7th June

Sechelt to Half Moon Bay.

 

There was a small swell coming beam on to the canoe and there were sand banks and snags (logs or other debris that was lodged in the mud but largely hidden from view, just below or protruding slightly above the surface) we had to be aware of along the coast. It was a tiring day but we arrived at Half Moon Bay and were offered the Community Hall to sleep in – a sparse hall but with kitchen and toilet facilities. Nearby were large houses with neat lawns and ‘keep out’ signs. The beach nearby seemed to be populated by blond debutants with way too much brown skin for the skimpy clothing they wore. Relatively tame crows looked on the scene and decided that the pet food that was laid down for Cooper – our beloved four-legged friend (dog) – was more attractive than the high acreage of human flesh. Speed boats scooted on the surface of the water with children on rubber toys in tow. No internet or shop within walking distance here.

 

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6 June

Yesterday was a day of shopping and chatting so nothing much to write about.

Today we departed Gibson’s at 6am in a light wind. However the water was more exciting due to a tidal flow at the time causing beam seas. I took over the helm half-way, and it felt good to be back on the helm (I had helmed the whole journey from Prince Rupert to Bella Bella two years ago and it felt like an old friend. Being at the helm is, perhaps, where I feel the most contact with nature because I have to both ‘talk’ and ‘listen’ to the water to get the canoe and its crew safely to the destination. You also have to look after the crew and keep a watch on tiredness, morale, and teamwork. I usually work on a schedule of 30 minutes paddling then a break of some kind. Also, if anyone sees anything interesting I will stop the paddling or take a detour – I prefer to enjoy the sights rather than concentrate on a deadline for arrival.

Some 5 hours later we arrived at Sechelt (the government moved four tribes from their homeland to Sechelt) to a welcome by Chief Calvin. The protocol is for the canoe to approach the shore bow first without touching land so that the First Nations representative on the canoe can introduce us, then, when permission has been given to come ashore, the canoe is reversed out and brought in stern first as a sign of respect. Our kit was ferried to the longhouse where we would be sleeping (what an honor!) and we were fed generously, again, with soup, sandwiches, cookies, and drinks. There was then time for more shopping and fast-food joints for those who craved such things. Myself, I was getting sick of civilization with its uncaring crowds and consumeritis. Hope that tomorrow brings some wild back into my life.

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4 June

The trailer and canoe were towed to Ambleside Park for an early departure at 7am. Breakfast was a hasty meal of bagels with cream cheese, and cucumbers. Our destination was Gibson’s Island to stay with friends for two nights: due to rough weather, we sheltered in Crafton Bay, however, and we were towed the final distance to Gibson’s where our friends met us and took us to their home. Food was great and my bedroom was a warm out-house. The generous meal and hospitality was touching – I never fail to be impressed by hosts when I am travelling. I can’t wait to get out into the wild – I still feel that I am on a tour ship.

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2nd June

I woke after a deep sleep, glad to be alone with Chief of the River (Hiyakaw e te Sta Luxw). It feels safe and peaceful. I had a good few hours with the canoe before the rest of the crew returned from Pitt Meadows and their cool beds and bacon breakfast. A farewell from the native people and friends on the bank and we were on the way again into the Fraser River and past the floating pastures of dead trees and the mills that grind the corpses into small pieces for whatever building or gardening purpose people put them to. I’ll never see garden mulch or sterling board in the same way. There were miles of corralled logs on the river waiting for their fate in an expensive new apartment block or shopping mall. After landing at the Musquiem we put the canoe on the trailer and went back to Pitt Meadows for coffee, a comfortable bed – and to plan the next leg of the journey where Don’s boat, Petrel, will join us.

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13th August: Down and Out in Victoria

After Burnett Bay I decided that I could no longer continue and had to get out. So now I have an Internet connection for a day or two I’ll be posting novel-style with updates from the beginning of the journey that I didn’t get chance to post earlier, mixed with present-day updates (Just to add to the suspense).

Presently in a hostel in Victoria – a wonderful place called Ocean Island Inn. It’s a bohemian hostel with lots of great and real people. Never did I expect to find an environment where I’d be sharing life’s experience with such a variety of well-traveled people. The atmosphere is calm and accepting with comfortable shared areas and good music in the background. In the lobby there is a constant stream of interesting-looking people checking out, hanging out, or booking in. We’ve been here over a week now and have built a good relationship with the ‘regulars’ here who are either regular employees or work in return for free accommodation and food (a really nice arrangement). I think both me and Jenny will come back when we have work permits arranged.

There’s a belligerent rain falling from the sky after what seems like weeks of hot hot weather, and the trees seem to be shouting words of happiness from their own tops. I would willingly, if I could afford it, stay here until my flight back to Scotland. Alas, we must improvise and revert to cheaper forms of accommodation: the noble tent.

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Back again, this time North from Vancouver to Alaska

Here is a map which will show our proposed stops and our progress to date.

 

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Kwantlen to Kwikwitlem

I’ve not been making any posts up until now for two reasons: I have been in the relatively wild areas of the BC coast and therefore out of touch with the hallowed Wi-Fi; second reason is more complex and personal – maybe that tale will come to light one day.

The mission of the journey is to spread awareness of the beauty of the BC coast to make people aware of how much can be lost should a pipeline and the proposed tanker traffic be allowed to go ahead.

Our journey is important in a number of ways: the environment is being neglected and we are helping to make people aware; the first nations people are represented on the trip by Brandon, who is a very important member of the crew (in my opinion the most important because he represents the first nation people whose voice is gaining strength in Canada and becoming the major voice); and, not least, it is a personal spiritual journey for me and others in the crew.

Well, up to now it has been just another time in just another suburb of a major city. However, today’s events end up being moving and energizing. We were given a sincere and special blessing and send off by the Kwantlen people (The major sponsors of the Spirit of the Coast journey). Not to mention the fabulous buffet breakfast that we (and all the invited guests) were given. After breakfast the crew members present were all blanketed and blessed, then everyone else was invited to line up and say a personal word or two of blessing or thanks to the crew for the journey we were about to begin. There were over a hundred people and, at first, I realized what it must feel like to be royalty: to have lots of people lining up to shake your hand. But we were given more than a royal send off – I felt so much personal encouragement from the majority of the guests, and so much support for the essence of the trip itself.

After the blessing we were treated to a parallel blessing of the canoe itself – a living entity that we had to look after and who would look after us in turn. The Blessing was given by the chief of the Kwantlen people and involved sweeping of cedar branches and other rituals.

We then took the canoe to the launch area and set off for a short paddle across the river to the jetty where the public were gathered to hear elders speak about the trip and its importance. Then, after formalities, embarked on our first leg of the journey – to the Kwikwetlem Nation (http://www.kwikwetlem.com/) for a salmon barbecue. Don had managed to get a seat in a helicopter to film our departure from the air – Don, you nearly blew my hat off.
(Kwikwetlem in Halq’emeylem language means: “Red Fish Up The River”). See also the Wikipedia entry at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halkomelem.

Suitably fed, the others returned to Pitt Meadows to sleep it off while I volunteered to stay next to the canoe in my tent to keep her company.

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Homeward

Yes, it was another good sleep and I enjoyed a relaxed breakfast watching through the windows the squirrels feel on scraps in the garden. I lingered in the dining room watching the wildlife – one of the other vets had offered me a lift to Inverness so I had time to enjoy the scenery. Squirrels exerted their chain of command with the food on the lawn – there was an obvious hierarchy with the dominant one taking the lead and getting the best of the feast. The rest had a chance to grab food as the alpha squirrel munched on its current mouthful. It reminded me of a scene by Kirkwall harbour when we were feeding chips to the gulls: there was one gull that appeared to be dominant but it spent so much time shouting at and chasing the other gulls that it missed most of the chips that we threw; dominant, perhaps, but not the most intelligent. There was one gull that was quiet and calm and just walked close to us and calmly picked up its fill. Brain sometimes baffles bullshit then.

It was good to drive and thereby miss out on the large mad sprawl of Glasgow bus station. Hypervigilance really kicks in when I am in places like that. So many people, lights, adverts, signs, timetables: overwhelming.

Hypervigilance is an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviours whose purpose is to detect threats. Hypervigilance is also accompanied by a state of increased anxiety which can cause exhaustion. Other symptoms include: abnormally increased arousal, a high responsiveness to stimuli, and a constant scanning of the environment for threats.

In hypervigilance, there is a perpetual scanning of the environment to search for sights, sounds, people, behaviours, smells, or anything else that is reminiscent of threat or trauma. The individual is placed on high alert in order to be certain danger is not near. Hypervigilance can lead to a variety of obsessive behaviour patterns, as well as producing difficulties with social interaction and relationships.

People suffering from hypervigilance may become preoccupied with studying their environment for possible threats, causing them to lose connections with their family and friends. They will ‘overreact’ to loud and unexpected noises or become agitated in highly crowded or noisy environments. They will often have a difficult time getting to sleep or staying asleep.

It was such a relief to be surrounded by sympathetic people in Ayr – I felt I could relax without being seen through the eyes of ‘normal’ people. PTSD is often seen ‘just’ as a curable disorder but how can you close Pandora’s Box once it has been opened? Survivors have seen what horrors humans can bring to bear on other humans; whether it is during war or in hospitals or at crime scenes. We have seen how so called normal rules of society are just arbitrary in some situations, and, when national security is threatened, anything can be justified.

Iraqi soldiers gave themselves up in hundreds because their leaders starved them and held their families to ransom.

Iraqi soldiers gave themselves up in hundreds because their leaders starved them and held their families to ransom.

 

How can we be expected to worry about forms in triplicate; overtaking to gain a minute in our journey to a nine-to-five job? How can we not be vigilant when we perceive that we are surrounded by threats? We are surrounded by threats: adverts trying to convince us we’re the wrong shape; that we should buy a sofa to have a happy family; people feeling sorry for us or trying to ‘cure’ us. We don’t need a cure, we just need to learn to reassess the level and types of threat that is around us; and we need to learn to communicate with people who are ignorant of the real world outside their comfortable lives – without fearing them. I am slowly learning a kind of indignant dignity and a new self-respect; and a new peace. In reassessing the threats around me I realise that a bullet is just as dangerous as a politician; a bomb just as dangerous as a council bureaucrat; and chemical warfare just as dangerous as a marketing campaign. But I can dodge a politician or a bureaucrat more easily; and I can see through an advert or a spam email. However, the problem now is that I don’t really feel motivated to be a part of this world of politics and consumerism – I want something real. That is my next task: to find something to fan my burning heart. Maybe it is getting involved in canoeing in Canada, or creating an organisation to encourage youth exchange (both?). I’ve yet to catch the bug though… as long as I keep trying things I’ll find something to fire me up.

Here lies the truth of
The Dragon’s breath
Burn the soul to bring
Forth the hidden heart

Not all captured soldiers are kept alive. Killing is no longer murder in wartime.

Not all captured soldiers are kept alive. Killing is no longer murder in wartime.

 

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A Walk in the Park

Friday 21st

Another good night’s sleep, what is going on? Got up to porridge and a sausage roll for breakfast; I declined the roll because it seemed too dry and my appetite wasn’t good enough to eat it. Some of the food has been really good here but there are one or two meals that I find too sweet or too salty. It’s not a problem because there is plenty of fruit and I can ask the cooks to make something else for me. Most of the others seem to love it all though – perhaps its the meds that are affecting my appetite.

After my post breakfast chat and fag I decided to attend the art workshop: I had a plan so I did my own thing and started to have an idea of what I wanted to do. It started off with wanting to portray an ex soldier amongst ‘normal’ and judgemental people but it turned into a squad of soldiers and their commander stood by a mass grave. I combined a collage of adverts and headlines from some glossy magazines. Freaky how it just changed itself and transformed before my eyes. Judge for yourself. The time just shot passed and it was lunchtime in a blink and I had a finished painting in front of me.

My painting: A Game of Soldiers

My painting: A Game of Soldiers (you need to read the small print)

After lunch of mushroom soup and bread I read a little in a cool book that the therapist has given me to read while I am here (must get it when I get home): The Compassionate Mind, Paul Gilbert. It explains anxiety in a way that appeals to me and uses Buddhism as an example for some of the concepts. The second part of the book is full of practical exercises and meditations to help you to work on yourself. My eyes got tired just as it was time to join the walking group; as this was my last day I felt motivated to join most of the activities. There is a daily timetable of activities such as cooking, art, walking, cinema, quizzes, knockout pool, etc. I felt no compulsion to join in anything and could have easily sat in my room all day (but I’m sure someone would have checked up on me to see if I was alright) or watched non-stop TV. I wanted to get out of the house for a while so I went with three others in the minibus to Ayr Park for a walk around. It was lovely to be around trees again after so long (not many trees in Orkney) and to see and hear a wide variety of wildlife. We strolled gently on the path and chatted and enjoyed the scenery. We also had a quick look in the garden’s gallery but it didn’t hold our interest for long.

Back to Hollybush again just in time for a tasty fish and chips dinner – I wolfed it down. I went back to reading my book in the warm central hall until it was time for knockout pool: you have five lives and take turns trying to pot a ball. If you miss a hole, you lose a life. The last one ‘in’ wins. I won the first but not the other three. Seems a pretty boring game but it was good to be with others and not feel forced to make conversation or to aggressively compete.

So, in all it was a pretty plain day. However, I felt calm and peaceful; and in good company.

Now, off to watch a film and head off for, hopefully, another good night’s sleep.

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Having a Therap?

Wednesday 19th

Woah! A good night’s sleep. I wonder whether it is the anti-depressants or just exhaustion from the sleepless nights of the journey and last night finally catching up. I did feel a little anxious and paranoid for the first couple of hours but, apparently, that is a normal side effect at the beginning of treatment with anti-depressants. I was offered some valium to ease the anxiety but declined, preferring to ride it out to see where it went. It did improve and I became more at ease again.

Today I had a session with a therapist – not so much for a therap but just to record some initial base scores. Some kind of questionnaire to measure my present state of mind, how I felt etc… She did recommended, however, based on my answers, that I join a six-week intensive program soon but because I’m going to Canada in May there’s not enough time before then. It would be good for me to come down once I’m back. The six week stay is, according to the therapist, pretty hard work and includes lots of activities; and ‘homework’. I look forward to some real work on my personal think tank.

The rest of the day was taken up with friendly banter with fellow inmates and lots of just sitting quietly in company. Food was plentiful and I almost overdosed on caffeine but controlled my hyperactivity enough to watch another couple of films – carpet bowls didn’t appeal to me so I took residence in front of the TV and alternately read and watched the idiot box until I was tired.

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