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Photo: Wild west wanderings

(Credit: Jordan Van Voast)

Cape Scott, August 1989

One hundred tiny shorebirds skim the wavetops as one. They veer into the diamond reflections, their wings flash white and vanish. Many sacrifices were made to arrive here at the continent's edge, the place of inner beauty and silent knowing.

It has been nearly five years since I sat in a windowless conference room, behind a closed door, facing my supervisor in the trust department of the bank. "So Jordan, where do you think you'll be in five years?"

With an uncharacteristic surge of confidence in myself, having already sensed that I probably wasn't going to hang around for the gold watch at retirement, here in a monotonous job that drained my life essence away hour by hour, day by day, year by year, I responded quite candidly, and without any hesitation: "I have no idea." It seemed such a silly pointless question at the time, I mean, how can anybody know what the future will bring? And to pretend that mere mortals can know, what greater delusion is there?

Now, reflecting from their side of the table, it was a perfectly reasonable question, straight from the management handbook. My supervisor found out what she needed to know about me — I was probably not the best candidate for promotion. And I found out what I needed to know about myself — I wasn't interested in climbing the corporate ladder, and with a tremendous sigh of relief, I stopped trying to be someone I wasn't, the upwardly mobile yuppie chasing material success. I didn't know who I wanted to be, but now, at least I knew I wouldn't be satisfied with anyone else's answers. It was up to me to find out not only the answers, but also to define the questions.

I moved north, across the Canadian border, to a small island off the beaten track, where it didn't seem to matter what was in your past. I was invited by new friends to take up residence in an empty cabin within splashing distance of the surf.

There, my life began again. For a while, I thought that I'd finally found my paradise: a one-room cabin beneath fir trees, looking west across the inland sea to glaciers above Vancouver Island. I'd live out the rest of my life hauling seaweed to the compost pile, reading Tolkien, kayaking over to a friend's cabin for an evening or two of chess, smoking marijuana, watching clouds and waves move across the horizon. It all seemed idyllic, for a couple of months anyways.

"Why do those nasty loggers have to cut down so many trees?", I would mutter to myself, watching a self-powered log-barge steam past, carrying a forest of corpses. I began to wander again, occasionally connecting with other seekers and crusaders out to save the Earth. Many years later, I would realize the Earth didn't need an ounce of my help, just a friend who understood his roots and branches.

One summer day, after a brief spring romance again failed, like all other fantasies that had gone before to produce my perfect happiness, I set out by kayak, paddling north, resuming the search. I still wasn't sure for what I was searching, but I was beginning to see that if I gave up my search and settled for "good enough", I would never discover anything new.

Instead, the burning passion for understanding would eventually turn cold with age, and I would content myself with a comfortable neurotic happiness. If I were lucky enough to live a normal life expectancy, I would probably die of some disease of western excess. Something told me I'd already taken that road before, in many previous lives perhaps, and seeing that it had only brought me to this present moment, a deluded twenty-seven year old at war with the world and himself, I was growing wary of the lures of temporary comforts found in any particular place or person.

Smooth swells originating somewhere beyond the horizon, rise up, collapse in one final gasp. It is my own edge that I return to, again and again. And like the waves breaking endlessly, one after another, this present body and mind is merely a passing moment on infinity's beach, part of an endless succession of mortal waves.

The dust from the bones of all past bodies in the Jordan River of infinite incarnations, could more than fill all the world's beaches, deserts, and river deltas. The name of the river changes, but where does it flow? Do I wish to know, or am I content to aimlessly migrate, blown by the winds of karma, like a stick adrift on the seven seas? Perhaps there is another way.

"We must be true to ourselves, that takes courage. On the journey of life, one of our first goals must be to come to know ourselves." (Unknown)

Morning. Pushing off in the kayak, sand bottom fades into the transparent depths, like so many yesterdays. It is hours before dawn, and the transition from Earth to Ocean, heightens the awareness of traveling between worlds — inner, and outer, temporal and spatial.

A few strokes along the shore, I find a giant back eddy and enter into its domain, connecting with the force of the sun, moon, planets, and my breath... the great circle. Rounding the cape, the full force of ten-thousand-mile grandfather waves greet me. Launching off the top of the first wave, a herd of sea lions suddenly appears and charges towards me, a few paddle lengths away, roaring in indignation that I would dare to enter The Kingdom. Or perhaps they are welcoming me with all the pomp and procession of a visiting king. As drama and appearance explode, unfold, instant by instant, I notice tall cedars silhouetted against orange predawn skies from the corner of my eye. Everything is extraordinarily ordinary.

Ha, to enter the sea;
Do not look on from afar,
For the pearl is in the depths of the sea,
The foam on the shore.
-Rumi

Vast, empty horizon and vibrant abundance in perfect balance. Great completeness is always here, within, around: The sun, moon, tides, a beach curving towards infinity, clouds, dreaming fog, drifting log. Dawn circles around again. I paddle south into the sun.

Two nights ago, paddling through the blackness of midnight, off a shore of dense forest and rock cliff, hour after hour into a cold wet fog, riding the ebb.... What possessed me to journey at such an odd hour? Purification. It was simply time to move. But these "answers" are like dead bones, driftwood littering the shoreline against the Ocean of Truth.

Waves, bears, eagles, ravens, campfires and sand are my companions of late. The memory of "my kind" fades with each day, and with it, human identity sinks deeper into the depths. The one who remains resides every more at the center of knowing.

Nuuchatlitz. Spirits of the ancestors lingers in the shallows. Their dance lives in the waves refracting off cliffs; their drums boom from the sea caves; their eyes from offshore ledges watch the orange kayak passing, and remember the great cedar canoes of yesterday, a mere moment ago in the mind of the Earth protectors.

Clayoquot Sound. The People still live here. They are called Ahousats. They are fishermen, trappers, artisans, healers, elders, mothers, fathers, and children. Red people are gathering with their white, yellow, and black cousins in nonviolent resistance to the rape of the forests by the multinational greed machine.

A sweat will take place at dawn to purify warriors of peace. I have never been part of a traditional sweat lodge and hope this will be my opportunity. While gathering cedar driftwood for the fire, an elder approaches me and asks if I will tend the fire and move the stones for the others. I hesitate, momentarily disappointed, forgetting the unity of the circle of giving and receiving, forgetting that ceremony is not divided into outside and inside, and that all who participate are healed.

Today is my thirtieth birthday and for some reason, I decide to give myself the supreme gift, the gift of giving. Over the past months paddling the open Pacific alone, fire was my friend each evening, cooking rice and mung beans, warming the body, invoking elemental truth, allowing serenity. Each fire was an act of conscious creation — bits of wood carefully selected and placed, tiny flames sparked and nurtured until steady before the wind. Feeding the flame, I feed body and spirit.

Yes lodge keeper, I will heat the rocks and make them glow with the intensity of prayer. Each breath, each footstep will be in synchrony with healing ways and pure presence. May this action bring goodness to all. May the people in the lodge purify all negativity and share in the blessing!

I strike a match and a tiny flicker quickly turns into a roaring blaze. "Firekeeper, bring the sacred stones!" I remove the stones one at a time from the searing heat and quickly brushing ashes away with a cedar bough, I carry them to the door and announce their arrival: "Stone!"

Seven times I repeat this journey, from the fire in the east to the darkness of the lodge-womb in the west. I am mirroring Father Sun's journey through one week, one drop of mind unifying with cosmic presence through ritual play.

"Close the door!" I pull the flap across the east facing door and hear the hiss of water vaporizing on the rocks. Chanting, crying, the people release the grief, fear, and layers of dirt from their minds.

"Open the door!" I pull back the flap and step quickly to the side. The steam that rushes out is full of the discarded negativity.

Three more rounds of seven stones follow, one moon cycle, and then a final cleansing in Mother Ocean. The healing is good!

Message to Canadians: Your coast is the best of what is left on the planet. Fight hard to protect Mother Earth.

This is an excerpt from a longer blog piece I wrote between 1989 and 1990, and published in its entirety on my blog: http://communichi.org/blog/?p=229

http://www.davidsuzuki.org/issues/oceans/projects/healthy-oceans/pacific-ocean-stories/wild-west-wanderings/
Author photo

By Jordan Van Voast

Seattle, WA

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1 Comment

Jul 29, 2013
4:55 PM

Nicely done .

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