Monday, November 23, 2015

Compassion, and living in a world of wind and swell...the "paddle" we must never let go.

Paddling these narrow boats on the sea is a multifaceted experience. On calm days, forward momentum is almost effortless...the rhythm and even cadence of the easy paddle strokes offer an almost meditative experience. Muscle memory is the captain of this ship in these conditions. It is possible to disengage the mind, and allow the imagination full reign. There is only the moment. The world of sea, sky, and land becomes a "dreamscape". Everything is possible...the limitations of time evaporate. There is a sense that one could paddle forever...until the cramped quarters and snug cockpit eventually remind the body that it is time to stretch, for a moment or two of respite...or even a little "shore time". It's never hard work though.

On days when wind and swell delight in the creation of pitch, yaw, and roll, the paddler works much harder. Physical forces acting on the boat demand an equal and opposite reaction. The boat, left to its own devices, is happy to go with the flow. In a beam wind, it wants to weathercock its bow into the wind, just like a rooftop rooster, defining the direction of the wind. The paddler strains to balance all these forces, and maintain his chosen course and direction. 

The fact is, we live in a world of "wind and swell" is rarely quiet on any front. Our own personal lives are subject to turbulence and uncertainty and the often heart-wrenching abyss of the unknown. In the world at large, daily headlines tell of impossibly frightening events...

There can so easily be a sense of powerlessness.

In the midst of such conditions, the paddler would never throw his paddle into the sea, and his hands up in despair. He would not give in and throw himself into the waves.

She would stay the course...maintaining course and direction, confident in her abilities and trusting in those who have taught her well. There would be no thought to giving up...or giving in. There would only be renewed determination and courageous resolve, not only to stay afloat and right-side-up, but to return safely to the launch.

Our world needs resolve, determination, courage, and an unswerving belief that we are not powerless, nor do we have to live in fear. There is no stronger nor more compelling force in the world than compassion. Throughout history, those who have changed the world for the better were not the paranoid nor the revengeful. They were not the ones who would shrink away and isolate themselves from formidable challenges. They were not those who would build walls, or turn away (or deport) the homeless and the helpless, or dismiss something as threatening as climate change as "just weather". They were not those whose ability to love was ever "trumped" by the fears they chose to embrace.

Those whose lives enrich the world are the ones who live with compassion and who never, ever, give up on wanting the best for those with whom we share this planet, and most especially those who are most vulnerable. They are the ones we will remember forever, for their example and their courageous leadership against any and all odds.

The fact is, living our lives with compassion makes us strong. 

It is, admittedly, a world of wind and swell, and sometimes terrible storm...but compassion's "muscle memory" will propel us, and ensure our safe passage as a human family. 

It's the "paddle" we must never let go.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

What's with the "Grumpy Sea Lion" of Saltspring Island?

There's a sea lion out there who just won't leave us alone. It's getting a little annoying. Frankly, he's become rather mean-spirited. We've haven't seen other sea kayaks out there for a while, so it's difficult to corroborate our tale with other paddler's experiences.

We have no pictures...when this guy shows up, he's usually astern, in our "blind spot". He then overtakes, and usually, with some "drama". Needless to say, we're reluctant to take our hands off the paddle when there may be a need for a quick brace as he (in our vivid imaginations) attempts to capsize us. And even when held "hostage", on the shore, it never occurred to either of us to take out a camera...we were too mesmerised with his irritating behaviour, which could certainly be characterised as uncongenial and contrarian.

We've identified this guy as a Stellar sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus). He has a very broad chest and neck, high forehead, and what looks like a mane of hair.  Stellars grow to about 10 feet in length and can weigh in up to 2,470 lb! To compare, our kayaks are around 17.5 feet  long and weigh in at around 50 lbs. 
The only pinnipeds larger are two species of elephant seals and the walrus. Just paddle away from him you say? Well, they cruise at around 11 mph and, in a burst of speed, can achieve 25 miles per hour. Us? Not so much. On a good day, we paddle about 3 mph, although a short lived "burst of speed" might register 6 mph - with the tide, current, a tail wind, following waves, a high energy lunch, and a good measure of adrenaline. 

Stellar sea lion: Image courtesy
The first time we encountered one another, several weeks ago, we weren't even on the water. We were taking a small break, enjoying a cup of steaming, green tea on the "secret beach", over on Saltspring Island. 

"Himself" came cruising by, barking and growling...and baring his teeth. Circling back, he came progressively closer to the beach...still barking and growling. After what felt like a rather long time, our new pal, who seemed satisfied that he had given us a well-deserved scolding, submerged and swam away. He subsequently surfaced every so often, and glanced back with what looked like a rather menacing expression. Grumpy or what? Interestingly, male sea lions only live half as long as females. Perhaps a consequence of a lifetime of grumpiness? Hmmm...there may be a point to this story after all.

Once he was out of sight, we slid the boats back into the water, and proceeded towards the ferry terminal at Vesuvius. Although we remained vigilant, the rest of the paddle was uneventful...and unaccompanied.

A week later, we were back across the Narrows, investigating the nooks and crannies, and listening to the contemplative "music" of the the ample run off from recent rains.

Suddenly, out of nowhere - and only several boat lengths away - the very large (and now familiar) brown body launched violently out of the sea, twisted in the air and performed a very good imitation of a whale was our pal again, now, clearly showing off. He may have been having a good time, but it wasn't the least bit funny to us. He showed those impressive teeth, growled, gave us a "don't let me see you out here again" look...and swam off, with one self-satisfied glance back. Feeling a little "territorial" there, buddy?

So, this past week, we were back...yep, and so was the Stellar sea lion. As we paddled along the same shore, over at Saltspring, he surfaced, grumpy as usual. This time, he swam somewhat aggressively towards the kayaks, pushing a substantial bow wave, stopping about twenty feet away. He then repeated this interesting manoeuvre several times, "herding" us towards a small cove where we elected to egress the boats and wait this silliness out. Sheesh!

In the meantime, we discovered a most interesting jellyfish-like "thing". Anyone have any idea what it is?

No longer the focus of our attention, our now-faithful "paddling partner" swam off, undoubtedly feeling very smug. So what's with the "Grumpy Sea Lion" of Saltspring Island? 

Paddling back out from the beach, a blue heron, who had been watching the whole affair from his perch on the rocks, gave one last glance in our direction...and lifted off. It's repeated, sustained, and harsh awwk, is perhaps the nastiest and grumpiest sound of any bird, anywhere, as one writer suggested, like a velociraptor charging! 

I love nature. ;)

Saturday, November 07, 2015

The mountains shall bring peace...

The Three Sisters, Canmore
An ancient sage, the Psalmist, once wrote, "the mountains shall bring peace to the people". I've always found that to be true.

Today, we made a quick trip to the Rocky Mountain town of Canmore. Canmore is just outside Banff National Park, and about 100 kilometres west of Calgary. The elevation of the town centre sits at 1309 metres (4296 Feet). The surrounding mountains reach heights of 2936 metres (9,633 feet).

We had a home there fifteen years ago. We've hiked and skied many of the trails over the years. We've stood on the highest point of a couple of the mountains, one of which was Ha Ling Peak, on the far right on the image below. My mum and dad, who introduced me to self-propelled sports and the need to spend time "outside", are buried there. 

It's a very special place. 

Being there today, "visiting" with my parents, brought peace.

Mount Lawrence Grassi, and Ha Ling Peak (r)
Thank you, mum and dad, for teaching us about the peace that can be found in the mountains (and on the sea)...long before we read the words of the ancient sage.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The long extinct "creatures" of Gabriola Island: their secrets revealed...

We've paddled these Gabriolan waters many times. Little did we know that on this day, we would discover the shocking reality behind the legends of the lost and long extinct "creatures" of Gabriola Island. 

Oh yes, over the years, we'd heard the stories...gargantuan iguanas, ferocious dog-like creatures, monster fish, dragon beasts. All from another time, long before humankind was even a glimmer in the Creator's eye. But these seemed just far-fetched, and fanciful tales. 

On this paddle, there was a headland. We had always chosen to circumnavigate Entrance Island, rather than continue along the island coast. We'd never explored beyond this mysterious piece of land, jutting out into the Salish Sea. Today we would go further than ever the other side of the headland.

Near the very last sign of human habitation, they warned us away. 

Three seals called out, begging us, with their eyes, to paddle NO further. The sense of urgency, almost panic, in their expression was palpable. 

A sea gull stood by, almost philosophically...he'd seen this all before. 

He knew this would not end well. The timeless enigma would be exposed. Two human beings, one mango and the other red, would discover the hidden secrets of Gabriola Island...secrets entrenched in stone and hidden in this netherworld.

The seals beseeched us to reconsider...but we were drawn forward, as if by some irresistible, compelling force.

Rounding the headland, it was as if we had become time travellers...gliding backward in time through countless millennia and into a land of 65 million years ago when these "rumoured" creatures traversed the land, and swam in an ancient and primordial soup.

It was an eerie blood ran strangely cold. We both wanted to turn around, to flee back to the safety of what we knew...but it was too late. 

Curiosity is a powerful drew us forward.

And there, in this land shaped by time...

lay the evidence, the proof...incontrovertible and clear...of the long-hidden secrets.

It was, indeed, a gargantuan iguana...turned to stone.

It's expression seemed to be one of acceptance and compliance with some reality unbeknownst to us. 

Its time had come? Millions upon millions upon millions of years ago? How could this possibly have happened?

A massive dog-like creature, legs folded beneath its body, rested in repose...

...still looking towards the land, ever vigilant.

A dragon beast, no longer breathing fire, seemed to be enjoying the warm sunshine of a different world than it had ever known in life. stone.

Two fish, leaping into the sky had likewise been turned to stone.

How could all of this have happened? We'll never know.

Heart rates back to normal, we quietly drifted...and pondered these timeless mysteries.

There were more questions than there were answers. But questions are good. 

"Living the questions" is a much richer experience than grasping at answers. Questions open doors...answers, all too often, only serve to close them tightly shut. 

It's why listening is a much richer experience than talking.

When we listen...we draw in the wealth of what others share. It's always "value added".

But wait a minute...enough of this. We've missed lunch! Time to find the beach.

Ah...that's better.

After all, discovering "timeless secrets" builds up a hearty appetite!

And then soon it was time to return, once again, to the other side of the headland, and back to the present.

As a BC Ferry approached the Entrance Island lighthouse...

...we navigated our way back to the Descanso Bay launch in the forecast breezy air and bumpy seas.

All in a day's paddle around Gabriola Island, British Columbia. 

Perhaps we should have told the seals that it all worked out, just fine. :)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Going "home" again...paddling our old pal, "Gabe".

For a number of years, we had a lovely little cabin on Gabriola Island..a simple and functional 650 square feet. It was truly...a very "Canadian cabin" - a nearby retreat for those weeks when a day or two (or even a few hours) was the best tonic for busy schedules. The view over the Salish Sea from Mt. Baker to Vancouver City, to Howe Sound, and along the majestic coastal range refreshed and inspired. 

And, of course, the kayaks almost always came along, strapped to the top of the High Mobility Kayak Transport Vehicle.

We sold the cabin two years ago and haven't been back to "Gabe" much since, having been out of the country most of that time. Back from the UK for awhile, and with plans to spend the winter here, the nearby Gabriola waters called out. 

One always wonders...will it feel the same? Will the same thrill be there? Novelist Thomas Wolfe titled his book, "You can't go home again." Sometimes it's difficult to go back "home". Life changes, perspectives change, places change, people change...we change. It's not always possible to recapture those special vibes that make up fond memories and cherished past experiences...but just as often, it is possible.

Gabriola Island sits just a 20-minute ferry ride from Nanaimo, the "Harbour City". We launched from Descanso Regional Park, with the plan to have lunch at Sandwell Provincial Park, on the other side of the island. We would pass by some amazing sandstone formations! It would be an easy paddle out with overcast and calm winds but forecast to rise to a breezy F3 by mid-afternoon. It could be a bumpy paddle back, under sunny skies.

It had been quite a while since I had used my narrow, wooden, Greenland paddle. It felt good but I realized very quickly that I was out of practice. If it got bumpy, I just wasn't very confident with braces. 

The first stop would be the Malaspina Galleries, a rare geological treat...after which, I would switch back to the trusty Cadence (Euro) paddle.

The "galleries" are an amazing formation composed of late-Cretaceous rocks - more than 65 million years old. (This was the same period of the earth's history that dinosaurs flourished - and the Tyrannosaurus topped the "food chain" here in North America.) The formation, consisting of sandstone, appears very much like a giant, curling, wave.

The galleries were not formed due to wind, waves, surf, and frost, as is commonly believed. Minerals in the sandstone are weathered by oxygen and groundwater, which seeps out through tiny fractures. Sandstone can act as a "sponge" and holds both the salty groundwater and sea water. The theory is that when the water, that is temporarily absorbed by the sandstone, evaporates, the salt crystals expand, and loosened grains of the sandstone fall away.

The roof, or "visor", is composed of a harder sandstone with fewer "voids" or spaces (and is therefore less porous), and is more resistant to weathering. 

One day, the roof will fall, but hopefully not when someone is walking on it...or paddling beneath it.

Is some places, the visor seems to "melt". This, however, is a small piece of the original outer surface of the cliff face. It really does look like melted wax.

Time was passing and there were a good number of kilometres to paddle to get to the beach...and first lunch. With the backdrop of the coastal mountains of the North American continent, we joined other (and much bigger) marine traffic on the Salish Sea: ocean going tugboats towing immense barges of wood chips...

...BC Ferries, transporting visitors and Islanders from the mainland... 

...and then it was just us...making straight for the Entrance Island lighthouse, some stunning sandstone "sculptures"...and lunch on the beach.

Although we miss paddling along the rugged coastlines of the North Sea and the Moray Firth, and the magical west coast of Scotland, the familiar waters of our old pal, "Gabe", was as wonderful as it had always been...and it felt like "home". 

You can go home again. :)

More to come...

Thursday, October 08, 2015

A land and sea interface from beyond time...and a small political comment.

About 50 million years ago, a chain of volcanic islands collided with what is now North America. We three pals, from south Vancouver Island, set off for the coast of Oregon to explore the remnants of these ancient volcanoes...and were not disappointed.

It's more than a dramatic interface of land and sea. It feels deliciously supernatural, otherworldly. The geological record shows that massive undersea earthquakes, and accompanying tsunamis occur here every 500 years, plus or minus 200 years. The last one took place 300 years ago...we were in the "window". Beneath our very feet, the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate was moving under the North America plate, at only 4 cm/yr...admittedly, less than a "snail's pace", but we didn't think about that.

The beauty and the mystery of it all was simply too compelling to be considering such (geologically) "catastrophic" thoughts. We had been here before, but never exactly here...good luck and a low tide permitted us a brief few hours to explore, for the first time, around the corner of an ancient headland. It was stunning.

Today, as I write, we could not have explored this place..this splendid, secret cove would have been rendered inaccessible by huge and dangerous swell. A special weather statement was issued this morning...

Over the Pacific, Hurricane Oho has transitioned to an extra tropical low. A large swell, generated by the storm, is expected to arrive in the coastal waters. This swell will be the source of primary concern. With the swell reaching 14 feet, the threat of breaking waves over jetties and south to southwest facing beaches will exist...along with the possibility  of generating significant surf. A swell of this direction and magnitude is uncommon. Remain out of the surf zone and off jetties as breaking waves have the potential to sweep people into the water. Remember...never turn your back on the sea. Mariners will also face additional hazards.

Duly warned. This is a zone of great instability and vulnerability, in every way...but on the day of our exploration and discovery, gentle weather and sea state, a low and ebbing tide, and benign tectonic forces permitted us a most extraordinary window into a magnificent world of sculptured beauty.

Primordial beauty.

Stark beauty.

And amidst, and subject to the unimaginable forces of change and erosion, there is always life on this planet, delicate and determined. Sentient, at some level? Who really knows? Perhaps they "feel" the gathering storm at sea - and are already holding fast against it.

A "heart" of resistant rock, up against the coastal cliffs, cradles treasures.

Carefully placed, sea-polished disks of volcanic birth beckon us into this timeless shell. Others had been here before and had left these simple cairns, perhaps, as a gentle reminder of their visit here.

We each gathered up a smooth remnant of an ancient volcano...and with three polished pieces, marked our time spent in this special place.

By today, nothing will remain inside this little natural sanctuary...our visit will be but a memory. 

The beach will be refreshed, renewed, recreated by storm waves. There will be no trace of our passage...just the way it should be.

The natural world grounds us and liberates us both "roots and wings". Nature invites us to become as children (and we did)...with an insatiable appetite for exploration and discovery and delight. It is time spent in the world "outside" that revitalises our spirits, soothes our hurts and our angst, sharpens our senses, brings to us balance, gives us perspective and appreciation, and reminds us of our very tiny place in the larger web of life in which we all have to take care of each other.

I know I've said this before, but our Canadian politicians, currently competing for votes in the upcoming federal election, all need to get outside. (Well, thankfully, there's one candidate for PM that actually does get outside - he learned it from his dad.) Enough of the endless "conversations", table groups, strategies, town hall meetings, and campaign promises...they just need to get outside, and breathe deeply and be still (yep, be still), and listen for once. Why is listening so hard for so many who aspire to positions of power? If they could just find the courage to find a little time to get outside in raw and pristine nature, they would learn that the environment and all life is fragile and vulnerable. Having made that discovery, they would understand that we have a responsibility to take care of this planet's life-support systems. And having made that discovery, they might be drawn to ensure that we become again a compassionate, gentle, caring, and open society - just as we once were in Canada. They would understand that we need to be thinking about our grandchildren's children. Ultimately, it's about us all...the whole human family - and all life on the planet - as wonderfully diverse and different that we are. Of course, the added benefit would be that our leaders would also model much healthier lifestyles, and think much more clearly...of the common good. Now that would be leadership. Go figure, eh? And, they'd probably sleep better at night.

The three pals...Joan, Linda, and myself...felt most fortunate to have had a glimpse of this magical interface of land and sea, just around the corner of an Oregon coastal headland.

Meanwhile, seas are building...shorelines are being reshaped...change...always change. ;)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Simple pleasures, kayak dining...and a recipe, guaranteed to impress.

In our forty-two years of marriage, I have never been drawn to "fine dining", in the traditional sense. After all, those Michelin "stars" mean a lot of money is probably going to change hands. The starched and ironed linen table cloths simply call out to spill something - and it's usually "red". Impeccably-mannered staff can be annoying. Fancy presentation...well, it should really about eating a meal, not looking at it. I know, I'm not much of a bon vivant.

Besides, eating out cannot possibly begin to compare to eating...outside.

Now, having said all of that, dress code is very important. So...having promised Joan yet another gourmet meal in a five star-equivalent, southern Gulf Island venue, I suggested we both wear our "suits" to go out...dry suits. After all, driving or being driven to dinner is counter-productive. In order to fully enjoy a meal, one needs to significantly "spark" the appetite. Nothing does that better than self-propelled transportation. We would make the 14 kilometre round trip for brunch in our kayaks. Yes, Joan is one heck of a good sport about these things.

Under heavily overcast skies and on an ocean as eerily calm as a giant mill pond, we left the shore for the yet-unannounced location - it would be a surprise. See, always the romantic! :)

A low cloud cover kissed the tops of the hills on Saltspring Island...the mood was set. As I paused to take a picture, Joan pulled ahead...still not knowing exactly where she would be enjoying this very special treat I would soon prepare for her.

Arriving on the isolated gulf island shore, arbutus trees seemed to glow their rich colour against the back drop of the dark forest. A log, thrown up on the shore by the recent winds, pointed the the "secret beach".

In what seemed like no time at all, we were there...peacefulness reigned.

It doesn't get much better...ocean view, no need for reservations, perfect ambiance, ample parking, AND full on kitchen facilities.

The table was set, freshly-squeezed orange juice served, and the tiny stove quickly had today's simple, gastronomic pleasure taking shape inside the pot. 

I could tell Joan was pretty excited...spoon at the ready!

Today's featured treat? Scrambled tofu "eggs", with a delicate garnish of parsley and chives, and a carefully measured dash of hot pepper flakes. Classical haute cuisine would suggest serving this delicacy in a deep silver dish...but the camping bowls did just fine, adding a further touch of simplicity.

How did it taste?

It was simply amazing.

Yep, I was pretty darn proud, chuffed in fact.

So you see guys, you too can be an incurable romantic and offer that someone special an incomparable dining experience without spending hardly anything at all. Tip: To guarantee complete success and maximize dining pleasure, simply ensure that transportation to the venue is a self-propelled, high calorie-burning activity. 

Easy peasy. ;)