Riding the Long Wave

A writer paddles the Salish Sea and ponders the impacts of our society’s short attention span.


It has been four days now since I left Possession Point, and watching the slow descent of dusk over San Juan Channel from a bluff above our camp, I can feel the cumulative effect of these long days on the water settling into my body – days stitched together not by clock time, but by the rhythms of tide and weather, physical effort and fatigue, and the slow turning of daylight and darkness one into the other. The compulsive demands of a clock-driven life do not release their grip easily on the body and mind. It takes time, the kind of open, unfettered time that is becoming an extinct experience for many in our culture. As I sit by the evening calmness on the water, I can feel the same inner spaciousness that comes after a comparable number of days on the cushion in a meditation retreat. This quality of inner presence cannot be forced or hurried. It is not a function of will; nor is it to be found in books or conceptual arguments. Whether by the path of the paddle or the path of the cushion, a comparable duration of time outside of time seems to be required to throw open these gates of inner presence.

artwork of kayaks on a sea of textIllustration by Alison Stephen, alisonstephen.com

The snowcapped peaks of Vancouver Island and the looming Gulf Islands lie in the distance across the international boundary, messengers from a strange and half-forgotten world. The wide strait that lies between us will be the most exposed crossing I have yet made by kayak, and the thought fills me with apprehension. Yet how could these islands be alien? Beyond this artificial boundary are islands in the same chain, scoured from granite uplift by the same Cordilleran ice sheet, home for millennia to the same tribal peoples who could not have imagined such a binding separation. It is these people whose journey across time I am following on this trip. I am leaving the confines of Puget Sound and going home to the Salish Sea.

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Adapted from The Circumference of Home, by Kurt Hoelting. Available from Da Capo Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2010.

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