Friday, December 12, 2014

Braving the corners and the curves of change..."comfort" foods and routines.

When dreich* turns to rain and sleet - and the North Sea vanishes into the clouds.
It's been way too long since last posting, but "conditions" have been less than ideal. The grey seas have been turbulent and inhospitable to our narrow boats, the hills muddy and slippery, the weather generally "dreich"...and there's been a lot of change.

The locum term at St. Margaret's concluded and leaving very special folks behind, we began a new locum, close to the sea, in the Kingdom of Fife. My new "work station" is 900 years old. The building is rather unique, the oldest part, the apse, dating back to the 1140s. Visitors from all over the world come to see this 12th century Norman Romanesque church, set high on a picturesque hill. Imagine what it has seen and heard, in the nine centuries its faithful people have offered hospitality, sanctuary, and spiritual food to passers-by, pilgrims, and to those who have resided within its parish boundaries.

I have a dear friend, with whom I have frequently (and occasionally annoyingly) waxed lyrical about the necessity of "change" and how it must be embraced with affection and a hungry sense of curiosity. Of course, I believe that...but I will admit to her that change is not always easy. Life is full of curves and bends and that can make life very interesting. There is often, however, a small measure of anxiety in not knowing for certain what will appear around the next corner. 

Not that we ever run fast enough...but generally good advice.
Setting out in any new direction is a time for a deep breath, a desire for exploration, and an open mind. And not unlike leaving the safety of the trailhead parking lot, with a new and intriguing hill to climb - there must be a degree of planning and preparation. There's the need for a map and compass, extra clothes, water bottles topped up, adequate "nourishment" for the journey, and sufficient spirit of adventure to explore trails that beckon - especially those that may not even be on the map.

After planning and preparation, some sense of continuity is also essential. Continuity brings comfort. The pack that you know fits well, the hiking boots that feel familiar, the rain gear that has already proven to be dependable serve to enhance the experience. There is less left to chance. You know you can trust and depend on your kit.

I suppose that's what "comfort food" is all about especially when everything around seems strange and new, or when the "territory" is just a little unfamiliar. For me, it's a good time to sit down to a steaming casserole of macaroni and cheese, just the way mum made it when I was a little boy - with extra strong cheddar and a crispy topping of oven-broiled Parmesan cheese. A few mouthfuls, and life seems normal again. The gastronomic pleasure, experienced decades ago, returns and there is a reconnection to a time that was safe and comfortable and familiar.

Almost home...and ready to welcome the corners and curves of change.
So yes, new adventures and directions always benefit from planning and preparation. And after you set out from life's familiar "trailheads", the moments of uncertainty (that will come) can be soothed by a gentle retreat into the familiar. 

The morning run, once again, is that familiar place for us. It serves as an anchor, a place of sanctuary, an opportunity for refreshment and revitalisation. It is the comforting and strengthening routine that ensures, for the rest of the day, we'll more confidently brave the corners and the curves. 

And it is often those unexplored paths, and the newly discovered trails that bring the greatest delight of all.

*"Dreich"...a good Old Scots word that describes dismal, dreary, overcast, and generally miserable weather. Such days are, of course, admittedly rare here. ;)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Paddling the moody (peaty) blues of Loch Tay...

Conditions on the North Sea, off Arbroath, are looking good for the next day or so but it was another fresh water paddle this week on a favourite loch.

Loch Tay is delightfully moody. It's dark, peaty waters, surrounding Munros, and lightly treed banks are given to changes in character and emotional tone. One moment, the highland loch is calm and peaceful. The next, dark clouds can suddenly appear, the waters darken, and the increasingly "textured" surface reflects a gloominess, even a glowering. When the wind comes up, it's time for vigilance. Loch Tay can exhibit a rather bad temper...producing some impressive swell.

One such wind storm came up and the giant waves and massive gusts literally picked this ship up and tossed it high up on the shore!

Well, that's not really true, but it would make a great story!

The loch is the sixth largest in the country, stretching 15 miles in length and a mile in width. The bottom of the loch, deeply carved by glacial ice, is almost 500 feet in places - 15 atmospheres.

Is there a "monster" that inhabits these impenetrable depths? Yes, I'm convinced of it.

In the shadow of its much more famous relative in Loch Ness, the Loch Tay Monster is rarely spoken of...but there are "hints" of its existence. Perhaps after a couple of pints in the local inn, a local will let slip a story, a feeling, a observation kept secret for many years.

The waters are mysterious.

Were the very old wooden pilings, for example, placed there for strategic reasons? Did they, in fact, create a defensive position?

I imagined they would, once-upon-a-time, have been set in place to slow any egress from the water onto the land by the giant creature. Had they now become a trap for the unwary? Paddling amidst the pilings, and buffeted against them by the increasing wind, I wondered if I had innocently penetrated its nearby lair. Was it about to turn the tables on the brave construction efforts of an ancient highlander?

Briefly entangled, I fought to release myself and my narrow craft from their grip.

Free again, I set out, ever vigilant, eyes peeled for anything unusual: a sign of "mysterious waves"; movement beneath my narrow craft; or strange and amphibious protrusions above the surface waters.

There would be no apparent evidence of the Loch Tay Monster on this day.

The only other species to be encountered were a trio of mallards, with gleaming green heads. Interestingly, they were each wearing a clerical collar, similar to mine! There were far too busy to chat.

Ah yes, and then there was this lovely forest maiden - preparing to re-enter and launch her yellow Scorpio. :)

After a good day's paddle, it's always nice to return home to the family castle for some refreshments, a nourishing supper, and some story-telling around the old stone fireplace.

Paddling the moody (peaty) blues of Loch Tay always sets the imagination afire. ;)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Are we doing something special on the occasion of becoming an "old age" pensioner? :) deep can this be?
 Nope, the same old, same old...just wading a little "deeper" into life.

Pretty deep!
On the rare :) November day that it does rain in Scotland, the internal "sunshine" always appears...during the the early morning run.

It's a gift we've given to one another, almost every day, for a very long time.

On this day: 11.31 km and 15,109 steps of pure, albeit wet, joy.

And it makes turning 65, and becoming a certified OAP rather fun - and then, of course, there are all the discounts for we "older" folks!

I love what writer and runner Ben Cheever says...

"Running is my anchor. 
It's not what I do, 
but it's what makes everything else I do okay."

And now...a celebratory bowl of soup at TISO in Perth. :)

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Visiting Scotland's oldest inn, and another that's almost 2500 years older - all in a day's paddle!

The MTKTV (Moderate Terrain Kayak Transport Vehicle)
parked outside the Kenmore Hotel.
My paddling partner has finally returned from Canada, UK visa firmly glued to the inside of her passport. Time in the kayak cockpit was long overdue but the nearest water, the North Sea, is not very hospitable to the narrow boats right now. An hour and forty-five minute drive to Kenmore, and lovely Loch Tay, was in order.

Nestled amidst the mountains of Highland Perthshire, Kenmore is home to the aptly named Kenmore Hotel. Commissioned in 1572, it's Scotland's oldest inn. The area is a hill-walking paradise with seven Munros along a high ridge to the north of the loch. They're on the "to do" list for sure.

More or less unchanged...since 1572!
Understandably, Scotland's national bard, Robert Burns was rather partial to both the hills and this hotel.

Himself, a portrait inside the hotel.
Burns composed a poem in 1787, sitting on the bridge over the River Tay, and wrote it in pencil on the chimney-breast of the Poet's Bar inside the hotel - it's right there to see. Here's part of it...

Th' outstretching lake, imbosomed 'mong the hills,
The eye with wonder and amazement fills;
The Tay meandering sweet in infant pride,
The palace rising on his verdant side;
The lawns wood-fringed in Nature's native taste;
The hillocks dropt in Nature's careless haste,
The arches striding o'er the new-born stream;
The village glittering in the noontide beam.

Launching from the beach at the east end of the loch, the early morning temperatures were just above freezing. A layer of fleece under the dry suits promised a very comfortable paddle on the unusually calm waters.

The P and H Scorpio, a Valley Etain, and two IKEA bags - the complete team.
The skies soon cleared and revealed a low but blazing sun traversing the southern sky. The nearby Munros were covered with an early layer of snow making the landscape a lovely blend of autumn colours and winter white.

It may not be the ocean, but we've found it to be a magical place to paddle at any time of the year.

Off the port bow, a reflection of the Church of Scotland Kenmore Kirk.
Content to be a "drifter".
The Kenmore Hotel is certainly old, but Loch Tay features some re-constructed "lodgings" that are significantly older - possibly by 2500 years!

There are 18 artificially created islands in the loch, called crannogs. It is believed that they date back before 2000 BC. We've paddled by some and it is completely mind-boggling to think that these islands were created, one stone at a time, so very long ago. The crannogs and the dwellings built on them helped to protect the ancient Celts from wild animals...and irritating neighbours!

Re-constructed Iron Age crannog at the Scottish Crannog Centre on Loch Tay.
Paddling a sea kayak on the ocean, a powerful but gentle swell under the hull, is exciting - there's something other-worldly about it. It is, of course, another world for we terrestrial beings. Sometimes, however, it's good to remember that there are less dramatic times and places that afford a contemplative experience. Excitement and the "controlled" flow of adrenaline certainly have their place...but the opportunity to quietly "time travel" into history is pretty sweet too.

Such delightful surprises in life sometimes lay hidden, and patiently await discovery.

The reds and yellows of autumn in Scotland...
and they do rather take the shape of kayaks!

At the proverbial "end of the day", looking into the setting sun, it had clearly been, a very good day.

Paddling partners, good to be together again.
Sea kayaking Loch Tay, Highland Perthshire...highly recommended.

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.