An Ode to Balou

cali-sunset

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.

http://www.pioneervillage.org

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“You have to get up to go up” a story by Pete and Max

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.

 

method writer

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

  1. Swiss army Knife or pocket knife
  2. Flashlight or head lamp
  3. Waterproof bag, with extra socks, polar vest and clothes
  4. A Water bladder
  5. Compass ( there is one on your phone but that runs on a battery)
  6. Map ( the more details the better)
  7. A simple First aid kit with moleskin, band aids, antibiotic lotion and tweezers
  8. Book…lighter and matches
  9. At least one Bandana (one for your neck and the other for your head)
  10. Simple trail food (trail mix, fruit, Gatorade)
  11. Toilet paper (think about this one..both sexes hike)
  12. Surveyor tape ( helps you not get lost but misplaced)
  13. Cell phone
  14. 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

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Vital Data on Mission

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.

mt_finlayson_warning_sign

 

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.

map_of_mt_finlayson_and_goldstream_park

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.

mt_finlayson_person_walking_along_rocky_trail

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.

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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

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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.

Coasting

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.

comedy and depression

Ruby Wax

Mud Climb up Mt Finalayson

A reason to hike each day

Good Guys Win

Image result for American Beauty logo grateful Dead

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, The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety

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, The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety

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, The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety

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, The Wisdom of Insecurity

Ripple

“Ripple”

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
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.

These are the simple things

supcbsilloette

Let the Big Dog Eat

Some times, you can tell what a kid is going to be like when they grow up just by a few simple actions. Take for example a four-year-old future big dog, who was just content to float his way through a lazy Sunday at the beach. I had been invited to go for a paddle down at Crescent Beach just near White Rock. Unlike my usual haunts, there was a pleasant smell of things roasting on the barbeques and the yapping of several dogs in their own dog beach. I was riding through the waves of several powerboats and decided just to sit this one out and float closer to the shore. That is when I noticed “Tyler”. He was on his back enjoying the buoyant lift of life jacket that was happily floating him out into a rising tide. There were some distressed looks from the shore and so my inner herding dog kicked into action and I decided to round up this stray pup.

“Hey bud, your Mom on the shore really wants you to get back to her” I said. Well this is when I knew I was facing a free thinker. He replied, “She isn’t my Mom!” and continued to look skyward with a beatific grin. So I took a look into the beach. I noticed another woman who was now charging down the sand like a zealous Seal trainee in BUD training. Under one arm was less than stable inflatable raft that may have just been pulled out off it wrapper, perhaps this was the Tyler’s Mom. So I gave her a nod and an ok sign. “Well bud, see that large powerboat coming this way” , I pointed out a large fiberglass double Decker thing coming our way.  “You might float right into it’s path”, I councilled him. Yet this boy was not buying into any fear tactics today. He smiled and blurted out “no it won’t”. Now, since I was floating towards him and may be in some logical union of synapses of a four year old brain, he had just figured out the simple affect of an incoming tide. He was safe and besides, he had roped another into enjoying some simple playful antics. So I bought into his grin and we were just content to enjoy and smile skyward like happy plankton.

Down the beach, there was the racous barking of at least ten dogs who were all interacting well enough accept for a German Sheppard, who ..for a moment took his life a little too seriously. Perhaps it was the canine antics that inspired my youthful floater. Hell, here was Huck at the riverside and I was not going to spoil his huckleberry ways. “Well, Tyler, I am just going to float here with you and lets see if we can stay out of trouble” and with that reply, he looked at me with a kind of acceptance that just makes your heart go lub dub. He had befriended me in the most humble of ways.

So we just let the barks and screams and an urgent comment “Tyler, you are going to get in trouble”  merrily mix into the sunny day sounds of the beach. Finally Tyler, knew he was heading for trouble and probably felt that a fellow “big dog” could help him. Yup there is always some help if you show your strength in majorities or may be just another goofy face might keep you in out of harms way. I grabbed him by his arms, hauled him on board “Clarity” and propelled him to shore. To show his new found strength, he let go of my board and swam his “Mom” who was attempting to go in a straight line. On her face was both the look of concern and apology. Hopefully, a slight glimmering of grin, showed a sense of humour that honoured her young son’s innocence. As she smiled back and said “thank you”, I did hope that Tyler didn’t get into too much trouble.

supcbsolo

Inspired by my own inner child and “dog spirit”, I felt a boost of humour and hope as I walked up the beach to place my board down. It was then that I discovered that one of my flip-flops had fallen off while exploring a nearby sand bar. I took a look back and soon found my self-playing a fun game of fetch. Yup, I could find this object. Hell, if a border collie can retrieve more that two thousand different objects, I could should easily be able to find a solitary flip-flop. I made it to the far shore and put my board next to two kids playing in the sand. I humped it up the shoreline only to discover a coconut. Being a random object to find, I held onto it and went by a jet skiing couple frolicking in the tidal pools. The young lass was a nice distraction in her white bikini yet my nose was on the trail and it wasn’t long before I found the missing flip flop caught in a tidal pool and gently cruising inward to the shore.

I attached the vagrant flip flop to the bungee cord with a locking D carbineer and reminded my self of how to keep things close at hand. I gave the lost coconut to the kids making a castle and smirked about a Monty Python line. Across the channel I paddled and kept a look out to see if my buddy Tyler was up to his antics again. Having returned to the shore, Mother Nature was preparing to put on her evening show. I had never seen this before. As the sun slowly began it’s slow arc to places West, the sky became a natural fireworks show of shades of orange. A poetic pair of paddlers inspired me to launch into the waves and simply take it all in. While I was impressed with yoga moves and the pure reverie of my fellow sup paddlers, I went ashore and took in the display with other beach folks.

supcbsunset1

On the beachfront, a photographer was busy taking snaps of a young women and her two kids. Her son, who may have been about Tyler’s age, carefully placed his croc’s in the sand, side by side, and rolled up his pants prior to stepping into the water. I just grinned and wondered what this young man would be. He joined in the snaps with the same reluctance that Tyler had to going to shore. This was a simple Sunday and between the smell of hamburgers and sun tan oil, the day came to a gentle close. Even the playing hounds next to me appeared to stop their play to ponder the setting sun. Then again, there was this bouncy standard white poodle with a crazy dog showstopper haircut. Blonds and beaches, could the same be true for other mutts? I am not sure. May be, with just the passage of time and tide, the present becomes a gift that you just cannot ignore. May be that is what Tyler was feeling as he floated in warm ocean, being both fearless and free to be. Thanks to Tyler for reminding a big dog of the simple things we need in life. Eat, sleep, poop and play!

sunset paddle board crescentindex

(for Vanilla girl)

Giving this day a chance…

 

Colonel Bogey March

Once upon a time, a man could get by with a little bit of confidence and fortitude to throw out a string of words with such a panache that these words sounded like sparkling notes of John Phillip Sousa and his famed marching band stomping through through town with such enthusiasm that each foot found an instinctive talent to stomp out a mystical synchronous beat.

I admire that skill. In fact, when I need an inspiration or two, I am always comforted by the words of another wanderer named Mark Twain. Yet as I approached Deep Cove, my internal dialog was blatting odd flat notes and was as loud and cacophonous as the classroom I had just exited. Between my ears, which were blocked by some moneran mischief, there were a variety of mental landmasses that I was attempting to navigate around. Yes, there were my usual concerns about how to find the finances to even dream about affording a scuba diving voyage to Thailand. Given the fact that my own vocation was now paying me so well that I was now teaching summer school, I decided to put dreaming on the back burner and busied my self with getting ready to paddle.

Today, however; up front and in the middle of my mental landscape was the towering structure known as my own meditations on the nature of love. I am thankful and have been lucky enough to state that I have been truly in love more than one time. I can even take a few more steps in the right direction and proclaim or confess that I now know what unconditional love is. Yes, I am not afraid to admit that I have also made some bone head mistakes and that being said, being single has it’s odd rough edges that sometimes need to be smoothed out. I have grown tired of the media referring to relationships as “complicated”. Complicated is trying to figure out a calculus equation to express how to successfully land a modular five billion dollar vessel on Mars. When it comes to matters of the heart, one of my go to options is to look outside of my own thoughts, read or listen to some else’s advice or take the time to see what nature can offer or if I am truly numbed and nonfunctional, I put another cassette in “Ataboy’s ” tape player.

So it did not surprise me, that as I watched a soggy mutt climb onboard a paddle board, that ol river rambler and nautical wheeler advice may be setting the tone for my evening paddle. Twain said that “it is not the size of the dog in a fight, it is the fight inside the dog” and judging by the calm and cool headedness of this fearless canine, I was seeing a lesson unfold. I have no idea why dogs trust humans as much as they do. Perhaps it is the fate of a brain that just doesn’t think too much about the how and whys in life. There is just an unconditional love. I could only imagine what my fellow mutt was thinking: “Yes, I will stand on this wobbly surface as you navigate through waves”, “Yes, I will stare down into the water and wonder what these large round things are”. “Yes, I will go without fear and with my nails sliding on this frickin rubber surface and I will have faith in a blind trust, that you, my humble owner, will take care of me and provide some water (which is fresh) and food after you amuse your self with this ordeal that you are putting me through”.

Fueled by a fertile imaginaton, I have come to appreciate what an amazing organ the human brain is. Between million of neurons and a multitude of tissue folds, the human brain can fabricate not only solutions to algebra equations, it can also remember inane quotes from Seinfeld while thinking about what is for dinner and who needs to be dropped off at what house. It can fabricate and solve critical thinking problems. It can remember odd quotable phrases and scheme up realities that now have been dubbed “complicated”. Take a flat piece of paper and crumple it up into a small ball and you have an image of a brain. A brain is much like a map that is almost impossible to fold up into a nice a tidy package, simply because it has way too many folds. Dogs, on the other hand, have a simpler brain with less folds. Navigating in their brains is probably like reading the important cue card in the back of an airplane seat. There are less folds and some times, if you are open minded, you begin to see a way of dealing with the daily on a sublime but rewarding point of view. In a case of emergency, please go to the nearest exit. If there is a lack of oxygen, a mask will fall out of space and hit you in the head. Please put the mask over a child or dog seating next to you prior to putting it on your face. So as I was launching my board and began to notice the large volume of flotsam in the water, I had to marvel at my canine comrades stoic wisdom to not to leave the safety of the board and indulge in an improptu game of fetch.

Follow the pups lead, I slowly let go of the urges to follow the path of another spark of thoughts. Thankfully, the water was calm and the evening was unfolding in a most pleasant of ways. It was time to let go of mental muddles and find some sense of balance on Clarrity. Now as I have stated before, I have the good fortune to spend time with a bunch of women who are both open to life’s challenges and are perhaps as fearless as mutt I was now watching. Mark Twain waxed poetically about fear and courage by saying “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”. As we launched out into the falling tide it became apparent that a few feet beneath our boards, a population of marine invertebrates were stimulating both an intriguing and unsettling affect. As the warmth of the ocean was happily increasing the population of plankton and fish, hungry travelers on the tides were now growing in size and numbers. Around me there were whoops like “ wow, look at the size of that one” and “ we should go to the aquarium and learn about these animals”. There was also that child like mischievious sparkle in some of the groups eyes, seeing who was rattled by the humble jellyfish.

Mental floss

Given that my professional status as an educator implies some wisdom about the biology, I decided to follow Mr Twains advice and just kept my mouth shut. It was time to paddle, flex those knees and thighs, wobble through the waves, keep an eye on the circling ski boat and make sure that my communing with nature did not include getting slimmed by a Cnidarian. I noticed that one of our pod was showing more caution. While many of us adapted to the odd sets of waves, my four legged friend was sharing it’s style and elan with one of our pod. Face it, four limbs are a helluva lot more stable than two and jelly fish, well fear or no fear, it is a know fact that some species have tentacles that can pack a mighty punch. Dangerous or not, all feet, canine and human, remained on deck and away from population below us. Then, as we stopped for a break, there was a miss timed fall into the water and a very rapid return with a great deal of laughter. The jelly fish, who are not even fish, were not disturbed nor concerned by being flattened by a human. Though they can move muscles, the actual process of coordinating that movement is a natural neurology event without a brain. Reflecting upon the lack of cerebral fortitude, Mark..heh I can be informal..might have been inspired to  “remark” (bad pun..) “ It is just like man’s vanity and impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions. So it was that we took in the fading day with a quiet sense of happiness until an alert Mom noticed the time. Now, all sitting on our boards, feet dangling in the moving tide, we were oblivious to the actual realities on the planet where folks have solid reasons to ponder what a swarm of venoumous jellies can do..

Video about Cnidaria

Attack of Giant Jelly Fish

Yes, it is true, if you let a little fear sneak into the ol noggin, the voyage can become more than just a gentle saunter in the park. Yet just like horses rounding the last corner, there was now that eager enthusiasm to return to Deep Cove. Prior to that though, there was a detour to a nearby bridge to marvel at a pool of small fish. The ebbing tide was now helping to make the return trip faster. I help but notice that fatigue and perhaps fear was still challenging one of our flock. So I decided to hang back and travel with our cautious cohort. My rational was quite simple and inspired by sublime truisms of Mr Twain. “ Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see. The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up. This seemed good advice since my ears were still clogged and I was still testing my skill to converse and stay upright at the same time. While my paddling partner adjusted from being on all fours to standing up, I quietly listened to her tale of the past few years. It had not been a simple nor easy passage of time. We swapped stories about how life evolves as you get older. We laughed and respected the notion that her 75 year old dad just married a woman who was thirteen years younger. Twain said Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. He also remarked that. “‘Wrinkles should merely indicate where the smiles have been.’ With each paddle stroke, the conversation continued. While the tide was now against us, each tale told and each paddle stroke provided more confidence as the shore became visible. Beneath the surface, the jellyfish were no longer present. In her voice I sensed a change too. She began to share an upbeat agenda of some of her new intents for this year.

Grief can take care if itself, but to get the full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with”.

While I changed course and paddle from side to the other side to see which ear was working best, I attempted to listen about her desires to now take on more challenges. In her voice, I could hear how the fear was now losing the battle as I detoured, for just a second, to playfully bounce through some stray outbound waves.By the time we reached the harbour, the sun was almost setting and the tidal shoreline was now starting to reveal itself. My four legged friend, the soggy pup, was now happy on land and the dock side operations were now coming to a close as a kayaker showed off some freshly caught crabs. Having pushed my body a little bit harder, my foot now decided it had done enough and feigned the affect of being asleep as I attempted to step ashore. The internal dialog within my own head was now a quiet hush. Instead there was the peaceful rhythm of the ebbing tide smoothing off pebbles on the shore. My invertebrate friends, the jellies, were now heading out into the straights. I was fortunate enough to have a some free jars of “sore no more” to pass out to a tired instructor and to members of my Monday night crew. I paused and took in the view. I sent off a text to my bud ,“Vanilla girl”, and included a calm photo of the cove. I thanked her for inspiring me to “keep paddling”. I hummed a few bars of “Mental Floss” and rolled up Clarrity into her case. Yes it is nice to get a little mental floss.

Well as the story goes, it is now a day later. After sharing my paddling thoughts with my innocent and captive students, I gave some free samples of “sore no more” to folks at the Vancouver Folks festival office. I picked up a new cap at MEC and made sure my business cards have now been updated with the “sore no more” logo. Inspired, I let Mark Twain’s words flow through my neurons like gentle contractions of the jellyfish. While my reading of his quotes followed neither obvious pattern nor intent, a string of quotes seemed to surface. Calm and peaceful like, they came together and flowed together like the smooth and efficient modulated medusian contractions.

When you fish for love, bait with your heart, not your brain”. There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.“Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain”

So my mental landscape changes form once again. Like my past and present endeavours, I too have cast off the lines of mental fears and now sail away from the comfortable shores of habitual patterns. Yes, Mr Twain, after all these years I am still listening to you.

To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence”.

So I ignore the doubts and fears and have the confidence to do those things that folks seem to tell me that I cannot do. Clarrity keeps me honest and aware of the some simple facts.

What a wee little part of a person’s life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself”.

So that about does er..Just another yarn about another day of paddling. Yup,a few stray words surface to share what is going on between my clogged inner ears. I smile and see Mr Twain grinning back at me from the screen. He reminds me why I take the time to weave these word and thoughts together and share them with you..

Give every day the chance to become the most beautiful day of your life.’.
mark twain

More words from my pal Mark