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.

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!