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July 30, 2016

Circumnavigating Salt Spring Island: Milky Way

By Maryanna Gabriel

"Now you have gone, gone to whatever kind of place it may be,
the place where all are shorn..."   -  Aztec Prayer

The ferry was bearing rapidly towards home port, the engines chugging in the darkness, the lights growing larger by the second. I paddled for dear life. A ferry would never see me. I would not even look like a log on their radar. How could I be so stupid as to not carry a watch? One more bad decision in a breathtaking series of them. This must be the last sailing from Tsawwassen and this ferry must be very late. Waves and wind were minor considerations as I fully concentrated on moving the kayak as fast as humanly possible out of the shipping lane.

I managed. The ferry pounded by me, massive and unaware.  My heart thudding, my body aching, my mind a dull roar, I cast my eye along the new surf’s edge for reprieve. There was none. The waves roiled against rocks.  Rounding yet another tip of land, I began a strange paddle the likes of which haunts me still. I was beyond fatigue. The wind and water were unceasingly restless. Hugging the shore had always been my comfort. I found here that that I had to move further out to sea in order to be in the moonlight. The shore itself was as black as ink and the high tide covered all possible landing sites. I knew where I was. It was a gated community and not conducive to camping. I had to keep going. 

It seemed like I was paddling for a long time. A sea lion came up beside me. These creatures can be longer than my kayak and fear once again flooded me. I started to sing. I sang to him and told him I appreciated his escort but that his immediate departure was greatly appreciated. He rose and fell beside me, snorting and curious. I sang some more. Eventually he left. I relaxed just a little.
The Milky Way & Northern Lights 

Then something absolutely amazing happened. The Northern Lights began to play across the sky in bars and flames of wavering pink and green, a curtain of shimmering movement. I was overcome with awe. Everything seemed surreal. I started to feel that fatigue was playing tricks with my perceptions. My arms continued to move rhythmically and I became aware that my spatial sense was not working properly. I stared at the stars and the play of colour with the Milky Way as wonder and gratitude filled me. The lights danced. I paddled on through the night. 

July 22, 2016

Circumnavigating Salt Spring Island: White Caps

By Maryanna Gabriel 

Ganges Harbour

My heart warmed, the kayak restocked with provision, and with the exciting addition of a cook stove, I paddle in style out of the harbour. Darkness falls and I make my way contentedly in the moonlight. The harbour is dotted with islands and I knew where I was going. The water was as still as glass. I am headed to a beautiful beach on Third Sister Island, a very special place. I sleep deeply in spite of someone hacking and vomiting on a nearby sailboat. The next day dawned, and I explore with pleasure. Later, the day brought teenage boys, drinking beer and making a ruckus. I decided peace was a priority and putting my book aside I made the decision to leave. Immediately I knew I had made a mistake. As I crossed the water to shore, I found myself in whitecaps which threatened to swamp me. Cursing the lack of a hatch cover, fear welled up inside of me as waves broke against the kayak. This was clearly dangerous. 

Prayer flew from my lips. Shakily, I made it to the other side and rested in the shadow of a dark looking house that seemed to have eyes although there was no visible sign of life. There was no other spot readily apparent for the tide was high. While waterfront is public at beach level, it seemed I had no choice.  I watched the surf warily and the wind only picked up. Reluctantly I made camp. Dinner was delicious. I settled back, my stomach at least satisfied, and stared at the strange upright piles of stones and "found" objects that littered the beach. They seemed to be fetishes. It was downright creepy. I could not shake the feeling I was being watched. The moon rose and I drifted off to an uneasy sleep.

I awoke with a start. Something was very wrong. Wind or no wind, I wanted out of this place. It was giving me goose bumps. I had no clock but I judged it to be past midnight. The sea boiled around me as I launched. I crossed a bay and heard something that made my blood run cold. There were sucking noises as waves arose out of nowhere and lifted and crashed. Never before had I experienced such a grim sound. My blood ran cold. I paddled with all my strength through boiling cauldrons of water as I struggled with whirl pools, the winds roaring around me. In my minds eye I imagined what it would be like sitting by the fire reading about this epic, wishing very much I was in that armchair. It crossed my mind I might die. If swamped, I thought in all probability I would be able to swim to shore, once the kayak sank. I imagined knocking on one of the doors of the houses, a sorry sodden mess, spending years of my life paying back the lost equipment. Somehow, carrying on like this, and muttering implications to heavenly hosts, I made it to Long Harbour.  I would not go down it, I decided. Too long. I was tired. It was late. I would save time and go across the mouth of the harbour in search of a beach on the far side. All of the ferries were berthed by now.  A third of the way across I noticed lights on a boat far off in the distance. As I stared these lights began to loom. It was a ship. Oh oh. Could this really be a BC Ferry? All of the ferries were not berthed. Oh no. I could hear the thump of engines. It was coming rapidly. It was bearing down on me faster than I could paddle.

July 15, 2016

Circumnavigating Salt Spring: Baked

My soul was dry and my heart a wisp. I was on empty, craving refilling. The wind, waves, and water were very healing. The sun warmed my bones and cooked my brains. The quiet was bliss, away from the drone, where I could soothe my jagged emotions and where the great mother sea and earth held me in grand orchestration. 

Seals sunning themselves. 
Days pass. My lips are swollen from the sun. I swim. I find an oyster for my supper. Wildlife visit me at night, a family of otters and then a deer came right to me where I lay trying to sleep. During the day the steady rhythm of paddling takes hold of me absorbing me into a trance-like peace. I paddle companionably by seals sunning themselves. My eyes drink in the shapely Arbutus and Gary Oak as I pass small islands and watch the shore with curiosity. It was a whole new experience to see the wildness of where I lived from this perspective. I was entranced. A dank bay offered me silty reprieve from the surf and gave me pause to take stock of the supplies, a very odd assortment of food and limited water. Clicking my tongue in alarm, I chastised myself for giving my power over to my friend who assured me there was ample. I would have to restock. I would try and make contact with my daughter, probably from Ganges. One day melted into the next. My arms gained muscle tone and my mind relaxed more deeply than it had in recent memory. I settled into the glaring sun, negotiating the surf taking my time around the bays and inlets, cursing my inadequate eye wear.  

I found myself heading down Ganges Harbour, captivated by the waterfront houses and by the wildlife, feeling hardened and baked by the summer heat. Ganges assailed me, an insult to the senses. The streets teamed with summer tourists and the heat came off the pavement in waves. Normally, 12,000 people live on the island, but in the summer, the town swells with visitors. I located my daughter working at her summer job. She agreed to meet me later, with the food that I needed at a nearby beach. I waited. She greeted me with pizza and supplies and we fell into each others arms. Restocked with hugs and food, and reassured all was well with her, I launched once again. 

I wait for my daughter at Churchill Beach in Ganges Harbour. 

July 9, 2016

Circumnavigating Salt Spring: Decisions

By Maryanna Gabriel

A course I had been attending was finally done and I had my certificate in hand. You know what its like. Being done with it all. The heart is heavy and the soul weary and all one wants to do is soothe the senses. I mostly craved silence. The absolute peace of it. I yearned to be away from mindless chatter and a busy schedule. I had been thinking about circumnavigating the island for a long time and kind of talking myself out of the idea the way one does. Salt Spring island is 184 kilometers long and has 135 kilometers of shoreline, pristine and beautiful. When a friend suggested some time out together on a two night trip, I accepted. It would not be a circumnavigation but the timing was perfect for what had lately been on my mind. 

Launching from a beach, not far from where we lived, we set out. Whether it was the wine that
The decision is made. 
disappeared on the first night, or my thoughtful silence and monosyllabic responses, she announced without warning  her dog did not have enough food and that she was heading up Fulford Harbour towards home. I was dismayed. She told me to continue if I wished, that it would be alright with her that I use the equipment, just to mind I took care of it. I recognized this as an opportunity, and that a solo kayak was what I wanted more than anything. The clear skies beckoned, we said our good byes and her parting comment rang in my ears that I had no hatch cover or float bag. What? Mildly disturbed, I weighed in my mind the risks and turned inward with the question. Do I keep going with the knowledge I was handicapped? Food was also a problem. I got the inner nod. It was a go. 

July 1, 2016


By Maryanna Gabriel

My credit card and I are languishing in tremulous quiet here in the garden while we both recover from all of the to'ing and fro'ing as visitors flock to the island on this long weekend. I contemplate the wonders of rubbish bins in my travels. It is so exciting to conveniently come upon them so frequently as if other places feel it their responsibility to provide them. Imagine. On the island here we tend to be quite miserly about this as a provision. The scant collection is barred with grates and tiny holes as if to unwelcome the matter and further impede entry. It must puzzle visitors who look around for one that is nowhere in sight as they madly stuff ice cream napkins back into their purses. That's the idea, I suppose. There is a side effect which entails a lot of citizen participation from the locals. One feels quite reckless and gleeful on the mainland. It's the little things but not the sole reason I leave, of course, but never mind all that now. I want to tell you about when I kayaked around the island. You see I had been attending school on Vancouver Island....