Thursday, December 08, 2016

Kayaks, kale, beans 'n rocks, and castle ruins...

Launching our sea kayaks from Ord, on the west coast of Skye's Sleat Peninsula,  the sea was as calm as it could possibly be. The mountains, the boats, and Joan's red Kokatat drysuit reflected on the water, and on the fine-grained sand left shiny by an ebbing tide. 

There's a remarkable "vastness" here...and it's an island off the west coast of Scotland. The vista reminded us of our place in the universe. Know what? Those who govern, our leaders, need some serious time outdoors. Perhaps up and coming Presidents and Prime Ministers should have, mandated, a form of "basic training". They would learn the humility necessary for true leadership. They would go from that exercise determined to build "bridges"...not, well, you know. They would develop a relationship with the natural environment, and come to love it enough to fight to protect it. They would understand and speak courageously about the interdependence of all life on this planet...and not simply natter on about their multifaceted fears, "intoxicated by the exuberance of their own verbosity". (One of my father's expressions.) Enough said... ;)

On this day, we had decided to go "out" for other agenda. And it would be an unhurried day.

The chosen venue was a tiny islet, Eilean Ruairidh. It's uninhabited...but that was not always the case. Perhaps during the Iron Age, there was a fort here. The ruins are still visible.

Lunch was simple, and nutritious - some (cold) beans, with a garnish of kale, spinach, and a piece of bread. It would suffice. 

Our imaginations pondered the lives of the early inhabitants.

The rock that makes up the island is magical, we have no idea what it is - even after searching through the classic "Geology of the Isle of Skye", by Bell and's a mystery to us.

Anyone have any ideas?

The crushed rock on the only little "beach" that provided accessibility to the islet was smooth, and "marble-ish".

After lunch, and a brief (and rather risky in paddling boots) exploration of the steep and slippery topography, we had a castle to return that had appeared through the fog several days earlier. 

We first glimpsed an "arch" through the fog. It appeared to have been created by the sea, atop a raised beach.

It was not a natural formation, however, it was an arch built of stone by the Clan MacDonald of Sleat.

Built in the 13th or 14th century, Dun Sgathaich Castle (or Dunscaith Castle) sat on this off-shore rock, about 40 feet above sea level. A walled bridge spanned the gap to the mainland. The arch is still intact.

A small portion of the five foot thick wall remains, but little else.

Three brief hours on the water, a magical tour through time...and a reminder of the fullness of time and the immensity of even the tiny parts of this complex planet. 

Kayaks, kale, beans 'n rocks, and castle ruins...definitely our idea of a good day out. :)

Thursday, December 01, 2016

My oldest pal, and co-adventurer...

Andrew Rippin PhD, FRSC was the much-loved former Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Victoria, and one of the of the world's leading and most respected scholars. Most recently, Andrew was Professor Emeritus of Islamic History at the University of Victoria. He was a renowned specialist in the Qur'an and the history of its interpretation. He was also the Senior Research Fellow - Qur’anic Studies, Institute of Ismaili Studies, in London. In academic circles, he's been referred to as a "titan". But to me...for fifty-three years, he was "Andy", my oldest pal, and co-adventurer. 

Andy passed away, from cancer, on November 29th. We enjoyed so many adventures together over the years...back country skiing and mountain biking in the Rockies, trail running, sea kayaking, hiking, and exploring. We discussed weighty subjects, philosophical and theological - until it all went over my head! And we enjoyed, as much as anything, talking about the next adventure, kayaks, classic VW vans, rock 'n roll, our now-famous drive to California in 1971..and how my Harris tweed jacket looked much better on him. Through much of this, our patient spouses just rolled their eyes. ;)

Here's a taste of one of the adventures we enjoyed, several years ago...our circumnavigation, by sea kayak, of Salt Spring Island. Dreamers, we had thought about paddling around Vancouver Island, but felt we should get a more moderate paddle completed first. ;)

Here's how it went...

DAY 1 

Total Distance: 20.03 km (Maple Bay to Wallace Island)
Moving Time: 3 hr 19 minutes 
Moving Average Speed: 6 km / hr

With Salt Spring Island so close at hand, it has long invited us to plan a circumnavigation by sea kayak. Estimating an easy trip of about 80 kilometers, the logistical challenges were simply finding a "window" of three or four days and discerning where camping would be possible. The latter was, for a while, the most illusive. Surprisingly, there is really only one (authorized) camp site that is easily accessible by kayak and that is Musgrave Landing, at the south end of Sansum Narrows. The other camp sites would be on Wallace Island and Prevost Island, both short and easy crossings. The most logical direction of travel would be clockwise, so that the last day would be a short one - ahh, more time to "savour" the previous days!

With my usual paddling partner (Joan) serving as "support crew" and looking longingly after us, Andy and I left Maple Bay around 10 in the morning under grey skies and drizzle. By the time we had reached the beach at Vesuvius (on Salt Spring), the sun was shining and after a short replenishment break we headed up the coast. Amazingly, the GPS recorded a maximum speed of 10.8 km / hr - our sleek crafts "turbo boosted" at times by following wind and waves! Soon after 1300 hrs, we had reached Idol Island, a most photogenic little islet - and a perfect place to stretch legs and feast on homemade fruit leather and Logan bread. Rounding Southey Point, on the north end of Salt Spring, the wind picked up and the crossing to the campsite on Chivers Point on Wallace Island was "lively" with our loaded kayaks enjoying the occasional "plunge" into the waves as produced and delivered by the brisk quartering wind!

At Wallace, we met six other kayakers, the only ones we were to share a campsite with on this trip. The month of May really is a good time to plan such a paddle - usually good weather and availability at the limited campsites. 

Wallace Island Marine Park is a great place to overnight and it even offers an 8 km (return) trail run. We had both brought running shoes for such a possibility - but you'd better watch out for the rocks and roots! They have a way of tripping you up!

Day 2

Total Distance: 20.7 km (Wallace Island to Prevost Island)

Moving Time: 3 hr 27 minutes
Moving Average Speed: 6 km / hr

After a hearty breakfast of oatmeal (and superb coffee) on Day 2, we left Chivers Point and entered the Trincomali Channel with the tide, calm seas, and magnificent sunshine all going our way. Galiano Island is another short crossing to the northeast - tempting, but another day. In what seemed like no time at all, we were back on the shores of Salt Spring near the Fernwood dock and heading towards our day's destination at the end of James Bay on Prevost Island. Throughout the morning, seals would pop up and then, with barely a ripple, disappear into the depths. Massive kelp, flowing in the current beneath our hulls, affirmed that once again, we were receiving a little supplemental "ride" from the tide.

Exactly 4 hours and 30 minutes after leaving our campsite on Wallace, we entered James Bay, where a tall ship, the S.A.L.T.S. Pacific Grace, was anchored while its young "crew" were enthusiastically enjoying a little shore time - and clearly burning off a lot of energy! Prevost offers an excellent venue for camping in a old orchard in addition to several "premier" possibilities along the point where we were delighted to find the equivalent of buried treasure - an old folding table and two very weathered deck chairs - one of which was barely held together with duct tape! An absolute luxury to behold in a primitive campsite - who needs gold and silver!

The Prevost camp site, part of the Gulf Islands National Park, also offers an excellent hike out to Peile Point where you can view Mayne, Galiano, Salt Spring, and Wallace Islands - and get cell service to tell everyone back home what they are missing!

Day 3

Total Distance: 28.07 km (Prevost Island to Musgrave Landing)

Moving Time: 4 hr 37 minutes
Moving Average Speed: 6.1 km / hr

The last full day began with seas so calm our images were reflected in detail in the water beside us. The skies were clear and there was a "soft" feel to the air. Paddling the shoreline of Prevost, Secret and Ackland Islands reveals a serene beauty that lulls you into a meditative state of mind - the "carved" sandstone, the exotic arbutus trees, the eagles, the warm sun, and the even rhythm of the paddle strokes. 

The two and a half kilometer crossing back to Salt Spring and then along the shore of Ruckle Park brought us into the mouth of Fulford Harbour where we looked forward to a fortifying bowl of soup on Russell Island and the opportunity to stretch our legs.

The views from the south end of Salt Spring are simply magnificent - in front, the Saanich Peninsula with the snow-capped Olympic mountains beyond. Behind, Mt Baker which must be one of the most mystical and snowy mountains in the world, rising above the Gulf Island hills. Rounding Cape Keppel, you look into the wide expanse of Cowichan Bay behind which rise the snow covered tops of our own Vancouver Island mountains - it just doesn't get much better! Almost six hours after leaving our camp site on Wallace Island, we came ashore near Musgrave Landing to the primitive campsite made possible in part through the efforts of the Salt Spring Paddling Club. After twenty-eight kilometers it was time to give our kayaks a rest! A short hike takes the paddler, who still has energy to burn, into the small community of Musgrave Landing where there is a government dock and a few homes. A delicious meal of spicy Indian cuisine and a cup of hot tea topped off another perfect day in this paddling paradise.

Day 4

Total Distance: 12.57 km (Musgrave Landing to Maple Bay)

Moving Time: 2 hr 11 minutes
Moving Average Speed: 5.7 km / hr

The last day began with our usual 0530 start and by 0730 we had prepared and eaten breakfast, packed up gear and tents, built a temporary launch ramp and an inukshuk, and launched our kayaks for the remaining twelve kilometers or so back to Maple Bay. We savoured the remaining paddle strokes and felt most fortunate to have had the opportunity share in this small "expedition" together. There would be lots of stories to tell, gear lists to fine tune, further adventures to plan - but for now there was simply a feeling of deep satisfaction and gratitude for having had the opportunity to connect so closely with the natural world for just a few days. 

The energy of the paddle eddies left behind will have joined with the currents and the tides and will remain for this writer, a small symbol of the interrelationship of all life and all energy on this fragile and so very beautiful island planet.

Aristotle was right, "adventure is worthwhile."

Thank you, Andy...we sure had a lot of good times together, didn't we? And here's the thing, "the adventure continues". I promise you that. Thank you, Beth, for sharing the love of your life with us.

Andrew Rippin PhD FRSC
Peace and love, my friend. :)

Duncan and Joan.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Wisdom reflected by the "Old Man" (of Storr).

It's been far too long since posting here on "oceanpax". It's honestly not lack of interest, it's just time...there's never enough. Since arriving on the Isle of Skye, for the purpose of a locum, it's been busy. And to be completely honest, it's also partly because I have been experimenting with Facebook, a social media venue that I've resisted for years. I confess to mixed feelings about it. As a way of making a "jump start" here again, here's a wee narrative and some pics that were posted on FB yesterday. A friend said the blog posts were missed. I'm going to try to do better. :)

At 50m high, the Old Man of Storr stands on the Isle of Skye’s Trotternish (Tròndairnis) ridge. It's one of the most photographed landscapes on the planet.

The reason is clear. The ridge is a complex labyrinth of pinnacles and spires, remnants of an earth-changing geological landslip. 

It is atmospheric and otherworldly. Yesterday, the November sun shone brightly on the ridge. Back in May, however, a cold, ever-thickening and unnerving mist enveloped us as we hiked up to this extraordinary landmark.

As one writer has said, standing beside the Old Man “perfectly calibrates your place in the world”. 

The discordant and hubris-filled bluster, bombast, and bravado that makes the headlines these days, pales in comparison to the image of strength, endurance, and longevity of this ancient, natural monument.

I take comfort in the “long game” in life. It is won by fair-mindedness, mutual respect, compassion…and an enduring belief in the power of love. Thanks for the reminder, Old Man, you hang in there too. ;)

Monday, October 17, 2016

The rainbows of Skye...and Julian's gentle wisdom.

It is already clear, after only two days, that these coming months on the Isle of Skye, will be filled with "teaching moments" from a most wonderful instructor...Mother Nature. This morning, it was difficult to keep up with the changing between rain squalls, rainbow after rainbow appeared.

A meteorological phenomenon, the rainbow is as natural a thing as could possibly be. And yet, it is so "magical" and evokes such depth of feeling. The magnificent arc of colours is created when sunlight and rain "meet up" in the sky. Every single droplet of water acts as a tiny "prism" dispersing the light beam and reflecting it back to our eyes. The bands in the rainbow demonstrate that light is made up of many, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet and perhaps even an infinite number of other subtle hues.

But rainbows are so much more...

For me, they are a symbol of hope, a reminder that despite our struggles and no matter how difficult they may be, we must never give up. Julian of Norwich, was an English contemplative, mystic, theologian, and spiritual counsellor. Born around 1342, she may be known best for her tender words, "all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

Julian was a woman of "radical optimism". She lived and worked at a most difficult time, when poverty and plague were rampant, and yet her writings are filled with words of love, compassion, hope, and trust.

Sometimes the "skies" in our lives, or in the lives of those we love, can seem very dark and unsettled. If we look carefully, however, we can almost always discern a rainbow, a reason for hope.

And when we do, a band of light illumines our path, and we find our way again.

Julian taught that when we live with gentleness, expressing love and compassion in every way that we can, we will discover rainbows - right before our eyes. Perhaps even more important, however, we will create rainbows in one another's lives.

I like that idea, very much.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A small dose of Paradise Meadows...a "vitamin" that's good for body, mind, and spirit.

The place we call "Base Camp 1", Vancouver Island, is incredibly beautiful. It's 460 km in length and around 100 km in width, at its widest point. At 32,000 square kilometres, it is the largest island off the west coast of North America. It's big, it's wild, and much of it requires serious self-propelled travel. We've been "islanders" (admittedly, still "incomers") for almost fourteen years...and, in terms of exploration, have barely scratched the surface.

There are, of course, reasons. Sea kayaking, our first love, has drawn us to the salt water, exploring the seascapes. For ten of those years, our vocations were more than full time...but they were a labour of love. Since "retirement", we've spent a significant period working in the UK, another labour of love. 

It's a fact of life, isn't just can't do everything. But you can try. ;)

A few days ago, we were introduced, by a friend, to a very special place...Paradise Meadows, the sub-alpine meadows in Strathcona Provincial Park. It's in the high country, familiar to those who love to ski, hike, and mountain Bike at Mount Washington Alpine Resort, just a little west of Comox. It was such a magical day, I didn't even think to take many that's the kind of "distraction" I like. :)

The thing is, life can "turn on a dime". Time, allowed to pass, unexamined and unexplored will pass...unexamined and unexplored. As Annie Dillard says, and as is so often the theme of this blog, "We are here on the planet only once, and (we) might as well get a feel for the place."

"Getting a feel for the place", this amazing planet, is time well spent. It fills our bodies, minds, and spirits with one of the most important nutrients of all...Vitamin N. "N", of course, stands for "Nature". 

Note to self: Don't let a day go by without taking, at the very least, a small dose of the very best "vitamin" of all - Vitamin N. Mmmm.

Of course, a large dose is even better! :)

Monday, August 29, 2016

Gentleness...strength under control, and paddling through the coccolithophorids.

Following a sunrise launch from Maple Bay, en route to Saltspring Island and Vesuvius Bay, the surface of Sansum Narrows could not have been more mirror-like. The Southern Gulf Islands make these "protected" waters but, having said that, conditions can be ferocious in strong winds. Massive logs that have escaped from timber rafts are sometimes thrown by powerful waves, well beyond the high tide line.

Paddling, and leaving the "first wake", on these rare days, is not unlike the experience of being the first out in the forest on a snowy morning...leaving the first tracks in fresh snow. There's a sense of tangible "freshness", and of an unhurried gentleness in nature.

Some years ago, I watched (with great fascination!) a John Deere excavator, weighing well over thirty tons, working near our home. There had been a light snowfall overnight, leaving a couple of inches of fluffy snow sitting on the ground. The operator had arrived before any of the other crew and had fired up the engine, preparing to begin the day's work. Engaging the powerful hydraulics, and moving the boom and the arm, he lifted the massive bucket and slowly lowered it to the snowy surface. He then began to ever-so-gently scrape away the snow...barely touching the earth itself. He was clearly enjoying himself and demonstrating remarkable expertise as a heavy equipment operator. 

Since that day, I have thought of gentleness, as "strength under control".

As the barest of breezes began to ripple the water, I thought about what a "strong" influence we human beings can have on one another, and on our fragile planet. I thought about climate change...and the drought that we have experienced here on Vancouver Island these past summers...and the algae bloom that is currently giving our waters a tropical turquoise hue. 

The latter is due to a bloom of phytoplankton, the first step in the food chain on which all marine life depends, called coccolithophores. Photosynthetic pigments within their cells, such as chlorophyll, scatter the light, and in sufficiently high enough concentrations, they colour the water. Phytoplankton are an essential and necessary part of the ecosystem, but sometimes they can be harmful to marine ecologies. It is thought this recent bloom may be due to increasing local ocean acidification...and, therefore, human activity. That's probably not good news.

Could this be another reminder to us to "touch the earth lightly", to live with gentleness? I think so. 

Bringing our remarkable human strengths, under control, could be the greatest gift of all to the planet we share. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Sharing the "Meall nam Fiadh".

Regularly, we are reminded that home ownership is a misnomer. Returning from an early morning walk today, a couple of fellow "residents" were waiting at the end of the driveway. They showed neither fear nor anxiety about close proximity with the humans who share their land. After all, we meet and greet one another almost every day.

We've named the place where we live, "Meall nam Fiadh". Two young friends from the Isle of Skye, who speak Gaelic, have assured us that the translation is reasonably accurate. It means, "hill of the deer". At least half a dozen deer graze in the forest around the house every day. It's their home too. There are, of course, bears. This IS Canada, after all. One wandered through some time ago. We didn't see him / her. We did note, however, that the "swatted" and dented compost bin on its side was evidence of enthusiastic investigation and foraging. We know the mostly reclusive cougars (aka mountain lion, puma, panther) also visit here. I recently found some well-formed skat (droppings), near the house, clear evidence of this ambush-from-behind predator. Although they are rarely seen, contact and attacks on humans, are becoming more and more common as human habitation expands.

It is always important to acknowledge that the land we live on, here on south Vancouver Island, is the traditional territory of the Cowichan Tribes. They are British Columbia's largest single First Nation Band. As we all know, colonization by Europeans and subsequent Canadian history became a tragic and costly experience for those who had been careful stewards of the land for thousands of years. The Cowichan Tribes, and other member First Nations of the Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group, continue to negotiate a treaty with both the Federal Government and the Government of British Columbia. Our First Nations sisters and brothers have so much to teach us about our necessary connection to the natural world.

The gentle resident deer are a constant reminder that we share this fragile planet, whirling through space, with one another. We're called to care deeply for it, and all life, in every way that we can.

Oh, and then there's the "tree person", who watches our every move. Perhaps he could give us a "shout" the next time the bear comes by! ;)

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Re-discovering treasures on life's "doorstep"...

Joan and Linda, leaving home port, at Maple Bay. 
It's been such a long time since last posting, and it's coming up two months now that we've been back at Base Camp 1 on Vancouver Island. Ah, but living in two countries always means returning to "catch up", so it's been busy here with lots and lots of chores. That, admittedly, would be just an excuse. 

The familiar profile of Mt. Maxwell, on neighbouring Salt Spring Island.
To be honest, we have not posted much because we may be guilty of undervaluing the "treasures", right on the doorstep. The seas, shores and mountains of distant lands, such as in Base Camp 2, sometimes seem so much more varied, interesting, notable, and even exotic than those close at home. In truth, there are differences, but both places are equally magical venues for self-propelled activities.

When opposing current meets paddling's "stationary paddling"!
Our good friend Ian, in a recent post at Mountain and Sea Scotland, reminds us of a very important fact. While wild camping, on the Sound of Arisaig, he pointed out that within only metres of his tent lay a banquet table of delights, worthy of careful exploration. It was a veritable (and close-at-hand) world of colour, texture, flora, ancient history, geology, and more...all against a backdrop of a stunning horizons. 

The current won out...this time.
So often, we underestimate the value, complexity, and beauty of the familiar - and the close-at-hand. We miss the  length, breadth, and depth of the "mystery of the ordinary". We sometimes forget that a journey of discovery can easily begin right from our very own doorstep. 

Ah, it was lunch time anyway. :)
A few days ago, I spent some contemplative time, amidst the tall Douglas firs and arbutus trees of the forest around our home. I've dreamed of living in a log cabin in the woods, all my life. Except for the "log" part...we've done just that, for years. Who would have known? Sometimes, a process of re-discovery and "perspective correction" is necessary. It's really very simple.

Hours of exploration one tiny cove.
The launch for a paddle down Sansum Narrows is just five minutes away from home...we take it a bit for granted. The long summer months here are warm and sunny, ninety percent of the time. The winters are mild, with the highest mean temperatures anywhere in Canada...we take this a bit for granted. High winds that could preclude paddling are rare, so it's possible almost anytime to get out on the protected Pacific waters...yup, we take that a bit for granted too.

Maple Mountain (l), and Salt Spring Island (r).
And there's something else to ponder. Sometimes, we forget that the people closest to us can also be subject to being undervalued. This was also a reminder to treasure those whose unfailing presence, love, and support is as close as the nearest heart beat...and ensure that they know they are "treasures". Such words, expressed and shared, bring profound meaning and value to those around us.

A nav-aid at Octopus Point.
It was a great day with Joan and Linda on familiar waters, with some good exercise paddling against a challenging current! It was also a re-discovery of a "treasure", on the doorstep of Base Camp 1.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Leaving these bonnie North Sea shores...

Joan, last launch, near the ruins of the harbour at Auchmithie.
Soon we will leave the bonnie North Sea shores of Base Camp 2 to return to Base Camp 1, near the waters of the Salish Sea, off Vancouver Island's east coast. It's been a lovely sojourn here in Scotland. As always, there was some some work, and lots of healthy "dashes" of play. It's a nice balance. 

"Base camp" means home. Pliny the Elder, the Roman philosopher, naturalist, author and military commander, said that "home is where the heart is". We've discovered that the heart can be in more than one place.

In an ideal sense, "home" is where there is love and acceptance. It is a place to both launch and land. It sends you away and welcomes you back. 

As for now, the kayaks have been transported to the mystery-filled, incredibly beautiful Isle of Skye, where we will reunite with them, and live, later in the year. 

On the racks of the KIA KTV and on their way to Skye.
Another locum awaits, with responsibilities spanning three lovely highland villages. It will offer new challenges and opportunities to learn more about the unique history and culture of the "highlands and the islands". As with everywhere we've ever served, there will be lovely people to come to know, people who strive to make the world a better place for all.

In the meantime, it will be good to be back home in Base Camp 1 again, settled amidst the Douglas firs and the arbutus trees, the Cowichan "warmland", and Canadian family and friends.

Waiting at the Glenelg - Skye ferry.

Life can be very much like a ferry, leaving one shore for the next and returning, time after time.

The "Glenachulish", the last turntable ferry in Scotland.
Whatever the weather, the currents, the tides, or the taskings, there is a "home" port on either side.

Of course there's another way of looking at it, according to 17th century Japanese poet, Matsuo Bashō...and it's a very powerful perspective.

“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” 

The "journey" itself is home. That resonates. I really like that. :)

Thursday, June 09, 2016

When pals inspire pals...

Paddling past the ruins of Findlater Castle.
Gumption  [guhmp-shuh n]
Courage, confidence, spunk, guts, initiative

With recent blue skies and fine weather, there have been so many adventures...and so little time to share them in posts. Here's a few more pics of a perfect day on the Moray Firth with Joan, Linda, and Ian, who put together the perfect "paddling plan".

Our pal, Linda, from Canada, has a great attitude towards trying new things. So...a little rock hopping, cave exploring, surf landing and launching on the North Sea - all for the first time, and all in the same day - didn't even cause her to blink. That's gumption.

Gumption is good, and is to be celebrated. 

Ian shares a wealth of experience.
Life is lived most fully when it's lived with gumption.

Hey, let's do it again. :)
It minimises, even eliminates, regrets.

Rest, reflection and a wee bit of lunch...before we go again.
It creates and maximizes layer upon layer of beautiful memories.

The boats are ready and waiting...the waves are building.
Gumption leaves no door unopened. It's a thankful and appreciative approach to, after all, begs to be explored and discovered.

The paddlers strike a pose. :)
The failures along the way don't much matter, they are simply steps along the journey...and every step counts.

Launch from Sunnyside Beach.
Gumption's rewards are portals to growth, and brave new experiences.

Rare calm through the Bow Fiddle.
At the end of the day, gumption assures a warm glow...and personal enrichment.

Paddling into Cullen...after an amazing day.
Awesome day, L, thanks for the reminder....and the inspiration.