Monday, August 31, 2009

Walking Meditation and Mellow Rock Gardening

On Saturday I led a meditation walk for a group from my temple. I have for some time been interested in the intersection between my love of the outdoors and my religious beliefs. I’ve also been involved with a Jewish meditation group, which in some cases draws upon kabbalistic tradition and in others outright appropriates or invents other ideas to create a Jewish meditation practice. I decided to combine all of these and do a Jewish walking meditation. Again, I didn’t invent this particular mash-up; I drew heavily on the writings of Rabbis Mike Comins, Jamie Korngold and Jeff Roth.

Nine people bet against the forecast of thunderstorms and showed up for the event (a winning bet, it turned out - the afternoon was unexpectedly sunny). After having a chance to ooh and ahh over a hickory horned devil caterpillar a ranger had just caught, our group off down a trail in River Bend Park alongside the Potomac to explore various meditative approaches – walking and stationary. I will not detail all what we did on our meditative shpatzir here. Rather, I’ll say that I was nervous about whether people were enjoying this (which was messing with my mindful awareness) until we got to a stopping point along the trail where we did some seated practices then shared a bit of how it was going. Listening and watching, I realized that not only were people into it, they were so into it that no one wanted to leave the beautiful spot we had chosen for our stop. The same thing happened when we sat down at some picnic tables at the end of our walk. After the silence of the walk, people were eager to talk and we wound up spending some time just lounging around by the river chatting. I certainly had no problem with this – lounging on and around rivers is one of my favorite activities.

Finally, people got on their way, leaving my friend David and to hit the river. While David and I had long known about each others interest in kayaking, we had never paddled together before. We put in at the boat ramp and headed upstream. Unfortunately you can’t get very far upriver before you start to run into riffles and rocks – not the ideal situation for a sea kayak. Still, we gamely explored various paths up the little rapids, ultimately successfully making our way further upstream. While the conditions on this section of the river are rocky, the views are awesome and further enhanced my enjoyment of the day. The meditation event had lasted longer than I expected (not that I'm complaining) and so I was somewhat time-limited on the water. So, after a little more exploration we turned around and let the current shoot us back downstream to the put-in.

As always, the drive along Georgetown Pike back to the Beltway was twisty fun. And I always wonder as I drive past the mega-houses that line the road – who is it who owns these multi-multi-million dollar things, who could possibly use so much square footage, at what size does a house just become irresponsibly large, …. and how can I get one?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Saturday AM, Mason Neck

4 AM, raging thunderstorm. Feels good to be safe and sound in bed, but my paddling plans are at risk. 6 AM, light rain. Beginning to think of bagging paddling and working out on the erg instead, but I go downstairs and check the weather online - hmmm, looks like there's going to be a break in the weather. 7:15 AM, load the boat. The sky is clearing a little. 8:03 AM, pass through the gate at Mason Neck State Park just after the park opens. Unload and get on the water a little after 8:30.

It's beautiful out. Not too hot. A little foggy/hazy, the kind of mist that makes things seem a little unreal. I say a prayer of thanks for being able to experience this scene. As I paddle the water is like glass. The iffy weather has scared most people off for the day - there are a few fishermen out and a handful of recreational motor boaters, but other than that, the river is mine. I paddle around out of Belmont Bay and into the river, the paddle north a ways. The slightly foggy weather seems to be encouraging the birds to stay out and hunt a little later than usual. In fact, eagles are out in force! It's a mere twelve minutes after launching when I spot my first eagle (a mature bald) and in total I have six separate eagle sightings, both mature and immature plumage. I'm not sure, though, whether I saw six different eagles (I'm guessing it was three).

After an hour or so I turn around and head back. As I come around the point back into the bay (and, interestingly, cross the Virginia/Maryland State Line), I startle some ospreys. They're noisy birds, particularly when defending their territory, and so my entry into their space causes them to let loose a cacophony of sound. For some reason this strikes me as funny and I wind up sitting there laughing out loud for a little while before paddling on.

I come upon a motorboat anchored near shore. Two little girls are playing in the water. They say "hi" and show me a trick they're doing with a stick in the water. We talk for a few moments.

At one of the beach areas along the Mason Neck shore I stop and practice some rolls. The session I did with Dave last week really helped. I haven't been comfortable before rolling the Shearwater, so I was happy to discover that this time I was doing it pretty cleanly. It'll be even better once I get the enhanced thigh braces built and fitted.

Finally, I laze my way back to the put-in. I'm eager to see how much water there is in the hatches. Yesterday I put new gasket material on both hatches in an attempt to fix the insane leakiness of these hatches. The result? 50% success. The forward hatch was almost completely dry - maybe a 1/4 cup of water in it. The rear hatch, though, was still a problem. Better than before, but there was at least a gallon in there. Hmmm, back to the drawing board.

After getting off the water and changing into dry clothes I hiked a couple of the trails at the park - about 1.8 mi in all - to scope them out as a locale for my upcoming meditation walk. Then I went on my way. Great morning at the park.

Bermuda Snorkeling

We just took a family vacation: a cruise to Bermuda. This was the first cruise for all of us except Valerie, who had gone on one as a child. Overall it was a nice time, though Valerie had some trouble dealing with the motion of the ship.

One of our days in Bermuda we booked a sailing/snorkeling expedition aboard the catamaran "Restless Native". Alas, the wind was calm and so we would up motoring rather than sailing. The silver lining of that circumstance was that since we didn't spend time cruising the island under sail, we had more time for snorkeling. The boat took us to a protected, shallow beach near a small coral reef. We all grabbed masks and snorkels and down the ladder we went into the water. I started seeing fish right away, as did the boys. Valerie, however, struggled with her mask - it was fogging, and leaking - and so it was a while before she got into the fish-watching.

I enjoy snorkeling - floating along looking at the fish, and even more so the coral, which seems otherworldly. I must admit, though, I hate the snorkel mouthpiece and have to spit it out every once in a while and take a break at the surface.

I think David had the best time of all of us, as he was not only looking at the sea life but also taking pictures (I have a waterproof camera). We had to push him along at the end so as not to hold up the boat, because he was so caught up in the activity.

Back on board the Restless Native, we all (well, the adults) had rum swizzles, a Bermudian drink.
The weather clouded over and it started to rain pretty heavily, sending most people running for the cabin. People have a funny attitude about getting wet. In this case a bunch of people, still damp and in their bathing suits from snorkeling, still felt the need to take shelter from the rain. Well, from my perspective they were welcome to huddle down below. The few of us who stayed up in the hammocks had room to stretch out, good conversation, and enjoyed being cooled off by a warm summer rain.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Fitting out the Woodie, Part I

There was once a book (or was it a play?) called something like, “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.” Such is the story of my new kayak, a CLC Shearwater. I’ve been in love with this kayak since I first paddled one, and the one I picked up recently from a guy in Massachusetts immediately became my favorite boat. Still, a wood boat cries out for custom outfitting, particularly since the guy who built this one had fitted it out for his 6’ 4” frame (not my height!) and with a bias towards form over function (for example, no deck lines). So, while I’m enjoying paddling it as-is, I’m slowly modifying it to my tastes. So far I’ve added forward deck lines: bungies and perimeter grab-lines. I ripped out the NRS seat pad he had put in (what did he glue that thing in with???) and put in a thicker, more contoured seat with some hip pads. This seat is more comfortable, plus the inch or so of added height gives me better layback clearance for rolling. Currently I’m fabricating some thigh braces. The boat originally had them, but the builder cut them out in an attempt to create more room for himself in the boat. Sad to say, the thigh braces I’m making look pretty bad so far. I’m not the world’s most skilled fiberglass/epoxy worker and there are some bubbles, drips, and the coat is uneven. They’re structurally fine and I expect the appearance will shape up with some sanding and another coat of epoxy. If not, I might opt to put a coat of marine black paint on them.

Still on the “To Do” list for the boat: adding a day hatch, which will entail re-doing the rear deck lines, perhaps adding a deck-mounted compass, and (this may wait for winter), adding a skeg. Each step is making an already perfect boat better.