Monday, April 21, 2014

Treasuring every single precious moment...because life can turn on a dime.

Joan, treasuring a precious moment.
This Easter Monday was another "blue sky Scotland" day and the perfect opportunity for test-driving the body after a couple of weeks of not getting out into the hills much. A rather annoying, non-specific internal source of inflammation had resulted in discomfort of sufficient nature that "outdoor pursuits" were significantly curtailed, which was probably just as well as it's been a busy time with pastoral duties.

Thankfully, however, an excellent local doc and the National Health Service, have been able to "hit the spot" with a short course of meds.

So today, with blue skies and warm winds beckoning, it was time to get back out into Cairngorms National Park...for the "hill performance test". Several variables needed to be met: close proximity to home in the event of "test" failure; reasonable elevation gain (714m) in order to provide an adequate physical "stressor" as the primary evaluation tool; and a small reward at the end (assuming all went well...or not). First choice venue: Return to Glen Clova, for the full Loch Brandy circuit - with the Glen Clova Hotel as start-finish point.

Feels a little like...Canada! :) 
It was simply a perfect day with the mountains rising on three sides, and very prominent, despite the haze. A steady cool breeze of about 30 mph, served as an excellent counter-measure to the heat buildup from the climb up.

Up on top, high above the loch, the winds died down and the sun warmed up the heather-covered moorland - and made for some fun, in the patches of "corn" snow!

It just makes you feel like...running! :)
There were quite a few others out today - there's a warmth in every greeting here, and there were lots of shared conversations, comparing notes on hometowns and the like. It was good to be back in the hills. And the body cooperated.

Cairn at top of Brandy.
The surface of the deep, cold waters of the loch glistened.

The loch...a long way down.
Tucked into the crags, the evidence of winter resists leaving this remarkable place.

More residual evidence of winter still, amidst the crags.
Having burned a few calories, it was time for a light lunch before heading back down.

A light lunch under a warm sun.
At the trail head, there would be a cup of coffee in the old hotel.

The hotel.
In the meantime, the (about-to-be-converted) Moderate Terrain Outdoor Pursuits Transport Vehicle (MTOPTV) patiently waited, amidst the daffodils and the lush green grass. ("Conversion" details to follow in a subsequent posting.)

Faithful MTOPTV.
The "hill performance test" was successful, the body "worked" again. To be honest though, in the grand scheme of things it was probably much ado about nothing. A pain in the body that cramped (albeit literally) hill walking is not to be compared with "real" suffering.

As a parish minister, I am often called to homes and hospitals where life "flickers" and then, sometimes ends. At such times, we all wish that there had been more time. Sometimes there just isn't. It's more than heartbreaking for the young victims and families of the ferry disaster in South Korea. Closer to home (back in Canada), it is impossible to imagine the anguish of the families affected by the unexplained act of violence in Calgary. The sadness felt there, reaches across both a continent and an ocean.

The expression, "life turns on a dime", has deep meaning. Why? Because life does, turn on a dime. One moment, life is full and vibrant and full of hope and possibilities. A moment later, it can be gone forever.

Equally sad, is the amount of precious time we humans waste - filling it with unnecessary anxiety, fretting, regretting, angry, wishing time away, wanting to be somewhere else, or someone else. We put in time, we waste time, we fritter it away, we ignore the passage of time. Yet, time is so precious.

It was good to be out in the hills again today. There was opportunity to think about the immeasurable value of time and the fact that no moment in time offers a second chance. Each present moment is all we have, and truly, all we can ever count on having. 

Embrace life, cherish it...moment by moment. It is infinitely precious.


Postscript: 

Finishing this posting, an email arrived from a dear friend - a brand new "Nana". ("L" is also a hill walker and often comments here.) In the image below...a most precious moment in time.

Warmest wishes and congratulations to "G's" mom and dad, and to Nana L. 

Nana and "G" - a very precious moment.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The solitude of the moorland, and an occasional Americano in a busy café...

Pass through the gate...and walk forever.
Except for a horse and rider, completing an 80 mile endurance ride, there wasn't another soul on the Balnaboth Moor today. Under blue skies, the warmth of the Spring sunshine held its own, even in the gusty winds that registered up to 104 km/h on the anemometer. - very breezy!

The "outdoors" seems endlessly vast. Somewhere in between the size of Ireland and Austria, Scotland's modest 30,420 square miles is a land of dramatically varied topography - including an astonishing 787 islands and over 6,000 miles of coastline. Ah...sea kayaking. The venue today wasn't far from home, just inside Cairngorms National Park in the Angus Glens.

Exposed to the full-on winds that rush from Atlantic Ocean to North Sea, across the breadth of the country, these gentle hills of Glen Prosen have a rawness and a mystique to them.

Steady at 48, max recorded gust at 104.
They may not have the stunning beauty of the ancient, craggy, snow-capped mountains, just a little beyond, but there's a beauty that the soul, perhaps more than the eye, can perceive. There's a gentle "toughness" required to live here and work amidst these hills. Modern day shepherds tend to the sheep whose tiny lambs gambol and frolic in their attempts to joyously defy gravity, failing, but happily trying again and again.

It's a good place to explore and traverse the "inner" landscape of the human spirit. There's sound all around, but there is no noise to distract. Perhaps it's the "sounds of silence"?

A few moments shelter behind a windbreak.
I am willing and can well hold my own in the company of gregarious extroverts in a crowded coffee shop, or anywhere else for that matter - at least until actual "listening" becomes optional. (At that point there seems little rational to stay any longer.) My personality type, however, much prefers quiet places such as these isolated and windswept moors. They energise and refresh.

The hills "flow" into one another.
The big sky and expansive land invites deep reflection. They invite the heart and mind to open and draw in the freshness of open space and uninterrupted time. There's a feeling of liberation. My soul mate and partner in life concurs.

Having said all that, I will admit that there are certainly times to head from the hills for an Americano, with a little hot milk on the side - and, of course, a scone. At such times, it doesn't really matter how busy or frenetic the ambiance. In fact, it can be fun. It's balance

A very friendly café in Perth.
So yes, to everything there is a season. :)


Saturday, April 05, 2014

Geo-diversity, balloons, and brussels sprouts...

The richly red sands of Carlingeugh Bay.
Now that British Summer Time (BST) has arrived - not, by the way, to be confused with "summer" :) a few spare hours in the late afternoon are sufficient to get out to Arbroath, for some time on the edge of the North Sea. From there, one can hike along the Geodiversity Trail to the delightful little village of Auchmithie and be back before dark. All along the way, there are dramatic cliffs, blowholes, sea stacks, caves, arches, needles, all shaped by the sea. 

The Needle E'e.
These red sandstones and rocks used to "live" south of the equator, albeit around 400 million years ago. That was before this country "migrated" north to its present location, through unimaginable geological time. It was this ancient sandstone that was used to build Arbroath Abbey, where the Declaration of Arbroath (Scottish independence) was signed on April 6th, 1320. So if you see some tartan around tomorrow, "Tartan Day", that may be folks celebrating a most significant event in this country's history.

Every now and again, a steep descent to the beach provides a sea-level perspective on the fascinating geology and natural history of the area...


...and sometimes some rather "unnatural" flotsam that finds itself washed up on shore.

An arrival by air and sea?
The string of orange and green balloons came from a restaurant chain that was clearly making a big "deal" about the £9.99 Meal Deal: A selected main, unlimited salad, Sundae Best, and a drink. Sounded pretty good but unfortunately the "advertising" got away - and ended up on a pristine beach. (Well, there was some other flotsam and jetsam but this was the worst offender.) We tried to determine which exact restaurant had lost their "grip" on these balloons. 

An internet search indicated that the nearest possibilities were Perth, Dunfermline, and Aberdeen. Given their relative locations from this particular beach, chances are they arrived by air and sea from Aberdeen - some 40 miles away and to the north. (Locals and mariners out there, however, may have other suggestions based on a far better understanding of local winds and currents.)

A good deal for "dining"...but not for the beach.
This wasn't the only "unusual" observation we made.

Near the end of the trail at Auchmithie, we came upon a most extraordinary sight - a veritable "mountain chain" of Brussels sprouts! I love Brussels sprouts...steamed just until al dente, generously covered with fresh lemon juice, and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, mmm!

Talk about feeling like a 64-year-old "kid in a candy store"!

They were, however, on the other side of the farmer's fence.

Way more than a lifetime's supply of Brussels sprouts!
And they had been through the Scottish winter, so probably past their prime...my mouth watered, nonetheless.

Many seem to have survived winter.
Putting aside all temptation to climb the fence - and risking the possibility of a local clergyman's picture ending up on the front page of the local paper, in serious trouble for "snitching" Brussels sprouts - we retraced our steps along the top of the sandstone cliffs, thereby taking the "high road" away from temptation. (Joan did give assurances that we would stop at the Tesco supermarket for - you guessed it - a bag of these highly nutritious "gems"!

And a "high road" it is, along this superb trail.



Life is full of diversity, some of which offers wholeness and health (like Brussels sprouts), and some  of which jeopardises the wholeness and health of the life-sustaining biosphere, like a getaway string of balloons. Increasing the former while reducing the latter will surely ensure this fragile, island planet remains the "gem" in space that it is.

It's surely worth our every effort.

And now, to tuck into those sprouts! :)


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Quenched with "Brandy"...stung by hail.

Magnificent Glen Clova, looking towards Glen Doll.
The first fourteen days here in Angus have been incredibly busy. A "window" opened today, however, that served to quench the increasing "thirst" to get out into the Scottish hills. The go-to venue, close to home here, is Glen Clova - a starting point for some of the "biggest bang for your buck (or pound)" hill walks around! It's less than an hour from the trailhead, located next to the Glen Clova Hotel, to Loch Brandy. All the elevation gained after that will take the hill walker as far as there is available time and supplies - pretty much forever into magnificent Cairngorms National Park.

Today, after about fifteen minutes on the hill, the well-known changeable weather was, well, changing. Light rain began to fall and the temperature began to drop.

It was time to add the waterproof layer.

Layers (of clothing), the hill walker's best friend.
Arriving at the loch, the skies were descending and the heavier rain, that had turned to hail-showers, came and went with gusting winds blowing the little pellets sideways - into exposed faces. Ouch! We had planned to take the trail to the left, up the steep slope to the "Snub", and cross the plateau above the loch but conditions were clearly deteriorating. Another hiker had reported that the winds up above had almost blown him over.

The lovely Loch Brandy, still in winter robes.
Plan B was to to take the right hand trail across the loch outflow and get as high up as conditions would permit.

End of March, a winter snow field still greets the walker up here.
The wind really began to blow with the anemometer registering 74 km/h at one point with a wind chill factor of minus 8.7. It was "brisk", but once again, it was the hail (or maybe they were "high performance snow flakes"?) that really stung!

The wind blew consistently from 60 -70 km/h
 Soon, it was impossible to see where we'd come from...

White out...
 ...or where we were going.

...in all directions.
It was time to retrace our steps from winter back to "spring"...and to the waiting MTOPTV (Moderate Terrain Outdoor Pursuits Transport Vehicle).

"MTOPTV"
This new-to-us diesel-powered "transporter" was carefully designed and crafted to simulate the appearance of a civilian model, 2003 Ford Focus TDCi. Small areas of rust and random paint scratches (in stealth mode) have been added to ensure realism. Operationally, it's pretty sweet.

So was the hill walk. :)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Leven...

Peaceful Loch Leven.
Back in ("Blue Sky") Scotland again, it was great to meet up with MG Mike in lovely Kinross. The coffee is always deliciously strong, the buttery shortbread melts in your mouth, and the elegant ambiance of the Green Hotel soothes the weary, jet-lagged traveler. This 18th century coaching inn sits near Loch Leven and its tiny island castle where Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned in 1567 - and from which she escaped a year later! (The other Loch Leven is on the west coast, south of Fort William, and is a salt-water loch.)

The Scottish mid-March...a "short sleeve" day.
It's always a great time to be in Scotland but this year, 2014, is particularly special. This is the Year of Homecoming - everywhere, the XX Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the Forth Bridges Festival, and golf's Ryder Cup at the Gleneagles Hotel. This time, for us, it's a locum with a very special parish in Angus...but the dry suits, PFDs, hiking boots and backpacks, happily came along for the ride.

The "freshwater" Loch Leven.
With a bit of luck, they'll find meaningful "employment" too. :)

Monday, February 24, 2014

A sea kayaker's "snow day" on Canada's very own Pacific Island...


Here on Vancouver Island, Canada's very own "Pacific Island", we (normally) enjoy a mild and "Mediterranean" climate. Islanders are sometimes known, in fact, to tease (affectionately, of course) the rest of the country about how it's possible to paddle, hike, and cycle - twelve months of the year here.

Well, most of the time...it's been snowing for three days now. So, while Joan began the lengthy chore of shovelling the driveway, "Spartan" and I took the opportunity for a little photo-op. He's a magnificent British-style kayak, designed and built by Nanaimo-based Robin Thacker, and looks just as good on the snow as on the water! :)

Spartan also sports some great graphics, courtesy of Leonie at "Art and Sea" in Oban, Scotland.

Spartan, looking a little more "mango" than he really is.
The Mäori spiral-koru symbol, on either side of the bow is rather special. Looking like an "eye", it represents an unfolding New Zealand fern frond and symbolizes perpetual motion, growth, strength, hope, tranquility, and peace. It also speaks to "awakening" and new beginnings in life. Every time, we paddle, or discover a new trail in the Canadian or Scottish hills and mountains, fresh discoveries always unfold.

Mäori "koru" symbol.
The Celtic triangle, on both sides of the stern and on the foredeck, is also known as a Triquetra (meaning triangle) representing various triplicities, such as land, sea, and sky or the traditional Christian term for the mystery of the Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Peace, love, and happiness is another. The Celtic knot can also represent the inter-connectedness of all living things, on this fragile planet which we share. Truly, we're all in this together, the symbol is a constant reminder of that.

Celtic triangle on the stern and foredeck.
The Celtic "wave", well, it's just fun and it certainly is appropriate along the waterline of a kayak!

Celtic wave along the cockpit.
Spartan, always ready for an adventure.
A Greenland paddle...feeling very much at home.
Lunch on the deck? Um, not today.
I find that if you spend sufficient time, on these important kayak "photo ops", the very big job of shovelling the driveway somehow gets done. ;)

OK Joan, now we can load up the boats and get them on the water!
Seriously though, I did help with the snow removal...but now, two hours later, it needs shovelling again! So...whatever happened to our Mediterranean climate? Hmm...


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Swimming cougars, in the "mind's eye"...as real as a sea lion in the kayaks path.

Heading out under dark and ominous skies,
the summit of Mount Maxwell, tucked into the low overcast.
Although today is bright and sunny, yesterday was much more the typical February "wet" coast of Canada. Strangely enough, here on Vancouver Island, we need rain...and lots of it. The snow pack is unusually light in the mountains and that doesn't bode well for forests and reservoirs this coming spring and summer. All this, at the same time that the American south is getting severely pummelled by rain, ice and snowstorms. Even the "flat earth" school of believers must be taking heed of the consequences of climate change these days...but maybe not. Sigh...

All that being said, it was a good day to be on the water.

The sky lightens,
illuminating mini "sea stacks", Saltspring Island.
With south-east winds forecast to get brisk later in the afternoon, we paddled over to Saltspring Island, leaving ample time to cross back before the waters in Sansum Narrows kicked up.

At sea level, ice is a most unusual sight in this "Mediterranean" zone, but little frozen sculptures from run-off were evidence of the recent stretch of below-freezing temperatures.

Melting ice above an oyster shell beach.
I find that I frequently day dream while paddling. Perhaps it's the gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) roll, pitch, and yaw of these responsive narrow craft or the regular and soothing cadence of the paddle strokes. Time seems to pause...and at other times, it simply vanishes, only to reappear an hour later and several nautical miles beyond the last memory of awareness.

Strangely, I was thinking about the possibility of cougars, swimming across the channel. Sparked by an interesting posting on an excellent Gabriola Island blog, I wondered what we would do if one of these large cats and our kayaks "intersected". They are incredible swimmers and are known to "paddle" these same waters between Vancouver Island and Saltspring. As the Gabriolan points out, they are also known to try to board a moving boat. They wouldn't have much trouble tipping a kayak! Hmm...

A cougar - courtesy of Wikipedia.
Lost in this "mind's eye" reverie, I was suddenly brought back to the present moment by an immense, dark form that "torpedoed" out of the water - ten metres in front of the kayak! There was a massive exhalation, followed by a thundering "SNORT"! A sea lion...and he didn't seem very happy. (No, there aren't any pictures as it really didn't seem like a good time to put the paddle down.)

Clearly, we had paddled into "someone's" territory and the most expedient thing to do, on our part, was make a quick turn to the port and head back to...port! As we paddled away from Saltspring's shores, the large sea mammal surfaced again, this time behind us, another angry snort announcing his / her presence.

 I was rather impressed at how fast we paddled on the return crossing.

Wanting to avoid annoying the sea lion, we headed back across the narrows.
With the sea lion, presumably, on the other side of the narrows, there was renewed incentive to take the time to explore the little nooks and crannies at the foot of Maple Mountain.

Only at high tide is there any entry to this nook.
Turning into Maple Bay, the water was once again calm, the heavy skies still hinting at the stiff winds, forecast by Environment Canada.

"Art", sea, forest, and sky.
I rarely find the exercise of "day dreaming" a waste of time. On this day, it became part of the adventure to visualise an "engagement", with yet another, albeit unlikely, creature of these Island waters - a swimming cougar. Sometimes, situation awareness can be nurtured through anticipation, and employable strategies, through imagination. Really, it's not much different from sitting in a simulator, with technology introducing a vast array of possible scenarios.

The swimming cougar was almost as real as the snorting seal lion. The "mind's eye" does a superb job of creating images and - and the imagination happily lives out the drama of the story line!

Never a dull moment in the kayak cockpit! :)