Sunday, January 15, 2012

Winter Paddling ROCKS!

Going out in a kayak in winter is one of the best things about kayaking. For one thing, there are a lot fewer people on the city beaches. This means that an urban-based paddler like myself isn't always running a gauntlet of sunbathers, beach-walkers, and dogs swimming after tennis balls. I like a beach that's not crowded with people, particularly in winter when I'm wearing my old wetsuit with the mend on the bottom.
It's okay if a few people are around. As I carried my little inflatable past the parking lot in Gyro Park, two young people boggled at me walking past. Of course, they were properly bundled up for January weather with a little snow and frost. "Isn't it cold for going on the water?" one asked.
"Sure, it's cold," I answered. "But it's not windy, rainy, snowing, or stormy!" Understanding dawned, and they laughed & waved me on.
On the frozen puddles by the boat ramp, three little girls were learning about ice. They slid around in their rubber boots, squealing and shrieking with delight. "That was great!" said one. "We can do that on other ones," said another. "Look! There's more over there!" squealed the third. And they clomped off to find another patch of frozen puddles. It reminded me so much of the school field trips when my kids were growing up in a pretty flat area of Alberta. Every winter, the teachers would walk all the kids over to a nearby farm, so they could learn what a hill was like, especially for sliding. Kids around Victoria don't get much chance to play on icy puddles, so it's good to see them having fun while they can.
The sun was out, and it was a perfect winter day for playing outdoors. I paddled over to the little rock garden. All along the shoreline and the rocks I could see frost and icy places where rainwater seeps down from above. It hasn't rained for days, but water is still seeping down.
Going past Sheep Cove, I saw the little seal who hangs around the bay and shoreline. There were ducks again, too: mallards and pintails so timid, wood ducks and harlequins and mergansers a little more bold. And surf scoters and buffleheads, all tidy black-and-white.
Best of all were two oystercatchers, nibbling at things in the kelp revealed by the tide partly out. For black birds, these are such bright things, too. Today I saw not only their bright red beaks and pink legs & feet, but their bright eyes looking at me paddling past the shore. There's a local artist who does many paintings of these charming birds -- check out Anne Hansen's website with images of her work.
These were the best of all the birds I saw, even the bald eagle, because they let me look at them as I went by. The eagle was perching on a stone at Flower Island, and when I was crossing the little channel he took to the air and flew away along the shore. I think it was a he because we've seen bigger eagles here, and from what the books tell me it's the female eagles who are the biggest.
Just past Flower is Evans Rock, where I've seen sea monsters of entirely ordinary kinds -- a whale and an elephant seal -- but no official Cadborosaurus yet. I say yet because I have a sneaking suspicion that paddling around in places where they've been seen is going to pay off eventually. It might not be any more fun than getting bawled out by an elephant seal. But if I actually carried the camera John handed down to me, a picture would be possible.
No Cadborosaurus today, though a couple of harbour seals did pop up to look at me as if to say, "Um, you're not really going to hang around for a long time, are you?" I sent a SPOT ok message and went on around Flower and started back.
Out at Cadboro Point by the light, I could see that the freight train was running. Not too much current. And what I thought at first were whitecaps turned out to be floating seabirds, occasionally spreading their wings. Ah! There must have been a school of fish there, just off the point, and the birds were reaching down, one by one, to snag a fish.
Back along the shore with my bow into the wind and my paddle feathered. Sunshine kept the day feeling plenty warm enough, even as a bank of cloud towered over from the American side of the strait. Weather can change here in half-an-hour. We always have to remember.
Thought a bit about two short pieces to write for the blog. One will compare various hats I've worn on the water this year. The other will be about what kayaking has taught me about envy -- what is useful about envy, and what isn't. I'll write them later. When I got back to the house I wrapped up warm, made tea, and put a casserole in the oven to bake. Winter paddling sometimes works out just fine.

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