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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The Shrinking Feeling

Tuesday 18th

I tried to sleep but, as usual, couldn’t and just lay there trying to relax. At about one am one of the rooms personal alarms went off but I thought it was a fire alarm and got up to find the place deserted: the staff had, of course, responded to the relevant room and were not in the reception. They apologised, unnecessarily, when they returned and realised I was up. Hearing an alarm like that when you are in a half asleep state is quite shocking and I was transported back to Northern Island for a moment – a place where alarms like that meant it was time to shelter under the nearest structure (usually a bed or a table). In this case there was only about an inch under the divan bed so I decided not to risk the squeeze. Thus again in a state of wakefulness I went back to bed and wrote this on my laptop. Tomorrow, well, later today, I’ll be seeing the shrink – I was nervous yesterday about dragging up the past but after my talk with the nurse I feel hopeful that the usual bureaucracy will not be evident.

The night dragged on and with only a few small pockets of sleep interrupted by the creaks, clicks, and hisses of the house, my fellow inmates and the heating system. Eventually my alarm sounded and I got up for breakfast. It’s good that breakfast is at 8 here because it is just early enough to push you to get out of bed but not early enough to be aggressive. It’s not like hotels ‘breakfast served from 7 to 9’ it’s breakfast at 8 or nothing. There’s no rush but if everyone has finished eating, and the staff have cleared up, you will have to ask the catering staff to knock up something for you (they will do that without a problem, though). Breakfast was good – not up to bed and breakfast standard but sustaining and more than enough. I felt awkward and nervous being sat with people I didn’t know – more so because I knew they were all ex-military: an unwanted reminder of being in the army. New faces were always treated with a kind of distrust, I remember, and you tended to stick with your own squad members. This time it felt as if I was the new face. After breakfast I went back to my room to have a lie down until my appointment with the shrink in the hope he can help clear up the tangled weeds of my mind.

The talk with the psychiatrist was good, very good, unlike my experience with the NHS shrink – he was only interested in watching the clock above my head and fobbing me off with a printed handout about the risks of drinking too much. However, with this man I felt respect. We talked in depth about my experiences from childhood to the present, with lots of juicy bits in between and he, more or less, said ‘damn, you need antidepressants’. Well, artistic licence etc. I said I’d give it a go and left his office feeling hopeful and with a freshly weeded garden.

I feel much more comfortable today and chatted to a number of the other vets. There was an air of mutual respect and even signs of care and protectiveness amongst them. Conversations never became pushy or forced, the silences were comfortable, and the humour wholesome. Meeting their eyes was a shared acknowledgement of the experiences we’d all been through in varying degrees. It makes me wonder how many people there are out there who have nobody to share this with. It takes a kind of courage or desperation to openly come to a place like Hollybush House and reveal your vulnerability. Hopefully someone reading this blog might be motivated to get in touch with Combat Stress. Rest assured, you don’t need to talk in detail about anything if you don’t want to, but the peace and respect alone is worthwhile experiencing.

Off to watch a film or two. More tomorrow.

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Journey into my mind

Monday 17th February

Yesterday I began the long trip to Ayr to attend HollyBush House – a centre that treats ex forces people who are suffering from PTSD. I was diagnosed with PTSD a couple of years ago and, finally, things were right for me to attend the centre for an initial assessment and treatment. I made plans to travel down in the hope of finding some relief for my anxiety and sleep problems – this is my account of that trip. Perhaps it will help others who are suffering.

The journey took more than two days, including a stay at the Weigh Inn at Scrabster, bus from Scrabster to Inverness, bus from Inverness to Glasgow (a mercifully short stop), bus from Glasgow to Ayr, and one more to Hollybush House – I asked the driver of the last bus to drop me off at Hollybush House and to tell me when we were there: he dropped me off about a hundred yards from the driveway, I thought he was being awkward but realised in retrospect that he was probably being discrete. I remember he talked quietly when he announced that this was my stop, I was sitting close, and went on to point out the entrance to the drive ahead. I suppose it could be embarrassing to be seen to walk down the drive which is well sign-posted and no doubt known locally for harbouring ‘crazy’ veterans.

It was a long walk down the drive to the house, which was good as it gave me time to assess the place and to get used to the fact that I was, actually, going to do this. I plucked up courage to introduce myself at reception after a preparatory fag outside. The introductions went smoothly and I was first shown my room so I could drop my kit, then a quick tour and then given some food that had been saved for me. Hollybush House is a huge listed building that sits in the middle of a wooded garden area: lots of trees, birds, and squirrels. There used to be lots of rabbits wandering around the neat lawns but myxomatosis has killed them off. Unfortunately the weather never dried up enough for me to explore further. The house itself has lots of alternatives for activities; or simply solitude if you want it. Three TVs, a library, games room, activity room, gym, common room, dining room, and more. The bedroom is comfortable but simple with a big bed and a radio but no TV. The bathroom is well equipped and my room was very warm.

I was told that I had an appointment with the psychiatrist tomorrow at 10.30 and that the duty nurse would have a talk with me later tonight.

After my meal I spent a little time on my own in the room, then went down to watch a film in the activity room on the Xbox. I paused the film to have a chat, a risk assessment, with the duty nurse. He went through a series of questions in order to assess whether I was at risk of coming to harm, either by my own hand or due to my health – but the questions soon turned into a relaxed session and the formality fell away as I began to talk a little about how I felt. It was a little emotional to find a professional who actually seemed to care and who seemed not to treat me as having a disease.

Went back to my film after supper: toast, cakes, and hot drinks; chats with people if you fancied. No one pushed themselves in my face and they were sensitively friendly. After the film I went to my room and connected my laptop to the wireless internet. I sent a message to my partner to let her know what was happening and then went to bed – how will I sleep after such a day?

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The life of a Monk? 25 September 2013

Up at 5.30 frosty, loading cold and stiff bags into the back of the truck and then off to Tim Horton’s in Williams Lake for coffee and a wireless connection – it all seems so normal again. We have to meet up with the rest of the crew and get back to the normal life we all had previously. But just how do I do that? If I am cold, where is the wood for the fire and the hot stones to warm me; where are the dry leaves to cushion my bed. Where are the fish to catch and where is the water to drink. There is no wood anymore, just paper – and pens to write our applications for electricity to power the storage heaters. There are king-sized divans and Land of Leather sofas; frozen farmed salmon and fish fingers. And pipes, thousands of miles of pipes dug into the Earth to deliver water; and all manner of other chemicals. How do I make sense of all this now?

And where is the humanity; the connection; the tribe? There is no one tribe here; there are arbitrary groups of people gathering together for scheduled moments to imitate a real family. People passing through for a coffee and a fix of togetherness. The crew, the canoe family, although still high on the natural experience we have share, all seem a little lost in their own impending worlds. We are surrounded by a complex and interwoven complexity – a twisted intricacy of conflicting desires. Surely we all desire warmth, food, and shelter. Why do we make things so complex in our search for these simple things? Or is it that we are subdued into a complacent acceptance that these simple needs cannot be simply met.

Dare I believe that I could find a spot of un-civilization where I could find the simple solutions without being moved on for vagrancy or persecuted by bureaucrats? No, I doubt it.

Perhaps I am meant, by whatever power is guiding my present change of mind, to simply reintegrate into society somehow and find my feet and continue to follow the status quo. No, I doubt that too.

I do, however, feel a greater confidence in my own voice; and a surge of insurgency armed with my new connection with the Earth. I feel a greater connection with others and their painful disconnection from the naturalness of our species. I also feel the weight of the overwhelming mass of humanity and its detrimental effect on the Earth.

What to do about this? Think I’ll join a monastery… well, perhaps not yet.

Vancouver: humans piled on top of one-another

Vancouver: humans piled on top of one-another but barely connected

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Break in the weather 24 September 2013

Going North leaving the cold mountains behind - Mount Kese is the large peak on the left.

Going North leaving the cold mountains behind – Mount Kese is the large peak on the left.

Chris got us all up at 5.30 as his feeling for the weather dictated – it was a go for the trip North. We packed the camp in a record 2 hours and the Spirit Dancer was proudly carrying our lightened load. In the sheltered water between the small island and the camp Chris set sail while I took the helm to steer us clear of the shore. The wind caught the sail and gently pushed us round the West of the island with the help of the crew’s paddle-power. Then we left the lee of the land and the water hissed past as we sped North. I felt kind of sad leaving the camp that had been home for so many days. I looked down at my grubby hands and cold feet and remembered the calm sanity: the place my mind arrived at when I accepted the uncertain future in the camp with the knowledge that we could have survived for a long time. Now we were rushing back to civilization, electricity, and everything man-made. Still, I was yet again a changed man – nature had taught me valuable lessons: a continuation of the shattering revelations of last year on the West Coast.

We left behind the snow covered (it was clear that more snow had fallen during the night) mountains and cold South end of the lake. The day was crisp and we were moving on – I realised that I had moved on in more ways than one: another evolution. A peace had settled in me regarding my fellow humans. I had been taught how to be alone, and therefore how to tolerate the faults of others around me and my own faults, how to love, enjoy in the company of others, and relax without feeling threatened. We are all animals; and all part of the Earth who is the source of all. All of our faults are natural: animals lie, steal, kill, and fight for territory and power. It’s just that we as a species have become arrogant – and, not to forget, overwhelming in our numbers. The Earth is bending under our demands.

I thought of all this and how I would relate to others once I got back. I concentrated on steering back to Nemiah to clear my mind. The wind was stiff and unpredictable making it important that I didn’t lose concentration. The gusts would try to push the canoe around: dangerous if the wind caught the sail sideways on – a capsize would almost be inevitable. I needed to apply quick and strong corrections to keep us downwind. The paddle was buzzing most of the way with the speed of the canoe through the water. It was exhilarating but tiring. I was aching all over, and grinning all over.

Half-way break at one of our previous camp sites

Half-way break at one of our previous camp sites

Finally we reached the gap between Canoe Point and : a high piece of land that juts out from the mainland. Canoe Point causes the wind to strengthen just to its West and the canoe picked up even more speed as we turned into the channel between the point and Duff Island. Docking at Nemiah was hard due to the strong cross winds and miscommunication. It took about a half hour to get the canoe onto the trailer with two of us holding a rope connected to a submerged post to keep her straight, and the rest of the crew pulling from land.

Wasted no time securing the trailer and driving to Nemiah, first stop was the Band Office and the shop then we sped off to have a ‘normal’ dinner at Lees Corner: Chicken burger for me, and for one of our crew: pizza with cream and jam (Yes, pizza with cream and jam – back to the real world).

As a gentle easing into civilization, me, Chris, and Marylin camped in the truck at Becher Pond camp site before the bright lights of Williams Lake to meet the others who would be roughing it in a hotel.

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Helicopter Rescue? 23rd September 2013


I woke early again in case we had to pack quickly, my hot rock was still a little warm and I reluctantly pulled my feet away from the comfort. The weather? More of same: strong winds, descending snow line, and dropping temperatures.

The snowline descending down the mountains seen during a sunny spell.

The snowline descending down the mountains seen during a sunny spell.

Today I finished book in one go – the first time ever. I just got stuck in and sat reading by the fire for most of the day, glancing occasionally at the deceptive water. There were some patches of pleasant sun to further deceive us into thinking that we had a chance to cross over the lake but the kitchen canvas reminded us of the truth of the matter: it was blowing like a hang glider wanting to take to the wing.

Brandon starts on another paddle – this time for Bob. Brandon makes it seem so easy to create these First Nation designs. There was an artist of a different kind at work by the shore: Bill caught a trout that we cooked and ate with delight. We had fire, food, and shelter – we could have survived for ever here. No worries. I was looking forward to getting stuck into living off the land/water.

Brandon painting a paddle and making it look easy

Brandon painting a paddle and making it look easy

We had to let people know that we were stuck so Chris tried to fire up the Sat phone – he realised, however, with disgust that the batteries didn’t hold a charge and the phone was down to one bar. The phone just managed to get a short call to Barbara to let her know that we were a few days overdue and that if she hadn’t heard from us in a couple of days she should call for a helicopter evacuation.

With a comfortable resignation I inspected the rocks around the fire to choose my night-time companion; or should I take two of them tonight?

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Avalanche 22nd September 2013

Snow falling on the high peaks on the East side of Chilko Lake

Snow falling on the high peaks on the East side of Chilko Lake

I was up at 7 am just in case we had good enough weather to escape this beautiful haven – but it wasn’t. The wind was still strong and the pressure was down again, which meant that the winds would strengthen further. The peaks were now snow covered.

The water seemed quite innocent from the lee of our camp but a quick walk over the ridge confirmed that there was even more of a swell developing. It would have been very dangerous to continue and try to cross the lake in these conditions. We would have had to cope with a large beam sea and high winds while towing the small, less seaworthy, canoe. The waves were about a meter high and the random catabatic winds could easily have swamped it; not to mention the effect on the supplies stored in the centre of the Spirit Dancer II. I decided to head back to my maggot (an army term which seems quite descriptive of somebody in a sleeping bag) have a nap, which turned into a long sleep. I was lulled to sleep by the sound of the wind spirits walking on the treetops.

Later, over breakfast we talked about options. We talked about the possibility of going south to a point where the lake was narrower and from which it would be easier to get across; and there was a sandy beach further down on this side where we could at least set up a camp if we couldn’t get across. There was also a creek near the beach which would be better fishing should our supplies run out; and, of course, it would also give us a change of scenery. I quite fancied this option as it would get us a little closer to a natural way of living: water (and perhaps bathing opportunities) from the creek and fish from the lake. However, the wind would be a tough opponent and the safest option was to stay here. The wind was blowing from just west of south: in the perfect direction to take us North all the way from the super camp back to Nemiah but the problem was that it was still too strong and it would be a risk to try to get over the lake. So – yet another day at the super camp.

We had plenty of time to relax and follow our own currents: Brandon finished the design on Bill’s jacket and started painting a paddle for Alice. Chris and others got to work assessing rations and the availability of medications.

The day was cold and sporadic rain battered the canvas over the kitchen area, and the fire struggled to keep us warm. I read and ate lots.

Just after noon there was the sound of a small plane in distance, I idly wondered whether it was looking for us – not likely as it would only have needed to fly North to South to find the Spirit Dancer moored beside the Super Camp. I also heard an avalanche tumble down a slope in the distance behind us. What would tomorrow bring?

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Back to Super Camp: 21 September 2012

The morning was colder than previously and Chris said that the pressure was dropping – another indication of worsening weather (low pressure is usually a sign of increasing winds and precipitation). The snowline on the mountains seemed to be lower than yesterday and the wind was getting up. After a group discussion about the deteriorating weather we decided to make a run for it and try to get a little closer to the base camp at Nu Chugh Beniz in the centre of Chilko Lake. We would have to cross the lake at some point and the sooner the better as bad weather in the centre of the lake would be quite dangerous and, should the canoe capsize, a long swim back to land would not have been possible in this icy water. Death would be a matter of minutes after immersion. We set off North, to see if we could get closer to the base camp and hopefully get to a decent camp spot if not across the lake itself. A few meters from the camp, and while still sheltered from the wind, we set sail and then turned north towards the west side of Burnt Island. We made it easily past Burnt Island and 3km up the coast with the wind strengthening as we went. Then the wind increased steadily and steering became more difficult. The rudder started to vibrate in my hand – a sign that the speed was approaching 8 knots – and the small canoe started to weave from side to side and surf on the high waves. It was getting close to taking in water and sinking. Taking in the risk Chris asked me to steer towards a cliff just to the left of a small headland, which seemed to be a little sheltered from the full force of the wind. Chris ordered for the sail to be taken down so we could manoeuvre under paddle-power to land. We needed to assess the conditions just past the headland and, if possible, get someone onto the land to scout over the small ridge; but as we approached I had difficulty getting safely close to the shore so Chris decided we should head back South straight into the wind to regain some stability and have a talk about what to do. As we did, Chris explained to the crew what was happening with the small canoe and that it was too risky to continue south to the, unseen, conditions beyond the point.

We headed back south and toward burnt island for temporary shelter. It was a hard paddle into the wind but we were all well rested from the time at the Super Camp and we were already familiar with the area having done almost the same route a few days ago – with weaker muscles. We landed on the beach on the North side of Burnt Island and went ashore to scout around this sacred island to see what the land was like to set up camp, if we needed to. I clambered up the stony slope from the beach and found on the west side a scene that could have been from an archaeology programme. There was a large circle about five meters in diameter with a fireplace built in the centre. The circle had a wall of rocks to one side which were showing signs of being burnt at high temperature. This was, Chris said, a sweat lodge: the stones were heated up and placed in the fireplace and a frame was built around them with a cover. Water would be poured onto the stones to produce steam and a sauna effect inside the lodge. Sweat lodges were used for ceremonial and social events which might include songs, ceremonies, and story telling. Sweat lodges must be constructed and conducted safely by experienced leaders because the conditions of extreme heat and other dangers associated with fire and smoke can make the ceremony dangerous if handled carelessly (There have been deaths in sweat lodges that have not been supervised correctly).

A little distance from the circle was a large tent which, I assume was used for sleeping accommodation and, perhaps, preparation and eating.

There was also an open area nearby which had enough space for dancing or other rituals. Inside this space was a makeshift ladder (for what purpose?) and the remains of a ceremonial staff adorned with a First Nations emblem made from twigs and interwoven multi-coloured cloth. Further round was a small makeshift bay with a small motor boat – so small that it was inconceivable that it would cope with the smallest waves on a lake renown for high winds.

As luck ran, there was a break in the weather and we set off for the super camp again. It was only a short paddle back to familiar ground, and the prospect of our usual scampering over the steep rocky slope to unpack again, make a fire, and settle down for more meditation and waiting.

It was only a little disappointing having to return to the Super Camp and it was good to get back to the tranquillity and familiarity. It is a very meditative place here and well sheltered from the prevailing South wind. I spent the rest of the daylight hours reflecting on life here and my life back amongst society-at-large. And, really, there is no comparison. I just wish the special woman in my life, Jenny, was here as well.

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Wind Spirits: 20 Sept 2013

… They didn’t. The wind spirits kept up their dancing through the treetops all night interrupting my peaceful dreams. They were nice dreams too: I was saying goodbye to my ex-partners and, in dream language, letting go of some aspects of my past. Our experiences with people in the past form patterns that we use to interact with people in the present and if, like me, you have been used to being treated badly by people in the past you expect the same from everyone you meet, albeit unconsciously. In reconciling your past pains you open up space for a new way of relating to people. There is still the stiffness to perceived turbulence and cold moments when you don’t connect with others but communication becomes more natural once you relax and, like the weather, dress for the occasion.

Time to get out of my pit and start the fire (it’s always been my first task after getting up – I hate cold starts and the warmth of a fire transcends the mere temperature rise). Putting a flame to the charcoal remains from the night before to restart the fire is always a satisfying feeling; more than using a fire lighter or lots of paper which just feels like cheating. It is wholesome to find dry leaves, grass, fluffy seeds and adding small twigs in a progressively woodier nest for the initial spark to grow into.

And once fire is born and feeding well it’s time to explore the new day. I start by looking over the ridge to the windward side: the waves are still rushing northwards too fast for us to safely ride anywhere. No problem as there’s no need to rush anywhere and the current spot is beautiful. The sound of a Clarke’s Nutcracker escaped through the turbulent treetops as it was busy plucking seeds from pine cones – it will be busy burying them to store for the coming winter.

Mountains and forests around Chilko Lake: Great power

Mountains and forests around Chilko Lake: Great power

Chilko is a place of power: there are spirits of all kinds here if you are willing to listen. Beings that can put fear and anger, or wisdom and peace into your heart. Here there is a balance of nature that is clear: it is animal and mineral; it is air, fire, water, earth. To the Okanagan people air can be seen as the breath of our land; fire is a gift given to us for warmth and energy, it makes us fertile; water is sacred and can cleanse or kill, it has great power but is also humble and stays lowly; and the Earth is what came before all and is the parent of all else. Rocks, because they have been here for so long, have great wisdom and have seen much. Air, water, and earth are abundant here at Chiko – so is fire in the form of plants and animals – including humans. It is a perfect balance. How could a searching soul not find answers here?

Here, I have learned to be at peace with myself; from that peace comes love and tolerance, and also clarity and strength. If I am at peace, there is nothing to fear from within. If I am at peace, there is no need to get stuck in a cycle of self-analysis and recrimination. Just me and the Earth (and, of course, the Earth is the parent of all) – much simpler than having to try to work out how to live in the 9 to 5, 16 to 65 world.

The Earth gave us fish and other things to eat; gave us brains so we can solve problems such as how to work with others to sustain families, tribes, and villages; how to use tools to make survival easier. And thus my new view of the world of people becomes clearer here surrounded by the less ambiguous elements. It’s a new paradigm. Last year, my time in the wilderness of the Inside Passage destroyed my world like a bulldozer would tear down a derelict building and I was left with a pile of bricks and bare earth. This time Chilko Lake has given me a level foundation, plenty of building materials (the knowledge that Chilko is generous to share) and some time to build a new place to live. I am not building anything as static or isolated as a cabin in the woods. More like a spiritual house-boat, or a canoe, moving and adapting to the changing scenery of life.

The compact, two-story cabin about 1 kilometre inland from Chilko Lake

The compact, two-story cabin about 1 kilometre inland from Chilko Lake

Speaking of cabins, Chris told us that there was one a little way from the camp into the forest that would be awesome to visit – so we gathered our walking gear, maps and GPS – and set out. We promptly got lost. After a little bush whacking and getting ‘strung out’ we followed Chris’s instinct for the place and found the cabin set besides a small lake – football pitch sized. The cabin was well equipped and had everything that you would need: lots of pre-cut firewood, plenty of tools, a library of books, lots of cooking equipment, even a power socket (Chris’s idea of a joke – installed years ago).

Cabin, complete with reading material and comprehensive kitchen utensils

Cabin, complete with reading material and comprehensive kitchen utensils

While eating lunch we took turns reading the two guest books which had lots of appreciative comments and some interesting sketches. There was a table outside, on the veranda, another table inside the cabin. A number of books were left on shelves, and lots of cooking utensils, pots, cups, etc. In the loft were a number of boxes with useful supplies of all kinds and enough sleeping space for a number of people to be cosy. In all, the cabin was very well equipped and potentially a very comfortable place to spend time. If you had the skill to fish, you could survive here for a long time: an attractive idea. We had lunch of bagels and cream cheese followed by coffee made by Bill.

After lunch I spent some time alone just sitting meditating on the water behind the cabin. Eddies in wind were occasionally hitting the water – the footprints of the wind spirits that were active during the night. The prints moved across the lake and glided into the treetops and beyond. I sat in utter tranquillity, free from ads, road signs, propaganda, peer pressure, and all other human complications. Thus blessed, I tried to work out where the human species was going wrong.

Downdrafts like wind-spirit footprints

Downdrafts like wind-spirit footprints

All we do as humans has its roots in nature, because we are children of the earth. Here in the wild, you appreciate that animals and plants commit acts that we humans consider crimes or disorders: murder, destruction, pollution, deception, greed, addiction. In watching schools of fish I can picture fans at a football match – all connected and governed by a collective purpose; in seeing wolves hunt down and kill a deer I can picture gangs in the slums of a large city; hearing the angry cries of black squirrels, I can remember people arguing when someone jumps a queue in a store. The only answer that I can find to the question, ‘where are we going wrong?’ is that we find it hard to overcome our innate instincts for survival (food, power, territory, family) and so the bigger picture often evades us. We seem to be short-sighted and fail to realise that waiting a few minutes in a queue will not deprive us of the essentials of life; that we do not need to stockpile possessions in order to increase our chance of survival; that wars are now more about money and power than defence of the tribe; that we are poisoning the Earth by the sheer scale of our existence.

Why can’t we be happier with what and where we are? Why do we constantly feel discontent and feel the need to buy, conquer, become, or ‘grow’?

In seeing myself in relation to nature, I realise that (until I get hungry, tired, or cold) I can stop worrying so much and simply be where I am. No more becoming, just being – now and here. When I’m cold I can start a fire; when hungry I can fish or gather plants; when tired, I can sleep. In the long term I can build a shelter to sleep in and a store for my food and a workshop for my tools. But for now I can live very simply and peacefully: here and now.

Did I say being here? Little did I know what I was saying…

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Supercamp: 19th September 2013


West side campsite: poor access

West side campsite: poor access

This camp had poor access to the campsite so we left what we could in the canoe and only carried what we really needed to the camp itself. The camp itself was accessible from the water but only after a climb up a slippery dust slope. Carrying anything of any weight was very difficult. The kitchen was constructed down by the shore, and the fire ‘upstairs’ near the tents. The kitchen area was windy because it was exposed a little to the southerly wind, but only a little – that we felt that much wind at all should have told us how rough it was around the headland. We were not quite prepared for what was ahead of us tomorrow.

I awoke slightly bunched in the bottom of the tent because my site was on a slope – most of the sites were on a slope, and rocky. But I slept well and woke refreshed.

After packing as usual, we made a move to carry on south. The going seemed fine until we got around the headland out of shelter and back into the wind, which was stronger even stronger than yesterday. The next few hours were spent paddling full on for a few minutes then resting for a few minutes whenever we found a wind break then paddling… We were reduced to about half a knot in some places but slowly, and in numerous leaps and breaks, we made it to the shelter of Burnt Island – only about half a mile from the super camp. Then after 8km of slog and 2/3 foot waves coming over the deck the going finally became easier and we relaxed into a sunny paddling pace.

Burnt Island is sacred to the local people and used for healing and ceremonial activities. It’s one of the places we did not have permission to camp on. However, in a few days we were to have a look on the island but not under favourable circumstances. This time we just wanted to reach this mysterious camp. Rounding the lee of Burnt Island the wind was not quite as bad as earlier due to the high ground to the south of us. There was a high ridge ahead and it seemed to break up the strong southerly wind. We aimed for a small island shaped like the back of a whale that hid the super camp from our view – thus deepening the suspense further. The relatively short distance to the island went quickly and we passed to its west – Chris then simply said to the crew ‘There it is’. We saw a rocky outcrop which had a natural rock ramp at the water’s edge. We came to a stop at the ramp and tied up the canoe. This time, contrary to convention, we left the unloading for a few minutes while we explored the camp area.

Supercamp kitchen with its trecherous drop to the right

Supercamp kitchen with its trecherous drop to the right

Supercamp from the small island just before repositioning the Spirit Dancer

Supercamp from the small island just before repositioning the Spirit Dancer


The camp area was on top of a rocky about the size of two tennis courts but without the nets. There were few areas where tent pegs could be sunk and small rocks seemed to grow out of the ground just where a sleeping bag could lie. The whole kitchen site seemed to be set at an angle of forty five degrees from flat and was built on solid rock. In many places the rock was covered with a slippery covering of moss so that a slide into the icy water seemed inevitable with every step. Do I exaggerate? Well, just a little maybe, but it was treacherous in places.

When it sank in that we were to stay here for a couple of days we unpacked the canoe and built the kitchen and pitched tents (after moving a skip load of rocks away from each tent area). In time I built a fire and we all set ourselves into the usual routine of occupying ourselves until dinner: reading, painting, watching the Osprey fly-past, and generally staring awe-struck at the 4000 foot peaks with their tree-filled slopes and rocky peaks with glaciers waiting for global warming to set them free (not long now). We could not feel any of the strengthening winds that were on the south side of the ridge unless we ventured to over there. However, the calmness had its downside and the flies really took advantage – especially the kamikaze fly: they were experts at landing directly on one’s eyeball. You had maybe a half a second warning as they hovered two inches in front of your eyes, lining up for the dive, before they went in for the kill. Very irritating.

Glaciers above the supercamp, not too far away that we couldn't feel the chill in the air

Glaciers above the supercamp, not too far away that we couldn’t feel the chill in the air

Burnt island was visible in distance, amid the frothy peaks that were developing on the waves. There was a lone duck on the water keeping an eye on us. It seemed to enjoy simply bobbing on the white caps of the waves that were growing in height. I enjoyed taking time to enjoy the views and to take some photos in the clear air. Later I took out the small canoe and paddled to the small island just opposite. With Chris I put spirit dancer II into the centre of the channel between the camp and the small island to stop the winds bashing it against the rock. Given its freedom in the channel, the canoe weaved left and right quite wildly in the wind so we later back again for fear that one of the ropes might be chafed and severed. Later in the afternoon the weather calmed and, in the setting winds, I started to read my book. Even so, the winds passed through the tree canopy and sounded like freight trains, like wind spirits riding on the tree tops. I slept that night with dreams of the ghostly wind spirits dancing to the music of the dying glaciers. Would they tire out during the night I wondered.

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