It was another rainy day in Vancouver and my thoughts seemed to be as grey as the clouds above me. As the wipers of my old truck flapped back and forth, I let my brackish thoughts and stormy emotions of the day slowly slide away. One of the advantages of having a few trips around the sun is that you realize that the spotlight really is not on you. You can indulge in talking to strangers without fear. You give up caring about what mischief the ego is up to. Instead, you let the water flow off your back like a calm duck in the middle of an ugly squall drenched pond. You can say “thank you” and not worry whether or not that statement is understood as genuine or not. So when I approached the door to Safeway, I paused and let another worldly-wise matron enter. She seemed shocked. I smiled and said, “Contrary to rumor, there are still a few gentlemen on this planet”. Her laughter was my special gift for the day.
In the middle of a muddle, my sis had advised me to look for one special thing each day and today’s special thing was acting as a gentleman. You see, while virtues may not make it onto Yahoo and CNN, there are men on this planet who are gentle men. They have survived personal lose, perhaps a war or they have had enough trials and turmoil to compose at least one or two decent country western songs. You will meet them at the most of places. They will be prone to do odd things, like opening doors or helping a stranger carry a heavy load. They will point out that your tire is low, while their wives will tug their arms and say “ oh hun, don’t bother the young man”. They are less prone to wish ill of others. When a fired up buddy mutters a cuss like (and I do pardon my language) “what is the difference between an anal sphincter and a person fond of sucking male genitalia”, they will probably reply “Oh I guess 10 to 14 inches”. They get the message and they can empathize with the anger. Even if they fought and cussed their way through the South Pacific, they were wise enough to clean up their act when they got home.
It seems, that some things get lost between the generations. The utterances born during times less affluent seem to lack the luster. Snippets like “ remember to engage your brain before you work your tongue” or “if you do not have anything good to say, do not say it at all” have been replaced with “Just do it” and mindless tweets and cowardly virtual toxic back stabbing. Sure we get to toss around terms like “mindfulness” and stomach marinade tofu, yet the linguist panache of true gentleman is lost against the digital noise. Through my own day, I had attempted to share wisdom about the neuron synapse. To get attention in class, I mimicked calling God on my cell phone. I was in awe as I read about two lions that were rescued from a circus and a store display in Egypt. I lamented that rhinos do not have the star attraction of lions. I was blessed to have my daily chat with a youth whose courage steered her away from an empty jar of pills.
I am not sure if moving up the food chain has all the benefits that we profess. I do know that there is a fine line between those who give a shit and those who prefer to stir it up. I do know that the price of bovine feces is always dropping. On this humble planet there are those citizens on that have put another’s life ahead of their own. They may gravitate to professions that instantaneously put a bull’s eye on their backs. When you shake their hands and look into their eyes, you know that their lives have been molded by practical wisdom. Their actions are not media memes nor are their actions pungent with fecund odors of fermenting bacteria. You see, moving up any level of leadership or species populations doesn’t imply that character and virtues will rise. As an ol cowpoke once told me “ just because you make it to the top aint always a good thing, hell kid…shit floats”.
Well I have yarned on enough and there is a dinner to take care of. If you are having a crappy day, open a door for some one and smile. Let that car cut you off and nod with sage like acknowledgment. You may not have to the powers to control all that crosses your path yet you do have a choice to be an anal sphincter or a gentle man. Sadly, I can only voice my thoughts as a male. Sure, I would really appreciate the feminine gender to get on board. Perhaps they could share their own wisdom and let the young pups know that a gentle man is a rare bird worth saving. To be a man, a gentle man, doesn’t imply that you have to be loud and brash. Instead, you may be inspired to roar a little less. A gentle man is more prone to act upon honourable impulses instead of making a tweet. A gentle man is secure and not worried about being sexy nor do they seek the spotlight. Perhaps like the rhino instead of a lion, a gentle man is content to be a hard charging herbivores that likes to roam the wild savannah. While some folks still believe that their horns have potent powers, I beg to differ. Being humble, gentle and noble beast takes thick skin and a myopic vision that seeks out the simple things in life.
An Ode to Balou Photo by Hayden Carmichael
In his last charge up a hill outside of Longview Washington, Balou did what he had done for the last ten years. He was doing his best to safely get me home. He had dodged butterflies in Mendicino only to get broad sided in Montery. He had steered his way in and out of relationships and been bumped and attacked by mindless folks in parking lots. After several trips through out BC and multiple adventures to places like San Francisco and Portland, and Bend Oregon, wear and tear got the best of my humble PT Cruiser. I must confess that while I did make sure he got routine checks each year, one factor did escape my attention. It seems that things these days are designed to fall apart. For example this machine I am now writing upon may have a shelf life 8 years and then some video card or memory bit will go “pffft”. and I will be left with this task of magically down loading my photos, files into this magical place “the cloud”.
I liked Balou’s simplicity. He was curved and round and spoke of a time where your actions had to match your words. His shape reminded you of a time when you kept a broken down vehicle for spare parts for your next purchase. I liked the analog features like a clock with arms verses digits. I liked the fact the radio had knobs verses buttons. These features had appealed to my step Dad, the wise and noble “wrench”, who chose to pay off the mortgage verse indulge in a modified time machine. For me, what Balou provided was a unique indulgence to make the move between analog to digital life styles. Like his name, I was looking for something to handle the bear necessities, which included moving my kids, soccer and lacrosse gear and a portal to take me to new places both in body and mind.
Balou was rather humble in his ways. A few times, a light would light up on the dash and I would refresh him with fluids. His battery wore out and I made the effort to replace it my self. Thankfully I have befriended a few mechanics that I trust and so there were routine replacements of brakes and plugs seemed to keep him happy. There was always the same question when I rolled out of the garage “so when are you going to replace that car?”. Yet Balou continued to roll up the miles. He seldom over heated even when I filled him full of camping gear and set off for hot and hilly climbs.
So when I first noticed a yellow light and heard a rather calm ding, my first impulse was to simply get to the side of the road and let him cool off. Now with each trip around the sun, you learn a few things that seem to pop up in your head like that light that was flashing from my dashboard. Some may call it common sense and others may call it pure instinct or dumb luck. I prefer to call it “Plan B”. It is your fall back position, your safe harbor. It is perhaps an imaginary checklist for when poop hits the fan. Alive? Check. Broken Limbs? Nope. Odd sounds or large bodies of air going by your head? Negative. Take for example the simple conclusion that any object propelled by an engine will purr along until you turn it off. Should an engine shut down without your consent or a flip of a switch, you now need to have a plan B. On a sailing vessel you can always hoist the sails. In a plane, you have few moments to find a place to crash. In a fast moving vehicle passing a transport truck in the fast lane while going up a hill, when the engine dies, you slow down and begin to roll backwards. This situation simply becomes a physics question about velocity and gravity. What not considered in the equation are all the other vehicles on the said highway and the affects of an ncline on that highway.
Thankfully, as I made my way to the side of the road. Balou and I found a path unobstructed by trucks, camper vans and ecologically conscious pieces of light alloys and low fuel consumption. Instinctively, as a yellow light flashed and the rpms went to zero, I remained unnaturally calm and weaved backwards through the throngs of summer traffic to get both Balou and I to the side of the highway unscathed. Yes, my humble stead had been to the repair shop for minor prangs. It was one of the selling points as to why I bought the vehicle in the first place. Balous had been wounded by accidental hit and run folks in a parking lot, twice! Above his “Marines” bumper sticker I had recently jury-rigged a red and silver duct tape combo until I could afford the deductible to replace a three hundred dollar piece of plastic. He had been side swiped by a new driver who quickly launched of a green light, putting my son into a state of shock when the police officer said I might have to go to jail.
Over more than a decade, my wounded ally had made what was to be his last drive with me. He had left me near a row of trees where I found shade and made my calls to roadside assistance and to my guardian angels. I popped Ballou’s hood and saw no smoke. Secretly I was hoping for a simple hiccup and sputter and he would be rolling again. Yet as I stared at Balou’s motionless engine, I recalled a film that shocked my whole third grade class. Yes, in some Disney movies, they shot the dog.
Under the trees, I set up a folding chair and watched a few butterflies fly from nearby flowers. I listened to my phone on hold and the load rumble of route 5. Like others, I was now that guy with a car that would not start. I smiled at Balou. Folks sometimes called him a hot wheels car. With his Marine’s Bumper sticker,bright red paint job and accent pinstrip, my humble stead now baked in the hot August sun. If this was his last gesture it was a good one. He was an indulgence that I had picked up from a Budget dealer over a decade ago. I wanted something bigger for my kids. Ballou volunteered to move us about with his perky style. My Dad had always wanted one. He liked “the style” and as a mechanic he had fixed a lot of vehicles with style. Secretly, I wanted a touchstone to link me with my Dad.
As I looked at Balou, I wondered what my Dad would say. Of course there would be the factual remarks about semi erratic maintenance and the shelf life of a timing belt. Yet he had also remarked more than once that despite the situation “it is a lovely day, the sun is shining and you are more than welcome to enjoy this day with me”. He and I had traversed across the United States twice in vehicles that had panache to break down. Thankfully he could fix many things including my own life. In Salt Lake City, while the vehicle was in the shop, he amazed me with odd facts both about American and Utah History. Like Balou, my Dad was always up to take me to any destination. Either with his odd stories and miles behind the wheel, I pieced together some clues as to how to become a man. Like Balou, he had a special sense of flair yet practicality. He took me places off the beaten road and showed me how to enjoy the simple things in life. So as I sat and ignored the roar of highway five nearby, I let a weeks worth of travelling merge into ten years of rolling down the highway with Balou.
If the flapping of a butterfly’s wing can affect a turn of event, then what can be said of thousands of miles rolling down a highway? On my fourteenth birthday, my Dad and Mom delivered my birthday gift to me at my camp in Cape Cod. I had signed up to be a caddy for the whole summer. In the back of what would eventually be my first automobile was a brand new red and silver Schwinn 10 speed bicycle. My Dad had picked out the colour and type of bike. I would remember this when I put the silver pin stripe onto my candy apple red Balaou. Five years later, that bike and vehicle crossed the country to take me to University in Ontario. Like other road trips, my Dad shared his wisdom including driving at night to avoid airplanes in Nebraska and finding fantastic lemonade and ac in an amazing museum in Minden.
I must share that my “Dad” was on of two fathers in my life. He was the next man to marry my Mom. I had made the odd decision to move to California leaving my true father and his wife behind. I cannot explain the jumping of ships no more than I can rationalize why I bought a vehicle that I could barely afford. It seems that there was something there that offered a different path to follow. Each weekend, we, my step Dad, Mom and I plus a faithful hound name Mike would set off on adventures. The road and a vehicle was always involved. When I started to ask about engines and how they worked, he steered me away to other paths. One path was what I am doing now, following his footsteps by sharing a yarn with no particular destination. Having survived a sinking of his ship in the North sea, a marriage that separated him from his two kids and two cross country journeys to find another job fixing machines, I think he wanted an easier path for his new child s. That being said, when I first introduced to my new “brother in law” the Marine , there was a hidden understanding that my Dad had advised him to toughen me up.
While I waited for the tow to come, I made a list of lessons learn and options to follow. This making of list was an effort to “put my best foot forward”. In his neat block writing my Dad used to outline both bills and later lesson plans. While he patiently taught me how to drive a fickle clutch, he was giving me lessons in how to engage in life. With my stepsister at my side, I was tested to see if I could drive a clutch on the hills of San Francisco as I was being followed by my parents. I learned simple lessons by simple mistakes. I learned with tough love and accountability. Somewhere in the mix, I grasped the concept that it was not always about you. There was always a time and place to indulge in ego play yet having a simple plan and initiating that plan sent you off in a new direction and sometimes that was not a bad thing.
After confirming that that there was not a duck but my cell phone ringing inside of Balou, the tow driver towed me into town. He was in the middle of working a 20 hour shifts, had a cold cup of coffee and a pack of unopened cigarettes. I sat and listened as he told me about his local neighbors and the two vets who celebrated the forth of July and how they never talked of their times in Viet Nam. I told him that wars are seldom understood. My Dad survived a torpedo and then strafing kamikaze bullets and yet his country as a merchant marine was never acknowledge until after his death. I shared that it was good to listen to tales that made no sense, that sometimes a voice just needed an ear. While this young man was launching back into his work, I gave him my Dad’s patented strong handshake and looked him in the eye and thank him for his service. No matter what the situation, troubles will pass. Folks always appreciate a smile and bit of giddy up even in the oddest of situations.
I was recently told that you have to focus on those things you can control. I was not able to control the damages for Balou nor the tapping of the keys as the estimate was being made. It was now four in the afternoon; the water from the jug tasted great and my bank was pondering my financial demise. Weighing the options, I could fix Balou, tow him back to Canada or sell him to the junkyard. A mechanic ,who sounded too much like my Dad, introduced the final option. He spelled out simple facts; the car’s blue book value was less than the money I would have to put into it. Some where in those miles between here and there, I do recall a few folks saying you needed to learn when to cut your loses. Now remember, this is from a generation who survived wars, depressions, financial woes and fair to midline marital bliss. Yes, in the old school blue collared world of nuts and bolts, sometimes you had to shot the dog. I paused to give Balou a salute and to thank him. As I rolled out of town the next day, I counted at least thirty PT’s rolling down the road. I also found three bridges in nearby trees so squirrels to could safely navigate through traffic. Balou would appreciate the humor this place had to offer and I could sense thumbs up from my old man. “Cut your loses kid, move on and rebuild”.
Sometimes stories come to abrupt endings. When you least expect it, the road curves and you find your self at a dead end. I remember a bug once hit the windshield and my Dad said, “bet you he cant do that again”. If my journeys with Balou were about anything they were attempt to capture a few brief moments of joy: Those sunsets my son took after attempting to body surf in the pacific, The laughter of one of my players putting on a clown nose in traffic. As the road rolled by, was I actually taking the time see what was in front of my face?
Each year, I retreated to the road to bring back the unpredictable. I launched into assumed plans knowing full well that it was the pieces in between that would make the puzzle fit. I was told “never to take things for granted” and as I held a cheque in my hand and passed it over to the bank clerk, there was an emptiness that passed over me like the surf that I had seen on the coast. Waves travel across oceans only to crash upon the shore. While they are stlll part of the same ocean, each has its own potential. Among the phones calls and text that followed my roadside retreat, I had the good fortune to have a new found friend offer to rescue me. Perhaps that old car was still up to his tricks. Yes, I had failed to replace his timing belt yet now I was being rescued by a lovely lass who thought nothing of picking up a wayward sailor four hours away. Instead of cutting my loses perhaps I was now casting off and setting off on a new adventure.
Now, I am safely home. In the parking lot is remnant oil stain from Balou. I still have my Ford Explorer and so I have a plan to restore a set of wheels that is neither plastic and up to roll a few miles. I will pay attention to maintenance and I will share the wit of my father each day. Some folks wonder why you name an automobile. I figure that after the warranties wear out and the oil starts to leak, the vehicle has earned it’s stripes to have a name. Face it, automobiles are part of the fabric of any person’s life. Those who mend the gaskets and sigh when a maintenance check has been been ignored have the challenge of putting the pieces back together. Blue collared and with greasy hands, they attempt to clean up messy situations. Common sense seems to be in short supply these days. Enough of sending pictures off to illusionary clouds. We need more tales of road trips and bad decisions that make great stories. We need drivers who know where the oil goes and how to bail out of traffic. We need to listen to lessons of the past and move them into the future.
I am not sure what the future will bring. From the past, there are the wise words of FDR who said “what we have to fear most is fear itself”. A generation grew up with curved fenders and rounded hoods. Being in the middle of the road worked for Ike and being some where in the middle worked for a whole class of folks. To paraphrase Jimmy Buffet, There was always a fine line between Saturday night drive ins and houses of faith on Sunday morning. I heard tell that they also spoke of heaven as a place where all the dogs you have owned come to great you. Well it makes me smile to imagine Pop finally driving Balou , his strong and weathered hands admiring the silver pin stripes and at least a few hounds poking their head out the back window flapping their ears in the passing wind. What song will the radio be playing? Will the lyrics be changed? Pop and Balou, can you hear me?
‘Put your best foot forward
but don’t be so stubborn to ignore the prickly pears.
Always take the time to look under those rocks for the unexpected
and be thankful for the surprises you may find
Make life beareable
By be loving and kind
A good set of wheels and a full tank of gas,
and some wisdom from the past
and you may get the chance to explore
the rare destinations of life.
Getting on the Good Foot
So there I was, outside of a local Safeway, face to face with an irate young man who was trying to convince me that his intentions to roll the wrong way down a one way lane over flowing with customers and slush, was a sane thing to do. Behind his designer shades, we squared off, face to face, one in a pint size save the ozone automobile and the other in a truck with a tape cassette player. We were two worlds colliding in the middle of a day that was offering both sunshine and snow. As I smiled and pointed out that I now had several cars behind me, he slammed his fist his wheel and nearly upended the chai latte that was fogging up his windshield. A passer by, carrying a seasonal case of Canada Dry, looked at me and smiled and gave me a fist pump. If the facts be known, having successfully navigated numerous decades around the sun, I really did not have time for such nonsense. Born in politically incorrect times, I am definitely not afraid to speak my mind, nor act in a way that may ruffle a few feathers (and I sent out a melodious tweet to my feathery friends).
Not much later, I was fueling up and putting another quart of oil in my truck when I started talking with a styling sage owner of Jeep with “Ditka” on his plates. I saluted his faith in his team and we both started to lament that most folks have lost touch with true loves like cheering on a team bare chested in a snow storm or predicting improbable endings to Super bowls. He said, “you know they have given up the teams to the kids who have no clue about what things are about. For them, it is all about the money”. Now this not a new insight, even Steve Young has pointed out that about my team the Forty Niners.
.Which does make me wonder “Have we really lost touch with a little bit of soul?. Could I or should I tweet or email Collin and say..”Hey Collin. Whatz up Dawg? You do know this repression things is not so fresh, why not get off the knee and get on the good foot son!”.
Now it has been over a decade since the godfather of soul has strutted off the stage of life. Yet I think we need to be reminded…what it is to “feel good” and how to find your way in a world that might even be stacked against you. Imagine, thrown into jail and then coming back with an homage to the country that put you behind bars. Now that is the true essence of soul. If it was good enough for James Brown then it is good enough for all of us to give a shout out to being proud of who we are.
I must confess, it has been awhile since I have taken the time to pen a few thoughts on this blog. I do apologize. Prior to testing my literary wit, I have had to test my skills at dodging curve balls and rolling with the punches. In many ways, I almost forgot the joy of tapping my toes and strutting “to the groove”. A friend recently said that the difference between 18 and 30 is not like 48 and 60. For the later, you are pretty much the same just angrier. Well my reply was to quote an old horn blower Mark Twain who said “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”. It is a known fact that James Brown was never afraid to let the world know that he was James Brown. As for me, I am just a humble analog in this digital world where a few good manners seem to have gone astray.
So I will leave a cyber reminder to the young gentle man who walked off in a huff and then stepped in a karmic puddle. You may still wondering “why did that clown in the truck not let me go my own way?. You may have facebooked 2,000 friends, complaining that you were entitled to go the wrong way. You may have even tweeted WTF//frickinoldfarts instead of reflecting upon your actions verses indulging in simplistic reactions. Take some time to clean up that spilt latte. Before shredding a stray envelope, pen a few words on it and then leave that message in a drawer for 24 hours. During that time, the snow will melt and your shoes will probably dry. During that time, you might even amuse your self with the silliness that the universe, in all its vastness, may be upon your shoulders. The simple fact is, you were wrong. You were both impolite and ill mannered. Learn a lesson or two from the godfather of soul and a worldly wise analog. Before huffing and puffing and marching forth into the new year, get some soul and ”Get on your good foot”.
By genetics or sheer stupidity, I have inherited a simple belief system that you always attempt to put your best foot forward. This is may or may not be good advice if you are on crutches. I have now gone around the sun another time and folks have told me that this is a big one. I am just happy to be above the turf. In my day to day life, I try to be a good scout. I help folks when they need a hand. I volunteer both as a coach and other endeavours. I give my time and other items away free of expectations and assumptions. May be the trips around the sun have tempered my aspirations. I am no longer looking for items for my resume. Now I am wondering about what may be said at the end of this journey.
So today, my efforts were rewarded with an amazing gesture. After working twelve hours to afford living in this wonderful city of Vancouver, i decided I should fuel up and get some vitamins to keep the ol noggin fresh. I knew my bank account was dripping away as fast as the fluid coming out of my old truck. Taunting the gods, I went to a grocery sore and proceeded to fill a small cart of items that I hoped would get me through to pay day. Sterling Hayden said that voyaging is launching off into the unknown without the security of having a pouch of money to afford the luxuries of travel. I have often thought that is an easy thing to profess because he could go back to Hollywood and make another film. Me, I am a mutt, a friendly and loving mutt yet my face will never be in a film..or at least not yet.
I was just about to put my goodies on the cashier stand. A young lad..I can say that now and not feel foolish..a lad without grey hair…hmm..he did have some in his beard and I did an odd juggle with our food and containers. Meanwhile, the novice cashier looked on non plussed. I was feeling good, the food looked good, and the vitamins, well I was hoping they would keep my eyes alert and open. Sadly, when I went to test the magic powers of my bank card, I discovered the amount was declined. Undaunted, I reached for the first of many charge cards and played an odd Russian roulette with my available credit. Behind me, the young lad, now growing older by my antics, watched and smiled. Behind him a young pregnant woman in her last trimester was fixated on the melting container of ice cream. I remained calm as the young cashier escorted me over to the customer service counter.
Now the line was growing as I shuffled back to checkout stand with a supervisor entow. I cautiously weighed up my options. Food or vitamins. What items could I return? Why hadn’t I waited two more days till pay day? Fortunately at my new age, I have come to the realizationethat it is alright to do odd things such as talk to strangers and pet panting dogs. I was fearless in an odd non drunken kind of way. I was testing how to be invisible as a worldly wise and more mature person on this planet.
That is when the fellow behind me took out his card and asked how much was owing. I though he was talking about his own purchase. The pregnant woman, now looked as if birth was just on the horizon. How was this all going to play out? I looked back stupefied as the bill was paid and a hand was offered my way. I can honestly say that the tears were just about to flow. I have turned the other cheek. I have made the stiff upper lip and no one has ever paid my fare at a grocery store. No one. I looked at my financial rescuer as if he had bailed out my ever growing debt load on this planet. I smiled and promised to pay it forward. I looked at the customer service agent, an lovely lass from India, and we both shared a cosmic hiccup. Perhaps all my deposits in the bank of Karma had made some impact.
I celebrated with a Starbucks card my students gave to me and bought a hibiscus and lemonade tea. I talk with the barista and smiled with the patient pregnant woman appeared once again behind me. I smile and shared some sage advice..”remember the word “epidural”. We both smiled. Coming across the lot, I saw my financial aid once again. I asked if he worked out and every needed something for pain. He said “sometimes but it is ok, I have run out of money many times and someone once helped me”. I gave him a massive jar of “sore no more” and grinned..you know..you just earned an “ataboy” at the bank of Karma I said and once again shook his hand. He smiled and in that simple action reinforced my faith in humanity.
Yes, England’s little detour with the powers that be may leave a debt load. Some one will make another film about buyouts and in the process, some one will be able to holiday in a yacht in St Somewhere. The butterfly affect will either hit the wind screen or send laughter into the air from young children following stray creatures with a net that has a hole in it. Thankfully and perhaps accidentally, some one will have to come to the rescue. Yes, a stiff upper lip and common sense will help you weather a storm or two. Yet is is such a treat to feel the wave of joy and ride that euphoric wave through rush hour traffic and manic driving behaviours. It is a joy to smile and know that as I type these words, a young man…a real man… is probably hugging his love one and sharing his story for the day. I thank the universe for today’s cosmic nudge and hope that these words ignite a spark of hope in your day.
At one point in my life, I had retreated to the Courtenay community center sauna to warm up what may have been a frozen spirit. It was while I started to feel some warmth in my toes that I heard a voice from the dark say “do you know that Vancouver Island is part of Japan?”. I must confess that I was tempted not to reply. I was numb and I was simply craving solitude. As fate would have it, cabin fever and numerous cold hours of being a humble chair life operator on Mt Washington had driven me to this humid haven. I decided to open up to my sauna mates inquiry. He said that he was a geologist and explained to me that the upward force of liquid magma from the depths of the Pacific Ocean was constantly forming a thin plate that eventually formed the solid land mass that became both Japan and Vancouver Island. I was sincerely hesitant to even ponder my sweat mate’s hypothesis. While the heat had started to create sweat droplets on my brow, the notion of Japan and Vancouver being part of one similar land mass was simply not sinking in.
What I had come to accept was that like the bumper sticker on my old Volkswagen “Burfle”…. my “mind is like a parachute, it only works when it is open”. The relativity of this simple message became more potent when it was fused to the vivid images of my youth. I use to watch my father “sky diving”. He would leap out of an airplane after tossing out a much loved teddy bear which also had a parachute. For a few brief sickening seconds, I would watch in horror and then sigh when both the parachute on my father and the teddy bear opened. Some how, parachutes, teddy bears and my own understanding of faith became part of the roots of my own spiritual tree of awareness. Some where in those thawing minutes in the sauna, my own awareness opened and I accepted the notion that perhaps within some terra firma there is the magic that inspires bonsai trees, butterfly museums, goats on roof tops and a zen koan about killer whales. While the seed of my career as an outdoor educator was planted by the tranquil and mystic waters of Quetico, Ontario, that seed grew into a gentle swaying conifer in the soggy forests of Vancouver Island. So when I rolled onto the ferry heading towards Vancouver Island many years later, I smiled a beatific smile and felt “the parachute open”. Some how I knew that my journey to the island would get my feet safely back onto the ground where nature nurtures happiness like a well cuddled teddy bear.
After way too many numerous trip around the sun, I had lost touch with that zap between my toes and the earth below them. Inspired by my new found challenges with gravity, I convinced my self that it made perfect sense to visit key paddle boarding centers or stores in British Columbia. On a logical level, it was a creative means to rationalize a journey that had a modicum of marketable flow to it. “Yeah, I will just write about something that folks would like read about”. “I will create an adventure where you could create your own script and scenes”, the whirr of rationalizations seemed abundant on that rainy day in March. I began by googling paddle board centers in BC and forwarded emails. As a “blogger”, I proposed that I was pursuing a mission to interview and visit with all the key paddle board centers and stores in British Columbia.
Once again, I was dreaming up ways to sell an oz like journey like the coca cola kid looking for that Australian sound. I had made that journey to Australia and managed to avoid winter for five years! This time I was off to see the Kahunas instead of the wizard. The only center to promptly reply was Pacifica Paddling Center. I would learn why within the first few minutes of arriving at their centers doorstep.
I am not sure what I expected when I finally found Brentwood Bay on Vancouver Island. After a few random turns and a conversation at an auto repair shop, I discovered that Brentwood Bay was right in the middle of what is now thought of as Vancouver Islands “wine country”. One of the joys of not having GPS is that you get to use practical wisdom. You embrace getting lost. You given the chance to make choices and mistakes and in between, you find those random tiny centers of rare human activity. There was a ferry, a spa, a general store full of odd items from China and a hidden walkway to a dock. Next to a wooden boat company was a sign for Pacifica Paddling Center. As I walked down the stairs, I started to feel a forgotten calm returning. My intent was simple and to the point. I was here to inflate my paddleboard and let the mirror like surface of the bay slowly tease away the tangled thoughts between my ear lobes.
As I stood inside the office of Pacifica Paddling Center, another nudge from the past began to reignite. I had once worked in a place like this. Yes, it was true. I was once a passionate individual who was fully prepared to spend their life celebrating the merits of all things natural. I believe that it was those ying yang vibrations within all living things that made life the magical thing that it was. I wanted to change the world enough to sing along with Pied Pumpkin and actually feel their enthusiasm.
Nestled between a boatyard and a ferry terminal, Pacifica Paddling Center looked out into a bay that was a truly a gateway to calmer waters. The owners Sandra and Peter welcomed me as “the blogger”. Looking into Sandra’s eyes as she talked about the company, I could tell that she was sizing me up. She knew I was up to something else. Meanwhile, Sandra’s other half, Peter was busy building a new dock. As I set off on my evening paddle, I felt a sense of being in a place of acceptance. I was returning home to a place where I had never been before.
After my paddle, I deflated Clarrity on the upper deck of the Paddling Center and there was the familiar exhaustive sound which was much like a constipated whale passing wind. A cheerful voice rang out from an adjacent house. “Ah..thank you!” and a mischievious grin looked out from the window of a lovely cottage next to the boatyard. Following a few glasses of wine and an invitation to camp on his lawn, I would learn that some Zen masters could be noble ex drug dealers and than there names did not have to be Lao Tzu but “Brian”. I guess that when you take the chance to open your heart to the universe, you have to be prepared for novelty behind some of those doors that open up. Having walked into the warmth of the interior office of Pacifica Paddlings office and then shared a comfy chair and Brian’s wine, I started to feel my own frigid roots of trusts beginning to thaw. While I was attempting to quiet my own thoughts and fall asleep in my half made tent. I heard a chuckle from the window. My evening meditations now complete, I thanked the spirits for my welcome back to sweet smelling and well groomed soil of Vancouver Island.
It was during my week long voyage around the island that Brian’s wisdom started to sink in. Among the tales that he shared with me was his own life intent for “down sizing” and a unique “reformed dealer” ethos of “not selling something that you were not take or buy your self”. In the past few months I had noticed that my own belief systems had flowed back to Allan Watt’s Wisdom of Insecurity. Like Brian’s own personal intents, I was attempting to understand the “down sizing” in my own life. Unlike journeys of my past where I was busy expanding new horizons, I was now having to let go of segments of my own spiritual and soul journey. In the past, it was all about taking all the pieces and seeing how they stuck together. Now, I had either lost or misplaced many of the pieces of my own life’s puzzle. Follow my own inner canine wisdom there was now eat, sleep, poop and play. The poop part was the piece that was not making sense. There were mountains of the stuff in my own mindscape. Yes, I could fertilize a mushroom factory for decades.
So I decided to live humbly and following a monk’s path. I slept in my tent or in the back of my pre 2000 truck. Each morning, I awoke early and paddled into calm bays to watch the dawn.
When I visited my daughter in Victoria and took her to Brentwood bay, I practiced my own Zen riddles with her. So as I was teaching her how to drive my truck I remarked that “In life, you need to find neutral”. I then smiled and said “the lucky thing is that this truck is an automatic!” As she confidently navigated through the parking lot of a juniour high school parking lot, I admired the swaying of nearby trees and the felt the warming glow of passing sun. Within the constantly changing clouds, rays of light refracted peacefully. Like my own thoughts, they soared and flowed with the heating air currents as I sat calmly as the tire rolled over a curb.
Once again, Sandra welcomed both my daughter and I to Pacifica Paddling. While we planned a possible paddle rental and date, there was that simplicity both in conversation and intents. While we discussed details, Sandra flawlessly answered more of my random question and offered directions to a campsite where I later would view the most amazing sunrise and listen to a spell binding version of the Eagle’s song Desperado by two elderly gentle who came and then quickly disappeared from the picture, leaving me with this picture and an odd feeling that it had all been staged for my own learning.
A few more days later, I returned to what was now becoming my safe haven “Pacifica Paddling Center”. Sandra grinned and said “ I know what you are up to, you are on a walk about”. Up to that point, I had not really thought of that notion. A walkabout was supposed to be about a rite passages into adulthood from youth. I had been there and done that! I gave the T shirts to my daughter to make a duvet cover and hung a few photos on the wall. If my current voyage was about anything, it was about losing the rigidity of adulthood and rediscovering the impetuousness of youth. Yes, I heard Brian’s advice. I was “down sizing”. I was attempting to rewrite my own story and let go of notions that had frozen my own soul. I was happily shedding away pounds and making new friends and strong muscles. My credo was: Live with happiness, health, be active and mindful. While my toes were on my paddle board, I was reawakening my own personal well worn and tested “woodsy” wisdom. While human nature had worn me quite thin, taking my soles and soul into for a ramble through a few hours in the woods managed to carve away a quiet place to embrace the cooling hush of the wind at a summit.
After agreeing that 32 degrees below zero was pretty much like 25 degrees below zero. My conversation with Peter, inspire a lining up of all the domino pieces between my own two ears. “As I see it”, Peter proposed “if it is not covered up, you are going to feel it”. Our conversation seemed to meander like a brook heading to the ocean. Now into the topics of paddling, nature and his own past endeavours as a bush pilot, Peter paused, smiled and hit me with a zinger. “You know” and then he paused again and looked me in the eye and said “ you do not have to follow the flow or the speed of the river. You do have the choice to find that safe and calm eddy and go against the rivers flow”. Only a few weeks prior to this moment, some one had told me, “the budha said that you cannot push the river” and now I was getting the zen flap jack flip side version. All I could do was grin and looked out at the bay. There was just enough time for a final paddle down a secluded inlet. Paddling against the wind, I dropped to my knees. I could hear one domino fall. At the end of an arm of Brentwood bay that ran along side Butchart Gardens, sitting on my board with my toes in the mud there was another thunk” between the ears prior to glint of sunshine peaking through the cloud. I munched a granola bar, sipped some Gatorade and watched an eagle soar above me. “Kathunk” went another wobbling domino. Paddling back to harbour, I met up with a happy tandem kayaking couple. She wanted to know about my board and he was just happy to be with his partner again. There was that giddy and bouyent sensation of new love in their gestures and conversation. Yes, they were new to the island and the magic seemed to be seeping out of the soil and into the air. We laughed and talked about the joys of the island life. I did envy this couple for their new found joy. Another domino went “plunk” between my meditations and a blast of wind tickled my neck back to impending reality. Prior to three or four consecutive “bonks”, I spread my stance and dug my paddle into the water. No paddling against the river. Find a safe eddy and regroup. I was attempting to “down size”. Another fresh blast of wind inspired a mad dash across Brentwood Bay as an impending storm started to show it’s self. “Thunk, plunk and pffft” went the last remaining dominos.
As I came by the Pacifica office, Sandra was busy calling folks and insuring that they did not set off into harms way. She looked down at the dock and made sure that all rental folks were safely returning. It is said that there are folk of actions and then the are the rest of humanity. What was clear was that Pacifica Paddling Company was based upon those simple ideas that Brian had mentioned. They personally cared about those who came to visit their center. With a nudge of a paddle, folks can easily drift into an environment that takes away the rough edges. Without a bunch of hoopla, they trusted the simplistic powers of nature to nurture. Sadly, I would have to go home early. A paddle with my daughter would have to wait for another time. An impending storm was too strong and I had to get ready for a new school year. Meanwhile, prior to returning to school, I had promised my self that would have one last “back eddy” to put things into perspective.
A few weeks later, when I started my first class of biology, I had just finished talking with a young man who I have been mentoring for the last two years. He was born in China yet he had spent many years in Japan. During this discussion about the challenges of ESL sciences students he said “here we use science to explain nature. In Japan I was taught that nature reveals it’s secrets to science.”. There was a big budha grin on his face. I looked into his sparkling eyes and smiled. Perhaps the magic in the soil was both in Japan and Vancouver Island.A few minutes later, I stood before my new class. They were half awake and looking as enthused as a stray herd of wild bovines. I looked back at them and wondered “What could I do to inspire an insightful voyage into the world of physiology, nature and self discovery?”. What could I say or do that would calm their turbulent teenage waters”?
For just a few seconds, I stood speechless and enjoyed the peaceful silence within my classroom. I reflected upon of those things that I had both gained and lost in my own life. Where had my latest walkabout taken me? How or why would I even bother to explain a form of universal love that goes outside the realm of humanity? Would I replicate Feynman’s wisdom by stating that forget about science and learn about love. Was there a place for peeling away the frosty exterior of the educator and inspire deeper perceptions that could explain both personal and scientific terms the many layers of being hurt? Would I ignore my own origins of a pain that seemed to come forth every time another piece of the puzzle faded away? What was it that kept me seeking out journeys leading towards healing?
I heard Brian’s voice say “down size”.
While I adjusted my tie and purposely stepped forward, my mind seemed to slip into neutral. I had been here each year yet the moment never seemed the same. The new year was now beginning to flow and I was seeking that one calm back eddy to find my own peace. Outside, the sun shined onto a few stray leaves of plants within my classroom. In a flash, I saw the beauty of solar energy turning into a new form of energy. With each breath, I thanked the plant for their oxygen and a smile grew upon my face. I looked back at my students and said , “Greetings and welcome to my class. Let’s explore the world of biology and human physiology. First of all let’s discuss the following words”. I turned to the chalkboard and wrote. “medicus curat, natura sanat”. (medicine cures, nature heals). Looking out the window once again, I could see Brian’s Cheshire Cat smile looking back at me.
zen and the island
Recently I was informed that some one had started an early morning trend to climb to some mountain summit and take a. Canada Day Sunrise .“What a great idea” I said, quickly grinning because I have been up to this mischief for many a year.
Just prior to finishing high school, I was asked to provide my younger uncle from Yorkshire, a truly unique San Francisco experience. We drove to Mount Tamalpais, hiked up the road (the gate was closed prior to sunrise) and caught the first rays of sunshine rising over Mt Diablo.
A few years later, as a canoe guide, I convinced young adults Michigan and Ohio to paddle through the mist into a new day in Quetico Park in Ontario. I even started a family tradition and navigated the inconceivable morning traffic of Tiburon just to watch the sun rise above Mt Diablo.
So when I finally parked my truck in the early hours of the morning at a stray parking lot north of Qualicum Beach, I had no need to rationalize the long drive from Victoria. After a few ackward hours of attemptin to sleep inside my crowded Ford Explorer “Ataboy”, my phone alarm went off.
I crawled out to great the day. It was still quiet and dark. The beach was empty and so was the parking lot. I was in the process of seeking out a viewing spot when a car pulled up. “Who was this person?” I wondered and felt my own private moment was about to be invaded. What could lure another out of a peaceful slumber? I went over to my truck, said hello and the man, who was somewhat alert, told me he was about to get wet. Quietly, I wondered, “Was he a paddler like my self? Was he going for a sunrise swim? What was he up to?”.
I decided to sit down and just accepted the fact that watching sunrises was now simply a new fad. I looked to my left and noticed that my parking lot partner was now rigged up in his gear of waders, fishing vest and fly rod. He marched into the rising tide and took up a spot right smack in the middle of my field of view. Soon he and several other anglers created a phenomena of fishing heaven prior to my first click. Yes, here was the first true early morning dawn watchers. Long before a note of “Oh Canada” was sung by the masses, there was whispers on the phone about about this random piece of beach that was a secret hot spot. How I had found it was just a fluke. Was it fate? I didn’t consider this since the first cup of coffee was at least an hour away and I was just wondering how a pair of toddlers goggles had been left behind on the log I was sitting on. The sun was slow in rising and my enthusiasm for paddling waned as I entertained thoughts of flying hooks going into my inflatable board. So I quickly took some snaps and sought out breakfast. I decided to keep the photos to share but I promise to keep the location a secret.
In a tourist town, the hours of operation are relative to tourist hours. Besides my fly fishing enthusiast, who probably had been smart enough to bring a thermos, the cup of Joe was not even being sold at a Tim Horton’s. So I drove around, found some bunnies who had already found their breakfast and waited for a local coffee shop to open. As one of the first customers, the local staff was content to just share information. Yes. they paddled boarded and the best spot was a lake name Spider lake. I dove into a truckers breakfast, read the local paper and wondered how this day would evolve. Could I follow this tidal flow of events, from morning anglers to a a lake named after an arachnid? I had planned only to visit a surf shop, Island Surf. I had read that it was one of the first both to get paddle boarding happening in BC and perhaps Canada. I was lured in to a desire to meet the big Kahuna, Colin Kearns, and learn the ways of the paddle from one of the front runners. Yet at seven in the morning, his shop was not yet open and neither were my eyelids. A few more cups of coffee, a fruit salad and eggs and I decided to find Spider lake. It was right there on the map, just off the highway and nestled in between some coastal mountains.
I arrived and started inflate Clarity. Even my own board was reluctant to inflate or what it the guy at the pump. I was beginning to rationalize the investment of an electric pump when a family showed up, unloaded their plastic kayaks and went quickly off to the beach. I continued to pump when another couple showed up to walk their dog and the park attendant went by picking up evening party folks waste. By the time I got onto the water, the quiet of the morning was still a distinct possibility.
I was able to sneak up on a family of geese who were just loading up on shore grass and had a little chat with an aging kayaker who was wondering if he could adapt to a paddle board. I was content to share all the great things about my board and it wasn’t even eight thirty yet! Who were all these morning people? I sat down on Clarity and decide to just let the clouds drift across the mirror surface of the lake. This was the reward of waking up prior to the sun. I smiled and recalled my parking lot partner catching the first fish of the day. There was the arc of his rod and the slow methodic reeling in of a salmon to the shore line. Due to the low rivers, anglers were having a field day of catching salmons staging to return to their home rivers. Meanwhile, a canoe went by with a fishing rig absentmindly set in it’s stern. This was fishing with just the intent to get out on the lake. The calm of the morning was the key thing luring folks here.
After circumnavigating the small lake and a few more pics, I decided it was time to find Island Surf and learn more about this notion of why folks were now taking up paddle boarding. After driving through town and stopping at a few stores, a young women said “oh yeah, that is the place next to the Texas Rib place outside of town Coombs, just take the highway like you are going to Tofino. Fortunately the coffee and paddling had woken me up enough not to foresee an absent minded detour to the west coast of Vancouver Island.
I traveled by a butterfly museum in Cooms and a tie dye t shirt spot, saw the goats on top of Coombs general store and sure enough, there was the billboard, I had found Island Surf.
Why have a surf shop miles away from any beach? The logic did stump me just a bit until I realized this was the only road leading to Tofino. The strategy was sublimely two sided. Not only could surfers find a new board that may have been munched by an eratatic waves in Tofino, now there was an option for tourist and newly retired folks in Parksville and Quilicum beach to invest in a paddle boarding. With my windows down, I could just sniff the Texas rib place firing up the morning fire. This was Vancouver Island, you accept the juxtaposition of odd ventures side by side. This was a road where goats ate off the roof of a building covered with grass.
It is a place where Artisans have their own wares advertised not only with billboards but also with government road signs. To expect the unexpected was normal. A surf shop was just another roadside attraction and I was off to meet the Kahuna. To me, it made total sense.
As young family was looking at boogie boards, a newly wed was rationalizing purchasing a new board for him self. Some how he just knew and trusted that his new spouse would understand. A mother and her two kids looked at a redpaddle board like my own. I could not help my self. I smiled and started pitching the merits of the board. Lorne, the store manager, just grinned. Sure, folks just randomly come in the door and start yakking about how great paddling is. We swapped smirks and I backed off and started looking at all the Mexican furniture, which I just expected to find in a surf shop. The A frame building housed everything from surfboards, wet suits, surf gear and more to metal statues of dogs riding bicycles and Mexican ponchos. Still some what numb between the ears due to lack of sleep and early morning ramblings, I looked around and just soaked in all. It was was a treasure chest for ADHD mind. I mentioned my email to Lorne and he said..”yeah..we got that..you want to talk to Colin” and that is when I met the Kahuna.
You know there are those who talk and those who..do. Colin Kearns didn’t have to say a word. His body and physical stance just gave the message. Yes..I may be in this store yet I live on waves. His smile was contagious and his enthusiasm as he showed me paddle and surf books soon had me wanting to join him in the waves. “Sure, you can surf, you just need to find the right board”, he said. There I was a newbie and fresh to paddling and now I was actually thinking of going out into the cold west coast surf if only to be there with the Kahuna. We swapped tales about places we had been and things we had done. Yes I had surfed but it was in a seventy four foot yacht south of Australia. As usual, tales always get fun when you are yarning about who did what first. “ Hey I sold that dude his first paddle and board” Colin said when I mentioned folks I had met in my travels. This was the Kahuna and he had seen the wave of prospective paddle boarders coming. “It is the soccer moms and the new retirees who want to stay fit that started the trend here”, he shared with me. He had seen the wave of wind surfers, “oh those are the guys who want to know all the stats about the board, what is the volume and more..and heh I just tell them to just find a board that suits you”. I was already intimately aware of this form of surfer logic. I was once told how to surf the waves of Tofino in a kayak..”Just lean to Japan”. Simple facts and no heady stuff..just be in the moment and do not let your head get in the way. If was simple and to the point. It was dude wisdom.
Colin told me about his store, his endeavours to bring Mexican furniture back after a few winters avoiding the rain and how he had done a full circle on owning and then reowning a business that rose like a phoenix from the ashes. It, the store, was an extension of a person who was happy to play in waves, no matter if it was in South africa, Mexico or the cooler climes of the BC coast. For just a sec, I recalled the young geese following the older and wiser ones into the water as I attempted to take a snap at Spider lake. “Follow me grommet, you will find both joy and safety in the water and waves. Unlike the calm of Spider lake, the waves of the coast are a force that can seriously mess you up. Yet here I was, happy to just listen to a person wordly wise enough to truly understand what it takes to be full goose bozo. Here was a person who definitely had the right stuff to lure folks into the ocean. Ride the waves. Feel their force and find the board that suits you. It will come, just like putting a ankle cord in a boogie board. Colin’s pearls of wisdom came forth like perfectly smooth beach pebbles, “All you have to do is point into the wave, bail out and get your paddle hooked in”. He looked me in the eye and set the hook, “ You have to come out next August and we will go out there together”. Just like the morning salmon that my parking lot angler had caught, I was hooked. We swapped wares, I convinced him of the merit of “sore no more” and he gave me a Island Surf team t shirt. We even posed for a picture by “ATABOY” as the smell of Texas Ribs filled the air. “Texas Ribs in Vancouver Island, I just do not get it” Colin muttered. I even convinced Lorne that Qualicum beach needed to form a paddle board water polo team and that they should sponsor a tournament. I have no doubt it will happen sooner than later.
After putting a new sticker on the window and shaking Colin’s bear paw hand again, I got behind the wheel and headed south to my next mission, a desire to climb a mountain. It was a long ride. The whole way, a stoic grin remained on my face. I was stoked. I wanted to share my story with my friends. I wanted to share with the world what treats an early morning sunrise can bring forth. It seemed to me that my only sole desire was to celebrate the what a sunrise and a few extra hours of the tides of time can bring. I looked at my oversized extra large t shirt and cracked up at how I had lost forty five pounds. Now, I was rationalizing paddle surfing in the waves. The hum of the wheels and summer wind teased my ears. Why get up early to dabble in the waves? Why seek out those odd moments in time? Why solitarily pursue something other than kudos in a job or finally purchase that one special item for the household? Is it nobler to seek out your own life experiences verses dreaming about more possessions? Is there wisdom in riding the products of wind and tides? What if you accept the fact, that even though you know that you may fail or fall off, there is the lure to just say bugger it all and go for it? These thoughts and more drifted in and out of my mind. Out of my rolling meditative state a past solitary song came to mind. Hands on the wheel, I arched into to a winding path down the highway and began to sing. Looking in the rear view mirror, I saw the ocean hidden between the mountains. I realized that to insure a good past, you had to recognize the gift of the tides of time. Yes dawn watchers, cherish the oddities and lures of time well spent in the present.
(originally by Fred Neil)
Everybody’s talking at me
I don’t hear a word they’re saying
Only the echoes of my mind
People stopping, staring
I can’t see their faces
Only the shadows of their eyes
I’m going where the sun keeps shining
Through the pouring rain
Going where the weather suits my clothes
Banking off of the northeast winds
Sailing on a summer breeze
And skipping over the ocean like a stone
Wah, wah wah-wah wah
Wah-wah wah-wah, wah wah-wah
I’m going where the sun keeps shining
Through the pouring rain
Going where the weather suits my clothes
Banking off of the northeast winds
Sailing on a summer breeze
And skipping over the ocean like a stone
Everybody’s talking at me
Can’t hear a word they’re saying
Only the echoes of my mind
I won’t let you leave my love behind
No, I won’t let you leave
I won’t let you leave my love behind
You have to get up to go up
Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar.
1.A writer or author who uses a technique of writing in which he/she identifies emotionally with a character in the story and assumes that character’s persona in the telling. Novels and stories exhibiting this style are almost always first person. This writing style allows insights into a character’s motives, reactions and thoughts that usually can only be inferred from other styles. Author’s using this technique may describe the sensation of writing as if they were spiritually channeling the character.
Notes to Self…
Prior to a going off hiking by your self you may want to consider putting these things into your bag
- Swiss army Knife or pocket knife
- Flashlight or head lamp
- Waterproof bag, with extra socks, polar vest and clothes
- A Water bladder
- Compass ( there is one on your phone but that runs on a battery)
- Map ( the more details the better)
- A simple First aid kit with moleskin, band aids, antibiotic lotion and tweezers
- Book…lighter and matches
- At least one Bandana (one for your neck and the other for your head)
- Simple trail food (trail mix, fruit, Gatorade)
- Toilet paper (think about this one..both sexes hike)
- Surveyor tape ( helps you not get lost but misplaced)
- Cell phone
- Wallet and keys
Remember that it is commonly suggested not to hike on your own…
If you hike alone prepare for the Consequences
The mission…Hiking up Mt Finlayson
By Pete and Max
“I am an idiot”, I recall a fellow colleague who used to start her mornings with this proclamation prior to attempting to teach quantum physics. Perhaps it was just her own humble way of coping with the grandeur of particle and universal wave energy. Each day, over the last fifteen years, I had also paid homage to my own inner goof prior to attempting to share some wisdom on the ways of science and biology. If anything, I can honestly say that I am a survivor. Put me in a planned or real fire fight, a leaky boat in turbulent seas, or invalid and in and out of surgical wards for five years and I will survive. Put me in a classroom and whether it is coping with impending bankruptcy, a divorce, the challenges of single parenting two kids or just keeping my nose above water, and I will keep my boat a float strictly in survival mode. Though I kept my reflections to my self, I could truly empathize with her deep seeded of her sentiment and I had followed the same cyclic patterns of thought. We all have to question our own actions. Sometimes, the actions just do not make sense. So as I lay on a folded sleeping bag and listened to the morning rain continue to fall on my tents fly, I knew that I too had once again been an idiot.
If I were to follow the path of my own life, there is no end of examples when I have decided to do something only to discover my own lunacy later and after the fact. Whether it was pride, loneliness or random mental rumble tums through a vivid mental landscape that only my mind can create, I quietly confessed to the clouds that I had been stupid and I that I was truly sorry. What was really rolling around in my noggin was that when your own stupidity causes another to be angry, it is best to admit guilt, own it and plan some form of resolution. So there I was, listening to the continual hissing of the rain and pondering a hike up a geological feature known as Mt Finlayson.
My morning meditative actions were interrupted by another voice that I have now come to recognize as my dog spirit Max. Confess this stuff to folks in your day to day and the chances are a nice white jacket and a cornucopia of meds may come your way. However; place these facts into a fictional tale and all sorts of possibilities come into play. Max loves to have me go off on hikes. He seems to take great delight in seeing me resort to crawling through boulders on all four legs. While I was busy coming up with excuses to forgo a few hours of humping it through the woods, Max and my bladder had other intentions. One of the insightful lessons that Max has retaught me is to sense the world through your nose and ears. Even before I could see the morning runner, I could already hear his footsteps and smell his sweat or was it me? Just prior to the outhouse he stopped and bent over and panted. I asked if he was running to use the facility. My remark brought both a laugh and a quick nod for me to jump in post haste.
Afterwards, I asked him about whether it was wise to go hiking today. A light drizzle of rain was still falling. Of course, asking this individual was not the wisest of choices. This person had already worked up a sweat thundering through the country side prior to me emptying my bladder. He did recommend good boots and stated that lots of folks enjoy this hike. The term “enjoy” and hiking is some what of a joke for me. My reluctance to go and “enjoy” tromping over terra firma was insanely tested by some day long marches with Uncle Sam’s misplaced children. Thankfully, while Max was alive, he used to inspire many a mile of sniffing and crawling through all things putrid and now..well he was now up to his trick again.
After parking my trusty old Eddie Bauer truck “ataboy”, I proceeded to look at the map the attendant at the office gave to me. It even included contour lines, which gave it an air of authenticity. I loaded up my pack with the basics including a heavy novel and a huge camel back of water ( drank the whole container and had to refill) just to make this “hump” into a test of what I could do. Prior to the trail head I had already been warned about what fates may occur. What the sign did not explain was that there were some flaws in in the ministry map. Notice the distinct lack of Bear Mountain Golf course and the North side trail to summit.
To step up my mood and throw caution to the wind, I choice path number two which was a wonderful wilderness staircase . Looking at the map, this trail was the alternative to a gradual saunter through the woods. I had seen these type of lures in the past. “yes, you are about to commune with nature in a rigorous faction, so here is a test, a rapid ascent via some stairs”. Why do they put the beginning of so many trails these day? Is it a wake up call? Is it the park boards way of saying “if you cannot handle this..please do no go up this trail!”. Be it the Grouse Grind, the Sea to Sky and even a fun hoof in Deep Cove..the hike begin with a set of stairs. So as I stretch out my thighs and took in the view, Max just snorted and started to take in the odors of the day and then he inspired me to start humming this song A song chosen by Max
When the incline came to a minor portion of flatness, Max started to amuse him self with meditations about how climbing a mountain is like being in a relationship. Now I am fond of working metaphorical magic and perhaps this is where Max has gotten the panache to link behaviours that make no sense to his former dog self. I sat for a moment, listened to wind in the trees and slowly sipped some water. Max’s song was now stuck in my head and his mental ruminations were beginning to test my patience. He has only started to gain the skill to control my own thoughts and yes even actions. I have thought to explain some of my actions and even blame the some of my more insane of endeavours on MaxI. Yet as fate would have it, I chose to take the harder path by following other hikers like a complacent sheep. You know, you put the word mountain in front of an upwelling of land and folks seem to take pride in reaching the summit. In fact, I later met a couple that had promised themselves a bimonthly ascent just to keep the wheels of romance in action. Perhaps Max was onto something.
Several months prior to this hike, my sister had convinced me of a simple hike in Moab. She said it would take two and a half hours. Going through the dense and lush woods of Mt Finlayson, I was too distracted to bother to keep track of time. Max had shown me that for dogs, time was a human idea. He successfully debated that if you wanted to remain in the present you best focus on what your feet were doing verses checking what the hands of your watch were up to. As he saw it, to experience a good hike is, like a good dog walk, it should include time to sniff and smell..well.. what ever there is to sniff. So a short or long time later and now above the tree line and the view came into view.
Max was waxing all poetic of how the striping of layers made for intimacy and the effort of the hike made it possible to see the trees from the forest. Showing off his cerebral powers over my own motion, he had me stop and make sure folks could rush by. He also wanted to make sure some canines had proper footing. At one point, he even took over my facilities and had me scout out a path for a Mom who was afraid her daughter’s dog would fall. Meanwhile a Dad and his pack were launching up the hill and while the family dog was spry, Dad was showing all the signs of questioning this family outing. In fact, I actually convinced him and his wife..and dog to take the North side trail back down. I can only hope that their dog was smart enough to follow his nose to the correct trail back home.
In a some what German accent, Max said that “ considering the second route was or is an attempt to move on from the joy of reaching the summit. While some may retrace each step that brought them to this summit, finding an alternate path allows one to travel alone and regroup”. I was not amused by this topic simply because Max’s own ideas are challenging at the best of times. Not having an ego, he has found great delight in mucking about in places that no hound should go. Prior to his existence, I had managed to screw up quite well on my own. As this tale with testify and what ever the case, I did pause and took in not only the view, I also noticed a golf course that was not on the map. This one observation would later be of importance in my adventure, hiking the front nine of Bear Mountain
I have a head lamp In my pack. I bought one after attempting to get a sunset from a trail heading up from Chuckanut Drive in Washington State. Prior to starting this hike, I had foolishly thought that I would climb up this mountain and watch the sun rise. I watch several folks, either in groups or on their own come to the summit and leave. I ate a snack and even read a chapter in that mammoth book I put in my pack. I had a watch and now it was reminding me that a simple and short hike was Now as I got to the bottom of this incline, I was wondering if I would need it to get back to my truck before the sun went down. Max was not worried, in fact he manage to have me start humming this song You see, and this is why hiking alone has it’s limitations. In my own single mindeness to find a road drawn on the map, I made the mistake of detouring into a wonderful and new golf course. The irony of it being called Bear mountain did not escape me for I was wondering how much longer I could bear being misplaced and looking for a mysterious road. It was on the six hole that I met up with a foursome who had no clue where a labeled road on the map should be. Yet being wise golfers, they suggested that instead of retracing the past six holes, why not view the next three holes and go to the pro shop.
So while Max amused my senses with spotting feeding deer and random bunnies, I looked a the t boxes and marveled at what a monster course was being built next to an homage to a former parliamentarian. Thankfully, my arrival at the clubhouse included a greeting from a kid named Alex and while a wealthy marvel of manhood looked at me and wondered if I had peed my self in front of the water dispenser, he quietly ushered me off the course and back to the trail head. There, just where I had previously photographed was a sign for both the easy and hard routes to go up Mt. Finlayson. Prior to reaching my truck, Max seemed mute to further reflections. I was tired and yet elated that I had not only gone up and down the mountain. I had also done there front nine of a world class golf course.
What I did not share in this tale is the simple fact that while Max did come up with a fun metaphor about love and changes in topography, there is another mountain that one in four people face each day. Some times, it takes every ounce of mental and physical power just to get out of bed and face the simple challenges of the day. While clinical terms like bi polar, ADHD and yes even depression are tossed about in textbooks and lecture halls, the actual process to actually live through and cope with mental challenges is a state of consciousness that flows between both heaven and hell. To actually navigate these mental landscaped each waking and dreaming hour is an amazing act of both spirit and hope. Winston Churchill called it “the Black Dog” — a depression that settled over him and drained the flavor from life. Thankfully, some times it is just the simple action of getting out of your head and going into nature that allows the mind to change it’s own focus. Perhaps it is a test of whether the map is really the territory. Other times the terrain becomes to tiring or severe and it requires a prescription and an acceptance that this day or the next few months may not be just right. Having a “creative mind” some times allows the internal chatter to speak up or shut down. Sometimes there are even those detours to dialogs involving dog spirits and opening your heart to the universe. It has been said that our family pets may be living a better life than our own selves. So if he is real or not, I do thank Max for inspiring me through this day.
Prior to ending up at Kalavida Surf Shop , my Jedi mentor and I had been dodging a thunderstorm for the better part of the morning. In fact, a horn was actually heard by some other foursomes on the golf course we were playing on. Oddly enough, our group and the foursome behind us, which included the club pro, seemed to have been deaf to that urgent sound. So instead of worrying about my ancient lightening rod clubs, I started to breath in and out and found a comfortable place on the course. My mentor, whose nickname is “Mad Dog”, kept reminding me about this notion he called “the neutral position”. When I was younger, I did have to discover neutral position while clinging onto the hillsides of San Francisco. My step Dad, who had a knack for automobiles, had managed to squeeze a Fiat Spyder engine into our little FIAT station wagon. The neutral position was an elusive sweat spot found in a four-speed gearbox which had not come along with the engine. So my original quest to find “neutral” was achieved when my father grinned at me as I wiped my sweaty hands on my Levis. I discovered that no matter how short the moment, the actual action of finding and than going through neutral was a path that provided both calm and satisfaction. It was both peaceful and transient. So while the electrons danced a merry rumba in nimbus clouds about, I was about to discover that my own notion of “neutral” was mechanically related to both golf and paddle boarding. Yet what really put a tingle in my toes was that “the neutral position” serendipitously stokes a life journey of pursuing freedom and Flow.
As the story goes, in my life I have weathered a few storms, so having a few dark clouds on the horizon or above me does not faze me. In fact, the slight tingle in the back of my neck when I arched my metal clubs skyward was rather inspiring. Besides readopting a rather non-fatalistic perception of life, I was rediscovering what it was like to have balance in both legs with each successful swing. Now I must confess that I am not a golfer. I do explore the links from time to time if only for the social component. I enjoy the positive advice from my partners like “ah young jedi, take the wise path and avoid hitting the tree”. Yet as the clouds rumbled above, a continued affect of my last six-month metamorphosis was putting a grin upon my face. Even as I was told of “ball eating trees” and “railcars going to Vancouver”, I found a simple a smooth sense of flow beginning to evolve. As my mentor continued to grin and compliment my successful shots, my body continued to feel both the arc of my swing. I rejoiced at the thunderclaps from the clouds above. Throwing caution and my soaring wee white ball to the winds, the universe smiled back and gave me applause.
After the game and heading towards Kalamanka Lake, “Mad Dog” and I had an animated conversation about this whole notion of neutral. Look neutral up on Google and the first thing you discover is a discussion on path to ground and the possible electrocution that I avoided . Go down the rabbit hole and you will find no end of references to the definition of neutral. It can be an emotional impasse or a country avoiding to get embroiled in an activity that may involve weapons. Put it to use on the water and the term can be used to refer to positive and negative buoyancy. Even in chemistry, when the Hydrogen is in equal concentration with hydroxides, there is a neutral point. Finally, where would any biologist be without discussing the homeostatic properties of water and the amazing ways that life maintains a natural and neutral balance of water and electrolytes!
Prior to our game of golf, my Jedi warrior friend and I had already paddled the night before. I was getting ready for my pumping Clarity warm up went a blond surferesque kid came with a pump. “Dude, the owner said you might need this”. It was this simple act of awareness that gained my alliance to the Kalavista Board shop. Not only did I want to thank the owner of the shop, I also wanted to explore a place that has been referred to as the first SUP board shop in BC. My mentor already knew about the owner and simply called him “Kevin”. It seems that Kevin Obrien of Kala is a bit of legend in the board community. As I was later told, if you want a guy who questions normal and has been used as an example of…not being normal, he is your guy.
Now I have always questioned “normal” and being another word that begins with “n”, I figured a visit could enhance my understanding of “neutral”. There, next to the railway tracks, I was suddenly reminded of another peaceful pit stop called Healdsburg in Sonoma Valley. As I turned to look at this surf shop, a few neurons went bing and yup..this place could easily fit in with its compatriots on North shore. The place was simple and yet unique. There was simple designed logo and a huge parking lot. We had just stepped into the shop when the clouds unloaded a much-needed load of rain. It was just like sneaking out of squalls on any tropical island. I was busy looking at stock, like bracelets made of parachute cord, when the store became a safe haven and a story room for Kevin to show me his video of river paddling in the interior. As he said, “we wanted to do something before standup paddling became popular and trendy”. So as the surf music blasted, the showers dampened the parking lot and Kevin grinned, I watch a crew of what could easily be Ken Kesey’s merry pranksters, set off to paddle in tutus and Viking horns. Yes, there were rocks and a distinct lack of concern for them. Yet if you refocused your perceptions, one could easily see a sense of merriment that you only get when you sneak through neutral and kick it into a new gear.
I was lucky enough to grab Kevin’s attention for a few more minutes, like me, he is easily distracted. We talked about gear as he pulled out an amazing fin from a secret spot just above the cash register. Having been referred to as “young Jedi” all through the morning, I held the fin in my hands and felt the force. Did it actually glow in my hands? Could this be the magic fin that would keep both me and Clarity on course? Yet I knew Kevin was inspiring a more subtle direction. The rain soon stopped, the crowd in the store increased and Kevin was now busy finding a new soundtrack to play and talking about the merits of a powerful pump. Yes, I almost thought of buying one! Yet as quickly as the weather changed, the topic of our conversation diverged into talking about surf paddling and boards I should consider. I was grinning ear to ear and simply rocking from foot to foot, feeling this new thing called “neutral”. As the rain began to lighten up, an ecstatic young woman purchased her first board. Like her, I could relate to her massive smile. I had the same goof ball look when I bought Clarity only a few months ago. True to his own sense of fun and tradition, Kevin told her to grab a free t-shirt. I smiled and soaked in the moment; this was truly a place where SUP Boarding was more than a trend, it was a distinct culture.
After another day of practice, in which I learned to actually effectively chip and pitch, my mentor rewarded me by taking on a social river tubing trip took me down a lovely patch of water some where near Lumbly . All the while, I was feeling my left side of my body awaken from more ten years of pain and imbalance. I enjoyed the happy banter of the company on this slow and mindful float down the river. While my mentor did the wise wizard or lazy lizard thing, apparently snoozing in his chair, he later reminded me that I did not need to be a continual goof. He stoically reminded me that though I was blessed with a good sense of humour, I did not need to use it continually as a defense mechanism. While “Mad Dog” artfully avoided margarita jug pours, he watched me as a mindful Jedi. I was lucky, truly lucky, to be feeling this much alive on such a sun filled day. I wondered if Jedi’s took time off to find neutral. Was there a place where a Jedi could chill besides a noisy extraterrestrial bar?
For me, what the neutral position has now become is a possible replacement for the notion of balance. Perhaps neutral is that position where the working mind operates with out the thinking mind taking part. For example, yesterday I was back on Clarity after a five-hour drive when I noticed a positively buoyant paddler from Brazil, wobbling her board from side to side by swaying her hips. I followed suit and in a quirkish solca action, both feet happily let my board arc from side to side. I was stable if only because I was not thinking about being unstable, What was odd was that this motion was just like doing a golf swing! My body, now fit, was starting to recall body memory and the joy of having the sense to go in and out of balance! I raised a heel and then a toe, pushed downward and just as I felt the board lean to the other side, that faithful clutch foot came into gear. I was discovering neutral all over again! So today, I found a hidden trail along False Creek and hide from the sun. There was a happy hop in my footsteps as I remembered Kevin Obrien’s words of wisdom..”leave some room for spontaneity and magic and it will happen”. Perhaps “it” is just that smooth shifting of gears between an all too demanding thinking mind and a smooth flowing working mind. Along that path, you have to remind your self to go through neutral.
Good Guys Win
I am never sure about the detours in one’s life. We sometimes make decisions based upon criteria that can be as vague as a hunch or chemistry. Me, I am a biologist and the ways of quantum physics are for those more bolder than I. I guess every explorer has had their doubts as they began a journey. My explorer is currently in the shop getting a look over and I am preparing to spend the next four weeks on a solo journey on wheels and on my paddle board “Clarity”. I am not sure why I have chosen this path to be a seeker. May be it began with worn book by Alan Watts and a post high school grad trip to Yosemite. Yup, Just me with only a few tapes, a cooler and a hunch that a girl friend would meet up with me in Tahoe. Some times bad choices make great stories. Now, years later, Alan’s words still resonate an element of truth and I am still prone to wanderlust.
Prior to setting off to explore new waters, I decided to go for a Monday night paddle out of Deep Cove. I was feeling a bit of swagger. I was helping new paddlers and ..well feeling pretty full of my self. Yet I knew by the third wave that “Clarity” was up to her mischief. My head was full of dialogs. There, between the ears, was a continual chatter that, at one point in time, I actually requested a moment of silence. I am never too sure about the nature of things. I have even come to accept that perhaps spending an inordinate about of time pondering the how’s and why’s would be better spent humming a song and paddling Clarity. So as I went airborne and flew over the next wave, my hand holding fast to my paddle, I knew gravity was going to test my swimming skills and there you have it, more evidence of the ripple affect. One small ripple grows into a larger one and soon there is that wave either of water or emotions that you have to navigate through. There is no promise that all is going to be a pleasant experience. However; it may be a snap to the senses that will make you question how you filter reality.
“What we have to discover is that there is no safety, that seeking is painful, and that when we imagine that we have found it, we don’t like it.”
― Alan W. Watts,
So I continued my paddle, against both wind and tide. My motivation shifted from being a pleasant paddle to getting into the moment and taking on a struggle. “Was I a good man?” was a question that I had been ruminating but there was no time for that, so I began looking for a song. Among the four tapes that I went onto the road with when I sought understanding in that post graduation journey, was a Grateful Dead tape “American Beauty”. The song “ripple” came to mind. Not the wine but that simple statement of “would you hear my voice come through the music”. Would my action provide me with the calm that I was seeking?
While the Bard had pondered life as a stage and we as just actors, I was not buying into that. Nope, I wanted to write my own script and yes..even decide where I wanted to let my words ring out. Again, there is that combination of both purpose and intent. The purpose of this blog and my journey is to provide a rationale for a life style. The intent, now that is deeper, much like the waters I have traversed. I do not know the true depth of one’s soul. I am under the impression that the notion of the soul has sent mind’s itching for definitions.
“The more we try to live in the world of words, the more we feel isolated and alone, the more all the joy and liveliness of things is exchanged for mere certainty and security. On the other hand, the more we are forced to admit that we actually live in the real world, the more we feel ignorant, uncertain, and insecure about everything.”
― Alan W. Watts,
So if my purpose and intents do match, then the songs and lack of fear of the unknown will create a gentle harmony to paddle along to. I will turn off the chatter between the ears and listen for clues on the passing wind.
“Where there is to be creative action, it is quite beside the point to discuss what we should or should not do in order to be right or good. A mind that is single and sincere is not interested in being good, in conducting relations with other people so as to live up to a rule. Nor, on the other hand, is it interested in being free, in acting perversely just to prove its independence. Its interest is not in itself, but in the people and problems of which it is aware; these are “itself.” It acts, not according to the rules, but according to the circumstances of the moment, and the “well” it wishes to others is not security but liberty.”
― Alan W. Watts,
So..dear readers..I have heard that the journey is defined not by the destination but by the process. I do intend to see as many dawns and sunsets as possible. I will watch each day after paddling a few strokes or humping it up a mountain. I will honour Alan’s perceptions and follow the cryptic quotes of “the Dude”. Be it gutter balls or strikes..I will navigate the instability through the waves and keep making these continual strokes either of the paddle or the key board. In the next four weeks, I will travel with a few more tapes though. While the destinations are several and they have change both in nature and intent, the underlying theme remains.
“There are, then, two ways of understanding an experience. The first is to compare it with the memories of other experiences, and so to name and define it. This is to interpret it in accordance with the dead and the past. The second is to be aware of it as it is, as when, in the intensity of joy, we forget past and future, let the present be all, and thus do not even stop to think, “I am happy.”
― Alan W. Watts,
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung,
Would you hear my voice come through the music?
Would you hold it near as it were your own?It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken,
Perhaps they’re better left unsung.
I don’t know, don’t really care
Let there be songs to fill the air.Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.There is a road, no simple highway,
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go no one may follow,
That path is for your steps alone.Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.You, who choose to lead, must follow
But if you fall you fall alone.
If you should stand then who’s to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home.
La dee da da da,
La da da da da,
Da da da, da da, da da da da da
La da da da,
La da da, da da,
La da da da,
La da, da da.