Thursday, November 30, 2006

See and Be Seen

Now that the days are so much shorter than they were in the summer, it isn't unusual to find myself paddling back to the put-in at dusk or even in the dark. While I carry a light in my PFD and I'm almost always the only boat on the water at this time of year, it's always healthy to be as visible as possible. With that in mind, I recently came across an item which helps me stand right out on the water.

I'm talking about line which has a built-in reflective material woven into itself. It makes ideal decklines for a kayak. It's available in several colours and under a number of brand names, but mine is called 'Niteline'. 'Glow Cord' is another brand I've seen on-line, but not in local outfitting stores. It's relatively expensive at about $5.00 Cdn a meter, but well worth the extra visibility it provides on the water. I bought the 4 mm line, but I gather it comes in various widths depending on your needs. Removing my old decklines fore and aft, I replaced them with the new line (BTW, having a helper work with you to get the line sufficiently tight is highly recommended). Voila, instant kayak outline. It looks really cool in the water.

Next time you're out on the water in the dark and see some kayak shaped string floating by, say hello. It might be a lost kayaker looking for the put-in!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

How to Keep Your Boat!

Returning from a paddling trip into the USA the other day, I got asked a bunch of questions by the Canadian Customs Agent for which I had no ready answers. Basically I was asked when and where I had bought my kayak, how I had imported it and whether all the relevant taxes had been paid on it. I did my best to explain the details of the kayak's purchase and importation and, somewhat reluctantly, he let back me into Canada with my kayak. It was a wake-up call. I needed to get some documentation to avoid this happening again. I want to keep my kayak!

The next day I returned to the Canadian Customs office and completed the little green card you see (poorly reproduced) in the picture on the left. This card, form #Y38, certifies that the kayak was properly imported, taxes were paid and so on. As long as I have this card, I ought to enjoy hassle-free border crossings...

Actually, I got lucky. I entered the Customs office to find a friend of mine behind the desk. He knows me and my boat so got me my card without much fuss. Without him, I would have had to provide the bill of sale, paper work from the Customs Broker and so on. Another break I got was having an alarm begin ringing while we were getting the card filled in. My friend, stamped the card, signed it and told me to fill out the rest on my own. "This is your boat, eh Mike?" he yelled as he rushed off to see what had caused the alarm.

I completed the card and drove off into a nearby field to let the 25 illegals out of the rear hatch and then headed down for another load.

I'm just kidding about that last part, but if you plan to cross the US-Canadian border at any point, I recommend having solid documentation for your boat and any other valuables if you intend on keeping them!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Petition Hill

Anyone who has been to St John's, Newfoundland will be very familiar with this view of Signal Hill, It's a national treasure for several reasons. It has been used for signaling as far back as the 18th century when flags were flown to warn ships of weather and other sea hazards. A tower known as Cabot Tower was built on it to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot's visit to the area in 1497. More recently, Marconi used the hill to receive his Morse code radio signal from Cornwall, England in 1901.

Remarkably, the hill and surrounding lands have remained close to their natural state all these years in spite of being within easy walking distance from the city of St John's. This Fall, that began to change when a 'benefactor' took it upon himself to 'improve' a natural fen located on the hill. This was done with little or no consultation and without obtaining the usual permits. Obviously this is no way to proceed in a democratic, modern society and a number of people in St John's want the work halted until a proper environmental plan can be drawn up. So far, they have not be successful.

This may not seem important to kayakers, but it is. Whenever someone or some group decide to 'improve' a natural setting, kayakers who seek wilderness paddling lose a place we think of as sacred. The more wilderness we lose, the more we reduce our ability to save our world and by extension, ourselves. The fewer natural places we have in which to paddle. Remember, Thoreau's famous line, "In wildness is the salvation of the world", was not an idle thought, but the very essence of our paddling experience.

You can join the growing list of petitioners asking that work be halted on Signal Hill by clicking here. Remember, it may take many tiny drops to fill a bucket, but when it overflows, people take notice!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Stacks and Caves

Stacks and caves are the stuff of ocean kayaking as we all know either from being there or from watching videos and slide-show presentations. If you only paddle inland waters, your chances of entering a cave or slipping between shore and stack are few and far between. I was excited to find a chance to do both a few weeks ago when I paddled with my 'Frost-biter' friends. In the photo above, Val Rice of New York state enters the cave mouth. It was easily big enough for the both of us.

This picture shows one of a series of stacks - actually huge pieces of the adjoining cliff which had fallen away and not real stacks attached to the bedrock like you find elsewhere, especially along ocean shorelines.

One of the extras about stacks and caves in fresh water venues however, is the possibility of meeting up with lake monsters like 'Champ'... We got away with our foolish exploits this time without angering anything bigger than we were!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Genii at Play in the Theater of the Bishop

I went to a concert last night at Bishop's University. The draw was to see Harry Manx, a blues slide guitar player with a world wide sound. I'd heard him on his recordings before, but had never seen him live. He began the set and I knew at once he was a genius. Cool, wry, humourous with a growl to his voice I really liked. Then he got up and walked off-stage Michael Kaeshammer, a 25 year old piano player, came on next and sat down at the piano. I'd never heard of him before, but as he began his set of boogie/jazz pieces, I realised he was a genius as well. His virtuosity and humour was amazing. Someone entered the hall late. He stopped and asked if she could find her seat or needed help. He then said he's begin the piece he had started at the beginning, just for her. Then, finished his 4th piece, he got up and walked off stage.

The lights came on. Intermission after only 7 pieces of music...? What's with that?

When we re-entered the hall after the break, both musicians were on-stage. It was two genii at play. I was totally blown away by the music, by their ambiance and their ability to play off and with each other, at their constant interplay and musical jabs and winks. As an example of Harry's humour, he suddenly got serious and confided in the audience that he had recently signed a 3 CD deal with Columbia Records. The audience expressed their delight, obviously pleased that there would be more recordings coming our way soon. Then Harry announced the deal had only cost him $ 0.99 if he buys 3 more CDs during the coming year... He totally caught us off guard! They played forever, "We've nowhere else to go and nothing else to do..." Harry said. They played seven encore calls. It was an amazing evening. See them if you possibly can!

Oh, Harry was born on the Isle of Man, the site of a recent kayaking event. That's the tie-in to the blog, not to mention the guitar aspect.

Photo from:

Ilatsiak Reaches Episode 24!

Did you know I have a 'sister blog' called Canadian Ctories? The current story I've been writing and posting is called 'Ilatsiak'. It is a tale set in the central Canadian arctic at the time of Sir John Franklin's voyage in the mid 1800's. I posted the latest episode today. If you're interested in the last Franklin voyage, where 127 men and two naval ships mysteriously disappeared into the arctic winter gales, never to be seen again, then this story might interest you. It ties historical fact with a bit of fiction and will provide you with a surprise ending... Enjoy!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Another day, another paddle in paradise.

Another in a sudden string of glorious days to be out on the water. Temperature was around 5°C, but sunny with a rising wind to make it interesting on the run back to the put-in.

I put-in at the public beach as I no longer keep my boat in the boathouse for fear it gets snowed in. Can't have that and paddle too!

Heading up the western shoreline, I was impressed by the con-trails (I think that's what they call them) of 7 aircraft overhead. They all seemed to be heading towards Plattsburg, NY in the USA which makes me wonder if they're not military craft coming back from Germany for the weekend.

Tucking around the point, I stopped for lunch out of the rising wind. Someone conveniently placed a couple of posts in the water just off the beach for me to tie up to while I ate. I love kind people! After eating, it looked like I'd have a slog getting home. Oh, goodie!

I am constantly amazed by nature. Here a tree clings to the waterline below a cliff. How can it possibly live like that? When I see something like that I realise how tough nature wants us to be if we're to live on this planet. It's a wonderful lesson to learn. Be tough, be brave, help others be the same.

Heading back home after a great day, refreshed, renewed, a little bit tougher and braver than before.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Think I'll Go Paddling...

I might never come back. It's just too nice...

My balance brace in a 'NBK' built by Doug Dillon. Photo by Val Dillon

I guess I should at least wave good-bye...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Blending In

I walked our dog Moss this morning. I liked the way he blended into the landscape. That is, except for his garish hunting jacket. It made me think about my paddling style and how I like to quietly go exploring. I don't like lavish trips with loads of publicity, sponsors and media interviews. Let other people splash their hi-tec paddles and show off their fancy boats. I like the freedom and independence of doing things for myself.

A new sea kayak expedition is being planned for Newfoundland this coming summer. They will be well sponsored by various companies who will supply boats and other gear as is the way these days. I suppose that helps reduce costs and makes a big expedition affordable. It's a bit like the picture of Moss above. He only gets to have a walk during hunting season if he wears his jacket. Like Moss, if that's the only way one can get to go, alright, but it isn't what I think of as kayaking for pleasure. I enjoy the feeling that my paddling trips are all mine, planned and equiped and carried out by me and my partners, if any. No one needs to give me anything, I don't go begging for fancy equipment. When the trip is done and I'm back home, no one will be asking for any favours because I was given something and now they want some pay-back. My freedom to paddle is too precious to sign it away to anyone.

It means my trips are perhaps reduced in scope and not as well equiped, but the satisfaction of knowing I did it with my own two hands gives me great pleasure. I hate feeling beholden to others. When I walk up the beach and shake the hand of a local resident I know we are equals, both there because of our own efforts and not a bunch of freebies.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


In a way, a whole new paddling season begins once the snow arrives. So far we have only had a 'dusting' of the stuff, but that will soon change. It means driving to the put-in will become a challenge, depending on how well the roads have been cleared. Changing into paddling gear will need to be well rehearsed with everything close at hand in order to avoid getting too chilled. The launch itself will eventually involve a turtle-walk over the ice before breaking through into liquid water. Returning will present other problems, as well getting the slippery, ice-coated boat into the roof cradles.

I went over to have a look at Lake Massawippi today, first clearing the newly fallen snow off the car windows. I stopped along the way to have a look at one of the nearby Christmas tree plantations. I noticed last week that they're beginning to ship this year's trees off to markets around the world.

Peeking past the cottage, the water looked blue and inviting despite the -2°C temperature. I'd better get out there and paddle! There's only another month of kayaking until the lake becomes too difficult to get out on with only a small area in the middle remaining unfrozen.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Oh Sweet Revenge!

The haunting continues! In an almost perverse twist of fate, Jean-François Pouliot has titled his new film 'The Little Book of Revenge'! What's with this? Readers may recall my post of several weeks ago about the disappearance and ill luck which followed me in the wake of watching the DVD version of Pouliot's previous film 'La Grande Séduction'. Well, this is his next black comedy and I'm almost afraid to read the title, let alone view the film.

I didn't think I was the kind of person who would serve anyone a big platter of revenge brownies, but I suppose, I'd be less than human not to think about the possibilities. Revenge is said to be 'sweet' if not exactly nutritious. I'd dearly love to extract a few pounds of flesh for the wrongs done me, but if the truth be told, I'm too lazy to bother. And I'd probably burn them anyway.

I think I'm better off to take Wenley's advice and become a Bond, James Bond fan and head out to see the new 'Casino Royale' film. At least it deals with the known world and not the haunting of my soul! So take my advice, as good as this "Revenge" film probably is, avoid it if you're a paddler, especially the DVD version when it comes out!

There, I got the 'kayaking' theme in there. I knew I could do it!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Lake Champlain Weekend Paddle

Saturday the main body of Lake Champlain was being swept by cold north winds. These blew down the length of the lake producing large breaking waves which looked distinctly nasty. We decided to paddle the Lamoille River instead and put in from a little Cul de Sac north of the first bridge. This was an easy carry down to the water where a tiny sand beach lay.

Now and then brisk winds help to push us up the river faster than the current could work to push us downstream. The banks varied back and forth from cliffs, to corn fields and open woods.

After an hour of paddling we came to the dam where we played in the current. The shallow water prevented us from reaching the dam itself, but we enjoyed playing in the eddies and being swept into the currents.

After lunch just below the dam, we returned to the put-in and then continued past it downstream to the river's mouth. However before doing that a bit of kayaking humour was staged by threading one of the boats through a tree along the river's edge. I guess some people will do anything to try and get on the back page of SeaKayaker magasine!

On the way downstream, we played tag with some Great Blue Herons and saw deer in the woods. At the mouth itself was a turtle sanctuary where landings during the summer is prohibited. After playing again in the windy conditions out on the lake, we returned upstream to the put-in. In all, we spent four hours in our kayaks on a day when most people stayed indoors out of the cold, wet and eventually, the rain, which began just as we loaded up our boats on our roof racks. Perfect timing.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Before the Rains Come

The winds blew out the power last night so we all woke up late. During breakfast we realised that the outside temperature was almost higher than it was inside! Normally we expect mid November to be in the area of 5°C. It was 18°C when we were having breakfast. The winds were still high, with scudding clouds under a pale blue sky. Clearly it was time for a walk on our east ridge behind the house, before the rains came.

My daughter chose to take 'Maggie', our pony we'd taken to help out a friend who'd lost their barn. We still have her, years later and now own her. We headed up past what some in our family call the 'Pond', but which is obviously my 'Rolling Practice Pool'. From there, we cut through the fence line into our neighbours corn field. From a distance my wife signaled the dog to head towards the next break into a hay field. We wondered whether either of our neighbours worried about out 'grooming' the cut so we could ride and ski more easily. We decided they probably didn't mind. They've never said anything and we had made an arrangement with the mother of the present owner years ago. In the country, these agreements quite commonly last for generations.

Next we passed the 'Dinosaur Nest', a large pile of rocks cleared years ago from the hay field where my children used to play. They had hollowed out a depression on the top of the pile to create the nest when they were young and the name stuck, as names will when you live in a place for any length of time. My wife asked if I'd seen the letter to the editor in the local papper written by someone named 'Pix Butt'. I had. I guess the editor either missed it, or has a decent sense of humour. Names!

We continued walking and soon crossed over into the next field and admired the view before heading into the woods beyond. All of us dressed for hunting season, even the dog.

Clouds were building overhead and rain squalls appeared against the western horizon. It was time to head home for lunch. As we put 'Maggie' in the barn, the rain began. I headed down to the house to click on the propane fired 'wood stove'. It was time to think of something to put up on my blog today.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Modern Sea Kayaking

I've ordered Gordon Brown's book 'Sea Kayak'. I found it listed on the Canadian Amazon site, so figured, 'Why not?' I might be a good kayaker one day and need to know what the "intermediate to advanced" paddlers already know. Maybe it will keep me out of trouble, or conversely, get me there quicker. Maybe it will just keep me on the water...

I do have concerns about the book, beyond those expressed here and there by various reviewers. If the kayak marketplace is any indication, a kayak over 14 ft is probably useless for most people. It also seems that composite boats are not suited to modern kayaking. Polyethylene is today's choice of material. Don't even think about 'skin'! The thoroughly modern kayaker rides in a nice wide SOT as well these days, I suppose so that he or she can stand while casting from a stable platform. I gather that water-tight hatches have been replaced by milk-crate boxes as they are so much more versatile and quick draining, an obvious safety feature. Paddles of any sort, of course, are out. Pedal driven flippers being the obvious choice of today's kayaker. Think about it, are your legs weaker than your arms? Of course not! Get rid of those paddles, before someone gets hit by one.

I suspect Brown's book will attempt to fly in the face of these obvious market-driven improvements to kayaking, but I've always believed there is a place for the traditional, long, slender, glass or carbon fiber enclosed boat even in the modern world of kayaking. This book will, if nothing else, be a chance for me to reminisce, to wallow in the 'good ole days'. It may give me the strength to continue paddling my dated boat for a few more years and for that alone, it will be well worth its purchase price. It arrives in early December. I can't wait.

Photo by W. Killoran, North Channel off Manitoulin Island

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ultimate Kayaking Gear?

There comes a point when kayaking familiar waters is no longer sufficient. The urge to go exploring sets in and has to be satisfied. There are several choices one can make when this syndrome hits a person. Most frequently, people seeking adventure plan a trip during their holidays. They either book a tour with a commercial outfit running 'adventure paddles' into wilderness areas or they organize something on their own, acting as independent outfitters in a way. I actually like this latter approach because I find the planning stage to be an interesting challenge and I also enjoy the additional freedom it provides me once I'm on the trip. In a commercial trip, the need to stay within the set time-frame is an important reality. If I see a hidden cove, I want to be able to take the time to explore it, stay in it, whatever, the schedule be damned.

I now have the time to paddle most of the year if I chose to do so. The trips I've take have been combinations of car travel, tent camping and kayaking. In some cases, I have parked the car for several days or weeks while I went kayaking with camping gear. In other cases, I day paddled and returned to my fixed campsite each evening. Again, both have been flexible arrangements, relatively cheap and have allowed me access to a wide variety of paddling venues.

I'm now looking at something different. My experience in Newfoundland this past summer introduced me to the 'recreational vehicle', the home on wheels. I've toyed with this concept for a few years now, but the idea of hitting the road for weeks or months traveling from one kayaking spot to another is becoming more and more appealing. I'm not the only one to think of this. The picture above was taken last winter in Florida. While the rest of us fought off raccoons and the near freezing weather, this fellow slept like a baby in a cozy bed with the heater set for something toasty.

Freya Hoffmeister, the well known German kayaker, has traveled around Europe now for several years in her motor home. The benefits are obvious. You arrive 'home' after each paddling trip to find a comfortable place to change, shower, eat and sleep and even entertain should you feel inclined. You can find all this in a tent, it's true, but when it's rainy, cold and windy, a lot of the fun gets lost.

So, I'm looking at RV's these days about the size of the one in the picture, not too big or small, but something Goldilocks would approve of. The one I get will definitely have a rack on the roof for my kayaks, wet smelly paddling gear piled in the shower stall, and beer in the fridge!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Liking it Grey, Cloudy and Wet!

Four of us spent the weekend paddling on Lake Champlain. We began late in the afternoon on Friday and returned under the stars. I haven't done a lot of night paddling, but I'll do more. It's a special time to be on the water, reminding me of my childhood days.

Saturday we were back on the water under grey, cloudy skies, high winds and threatening rain. We opted to stay off the lake itself which was kicking up some good sized waves and instead we explored the Lamoille River in Vermont. As this weekend was a 'get-to-know-each-other' exercise for the group, it proved to be a good choice as the river banks kept us relatively close together and talkative. Before long, we got comfortable with each others paddling skills and capabilities. The upsteam dam appeared just before lunch, forcing us to head back the way we'd come. Having put in part way up the river, we then paddled out to see what was happening on the lake. The wind had switched into the north and now had the whole length of the lake to work on building even bigger waves.

Sunday was another grey, cloudy, windy day so we put in on Mallett's Bay, again on the Vermont side. Heading out towards the lake once again proved to be rougher than we were willing to work with so we surfed back into the bay and made our way over to the far side to check out the cliffs and fancy houses. We rafted our boats up together for lunch by using a cord one of us had made up for that very purpose. A simple arrangement, it consisted of a length of cord with a clip on either end which we hooked onto the guylines from one boat to the other just ahead of the cockpit. Not having to hang on to each others boat as we drifted about gave us time to enjoy our shared lunch and hot drinks!

Our final outing on Monday morning was - you guessed it - another grey, cloudy, windy day. We launched from North Beach and for the first time got out onto Lake Champlain proper. It was still windy and rough, so we crept around each headland carefully, testing our skills in the waves before committing the group to the next section.

The weekend was designed to see if we were up for a multi-week trip planned for the summer, so non-paddling time was spent pouring over maps and discussing logistical problems. Unless we've missed something, it's looking good-to-go for August. Meanwhile, it's back to work for all but me. I'll have to manage as best I can given I no longer have a day job to keep me out of trouble.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Team Zero? What's with that?

If you have paddled for any length of time and wanted to improve your skill level, sooner or later you discovered that there is help out there, you're never alone. Help comes from other paddling friends, clubs and so on. Most people reach a level they feel comfortable with and they start avoiding paddling situations which frightens them. Another group of people start reading various paddling media and it soon becomes apparent to them that paddling skill sets have been systematized and organized into ascending levels. The two best known one are the British Canoe Union (BCU) and the American Canoe Association (ACA) ratings and there are others as well in various countries. Both these organizations mentioned have a curriculum of skills and provide instruction which allows you to increase your personal skill set as you work your way through their rating system. Many people enjoy the opportunity and satisfaction of advancing through these levels and rightly so. They become more proficient paddlers as a result. It is important to know however that many very proficient paddlers have no rating credits to their name. How did they get so skilled?

Team Zero is a completely different approach to learning to become a better paddler. It is loosely based on a more traditional concept where the idea of zero includes both nothing yet everything. It is based on the idea that everyone has something of value to offer someone else. We can all be both teachers and students at the same time. With this in mind, any time you go out paddling with others, keep in mind you can learn from them and they can learn from you. Team Zero members don't have to wait for an intructor to come by before they can learn a new roll, or how to tow someone in a swamped boat with a broken paddle and a missing hatch cover. This whole concept is based upon continuous learning, right now, with whoever is nearby, sharing the best set of skills available. It also means our ideas can change as soon as the next better idea shows up.

So, by all means, travel to the next BCU or ACA accreditation event in your area. Such events are definitely worth your time and effort. But keep in mind Team Zero is out there as well, working 24/7 to make you a better paddler. You're not only a student, you are a teacher as well.

Photo :daly_-_home_team_zero.JPG

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Justine's Tasmanian Paddle

Two things caught my attention while reading Justine Curgenven's recent SeaKayaker magasine piece on going around Tasmania. I suppose we see certain well known paddlers as a bit more than human, so I found it interesting that she found herself tired to the point that, "after 30 days of paddling. The constant exercise, getting up early, always being mentally alert..." was enough. Interestingly it happened just as she rounded the last cape and the end was almost in sight. Obviously undertaking large challenges takes a lot out of a person, no matter who you are. Thirty days of continual high energy output is 30 days, even if a few of them are spent on the beach when one might think one is reating up. It's something many people setting out don't pay much attention to, but it appears to be very real and if referred to by long distance paddlers more than once. So training and getting in shape both mentally and physically for a trip of this sort is necessarily part of the 'kit' so to speak.

The other item in her article was the close call which happened when a rogue wave pitched Gemma out of her boat and separated her from it in cold water. Acting quickly, Gemma and her boat were both rescued, but imagine had she been on a solo voyage! The ending might have been quite different. I have frequently paddled alone and not given it too much thought, but this makes me wonder. I don't find myself in big water like that found off Tasmania, but I can think of several instances from my outings last summer, when I began to wonder if I wasn't out there all by myself in a situation over my head. Fortunately I escaped the hands of fate on those occasions, but will I be as lucky next time out?

I'm meeting up with my 'Frost-biter' kayaking friends this weekend. We've got a big multi-week trip in mind for the coming summer and in an area known for its waves and rocky beaches. It will be good to know I will be with strong and experienced paddlers. Now I just have to think about how to deal with the 'final cape syndrome', the one where fatigue suddenly takes control and keeps you on the beach.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Moraito Chico!

I've mentioned before that I'm a student of the flamenco guitar. Naturally I have a few 'heros' I'd like to be able to imitate. My top flamenco is known as Moraito Chico, a guy from Jerez de la Frontera, right up against the southern border of Spain and Portugal on the Atlantic ocean. He was born in 1955 into a gypsy family, so flamenco was in his blood and playing guitar was like learning to walk, just taken for granted. He has accompanied many others but has very few recordings to his own credit. I was happy to see his name came up on a search the other day. Here's some of what I discovered (It helps if you have Hi-Speed internet here...).

The most interesting video is of a young Moraito playing a Bulerias by in a wine cellar setting. This little video appears to have been made maybe 20 years ago or so. The great part is to see him literally rolling and bouncing in his chair with the music as he plays it. He is so into what he's doing. I also watched the girl's shoulders as they gave little upward jerks now and then to the under-currents in the music, that movement being so typical of flamencos. Really fun. The cigarette in the guitar head is so old as well! I can't imagine flamencos still smoke, but of course they probably still do... They're 'gitanos' after all.

A number of other things also come up in the search results. Someone has put up clips from his lesson video which is too bad as it's readily available if you want it. Probably the most interesting clips other than the one mentioned above are those of other people playing his music. One is called Flamenco Guitar and Dance'. Here a Polish guitarist plays for a dancer and is accompanied by a guy doing 'palmas', the typical rhythmic clapping done in flamenco music. This is worth a watch as the playing is good and the camera does a good job as well. Flamenco music is foremost for the song, with the dance next and then all else being secondary.

Next check out the fat Spanish kid called MoRaiToXiCo playing a 'Buleria' of Moraito's. This kid can really play ! He is sometimes seen with other young people and it's fun to watch their reactions. For example, watch the shoulder action of the guy doing 'palmas' in the piece called 'Bulerias'. Just like the girl we saw in the first piece, but even more accentuated: culture moving ahead! So fun to see. He has several other videos up, some as good, some of poorer quality, but all are worth listening to. He's very good and so droll!

Anyway, that's a peek into an unknown world for some, but a sound that's bounced around in my head for years. The very first vinyl record I ever bought was of Esteban Sanlucar playing flamenco guitar. I still listen to it although I've transfered it to CD format for convenience these days.

Here's a couple other sites you can visit for more information of Moraito Chico:

Monday, November 6, 2006

Ma Bell Moving up the Ladder!

The phone rings. I answer. A strange, foreign sounding voice asks if I'm the person who reported a phone problem on Oct 29. I say,"Yes."
"Can I ask you some questions?"
"Were you satisfied with the handling of the repair?"
"On a scale of 1 to 10, with the 1 being poor, 10 being high..."
"Okay, I'll give it an 8."
"Were you satisfied with the service representative?"
"It was an automated service, but the phone was repaired, so I guess I'm satisfied".
"How would you rate the service representative?"
"It was an automated voice, not a person."
"Are you saying '8'?"
"No I'm not."
"Then you were not satisfied?"
"I don't rate things like a computer voice."
"Less than 5, you mean?"
"Not at all, I mean!"

Anyway, you get the drift. It appears I was speaking to Ma Bell's seventh son, Betty Crocker's first cousin, twice removed or something. I can't believe some poor devil, probably from a call center in southern India, is being asked to pretend that an automated voice needs to be rated. Does that mean the 'Voice' will get an advancement up the corporate ladder if enough people rate it highly? It makes you shudder just to think about the prospects. Will real people have to compete with it for a job at the top? Will we be treated fairly if we're left groveling at the bottom...?

It really makes a person glad to be able to paddle in the real world while it still exists!

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Winding Down the Days

I took this photo yesterday. It's Lake Massawippi, where I first paddled a kayak about 10 years ago. I was in an outdoor store in a nearby town and noticed they rented kayaks. It suddenly hit me. I want a kayak! I began renting their various boats and finally settled on a yellow and white Boreal Design 'Alvik', a walrus. The following summer I took the boat with me to Nunavut and went on my first expedition paddle, from Hall Beach to Igloolik via the Ooglit Islands out in Foxe Basin.

Thinking back on the adventure I was probably totally crazy to have done it. I had no protection had I capsized. I didn't have anything to bail out the boat with. I only had a single paddle. What I did have was some local knowledge of the area having spent two years hunting with Inuit along the same coast and offshore. I also had a secret weapon I only found out about after the trip was over. I had told the police what I was doing and roughly how long it would take. A good friend also saw me off. She had come down from Igloolik to surprise me. Once I left Hall Beach, she told every Inuk traveling along the coast to quietly watch out for me. They all did, but in such a way, I never saw a soul. About a week later when I arrived at a fishing camp, they immediately got on the VHF radio and let people in Igloolik know that 'Mikusi tikipok', I had arrived. That was the first hint I'd had that I was in caring hands, a complete stranger to most of them, but someone to watch out for and take care of nonetheless. The police in Igloolik had no idea I had done the trip. They hadn't been alerted by their colleagues in Hall Beach as I had supposed they would be when I filed my trip plan.

I often think back to those people and what they did for me. I owe them a very big debt.

Today, the lake is slowly losing it's accumulated summer heat. In a few weeks, the water will be 4°C from top to bottom. The surface water will continue to cool, but being less dense it will remain on the surface. At zero degrees, the surface will start to form skim ice around the shorelines, especially in the quiet bays. This ice will gradually grow out to the center and cover the lake. Or will it? In recent years, the ice has not formed as thick and solid as it once did. I hear the same story in Igloolik as well. And the fish stocks are winding down as well. Mmmmm....

Saturday, November 4, 2006

The Birds!

I sometimes imagine that most of the birds we see these days are new species invented since the time I was a child. Back then we only had robins and perhaps a few chickadees. For some reason, I don't recall there being other kinds of birds when I was young. Of course, there were sea gulls at the ocean and a few geese that migrated far overhead and so they didn't count. Today there are lots of birds. At our house alone we have recorded 82 different species seen over the past 30 years or so. This is a remarkable increase in the number of species invented since my childhood! Or so it seems.

I drove down a back road the other day, taking a short-cut to the garage where I get my winter tires put on. Along the way, there's a pond bordering the woods and glancing over as I passed by, I was shocked to see it covered in white. Ice already, I gasped? But no, the pond was covered with snow geese, a mostly white goose with black wing tips. More circled in the air above. Years ago, one had to go down river from Quebec City to see snow geese. Now I have them almost in my back yard.

The birds brought to mind a Spring time when I was wind-bound in a small cabin over-looking the St Lawrence river. We'd tried to launch our kayaks into the wind and waves, but it was just too wild, so we folded our tent and rented the cabin. We spent a few hours watching the waves pound the rocks a few feet from the cabin door and every now and then a few snow geese would beat past, only inches above the waves. It was a special time with great memories of paddling, whales, people and fun. Seeing the snow geese so close to home brought all those good memories back and made my day.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Pushing It

I've always been fascinated by ravens. The book I'm presently reading, 'North to the Night' by Alvah Simon is a case in point. The story is about a man, driven by adventure and consumed by a never-ending desire to test himself out 'there'. He has not been able to satisfy himself even after a dozen years of sailing around the world and pushing himself through jungles, across deserts, into tropical illnesses and who knows what all. Then the arctic draws him in. He sets out once more, the 'final trip' with his somewhat reluctant wife, but through a twist of fate, he ends up facing the arctic winter alone, 100 miles from the nearest community, his steel hulled 36 foot sailboat iced into a tiny bay on Bylot Island. Sounds perfect, doesn't it?

The first month living with himself wasn't too bad. He had a pet cat and the prowling polar bears helped to set the pace. The second month, when the sun no longer rose above the horizon, started to see some changes. I suppose every solo adventurer out for a month or more would feel a kinship with Alvah. His moods began to rise and fall like the wind. The cat started to have doubts. Strange things seemed to happen which he couldn't explain. Then he noticed a raven, perched on a solitary rock in the darkness up on a hill overlooking the bay. It was watching him. As he days pass, Alvah loses track of time, his ability to think clearly slowly ebbed away. He talked to himself, to the cat, to the boat. His dreams became nightmares, repeating endlessly, always the same, but with new and more frightening twists and turns. There was little comfort in his icy prison. Still, no matter how bad it got, the raven watched and waited. Perched on its rock high above the boat, it seemed unchanging yet always changing. It almost seemed to know T.S. Eliot's lines long before Alvah did,

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

And so it is, no doubt for many people who yearn to get away and paddle long distances by themselves. They seek the horizon of their souls, the depth of their beings, the swirling spirituality many of us discover waiting out there in the wilderness. Yet on coming back home, we suddenly find ourselves back where we began and oddly empty. Like Alvah returning home, he soon found he needed 'one more trip' to fill whatever void it is that pulls and tugs and irks until the next trip begins. Only then do we start to realise it is the trip, not the destination we seek. We've already been to the end. We realise the raven wasn't watching. It was just there for the ride. There was no destination, no void, nothing.

I still like ravens. I love what they are and what we think they are, even what we make believe they are!

Photo from: GC_Show/048.5.Ravens.jpg