Saturday, October 18, 2014

A quick sip of "Brandy", waiting for my paddling partner.

It's been quite a while since last posting and there are lots of days in the narrow boats, on the waters around Vancouver Island, still to share. Maybe sometime. It was good to be home for a visit, we knew the Scottish boats would wait patiently for our return. 

Speaking of return, your scribe has been back in Scotland and the locum at St. Margaret's for a couple of weeks, but my paddling partner is still in Canada for another week or so. Joan's UK visa arrived from Her Majesty's Passport Office, the day after I left Vancouver on the big blue KLM jet(s), bound eventually for Edinburgh. There are tremendous advantages to having dual citizenship, not the least of which is the freedom to travel back and forth at will. 

So, since I'm not "allowed" to paddle without my partner, and can't get the Valley Étain onto the MTKTV (Moderate Terrain Kayak Transport Vehicle) racks easily anyway...what to do? Hit the trails, of course. On this day, it was a quick trip up to one of our favourite hill walking destinations, Loch Brandy. It's that marvellous mountain corrie at nearby Glen Clova, a jewel of a lochan. In Canada, we would call it a mountain cirque.

It doesn't seem to matter what the weather is like up there, it's simply lovely. The rain pelted down, the wind blew, and the mist came and went, but the rain gear and the delicious isolation made for a perfect adventure. It was a grand day out.

Taking shelter behind a stone grouse "hide" (I think that's what it was), I lay on the soft heather and marvelled at the landscape, made dynamic by the movement of the liquid air. It was the perfect place for lunch, in the company of only a few sheep. The distant and eerie roaring of a red deer stag, Britain's largest land mammal, was carried by the wind, to this little place of respite.

Even the loch would mysteriously vanish...and reappear before my eyes. There was a "mystical" element to it all. These are, however, the Scottish highlands, the depth of their history and associated legend is palpable.

The plan had been to complete the high circuit, over the top of Brandy, but the visibility was very poor, sometimes non-existent...and there was no one else on the mountain. I would be content to leave it for another day.

It's so easy to be alone in these craggy hills...but not lonely.

It's such a special place... last "sip", and it was time to descend to the trail head.

I miss my paddling partner, but she's enjoying some additional "pal" time back home and I'm really happy about that. Soon, we'll be back on the water together...and undoubtedly sipping the occasional "Brandy" - corrie blend. :)

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Learning to love this marvellous planet...and feeling compelled to take care of it.

Our Prime Minister, The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, clearly needs to get outside more often. Then maybe, just maybe, he would discover his "inner child" and allow himself to get to know the planet. I mean really get to know the planet.

He doesn't seem to love this "blue marble" very much - at least not enough to attend the recent United Nations climate-change summit. Could there possibly be a more important issue facing us all?

Over 100 world leaders attended...but not our Mr. Harper. 

It's a pity really. After all, he is a rather important and influential person in our country. 

If he got outside, he would explore and make discoveries. It would be good for him.

It would help him get to know the planet. That, after all, is a necessary step towards learning to love it...and then feeling compelled to care for it. 

But yes, he's very busy as our leader. There are places to go, people to see, oil pipelines to build. And then there are so many meetings, conversations to have, dinners to attend. There probably isn't much time left to get outside...or attend a UN summit on climate change.

The thing is, getting outside would probably help him re-discover his inner "child". That would surely help. After all, the important work he is certainly called to do must "age" him terribly. He does seem so "grown up". That's really very sad, but striving to be "important" can do that.

Joan, Linda, and I have been sharing some excellent adventures this past while. It's what "best pals" do best.

We travelled to the far west coast of the North American continent and then to an outer Gulf Island. We were reminded once again, we really do need to save "growing up" for much later in life, if ever. 

Spending time outside encourages one to become as a child. Children are very good at getting to know the planet. That leads to loving it...and feeling compelled to care for it.

It's such fun to regularly rediscover the little "child" within. She or he is always there...but sometimes tucked away beneath several layers of accumulated "adulthood". 

Those layers begin to build up when we become independent, take on the responsibilities of education, vocation, family, and in the process of evolving into responsible and concerned citizens. 

It's clear, the world today needs us to be informed, involved, and committed to compassionate and caring lifestyles. It's not easy.

And all too often, we forget to be playful.

It's so important.

We must never neglect or smother the inner child...for it's that inner "us" that yearns to be free, and fully alive. 

It is who we really are...before the process of adulthood begins to limit our expressions of the joy of simply being alive.

The real you and the real me is full of questions, and trust...and the need to love and be loved.

The little child within lives to explore and discover, for such are sources of true joy.

She's never afraid to fail because she's discovered that there is no shame in failure...just more discoveries. He has no need for constant planning and preparation - the child within is able to live and breathe sheer serendipity.

She knows that she is part of the web of life, and feels no need to control it. It's enough just to be part of it...and celebrate that connection.

Not surprisingly, it's Vitamin "N" (Nature) that most often awakens the child within. 

It reminds us of our connection with all that exists. We want to get to know the natural world. That's what leads to loving it. And then knowing that we must care for it.

We know we are part of it...and interdependent.

 Please Mr. Harper, do think about this...and try to spend some time outside.

You may well re-discover your inner child - like Gabby and Orion Munro.


Let that inner being help you to get to know our shared planet...and learn to love it. And then you will feel compelled to help us to take care of it.

After all, there may not be another "blue marble" like it, anywhere else in the universe.

Thank you Mr. Harper, I know you probably won't have a chance to read this with all your meetings and commitments, but we all do look forward to seeing you out there sometime.

With best wishes, sir.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Life's chaos....and giving birth to a "dancing star".

The local Pacific waters got unexpectedly bumpy - quite contrary to what the marine forecast had suggested. It was nothing very serious at all, just caught us by surprise.

Life can be a bit like that.

Bumps and lumps and occasional chaos fall into everyone's life occasionally. And there are many, of course, for whom chaos is an everyday occurrence.

I have a small app on my iPhone that encourages "awareness practice". Every day it offers an inspirational quote, and a small daily assignment that encourages living with kindness and compassion towards others...and self.

On this particular day some chaos fell into our lives, nothing really serious, just unsettling. 

Strangely, the words that came up on my phone app were timely. It was a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th Century German philosopher, composer, cultural critic, and poet.

"One must still have chaos in one,
to give birth to a dancing star."

The daily assignment: "Today, see if you can identify the chaos, the disorder, the incompleteness in you, in your dance with life."

I needed to read that...and then follow its counsel. I thought about the whole process of birth. It can be chaotic and painful. Making life decisions can be much the same with the incumbent disorder, confusion, conflicting thoughts, contrary advice from outside...but ultimately, and most often, there is the "birth" of a child, of an idea, of a direction, and even a "dancing star".

We found a quiet cove to get out of the wind and waves and driving rain, which had further increased.

It offered pleasant respite...and in no time at all, the skies cleared, the wind subsided, and the rain stopped.

We launched the kayaks again, and towards the north-west, a tiny rainbow, always a sign of hope for me, suddenly materialised and seemed to embrace the base of Maple Mountain.

I understood, in that moment of time, that the small amount of "chaos" we were feeling, would be transient.

Life would settle again, just as the placid waters of Burgoyne Bay, were now silky smooth.

We paddled on and on.

Evening came...

...and a peaceful darkness fell upon the waters.

There would be a birthing of a "dancing star", somewhere, somehow, someway...

...and we would simply trust in the intervening moments, until the image of that event became clear.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

One paddler's secret to slowing down the passage of something difficult, every day.

Joan, on the beach, at Qualicum.

There's been significant time on the water recently...always so refreshing for body, mind, and spirit. It's an outdoor pursuit that also offers lots of "thinking" time. The rhythm of countless paddle strokes over many hours offers a contemplative experience. Such times are necessary, for they offer balance and provide renewed strength for what life calls us all to "do". 

It was good to be back on the Salish Sea again. Launching near the town of Qualicum Beach, Texada Island and the distant coastal range of the mainland of Canada formed a gentle horizon through the soft and shimmering air. It's truly an endless summer, here on Canada's "Pacific Island".

In these precious moments on the water, I thought about time, life's most precious commodity...and how we sometimes allow it to "vanish" in the passage and industry of each day. Sometimes, in fact, we even wish it away. It has been my experience, over the years, that "lost time" is the greatest regret most people have as they near the end of their lives. That difficult circumstance, however, is abundantly avoidable.

Most of us over the age of forty, which I am (but only slightly, well, OK, maybe by quite a bit) are familiar with the experience of time just "flying". Every year, it seems to pass by faster and faster and it is almost as if we are on a spinning carousel, the back drop of life's "scenery" flashing by. When that happens, of course, we miss out on so much.

"Pausing" time.
It seems like only yesterday, we were in Scotland, packing up for the almost five weeks here back in Canada. Now, at almost the half-way point, I am thinking about the challenges, projects and activities to come and even the extra "bits and bobs" to take back - mainly small items of kayaking kit. The time can surely "fly", if we're not careful. Nothing accelerates the passage of time more than living in the past...or the future. Neither one honours the present moment, the only moment that exists at all.

It seems like just a short time ago that Joan and I were getting married in a beautiful church next to the university that we were attending in Hamilton, Ontario. She wore a simple wedding dress that she had made herself. I wore a rented morning suit, with ascot, winged collar and white boutonnière - absolutely dashing! Haha! Almost forty-two years ago now, it does seem rather "sixties". Of course, it was. :)

But strangely, those days seem like just "yesterday".

Memories still so fresh!
Where has the time gone? Well, of course we know where it's gone and there have been many great adventures...and the memories of that special day are as clear and sharp as if no time at all has passed. (And yes, your reporter still has hair and it's still mostly brown!)

Time, however, didn't always pass this quickly. As little children, the hours and days and weeks were so long and delicious. Every day, in fact, could have been described as a "never-ending story". An afternoon adventure in the playground lasted a lifetime. Summer holidays lasted even longer.

A "sea monster", as long as Joan's kayak, looms darkly below.
When we slow time down, our imaginations are freed. :)
Most of us can remember, as high school students, the "interminable" Monday to Friday week in the classrooms. It seemed like the weekend would never (ever!) arrive. Sitting in classroom on a Monday morning, the "freedom" of 3:30 pm on Friday afternoon felt like a million years away!

Time lingered...and we didn't always appreciate it.

The older we get, however, the more rapidly time seems to fly by. Some would explain that this is because when we are young, our lives are ahead of us, stretching out into a distant future. But when we get older, the larger percentage of our lives are behind us, with the "sands" of time simply running out.

I'm not so sure about that. I think there's more to it. And it's rather exciting.

When we were young, we were constantly learning. We were literally growing up. And we were, for the most part, eager about the process of learning. Our eyes were as wide as saucers and our minds vacuumed up every bit of new knowledge. We ate it up, drank it in, relished it...and celebrated our successes and accomplishments, large and small. Even our frequent failures contributed to our growth, for every new experience tested us, and strengthened us. We didn't look so much for short cuts - sadly, that's an adult "thing".

Time does seem to pause when we are struggling to master a new skill. Whether it's learning to walk, or run, or ride a bicycle, master social skills, or grasp the elements of algebra and geometry, our minds are occupied and struggling...and growing.

It is in such moments that time slows down and permits the process of learning. In these "times", life reveals a beauty and an intricacy that can only be appreciated when our hearts and minds are open to the deliberate and sometimes painstaking process of exploration and discovery.

When we get older, however, our hunger for learning seems satiated, by our desire to be "comfortable". We think that we've learned all we need to know and sometimes we even avoid the tasks and responsibilities that we know will test our patience, strength, and will. We look for the short cuts...we stop growing and learning. The result: the passage of time accelerates, almost out of control...and we wonder what we have to show for it.

I've discovered at least one secret to slowing down the passage of time: it's doing something difficult, something you really may not even want to do, every single day.

When we were with kayaking coach Gordon Brown last month, on the Isle of Skye, he taught us to take the time to develop balance and confidence in the getting out of the kayak. The exercises looked difficult. Surely, it would be a lot more fun just to paddle! We took his advice, however, and have practised faithfully since that time. It has been during these practice sessions, frequently falling in and having to get back in the cockpit, that we have discovered a most surprising gift. In the midst of the "struggle", we became as little children. And time...slowed down.

Amidst the frustration, the failures, the successes, and the determination...time slowed down. And when these skills are mastered, it will be time to move on to other challenges. There are, of course, unlimited challenges in the world of sea kayaking!

Time out of the cockpit, the process...
...of slowing down the passage of time.
I am sure that it is the very process of learning that deepens, enriches, and lengthens the passage of time.

And almost in obedience to that process, the precious moments dutifully slow their otherwise (seemingly) frantic pace so that each can be truly tasted and savoured.

Becoming as a child is doing something difficult every day...and seeing time's each and every moment sparkle with fresh satisfaction and renewed meaning. Will there be frustration? Of course, but there is no better way to experience the length and breadth of time. It's very survivable. :)

The relatively brief four hours on the water made for a very long day...just the way it should always be.