by Dan Lewis
I don't know. Maybe it's middle age creeping up on me. The thought of paddling an empty boat all day, to meet up with a mothership waiting in some secluded cove, salmon on the grill, hot showers, beds made up... it's starting to appeal. In fact, the mere thought seems irresistable.
And yet, what I love most about paddling is the sheer simplicity of it all. Getting away from our crazy, mixed-up, post-industrial world. Leaving behind all things that require motors or electricity. Paddling is a chance to return to the basics of life: food, water, shelter, warmth, companionship, Nature.
I like feeling empowered, being in control of my technology. Slapping a bit of duct tape on a cracked hull I can handle - distributor caps, carburetors and the like just freak me out. And then there's the fuel. There are few things worse than running out of gas - your vehicle suddenly becomes a huge, immovable burden. If my fuel runs low, I can just scarf back a snack bar and power on!
I love camping out with a minimal amount of gear. I usually fly a tarp just in case of rain, but actually sleep out under the stars in a bivvy bag. If it does start to rain, I just get up and hop over to the tarp, like a sleepwalker in a potato sack race.
This is a great set-up for early morning - some of my best birding has been done while lying in bed! Nothing beats the experience of waking up to watch a flock of Greater Yellowlegs eating sandfleas from a tidepool on the beach, not twenty feet away. Once I perched my sleeping bag right at the edge of a lake. As I opened my eyes the next morning, five Common Mergansers swam right past me. Last summer I slept out on a tiny island, and was woken up by a noisy flock of warblers, whose undisturbed, real-time morning routine I proceeded to watch.
The thought of grooving to tunes in the evening sounds great, until I remember that I actually like to get away from mass-produced entertainment commodities every now and then. My head is still stuffed full of theme songs from childhood TV shows and advertising jingles. It's good to go on a media fast now and then, to stop the constant input of information overload, listen to the sound of wind in the branches, wolves howling, or whales spouting in the bay.
A galley to cook in seems like a grand idea, until I realise how much I would miss the simplicity of gathering a small armful of dry cedar, and the creative challenge of balancing the pot such that it doesn't tip over as the wood burns down, spilling its contents and putting out the fire. And the feeling of satisfaction as I burn the fire down to white ash and leave no trace.
Camping by kayak, we're not just tourists while on shore. We stay long enough to begin to tune in to the community of life around us, to rediscover our place in the scheme of things. When we find a beach we like, it's nice to set up a base camp and spend a few days getting to know the area more intimately. On a long trip, although each night may be spent on a new beach, the overall feeling for an area deepens, and the similarities between each beach allow lessons to be carried from one beach to another. Once you have heard baby crows on one beach, for example, you will be more likely to notice them on other beaches.
Once in Haida Gwaii, Bonny and I were weatherbound on a beach for most of a week. We noticed that each morning around 11 am, a huge black bear would cruise along the high tide line, checking the debris for tasty morsels. It would veer off into the woods about 100 feet from our camp and disappear. Its pattern was so regular that we began to anticipate the daily opportunity to watch in silence. It was like watching a nature show on TV, same time every day. We began to call the bear 'Channel 8' - our whispered code to head down to the beach and marvel.
There's something about that daily transition from land to sea, then back to land again. Like re-experiencing the evolution of mammals, first in rewind, then in fast forward. Being at home in both realms. Experiencing the sounds and smells of the sea, the feeling of bobbing in the waves, then returning to the deep rich smells of the land, the comforting darkness of the forest. Returning to the Earth, our true mothership.