Sunday, April 26, 2009


Today is the second day of my annual northward migration. So far, so good. Lots to think about, like this common misperception:

The Freedom of the Open Road. Really, the road is quite limiting. It’s just a line from one place to another, through an expansive landscape. When I turn onto the road, I have 2 options: left or right. Or not to go which is then the third option.

Too much freedom is chaos, and that can feel overwhelming, or lonely. Freedom, with its parameters, is usually that I’m looking for. After all, freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. Freedom ain’t worth nothin’, but it’s free. So the song goes.

If I am free on the sea with my kayak, I still need to maintain it and my gear in good order, maintain also my basic nutrition, awareness of the weather and my navigation. I need to have prepared my skills. Without these, I will soon become a floating disaster. Chaos.

Freedom within parameters—the responsibility of preparation and maintenance. This is what I really seek.

The more I have, the less free I am. The more house, property, business, boats, the more responsibility. The more stuff to worry about. There is a balance between having nothing—utter freedom—and having the parameters or tools or toys to pursue that which brings us joy. A boat to go paddling or water skiing or sailing. Work for money. Money for travel. Land to dream with, or farm, or rent, or just mow repeatedly.

How about relationships? Are freedom and commitment compatible? Can a relationship be a parameter within which a satisfying freedom can be found?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Love Eclipse

Venus is the slimmest Mona Lisa smirk in the morning sky. My rickety old telescope has its legs sunk into the sand on a beach in Baja. It also shows me the red face of Mars in close pursuit in the sky, but far off in its true orbit. And Jupiter with its whirling moons, the timings of which first told us skywatchers that light was mortal and had a speed.

The moon has been marching through this lineup this week, getting thinner and thinner like a pilgrim on a diet. Now it smirks the same as Venus, which is a small coincidence since the two are near to sunrise and lie between us and the sun. An hour ago the two were so close together I could barely see Venus, just a comma next to an entire glowing novel.

Now, she’s gone. Venus, the goddess of love, has been eclipsed by the moon. The orange glow of day creeps up stage to steal the drama of darkness.

Today is my last day here at the beach, and I feel the eclipse with a sad heart. Tomorrow I begin the journey back to sleeping inside.

But wait! Look again. As I write this on the tailgate of my pickup truck, listening to the birds of morning and little wavelets on the shore, Venus reappears from the shaded side of the moon! Love returns. Unrestrained celebration in a brilliant point of light! Oh, joy!

Do I still have to pack today?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


The scorpionfish is an overconfident creature. It has camouflage so convincing that I have been snorkeling nose to nose with one and thought it was part of the rock, until it moved an eyeball. It will venture into water so shallow that you can step out of a kayak onto one. The venom in its dorsal spines is legendary. I once saw someone whose arm was still swollen up to the elbow two days after a puncture on the thumb. I heard about another strong and mature adult male stepping on one and screaming virulent curses upon the fish’s entire lineage, then whimpering for days.

After a morning run today, I waded barefoot into the Sea of Cortez for a rinse, and in water less than knee deep lay a scorpionfish, confident as ever. Thankfully, I saw it. This situation posed an interesting opportunity, with just enough risk to be tempting. The flesh of a scorpionfish is tasty, if you can capture it, kill it, and fillet it without getting pricked by a dorsal spine. That, and I was hungry.

I submerged a 5-gallon bucket in front of the fish, scooped the bucket under its wide head and pushed it in with a stick. All it did was raise its spines. It was way too easy. Too late it realized its captivity and thrashed about in the bucket. The price of overconfidence.

Its head was as hard as a rock. With a pancake flipper I held its spines to the side while trying to stab something vital through the gills with a 6” kitchen knife. Quick stab and pull back while it thrashes. A few times. I felt my adrenaline starting to build, so I walked away. Not a good time to be hasty with those spines flying about. I bathed in the sea and returned to see if the fish was any closer to dead. A couple gulls inquired about the progress. How do they know what’s in the bucket?

The fish thrashed less when I prodded it, and allowed itself to be turned on its side. With the spatula holding it, and my knife hand wrapped in a T-shirt, I began to fillet it in the bucket. I did side B with the fish on the sand. The colors in its skin and tail were beautiful. Greens, browns, oranges all blended in a minute camo.

The second fillet always comes out worse. I left it on a plate while moving 2 steps away to rinse the first one in the sea. This was overconfidence on my part, and I paid in an instant. In swooped a waiting gull and made off with the other fillet! In two midair gulps it was gone. “F*&#$@ER!” I hollered after it. “You stole half my fish! How it got that whole fillet down in one piece, I don’t know.

I had been looking forward to tossing the carcass to the birds. Instead I briefly considered burying it in revenge, but that wore off quickly. A pelican tried to get the wide head and prickly attachments into its bill but couldn’t manage, so the gulls pecked at it and at each other for a while.

Meanwhile, the remaining fillet made two tasty breakfast tacos, and an interesting contemplation on the price of overconfidence.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Easter trip

April 17 2009

The last trip of the season is over. Eight days around Carmen Island with my friends and clients Sam and Lee. The sea gods smiled on us, for all the windy days were all tailwinds, following us as we rounded the island.

It was a relaxing trip, knocking off the 8-12 nautical miles usually before lunch, and taking time for siesta and exploration in the afternoon. Time too for contemplation and conversation. Time for music and stars and paddling at sunrise.

On day 5 we left Salinas Bay and rode the following seas to the island’s freshwater spring. After a good bath and lunch, we caught some more rides south to the white cliffs that hide a little beach called Arroyo Blanco.

As we rounded the final cliff that Easter Sunday, 5 great egrets took flight from atop the entrance to the cove. Five white angels with long spindly legs and the sun shining through their wings. Up they circled, looking down at us. The purity of their translucent wings, the whiteness of the cliffs, the grace of their flight, balanced between the profound blue of sea and sky, was the perfect Easter song.

Later we walked the arroyo up to a pour-off 40-50’ high, sculpted like modern art in the fossil-laden gray and white rock. Fingers, alcoves, and ledges of the craggy formation have long tempted me to decorate them with candles some still and starry night, and play music until the moon finds me. If I ever have an excuse for some ceremony that can be held on an island in the Sea of Cortez, up an arroyo that requires a little climbing, this is the place. It holds magic.

Today, I carry my flute and play a simple, heartfelt rendition of Amazing Grace beside the fig tree as my reflection on Easter.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Fresh Crab and Warm Tortillas

I usually plan and prepare the meals for my kayak trips and there’s good reason for this. This week was an exception. I had a custom lesson for a group of 7 plus their 2 leaders—lessons on two levels at once. I welcomed the freedom from the kitchen that they offered so I could focus more on coaching.

Their frugality, resourcefulness, and creativity were admirable and set in my life a new standard for minimalism. They cooked for 10 on a 6” frypan, using a whittled stick as a stirring utensil. A 10-pack of tortillas and an oval tin of sardines was lunch for all. But we all ate equally and nobody complained.

In their defense, they were from Estonia and never had to provision from a Mexican grocery store before. At least they bought lots of tortillas.

Fishing proved fruitless. On day 3, they admitted they hadn’t brought enough food, and went in search of other options. A team came back with 5 small crabs, my friends the Sally Lightfoot, about which I had mixed feelings because I was hungry too. We boiled them and ate them hot out of the water, legs, body meat, and some even crunched on the thin shells.

A sight we made—10 figures huddled over a small pile of brightly colored shells crunching, chewing, twisting, and bashing the joints between rocks. Among the camp detritus of mismatched bowls, half-empty water jugs, and whittled tools, we could have been a primitive tribe sitting on our haunches on the rocks, intent on the minute bits of white meat lodged in a crevice of shell.

The next night was a repeat, but we ate later, after dark. With no fires allowed in the park, our primitive tribe huddled together with our backs to the night and our hands lit by the beams from each other’s foreheads.

The tortillas had begun to mold, so we decided to heat and eat them. We had nothing else to put on them, and everyone was eating their crab directly from the shell, so the random bottle of BBQ sauce that no-one knew what to do with became the spread for our moldy tortillas. It was one of those memorable nights for which the concept of perspective was designed.

We weren’t desperation dining on moldy staples and the only critters we could catch; we luxuriated under the starry Baja sky with friends sharing fresh crab and warm tortillas and memories of a good day’s paddling, complete with dolphins, leaping manta rays, and a humpback whale.