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
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.
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.
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.
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!
(for Vanilla girl)
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.
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..
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.’.
When I awoke this morning I realized I had successfully navigated another trip around the sun. Given that two close friends had just gotten an odd wake up call from mother nature as to how grand but frail our voyage can be, I decided to take my sister’s advice by remaining in the moment. Step by step and mindfully, I loaded up my now clean truck with a few bottles of water, some extra shorts and made sure “my Red Paddle paddle board and skinny body set off to find new place to visit”. Vancouver bay was a gong show both of traffic and wind so I sought out the solitude of the Deas Slough area to find a new detour down stream and “keep paddling”.
I have learned that you do not push the river but learn to adapt to it. I guess this can be true for sneaking into estuaries and watery by ways that branch off the Fraser River. In my last visits to the slough, I have enjoyed the quiet of early morning paddles and the flight of eagles above me. I have learned when the gate to the park opens (7 am) and I have found times to avoid jet skis, power boats, and water skiing. Today I arrived around eleven and the rowers were just coming in from their morning work out. I found shade under a great massive tree and did my pre=paddle workout of pumping up Clarity. Even now, I find it amusing and ironic that in order to find clarity’s true shape, it involves twenty odd minutes of pumping her up.
Besides a few sun bathers and some kids jumping off the dock, my first few kilometers of paddling was rolling back time to calm hours voyaging through northern Ontario. As one stroke fell into another, I started to replace lyrics of Marshall Tucker Band song “Bob, away my blue”.
“I am going down to the river,
I got a fancy carbon fiber paddle in my hand
I got my ice cold water in an old MEC plastic can
I going to paddle be shady tree on the river bank where it is cool
I am gonna open up my eyes, dream and let Clarity bob away my blues”.
The impending noon day breeze was now in my face. I grinned back and realized it was just a tease. The slough has become my testing ground for improving my paddling. Just like the video said…I am now letting my core and hips do most of the work. Thankfully, many hours at sea listening to the same tape in an ancient water proof walkman has imprinted a long list of Jimmy Buffet tunes. I hummed a few more chords that could match my stroke but I was distracted by anchored ski boat. I noticed a couple that may or may not been coupling and “being charitable and cautious” I decided that couple on board some private space even if they were anchored fifty yards from the freeway over pass. Goes to show ya, you can’t put logic into the equation when the horizontal cha cha is going on.
I paddled by a mess of yachts docked to shore and grinned about my own solitary situation. Yup that one would do, but they need to change the hull colour. Hell, I am traveling solo and I was feeling quite happy with that. A few bars of “Honey do” by Jimmy and I was launching into the Fraser river in search of a quiet little creek while impersonating “a bunch of blues torpedos”. Mid channel, a police boat pulled a power boater over as I ducked into a calm and flat backwater creek between Gunn and Kirkland island. I took note of the tide and wind and realized that I was on a falling tide and going home was going to be a treat. Half way up this creek, two solitary occupants of a perhaps unknown cabin got into their boat and motored away. While coupling clues may have been tossed at me, I went up this creek with the intent of exploring what natural surprises I could find on my own.
My friend Harry has told me that I am now on a quest. He is a bit of a wizard. He is someone that Deepak Chopra would enjoy. When I told him that the past was dead, he quietly replied, “it can’t be. Where would time machines go?”. Imagine, six kilometers down stream from your truck and now you are the only person floating along a muddy estuary creek. Inspired by some Monday night antics, I did a downward dog pose and started to attempt the snake pose when my pretzel making endeavours were interupted by a visitor from space (actually the blue space above my head). In this case, she was a blue heron and she landed and started to pace the shoreline like a Mom at a checkout stand, tapping her toes and all in a hurry to make dinner for her brood back home. I knew that she was a female, if only because she lacked the false feathery grandeur that some male feathery folk have. She was looking for food and I detoured across the creek, to sit and take in the solitude that was cool as calming breeze.
Up ahead, I noticed a derelict rig from a fishing boat. Neither the heron nor I read anything into this. We were just by the river, watching it flow and noticing how shallow things were becoming. As she paced the shoreline, (I swear I have never seen a bird pace along a shore lick this gal) I was now being reminded about the true nature of estuary creeks. Things go up and down with the tide and Mother Nature was giving me gentle nudge to get back to where I came from. I turned around and gave a nod to my poetic crane. How many haikus have been written about Cranes?
She was not impressed by my sentiment. After a few more steps along the muddy shore, she took flight and sounded out a prehistoric “caw”.
A quick way to cross a river is not to paddle into it, but use the current to ferry your self across going side ways. Being a bit of a water rat, I used my boating skills to get closer to the Deas Slough. A tug boat went by with two loads of pulp and barely made a wake. However; the once quiet slough was now filled with an assortment of folks finding amusement upon the water. I wondered if I had a big yacht or even a ski boat, could I attract a lovely bikini clad lady as the one I passed. Like the heron, she was not ruffled nor did she bother with my presence on ol Clarity. We were just a distraction for her intentions to make her skin brown. By the time, I made it to the rowing dock, a whole flock of folks had arrived. I attempted to surf off a passing ski boat. For one last moment of peace, I paused to watch an eagle soaring above my head. Feathery friends or not, Nature was quietly reminding me of what Depak has said about love and nature…Thanks to my sis and a private pal..I was lucky enough to get the message.
The mind loves whatever repeats a pleasurable experience from the past. “I love this” basically means “I love repeating what felt so good before”.”
― Deepak Chopra, The Way of the Wizard: Twenty Spiritual Lessons for Creating the Life You Want
“Nature reflects the moods of the wizard.”
― Deepak Chopra, The Way of the Wizard: Twenty Spiritual Lessons for Creating the Life You Want
The basis of everything in the wizards’ world rests upon the insight “All this is myself.” Therefore, in accepting the world as it is, the wizard views everything in the light of self-acceptance, which is the light of love.”
― Deepak Chopra, The Way of the Wizard: Twenty Spiritual Lessons for Creating the Life You Want
“Now take all these qualities together: order, balance, evolution and intelligence. What you have is a description of love. It’s not the popular ideal, it is the wizard’s love – the force that upholds life and nurtures it.”
― Deepak Chopra, The Way of the Wizard: Twenty Spiritual Lessons for Creating the Life You Want
Paddling on Calm Waters
Just south of Vancouver, the Deas Slough travels under highway ninety nine. Just as your eyes adjust to being in a tunnel, you resurface and for just a moment, you notice two marinas and a patch of flat calm water. The water’s surface reflects the passing cumulus clouds. You won’t hear the scream of an eagle. You will not see the wake of a swimming otter. That is why I now paddle here. It is a chance for me to follow a wobbling path into my own beliefs and to discover what may or may not be there.
When you think about it, standing up in a floating object is something we are taught not to do. “Don’t stand up in a canoe!” is what you were actually taught at camp. I even shared this nugget of wisdom with my own students when I was a canoe instructor. Put you body in a position of imbalance and you have to face the consequences. In fact, standing up when other are sitting down is also not condoned. Think of a restless student, glued to their seat, wishing only to get up and move around. When you think about it, there is something boldly contrary about defying a belief about something as unquestionable as gravity. You need a sense of trust to believe in your own self. So I mutter to my self “It is ok. The worst thing that is going to happen is that I will get wet”. I also have to be honest with my own “self”. Sure, I may look stupid or even get some muck up my nose or in my ears but what is really driving the board, my trusting “self” or my own fears?
When I first arrived at the slough, all the rowers were already on the water. I was the only person on the shore and I had never taken “Clarity” out onto such calm water. Since early this spring, every voyage on any paddle has been a test of my sense of balance to responds to the action of the water beneath my board. At first, I made the mistake of tensing up my whole sense of awareness. I learned to adapt to the ripples by bending my knees and feeling where the weight was in my feet. The larger the wave, the lower to the board I got. I even dropped to the board on all fours to ride out a powerboat wake. After many times on the water, I actually lost control, fell into the water and almost drifted into a powerboat at the dock. Fear was running the show and my body was responding. I put my self into a situation where I was reacting to a tiger who was not even near me. My beliefs about that tiger was the tension that my body was feeling.
Gliding onto the calm slough surface, there is still the unmistakeable tension in my legs. I still judge how fast or slow it takes me to stand up. I still hesitate as I stand up and put the paddle into the water. Thankfully, I no longer spend that much time indulging in listening to my inner fearful voice . Now I sense pure and simple sensory neuron messages to the ol cerebellum. Just stand up! To heck with the upper noggin getting into the game, it is all about balance. One more stroke and the grin begins to grow. I am feeling courage, not in my own inner monolog but with each muscle contraction in my arms. I bend over and attempt to pull harder. Then I have to be honest with my self. There is going to be lower back pain but I can overcome this. A quiet calming voice relays a private note to self , “there is no need to hurt your self”.
The calm surface of the water begins to create an integrated sensation of floating and movement between my body and the glassy surface of the water. Still the “tiger” may be lurking. So I still scan the surface for possible ripples. Is there a boat coming out of that marina? Is that jet ski going to slow down? The doubtful fearful voice just will not go away. There is still the tension in my twitching calf muscles and my feet feel like they are going numb. Instead of pretending that I am calm as the surrounding water, I begin to honestly accept the fact that my body is still feeling a contrary sensation.
A hawk hovers over a nearby fence. It too is defying gravity. Instead of soaring, it is frozen in space looking for it’s breakfast. For the first twenty or more strokes the slough is completely empty of any vessel. There is the distant roar of the highway over pass that is soon hushed by the trees thick with new leaves on the shore. There is a muted silences accept for the simple act of putting the paddle into the water.
Then it begins and some how my thoughts begin to wander. What is that branch over there? Why is there foam on the water? How deep is this murky brown solution? Why did I forget to bring my watch? One bad paddle entry and the hips do a yip and rule one kicks into play. Keep your paddle in the water. Sense the surface of the water with your feet. Feel the connection between you, the board and the water. This is when the actual act of honesty kicks in. You cannot lie to your self when you are in a state of imbalance or under the illusion of being balanced. It is no big stretch to understand why you are wearing a grin. You are opening up to your own renewing nature. You are taking ownership for your own paddling experience. There is no judge on the shore giving out points. There no one wondering who the grey haired dude is paddling on this quiet morning. It is time for the ol self to take a back seat and just listen to the slow ripple of a wake that follows the board.
So what do I learn while paddling. That is sometimes takes a type of courage to be honest with your own self. Even in the calm waters, you can fool your self into beliefs and fears that just are not there. Letting go of those beliefs, like the lack of wind on the waters surface, creates a calm.
So later this evening, I read “honesty is a path that leads to happiness. Becoming honest is an act of self renewal”. I get that from paddling on the slough, my arms ache and the calves cramp up but I smile as I watch an elderly skipper varnish his Christa Craft. No wake here, just dealing with the responsibilities of owning a vessel.
Later, I am lucky enough to share a walk on car free Main Street in of Vancouver. I enjoy the sensation of sensing the wind as it causes nearby flags to flutter. I see the diversity of the passers by. I recall another quote from Living Deliberately, “ The result of living honestly is feeling and sharing-compassion and empathy! There is a joy in willingly integrating with the consciousness of others”. I do know that I fail in some of these attempts. Instead of pointless judgements, I say to my self “you are both innocent and responsible for your own actions”. Unlike being on “Clarity”, my consequence is not a splash into the water. I look into nearby eyes and wonder what they are seeing and thinking. Honestly, I try to find a way to glide over the fears of unknown consequences.
So each day, I attempt to take this nebulous understanding of peace back from the water I have traveled upon. I am sore and happily tired. Yes, my words sometimes blurt out of my mouth like a misplaced paddle stroke. I look into another person’s eyes and I lurch and feel a possible imbalance. With the new technology, there is always a misunderstood text or an email that may be unanswered. I turn off the thoughts of fear and let the feeling of calm flow through. A friend’s quote rings true, “do not push the river”. I ride the sensation of waves of feelings and do not indulge in giving them a label. I know that I can muster up the responsibility and the courage. I can honestly say.” yup I did that because I was honestly afraid”. Even in the calmest of waters or oddest of situations, you have to have the courage to be honest enough with your own self and trust that self.
Keep the paddle in the water and keep moving even if the surface is glassy and flat. Beneath the surface are those hidden beliefs that you need to challenge and question. There is nothing to fear in these murky waters. We can let go of those fears and beliefs that may be shaping the actual floating experience above them. “Is there some dark corner in the human mind into which none dare to look? Some core assumption that none dare to utter?..” perhaps it is the actual attempt to seek out incontrovertible truths”…Yes..Jack…I can handle the truth! Hurrah!
Quotes from Living Deliberately by Harry Palmer