S2 = C + P

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The beach was made of this creamy white sand – powdery granules made of crushed shells and limestone eroded over millions of years, moved with the tides, currents and wind, slowly and gradually pushed back against the shore, grain after grain, and now forming the soft cushion I was resting on. This quiet little place located on the westerly side of Isla Espiritu Santo, just outside La Paz in Baja California Sur, was tuck between two long cliffs made of a multitude of volcanic ash layers, a product of the Miocene Era. Just like a pair of blinkers on a horse, these mineral fingers that advanced way far into the water, protecting this tiny oasis, were also preventing me from seeing the vastness of the Gulf of California, restricting my sight of this interior sea to just a sliver of emerald water. But that didn’t really matter since darkness had fallen and now my gaze was looking up, laying on my back, my hands behind my head, my eyes lost in an ocean of stars.

I was contemplating a world that was beyond my comprehension, a reality that was bigger than me, a universe that hold more secrets and treasures than I could fathom, and this reigning serenity was the perfect way to end the day.

The morning started with a gentle breeze, as the sun peeking above the horizon began its ascent into a cloudless blue sky, flooding the air with warmth, fueling invisible particles of oxygen and nitrogen with heat, causing them to move and swirl faster and generating the wind that would later slow my progress. This transition from darkness to light, this dance between the Sun and the Earth was affecting everything – the air, the ocean, the animals, the plants, and myself.

This planetary movement was intricately linked to the complex biological process that was happening in my body as my eyes were opening after longs hours of sleep, a ritual that has been fine tuning itself for thousands and thousands of year. The level of melatonin in my blood was decreasing as the presence of cortisol was going up. It is believed that this event is linked to the hippocampus in preparation of facing stress during the day. My lungs were expanding with more vigor, flooding my blood cells with oxygen, waking my muscles back from their comatose state. The same muscles that would later push against the wind.

Every part of my body was awakening. Slowly, I was becoming more in tuned with my surroundings. My existence on this planet was connected to the Universe. These carbon atoms of which my body is made of were affected by a star millions of miles away, by the gravity of the moon above me and by the unknown forces that controlled the solar system. How is it possible that we believe that Life revolves around us?

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With every paddle stroke, my thoughts, my worries, my wishes, my struggles, my joys and my pains are stripped away, leaving me naked but with clarity and perspective.

After cooking breakfast, sipping yerba mate and packing the gear into the kayak, I walked into the sea pulling the kayak off the beach. With a quick jump, I maneuvered myself into the cockpit and started to paddle. Looking back one last time, I offered my goodbyes to an imaginary host – a customary practice I do every time I arrive and depart a location, paying my respects to a place which doesn’t belong to me, honoring the hospitality I humbly received. In the same manner that I always ask the Ocean permission every time I travel its realm. It is not a religious belief but rather the understanding that my future is in the hands of nature.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Henry David Thoreau

The clear blue sky had become swamped with hundreds of white smudges, much like the freckles on a summer skin. The peaceful clarity of the morning had left and in its place was some kind of an orchestrated chaos. The pelicans were flying everywhere and diving on bait fish while being harassed by sea gulls that trailed them like leeches. Rays of all different sizes jumped out of the water mysteriously, giving me the impression that the sea had turned into a giant Whack-A-Mole game. Frigate birds high in the sky keeping an eye on passing-by blue-foot boobies, waiting to steal their catch. Turkey vultures gliding effortlessly counting the days for the nearby carcass of a sea lion to reach its perfect decomposition state. Bouncing waves from the cliff with the current running around the island, plus the waves coming from the open sea and the head winds were creating this tempestuous surface that made me feel like I was sitting on a mechanic bull. And that was only what I could see. I am sure that if I poked my head underwater, I would discover another world of madness. All this energy, these whirlwinds of life, this pool of bouncing atoms, was creating heat, moving up and feeding what were now giants puffy monoliths.

No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength” Jack Kerouac

The tent was up and the dinner was cooked. Pelicans were still feeding, picking the last of the survivors of what had been earlier in the day a bait ball of probably in the tens of thousands. But the way they flew and dove looked heavy and lazy. Even the sea gulls had giving up pestering them, instead floating on the water or resting on a rock nearby screaming like young spoiled brats – Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! I was reminded for a second of what we must look like after a Thanksgiving dinner, stuffed to the ears and still reaching out across the table grabbing one last piece and managing swallowing it down only with a deep breath. Who said we were different from the animals?

After its daily journey across sky, the sun was about to disappear behind the horizon, painting the sky with deep hues of orange, pink, red, and purple. Had there been no clouds but a perfect empty sky, the sunset would have still been enjoyable but would have lacked panache. It would have been simple, humdrum, kind of stale and monotonous. There wouldn’t have been any deep hues and many colors. There would have been only a general fading of the light accompanied by a possible green flash and some orange leftover at the end. It was all this energy, this chaos, this frenzy of everything this world is made of, that this sunset was feeding on and giving it back to everyone to see in the most spectacular show ever produced. Beauty was literally rising from the depths of madness.

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The wind was barely rolling over the water and the round fluffy silhouettes up above were moving away. The night was taking hold and bringing along with it its posses. Venus, Jupiter, Vega, Arcturus, and Regulas were the first to show up but give another hour and the room would be filled with billions of others. As much as this place was buzzing with noise just hours earlier, now silence was of order.

It seemed to be a necessary ritual that he should prepare himself for sleep by meditating under the solemnity of the night sky… a mysterious transaction between the infinity of the soul and the infinity of the universe.” Victor Hugo

Laying down on that beach, I let the world sink in. I let my thoughts disappear. I let the silence take over. I am staring at this night sky filled with stars and know that, like earlier, looking out and seeing only a sliver of the sea, I am seeing only a tiny fragment of what we call the Universe. There is so much out there. How can we think so much of ourselves in front of such inexplicable beauty and mystery? Why are we so insecure about our evolutionary identity? Why can’t we find comfort in the knowledge and humility that there are things that are bigger than us? Having no meaning in the big scheme of the universe doesn’t mean we have no meaning in life. It just means that ultimately, we matter for a moment, for the ones around us. And that is important. But in the end, the atoms that we borrowed are returned. And the only things left are memories and legacies. Even those, unfortunately for the ones who have past but to the benefit of the ones who will come, will fade away with time.

The cacophony of life is necessary. The buzzing and frenzy of our culture has a creative purpose and we shouldn’t underestimate its value but more importantly, clarity and perspective happen only when silence and solitude are present. In our culture of multi-tasking, every hour filled with endless distractions and finding ourselves relentlessly connected to our technology devices, these alone times are becoming rarer and rarer leaving us with an incapacity to delve and think deeper, stuck in the shallowness found within 140 characters. More than ever, we must find the time to STOP. BREATHE. RELAX & LISTEN.

S2 = C + P (Solitude & Silence = Clarity + Perspective)

In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in an clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.” Mahatma Gandhi

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The Power of the Voice

The black bear stood tall, mounted on his hind legs, only 15 feet away from me. Its nose was covered with long grey hair, some remnants of a deer carcass it was just feeding on. Its front paw claws hung in front of him while the ones on its back paws were firmly dug into the ground. Its nostrils grew larger, then smaller, with a rhythm, inhaling the air with vigor, deciphering what the emptiness around us hold secret. Its fur was wet and looked heavy and scrubby – the weight of winter hibernation still buried deep into him. Our eyes, these marvels of evolution, so similar to each other despite belonging to such distinct species, were locked and engaged into a staring contest. As if on cue, the birds stopped chirping and the forest became silent. Just a slight cold breeze bristling the needles of Pacific Northwest conifers. In some distant corner of my memory, these iconic musical notes for a duel in a Western movie were coming out of the closet.

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I had left Telegraph Cove earlier that day. The tiny historical village was located at the north end of Vancouver Island, about 6 hours from Victoria. I had paddled south for about 5 miles and set up camp. The plan was to spend the night there then cross Johnstone Strait the next day, visit the famous Orca Lab and circumnavigate Hanson Island. With the tent up and food hoisted up in a tree, I grabbed the camera and went on a hike to investigate the area.

No more than 20 minutes had passed when I heard a sort of crunching noise, somewhere not far, over to my right, through the thick green canopy. The sound puzzled me. My hearing over the years has become attuned to strange things, the wilderness is always full of weird melodies, but this in particular was forcing me to search my repertoire of possibilities.

With binoculars in hand, I crouched and moved forward, slowly and silently, like a lion stalking its prey. My blood started to rush, my pupils dilated and my senses became super sensitive. My ancestral hunting mode had just turned itself on. I was aware of everything – the ground beneath me, the air around me, the trees surrounding me. Every step became a thoughtful process, assessing the sturdiness of leaves and branches, before I delicately lay my foot or hand over. When I photograph an animal, I make a point of not hiding, but this was different. I didn’t know what was on the other side of the curtain and before I announce myself I wanted to know what or who was there.

Inching my way closer to the source, a change in the pattern emerged. What was supposed to be green, now was black. It took only a fraction of a second to realize what it was – a black bear. But what was it doing? It was not really moving. It fact it was in one spot, its head low and slightly moving upward from time to time. Its body was mostly stationary and its focus was concentrated on what seemed to be one single task. But what was it? On the ground around was nothing in particular and yet, through my binoculars, the bear seemed to be tearing something from something else! I still remember the thoughts running through my mind – what is it that this bear is doing? It was certainly not digging. There was really no sign of a carcass, no bones sticking out, there was really nothing that would give me any clue. So I inched my way closer.

At this point, having identified the culprit, the hunter in me subdued itself and the photographer in me rose. So I took a branch with my two hands and broke it. The cracking sound reverberated through the air and the bear abruptly stopped, its ears aiming on me. Its eyes locked on my position and without any hesitation, it interrupted itself and started walking towards me. At that moment, I took my camera out, took a deep breath and connected with the inner power within me, from a species that has evolved and successfully spread its reach to almost every corner of the earth. For thousands of years, my ancestors stood where I stood, when two predatory species face each other and judge what is at stake and the possible outcomes. I was not a threat and it was my responsibility to communicate and transmit my intentions. As the bear maneuvered its way through the trees covered in moss, I let the moment sink and kept contact with the wild animal. The wilderness demands to be respected and honored. I was a visitor and my intrusion was nothing of a farce. I had imposed myself onto the bear, disrespecting its intimacy. Now I had to answer for my actions in a humble and respectful way.

Kneeling on the ground, I announced my stand. I was not to disrespect the bear no more, but I was also not going to give away the control of this situation. When wild animals meet, and right now I was one, it is all about the bluff, who holds the fear and who owns the moment. The bear in theory and physically had pretty much all advantages over me. And yet, I had to show him that I was not afraid and convince him that an attack on its behalf would be a waste of energy and not worth the effort.

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As it walked, I started to talk: “Hello Bear, I am not here to take anything away from you. This is your territory and I apologize for the intrusion. I will respect you as long as you respect me.” My words filled the silence. While they communicated my intentions and presence, the tone and calmness of the delivery reassured me. The voice carries a lot of energy. The sounds that emanates from our mouth, the air that originates from inside our lungs is pure vibration. It is alive. It has a power, and yes it can also announce a lack of it. From the dawn of life, every single species has used its vocal capacities to communicate with the world. And right now, my words were carrying my intentions and making a stand.

The bear stopped. It studied the situation. Its ears, eyes and nose were in overdrive. What was I? Was I a threat? Was I a threat to its territory? To its food? Whatever I was, I was certainly not something it was happy to have around. So it moved forward and closer. Continuing talking to him, my tone and assertiveness changed drastically when he got off the mount of dead tree and found itself no further away than about 25 feet from me. At that moment, my voice got deeper and sturdier. I remembered that scene in the Lord of Rings when Gandalf stood on that ridge, hitting the ground with his staff and loudly spoke:”You Will Not Pass!” I didn’t have a gray beard nor I had a staff, but my command to the bear resonated and echoed across the forest. As my words faded into the distance, the bear stopped, stared at me, turned around and went back to the place it had come from. The dynamic had been established. While I had taken control of the moment, from the bear perspective, it felt that I wasn’t a menace and it resumed at tearing whatever it was tearing before my interruption.

With a mix of curiosity and pride, I decided to stay where I was and kept observing. I was still clueless on what the bear was eating and perhaps deep down, some dominant species behavior was forbidding me to leave. So I sat there, not moving for another 20 minutes, glued to my binoculars.

The bear must have felt the annoying stalking cause it came back. And this time, everything felt different. I could see it in its eyes, they were defiant and had a purpose. Its stride was solid and grounded. It was not charging but it was coming with an intent. As it passed the dead tree, my Gandalf move fell into dead ears and I had to suddenly change my strategy. So I stood up.

As we faced each other, eye to eye, predator to predator, mammal to mammal, survivor to survivor, I reached down into my inner core and connected to a primal place I am not even sure existed in me. I don’t carry any firearms but I do have with me ways to defend myself. Attached to my belt was a long machete with a velcro wrapped around the handle. Pulling a John Wayne, my hands hovered at my waist and I told the bear that if it wanted to come at me, I would not go down without a fight and that if one of us would end up beaten, I swore to it, it sure wasn’t going to be me. With my lips closing on that last word, my fingers slowly pulled the velcro and as the stripping sound of the fabric tearing away filled the air, the bear slowly lowered itself back to its four legs, its ears showing sign of defeat and its eyes avoiding contact with me. It throttled back to its spot, then proceeded with much energy at tearing something. To my surprise, I gazed at the bear running away with half a leg of a deer. It had indeed been a carcass hiding there beneath the tree and all this time the bear was protecting an important source of food. The adrenaline still pumping into my veins, I sat down once more on the ground and took a deep breath. I thanked the forest and my ancestors for their protection and apologized to the bear for the trouble.

Our voice and words have tremendous power. Our culture of technology and science might have reduced them to simple  phonetic products, but the truth is that they carry much more. They are vessels filled with subtleties, nuances, emotions, and intent. If the roar of a lion can rule the Serengeti, if the howl of wolf can conquer the forest and if the unique sound of a baby penguin can be recognized by it mother amongst millions of others, imagine what your voice can do.

“Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more.” Confucius