Gratitude & Grace

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Today is Thanksgiving in America. “Yanksgiving” as we’ve taken to calling it in order to differentiate from regular Thanksgiving that happened back in October. I am volunteering at SAM tonight and tomorrow we are going up to Whistler to join some friends for a ski weekend. So we have no real eating plans, and no bird in the oven. It feels strange, but then it also feels strange to have Thanksgiving while it’s snowing out. We’ll deal. But while I’m alright with passing on turkey, I can’t let the occasion slip by without thanks.

Riley

I listened to the first episode of the Good Life Project podcast yesterday, during which they asked Brené Brown what it takes to live a good life. Her response, without hesitation, was gratitude. It’s important. She then went on to say, “I think for me, a good life happens when you stop and are grateful for the ordinary moments that so many of us just steamroll over to try to find those extraordinary moments. So my good life is soccer practice and carpool line and tuck-ins and date night…and knowing that it’s good.”

Friends

I haven’t been very good at that lately. I’ve been trying to grow and change things in literally ever aspect of my life and it’s so hard. I am struggling a lot and getting frustrated with my lack of progress. The gap between where I am and where I want to be seems so huge and while I do make a daily note on things I am grateful for, they are usually small or specific. Coffee, someone backing up in a crosswalk to let me walk through, a good book to pass the time. The kinds of things that are so easy to miss when you’re bogged down in other things, life.

Matt

Even today, a day of thanks, I’ve been stressed out trying to write a good sample for my grad school application and not being grateful that Matt made me a nice breakfast and took the dog for a walk – nevermind that he helped me with the work as well.

Maceo

Lately though, some of the things have been huge and specific – people I have just met offering up their entire contact list to help with my job search, people that I don’t know at all befriending us and making us feel welcome, coworkers and clients I haven’t talked to in ages giving giving me recommendations, friends coming to visit and making sure we’re settled in ok. The enormity of the gifts and the impossibility of never being able to give it all back feels a bit overwhelming but the simple grace of being grateful and expressing gratitude helps lighten the load.

Family

And still we haven’t gotten to the stuff you take for granted, the dinner table items; health, family, friends, clean water. I’ve had so many of the extraordinary experiences that Brené Brown talks about and I am so grateful for them, for this life. But I like the reminder and the opportunity – the grace – to bring that thanks front and centre and try to live it in every moment.

Sea

Nootka Sound

Tahtsa Dive Charters

I was asked to do a trip report of our dive trip to Nootka Sound for my new dive club newsletter. I’m not through writing about Japan and the National Parks road trip yet but this will serve as a good blog post in the interim!

Nootka Sound

In remote Tahsis B.C., a November morning is a quiet, misty and grey affair. We got our first view of town on a Saturday so all the boats were still in their driveways and there was no one about but us divers. As we gathered at the dock to wait for the boat we watched the faintest sliver of pink emerge over the mountains but otherwise the grey dock was reflected in the grey inlet and grey as far as the eye good see. We didn’t yet realize the amazing array of colours that awaited us just a little ways down the inlet and down into the water.

Nudibranch

There were four of us from Marker Buoy; Carl Baird, Bruce Brown, Ken Gatherum and myself – so new to the group that this was one of the first outings I had seen posted. We had met the day before to load up the truck with our gear (at least 15 tanks and I don’t know how many cameras plus bags and suitcases) before starting the long drive north. Tahsis is on the wild west coast of Vancouver Island, not such a bad trek as the crow flies but our route took us through Tsawwassen ferry terminal, by boat to Nanaimo, up island to Campbell River then east to Gold River where both the pavement and the cell phone towers ran out. I had plenty of time to get to know my new friends and we finally pulled up at Tahtsa Dive Charters HQ around 6 PM, tired and hungry.

Tahsis is a tiny blip of a town, so small that in winter there are only 2 restaurants with limited hours. On Halloween both were closed because there were hot dogs and fireworks at the local school so we settled into our rooms at Nootka Gold B&B and got ready for diving. Most people in town have more than one job; Jude from Tahtsa Dive Charters is also the mayor while husband and Captain Scott Schooner works at the fire department and ambulance. Our host at Nootka Gold B&B, Silvie Keen, also runs the Tahsis Time Grill restaurant and the other restaurant in town is also the gas station and grocery store. I really liked the vibe. It’s a town that can’t support slackers – everyone has to pitch in and be kind and decent.

Anemone

The Nootka Sound area is huge with a complex system of deep inlets popular with sport fishermen in the summer, as well as kayakers and hikers. The sound also has historical importance. It’s known as “the Birthplace of British Columbia” because this is where Captain James Cook first came ashore in March 1778. To his relief, the Mowachaht First Nations people wanted to trade and not attack so the site was named Friendly Cove.

It’s possible to go by boat to explore the landing area (and I think I would like to come back to do this) but our group headed up Espinosa Inlet to “The Gardens” instead, the place Little Espinosa Inlet empties into the larger Espinosa. It’s a relatively narrow passage and that means lots of life. Captain Scott clearly knows the area very well and the visibility was excellent. We saw swimming scallops, Noble Sea Lemon nudibranchs, a Giant Dendrenotid nudibranch, huge rock scallops and a wolf eel dotted across a carpeting of pink strawberry anemones. The pink was startling at first, like coming across a girl’s birthday party, but then there was the yellow of the sea lemon nudibranchs, orange golden dirona nudibranchs, giant purple sea cucumbers, blue bat stars…all the colours of the rainbow. At one point Bruce and I came across an egg yolk jelly that appeared to be stuck to the wall but as I look back at my photos I think the strawberry anemones were actually eating it, very very slowly.

Nootka Sound

Topside again we made our way out to “Double Island” mouth of Esperanza inlet. It’s unsheltered and there was a bit of current and chop that made the dive a bit rough. I was having gear issues and by the time I was finished dealing with them decided to sit this dive out. I was lucky, the weather was in our favour and so I bobbed about in the sunshine with Scott, watching sea otters and diver bubbles.

Wold Eel

I wasn’t the only one who was appreciative of the sunshine. Tahtsa’s dive boat is fast enough to get out to the open sea and back in a day but the sacrifice is that it is a pretty bare-bones vessel. There is no cover or windbreak on the boat, which had caused us a bit of trepidation in the grey dawn, although it seems that there are many closer dive sites for wetter days. There are also no bins or dry areas so plan to bring your own dry bag and containers if that’s a need. Finally, there is no head on the boat either so Captain Scott kept his eyes out for beaches where we could make a pit stop between dives.

It all worked out and our trip back up the inlet was gorgeous; evergreen covered islands dropping right into sea, rocky outcrops full of tide pools and otters, sea lions and eagles making an appearance at regular intervals. When we stopped for fuel the caretaker told us that his dogs had cornered a bear under one of the cabins the night before. This place is teeming with life.

Cloud Sponge

Our third dive of the day (and where we stayed for the rest of the trip), was Mozino Point. This is the darling of Nootka Sound, close enough to Tahsis that a boat can get there in ten minutes but diverse enough to serve up a different dive every time. Mozino Point is the site of the lighthouse at the junction of Tahsis Inlet and Tahsis Narrows, an area that sees a huge interchange of water and is hundreds of feet deep. Captain Scott told us that 90% of the time the tide is flowing out to sea but on our afternoon dive it had got itself turned around and was heading into town. There was a bit of confusion underwater and then the consensus was to go with the flow.

The colours at Mozino Point are even more spectacular than the Gardens. Pink and red strawberry anemones start of the splendour, decorating rocks, barnacles, scallops without prejudice. Nudibranchs all of kinds and colours lay around languidly. Then we arrive at the cloud sponges, eggshell white and just as fragile, surrounded by several kinds of rockfish and tunicates and a few white reticulated sponges thrown in for good measure. Farther below this are the rare and fragile Gorgonian corals which we would see the next day.

Gorgonian Coral

The dive boat comes out of the water at night and although it seems safe enough to leave all the gear on it (Scott told us that many homes don’t even have keys), he was going out with a group of hikers before us in the morning and needed room for them. The late departure combined with the daylight savings fall back meant that we had much more time to kill in the morning than I’m used to on a dive trip – and frankly more than made me comfortable, considering our 12 hour journey home – but we were organized and at the dive site in no time. From the lighthouse it was down 140 feet or so to get a look at the rare Gorgonian corals. These are lurid pink fan-shaped corals, some fuzzy with polyps out feeding and some closed up, looking dormant and stony. I saw one that had an orange peel nudibranch draped over several coral protrusions. Sea pens seem to grow in abundance in the area so we saw a lot of those near them and from there we made our way back up through the cloud sponges, checking in each of them for any critters that might be hiding out. Then into the strawberry (anemone) fields for more pink, more scallops the size of dinner plates, huge barnacles fishing, swimming scallops chattering like false teeth through the water, and decorator crabs in all the latest fashions. Coming up towards our safety stop I realized we had covered quite a bit of distance and the scenery had changed again. Here was ribbony kelp, purple sea urchins,  and some perch. A few feet below the surface Bruce pointed out a small jelly to me and we realized at the same time that there was a smack of them, all around us. I surfaced laughing and ready to do the whole thing again. A five star dive, to be sure.

Nudibranch

We waited only as long as we had to before getting back in the water again but we passed the time eating granola bars and watching the sea lions hunting not far from the boat. He wasn’t bothered by us at all but as soon as we entered the water he cruised by us to take a look. This dive was similar in features to the previous day, substituting the deep Gorgonians for the inclusion of a huge China rockfish and a wolf eel but it was equally delightful and made me wish that this amazing site was not quite so far away.

As always, there are more photos on flickr.

Experience Your America – Our NPS Tour

Olympic Peninsula

It started with Mount St. Helen’s. After we got a new truck, we went to Dick’s Drive-in and then Riley and I went to Mount St. Helen’s.

Road trip

Then we went to all of these places:

OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK

Hoh Rainforest

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK

Mammoth Caves

Yellowstone

Bison

En route through Wyoming

Farmland

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Colorado

Elk

TAOS PUEBLO

Taos

Riley

CHACO CULTURAL NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK

Chaco Cultural NHP

Arizona

CANYON DE CHELLY NATIONAL MONUMENT

Canyon de Chelly

Arizona

HUBBLE TRADING POST

Hubble Trading Post

PAINTED DESERT / PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL PARK

Painted Desert National Park

Sunset

DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

Death Valley

Death Valley

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

Yosemite National Park

And finally home.

4468 miles, 9 National Parks and monuments, 10 states. My favourites were Yellowstone, Hubble Trading Post (how I wish I could afford some Navajo weaving!) and Canyon de Chelly, Matt’s were Chaco Culture NHP and the Petrified Forest. Riley liked the dog parks, jumping on hotel beds and sampling sticks in all locations. Next time we will definitely camp out, hike and take it slower so we can explore more places along the way but that was an amazing sampling of

And the Xterra held up exceptionally well. In fact, we christened it Wade Davis, after my favourite explorer.

Check out a whole bunch more photos here.

Kamakura (Japan)

Kamakura

In Spain almost all of my journal entries started with “OMG, it’s so hot” or “I’m melting!” and when I think back to riding around the country on motorcycles in thick leather, the heat in Japan shouldn’t even phase me but OMG, it was so hot! I now understand why every shop sells tengui – beautiful but also highly functional handkerchiefs – and why every woman in Japanese art is holding a fan. What I don’t understand is how they manage to hold it together in real life, wearing stockings and carefully coiffed hair in weather that made me want to stay in my air-conditioned hotel room all day. But for all the chic people walking around Tokyo without noticing the heat, at least some of them were with me on the train to Kamakura, a beach town about an hour and a half south.

I wasn’t going for the beach though – I wanted to see the Great Buddha. Some things never change. When I was a kid I was obsessed with Greek culture and desperately wanted to go to Athens but my mom was afraid I would just party the entire time so she sent me on a home exchange to France instead. You have to try pretty hard to have a party vacation in Kamakura but I feel like my mother would have been satisfied. In the 2 days I was there, I saw 5 temples and 3 shrines and the only time I even saw the sea was from the top of the Hase-dera temple complex. The sad fact is that that is actually the only time I saw the sea the entire time I was in Japan.

Kamakura Buddha

That was too bad but I had better things to do; the Great Buddha was smaller than I expected but beautiful and serene and sitting out in the open (after a tsunami destroyed the Kōtoku-in temple in 1498). This was my first step back into the history of Japan. In Tokyo almost everything is new. Even the Asakusa temple complex that I visited was mostly rebuilt after the war and the city itself seems to be in a constant state of regeneration but Kamakura has been a temple town since about 700 AD.

Hase-dera

Next I went to the Hase-dera temple, a Buddhist temple dedicated to Kannon (goddess of mercy). The literature I was given says that, according to legend the monk Tokudō found a camphor tree so large he thought he could carve two statues with it. Once went to Nara and the other was launched into the sea, letting fate decide where it would end up. It washed ashore close to Kamakura and the temple was built for it. The statue of Kannon was impressive but what struck me even more were the statues of tiny buddhas lined up everywhere like a little army. They are statues of the Jizo Bodhisattva who helps the souls of dead children to reach the paradise and they are everywhere, covering all the landings as you climb up and up and up, with potato chips and flowers and candles left for offerings.

Kamakura

That night I stayed in a traditional guest house with gorgeous post and beam construction, a traditional sand pit stove and teakettle and tatami mats. At night we unrolled our soft futons in a communal female room and lay out pillows that are stuffed with adzuki beans. There was no air conditioning and I thought I was in for a sleepless night but it’s amazing what can be done with air flow in a house made of screens and both the pillow and the bed turned out to be completely comfortable. I was amazed to see so many women travelling by themselves too. Japan is notoriously safe (and one of the reasons it won out over other destinations for me) but the only man in the guesthouse was one that worked there. The rest were solo women travellers, some on the road for months at a time, through many countries, others travelling in groups from relatively close by in Japan.

It was wonderful to be in such a welcoming space after the masculine no-nonsense business hotels of Tokyo and I would have loved to stay for a few days to get into the rhythm of it but there were temples to see and I don’t honestly know if I could have lasted much longer without A/C.

Hōkoku-ji

The next day I went to Engaku-ji, Kenchō-ji, Tōkei-ji (the “divorce temple”), Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū, and Hōkoku-ji (the “bamboo temple”). Engaku-ji and Kenchō-ji are the darlings around town, huge monastery complexes rated #1 and #2 for Zen temples in the area. I was impressed by the many outbuildings and gardens but without having an opportunity to sit for a meditation session, most of it was lost on me. Instead I preferred Tōkei-ji which got it’s start as a refuge for battered women and was instrumental in cementing Japan’s divorce policy because they considered women to be officially divorced after staying there for three years. Hōkoku-ji is called the “bamboo temple” because it is housed in an grove of enormous bamboo. Most of the grounds are closed off but there is a teahouse and sitting drinking a bowl of bitter matcha tea while the green light filtered through the bamboo down was worth the trip in itself. I felt closed off from the world and so calm – which I imagine is the point of a temple.

Lotus

Most of the temples I had been to so far are Buddhist (including the one I went to in Richmond) but Meiji-Jingu in Tokyo was Shinto and I loved it and now  Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū was my favourite site in Kamakura. In Japan, Buddhist temples are noted by the -dera or -ji appended to their names, and shrines are jinja. I love the orange Torii gates and flags leading up the path, the shrine maidens in their white robes and the various activity stations. At Tsurugaoka I wrote a prayer for peace and happiness on a horse ema – a wooden plaque that is hung up with the wish on it for the gods, and I bought a fortune by shaking a cylinder with numbered chopsticks in it – the number of the one that falls out corresponds to a drawer with your fortune in it. Fortunately mine was both good and in English so I kept it with me. If you get a good fortune you’re supposed to save it and if not then you tie it to a fence and say a prayer. Next that I perused the amulets and purchased one to ward off senility. Later I learned that each shrine and temple has its own stamp and calligrapher so I bought a calligraphy book and had it inscribed as well. I was tempted to back track to the temples I had already been to that day but instead I worked on filling it up in Kyoto and Koyasan and it is one of my most treasured souvenirs from Japan.

Calligraphy

But I still wasn’t ready to enter the shrine. There is some crossover in the history of Shinto and Buddhism and there is also a lot of similarities in the way people behave at the sites. Most have a purification area near the entrance where bamboo ladles are laid out on a fountain. To purify yourself, first you pour water onto one hand then onto the other, then rinse your mouth from the water in your hand and pour the remaining water out into the drain (not back into the fountain). Inside a Shinto shrine you swing a heavy rope pull to ring the gong get the god’s attention, then throw a coin into the (insanely loud) offering box, bow deeply twice, clap your hands twice, bow deeply once more and pray for a few seconds. For someone who was raised to be as quiet as possible in church this all feels quite noisy and public and jovial and I loved all of them.

I found out later that I had effectively come in the back door, that this shrine was the darling of Kamakura and a wide tree-lined street leads up to it from the train station, but I am used to nosing around and I see everything eventually. But I wasn’t expecting to see a wedding!

Wedding

As I came up to the main pavilion I saw the groom wearing a kimono and the bride in white wearing the traditional hat that my guidebook says is designed to hide the woman’s horns until after the wedding. The musicians sat on the side of the pavilion and were dressed in turquoise robes but everyone else stood outside, many dressed in beautiful kimonos – although there seemed to be as many professional photographers as guests at the wedding. Apparently part of the ceremony includes a shrine maiden dance which I missed but I did get to see the procession down to the main street where their rickshaws were waiting and that was pretty neat. Conveniently, the promenade led out to the train station and since I had checked my bags there in the morning, it made it easy to hop on the bullet train to Kyoto.

More photos from Kamakura are here.