Monday, March 30, 2009

Just in Time

It was one of those trips that fills the soul. Sometimes an ephemeral magic happens that connects people in a certain place at a certain time in a special way.

A 7-day circumnavigation of Isla Espiritu Santo near La Paz, run by BOA and led by Rafael and myself. Seven clients, including one teen, came together from Ontario Canada, and 4 more, including 2 teens, randomly came from the same town. One gal came from my home state of Washington.

Kayaking in a commercial trip along a desert island is a unique blend of opposites. Wildlife and plants. The populous, wiggly marine life juxtaposes sparse, stoic plants. The geology tells of coming together and ripping apart; of layers building on layers, pink smooth sandstone, red volcanic flows, round brown rocks impossibly holding formation up a cliff. It tells of pushing, tilting, and slowly eroding, making its way into the sea. White sand beaches nuzzle into deep red coves. White sand coming from coral and shells—pieces of the sea washing onto the land.

People. A kayak trip usually self-selects hands-on, outdoorsy, active people. Independent, yet willing to participate in a group and hire leaders.

Anthropology. The ancients left paint on the cliffs, shell piles on the hills, hollows ground into flat rocks, and rock enclosures in the bays. They lived on what they found here. Whole lives. We carry an obscene amount of food and luxury for just 7 days, and get resupplied halfway through. But through some alchemy of grace, we can walk their trails and feel their presence.

It is the balance of opposites that holds tension on the thread on which we spin.

Guides. Rafa likes to sleep late, set no times, and siesta after lunch. He doesn’t mind launching at 4pm and making dinner in the dark. Anytime we get somewhere, we are “just in time”. When will we go? When we are ready. When will we be ready? After we eat and clean up and pack the boats. When will lunch be? When we’re done making it. There is sound logic in this.

I’m a sunrise connoisseur. A pack-in-the-action kind of person. I’d rather chop veggies than sit and watch somebody else do it. I really get excited if somebody wants to learn something like kayaking, stars, plants. I’ll go all day without sitting once.

It is the straining of opposites that frays the thread until it breaks and the spinning beads go bouncing between the floorboards. This did not happen. A light finger on that thread knows when to release its tug and preserve the singing tension. Just in time. Through it all, that ephemeral magic played, and filled my soul.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Wild, Wild Life

There were sea monsters last night in my dreams. But they weren’t dreams. The moon was more than halfway through its night’s journey and flirting with clouds. The sea, almost still. I lay in my truck on the beach with the back open, awakened by something from the depths. I listened.

PWWWWFT! An explosion of breath, followed by a great gasp. Whale! A big whale, within a mile of shore. Then a smaller breath. Was it the blue whale mom and calf pair? There are now two of those roaming the National Marine Park, according to a number of researchers who are out there daily. We saw one pair cruise by our lunch beach last week, the kayak-long crescent of the baby’s back arcing over the water, and the gigantic mottled grey flank of its mother.

Again a pair of breaths, and a big splash. A splash? It sounded like something very big falling in the water, more than something flat slapping it. A breach? Was there a humpback pair in the area? I hadn’t heard of one. They’re more prone to breaching, and blues are not officially supposed to fling their enormous mass skyward. The biggest animals on the planet should be more sedate.

However, one boat of researchers watched a blue mom and baby blue do just that a couple of weeks ago. The whales had been lounging near the panga motorboat for some time, then suddenly took off speed swimming along the surface, throwing up big wakes, toward another distant blue whale. When the 3 met a few miles away, enormous splashing ensued. Through binoculars, the researchers could see whale bodies launching partway out of the sea and falling back, throwing out great walls of water. It was too late in the day and too far away to clearly document the activity, so the whales got away with their unofficial breaching. Ah, there is much we don’t know about these magnificent sea monsters.

Tonight as well. They are silent, gliding through their underwater world. The next set of breaths is further off, and I can’t hear the inhaling gasp. Again there is a huge splash near the end of the cycle of breathing. They go silent again, making short work of this 4-mile bay. The next breaths are further yet. I am about to let them go from my nighttime thoughts and resume sleep, when I hear a much more impressive splash. Like somebody dropped a house in the water. It’s the longest splash I’ve ever heard in my life. And what followed was even better. A loud and distinct VVVVRRRRR, like something got jammed in the vacuum cleaner. As if the other whale were cheering. It’s the first whale vocalization I’ve ever heard, and it made me tingle.

A guide friend told me once of camping on a beach in western Canada and hearing blues vocalize as they passed close by. The ground vibrated. The next morning, everybody in her group reported feeling and hearing it. Tonight these whales must be about 3 miles off, and the sound is impressive.

I’m talking ‘bout good vibrations, yeah they’re coming from those cetaceans!

Speaking of vibrations, on my way to the out “house” this morning, I crossed 5 snake trails. It’s not uncommon to see one, but 5 is a lot, even for a place called Rattlesnake Beach. After a few weeks of unseasonably warm weather, the snakes are on the move early this year.

In 12 years of guiding, I’ve seen 2 or 3 rattlesnakes on the islands during the kayak season, but last week’s trip doubled that number. Four of us were walking up the plant hike to the overlook on Danzate Island’s southern end. Client Ruedi was in the lead when he screamed and jumped 4 feet into the air. I heard the rattling before he came back down. He had stumbled into not 1 but 2 intertwined snakes. As we watched, they appeared to be competing rather than mating. I’ve since learned that if 2 males encounter a female at the same time, they will engage in a “combat dance” where the male who manages to stand up the tallest for the longest or pin the other to the ground, will win the affections of the watching female. It is rare to actually get to watch this.

We never saw the female in the thick brush, but we didn’t look, either. For a half a hour, the males posed and tumbled down the trail in a ritual both graceful and primal. Sometimes slow and weaving, sometimes reaching too high and falling over, sometimes lightning fast spinning maneuvers. The snakes were 4-5’ long, and one had 12 rattles. They stood at times about 2’ high.

We left them still posing, though not as tall as initially, and one appeared to have taken the upper, uh, tongue? Still the other wouldn’t give up. Client hunger drove us back to the beach and we left the snakes to their rituals.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Rising Jupiter

By the light of a rising Jupiter the day begins. The sound of waves tripping over themselves comes like a chorus of disorganized voices, one here, one over there, each singing their part without a common rhythm.

I want to paddle but I also don’t. It’s not the lumpiness that’s bound to be out there that holds me back so much as the lumpiness inside. I have LoCo Roundup on my mind, and am frustrated that my energy seems wasted in trying to organize a functional database by trial and error. The days available to work on it are winding down, and I want something to show for all the time invested. In relationships, I am also floating on a rogue current without orientation or direction. Trips will resume soon, and that will give me purpose and direction, but I also feel anxious because I will have time for nothing else like laundry or personal balance. Whatever that is!

The horizon behind Danzante’s sleeping form is glowing. The sun has made its night’s journey. Last night after sunset, its trail still glowed into the stars. A column of side-lit space particles. Beside its trail, the moon and Venus followed obliquely. Two crescents visible together in the locator on my telescope. While I watched, they passed each other. The bottom of the smiling moon at first just a smidge below the planet, and at touchdown, noticeably above.

I carried my beat-up old telescope to a friend’s camper, but they weren’t in. So I watched the sky for a while, watched the pair of evening crescents descend, the craters on the moon dancing as it settled deeper into the atmosphere. Turned and focused on Saturn, now a beautiful zero—a fat circle with an angled line across. The furthest member of our solar family visible to the naked eye.

Now Mercury rises, chasing Jupiter. Three days ago, Mercury led the charge; this morning Jupiter has a good lead. Mars should be coming soon, to make a full serving of visible planets in one night. I get the telescope from under the mesquite tree and look through the locator. No, that trick of the eye is a planet. I was wrong. They’ve switched places and Mars now chases Jupiter while Mercury falls back into the orange brightness of morning.

How can tiny points of light be so exciting? I don’t know. But I do find comfort in the elegant sky drama. Dawn reveals the noisy waves as miniscule, and it makes me smile to see how silly my anxiety has been. Another day is being unwrapped as the gift it is, and I will go enjoy it.