This is a bit long. You are forewarned. Push down the delete button or go back to a time when you could dip your water jug into the waters of Georgian Bay and drink your thirst away.
There was a time when I wanted to break away from the mediocrity of a middle-aged mind-set and I chose to do Outward Bound’s first pioneering Sea Kayaking Trip. The year was 1993. The boys were at camp, Stephen was on-call and I specifically wanted to be off-all.
I was sitting on a log, slapping the mosquitos in a mist covered bog. The sun was slowly rising, drying up the dew droplets around me. A brand new day…a brand new world ..so different from the old world , I think.
Nothing is static, everything is constantly changing. Sun dappled light and colored prisms within a dotted universe. What will happen on this wilderness kayaking trip? As I ponder this, I try to breathe and think of a poem recently read, published by The Brick, a literary journal. An Inuit Poem:
And I thought over again
My small adventures
as with a shore-wind I drifted out
In my kayak
And thought I was in danger,
Those I thought so big
For all the vital things
I had to get and to reach.
And yet, There is only
One great thing:
To see in huts and on journeys
The great day that dawns,
and The Light that fills the world
So, at a later time on the trip, I recall my attempts to read the laminated map, attached to my Kayak’s bow. It was the entry for my 9th day: I write: “We’re traversing the Georgian Bay waters and going from The Chickens, past MacFarlane to Toad Island . The one nautical complication is the small cluster of islands, barren and treed. No matter what , the multiple islands are presenting constant obstacles as we look for the key larger points that help us arrive at our destination. I signal to my counsellor that I need assistance, and as he paddles toward my kayak, I ponder “is life not so similar,. Do we not have to navigate in such a way, as to put all the multiple issues aside and look toward the true indicators that will take us to our ultimate destination.”
Jon reviews the map, speaking over my shoulder, bending over from his clipper kayak, and me trying to understand the concepts, him with one had clasp on the back of my hatch, looking at the plastic encased map, located in front of me.
He started asking questions.
Why are my hands clammy, my pupils dilated (the blazing sun?). I do have an issue with breath over my neck(it is very sensual).
I feel like I am in Mr. Gorgichuk’s grade 12 algebra class.
I am facing a blackboard: Mr. G. is asking me questions. Do I have issues with the following??
1.) a monkey perched on my right shoulder could do the same thing
2.)I am infatuated with Mr. G and/or Jon(not applicable)
3.)I have a learning disability.
All the counsellor could say was “It’s not that difficult!”
If I was truthful I’d go for broke; my parents should have placed me in a girls private school…I would have so excelled.
There was one entry, that addressed the challenges of sea kayaking and the need to be a team.
We were rounding Point Grondine on Georgian Bay and rough water broke into white caps over the rocks, showing some signs of trouble. The wide western sky was glowing violet and pink, its reflection shimmering on the water before us. As the winds grew stronger from the south-east, this serenity was threatened by nature’s unpredictability. Three horizontal hand measurements from the sun revealed that it was only 3 hours away until sunset. Single file we all began to navigate through what had become treacherous water. My arms felt like useless appendages, my breath was short, I was not using my back &buttock muscles, I am not reaching for my toes nor sitting up straight, nor using the feather stroke effectively. Everyone was tense. For one moment, I turned my head to see a long linear line of kayaks forging forward. Jon was in the lead and Louise, was at the rear. (the OB counsellors).
Once it was over, and we had reached Anchor Island safely, I collapsed into a heap, limp, only lifting my head to smile at ‘Tiu, a Scandinavian friend, and Kelly, also another brave soul.
Entry for the 11th day : I am finally out of the Tandem Kayak today, no longer do I have to listen to my partner, Bret, at the stern hollering “MUSH!! ” We did laugh a lot, that’s for sure, but I now feel that I can set a pace that matches that of the groups. Tonight I finished putting up the tent and pulled the tarp tight and taught with the lines tied to nearby rocks.
Entry for the 14th day: This is the solo day. We sleep overnight on our own designated sites (separate islands)and are equipped with a few basic requirements to assist us in making a lean-to. There’s a small check-list that includes a raincoat swiss army knife, waterproof matches, a small plastic bag of pasta, one bouillon cube, and gorp..there is more..but that’s the essential bit.
Our plots of land are mostly barren rock with white pines standing in unstable vertical lines or slanting toward the dramatic diagonal. I was told that the leaning is caused from the weight of ice and the force of the northerly winds of winter.
Our task is to turn to solitude for spiritual nourishment and to use our wilderness skills(hello)to survive. I have a worms-eye view of the world, as I am sitting or lying in this allotted space…and before I am able to wax poetry, I wane..absolutely plunge into a new awareness of this sky…..it is tumultuous and terrible and I have absolutely no refuge. What the hell am I doing here. This is a pioneering project ..these people do not know what they are doing???
The winds subside, the sky is ready to set the sun and a peaceful quiet has prevailed.
Soon, I hear Louise and Jon, whistle twice (kayak rounds). I whistled back times 2 and I felt safe. Nothing like a whistle. And of course, my lean-to was arranged in a manner that was resourceful, and I just lay there and looked up. And of course, there were these nocturnal sounds. And of course, I felt the unsettled flicker and flit of things running by, or God forbid ..over me. Yet, most of all I felt safe, the sky has cleared and the stars were within reach, I drift off into a quiet slumber, only to awaken to witness magical heavens hovering and glittering over me. The Big Dipper is so large, it seems a finger tip away. I am cold and shivering, more from a recurrent nightmare/dream, certainly not from this place of peace and understanding.
The poetry has to come back. This is from my recollection of the song that Mel sung at Camp Cucumber (still a viable charity camp). She sang it, strumming her guitar, and looking each single mom in the eye.
All My Life’s a Circle
All my life’s a circle
Sunrise and sundown
The moon rolls through the night
Till the day break comes around
All my life’s a circle
But I can’t tell you why
Season’s spinning ‘ round again
The years keep rolling by
Entry for the 17th day: The coffee is ‘GOURMET” on the bay. It must be the cold clear water, as the fistfuls of coffee grounds tossed into the pot were only some super market no-name brand.
There’s a soft morning breeze encircling our crunching bodies. Two bodies preparing the first meal of the day. I’ve lit one portable stove to prepare the coffee and the counsellor is pouring cornbread batter into a cast iron pan, then placing a cover over the pan. Then he gathers twigs and dried pine needles, placing them over the cover of the iron lid. When he lights the fire, it creates an oven-like heat base to bake his bread.
When the coffee is boiling, I take it off the burner and let it steep. Scooping one stainless steel all-purpose cup out for me and one out for Jon. I feel the steam rise and warm my face.
I saw 4 otters swim by when I was washing my face earlier this morning and now the sun is rising and isn’t that the basis of the Inuit Poem the whole essence of meaning…a new day dawning and gosh darn it all….as Robert Smiley would say on Saturday Night Live…”I’m good enough, I’m kind enough, and gosh darn it people like me”.