Saturday, July 04, 2015

Exertion and gentleness on an East Lomond hill walk...

East Lomond beckons through a light, morning mist.
Leaving the trailhead, the air was soft, moist, still...there was a calmness and gentleness to nature. 

Two of our favourite volcanic hills, and right nearby, are East and West Lomond, also known as the Paps of Fife. It's been a while since they've felt the heat of molten magma. These hills have survived 300 million years of erosive forces. A mere 18,000 years ago, a kilometre of ice moved up and over and around them. They stood their ground, the dense and fire-formed rock refused to be intimidated by the massive weight and dynamic forces of the ice. They gently remained, "as they were".

In relative terms, it was just "yesterday" that nearby Falkland Palace was transformed, by King James lV and James V, from an old castle into a royal palace. Mary Queen of Scots ran her cherished dogs and flew her hawks on these hills, once part of the hunting grounds belonging to the former royal residence. 

At 448 metres (1,471 feet), there is a wonderful view over the Kingdom of Fife, south to the Firth of Forth, and north and west over the Angus and Perthshire Hills. 

Initial steps along the forested trail.
It's a good uphill walk. There was required exertion, but also there was also a gentleness to this day on East Lomond. 

A dramatic thunderstorm, a wild wind, a driving rain, or blowing snow can be exciting and exhilarating and invigorating...but the calm that often follows (or precedes) these meteorological events is often filled with both promise and surprise as nature takes a breath...for even She must need to rest and find quiet moments for respite and restoration.

The frequent rains had created a green and glowing effusion of health and wholeness to all that springs from the earth.

I rather like gentleness's always one step at a time.
My spirit is soothed by gentle music. It's easy to appreciate all kinds of music, from country to Celtic to the classics, and everything in between...but it's the meditative, gentle strains that touch most deeply. 

As I write this, I am listening to quiet, peaceful, and contemplative piano music. The heart rate and breathing has slowed, the body may even be releasing endorphins, those neurotransmitters that calm and produce a sense of well-being. The music is so subtle that it almost vanishes from the consciousness...but it is there, behind everything. It is easy to lose oneself, thoughts liberated and surrendering themselves freely to the keyboard.

Gateway to the summit.
For me, gentle colours are most appealing. Of course, there's a time and a place for the "high viz" vests and jackets that startle and stimulate motorists into recognising that courtesy is required, that they must share the road with the runner, the walker, or the cyclist. We know that very well, and when in doubt, we are known to add a brilliant flashing light when running along the road. But I prefer the softer colours.

Colours affect us psychologically, emotionally, and physically. They give us a way to express ourselves, and a means to interpret the world. It's the gentle colours, the ones that are calming, restful, and tranquil that sooth the eyes and bring healing and strength to the soul. They are the colours of broad expanses of nature, especially the greens. 

The twin peak...West Lomond, from East Lomond.
I appreciate gentle voices, voices that don't have a need to clamour for constant attention. I'm drawn to the voices that are sufficiently generous of spirit to take a breath, in order to listen to and value the thoughts of others. Listening seems such a rare commodity these days. It is an expression of openness, gentleness and humility. The act of active listening requires courage and self-confidence and a genuine interest in the thoughts of others. The willingness to listen, with care and respect, is what would change the world. It is such a gift. Gentle voices permit that gift to be shared.

I like gentle thoughts, expressed with sensitivity, kindness, and compassion by gentle voices...the shared hopes and dreams and aspirations, accompanied by courageous strategies, that would enrich the lives of all people everywhere. 

NT48S014...the pillar trig point on East Lomond.
I am drawn to gentle people...who listen, who value the moment, who want the very best for others, who are sufficiently patient to find goodness everywhere, who are slow to judge but quick to affirm and encourage, who believe in living love, who understand the planet that we share is fragile, and that all life is connected.  

It is in their lives that I am reminded...

Wild Scottish rhododendrons, the national flower of Nepal, looking back at East Lomond.

Nothing is so strong as gentleness, 
nothing so gentle as real strength.
-St. Francis de Sales

Falkland Palace, residence of the Stuart Monarchy.
Returning to the trailhead, near Falkland Palace, there was a calmness in the village streets. If the ancient palace walls could share their stories...they might remind us that their most peace-filled memories, and greatest moments, were when people lived with expressed gentleness towards one another. 

It is, perhaps, how we human beings demonstrate our greatest strength.

And when it comes to hill walking, the combination of exertion and gentleness could be the best of both worlds. :)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A guide to the acronymical steps in a North Sea Paddle...IDGMB.

Packing the MTKTV at Base Camp.
 "Every journey begins with a single step...with subsequent steps to follow, most of which are described by acronyms these days." Anon.

(Some of the "steps" from this week's paddle from Arbroath to Auchmithie, and return.)


Time out on the water becomes an "epic" journey, even if it's just a precious single day on the North Sea. Preparations begin at Base Camp, currently in the Kingdom of Fife, Scotland. Gear, always at the ready and waiting, is carried out to the Moderate Terrain Kayak Transport Vehicle (MTKTV) in the International Kayaking Expedition Association (IKEA) bags. (Yes they do, indeed, look very much like the ones they sell at a certain Swedish self-assembly furniture store.) The boats are lifted into their cradles, where they are strapped and snugged in place.

The fully fuelled MTKTV is now loaded, and the journey to the DLC begins.


At the DLC parking area, a final visual confirmation of launch conditions and sea state is completed. The weather forecast is re-checked. A Go / No Go decision is established. Either way, a visit is made to the nearby Information Centre "comfort facility". The large, nutritious, and delicious 750 ml breakfast smoothies making this an absolute requirement before donning dry suits. And at 30p per person, it's a bargain. ;)

The excitement continues to build at the DLC.

The Agreement to Launch (AL) now confirmed, the sea kayaks must be transported to the PSI - on this day, the beach by the RNLI Lifeboat Station. Tidal conditions (outgoing) required the use of the Human-Assist Kayak Trolley (HAKT). Gear is loaded into the boats at the Designated Launch Coordinates. The boats were then affixed to the trolley by two Thule 275cm straps and rolled to the PSI.

Packing the last of the gear in waterproof bags.

The IOWM are critical. It is during this time that contact with land is happily relinquished, weight and balance and load distribution characteristics checked, paddling rhythm is established, and the mind emptied of anything that could possibly distract from the Sea Kayak Expedition Experience (SKEE).

Leaving Arbroath Harbour.

As with most self-propelled, outdoor activities, the Cathartic Effect (CE) must be given free reign over any accumulated worries and unwelcome stress.

The benevolent sea...on this day.

Very little time is required to transition from the Initial On-Water Moments to EM. Soon we are rock-hopping and exploring hidden and mysterious nooks and crannies along the ancient sandstone cliffs. 

The Cathartic Effect is expedited by EM. It becomes a matter of Self-Designated Focus (SDF).

Entering a geo...Dickmont's Den.

A state of NC can be quickly established in the mind of any outdoor enthusiast who longs to affiliate with nature...something hard-wired into the human soul. Ninety-nine percent of our evolutionary history has been in close connection to the natural world and it is clear that NC enhances subjective (psychological and social) well-being. 

It is in our nature to be connected...with nature. This is why chronic TV watchers, and people who have set up permanent residence on Facebook, develop what is known as Propensity to Chronic Grumpiness (PCG). (A related side effect is self-absorption.) It's nasty. They've become disconnected from one of the greatest resources for wholeness and health, physical and emotional. Nature Connectedness is a huge contributor to positive attitude.

Sea kayaking opens doors to the world outside, and an association with creatures great and small, whose habitats may be air, coastal land, and sea...and the changing intertidal zones in between.


RNUs are everywhere along our North Sea paddling is possible to be alone in this marine and coastal wonderland, but never lonely. Each of the pebbles and cobbles tell their story in the sound of the "swash", as the waves rush up and down the beach.

Preparing to enjoy "first" lunch.
Deep, dark, caves, now high above the water level and still rebounding from glacial ice sheets heighten Exploration Mode...

Carved by ancient seas.
and their weathered and eroded walls offer a time capsule of detailed information. To curious eyes and enquiring's a banquet table of treats.

The story of time.

The PPCFFT kicks in every time! Once the Moderate Terrain Kayak Transport Vehicle is re-loaded with gear and boats, it's time to check out a fruit stand and the East Scryne Farm, near Easthaven, where James Porter and his family have been farming for five generations. The PPCFFT craving was satisfied with fresh strawberries, homemade raspberry jam, two scones, and a gigantic meringue.

Mmmmm...fresh Angus fruit, and more.
So that's about it...just a few of the acronymical steps in a North Sea Paddle. 

It Doesn't Get Much Better (IDGMB). ;)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The 175th Edinburgh Royal Highland Show..and trading in our kayaks for a tractor!

It's easy to love this country...lofty snow-capped mountains, deep and mysterious sea lochs, dramatic coastlines and off-shore islands, lush green and fertile rolling hills, ancient castles, abbeys, and "thin places" everywhere. There is an elegance and an orderliness, mixed with a small dose of delightful cheekiness, in Scottish society. A simple greeting along the running path or village sidewalk is met with a smile and a enthusiastic "nod" that expresses both warmth and physicality.

AND..they have the coolest tractors. :) 

Here's a John Deere 7310R...yeah, I'll bet it runs "like a deer", all 352 hp, with CommandView lll cab, 10" touchscreen, hydraulic joystick, telematics, and Remote Display Access. Oh man...and I know where the ladder is. Hehe!

But if that tractor doesn't stir something deep inside the soul...this one might.

To have an hour in this black and white Valtra T4 "bad boy" would be pretty awesome! The company describes it as "reliable, robust, and versatile", I'd call it "unbelievable". There was a display of Porsche automobiles nearby...boring!)

Joan, who doesn't normally get overly excited about combines, took a real "shine" to this T670 HillMaster, and with the isochronous engine governor who wouldn't?

The ultimate machine at the Royal Highland Show had to be the Lexion 600 APS Straw was gigantic, and (on the "runway") would hold its own with the most sophisticated, supersonic aircraft. 

The Lexion has "tracks" on the front end! How cool is that?

The technology on display was worth the visit.

But there was so much more at this massive four-day country and agricultural event, showcasing Scottish farming, food, drink and rural living...and it's the largest such exhibition in the United Kingdom. Here's a wee sample...

There was music...

and there were magnificent horses...

and demonstrations of show jumping.

There were livestock competitions...

and cool looking sheep..."Bleu de Maine".

There were the gorgeous, long-haired Highland Cattle...wait a minute! Joan?!

Educational displays demonstrated the sophistication of Scottish farming.

There were pole climbing competitions...

and some potential real estate opportunities...this one was big enough for two!

And sweeties...lots of sweeties,

and, you know, the other stuff... :)

Crafts and handiwork...and wooden ducks wearing boots!

A miniature scene...

Trucks that made the heart skip a beat...

and this, what an awesome Kayak Transport Vehicle (KTV) it could be with room for lots of boats!

Extra gear and kit? No problem, we could just pull this little puppy behind.

And then...we found something that we could definitely use...every single day: A self-propelled "breakfast smoothie / green drink maker"! 

The 175th Edinburgh Royal Highland Show was simply an amazing day out. 

Will we trade our small fleet of kayaks in for a Valtra T4 or a John Deere 7310R? Well, probably not...but for a ride in the mega machine, the Lexion 600 APS Straw Walker, it's just a little tempting! ;)

*The 2015 Royal Highland Show, at the Ingliston show ground in Edinburgh, runs June 18 - 21.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A journey from Maple Bay, Vancouver Island...

Moments before the launch at Maple Bay,
the Pacific Northwest canoe...and two children to give scale.
Image: Courtesy of Linda E.
The weather in Scotland, these past couple of weeks has been somewhat challenging. Our sea kayaks enjoyed a training session of balance and self-rescue exercises on Loch Tay a week ago. But on Friday, the planned launch from Arbroath, on the North Sea, had to be postponed at the last instant when the "haar", a cold sea fog materialised around us, changing conditions from the forecast Force 1-2 winds to a chilly and energetic Force a matter of minutes.

Back home in Maple Bay (Vancouver Island), however, the conditions are perfect today for a memorable paddle. It will have to be, for us, a vicarious experience.

Today, our friend, Linda, is embarking on a voyage of discovery with teachers from our local Cowichan a most magnificent craft, a Pacific Northwest canoe. Amongst our Canadian First Nations people, there are three great art forms: plank houses, totem poles, and canoes. Culturally and spiritually, the greatest of these is the canoe - a product of elegant engineering and sophisticated joinery design, older than time itself.

Constructed of the centuries-old, massive trees, felled or harvested from the forest floor of Vancouver Island, these canoes are sturdy, ocean-going vessels, capable of transport and exploration. Ideally constructed of Western Red Cedar, they are strong, relatively lightweight, buoyant, and resistant to deterioration in the unforgiving ocean environment. Traditionally, three carvers would take about eight weeks to complete a 25 foot canoe.

Ten paddlers (or many more) and a steersman would propel the canoe through our island waters, and beyond to the coastal ranges of the mainland.

It will be an amazing journey for Linda and her companion paddlers...and we look forward with great anticipation to her story.

Friday, June 05, 2015

A love song, "fields of gold"...and field of dreams.

"In the days still left
We'll walk in fields of gold
We'll walk in fields of gold"
- Sting

Morning comes early in Scotland...the sun rose at 0426. It was a dazzling and warm sun, tickled to be free of the overcast that has softened its brilliance these past days. As if in sheer, wonder, celebration, and delight, the canola fields, the broom, the gorse, the dandelions, and the buttercups smiled radiantly back into the skies, with their own unique shades of yellow and gold.

A couple of hours later, and (almost) fully awake, we were in the midst of the fields and rolling hills of Fife. The morning run is a long-standing routine. It has always been much more than simply "exercise". It offers a necessary and promised connection to our favourite place...outside. It is a "moving meditation". It centres the spirit, and prepares the heart and soul for the day. Whatever the weather, observations taken along the way are a reminder of the beauty and diversity of this planet. These observations make for a convincing argument that, at this point in human history, we know of no other sphere more exquisite...anywhere in the universe.

The bright golden and lush green fields are right out the back door...literally. There's winter and spring wheat, canola, barley, carrots, potatoes, maize, oats, and a variety of soft fruit.

The fields of gold are simply stunning. They make me think of the warm, emotive song by the same name, sung by Sting and Celtic Woman, and many others. It's a love song, I'm sure of it. But it's also about promises broken, to ourselves or to others, and falling short of where we want to be in life...walking in those marvellous "fields of gold".

Passion and desire are necessary when we want to see our dreams and aspirations through to fruition. But that same passion and desire can be dashed when we doubt our abilities. So often, it's a mindset. It's falling prey to doubting that our goals are within our reach. When we move our dreams and desires forward, into the "realm of possibility", however, the requisite passion and energy usually follows. In fact, sometimes it rushes, headlong, to catch up!

The Wright brothers must have felt like throwing their hands up in despair..there were so, SO many variables to get right in order for the imagined heavier-than-air machine to be able to fly! But these two bicycle manufacturers believed, with all of their hearts, that what they imagined was within the realm of possibility. And with their confident vision, their passion and desire continued to burn and carried them to their invention of three-axis control (managing the pitch, yaw, and roll of their primitive flying machine)......and success at Kitty Hawk in 1903. The flight was only 12 seconds and 120 feet - but it was a magnificent "field of gold."

There are so many "fields of gold" I aspire to "walk in"...such as playing the simple recorder (which would vastly require improving upon the current "squeaks") and maybe one day, a Native American flute. I dream of "bagging" more than the current grand total of just five Munros (Scottish hills over 3000' - there are 282!). I aspire to sea kayaking in new and dramatic places, off Vancouver Island and here in Scotland. I yearn to explore and discover...the list is long. And sometimes, admittedly, the passion and desire risk getting doused and extinguished - in the face of "realities".

BUT, it can just take a renewed glimpse of what is possible, and sometimes the encouragement of someone who believes in us...and the passion and desire can re-ignite into a burning flame.

We can never give up on our dreams...and we must always encourage others to continue to pursue their own "fields of gold". This is especially important with children...and the child within us all. ;)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Ice cream on deck...and a rescue operation on the North Sea.

After lunch, our North Sea paddle, south, from Auchmithie to Arbroath continued with more exploration "inside the earth" - more caverns and caves. Ian has written a marvellous account with tons of description in his posts, Sea Kayaking under the farmland of AngusLuncheon in a lost world, and Narrow places - exploring the geos of the Angus coastDouglas has also posted the continuing events of this very full day in his post, A rescue and two ice cream heads at Auchmithie - great reads!

I had, in the back of my mind, been thinking about us all paddling over for a coffee at the Old Boatyard in Arbroath Harbour but a much better (and slightly closer) alternative began to ice cream cone at Victoria Park, north of the town. The tide was just right for us to walk to shore from a reef! Now, how cool is that? 

Mike and I stayed with the boats while Douglas, Ian, Phil, Maurice, and my spouse of 42 years (who knows I love ice cream) headed to shore to the snack kiosk for the treat that tempted. They must have been quite a sight, four men and a woman in dry suits, appearing from offshore - the kayaks tucked into the reef, and quite invisible to folks on land.

As we waited...confident that Joan would return with an ice cream...a 10m RIB (rigid-hull inflatable boat) from Arbroath Sea Safari, with passengers, paused to take in the spectacular marine environment. I was reminded, yet again, how fortunate we are to be able to paddle our narrow boats so close to the dramatic cliffs...and even deep into them where few other vessels could ever think of going.

It turned out to be a relatively short walk to the Victoria Park kiosk, across what would become the sea floor in a matter of hours. The sun was high and warm, and my mouth could already taste the cool sweetness of the coming ice cream cone.

In retrospect, in this image that Joan took, it was clear that Phil, Douglas, Ian, Maurice, (and Joan) were savouring this rare and tasty treat. 

As they returned to the reef, I had an increasing sense that Joan was not carrying back with her, my long-anticipated ice cream. It was simply not to be.

So...Maurice, Douglas, Ian, Phil and Joan enjoyed cold, delicious soft ice cream. Mike, out on the reef with me, cooked one of his home-hatched eggs, which looked very tasty. Your faithful reporter was left to chew on an old, and slightly soggy power bar. Lesson learned.

And it's all fine. Next time, I will go to shore and get my own! ;)

As we began to close up dry suits and prepare the kayaks for the return leg, in winds that were beginning to build, we became aware of a drama unfolding about a mile out at sea.

A call for assistance on Marine VHF Channel 16 had come in from a seven metre yacht. In the winds which had increased to F4, and forecast to possibly rise to F6, the vessel had lowered its sails and started its engine. Unfortunately, its propeller had become fouled in a rope, attached to a creel buoy, and the yacht was immobilised. 

Ian, a professional mariner, was in touch with both the Aberdeen Coast Guard and the disabled yacht and was appraised of the situation.

From higher "ground", the vessel was visible and clearly within reach by sea kayak.

A strategy was devised, and the go ahead was given by both Aberdeen Coast Guard and gratefully accepted by the yacht owner: Ian and Douglas would rendevous with the vessel and attempt to cut her free, so that she could raise her sail and navigate to the safety of the nearby harbour at Arbroath.

I was moved by the professionalism of the whole operation and the example of altruism at sea. Altruism is most often defined as the "unselfish concern or devotion for the well-being of others." It is a beautiful thing and it brings out the best in all of us...whether we are on the giving or the receiving end.

At sea, altruism, most specifically, going to the rescue of those in distress is an obligation that has long been enshrined in international treaties and in time-honoured tradition. The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), was first adopted in 1914 in response to the Titanic disaster. Revised a number of times, Chapter 5 of the Treaty states that mariners have an obligation "to offer assistance to those in distress". The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, in Article 98, clearly states that a vessel has a "duty to render assistance to another."

To most mariners, it would be unthinkable, if it did not further endanger either party, not to do all that one could to offer help to another...even if it's a tiny sea kayak offering assistance to a yacht.

And so Douglas and Ian set off, from the shelter of our reef cove, into bouncy waves and towards the vessel.

The rest of us kept rear guard, as they made good progress, rising and falling in the swell. 

As it turned out, the RNLI Lifeboat, RNLB Inchcape, was also launched and subsequently assumed command, with thanks and appreciation to our guys. It was textbook. It was altruism at sea...well thought out, experienced eyes to the conditions, all the knowledge required, and with a solid strategy in place.

About 45 minutes later, we regrouped and the group of seven headed north back to Auchmithie. The combination of ebb tide against wind, the effects of waves against cliffs (clapotis), and headlands that created more "fun" waves than was really necessary! Well, we did have an eventful story to tell.

And some even got ice cream! :)