Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hosted by the sea

I have had nearly a month of uninterrupted time at home here on Bowen Island.  A lot of that time has been alone, or in my own company which can be both a comforting and terrifying prospect.  In this whole time it has hardly rained at all, and the summer is as hot and pulsating now as it it usually is at its height at the end of July.

This year I have made a transition to becoming friends with the ocean.  For the past 13 years living on this island I have shaken hands with the forest and the land and the little creeks and lakes and rivers.  I have been a student of rain and wind, watched the way forests change, followed the paths that deer carve through the salal.  I have been to our local peaks and dove deep into the canyons that carve our island into a set of deeply scarred ziggerauts, step up mountains pierced by the deep gullys that channel water away into the sea.

This is the first year I've decided to turn my back on all that and see what this ocean is about.

And you may think that crazy, given the fact that I live on a small island, but the truth is that I grew up on lakes and although bodies of water don't scare me at all, the prospect of drifting around on the ocean always held some nervous energy for me.  It is unpredictable, and wild and full of creatures and tides and flows.  It changes on a whim.  It is powerful and dangerous.  It is not a place for an idle ramble.  You can die out there.

And all of that is true.

Since my friend Geoff Brown convinced me to stand up on a paddle board a couple of years ago and get out on the sea, I have been doing so,  in every season and in many different conditions.  Until now though, I have taken to paddling when the weather is pleasant, when there is very little wind and the water is like glass.  That is easy.  This year though I have sought the challenge of paddling when the sea is advising me to do otherwise - in conditions of choppy swell, over tidal surges and eddies, against ever fiercer winds.  It has been rewarding to discover what my board and I can do.  It has been challenging to learn how to adopt my stance and stroke for various conditions.  My shoulders ache with the addiction now, as I willingly plunge into any conditions and see what I can make of it.  I've been tossed off waves, as I was a few days ago as I learned to downwind surf the wind driven swell.  I have bobbed up and down to the point of near nausea, and occasionally found myself in situations that were approaching dangerous.  I am learning to pay attention to my instincts.  You have very little room for error out on a SUP when the wind has a different idea than you do and you discover that the tide has turned and is carrying you to places you'd rather not go.  I have not been foolhardy in my pursuit of challenge; it has been a calculated effort to discover my edge, and it has been rewarding.

And it leads to moments of surprise.  Last evening for example, I read the wind forecast wrong. It looked like the calm conditions of the early morning would change to a strong westerly wind in the afternoon, and so around four o clock I went over to Tunstall Bay to head out into the swell and practice my down wind skills a little.  I couldn't have been more wrong about the conditions.

The water was glass, and hardly a wave broke on the beach.  The sun beat down on the rippleless water such that only a single beam of it reflected back into my eyes.  No diamonds on the sea.  just a flat completely calm surface.  I could go anywhere, and had I been with someone else I would have ventured over to Worlcombe Island, but thinking the better of it, I paddled down to Bowen Bay and then made a straight line towards Cape Roger Curtis, a course that took me several hundred meters offshore, where there was nearly no sound except for the explosive out breath of surfacing seals, and the little squeaks of nervous harlequin ducks.

And out there, with the Strait of Georgia stretching away to my left and right, and the mountains of Vancouver Island looming through the smoky air and the sea undulating gently beneath me, the hugeness of things opened to me in all of its implications.  Laid out in that moment was all the grief and possibility of the world.  Images came to my mind of the fighting in Syria, the despair in Ferguson, the playful dumping of ice buckets on heads all over the place.  And I could find myself just melting into the background, the hugeness, the calm, the restful embrace of the sea.

It's hard to describe the kind of restorative power that moment contained.  A kind of distancing from the petty and internecine.  A kind of relief from the thought that everything is a problem to be solved, that everything was wrong and was getting worse.  It was just calm, relaxed ease.

And so the ocean is a great teacher of mood and resilience and offer gifts when one least expects them.

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