Thursday, January 22, 2015

Savouring the sweetest sea kayaking "lemonade"...another of Nature's lessons.

A Valley Etain 17.5, traversing the loch.
The world outside is simply the greatest resource for a lot of life's most important lessons. That's probably why I'm always much happier out-of-doors. This week, once again, Mother Nature demonstrated the rewards of living life with an open heart, an open mind...and an attitude of optimism and hopefulness. She made it very clear that there are always great treasures in store when we seek to make the best of any given situation.

We had been invited to share in several days of paddling on the west coast, with Ian, Douglas, and Mike. The stormy weather was finally settling and there was a "window" of opportunity. Our hearts leapt at the thought. I began immediately thinking about how to rearrange the schedule to make some days on the water possible. We were ready for this adventure. It was doable, it would happen...until I thought about the drive through the mountains to get there.

Our ageing, but (mostly) faithful Ford Focus, had recently experienced some mechanical "hiccups". Additionally, it only has summer tires - a difficult confession for someone who has spent most of his life in Canada. There was a good chance that road conditions could be a bit "iffy", with some possible hard-packed snow and ice, at the higher elevations. I was, admittedly, nervous about the thought of driving from coast to coast, with less than ideal equipment.

I began to see this unique opportunity, to spend time with three adventurous and highly experienced paddlers, evaporate before my eyes. The bitter taste of a small "lemon" seeped into my consciousness. It didn't feel very good...and needed to be rinsed aside...quickly.

A Scorpio LV, heading for the hills.
Defeatism, and its closely related cousins, pessimism and ingratitude, can spawn feelings of resentment, jealousy, cynicism, and indignation. Like the proverbial "bridge to nowhere" - none of them lead to any meaningful place. They waste our time, life's most precious commodity.

On the other hand, along with an attitude of thankfulness, the desire to make the best of life's circumstances is a key ingredient to happiness, and peace of mind. We all hurt, sometimes, and often it is our negative and defeatist response to a given reality that perpetuates the cycle of pain. Optimism and hopefulness, however, help us to transcend the pot-holes and speed bumps...and the nasty-winter-driving-conditions-without-snow-tires scenarios, that we all encounter.

Lemons need to be transformed into "lemonade". It just requires an open mind, an open heart...and a healthy blend of optimism and gratitude. Life is, after all, what we make it - after circumstances have had their "go". It might as well be a glass that's half full, as half empty.

So, we couldn't just sit and "stew" about our inability to get to the west coast. There would be other opportunities.

We loaded the kayaks on the roof of our "moderate terrain kayak transport vehicle" and headed for a closer venue, where the roads would accommodate the summer tires...Perthshire's, Loch Tay.

A great day on the the snow-covered Highlands.
After an easy drive to Kenmore, we launched the kayaks from the frozen beach and paddled for about four hours, pausing frequently to breathe in the magic and majesty of the snow-covered Munros. The air was minus three, cold and bracing, but the warmth of the low January sun could be felt through the dry suits. The source of greatest warmth, however, was having turned a disappointment into an opportunity.

Seeking to make the best of any given situation in life is always transformational, and almost always guarantees a treasure of an experience. Nature rewarded this effort with some of the sweetest sea kayaking "lemonade". And we savoured it.

Lemons to lemonade!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Called to the mountain...and into the icy mists of West Lomond.

It was a "Blue Sky Scotland" day today...the perfect day to hike up to the highest point in the Kingdom of Fife - West Lomond. The volcanic cone, along with its sister, East Lomond can be seen from all over. At 1,713 feet high, it's a modest hill but it offers wonderful 360 degree views - of the Perthshire and Angus mountains, across the Firth of Forth to Arthur's Seat by Edinburgh, the Ochil Hills, and the North Sea. At the base of the hill lies Loch Leven, where Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned on a small island in 1567. At the summit, by the trig point, lies the remnants of an iron age hill fort. Folks have been enjoying this place for a very long time.

It was a crisp, clear day, and it reminded us of the many winters we'd spent in Alberta, where blue skies and a bright sun went hand in hand.

Grassy vegetation seemed (and was) frozen in time.

An old boundary marker remained on the approach trail, with the inscription "WR 1818". Sir William Rae, had the job of surveying the land back in the day.

Contemporary Scottish access rights, however, mean that there are no longer any boundaries. Walkers and hikers are free to roam and respectfully enjoy every nook and cranny of this richly endowed country. It's a rare treat to have such freedom to explore and discover.

The summit of West Lomond beckoned, but a shroud of mist and blowing ice crystals would not permit a view...until we had made the effort to reach its highest point.

Memories of decades of Canadian winters, cross-country skiing, shovelling out driveways, and skating on ponds and lakes came flooding back.

The first view of the trig point, thorough the swirling mist, seemed more like an Antarctic ice base than the summit of a high hill that looked down on a patchwork of emerald green and golden fields dotted with towns and villages, castles and palaces.

There was a "softness", even to the ancient rubble.

As if to reward the effort, the skies cleared, but just momentarily.

As a small group of travellers approached the rocky remnants of the hill fort, the mist gathered once again.

This small effort had taken us above the clouds. The ancient Celtic contemplatives might also have found it to be a "thin place".

The mountains are calling, and I must go. - John Muir

Today, we heard a "call" to a high place, heeded it...and returned freshened, revitalised, and with clearer heads and perspectives for the tasks at hand.

And, it was a simply cracking day out. :)

Afterthought: Are there special places or spaces that call out to you?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

My crazy running partner...undeterred by 74 mph gusts.

This morning: A momentary lull...
lower figure indicating gust of 74.6 miles per hour.
It seems like the Scottish winds have been blowing forever! The sea kayaks have probably just about given up ever getting wet again. Hillwalking (at any elevation) has been an exercise in futility. The morning run continues to be, well, challenging. The winds are so strong today that the Tay Bridge, from Fife to Dundee, is closed. That means winds in excess of 80 mph...and missing a much anticipated lunch with friends in Angus.

The usual route takes us around the base of Lucklaw Hill, through fields, and along farm roads, a rough circuit of about five miles. Leaving the house this morning, the winds were fierce. I asked my running partner if she still wanted to go. Smiling, as she snugged tight her jacket, she replied, "Of course, why wouldn't we?"


At one point, running up a mild grade...the wind stopped all forward progress. Taking out the hand-held anemometer and holding it into the wind, the numbers indicated a gust of 74.6 miles per hour, followed by a brief lull. Had that gust been sustained wind, it would have measured the bottom end of Force 12 of the Beaufort Scale.

Blowing in the wind.
It was many (many) years ago that I asked Joan if she would "consider" marriage. Both of us were students at university, in our third year. We'd known each other for about 18 months. She was the "girl next door" (literally, in co-ed residence), warm and engaging, studious...and very good looking. I was the somewhat uncommitted-to-academic-success hippie, with long and curly hair, a really nice 10-speed bicycle - and insufficient courage to actually propose to Joan in person.

My strategy? I wrote in pencil, "Would you consider marrying me?", on the wings of a hastily folded paper airplane.

I sent it across the study hall where it landed, rather expertly, beside her - I hadn't thought of the possibility of it landing in someone else's lap! She picked it off the floor, unfolded the wings, read the proposal, gave me a thoughtful look (that I felt lasted a little too long)...and then slowly nodded her head. I was, as they say in Scotland, "over the moon".

Since that moment, many years ago, she has remained game for anything, and quietly undeterred by "neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night", to quote ancient Herodotus, describing the expedition of the Greeks against the Persians around 500 BC.

An upwind slog? Um, yes.
We've enjoyed some pretty "lively" weather over the years in various outdoor pursuits. I never did promise my partner for life a "rose garden" - but that never would have impressed her much anyway. Crazy eh?

But I did arrange for us to take a rather nice (warm) train trip to Glasgow last week. :)

Our "private coach". (OK, it was just a really quiet time to travel.)
Happy anniversary, Joan. :)

Pardon me? Um, really? Our anniversary was last month? Oh my...

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The most bewildered-looking little beach pebble ever...but he's safe with us now.

This afternoon, we needed to get out and just "chill"'s been busy. One of our favourite spots over the past few years is Arbroath's Geodiversity Trail, high above the red sandstone cliffs overlooking the North Sea. We often walk from Arbroath to the tiny former fishing village of Auchmithie, where we've launched the sea kayaks on a number of occasions. From there, it's a short paddle to begin an exploration of the numerous sea caves and caverns carved into the Seaton Cliffs. Not so much, however, at this time of the year.

It's a "contemplative time". We walk together but, much of the time, we are alone with our own thoughts and meditations. Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese poet and artist, advised, "let there be spaces in your togetherness". This contemplative practice has been a treasure to us...for forty-two years now.

We took the recently constructed stepped trail to the beach at Carlingheugh Bay, a favourite spot to search for sea glass...and just "be". (It's one of the few places I can actually sit still.) Joan was walking a little ahead, towards the remnants of a sea cave, carved by wind, weather, tides, and heavy seas over millions of years - a good place for a summer swim - if you're careful. Suddenly her pace slowed, she paused, and stood motionless...I knew something had caught her eye.

I had no idea, however, it would be some "one".

It was someone. And who knows for how many years, decades, centuries, millennia, he had been tumbled and tossed onto the sandy, rocky beach? He must have felt so utterly completely at the the mercy of the waves crashing on the beach and carrying him forward, the backwash drawing him back into the sea, only to be thrown forward again and again and again. Perhaps he had once come from far inland, carried by vast and powerful rivers as the last Ice Age melted, between 20,000 and 6,000 years ago.

He would have been much bigger at one time, possibly part of a dramatic boulder field or even a soaring Highland mountain. Time and experience had rounded and smoothed his features..but his wide eyes remained open and searching.

It was his intense and penetrating gaze that caught Joan's attention. Yearning to be seen, one amongst a million million, he would have felt and been touched by the deep compassion that her eyes reflect. He looked so bewildered, so tired.

Do you see him, amongst the other pebbles and cobbles?

He called out, his dark, longing, and emotive eyes penetrated our hearts. We could do no other than to pick him up, hold him, and reassure him that he was safe now, and that he would have a home with us...if he wished.

We told him that he would be amongst the other rocks and stones and pebbles and shells and multi-coloured pieces of sea glass that are "salt and peppered" throughout our home. Each comes replete with memories and stories and some grand adventures. He would have a wonderful time sharing his very unique story...and they would all welcome him.

You know, his expression didn't change, but we knew he was happy. In my mind's eye, I saw a tiny tear fall across his was a tear of joy. His life would change forever. Two strangers had found value and meaning in their connection with him. He had found a family.

As the low January sun set on Carlingheugh Beach, we climbed back up the steps to the trail...the three of us, together.

I couldn't help but wonder what he might like for supper, his first with us...we'd make something very special, indeed. ;)

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, 
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. 
Love one another but make not a bond of love: 
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls." 
- Kahlil Gibran

Thursday, January 01, 2015

A most marvellous gift for 2015...

A Scottish west coast paddle stroke.
If ever there was one, this is a day for the gift of gratitude - the very first day of 2015! When felt and expressed, gratitude is a gift we can give to ourselves, to those around the whole planet.

The act of both writing and reading these words is proof positive that we are alive - a reason for gratitude! Oh, I know, life's never quite "perfect", or sometimes anywhere close to it. The headlines are filled with events and situations that threaten peace and harmony and diminish life - and there is no shortage of those who will point this out to us. Instead of pointing only to the storm clouds, however, we must look beyond to the sun. Even amidst the struggles and the times we all stumble and fall, we are alive and we are capable of doing better. Gratitude helps us back up, encourages us, and reminds us that the next moment in time is filled with new possibilities that are within our reach.

There is no greater contributor to "happiness" in life than living with gratitude, one precious moment at a time. We don't have to be well off, or well-established, or well placed. We don't have to plan for it or reserve time for it or strategize how to do it...we just EXPRESS it, one moment at a time. Life doesn't have to be well-ordered, under control, or even hospitable...gratitude can survive in a virtual vacuum. It's good "medicine" with no contraindications or side effects. There are no downsides. Feeling gratitude is win-win..every time.

Gratitude comforts, strengthens, inspires. It freshens, rejuvenates, enlivens, and heals. It takes the power out of heartache and helps to dry our tears. It amplifies joy and nurtures peace of mind. It transforms life's dark and uncertain horizons into "blue sky" days. It seeks the best for others and warms the hearts of all around us. It expresses love and reflects compassion.

Gratitude empowers us, enriches us, and makes every good thing possible.

It takes us from the narrow, darkened valleys, and places us on the summits. Gratitude gives us brilliant see earth, sky, and sea, and one another, with much deeper appreciation and respect.

Joan, on an English Lake District footstep.
Living and expressing gratitude, it's a most marvellous gift to unwrap and share...

Wishing you peace and gratitude-filled days, throughout this brand New Year. :)

Monday, December 29, 2014

The textured surface of the Tentsmuir Sands...

Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve is just 10 minutes from home..five miles of sand dunes, and beach-walking. It's also a "geomorphological site for the study of active beach and coastal processes". Yes, there's some serious coastal "progradation" going on - the shoreline is shifting out towards and into the North Sea, and there's lots of texture to behold.

"Texture" in life is a wonderful thing...and comes from the willingness to be open to new and different experiences. Texture is the result of the ebb and flow of fresh adventures and explorations. Some may wear you down, others will build you up...but there will be the guarantee of lots of stories to tell. :)

The Tentsmuir Reserve is all about movement, change, and growth...and so, of course, is life.

Today was a frosty, sunny, "blue sky Scotland", late December day - a multi-textured experience of a unique part of this very special land.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Warmest wishes this Christmas and holiday season...

From Vancouver Island, Canada and from the Kingdom of Fife, in eastern Scotland, we wish you peace, all possible joy, and every reason for hope in the New Year to come. 

This blog has always been, just for fun. It reflects a passion for sea kayaking and hill-walking, and a few other odds and ends that come to mind, all in the pursuit of getting to know the planet just a little bit better. It's writers are two outdoor enthusiasts, a parish minister and a social worker, who believe in the power of love, and in the inherent goodness of all people. We know that one day, the world will find a way to live in peace. We will never give up on that hope and that dream.

Although this is the Season of Christmas for us and for many, Joan and I rejoice together in the marvellous tapestry of hopes and dreams that are shared by all religious traditions, and by those of no particular tradition at all. We human beings have been separated for too long by our boundaries, our ideologies, our dogmas, and our need to be right. 

Christmas is surely a time for light and love to illuminate what really matters in life: our shared search for value and meaning, and our connection with one another - a connection and sense of shared community that seeks the best for all. 

Yesterday, we stood on the summit of East Lomond, an extinct volcano, not far from home, here in Fife.

With the perspective of a little elevation, we looked out once again upon a fragile, island planet, and the tiny communities set amongst the hills and the fields. The earth, the sea, the air...and all life, are so interconnected and worthy of our deepest respect.

Humankind continues to yearn for a world that reflects kindness, compassion, and respect for all people everywhere. We must do all that we can to take care of one another and this magnificent "blue marble" we call home. We must celebrate diversity, and differences, and ensure that all who struggle, for whatever reason, are supported and given every opportunity to experience the fullness and richness that life can offer.

It is possible.

May the peace, hope, joy, light, and love of this Christmas season be with you and yours, now, and in the New Year to come.

With our warmest wishes to one and all,

Duncan and Joan.

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. ;)