Friday, April 28, 2006

Opening Day!

The fisherman are back on the water! Thank whoever it was on a Friday. Tomorrow I suspect one will be able to walk across any of the lakes around here by stepping from boat to boat all the way across! Today was slightly less crowded, but I could tell immediately something was different.
I usually change in a boathouse facing the water. I don't even bother shutting the door, I just strip down and suit up. Not today! I hadn't even loosened my belt before two boats puttered by. When I carried my kayak to the beach a passing fisherperson (they're all 'persons' these days, as you probably already know), suggested there wasn't any room on the lake for kayaks. "You might get arrested..." he claimed. "We'll see about that!" I thought.
But every bay and cove had the sounds of motor boats and popping beer cans. Fisherpeople have so much more fun than kayakers. You can really tell when they're working hard at their pleasure. One guy I know said he had been out since sun up and wasn't going home 'til sun down. Now that's fishing tough, fishing hard, as he put it.
For me, it was a nice sunny day with little wind. I paddled for a couple of hours, poking into favourite haunts and crannies. I got hung up on fishing lines a couple of times, but nothing serious. I made it home in one piece and changed back into my street clothes without getting a public nudity citation or even a cat call.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Renata's Voyage

Both Frogma's blog and have been carrying items recently about Renata's Chlumski's incredible voyage around the mainland US states. Truely this woman is on yet another amazing adventure. A few years ago she met her late friend Goran Kropp in Kathmandu, after he had peddled his bike from Sweden to Mt Everest. She worked as his base camp crew as he summited after which they then returned home across Russia on their bicycles.
I suppose she has a support team helping in this present endeavour to enable her to carry on month after month on her present odyssey. It seems most big expeditions these days require support teams of some sort or another. Insurance companies demand it, families insist on it and even governments require some guarantee they won't be called in for a rescue operation.
Does this take away from the accomplishment? In a way it does. There is nothing quite like knowing you are paddling off the edge of the world into adventure and will only return months later with found treasures surprising the world with what you've done. Those days are gone, perhaps sadly for would-be future explorers. Still these voyages stir the hearts of many and no one can take away the feeling of accomplishment for the finisher.
I suspect that Renata will be biking as she passes through my area, but I hope to get out to cheer her on. It will be a cheer for all those out there pushing their limits discovering who they really are and what life is all about.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

April is the cruelest month...

I suppose you have to live life completely outdoors and know nothing of the 'inside' life to really appreciate why we need a month like April. The weather changes on an hourly basis, now sunny, now rainy, now snow, now heat. How does one dress for that? You either freeze because you didn't put enough on, or you boil under your layers. There're no winners here, or are there?

Why not stay inside and play guitar? There's so much here to learn. There are technical skills to practice for the right hand, others for the left, there's music both written and not to learn, there's the joy of playing a well known piece one more time, the mindless improvisation of just letting the tune wander as it wants around the fretboard... In short, another little universe to explore while the climate slowly makes it's shift from winter to summer. So I'll not paddle today. I'll 'toca la guitarra' instead and dream of my summer paddling plans.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Where's the put-in?

Ya, right! Have you ever had a problem with the put-in? I have...

I once wandered around a small Ontario town for a whole morning wondering where my paddling partner was. Certainly not at the same put-in I was at. The town was so small I think I knew the whole place before we finally met up. Another time I traveled for two and a half days and never got to see the put-in at all! Now that was the worst of all.

Last winter in Marco Island I wound up going down a series of deadend streets with marble tiled driveways looking for a put-in. It was like a I'd gone to some kind of rich heaven with no put-ins anywhere. Now what kind of a heaven could that be? I beat a retreat before some rich sweet widow enticed me through the door...

We all know the best put-ins are the ones we can find, down little gravel roads with free parking spots. Down at the beach, the waters stretch before us out in the distance and even if it's raining, who cares. We unload, pack our gear and launch the boats, and with a smile towards our friends, we leave the shore forever - or as Pooh said, "Even longer".

I'm working on just that! I hope you are too.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


The ice is bearly out of the lake, mine is the only boat I've yet seen on the water, but it's the weekend. Anything can happen on the weekend. When I put in, the lake was crystal calm, but exiting the bay there was a good chop driven by a south wind. That means about a seven mile fetch, so I was expecting some fun. I purposefully headed down wind so I would be bashing the stuff on the way home. By then I could expect some 2 footers perhaps.
It wasn't to be. Instead I played 'trapped', sneaking around and dodging a suspicious looking boat with those metal lattice things up over the wind-screen. The only people around here rich enough for that stuff are the 'zebra muscle' cops. I was having a great time until I heard their boat out there somewhere. I just knew some weekender would have their boat out. At first I figured it might be a fisherperson. Then I saw the lattice. Cops! Great they'd wonder where my 'zebra muscle' stamp was, and would generally harass me because I'd failed to buy one so they could spend the summer chasing small boaters (the only ones they can catch) and generally wasting my tax money. We all know this scam well enough by now!
They were about a mile away coming down the opposite shore. I looked for possible cover. Not much, but up ahead was a point I could slip behind. I pushed the paddle down hard and in no time skidded into an edged turn around the point. By then I could hear the cops had crossed over to my side of the lake and weren't far behind. I worked fast. I hit the beach, threw my paddle into the deck cords and yanked the boat out of the water. A short run up the beach, around some trees, across a little meadow and I was back in the water again. A shallow creek with good high banks would permit me to paddle unseen back to the lake where I would come out behind the cops. It was a perfect dodge!
I could hear the motor boat turn in towards shore as it passed the point. Now the fun would begin. I had totally disappeared! I let my kayak slowly drift through the trees along the creek as it headed to the lake. I had fooled them! They had stopped, no doubt pondering whether I was worth a chase on foot. No doubt they knew they'd catch me. After all, I was carrying a kayak on my back! It should be an easy kill.
I waited, hearing nothing, then cautiously paddled towards the lake. What! Several trees had fallen across the creek and blocked my route. I was trapped. The cops wouldn't have far to go to see where I'd gone. I sculled over to the bank and peered through the trees. There they were... fishing! Not cops at all, but early fisherpersons with a rich person's boat. Well, I'll be.
Last summer I had bought a small folding hand saw thinking I would use it for a paddle down the Lower North Shore. I never made that trip, but the saw was just the tool for slicing my way out of that creek. Good thing I'm not too well trained at cleaning out my boat's hatches...

Friday, April 21, 2006

Maintaining Good Order...

Years ago when Quebec Inuit would hunt with their kayaks, they had a system of taking care of each other when traveling from one place to another. The basic rule was: the guy behind you is your responsibility. Thus when paddling, you always kept in touch with the paddler directly behind you. If he needed assistance, you were the one who provided it. In this way hunters learned the value of staying close by, within helping distance, and could send messages quickly up and down the line. The result was the group stayed together. Of course, in the melee of the hunt itself, the system could get a bit confusing...
This same system was used in more recent times when travelling by ski-doo during the winter and that's where I learned it. Once, traveling at night on the way home from a fishing camp my sled hitch broke stranding me in the middle of nowhere with few supplies. I was at the back end of the line and thought I would end up passing the night in a snow house - if I succeeded in building one, which was hit and miss. Most attempts had been wonky at best up until then. I knew nothing of the 'system', but was astounded at how quickly everyone ahead of me circled back to give assistance and help me get home safe and sound.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

While out paddling today in a brisk north wind, which on my lake is not its normal direction, I got thinking about all those qajait - those boats built in northern Canada. Where are they? Why can't we see them? How many still exist? The Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario has several examples, as well as some Greenland varieties. Given that Canadian Inuit have produced a wide variety of boats, it is a pity so few can be seen in our museums. All the examples seen in this picture are from either Quebec or Labrador and look somewhat similar. Yet other styles existed from the west, from the barren grounds and from Baffin Island. In each place the boats under went modifications due to the hunting realities that faced the builders. Yet they seldom see the light of day.

I was the only boat on the water all day, in spite of the warm, sunny weather. I spoke to a lady out raking her beach, two others were passing the time with their sketch books (did I get drawn?). A single, brave, middle aged lady was tucked into a corner sun-bathing in a bikini! I found that wonderful. She made me think that museums need to get out their middle aged kayaks and show them to us, wrinkles, sags, white skin and all. We don't care. We just want to know they were built and that they still exist for us to admire. What they look like isn't important!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Ying and Yang, Part 2

"There's a song in every silence,
There's a dawn in every darkness,
From the past will come the future.
In the cold and snow of winter,
There's a spring that waits to be." (lines from hymn 703)

Our friends buried their son today. It was hard, very, very hard. Probably the hardest thing a parent is ever compelled to do. I tried to close my ears to the questioning mourners. I wanted only to move past the moment. I wanted to work on finding comfort and peace for them and myself. I wanted so much to be in next week. Some place, far far away. Suicide has a way of forcing questions. No one really wants to know the answers. Yet we question anyway. Why can't we just be glad we knew him, that our paths crossed however briefly? That he gave us joy.

At the reception afterwards I saw a once familiar face. She turned and our eyes met, narrowed slightly. Who is that? Yes? Maybe, I don't know. We began the usual, "Do I know you?" and yes we did. "What are you doing these days?" "Kayaking!" Really, me too. I just finished building a wood strip Guillemot!" "No way!" "You should try making one. I'll give you all the station forms, even the book. It's such fun making a kayak..." "But I've made two, Greenland SOF boats..." "Really?"...

I thought I was reaching an end of something in recent weeks. Maybe I'm not. There was talk of resurrection during the service. I'm not a religious person at all, but maybe I need to look more closely at the spring that waits to be!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Spa Time

Several weeks ago, to celebrate my Mother's 90th birthday, the family reserved a townhouse at a well known spa in Stowe, Vermont. Little did I realise then how fortunate the timing would be! It was the perfect place to be this past weekend when all around us life seemed to be gloom and doom. The swims, the massages, the meals, the everything worked together to produce a wonderful calming effect in all of us. It will help us get through the days ahead.
During our stay, I recalled one massage I'd had a few years ago when Maligiaq paddled in the La Traversee kayak race from Forestville to Ste Luce, crossing the St Lawrence River. He was one sore boy when he finished and the sports therapy people at the finish line were fabulous. I didn't paddle in the race, but enjoyed some of the benefits! I don't think Maligiaq would have been able to sleep that night had he not had a massage to relax his aching muscles.
I had a long conversation with the masseur about kayaking and the benefits of regularly having a massage to relax our muscles, especially after a strenuous day on the water. There's nothing like it. We should all train ourselves to give massages when on kayaking trips. Not only would it help to relax our muscles, but would build partnerships and togetherness in the wilderness. I'm sure there are some of you out there who know of which I speak!

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Ying and Yang of it all...

The first paddle of the year on my favourite lake. What could be better than that? Almost nothing. The crispy cold water, the sparkling sun, the clear blue sky. It was a day of everything right. I was home again on the water.

But it wasn't to be a day of joy. There seems always to be a ying with a yang.

As I found light and happiness another found darkness. The son of close friends, a boy the same age as my son, ended his life. Why would he do such a thing? You never really know what moves in the heart of a person so distressed as to wish the end. There was no warning, no obvious reason, nothing but horror. So on coming home euphoric I am plunged into a world of grief and unanswerable questions. Why is life like this? What does it mean? How do we move on from here?

For me, at least, it is a time to try to heal the open wounds in my life. To look for those hurts and insults I have somehow caused in the lives of my friends and loved ones. To send out healing messages and for me to hope that my words cast some light that shines into the lives of those who I've given pain. Perhaps that will let them paddle in calmer seas and find the joy I felt during my first paddle of the year on home waters. What else can I possibly do?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


After reading Derrick's blog a few days ago, I got the idea that I too needed to 'take a walk' in the woods! So I did, together with a friend and our dog, and guess what I found? A lake with almost no ice in it! I paddle today, finally! And what a day it is: nearly 20°C sunny, just enough breeze to make it interesting and some ice here and there so I can have some Lopez Arctic Dreams! Like it's summer already. I'll be swimming next! Well, maybe I'll wait just a bit for the swim... I wouldn't want to damage any appendages!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

What's Wrong Here?

I see at least two nasty things here. First, of course, is the presence of that ridiculous barrier, pretending to block honest paddlers from getting to the water, a public resource. Around here access to the water is becoming more and more the right of the rich and the rest of the world be damned. Paddle in the rain puddles and "Eat cake!" is the message to the 'hoi paloi'.

The other problem is that white skim on the water: ICE! While there is a margin of water to paddle in next to the shore, it is a trap for the unwary. The wind shifts the ice around and can quite suddenly push it against the shore line forcing a paddler either onto the land (not too bad) or, if the shore is steep, then the paddler has to scramble onto the ice itself for safety. This almost always results in the paddler going into the water, as the ice is too weak to support one's weight, and as this is going on, one's boat is usually churned up in the tumbling ice being crushed against the shore. All in all, not a happy picture.

The answer to both problems is to remove them. Out with the barrier, free the access points, and out with the ice, free the water. Where's 'global warming' when it's needed!

Actually the ice formed three weeks late this year and if it break up this week, will do so about ten days earlier than normal. We barely had a winter this year, so I'm using Google Earth to examine the south coast of Baffin for possible real estate bonanzas. I want a site house site on a quiet bay with a sandy beach before the prices go through the roof!

Saturday, April 8, 2006

¡Toca, Gitano!

I'm tired. Tired of waiting for Spring, tired of waiting for the ice to go, tired to get moving again. I want to dance like Sara Baras. I want to stamp my heels in the surf and push my kayak out into the water and never come back. Sara dances with passion, with fire and ice. I want to live like she dances. Come on Spring!

And once I'm on the water, I want to sing like Montse Cortés, like she sings on Jesse Cook's album 'Nomad' and her own albums. As she sings, my paddle goes into the water, I feel her rhythm, my paddle settles into it and the kayak moves over the water, into the mist of adventure. Montse's earthy voice mingles with the wilderness, dark and brooding, mysterious.
Do you ever drink cava? If you live in Barcelona you do, in the little tavernas on the back streets. And listen to the gitanos as they play and sing and dance. I'm sure there is a link somewhere to paddling in the wilderness and listening to gypsy music, drinking cava. There has to be. Come Spring. I want to leave. Un otra cava, por favor...

Thursday, April 6, 2006

No Ribs Today

Another wet, snowy cold day in Paradise. I suppose a real Inuk would be out there putting the ribs in his qajaq so he could feed the extended family, but 'kadlunavunga!' So I'm not working on my boat, I'm inside playing my flamenco guitar.

It's an 'Alhambra' like the one in the picture. Not a custom made guitar like the heros play, but a good one nonetheless, with a sweet cypress smell. The day I bought it, I played about 20 flamenco guitars in the store, everything from total junk to the gloriously sublime, guitars which floated under your arm, sending sensuous pulses directly into your heart as you played them. Almost better than... well, a similar thrill at least, one shared between you and a loved one. If you play a finely crafted, sensitive instrument, you'd know the experience.

I begin playing some exercises from 'Pumping Nylon' by Ken Tennant to loosen up my fingers. Then it's on to trying to learn some pieces by Moraito, who is my favourite guitarrista. I like his style of playing. He comes from Jerez, and is more traditional than guys like Paco de Lucia and his followers and very rhythmic.

Like paddling, it allows one to drift away from one's tangled life and float among the gods for a while. Coming back to Reality Beach is always a smooth landing with little dumping surf to roll you around.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Ya had to be there, ok?

A 'vrai Québeçois' takes his three cats, Un, Deux and Trois, out for a walk on the Spring ice the other day. When he returns an hour later without the cats, his 'blonde' is shocked and asks him, "Les chats, la, sont ou?" He shakes his head sadly, "Un, Deux Trois cats sank...".

Ok, it helps to be a bit bilingual for that one.

Here's one more important note:

Did you know that had you been up at 2 minutes, 3 seconds past 1 o'clock this morning, the exact time could have been written as: 01:02:03 04/05/06. This wonderful revelation will never be repeated, and like you, I too missed it by foolishly sleep it away.

Such are the finer things in life, I suppose.

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

A Rolling Experience from my Younger Days

Learning to Roll... your Bike!

Now the warm weather is back in the Great White North, we're all waiting for the lakes to soften up a bit so we can paddle in them rather than ski on them. In the meantime, with the snow pushed off to the sides of the roads, more or less, it's time to get our bikes out and enjoy the Spring frost heaves. It's a bit like playing in the tide rips in your kayak, but lots more dangerous (fun?).

When I was younger, my bike of choice was a red one like this, a Laverda 750 SF single seat café racer. Fast, nimble and taughtly sprung, it was a real devil on the frost heaves. In fact, it was on this bike that I first got a hint that one could roll a transportation device. Motoring into an 'S' curve outside a New England village one cold, wet day, I hit a series of heaves and realised I was going down, err.. I mean, about to roll.

I realise today that I instinctively set up for a classic Standard Greenland roll! I bent forward and threw myself towards my 'on side' as the bike went over. The bike being so firmly sprung, it hit the next wave and bounced upwards as I hit the surface, allowing me to pass underneath, half completing the roll. Arching my upper torso, and raising my downside knee, I began making the usual move around to the rear deck, I mean, the rear wheel, hoping naturally to be able to sit up and ride off as I came up. The bike had other ideas, however and I was forced to do a wet exit and push off smartly after which I slithered over a couple of more frost heaves and got tossed into the backwash in the ditch. The bike came to a stop a bit further down the beach, I mean road.

Other than a blown tire, the bike was still rideable, so I paddled, I mean rode it slowly into town not much worse for wear and repaired the tire. Like any smart paddler, I was wearing a good leather dry suit that day so didn't suffer from any unsightly road rash, which is lots worse than cold water against the skin!

Sunday, April 2, 2006

Tangled Messes

Every now and then most of us get into a mess and wonder how we got there, why we stayed there and how are we going to extricate ourselves with as little damage to ourselves as possible. Sound familiar? Sure it does. When messes happen, life turns into a mangrove swamp a bit like the one above. Definitely no place to be even though in the beginning it seemed great! Now even the water's murky and not very inviting!

But, kayaker's do have an option not available to others. We can get into our boats, and actually paddle away from our tangled lives, leaving the messes behind. Lots and lots of people do it! Some have to paddle a bit farther than others, they have made bigger messes, but in the end, nearly all of us can find a way ahead that's a bit more open, where the water's a bit more clear. With a better perspective on things, we can often come to our senses and fix the messes we've helped create. And all because kayaking offers us a special gift. It gives us time to reflect and think in a natural setting.

As a followup to this, in an article in yesterday's Globe and Mail, five Inuit students and their instructor are pictured with their traditional style qajait in Chesterfield Inlet this past summer. They're actually helping themselves solve another mess. Instead of wondering where life will be leading them (if anywhere), they've begun to see how they might re-connect their past with their future using qajait as the medium. Good for them!

Bernie Howgate in the Rain

After warm sunny days 'silasiaq marialu', perfect for 'qajaliotunni silami' it rained yesterday 'qauput' and I was forced indoors 'iluani' to do other things. I began reading Bernie Howgate's book "Lazy Days of Summer" wherein he relates his amazing paddling trip from Toronto, Ontario to his home in Goose Bay, Labrador 1000's of miles away. What an interesting character!

A perfect read for a rainy afternoon if you don't mind the fact that his grammar is as wild as the country he paddles through and the spelling errors are as frequent as his tumbling beach landings. You just have to Google for a copy of this book yourself. None of his productions are available in stores, but they can be had through an address in Sept Iles. See his site for details .

Thanks, Bernie, for letting me borrow one of your trip photos without asking!