Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Being blue sky and sunshine...


The sea faithfully reflects the mood of the sky and yesterday the sea was…moody. At times almost black, and then an eerie green, the waters of Cowichan Bay turning a lovely turquoise when the winds calmed, the rains ceased, and the sun broke through the clouds as we found a tiny coral beach on which to have a small snack and a drink. 



It’s easy to reflect the mood of those around us. And that’s not always helpful. 



Empathy reminds us that darkened and discouraged minds and moods can always use a little blue sky, sunshine, and a warm and understanding embrace. It’s an easy gift to give…offered gently. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Isle of Lewis sand...under footsteps of forebears.


Although Scottish born, in Glasgow, I discovered this past year that my principle forebears were Irish and Scandinavian. That means that my ancestors could very well have stood in this very place of wind and waves...and sand. 


The Vikings came from Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. The word, "Viking" comes from the Old Norse and means "a pirate raid". They migrated down and along these Outer (and Inner) Hebrides to Scotland and Ireland in the 9th Century - to raid, and to settle. They are still very present in both place names and in physical evidence.


It gave me goosebumps to be in this special place with Joan. It was a "thin" place" on the Isle of Lewis. Adopted as a new born in Scotland, by wonderfully loving parents, we moved to Canada when I was just three years old. I always felt like I "belonged", and could never imagine a more wonderful mum and dad. In later years, however, I did wonder about "where it all began", way back in time. Where were my roots?


Now that I know, there is a sense of having "a place in the universe", a firm connection to the planet, that we adoptees sometimes yearn to discover.


I brought back sufficient sand from this very beach, dried it over several days, and created a little "zen" sand garden in an oven dish. Using a camping fork, from Mountain Equipment Co-op in Canada, it's possible to create a new design in the sand several times a day, or whenever we pass by it.


It's a contemplative exercise. It brings peace and for me...a connection to a distant "family" who may have stepped on these same sands so very long ago.


In some ways, the "circle" has been closed, as every circle needs to be.



All the creativity that I can muster, however, can never begin to match the artistry of the wind, the tides, and the waves on that magnificent and remote Isle of Lewis.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The companionship of solitude...


We live in an age of super-connectedness. Social media, a phenomenon still rather new to me, offers so many enjoyable opportunities for us to participate in each other’s lives. There's also, however, a place for solitude, delicious solitude. 



Perhaps as we get older, we gain a deeper appreciation for solitude. It offers a sweet balance to social interaction. Times of solitude, away from the demands and distractions of everyday life, are opportunities to get to know oneself, to be alone with one’s thoughts, fears, dreams, hopes, and aspirations.

For me, the perfect solitude comes in the world “outside”, especially in places that feel remote, and vast, and even lonely. It is there that I feel most alive, and most in tune with my being. It is there that my oft-scattered mind finds peace, and sufficient space to contemplate each present moment.



Solitude nourishes and heals, and clears away the gathered cob webs and mental flotsam and jetsam. It helps us "reboot" and problem-solve, and improves concentration and creativity. Solitude re-connects us to ourselves...and therefore more deeply to others. Perhaps Henry David Thoreau said it best: 


“I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”



Our walk to the 1,453 ft flat-topped volcanic summit of Dùn Caan, the highest point on the Isle of Raasay, provided such a magical opportunity. The gale force winds, and the horizontally-driven rain and sleet, at the top, was the simply the icing on the cake - and made for a great adventure!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Happy Christmas, and warm wishes...


To friends and family, of every faith tradition, and none at all, Joan and I wish you peace, love, joy, and abundant hope for the future. Together, may we do no harm, believe in the common good, practice kindness and compassion, live with open hearts and minds, and take good care of the fragile, island planet that we share.

Merry Christmas, dear friends, and may you and yours have wholeness and health in the coming New Year. And to our Gaelic-speaking friends and neighbours here in the Scottish Highlands and islands, "Nollaig chridheil agus bliadhna mhath ur."

Peace be with you all.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Time...and a reminder from the ruins of Suisnish.


In the winter of 1853, a family was cosy in their stone house, built painstakingly 
and with pride in the most magnificent of locations. The settlement of Suishnish looked over Loch Slapin, and up to majestic Blà Bheinn. The rounded Red Hills, formed a backdrop to the north. In a moment of time, however, this family, and thirty-one others, were forcibly and violently evicted into the snow. Their homes were then demolished, to prevent their return.

At Christmas time, we reflect on a time and place where there was no room at an inn for a young couple, awaiting the imminent birth of their son. Here in Suisnish, there would no room in their own home. They, and countless thousands throughout the Scottish highlands, were driven out…to make room for sheep, seen to be more profitable than the crofters that had worked the land for generations. Today, of course, this kind of tragic injustice is amplified a thousandfold, in places such as the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. 



We had hiked into the ruins of Suisnish, from Camus Malag, a rocky beach on the west coast of Skye. It was somewhere, close to here, that Bonnie Prince Charlie had come ashore, following defeat at Culloden. The defeat meant the beginning of the “clearances”.  

We sat amidst the ruins, struck by how life can “turn on a dime”. One moment, a family was sheltered, warm, and cosy…and the next, they were driven out into the snow.

Life can change dramatically…in an instant. That very fact is a reminder to embrace and value each moment - even the difficult, the frustrating, and the painful ones. It isn’t always very easy. But when we wish or waste time away, as we sometimes do, we invite a source of greatest regret. 



Let's hold on to every moment, embracing each one…and offering a word of thanks for them. When we do, we slow the passage of time, and deeply enrich every passing second. And then, should life ever change dramatically, we know that we have done the very best we can to cherish the most precious of life's gifts…time.

It may well be that it is the "honouring of time" in our lives that will move us to truly safeguard every precious moment in the lives of others, especially in such places as Aleppo. Together, may we have that courage, so that every "snowy night" in winter, for all people everywhere, might be peaceful, silent, and holy.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Ocean waves and buoyancy aids...at "the most wonderful time of the year"



It was rainy and overcast on the Isle of Skye today. Ah, a very good day to be outside, and on the water. :) 


Although winds were calm, there was some fun swell, sneaking in through the islands from the North Atlantic.


Over the years, we’ve learned a few of life’s lessons while sea kayaking. “Waves” feature prominently in our lives don’t they? Every so often, we might feel a “wave” of anxiousness or worry. It’ll come out of nowhere. Sometimes it’s a wave of sadness…completely unexpected. 


At other times, a wave of joy seems to wash over us. We wish, of course, that it would last forever…but it doesn’t. None of them do. But we forget that. When, for whatever reason, we feel a wave of darkness, or depression, or discouragement, it seems like it will never pass. As on the ocean, however, no single wave lasts. It moves on, and releases us from its grip. We need to remember that. No wave is forever.


This holy season of Christmas is often described as “the most wonderful time of the year”. But for many, it’s not. Most of us, in fact, are struggling with one thing or another. And for those who have experienced a great loss, or are deeply anxious about what tomorrow will bring, the weight of life’s “waves” at this time of the year can crush the spirit. They can toss us and turn us…and they seem interminable. But again, the ocean teaches us that the waves will always release us. Until that time, one of our “buoyancy aids” is each other, sharing love, compassion, strength, and support in all the ways that we can.  


There are so many people who care deeply...and that very thought gives strength. 

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Kayaks, kale, beans 'n rocks, and castle ruins...


Launching our sea kayaks from Ord, on the west coast of Skye's Sleat Peninsula,  the sea was as calm as it could possibly be. The mountains, the boats, and Joan's red Kokatat drysuit reflected on the water, and on the fine-grained sand left shiny by an ebbing tide. 

There's a remarkable "vastness" here...and it's an island off the west coast of Scotland. The vista reminded us of our place in the universe. Know what? Those who govern, our leaders, need some serious time outdoors. Perhaps up and coming Presidents and Prime Ministers should have, mandated, a form of "basic training". They would learn the humility necessary for true leadership. They would go from that exercise determined to build "bridges"...not, well, you know. They would develop a relationship with the natural environment, and come to love it enough to fight to protect it. They would understand and speak courageously about the interdependence of all life on this planet...and not simply natter on about their multifaceted fears, "intoxicated by the exuberance of their own verbosity". (One of my father's expressions.) Enough said... ;)

On this day, we had decided to go "out" for lunch...no other agenda. And it would be an unhurried day.


The chosen venue was a tiny islet, Eilean Ruairidh. It's uninhabited...but that was not always the case. Perhaps during the Iron Age, there was a fort here. The ruins are still visible.

Lunch was simple, and nutritious - some (cold) beans, with a garnish of kale, spinach, and a piece of bread. It would suffice. 


Our imaginations pondered the lives of the early inhabitants.

The rock that makes up the island is magical, we have no idea what it is - even after searching through the classic "Geology of the Isle of Skye", by Bell and Harris...it's a mystery to us.


Anyone have any ideas?


The crushed rock on the only little "beach" that provided accessibility to the islet was smooth, and "marble-ish".


After lunch, and a brief (and rather risky in paddling boots) exploration of the steep and slippery topography, we had a castle to return to...one that had appeared through the fog several days earlier. 


We first glimpsed an "arch" through the fog. It appeared to have been created by the sea, atop a raised beach.

It was not a natural formation, however, it was an arch built of stone by the Clan MacDonald of Sleat.

Built in the 13th or 14th century, Dun Sgathaich Castle (or Dunscaith Castle) sat on this off-shore rock, about 40 feet above sea level. A walled bridge spanned the gap to the mainland. The arch is still intact.


A small portion of the five foot thick wall remains, but little else.


Three brief hours on the water, a magical tour through time...and a reminder of the fullness of time and the immensity of even the tiny parts of this complex planet. 

Kayaks, kale, beans 'n rocks, and castle ruins...definitely our idea of a good day out. :)


Thursday, December 01, 2016

My oldest pal, and co-adventurer...


Andrew Rippin PhD, FRSC was the much-loved former Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Victoria, and one of the of the world's leading and most respected scholars. Most recently, Andrew was Professor Emeritus of Islamic History at the University of Victoria. He was a renowned specialist in the Qur'an and the history of its interpretation. He was also the Senior Research Fellow - Qur’anic Studies, Institute of Ismaili Studies, in London. In academic circles, he's been referred to as a "titan". But to me...for fifty-three years, he was "Andy", my oldest pal, and co-adventurer. 

Andy passed away, from cancer, on November 29th. We enjoyed so many adventures together over the years...back country skiing and mountain biking in the Rockies, trail running, sea kayaking, hiking, and exploring. We discussed weighty subjects, philosophical and theological - until it all went over my head! And we enjoyed, as much as anything, talking about the next adventure, kayaks, classic VW vans, rock 'n roll, our now-famous drive to California in 1971..and how my Harris tweed jacket looked much better on him. Through much of this, our patient spouses just rolled their eyes. ;)


Here's a taste of one of the adventures we enjoyed, several years ago...our circumnavigation, by sea kayak, of Salt Spring Island. Dreamers, we had thought about paddling around Vancouver Island, but felt we should get a more moderate paddle completed first. ;)


Here's how it went...

DAY 1 


Total Distance: 20.03 km (Maple Bay to Wallace Island)
Moving Time: 3 hr 19 minutes 
Moving Average Speed: 6 km / hr

With Salt Spring Island so close at hand, it has long invited us to plan a circumnavigation by sea kayak. Estimating an easy trip of about 80 kilometers, the logistical challenges were simply finding a "window" of three or four days and discerning where camping would be possible. The latter was, for a while, the most illusive. Surprisingly, there is really only one (authorized) camp site that is easily accessible by kayak and that is Musgrave Landing, at the south end of Sansum Narrows. The other camp sites would be on Wallace Island and Prevost Island, both short and easy crossings. The most logical direction of travel would be clockwise, so that the last day would be a short one - ahh, more time to "savour" the previous days!


With my usual paddling partner (Joan) serving as "support crew" and looking longingly after us, Andy and I left Maple Bay around 10 in the morning under grey skies and drizzle. By the time we had reached the beach at Vesuvius (on Salt Spring), the sun was shining and after a short replenishment break we headed up the coast. Amazingly, the GPS recorded a maximum speed of 10.8 km / hr - our sleek crafts "turbo boosted" at times by following wind and waves! Soon after 1300 hrs, we had reached Idol Island, a most photogenic little islet - and a perfect place to stretch legs and feast on homemade fruit leather and Logan bread. Rounding Southey Point, on the north end of Salt Spring, the wind picked up and the crossing to the campsite on Chivers Point on Wallace Island was "lively" with our loaded kayaks enjoying the occasional "plunge" into the waves as produced and delivered by the brisk quartering wind!


At Wallace, we met six other kayakers, the only ones we were to share a campsite with on this trip. The month of May really is a good time to plan such a paddle - usually good weather and availability at the limited campsites. 




Wallace Island Marine Park is a great place to overnight and it even offers an 8 km (return) trail run. We had both brought running shoes for such a possibility - but you'd better watch out for the rocks and roots! They have a way of tripping you up!

Day 2


Total Distance: 20.7 km (Wallace Island to Prevost Island)

Moving Time: 3 hr 27 minutes
Moving Average Speed: 6 km / hr

After a hearty breakfast of oatmeal (and superb coffee) on Day 2, we left Chivers Point and entered the Trincomali Channel with the tide, calm seas, and magnificent sunshine all going our way. Galiano Island is another short crossing to the northeast - tempting, but another day. In what seemed like no time at all, we were back on the shores of Salt Spring near the Fernwood dock and heading towards our day's destination at the end of James Bay on Prevost Island. Throughout the morning, seals would pop up and then, with barely a ripple, disappear into the depths. Massive kelp, flowing in the current beneath our hulls, affirmed that once again, we were receiving a little supplemental "ride" from the tide.


Exactly 4 hours and 30 minutes after leaving our campsite on Wallace, we entered James Bay, where a tall ship, the S.A.L.T.S. Pacific Grace, was anchored while its young "crew" were enthusiastically enjoying a little shore time - and clearly burning off a lot of energy! Prevost offers an excellent venue for camping in a old orchard in addition to several "premier" possibilities along the point where we were delighted to find the equivalent of buried treasure - an old folding table and two very weathered deck chairs - one of which was barely held together with duct tape! An absolute luxury to behold in a primitive campsite - who needs gold and silver!




The Prevost camp site, part of the Gulf Islands National Park, also offers an excellent hike out to Peile Point where you can view Mayne, Galiano, Salt Spring, and Wallace Islands - and get cell service to tell everyone back home what they are missing!

Day 3


Total Distance: 28.07 km (Prevost Island to Musgrave Landing)

Moving Time: 4 hr 37 minutes
Moving Average Speed: 6.1 km / hr

The last full day began with seas so calm our images were reflected in detail in the water beside us. The skies were clear and there was a "soft" feel to the air. Paddling the shoreline of Prevost, Secret and Ackland Islands reveals a serene beauty that lulls you into a meditative state of mind - the "carved" sandstone, the exotic arbutus trees, the eagles, the warm sun, and the even rhythm of the paddle strokes. 




The two and a half kilometer crossing back to Salt Spring and then along the shore of Ruckle Park brought us into the mouth of Fulford Harbour where we looked forward to a fortifying bowl of soup on Russell Island and the opportunity to stretch our legs.

The views from the south end of Salt Spring are simply magnificent - in front, the Saanich Peninsula with the snow-capped Olympic mountains beyond. Behind, Mt Baker which must be one of the most mystical and snowy mountains in the world, rising above the Gulf Island hills. Rounding Cape Keppel, you look into the wide expanse of Cowichan Bay behind which rise the snow covered tops of our own Vancouver Island mountains - it just doesn't get much better! Almost six hours after leaving our camp site on Wallace Island, we came ashore near Musgrave Landing to the primitive campsite made possible in part through the efforts of the Salt Spring Paddling Club. After twenty-eight kilometers it was time to give our kayaks a rest! A short hike takes the paddler, who still has energy to burn, into the small community of Musgrave Landing where there is a government dock and a few homes. A delicious meal of spicy Indian cuisine and a cup of hot tea topped off another perfect day in this paddling paradise.


Day 4


Total Distance: 12.57 km (Musgrave Landing to Maple Bay)

Moving Time: 2 hr 11 minutes
Moving Average Speed: 5.7 km / hr

The last day began with our usual 0530 start and by 0730 we had prepared and eaten breakfast, packed up gear and tents, built a temporary launch ramp and an inukshuk, and launched our kayaks for the remaining twelve kilometers or so back to Maple Bay. We savoured the remaining paddle strokes and felt most fortunate to have had the opportunity share in this small "expedition" together. There would be lots of stories to tell, gear lists to fine tune, further adventures to plan - but for now there was simply a feeling of deep satisfaction and gratitude for having had the opportunity to connect so closely with the natural world for just a few days. 




The energy of the paddle eddies left behind will have joined with the currents and the tides and will remain for this writer, a small symbol of the interrelationship of all life and all energy on this fragile and so very beautiful island planet.

Aristotle was right, "adventure is worthwhile."

Thank you, Andy...we sure had a lot of good times together, didn't we? And here's the thing, "the adventure continues". I promise you that. Thank you, Beth, for sharing the love of your life with us.


Andrew Rippin PhD FRSC
Peace and love, my friend. :)

Duncan and Joan.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Wisdom reflected by the "Old Man" (of Storr).


It's been far too long since posting here on "oceanpax". It's honestly not lack of interest, it's just time...there's never enough. Since arriving on the Isle of Skye, for the purpose of a locum, it's been busy. And to be completely honest, it's also partly because I have been experimenting with Facebook, a social media venue that I've resisted for years. I confess to mixed feelings about it. As a way of making a "jump start" here again, here's a wee narrative and some pics that were posted on FB yesterday. A friend said the blog posts were missed. I'm going to try to do better. :)

At 50m high, the Old Man of Storr stands on the Isle of Skye’s Trotternish (Tròndairnis) ridge. It's one of the most photographed landscapes on the planet.


The reason is clear. The ridge is a complex labyrinth of pinnacles and spires, remnants of an earth-changing geological landslip. 



It is atmospheric and otherworldly. Yesterday, the November sun shone brightly on the ridge. Back in May, however, a cold, ever-thickening and unnerving mist enveloped us as we hiked up to this extraordinary landmark.



As one writer has said, standing beside the Old Man “perfectly calibrates your place in the world”. 




The discordant and hubris-filled bluster, bombast, and bravado that makes the headlines these days, pales in comparison to the image of strength, endurance, and longevity of this ancient, natural monument.



I take comfort in the “long game” in life. It is won by fair-mindedness, mutual respect, compassion…and an enduring belief in the power of love. Thanks for the reminder, Old Man, you hang in there too. ;)

Monday, October 17, 2016

The rainbows of Skye...and Julian's gentle wisdom.



It is already clear, after only two days, that these coming months on the Isle of Skye, will be filled with "teaching moments" from a most wonderful instructor...Mother Nature. This morning, it was difficult to keep up with the changing skies...in between rain squalls, rainbow after rainbow appeared.

A meteorological phenomenon, the rainbow is as natural a thing as could possibly be. And yet, it is so "magical" and evokes such depth of feeling. The magnificent arc of colours is created when sunlight and rain "meet up" in the sky. Every single droplet of water acts as a tiny "prism" dispersing the light beam and reflecting it back to our eyes. The bands in the rainbow demonstrate that light is made up of many colours...red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet and perhaps even an infinite number of other subtle hues.


But rainbows are so much more...


For me, they are a symbol of hope, a reminder that despite our struggles and no matter how difficult they may be, we must never give up. Julian of Norwich, was an English contemplative, mystic, theologian, and spiritual counsellor. Born around 1342, she may be known best for her tender words, "all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

Julian was a woman of "radical optimism". She lived and worked at a most difficult time, when poverty and plague were rampant, and yet her writings are filled with words of love, compassion, hope, and trust.

Sometimes the "skies" in our lives, or in the lives of those we love, can seem very dark and unsettled. If we look carefully, however, we can almost always discern a rainbow, a reason for hope.


And when we do, a band of light illumines our path, and we find our way again.


Julian taught that when we live with gentleness, expressing love and compassion in every way that we can, we will discover rainbows - right before our eyes. Perhaps even more important, however, we will create rainbows in one another's lives.

I like that idea, very much.