff walls of the coast deflected the breeze, and we crash-gybed, with me standing on the bridge-deck, the boom wiping me out. I flew in to the life lines, temporarily knocked out, and proceeded to bleed heavily in to the cockpit drains. He didn’t sleep that night, even for a moment, constantly prompting me to stay awake, fearing a concussion. He was a worried man. It was one of the only cracks in his facade that I remember.

He took his treatment and his licks without complaint, determined to keep his problems his own. One day, in early 2007, he left the house, and turned west. With his heart weakened by his treatments and a genetic condition, he would have felt the first inklings of trouble as he climbed out of the creek. He pushed on for a few more painful steps before collapsing, three months short of his 63rd birthday, neatly in front of the church garden where his mother’s and daughter’s ashes lay.

His cancer had been declared in remission only weeks before. Those acts of god can really stick it in and twist it.


He’d run his race, but there was no peace to be had. I was bitter. I scraped through university and left for good, determined to chase the blue water he’d always envisioned sampling for himself, freed from the yoke of academia – and admittedly, expectation.

If I was seeking some flair for the dramatic I’d mention something about seeing myself in him, but I don’t. I only knew him in his final two decades, so maybe this will come with time. But, the man set a high bar, for his successes, for his temperance, and for the opportunities we had. As much as his inflexibility created friction, there’s no doubt played a role in his ability to live a life based very much on his own terms. That much I can admire.

Making sense of the senselessness of life and death isn’t the purpose of this. Time is limited. Becoming wrapped up in your own self-indulgent tripe or autobiographical moaning must be viewed as a luxury. He deserved to see the birth of his grandkids, and enjoy the fruits of his labour in a semi-retirement, but here, there is no right or wrong. And what purpose do such yearns serve? Nature is ruthlessly practical, just as he was.

Nonetheless, here’s to you. I hope Patrick O’Brian is still churning out classical fiction, that everyone gets out of the left lane, and the water is flat calm at dusk.



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