Category Archives: Kayak Days

Reaching for Awareness

[short story by   ~burning woman~  written by Sha’Tara]

“If it is true that we only live a small part of the life that is within us, what happens to the rest?

What could, what should be done with all the time that lies ahead of us?

Is it a wish, dreamlike and nostalgic, to stand once again at that point in life; to be able to take a completely different direction from the one which has made us who we are?

The fear of death might be described as the fear of not being able to become whom one planned to be.” (quotes from the movie, Night Train to Lisbon)

It was, he figured, around the middle of the night. He’d crawled out of the warm sleeping bag to stand outside and look at the night sky. The stars were slowly revolving overhead, only he knew it wasn’t the stars that were moving, but himself riding his wild planet through space and time. The thought made him feel vulnerable, fragile. Who am I to be standing here alone to witness this incredible sight? A couple of dozen years have gone by already since I was born and what do I know? I don’t even know why I was born. Happenstance? That’s it? I’m here, feeling this incredible surge of life just because, and no reason for any of it?

He thought about that as he began to shiver and long to crawl back into his little tent and the sleeping bag with its residual warmth. “I think therefore I am” he said out loud. “Well, that’s not good enough anymore because really that is meaningless. What I need to establish for myself is not the realization that “I am” which is pretty obvious and need not be stated, but “Why Am I? That’s the point!”

It was early Summer and the river level was still rising. There was the smell of fresh leaves and muddy waters flowing over mud banks and through thick grasses. You could hear the waters hissing as they flowed by the little island he’d chosen for his stay: it had just enough room to pitch the tent and bring the kayak safely out of the water. He knew “his” river, that the little island would not wash away. For the time being it was his own little private world surrounded by water. He’d chosen it as his sanctuary, a place to be alone and away from people. A place to think in ways not possible among others.

He had given himself this gift. He already knew that from here his life would take another path, go on another tangent, new ideas coalescing in his mind to foster yet another nature even if his body chose to remain essentially the same, ageing and eventually dying. That, he understood, was the way of things on Earth, “but not for me” he would say and watch friends and family walk away from him, afraid that his madness might be contagious.

“I’m sorry, Nadia” he’d told his young wife as she berated him for leaving on his “crazy” kayak outing on the river. She of course wanted nothing to do with his water ways and had done her utmost after their wedding to dissuade him and get him to sell his kayak even though she had promised she would never interfere with the part of his life that involved the river. “It’s my time of year to go on the river and partake of her awakening. I know you cannot understand this but there is no need to fear, or be jealous. This is whom you married and I kept no secrets or surprises to spring upon you. I will be back when I have done what I must do. If you do not wish to share this with me you are free to leave. I would be pleased to find you here when I return but I will not be expecting it. Take care o’ you, my lady.”

That had been his way, to set the people around him free of bonding to himself. The freedom he sought, he gave to everyone. He had never told his wife that he loved her – he did not believe in love because, as he so often said, love has proven it’s weakness in unreliability. Respect and honour, that I can offer, but not love.  This included his concept of bonding.  Stay or leave, as you choose.

Ignoring the night’s cold he let his mind wander this strange new world he had decided to enter into: detachment. Is detachment simply a coward’s way of dealing with a violent, cruel and unpredictable world? Is it a morbid fear of losing someone close, another that one has fallen in love with or developed a special bond to? Is that why I’m here, to work this out for myself?

The stars continued their uninterrupted journey over his head and he realized once again and logically that what he was observing was his own journey through the cosmos, one tiny fraction at a time.

‘I’m traveling through the cosmos but not only that, I am fully aware of this fact, right here, right now. But where am I going? Do I get to choose that or am I a piece of flotsam on the river of space-time? No, that will not be. This new nature of mine I will dedicate to discovering my destination and the next one I will use to figure out how I am supposed to get there.’

It was some time before he could calm his mind and resume his sleep.

(With enough edits to get smoke coming out of the computer screen, here is my little effort for  #BlogBattle Stories: Dusk  – for March.) 

River Magic at Dusk

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A Watcher on the River

Wisps of white clouds contrast with the stark blue sky and the air holds motionless between intervals of light breezes occasionally rippling the water. The kayak moves steadily, gaily reflecting my mood, as the long paddle flashes brightly in a slanting winter sun, reminding me that dusk is approaching. It comes in fast on the river. 

From the relative safety of perches high in denuded cottonwoods, eagles eye my passage with interest, occasionally uttering their peculiar shrill giggles at my efforts against an intensifying current as I prepare to “jump” into the main river, its stream tumbling and churning in the shallow tributary I am following. Along a bank, willow twigs merrily bob up and down in the current and I am awed by the bright red-green brilliance of a branch of red osier dogwood below the surface of the water where the slanting light of the sun hits it. At that point the water gives out to force a short portage. Picking the light craft with one hand I cross to the next channel and look around before dropping in the water again.

About an eighth of a mile upstream I notice a human-like silhouette. It has the appearance of an old fisherman standing on the open gravelly bank, hunched over, staring at the water. That isn’t a fisherman, I tell myself: no boat, no line, no movement. The bulk, height, broad shoulders, cocked head and long limbs rising out of the rounded stones tell me this is a Watcher.

A Watcher, you may question? Yes, indeed! Watchers still stand guard along shores, on edges of alpine meadows, in deep gorges and in burnt-out woods I am sure you’ve seen them though you may have other names for them.  They appear more often in the moonlight, of course. I cannot claim to fully understand their purpose but they never seem to intend harm. After all to the Watcher a passer-by is but another life form.

Well, I thought, since I must continue that way, why fear this apparition? I intend no harm either. In some ways, I am much like a Watcher though my humanity would prevent me from being as dispassionately non-judgmental and patient.

I walk across the wide gravel bar and re-enter the water for another stretch of paddling, keeping a wary eye on my friend.  In a moment of inattention on my part he has changed and I’m staring at a gargoyle, much more frightening than the original Watcher as the sun keeps throwing longer shadows over gravel and water.

Did I just witness a transformation? I think I forget to mention that Watchers can also shape-shift and do so regularly? How could I ignore such a well-known fact! I can plainly see the grotesque features silhouetted against the dusky daylight; the head thrust forward, winged shoulders pushed up and out as if readying for flight. It’s staring into the stream I am in, as if intending to challenge my passage here. Do I continue or turn tail and paddle downstream to the safety of the larger body of water? What if when my back is turned it comes at me on those broad, dangerous looking wings? I can distinctly make out that beak arching down menacingly.

I don’t have the energy to turn back and I reason that gargoyles are not generally known to attack people in daylight, or at dusk and they are not usually found on river banks, are they? I take a deep breath and resume paddling. Something along the shore on my left jumps up, startling me. It’s a ruffed grouse running towards the cover of the brush. I return my gaze to the gargoyle but in its stead stands a placid, medium-sized dinosaur head thrust forward and at right angle to the body, small beady eyes scanning the area. Though not as intimidating as the gargoyle, it inspires less confidence than the original shape of the Watcher. Is it flesh or plant eating? I don’t know much about dinosaurs; all I can tell is, it’s no Tyrannosaurus, small comfort! It occurs to me that if this creature, whatever it is, keeps changing form like that, perhaps it’s perfectly safe to go right on past.  By the time I reach it, might it not change into something more in keeping with the natural fauna, like, say, a bear, coyote, seal or even a great blue heron? Best to proceed and watch for developments; time is of the essence now as darkness approaches.

Once that decision made, it affords a sense of aloofness, of distance from the actual drama, a fleeting moment of safety and even well-being. In the midst of danger, real or imagined, how often has such a feeling brought one’s situation into sharper focus? I struggle against the current, muscles tensing, feeling the blades scrape the shallow bottom, pushing gravel under the water, inching my progress against the passing bank. I make it to deeper water and the current slacks off allowing me to push on with more confidence.

Time to look once more at the creature and there it is, the trunk of a great tree that had floated many miles downstream in the last storm to get embedded in the gravel, its shattered main root sticking up like a large, shaggy head.

I approach this woody chameleon to look into its “face” and I swear it winks at me. I’ve just been regally entertained by nature’s river dusk magic.

We have Played this Game

[experiences – by ~burning woman~]

It is time. I walk to the edge of the River’s bank, take a deep breath then slowly step down into the water. The water is fast, the current noisy, hissing with the effort of carrying sand to some unchartered destination.

 

The water eddies around my legs and thighs. The current is very fast here, that’s what makes it so exciting and challenging. The water is cold but not numbing as a month ago, repelling and inviting all at once, I feel a desire arising in my heart, like wanting to abandon yourself to make love to a stranger you don’t really trust and who is much too old for you.

I tell myself I don’t mind the cold. I feel the sand eroding off the bank under my feet and suddenly I slide down into the water, slipping as much as three feet, down beyond my standing depth and thrust outward from shore. My heart skips a beat, maybe two, as I find myself facing the rushing, swirling surface of the murky water. I’m committed now, no turning back: my body is pulled away into the spinning whirls of colder waters. There is no swimming back to shore here. All I can do is follow along as the water spins me in an ever-widening circle, then sweeps me downstream.

I am alone here, it was always my choice. No one to throw a rope, or shoot out in a kayak to help me back. I swim slowly, carefully avoiding panic. After all, did I not seek this? Dream of it? I am in the River; I am one of her children, whether she acknowledges me or not. I acknowledge her and I’ve always loved her, even if I’ve never trusted her. She has her life, so much more awesome than mine, so much more significant. She flows off and down, to lose herself in he arms of her lover, the sea. All I am is a bit of flotsam, that’s all. Alive or dead, she will carry me until an eddy throws me upon a gravel bar, or into a pile of driftwood stuck in the trunk of a giant fallen cottonwood.

I have a life too, however. I have dreams and purpose. I have drive. I chose this encounter, not to challenge the power of the River, but my own silly kind of courage. I spin around, still filled with fear that the whirlpool will suck me under but I’m just far enough away from its center to drift, arms out, legs kicking slowly, trying to find traction. And I do. Suddenly I find myself moving in a chosen direction. I decide to aim for a spur of gravel far downstream where the current assumes a more predictable flow. I roll, front to back, one look at the serene blue of the sky and I know, once again, I am going to live.

We have played this game, the River and I, for a very long time. It’s not a competition, just a game. It is also a played-out allegory of one life lived outside the communal box. No “life jacket”; no safety net; no buddy system. Alone to face myself and grasp a fleeting taste of some vague remembrance of a primordial relationship with nature as a purely natural being unencumbered by societal mores, taboos, complications.

Pictures from Latest Kayak run on the River

Thought it’s time to post a few more pictures from a mid-summer kayak paddle on the River…  This was taken on the fifteenth – a week ago.  Enjoy!

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Immature red shafted flicker, you can still see the scruffy baby feathers – yes, a bit shaky but hand holding in a kayak, pointing up in the sky’ll do that at high magnification…! 

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Hope river reflections in the morning – and you can already see and sense those fall colors developing.  

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River otter – Hope river – actual caption: “What cha lookin’ at?” 

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Red barn – this is an encore: I just love this scene. I have a special folder of just “red barn” images taken over the years passing by this “Kodak moment” farm…

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Turkey vulture… either cooling off or just showing off.

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Lesser yellowlegs (large sandpiper) feeding on the banks of the Hope river.  Notice the flattened shape of the leg bones – these birds can actually swim if they are forced to. 

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Receding waters on a back channel of the Fraser river – every bit as wonderful to be in this as it looks, perhaps even better. 

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Mid-summer Fraser: expanding gravel bars, receding waters.  As I never wear shoes (and usually nothing else either – blushing) while kayaking, here’s where you are truly thankful for tough soles and feet. 

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Hi there, excuse me, uh, sorry a bit drunk.  I seem to have gotten myself tangled up here, can you help me?  No?  OK, well, have a nice day… 

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Picturesque landscape-Fraser river channel with Mt. Cheam in background – typical Chilliwack view.

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Typical gravel bar grasses

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mini “sunflowers” (they’re not, actually, but I don’t know what they really are – relatives of the dandelion?) blowing in the wind

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Camera follies – some sort of goofy setting that lets the camera have fun with landscapes

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More camera follies. Next generation won’t even need a photographer. Just send the camera out by itself to get pictures… !

Some New Pictures from the Hope and Fraser Rivers – July 24th and 26th

Many years ago, a client who then owned a small second hand store here in Chilliwack gave me a used Powershot (Canon) camera for some work I’d done she was thankful for beyond what I charged.  The camera served me well for many years but finally broke down a couple of months ago.  I sadly had it recycled and decided it was time to upgrade to a new Powershot.  A model SX 720 HS – a pretty impressive little camera for the non-professional.  Now I get to take pretty decent pictures of wildlife and macro shots of plants, flowers and insects.

The following pictures are some results of my efforts in learning how to manipulate this little computer.  It’s got a 40X  optical zoom lens, plus very good digitally enhanced zoom up to 160X.  Enjoy.    (PS: if any of these pictures interest you and you want to use them for whatever purpose, please feel free to do so – all permission granted… 🙂 )

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Blue Heron on the Hope River

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Daytime moon

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Blue Heron on an arm of the Fraser River about 100X zoom shot

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Water plaintain(?) – Hope River

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Female Mallard enjoying the sun

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Fraser River back waters starting their summer drop

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Pearly everlastings – Fraser river banks

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Thistles – Fraser River

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Some colourful Fraser river gravel bar rocks and a piece of driftwood

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Yeah! The gulls are returning again. Flight of California gulls returning to their winter feeding grounds on the River

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The Fraser river in full regalia and summer glory!

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Two smiling young mallards swimming along but ever watchful

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Blue damselfly on a blade of grass – Hope river shallows

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Skittish solitary or spotted sandpiper on the Hope river

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Immature rufous hummingbird on a honeysuckle branch

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Red dragonfly – I wanted to emphasize the beauty of her wings

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A spider web in an Alberta spruce: this spider’s on crack!

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A Western crow on a distant snag giving me the eye

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The red barn – on the little Hope river

 

Today: another day on the River

Today, another day on the River…

The following is just a string of “random” pictures taken while kayaking on the River today.  Here’s hoping they are pleasant to the eyes for all.  Posting style is called “tiled mosaic” so I suppose you have to click on the picture to see it full size… enjoy!

Beauties from the River and around the Neighbourhood, part Deux.

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Fleabanes

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Some kind of plantain? Colourful!

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Life doesn’t get any better than this; kayaking the River in summer – taking a tanning and reading break on a sand bar

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A mallard nest on one of the many little islands

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Young Pacific willow shoots on a sand bar

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Mount Cheam from East Chilliwack – February

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Peaceful channel off the River

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English hawthorn (more common here than Pacific or western hawthorn) in full bloom

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One of many swamps hidden from view of boaters; havens for ducks, kingfishers, flycatchers, small herons and warblers

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Wind spinners using “local” materials: a rusted hunting knife, some driftwood, fishline and hooks all dug from the sands

 

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Sun Reflection

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Eroding sand bar

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On the River in August

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Down another “narrow” channel; returning home and storm rising. (poor definition: using old flip phone camera in this shot)