The Joy of Kayaking, and the Lack of Landmines

The Joy of Kayaking, and the lack of landmines.

How lucky are we? How fortunate our lives are that though aware of the violence taking place daily around the globe, and our unshakable need to harm each other continues, largely we remain untouched by it all in our day to day here in Canada. I can walk to town to meet with friends for coffee unencumbered by nagging thoughts of danger should step off the pavement and by chance trip a landmine. The last time a scud missle landed in my backyard was, well…never! We take this for granted and so we should. Life here in the Gulf Islands is especially calm so much so that we can go about our daily business in giggly bliss. Then came a day that I met someone who touched my life for a moment and reminded me without words what is important. She was a girl living on the island that summer, but it was not until days before her departure for her homeland of Israel that we met and I introduced her to sea kayaking. To spend a summer on my island and never sit in a kayak, or smell the salty air at sunset was a crime that I could not let go. It did not take too much coaxing to get her to give it a try, She had already tossed caution to the wind by traveling the world and woofing on a local organic farm. Tzela pronounced ‘Say-ella’ had a chance to paddle.

Cartwheels of joy on Chocolate Beach, Salt Spring Island, BCPhoto by Dave Barnes

Cartwheels of joy on Chocolate Beach, Salt Spring Island, BC
Photo by Dave Barnes

I put her in my short Current Designs Pachena and she taught me that nothing can be too hard to handle as within minutes she was cruising along beside me as though she had kayaked all her life. We left a beach at the end of the road where I had grown up after a brief glimpse of my old house and apple orchard. She was in awe of the relatively quiet life we islanders shared and of some of my stories of growing up on Salt Spring Island. The carry of the two kayaks down the short path and zig-zag hairpin corner down the concrete steps designed not with kayakers in mind, she was silent. I mistook this quiet for a sudden shyness, fear, or anxiety at kayaking for the first time in her life, and going someplace with some strange man. It was none of the above, but a silent inner reflection on how a life can be lived, in peace, without fear, without bombs and without abject hatreds.

Launching from the beach at the end of Churchill Road we set out to the chain of islets  in Ganges Harbour to a crushed shell beach known locally as, Chocolate Beach on Third Sister Island. The beach is a hangout for boaters and party-goers all summer long is also a nice evening paddling destination with views of the sunset. Our paddle began in late afternoon and she had the chance to view nesting eagles on Goat Island, so named because the natives kept herds of, yes goats on this long rock. After forty minutes of watching harbour seals observing us and explaining all the inter-tidal lifeforms our trip ended with the scrunching sounds of shell fragments meeting our hulls. We were in luck to have the beach to ourselves as we said good-bye to a tour group heading back into the harbour.

With a few hours of sunshine as a gift we settled in with snacks I had packed away in my front hatch, including the rewards of cold beer. A trail leads up the hillside away from the beach passed a funky outhouse and onwards to the opposite end of the islet to a ledge over a cliff where we were greeted with views of the channel. On our wandering back Tzela fell into a lengthy silence and only back at our camp on the beach while sitting on a log sipping the warm ends of her can of beer was the quiet that I had no heart to stop, broken. She laughed and stood up brushing bits of shell from her behind and set about a long series of cart-wheeling flips down the slope to the water’s edge were I thought she might keep going, flipping hand over feet into the sea and become a mermaid. Smiling in a broad beam she jumped straight up in the air and returned up the beach skipping, arriving breathless and dow-eyed at the partly submerged log that had become our dinner table. It was a pure, unmarked expression of joyous abandon that had been stored up in her cells since birth. “No landmines, Dave!”

A warm afternoon on Chocolate Beach with someone who felt free for the first time. Photo by Dave Barnes

A warm afternoon on Chocolate Beach with someone who felt free for the first time.
Photo by Dave Barnes

She asked if we were allowed to go to the adjacent island, and I nodded. We packed up and in minutes arrived at the dock leading ashore to the old footings of an abandoned attempt at homesteading. We snuggled into a cleft of the rocks and I brewed tea. Tzela sat arms wrapped around her knees, and instead of watching the sun setting she watched the gathering darkness in the East. To this day, I wonder if this was a look homewards? Our return paddle was not a quiet affair. Tzela returned to singing as she had done at points on our way out. This time the song lasted the entire trip to the launch site. I was treated to a cold beer at the pub for my efforts, but was rewarded far beyond that with a memory of kayaking joy.


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  1. #1 by steve on February 22, 2014 - 3:12 am

    Thanks for that story. Once again, kayaks and paddlers do a good thing for humanity! I lived in cambodia for a year where landmines are a part of life. After a year one of my moat vivid memories was a news story of 14 farmers being blown up riding in a truck heading to the fields to work for the day by a landmine that had been in the roadway for decades. I’ve spent 2 yrs in afghanistan. We do take our our own worlds for granted. thanks again for that story.

    • #2 by paddlinboy on February 22, 2014 - 4:21 am

      Thankfully, I have led a safe (apart from some stormy paddle days) life, and was so unaware of my conceit in taking it all for granted until it was put in front of me that day by some of the things she said. Her life was not caring a bit about war, or politics or the reasons why her home was in the bulls=eye. If a hippie could live secretly in a war zone it was her, but it obviously took some subconscious toll which fell off that day in the form of cartwheels, singing and laughter. Her hidden self popped out and I was the benefit for it. My memory of it reminds me never to be so complacent again.

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