Saturday, October 24, 2020

Jerry Jeff Died

Jerry Jeff Walker died. 

This one is harder. I really do not even know where to start or what to say. I’d guess that about eighty percent of my current friends never knew me at all when I made my living singing in bars. I ended up in larger venues, touring and doing comedy as well, but it all began in bars. In 1972 I bought my first Jerry Jeff Walker album. It was just called, Jerry Jeff Walker. I loved every song on it. Next I bought Viva Terlingua, and I did the same thing with that album. I read and reread the liner notes. I stared at the pictures. I learned the songs and sang them hundreds of times on stages. I had found someone who sang who I was, or more correctly, how I wanted to live. I ended up moving from Virginia to Austin, Texas. 

I was a regular at Luckenbach during the peak of what Luckenbach was. Back when Hondo (the unofficial mayor of the “town”) was always around. I used to stay at his house when I was too drunk to drive the 90 miles back to Austin, many times I just drove it drunk AF. It was a different world. I heard Hondo recite his poem, “The Moon” so many times I could have done it with him. I was living a life I owed to songs sung by one man, Jerry Jeff Walker. I was only in Austin about a year, but it is such an important segment of my life it seems so much longer. And when you’re twenty-two, a year is a long fucking time anyway. 

I am not sure where my words are going with this. Tears are fucking with me and eloquence is illusive, and as you know my brain is not itself (if you are keeping up). When John Prine died, that was massive. But now Jerry Jeff? Over the years, I met them both. I sang into the same microphone with Jerry Jeff on stage at Castle Creek in Austin with the Lost Gonzo Band (I had opened for the band that night). Yeah, I’ve been drunk with Jerry Jeff, but who in Austin hadn’t back then? 

 I ended up in inpatient rehab in 1990. But, I had lived those songs as fully as it was possible to live them and I had come out alive. I would not change that for anything. No, I would not. The best parts of what those songs are, and what they meant and mean, is still very, very much an integral part of who I am today. I might be in the Iron Range of FNQ, or the Kimberley but there is always a little bit of 70’s Texas in me. The “dirt road back streets” from Austin ended up in Birdsville. Australia is just Texas upside down.  

I owe a whole fucking lot to Jerry Jeff Walker.

“Just gettin' by on gettin' by's my stock and trade
 Livin' it day to day
 Pickin' up the pieces where ever they fall
 Just lettin' it roll lettin' the high times carry the low
Livin' my life easy come easy go.” JJW

Sunday, October 4, 2020

"An Australian Birding Year" is Officially Released


The story of the year of travel when my wife and I birded the entire continent of Australia in a camper, published by John Beaufoy Publishing is now finally available online and stores in Australia and the UK. It was a long time coming, but its time has come. It is out! 

It was not a “Big Year” effort, although we did keep a list, and had a total of 640 species seen as a couple. The list of birds and when and where we saw them is in the back of the book. It was originally called, “The Year” and was what I decided to call a ‘prerelease’ version from the print-on-demand company, Blurb. They print very good quality books. Lily Krumpe had done a beautiful job on the design layout, as well as drawing the maps, and working with me and encouraging the overall project. I am very grateful for her talents. 

I love to write, I truly do. However, the work following the initial “finishing” of a book is not as much fun. There’s editing and lots of little details (and finding that I had made a mistake, or five) and sorting photos and doing lots of left-brain stuff. The right-brain stuff, creating, I have covered. That is the “I love to write” part. The left-brain stuff I find very difficult. 

 An odd thing for me as a creator of a book is waiting. I made my living performing my songs and material on stage where I had instant reaction from the audiences. The process of creating and then having to wait a couple of years (years mind you) before hearing how people liked what I created is different. I really am kind of an instant gratification type of guy. But as I said, its time has come, and I gratefully I am hearing some very nice things. Thank y’all! 

Bunda Cliffs off the Nullarbor, South Australia 

By the way, my publisher is asking that I suggest to those who enjoy the book to post a short review on Amazon. Evidently those are important. The review section is at the bottom of the Amazon page and says, “Customer reviews” and “Review this product.” I thank you in advance if you do.

I write therefore I am. I share therefore it's real. I have hope, therefore I am alive.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Notes on Hope and Ageing

I have not written a blog entry in a few months so I am having a go at this one. The issue is, that Blogger updated and changed, a lot. I am battling my way through and we will see how we go. It does not work in the same way that it did and this may be just an experiment. We will see. Now on with the entry. It seems to have worked and I will now attempt to hit "publish" and then I will try a quick edit. 

Sunset on the Hay Plains, New South Wales 15 November 2015 from my book, An Australian Birding Year published by John Beaufoy Publishing. I will do a longer post about the book release soon. It is out now.

Ageing is, it just is. Acceptance is a process. Acceptance does not mean surrender, but it does mean accepting some facts because they are facts. Acceptance is similar to surrender, but there is a passivity in surrender that I equate with "giving up." Acceptance is a proactive giving up, surrender seems less so. But they are both just words.

For me it means to learn to understand that finally, I do have a few limitations and I will learn to accept them without resentment and without grieving. There is grieving in these ageing changes, whether I acknowledge it or not. As I look back on the last three years, I grieve a bit. I miss some things that are gone and can never be again. There is no way around that, I have to accept it and move along. 

I made a meme a while ago that said, “Do it now. You never know when too late will happen.” And that is truth. There does indeed come a point for a few things when they are no longer possible. The old saying, “It is never too late to…” Well, sometimes it is. I wrote briefly about this a few months back. 

Another from the Hay Plains just before massive thunderstorms. It was beautiful out there.

I am working toward identifying, and then focusing on, my future in two stacks. These are not unlike the serenity prayer. “To accept the things I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can.” That is a cornerstone for living, regardless of alcoholism and recovery. That is just living wisdom. So, my two stacks are as follows… 

 Stack One: Things that have become, and must remain, impossible to do anymore. Those will need graceful acceptance. 

 Stack Two: Things that are now, or will be, possible for me to do. Some of these will require effort and possibly changes in the way I do them, but they will be doable. These are the things from which hope can rise out of the emptiness. This stack must to be the larger of the two stacks for there to be any quality of life. 

A Southern Emu-wren from Anglesea Heath 2015 because there should be a bird photo in here and I do love me some Emu-wrens.

Hope is one of the most important words for me. It is an indispensable concept for my life. There have been times in the past when I had lost hope. There have been times in the last few years when the light of hope seemed to have flickered and gone out. And then yet, somehow, it was always rekindled. I have some hopes and plans. Hopes and dreams are the two words often put together, but I need the more solid word “plan.” I am planning some things. Plans need to be fluid and flexible. I can look forward to something without being completely attached to the outcome. It is the “hope” that is the important part.

One of my sources of hope. I do own a Troop Carrier camper and I can (when I can afford the fuel) go almost anywhere in Australia. Her name is Troopi.

Expectations can bring misery or hope. It is the attachment to outcomes that is the tricky part, but so important in quality of life (dealing with this new program on this blog website that I use is sorely testing these thoughts. I do expect things to work and that often does not apply to modern technology, hahaha).

I will see about adding some images and move forward with, hopefully posting this. Crossed fingers as we say. 

I write therefore I am. I share therefore it's real. I have hope therefore I am alive.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Thoughts on Fear

Fear. I was afraid as a child. Children are often afraid, but I was disproportionately so. I found out many years later that I was dosed with valium on Halloween because the masks scared me so badly. Yes, I have dealt with anxiety my entire life, from cradle to whatever this is now. I had a full-on, beyond-horrific, panic attack on the way to school when I was 17. It literally changed my life for the next 20 years. I did not even know it was a panic attack, in 1970 it was called “nerves.” I did not learn the word “anxiety” until I was well in my twenties.
On holiday in Canada with my family of origin. My brother was 9 years older. I was a "surprise."
I had, and still have, an amazing imagination. That is only a gift when you are creating, in day to day life, not so much. I can vividly imagine a lot of things, so worrying can be a real disaster for me. I have gotten much better about that, but the anxiety itself remains.

I fear fear more than anything else. I think the fear of fear is a good definition of what anxiety is for me personally. Yes, above all things, I loathe being afraid. I would much rather be angry, or sad, or in physical pain, or anything. I do not even fear dying. I’ve seen it and I have sat with it. I was with my brother as he breathed for the last time. It was peaceful and I was playing guitar. Death is only hard on those left behind. However, I do fear fearing death. That is not a contradiction. They are separate things in my head.

To me, fear is the ultimate monster and I never, ever want anyone to be afraid. I certainly would not call myself any sort of an empath, but I do connect to other people’s fear. It touches me deeply and it makes me feel sick. I cry very easily. I do not consider tears a weakness. I honestly think the inability to cry is a weakness. But I consider my very frequent tears an indicator of my level of depression. In 2020 I have cried more than I am comfortable with crying. I am tired of the sad.

My uncle (who became my father figure) lived with us for the last six years of his life. Toward the end we learned that his heart was failing. It took a period of months and he was able to stay at our house, in his own comfortable room, through to the end. Earlier in his decline, I stated that whatever happened, I never wanted him to feel afraid. To the best of my knowledge, he never was. I accompanied him to his assorted appointments and stayed with him in situations that might be stressful or confusing.

In these turbulent times, I have come to fully understand my white privilege. I now know that there are millions of people who have to be afraid in situations only because they are black, or gay, or Asian, or trans, or follow a “different” religion. This goes against my very core. It is wrong. I cannot truly know what it is like to be them, but I can support them. Whoever you are, wherever you are, I do not want you to have to be afraid.

This is a transformative time. From the orange monster attacking all that is decent in my country of origin, to seeing a man murdered, I will never be exactly the same again. I reckon that change is a good thing. I have been through a lot of significant transformations in my (almost) 67 years. Some of them were joyous, some were sad, some were difficult, some were intentional, some were not, and some required a whole lot of effort. I am not yet finished, and I will remain in transformation for the rest of my days. Presently, I am trying to come to grips with ageing. That presents its own massive set of changes, complexities and yes, a lot of fear regarding a lot of things.
Me now (in January of this year)... ageing ain't easy, but I can do whatever needs to be done.
I believe that we are living in a time of global human metamorphosis. I hope that we will continue this transformation. I do not reckon our species should survive if we don’t. What, and who, we have been is not sustainable. Here are some photos from my travels as an older guy.

One of William Betts photos of me swimming with a Whale Shark, December 2019 off Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. Overcoming anxiety is worth it.

Above photos are from northern Tasmania in January 2018. I was really battling with depression and anxiety at the end of that trip.
I write therefore I am. I share therefore it’s real. Love is Love.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

I am my words

“I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable.” -Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Years ago I was discussing live performing with a rock star friend and we both said one of the most important parts of connecting with an audience was the willingness to be vulnerable. It was odd to hear a star of his success talking about vulnerability on stage, but he believed (as I do as a performer) that vulnerability is essential to making that genuine connection with the audience. It is through that realness of allowing them to see you, that they become your audience, as much as you become their performer. It is an exchange of vulnerability. We see each other.

I am vulnerable, open and real. I cannot not be. It’s almost like “Tourette's vulnerability.” It is certainly not always convenient to be vulnerable and genuine. There are many times when it would be much easier if I were not. But it is who I am and it is what I write. For my writing to have any value, it must be me and I must be it. I am my words. I could not write otherwise.

Over the past few years, my writing has changed (evolved?) from being mostly social media posts into its own entity. These words are now just “what I write.” I will share them, but they exist as they are. I do not have to share them for them to be validated. However, I do truly enjoy sharing and I will continue to do so.

This doesn’t mean what I write will always be interesting, or fun, sometimes quite the contrary. The value of my writing is in its truth. I need to write these words to help me to understand myself and my world. I reckon that sometimes, they will be worth sharing. I will share this photo of a Star Finch departing its branch from Kununurra, Western Australia.

I opened this with a quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh and I will close with a bit more from her as well. I am so grateful that her words, which are beautiful, vulnerable and genuine, have reached across time and touched my soul. Her hands that held pencil and paper years ago have now held my heart. I will know her through her words and love her. Inspiration is golden. 

She wrote, “I must write it all out, at any cost. Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.” In those words she explains perfectly and concisely why I write. For me writing is essential to living, like air and water and coffee.

She also wrote this about writing...

“One writes not to be read, but to breathe... One writes to think, to pray, to analyse. One writes to clear one's mind, to dissipate one's fears, to face one's doubts, to look at one's mistakes--in order to retrieve them. One writes to capture and crystallise one's joy, but also to disperse one's gloom. Like prayer--you go to it in sorrow more than joy, for help, a road back to 'grace'.”
― Anne Morrow Lindbergh from the War Within & Without: Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1939-1944

I will be open and I will remain vulnerable. I write therefore I am and it is real even if I do not share it. I love just because. Here are a few photos from the bush, because my heart is out there even whilst it is in isolation here. 

My Troopi in the mallee of South Australia. Too long have I been shut away from the outback, but I believe the science and I am more than willing to comply with the nonessential travel ban. I am staying at home during these weeks of the pandemic isolation. 

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Thirty Years Sober - 16 April 2020

16 April 2020 was a uniquely significant day in my life.

Thirty years ago that day I entered the inpatient chemical dependency unit of the Peninsula Psychiatric Hospital for a month. At about 8pm in the car park, I finished a beer, tucked the empty can behind the seat in Lynn’s car and walked into the hospital.

It was with Lynn’s love and support that I was able to go into rehab. I was “sleeping” on her couch those last weeks, awaking every couple of hours to drink. I was using a slab of beer a day, supplemented by a two-litre bottle of vodka every three days. This was just to try and feel normal. I wanted to stop, but I did not think it was possible, Lynn thought it was, and sorted getting me into rehab. That saved my life. No hyperbole, I would have died if I hadn’t stopped drinking. My liver was already being damaged and it would not have been safe to quit on my own. My brother did rehab over 12 times, but never quit. He died of liver failure when he was 56. I was strumming guitar in his hospital room when he died.

They kept me in the detox section for five full days (usually it’s three or less). I can remember my little room in detox. I remember lying on my bed and looking at photos in a magazine. There were pictures of red-rock desert in the US. They were so beautiful and I remember thinking, “If I can be sober. Maybe I could travel and see places like that.” I had no idea how true that would turn out to be. I had no idea that I would tour performing all across America and in the UK, Canada and the Caribbean. Then travel the whole continent of Australia birding and write a book about it. I was agoraphobic back then. I did not think any of that would ever, could ever be possible.

My supervising therapist at our group meeting the morning I was released said, “Bruce entered this program massively addicted to alcohol.” Before I was released, they showed me my chart from when I was admitted. It was recorded that although I was not visibly intoxicated, my blood alcohol content was .412. They checked it twice to be sure. It was the highest that admission nurse had ever seen. .412 is above the lethal level for a normal person with a healthy liver. They had also written in red marker on the chart, “May Injure Self.” I didn’t and I stayed. And I still do not drink alcohol.

I made my living performing in bars and lounges and I had to call and cancel gigs because I was going into hospital for a month. I remember one club where I had played for years, the owner said, “Man, I knew you drank a lot, but I have never seen you drunk.” And I said quite truthfully, “You have never seen me sober.” And he never had. Many people had never seen me sober back then. Now, the majority of you have never seen me drunk.

So I have now been sober for 30 years. Thirty years of sobriety without relapse puts me in a rarified, tiny percentile of recovering alcoholics. Believe me, I am grateful. I could go on about this. It is quite honestly the story of my rebirth.

I will leave you with three photos of me from close to the time I went into hospital. There are no selfies from rehab. We did not have mobile phones yet. Thirty years ago.

I write therefore I am. I share therefore it's real. I love.

Typical me back then... ever present cigarette and a beer.
At home in Nags Head, NC, 1990 not long before rehab. I still wear RayBan aviators.
Catching Bluefish in Nags Head, NC

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Whales and Whale Sharks

I am overdue to write an entry here. I have toyed with several ideas regarding what to post about during these unprecedented and disturbing times. I chose not to rant (for now). So this is the deal. Every so often I will post some words and photos regarding some of the experiences that have meant a lot to me. Sometimes they will be from one trip. Sometimes they are from several trips such is today’s, Whales and Whale Sharks. Yes, the massive marine mammals that we all know and love and the largest fish in the world.

I have been very lucky off Port Fairy, Victoria with Whales. I saw a Blue Whale there (at least one) in November of 2017. That was a childhood dream made manifest. As a little kid I heard about the largest animal that ever lived on the Earth. I stared at photos and paintings of them. I was in love with the idea of a creature whose heart was the size of a Volkswagen. And now I have seen one in the sea. When this majestic, massive creature was sideways in the clear blue water of the swell I could see its mass like a train car gliding through the water. My heart felt like it was the size of a Volkswagen as well (photos Rohan Clarke)

Then I saw Sperm Whales off PF in December of 2018. These were closer and we had lots of wonderful looks at this huge toothed whale. The whale of Moby Dick, again my heart was moved to say the least (so I will. I am trying to keep this short).

Then (as many of you know) this past December I was on Richard Baxter’s tour and had the opportunity to swim with dear friends with Whale Sharks just off Christmas Island. That! That was the realisation of a lifelong dream. I now have the head of Kon-Tiki on my left forearm and a simple line drawing of a Whale Shark under it (there will be some shading added to that later after the plague has passed).

I will never forget that experience. I can literally close my eyes, and inside of my mind, relive gazing down on that magnificent fish. The patterns on its back looked like a living, moving Aboriginal painting. It glided in seemingly effortless slow motion with me. My heart catches for moment in the memory, but it is difficult to hold on to clearly. That is why I need to write, as well as stare at Bill Betts’ wonderful underwater photos of the shark and me. I can remember the bubbles running across my skin, I can hear the sound of my snorkelling, and I can feel the wonder, the overwhelming ecstasy I felt as that giant fish rose up just beneath me and he swam with me. I was on the surface and that shark (the last of three) came up to me. If that is the last memory in my mind before I one day join “the great twitch beyond,” I will have no regrets. I swam with Whale Sharks. I really did.


Keep in touch. I will post more soon. I am still more active on Facebook. Sending love from social distancing and mostly isolation here in Victoria.

I write therefore I am. I share therefore it's real. I love genuinely.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Eaglehawk Neck Pelagic 1-2 February

January was not an easy month for me. I had an ER room visit and hospital stay as well as the return of bouts of migraines with vertigo. But I have some hope now. I have begun a quest toward finding some answers regarding my ‘gut’ issues. My attending surgeon in hospital has followed up my obstruction with an MRI and is referring me to a gastroenterologist. I will be having a procedure in the coming weeks. I hope to finally have some answers and treatment plans.

Last Thursday I did a post about my beautiful new PRBY apparel Painted Bunting t-shirt and although I did not go into it, but I was feeling unwell that day. 
New PRBY shirt. I love their shirts!
It turned out to “just” be a bad migraine, and with rest and medication, it passed. Sometimes they last for 3 days or more, but this one did not. I was able to get on a plane on Friday and fly down to Tasmania for the weekend. I am indeed grateful. As I am editing this entry, I feel somewhat unwell again. Not awful, just not well. But as I said, I do have hope. I really do. Now, on with the blog… 

Just before Christmas, Rohan Clarke had posted the dates of his quarterly Eaglehawk Neck double-header pelagics. I was interested in the February 1-2 trip, hoping for Gould’s and possibly Mottled Petrels. I did get a spot, along with James, Alan Stringer and Robert Shore (Robert later had to cancel). I very much love Eaglehawk Neck and I have done several pelagics from there. They are the essence of “…a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” You never know what might turn up. It was there in January 2018 that the Juan Fernandez Petrel flew into my heart and onto my list. Many thousands of miles from its normal range, somehow it had ended up off Eaglehawk Neck. You never know what you may see out there deep sea birding.
A bird I will never forget, the famous Juan Fernandez Petrel, January 2018 off Eaglehawk Neck

Saturday began as a lovely morning. However the winds steadily increased and the seas built accordingly. It got downright chilly and we were getting knocked about a bit. I was wearing my trusty patch and it did its job. I did not get seasick, but I felt like crap (that is how the patches work for me). I can deal with that.

We reached the deep water beyond the shelf and began to berley (chum). There were a lot of birds around. The highlights were a Cook’s Petrel, a truly gorgeous dark morph Soft-plumaged Petrel and yes, a Gould’s. Tick! It was a fast flying bird, but I saw it well. Thank you Rohan for spotting it, and Paul Brooks for bodily pointing me at it when it came in and looped across the stern. Then it flew down the port side of the boat and was gone. No time for photos, just time for a lifer-look. Yes, there were lots of birds around us. We had Wilson’s, Grey-backed and White-faced Storm Petrels dancing together on the water behind the boat. We had lots of Albatrosses, Wandering, Southern and Northern Royal, Black-browed, Campbell’s, Buller’s and of course scores of Shy. It was indeed rough, definitely one of the roughest pelagics I’ve done. The ride back in was “interesting,” but fine. John’s boat, the Paulette is a very stable, safe boat and I have complete confidence in his abilities as captain. The next day, Sunday was rough as well, but not as “lumpy” and with fewer birds. Our hopes for a Mottled did not come to fruition, but I had gotten my Gould’s on Saturday and I was very happy about that.
Internet Photo of a Gould's Petrel, as far as I know, no one got a shot of ours, but this is what they look like...      

Buller's Albatross being particularly cooperative for photos. They are gorgeous.
It was wonderful seeing some of my dear friends. These are people I value and feel a connection with, but that I usually only see occasionally on birding trips. I had not seen Paul Brooks since the Juan Fernandez trip. Yes, these are some of the best… my dear friend Karen Dick, and Els, and Janine, and Rich, and Andy, and Nick, and of course Rohan. They are my friends, some closer than others and some that I see more often than others, but all part of that special tribe that ‘gets it.’ Those who understand heading out to sea in sometimes-uncomfortable conditions, but with hearts alive with hope. Keeping in contact with these scattered kindred spirits is the best part of social media. I can at least follow along with them through Facebook, even when I do not see them in person for months or even years at a time.

Back on shore, many of the group went up the hill behind the boat ramp to the food truck. Sadly, our traditional after pelagic meeting spot, a cafĂ© called, Havin’-a-Bite has gone out of business. It was a wonderful place for visiting and sharing some chips. The food truck has excellent chips and also very good prawns and scallops. I ate my early dinner there (as I do) both days. We sat on picnic tables with a gorgeous view of the rocky shore.

Monday morning James, Alan and I had a leisurely drive to the Hobart Airport. The trip home was gratefully uneventful (as one hopes for air travel to be) and James and I collected my old Prius from Long Term Parking about 3:15. By 4:30 I was grabbing a short nap at the house in Lara.    
James and I often have Banana Bread as a snack at airports. This was not the best we've had. It was rather lame to be honest.
On Tuesday, I had a quiet ‘Lifer Day’ in celebration of the Gould’s Petrel and I began writing this blog entry. In the arvo I drank a couple of good non-alcoholic beers and ate too many pistachios. And at 5:30, Lynn and I went to Bistro St. Jean in Geelong for a delicious Lifer dinner. It was the best Barramundi I have ever eaten. It was literally grilled to perfection. It was a fitting treat for my 752nd Australian Life Bird.

And a little sweet-treat, my favourite ice cream on a stick
I hope to hang onto some of the positive and optimistic feelings that I was having following the trip. These really are not my default settings, but I am working on it. I will always be working on it. I am in process and I will remain in process as long as I remain.

I write therefore I am. I share therefore it’s real. I love because Love Wins.