Thursday, February 15, 2018

Lightning strike on Castle Maol, a wall tumbles down...

It happened in an explosive instant of time. Just two hours after yesterday’s post of the exquisite rainbow, the remaining ruins of 15th century Castle Maol were changed forever. The remnants of the castle sit on a small headland, just a few hundred metres from our flat. Around 1930 hours last night, we were looking out the window at the storm…a rare and unnerving combination of lightning, thunder, violent wind, and wet snow.

Suddenly, a sharp, almost deafening crack of thunder coincided with what seemed like a massive fireball. Electricity filled the air. The familiar floodlights, which illuminated the walls of the once-fortified tower were extinguished. Only at sunrise this morning, did we discover that the iconic peak of the left wall was also gone…blown apart by the bolt of lightning, just twelve hours earlier. 

The castle, first established by the Vikings in the 9th century, was dealt yet another blow by nature's capricious hand - right before our eyes.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Rainbows, and the wisdom of the Stoics...

Another Hebridean storm has been raging, all day, here on the Isle of Skye. Seems like forever. We went out for a walk after lunch, just to work off some energy…but the horizontal rain, sleet, and gusts in excess of 50 mph, made it a very short one. I resigned to catching up on some reading: Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, the wisdom of ancient Stoics, it is simply marvellous. Lost in the pages, I suddenly realized that something extraordinary was happening outside. The wind abated, and skies were rapidly clearing, revealing a burning bright late-afternoon sun. A magnificent rainbow began to form, one end illuminating Kyle of Lochalsh, across the water, and the other, the ruins of 15th century Castle Maol, right outside the window.

As we watched, completely spellbound, the words that came to mind were, “this too shall pass”. The worst of the storm had passed. And it always does. I know so many people who are struggling, some with very difficult issues. The fact is, life is rarely easy. We all have struggles, and they can be overwhelming at times.

The Stoics wisely remind us that much of what happens to us is beyond our control. We can control only how we respond. Understanding that profoundly important fact makes ALL the difference. Epictetus said, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” The more contemporary Serenity Prayer gently underlines that same strategy, “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.

The height of the Highland storm passed, replaced by an exquisite rainbow. I must keep that image close to heart and mind. It is an image that calms…and strengthens.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Into the Glenfinnan sunshine, and a magical world...

With a day of forecast sunshine, we left the Isle of Skye on board the CalMac ferry from Armadale to Mallaig, and drove the short distance to Glenfinnan. It was here, in 1745 that Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) raised his standard on the shores of Loch Shiel.

Only eight months later, the prince’s hope of achieving the thrones of Scotland and England were dashed at the Battle of Culloden.

The 18m high monument, with the solitary, kilted highlander on top, was built in 1815 to remember those who died in the Jacobite cause. 

Harry Potter fans will recognise the Glenfinnan viaduct, constructed between 1897 and 1898. The Hogwarts Express crosses it in several films, beginning with “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”. 

“Highlander” fans will be interested to know that Glenfinnan is also the birthplace of “immortals”, Connor and Duncan MacLeod. It’s a rather magical place, indeed. Lunch at the Glenuig Inn, was the "icing" on the cake. 😊

Monday, February 05, 2018

Morning commute in the February Highlands...

It was a lovely drive to the "office" for pastoral duties this morning. 

On this day, the Mam Ratagan single track mountain road to Glenelg presented no problems whatsoever to our sturdy KIA SKTV (Specialty Kayak Transport Vehicle). 

There was neither rain, nor sleet, nor hail, nor wind, nor ice, nor snow, nor any high elevation hazard whatsoever. 

A sure sign that spring is coming to the Scottish Highlands. AND, no temporary slowdowns from sheep, goats, or cows! 😊

Monday, January 01, 2018

A proper start to the New Year...

The first day of the year couldn't have been a better day to be in a sea kayak, here on the waters off the Isle of Skye...ceiling and visibility unlimited, 2 degrees C, and a low winter sun shining brightly. 

The ebbing tide revealed "secret" beaches on tiny islets...the perfect venue for lunch and a cup of hot chocolate. 😊

Joan and I wish each and everyone health, happiness, and the bluest of skies for this New Year. Thank you all for being who you are, and for the way you enrich each and every moment.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Wishing all a very special Christmas...

At this very special time of the year, Joan and I send warm wishes from Scotland’s “Islands and Highlands” to family, friends and acquaintances, far and near. The connections that this medium have made possible, are deeply appreciated, and never taken for granted by either of us. Some of you, we have known for a very long time, paths having crossed in varied and wonderful ways. Others were once strangers, but are now friends, and it is easy to feel a tangible sense of thanksgiving for that growing sense of community. In a world where all yearn to feel value and find meaning, and purpose, everything that brings us together to share our lives, our reflections, our hopes and our dreams, is profoundly enriching.

In our spiritual tradition, Christmas is a reminder that everything is possible. Yes! Even that illusive “peace on earth”. We must never give up on that. Peace, joy and love are gifts that all people everywhere need to give, and hunger to receive. Regardless of our varied traditions and beliefs, all of this can be much more than a vague hope. When all in the human family, and all of God’s creatures, and this fragile, island-planet are treated with compassion, kindness, and respect, it will be a world worthy of our highest aspirations, and deepest Christmas dreams.

May this holy season bring peace to you and yours, and may the New Year to come be filled with love and peace, good health, and dreams fulfilled. And, of course, many epic adventures! 😊

Warmly, and with gratitude,

Duncan and Joan.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Arrival, lunch, and preparation for the gabbro and bog...

After paddling, on a calm sea, just 9 kilometres from the little fishing and crofting village of Elgol, we entered a land that time appears to have forgotten...after working on it for a very long time. 

It's a place of legend, mystery, magic, and (to quote a friend) pure, "mind-blowing" exquisite beauty.

It's said that "Skye is conclusive proof that, sometimes, God was just showing off." As a working parish minister, I concur. 

After first (and only!) lunch, we prepared for a short hike in boot-sucking bog, and gritty gabbro - to the loch, secreted away.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Journey to a land of fire and ice...

On a mid-December day, we journeyed deep into the fabled Black Cuillin of the Isle of Skye…by sea kayak. The Cuillin is an alpine range with saw-toothed arêtes and peaks that rise dramatically out the sea to pierce the sky. 

It is a land created by fire, and carved by glacial ice. The spirits of Highland, Irish, and Viking warriors, fairies, and modern day mountaineers ooze from this remote and unforgiving land of 60 million year-old basalt and gabbro.

And so Kate, Kevin, Joan, and I began our self-propelled journey across the sea, from Elgol, to these magical mountains, and to Loch Coruisk, a hidden fresh-water loch secreted away in a deep and vast amphitheater. The place was described by Sir Walter Scott, in 1814, with these words…

“Rarely human eye has known
A scene so stern as that dread lake,
With its dark ledge of barren stone...”

It was, indeed, all of that. More to come. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Joy, and the rose-coloured Advent candle...

There’s a special “joy” in winter paddling. The ocean is crystal clear, the shoreline feels unexplored, the air is bracing, and there’s that delicious sense of “aloneness” in nature. The seals and otters and marine birds sometimes seem surprised that we are there! They show very little anxiety.

This coming Sunday is the Third in the Season of Advent, a month-long season of spiritual preparation for Christmas. In some traditions, it’s called “Gaudete” Sunday. Gaudete is a Latin word that means “rejoice” and we look forward to lighting the cheerful rose-coloured candle on the Advent wreathe. It is the symbol of “joy”. Despite the worries of our personal lives, and the often heartbreaking headlines, we need so very much to maintain a sense of joy in life. It is that abiding sense of contentment, delight, and enthusiasm for life. It feels so good…and it strengthens us, sustains us, and carries us through challenging times.

It could be said that sadness is the opposite of joy. I believe, however, that the opposite of joy is fear or anxiousness. If we think about it, these are the things that overwhelm our joy. The older I get, the more I am convinced that there is a four-part “recipe” for maintaining a sense of joy in our living.

First, we need to be playful, for that is what connects us to the “child“ within, a child we must always honour. Second, we need to be “pliable”, open to new ideas, change, and new growth. That’s what gives us the resilience of a giant tree in a windstorm. Third, we need to take time throughout the day to be contemplative. Some will understand this as prayerful, but it is also meditation. It is living mindfully, and paying attention to the fullness of each present moment. Lastly, we need to be thankful, for then we see life, one another, and the universe in terms of abundance, not scarcity. This can be exhilarating, and life-giving in itself.

All of this may be simple, but, it is admittedly not always easy. As with any discipline, we get stronger every day as we work to nurture the joy that naturally resides within. It’s like winter paddling, it’s not the easiest time of the year to paddle, but it well may be the most satisfying.

Wishing you peace...and, of course, joy. 😊

Friday, December 01, 2017

December, on a misty sea loch...

Loch Long, at Dornie, was eerily still the entire fifteen kilometre return paddle, with Joan and Kate. 

It was a fine way to mark the first day of December, in the Scottish Highlands. The water in the sea loch was like glass, a thick and mysterious mist persisting the entire time. 

Thirteenth century Eilean Donan castle, named after the Celtic saint, Donnán of Eigg, bid our tiny vessels safe passage…and welcomed them home again.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The simplicity and "magic" of an arch...

The Scottish sea kayaks, Sona and Sìth (pronounced “shee”) are finally back on the water. Today, under grey skies and an air temperature around 5 degrees, there was a window of good paddling weather. The launch spot, just steps from Base Camp 2, is close to the bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh, on the mainland, to Skye. It was opened in October of 1995. Until then, as in the lovely song, it was “over the sea to Skye” - by ferry only.

Whether bridges are built from rough stone as they were by the ancient Romans, or from modern and sophisticated building materials, they require careful and detailed engineering. Making use of the simple “arch”, which has the ability to convey the load forces along the curve of the arch to the supports at either end, they are incredibly strong. It’s almost magic, and the simplicity is pure elegance. Bridges bring people together and facilitate freedom of movement over difficult terrain, or bodies of water.

Paddling along the rocky shoreline, towards the bridge, I reflected on the work of building “bridges” in a world that needs us to increasingly join hands with one another. I couldn’t help thinking that it begins with the willingness to “listen” to one another. ‘Cause there’s a lot of talking out there. 

Listening is an essential “spiritual practice”. Listening demonstrates that we value the other person. Listening to one another, and giving each other time to share our stories, builds strong and trusting relationships. When we listen, we “hear” at a deep level, each other’s tears and heartbreaks, triumphs and joys. Listening becomes the “arch” that conveys the loads we carry…to willing and caring “supports”. And that’s you and me. 

The spiritual practice of listening would bring healing to a world that is is crying out to be “heard”. 

As for the kayaking, Joan and I would both agree that it was definitely a bonnie day on the water. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The wisdom of Marcus Aurelius...

We hiked out to Suisnish, a tiny coastal community that was “cleared” in 1853 when people were displaced to make room for sheep. The ruins are haunting, the story very sad. Looking up to the majestic peaks of the Isle of Skye's Cuillin, as those villagers once did, it’s easy to drift into a reflective mood.

I was born in Scotland and there is a significant sense of “connection”…that’s where the mystery begins. Adopted as an infant, by loving and deeply caring parents, we moved to Canada when I was a wee lad. There were so many choices in those post-war days. My Dad was an engineer and there were new and exciting opportunities overseas. Clearly, it was a good move. Canada is a magnificent country, strong and free, expansive and beautiful, compassionate and peaceful…and famously polite.

These past years, I’ve wondered more and more…where did I come from? And why did I leave the “wondering” so late? At 21, with long and curly hair well below my shoulders and a thick red beard, I came home from university for a weekend. I remember my Dad quietly taking me aside, calling me by my Gaelic name, Donnchadh, and telling me that I was a “highlander”. But I was too busy being 21, too crazy in love, too full of the myriad and pressing issues of the world - and still trying to make in it a rock and roll band - to pay proper attention to what he was saying. Dumb. When I next thought to ask, I was much older, but it was too late. Dumber. My Dad was gone, and then so was my Mum.

Soon, I will turn 68…a little greyer, a little shorter, and a little wiser (maybe). I still wonder what my Dad tried to tell his impatient and distracted son, so many years ago. Knowing that none of us will live forever, why do we postpone asking those questions - the ones that really matter? 

Why do we put off saying what we need to say to one another until “tomorrow”? If there is something important we need to share with a parent, a child, a partner, a spouse, a dear friend, or anyone else…then we must do it. Today.

In his “Meditations”, Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, wrote “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.”
In other words, don’t wait, don’t postpone, don’t procrastinate. Act. Now.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

"Blue sky" November Scotland...

Spent the day at the Glenelg "office" yesterday. It was a typical Scottish, early-November day. (Well, OK, we were fortunate.) The route there is over a mountain via a single track road, the Mam Ratagan Pass. Glenelg is a tiny, picturesque seaside community that looks over the waters of the Kyle Rhea straits, to Skye. And it's twinned with another Glenelg...on Mars! Yep, the fourth planet from the sun. It truly is, an "out of this world" place. 😊

Friday, November 03, 2017

Morning breaks on the castle ruins...

Morning has broken here at Kyleakin, on the Isle of Skye. The ruined remains of the tower house of Castle Maol stand in stark relief against clear skies - a contrast to yesterday. Thought to have been built by ancient Norwegian forces, the castle once commanded the waters between Skye and the mainland of Scotland. It subsequently became the ancestral seat of the Clan MacKinnon, around AD 900 when Alpin mac Echdach’s great-grandson, Findanus, married a Norse princess, affectionately known now as “Saucy Mary”. The story is told that the couple ran a heavy chain across the waters - and assessed a toll on all vessels wanting to pass. Shrewd move, but likely not very popular with mariners!

The world has changed a lot in the thousand years since then…we’ve come and gone, buildings crumble and fall. Some things endure, however. Whatever the twitter tweets, and the “breaking news”, we must never give up on the profound and lasting legacy of the history we can make when we lives lives that reflect compassion, kindness, and the willingness to seek the best for one another. Just imagine the stories that could be told a thousand years from now.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Days of future past...

On the nine-hour flight from Vancouver (at 38,000 feet over Canada’a remote arctic, Greenland, the North Atlantic, Iceland, and the United Kingdom) I had a lot of time to think before descending through the clouds into Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. The last six months, at Base Camp 1, seem to have passed so quickly. There have been countless paddle strokes on the ocean, challenging footsteps along forest trails, and most important, meaningful times with family and friends.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Joan, Linda, Cathy and I attended a concert at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre with Canadian musician and song writer Burton Cummings - every one of the 731 seats was filled! The last time I saw Cummings, in person, was when he was with The Guess Who, way back in ‘68. It would be ten years later, in my first parish that I gave a talk around the words of his emotive composition, “I’m Scared”. He’s a couple of years older than me and about to turn 70, but he rocked the house and touched our hearts with his energy, his music, his passion, his stories...and his humility.

In a FB post the next day, Burton reflected on how, as we age, “our future isn’t as big as it used to be”. It’s so very true, isn’t it? Our past continues to draw from our future and none of us can possibly know how much time we have. As the Moody Blues sang, our lives become “days of future past”.

How essential it is, therefore, to understand each present moment as precious and completely non-renewable. We mustn’t waste any time in regret about the past or anxiousness about the future. Why? Because when we do, we "lose" a little piece of life, forever. It escapes and flutters down by the wayside...unused, unnoticed, unappreciated. Life’s moments are far too precious for that.
Burton Cummings rocked us out that night, as he has for five decades...and he gently offered the reminder that our future is not the endless expanse of time that it once seemed to be when we were young.

It’s never too late to make every moment count, and to work at being thankful for each and every one. Yes, even the tough ones. Those, after all, are the moments that offer some of life’s richest and most valuable lessons. And they are the ones that make us strong.

Tuesday, October 17, 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. 😊