Wednesday, September 28, 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 it...you 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 photographs...now 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 land...at "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! ;)

Friday, August 05, 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 speed...it'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 possibilities...in 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 life...life, 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. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

A cracking paddling day on the Moray Firth...


It's was our third time on Scotland's Moray Firth...and another "Blue Sky" Scotland day! The weather window that Ian had picked was absolutely perfect.

While Ian and I shuttled the Kayak Transport Vehicles, establishing launch and egress positions at Sandend and Portsoy, Joan and Linda got the deposited kit together for the paddle. It was Linda's first opportunity to experience Scottish waters in a sea kayak...and the day lived up to all expectations. 


I, admittedly, go on a bit about how everything is pretty much perfect in the land of my birth. OK, so I can be a little irritating. :)

But...what a day!

Rock hopping...


Marine birds...


Endless nooks and crannies to explore...


"Secret" and mysterious places...


Narrow passageways that lead to an endless horizon...


Grins that just won't go away.


So many places to go, things to do...


And, nobody got wet here, but later... ;)


More to come...

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Old Man of Storr: a real-life, ancient and "alien" landscape...or the thumb of a giant?


It's an "alien" landscape and topography...but in a most magical, mysterious, and completely enchanting way. Located on the Trottornish Ridge of the Isle of Skye, the Old Man of Storr is a 50-metre high geological formation that defies the imagination. A very, very long time ago, the land around it began to "slip" away towards the sea.

The more durable composition of the "Old Man's" geology (and the other vertical pinnacles and spires) have allowed it to remain, still resisting the massive forces of time and erosion. 

Driving north, from Portree, we could see the formations from the highway, still at some distance away. 



By the time Joan, Linda, and I arrived at the trailhead, rain and cloud had begun to envelop the landscape. 



Reaching the "Old Man", after 45 minutes of climbing, "he" had almost vanished in the clouds, and frequent squalls of horizontal rain.


Other hikers would come and go, suddenly materialising out of the swirling mists, and disappearing just as quickly.



But we'd seen him, the legendary "Old Man", and even taken shelter in the lee of his ancient body.



The geologist's reasoning makes sense...but there's another explanation for the Old Man's presence. Local folklore includes many stories of giants, fairies, goddesses, and spirits. Could it have been that it was the giants who moved into place the massive Standing Stones, and created the timeless and haunting Stone Circles? 



Perhaps, as one legend suggests, the "Old Man" is the thumb of a giant who fell dead, and was buried in the earth, here on the Isle of Skye? Ah, not so "alien", after all.

Maybe...yes, just maybe. This is, after all, a country that is truly a place of magic, mystery, and completely believable stories and tales. ;)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

An Iron Age fort, and the strength of spirit of the men and women of Auchmithie...all in a day's paddle.


Once upon a time, Lud Castle, an Iron Age promontory fort sat above the 30 metre vertical sandstone cliffs. It was a sound location, strategically. Today, we landed our sea kayaks, on the neighbouring beach.

The tiny figures of two hikers on the grassy top (image above), give scale to this site, once inhabited by prehistoric Celts. A narrow neck of land, to a current day farmer's field, was the only access to the ancient coastal stronghold.

Today, for us, the deserted beach would offer a place to stretch legs, enjoy a second lunch...and wonder, dreamily, who might have shared a similarly simple meal in this very place, from 700 BC to 500 AD. 



It was another perfect day to be on the water.


Sea birds had watched our passage from waterfront "balconies", eroded and etched into the sandstone - wonderful observation (and nesting) platforms. 400 million years ago, when these rocks were formed, "Scotland" was below the equator and part of a desert belt.

It was a different world, the advent of humankind still a very, very long way away into the future. Heaven and earth would move before that would happen.


It's rare that we ever encounter folks on the water here, except for those passing by in occasional fishing boats.


This glowing red sandstone, cave-infused, marine bird paradise is a bit of a "best kept secret". It's also the closest paddling spot, closest to home, here at Base Camp 2. Admittedly, we need to get out to more places...but its near-at-hand siren call is hard to resist.

Today, we met up with two fellow paddlers, also enjoying a fine day on the North Sea.

We shared some smiles, some good conversation...thankful to be sharing the waters with one another.


And then we were alone again...

...naturally. 

A turn to the starboard would take us to Norway. It would be a bit far for today.



Returning to the waters off Auchmithie, where a year ago, dolphins-on-a-mission sped joyfully by us, we allowed the calm and gently rolling waves to massage body, mind, and spirit. 



Back in the ruined harbour, I thought of those strong and brave women of Auchmithie. There was no jetty, and in the pre-dawn hours they carried their men to the little fishing boats. The fishers would begin their long, dangerous, and exhausting day with dry clothes. It would have most surely been a life-saving, albeit backbreaking, labour.

They acknowledged their need for one another. Some today might raise their eyebrows at the image...women carrying their men to work. The pride of the men of Auchmithie, however, never entered the equation. 



That's strength of spirit...on both sides.


The mystery of Iron Age fort, a reminder of our inter-dependence and our need for one another...all in a day's paddle.