Monday, October 16, 2017

The sea lion that (probably) just wanted to play...

I have to confess that I sometimes get a little, um, “unsettled” by large (carnivorous) mammals (on land or sea)...most especially the ones that appear to take pleasure in showing off their very big teeth!

So, this morning, on what may be one of the last paddles at Base Camp 1, before transitioning to Base Camp 2, I decided to enter the water and practice a self-rescue or two. Very responsible, indeed. Comfortably clad in dry suit, over a layer of fleece, I would be nicely protected from the chilly waters of the Salish Sea - but NOT from the massive body that suddenly surfaced with a dramatic and powerful exhalation, just metres away! It was a Stellar sea lion. Eumetopias Jubatus. He had a huge brown head and dark, penetrating eyes. These "guys" can weigh up to 1000 kgs (that's more than a ton) and be over three metres in length. Yikes!

The memory of being "stalked" by two sea lions, at close quarters, several years ago was still fresh. Entering the water now seemed rather foolish so I quickly slid back into the cockpit. Joan, with her usual calm demeanour, suggested that it might be “sensible” to back away from this massive and curious pinniped. Even if he wanted us to be his new "best pals”, we weren’t sticking around to play! Not a chance. Paddling to shore (with restrained fanfare), we exited the kayaks on a small shell beach and took up an observation point on the rocks. For the longest time, he stuck around, huffing and puffing and showing off an intimidating set of teeth - designed, of course, for grasping and tearing food. I truly wondered if he'd ever move on, and allow us back on the water!

Eventually tiring of waiting, the sea lion's magnificent and powerful body vanished beneath the waves, swimming in the direction of Separation Point. To be so close to nature in the raw, as “unsettling” as it can be, was very, very special. Our eyes connected with one another. I know they did. I couldn’t help but wonder if this fellow creature also returned home with a story to tell, of the two sea kayakers - with temporarily elevated heart rates - who declined to play. 😊

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Treated to the majesty of trees...

We had a family hike into Vancouver Island's Avatar Grove the other day. 

Trees calm. They ground.  

They are a lesson in strength and patience. 

They represent the immense power of a living thing that is willing and able to contribute to the well-being of ALL living things by the conversion of sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water into oxygen.

Poet Rabindraneth Tagore wrote, “trees are earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven.” 

They inspire. They reflect hopefulness, and the willingness to endure.

And here, on VI, they can be really big! :)

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Aging with grace, like sandstone...

Joan caught this moment in time off Valdes Island yesterday - exploring, by sea kayak, and between rockin' waves and a hard place. The towering sandstone cliffs are composed of late- Cretaceous rocks, about 70−65 million years old.

The weathering and erosion continues to create a sculptured "wall" of immense beauty. These cliffs are also home to seabird colonies.

Ah, wouldn't it be lovely to grow older with such hospitality, grace, and beauty. :)

Friday, July 07, 2017

A special place of peace and tranquility...

Nearby Gabriola Island, here at Base Camp 1 on Vancouver Island, offers a special place of peace and tranquility that is accessible by land or sea. It requires a small effort, by sea kayak or by trail, but the rewards are body, mind, and spirit.

The deserted beach, with a natural sandstone mini-amphitheatre for 2nd lunch, was "paradise found".

We've got its coordinates logged. :)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Finding the "quiet centre", amidst it all...

The news cycle today brought more unsettling news - from the tragedy of senseless violence, to countless innocents trapped between warring factions, to continued arrogance in political leadership. And then the news of a major league baseball player who could receive a $600,000,000 cotract (yes, six hundred million) in a world where one in three people lack simple access to a toilet. It can be overwhelming, trying to make sense of it all.

It is good, therefore, to take time every now and again and go to that "place", where we can find our “quiet centre”.

We all have such places. They are where we know we can think, and focus, most clearly. They offer that sweet spot or “thin place” between the troubled mind and hungry spirit and a higher consciousness that offers both calm and sustenance. For some, it is somewhere that may be accessed by walking on a forest trail, or spending time nurturing a vegetable garden, or gazing out on a beautiful landscape. For me, thoughts flow most freely on the water, and in my kayak. It is a place of healthy disconnection - from the siren call of screens, from the weight of incessant news cycles, and from all land-based cares. In the narrow boat, and with just a little effort, there is a feeling of weightlessness, both literal and figurative. The only connection is to pure and raw nature...and to the present moment.

Escaping the frenzied and frenetic life, every so often, clears the mind and steels the resolve to never give up on working to make the world a better place for all people. Each of us, from our own small corner, can do this. Despite the ubiquitous and troubling news, we must not give up on one another. Not ever. We must do all that we can to act with kindness, with compassion, patience, and understanding, and with courage and faith in the inherent goodness of humankind. And we must listen...for it is in truly "listening" to one another that we affirm each other's value.

The words from Shirley Erena Murray’s song are strengthening…

“Come and find the quiet center
in the crowded life we lead,
find the room for hope to enter,
find the frame where we are freed:
clear the chaos and the clutter,
clear our eyes, that we can see
all the things that really matter,
be at peace, and simply be.”

I wonder, do you have a special "place" where you can best think and focus?

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Waves, and the journey to serenity...

Conditions were calm yesterday, but a passing ship produced some fun waves. Joan's series of pics illustrate a lesson most of us have learned, and re-learned over the years. What goes up…must come down. But then life usually settles, even if we do have to adapt to a “new normal”.

There are always “waves” out there. Some are predictable and, as a sea kayaker performs a “brace” with the paddle to stay upright, we have strategies and tools to cope with them. Other waves, we can simply enjoy, knowing that the ride will bring texture and even enjoyment to our day. But there are sometimes the “rogue” waves that take us by surprise, and turn us upside down. It can feel like they will never end…but they do. 

In those times, I have found that the words from the Serenity Prayer always help me “roll” back up, and find restored balance once again.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Friday, May 26, 2017

Between an island and a high place...on the Salish Sea

Paddling on the Salish Sea, between Vancouver Island, and the mountainous mainland of Canada's (and North America's) dramatic west coast is a good place to think. There's lots of movement as the kayak rotates around its three axes, responding to wave action and forward momentum. It rolls, pitches, and yaws. (It also heaves, sways and surges, but I'd best leave that to professional mariners to explain.) 

Movement activates both mind and emotion, neural pathways open wide...these are the thoughts and feelings that can be trusted. Move often. :) 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Lunch out, near Separation Point...

It might seem rather formal (we're a bit old-fashioned that way) but here, at Base Camp 1, Joan and I regularly put on our "suits"...and go out to lunch, and sometimes even dinner. 

No reservations are ever needed, there's ample seating, a generous parking area, seaside view, fav choice of meals always available. 

It's rather hard to beat. :)

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 "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 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'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 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. :)