Saturday, June 15, 2013

Every wing needs an anchor, every anchor needs a wing

Last month my best friend from Toronto came to visit me in Vancouver. We always have a ton of fun together, as we tend to push each other to extremes. Luckily, one of us is *usually* more rational at any given time, such that we strike a ‘fun’ balance and avoid dire police arrest...permanent physical injury...or brain damage, perhaps (though signs of the latter two outcomes are arguable). Given that we hadn’t seen each other in two months, however, we feared that our mutual overexcitement may make our radical tendencies consume us both simultaneously. We therefore hypothesized that this particular trip might indeed end in death. Being the astute, contemplative scientists we are, we decided that we were willing to take the risk.



We began the trip by getting tattoos together. We wanted to avoid the commonality of getting matching tattoos, so we pondered heavily on original ideas. A few minutes later we came up with a brilliant decision that we were certain we’d be happy with for the rest of our lives: an anchor and a wing; symbols of our ability to balance each other’s extremes. It was perfect. But wait, who would be the anchor and who would be the wing?! As I brooded back and forth, Mauricio barely breathed before exclaiming: ‘OBVIOUSLY you are the wing! You fly wayyy more than I do.” I wasn’t sure whether that was a compliment or an insult, but I liked the idea of a wing better so I went with it.

To keep with the spontenaiety of our relationship, I planned absolutely nothing for his visit (besides tattoos). The only thing I suggested was going up to my island for most of the trip, where all sorts of shenanigans would naturally unfold. The most riveting part of our times together is that while we know we will do crazy (or stupid?) things, we never, ever can predict what they will be. Take the excursion to go clam digging for example. Yes, clam digging. Anyone that has gone clam digging knows that it’s a pretty benign process. You go to a beach at low tide and dig into the sand with a shovel to get clams. It’s pretty comparable to digging for worms in your garden. For some reason, however, I find clam digging wildly exciting. I would do it all day long if it weren’t for the changing tides (why am I a wing again?!). This was therefore something I insisted we do on one of the first days of our trip.

The best place to find clams is at an expansive beach right across the inlet, a few km away. Not too far – but still, a motor boat is *usually* required to get there (*meaning ALWAYS*). We owned an old, rickety aluminum boat that had probably been tied up on the ramp of our dock for the last ten years, and naturally decided this would be a great opportunity to test its sails. After managing to carry it down to the dock and carefully placing it in the water, it began furiously filling with water. Stressed and confused, we flailed around trying to find the source of the leak, only resulting in more water infiltrating our sinking ship. Finally, after searching for the source of the leak for what seemed like hours, we noted a giant gaping hole in the back. No wonder it was tilting backwards! (How many PhDs does it take to find a giant hole? TWSS? Too far?) This hole was clearly an intended feature of the boat and not a puncture caused by flying shrapnel or some other incident likely to occur on the dangerous shores of the Sunshine Coast. We reverted back to our sharp science skills and hypothesized that there must be a plug that was meant to fill the hole, and that the hole was supposed to be there to drain it when pulled to land. Genial! Mauricio ran into the tool shed and began rummaging haphazardly through my father’s old toolkits. Suddenly he yelled “I think I’ve got it” and came running back with a battered piece of rubber that looked like it was about 100 years old. “That’s probably it,” I answered. Sure enough it was a near-perfect fit, as would be expected from its worn-out state.

Our not-so-trusty boat

Things were starting to come together. The boat was in the water and it was no longer sinking! What success. Now all we had to do was attach the motor. My father liked to brag about the robustness of our great motor, given that it had roared us across the ocean without a glitch for the past 40 years. How promising that seemed. Unfortunately, while we managed to attach it to the boat, we were unable to start it despite many fierce attempts. We choked it, pulled it, pumped it, and choked it again, but to no avail. My father’s words of advice over the telephone were particularly helpful: “It’s a great motor, it should work. If I were there I could fix it.” Despite his profound words of wisdom, we admitted defeat after half an hour of continuous attempts. There was no way this motor was starting. The stream of gas leaking into the water every time we tried to start it was not encouraging either. Then Mauricio came up with a (self-proclaimed) brilliant solution: “I know, let’s paddle across!” I rolled my eyes before he could even finish his sentence. “There is no way we can paddle across!” I exclaimed. “First of all, it is very windy. Second, it would take us hours. Third, we would miss low tide. And fourth, are you stupid?” I couldn’t help but be a bitch about it. Still, Mauricio insisted: “It will be an adventure! I think we can do it. And if not we can chill in the middle of the ocean and have a rave.” At this point I realized there was no way I was going to pull him back to sanity so I stopped arguing. I figured if we tried and failed it would teach him a lesson and I would come out as a brilliant prophesizer and knower of all. So, we packed up our essentials - vodka, cider, candy and life jackets – and were on our way.

It did not take long before we started floating at a 90 degree angle to the direction we were paddling. The waves were strong and no matter how hard we tried, we could not move in a straight line. I began to get very frustrated. Still, Mauricio paddled on, the beads of sweat beginning to cover his face. I stopped paddling. It was useless. A few minutes later, Mauricio paused. “Yeah, we are not going forwards eh?” Yet another astute observation! “Nope, not quite.” I tried to restrain myself from erupting into a flow of curses. When he finally concurred that we had better go back to the island, we discovered that we could not go backwards either. Sideways seemed to be the direction of the day. Luckily, we saw a beach in the direction of the current and decided to let ourselves get swept to the distant shore, where we could wait for the winds to die down. Images of us stranded on a beach surrounded by coyotes and black bears began to taunt me. Hopefully they weren’t candy and vodka addicts like me? When we got closer to the beach, however, we saw a dock on its left-hand side. I began to get excited: “NON-PRIMAL LIFE!” I exclaimed. I immediately retracted my statement when I saw the man standing on the dock. His long, scraggly hair billowed wildly over his sun-scorched face; his head was hunched over and eyes squinted intently like a coyote eyeing its prey; his body motionless as he seized up our approaching craft.This man seemed pretty primal. Finally, he yelled to us: “Are you OK?” “NOOOO!!!” I screamed back desperately. I am pretty sure I didn’t even need to yell, as our flailing hands and paddles were a definite sign that we were in trouble. He cleared a space for us to dock.

When we pulled up to the dock we informed the old man that our motor wasn’t working and we were swept away to sea from our island about a km away. He chuckled. Did we really look that pathetic? He told us to get out of the boat and sit on his balcony while he checked out our motor. We were halfway up the ramp when we heard the motor roar to life. We turned around to see him sitting by a smoking, rattling – and fully functional – motor. How the hell did he do that?! Mauricio and I exchanged knowing glances. We should stay in science.

Despite a now functioning motor, he was smart enough to realize that we weren’t to be trusted driving it back to the island. Instead, he invited us to stay for the afternoon and offered to tow us back when the winds died down. We were incredibly grateful. So grateful, in fact, that we decided to offer him our most prized possessions: vodka, candy and cider. He seemed to think these were perfectly normal accessories for a clam digging trip and accepted a cider without hesitation. “It’s a little early for my 5 o’clock beer, but I suppose I can make an exception!” he told us as he was already halfway through guzzling back his first cider. “This stuff is SO tasty! WOW!” He bubbled happily. We spent the next three hours chatting and drinking, and learned about the extraordinary life of Chris Gray: a grandfather of twelve whose life and work is maintaining this little cabin. Not only did he build the place himself, but generates his own electricity with a water wheel and makes his own beer. (No wonder the cider tasted so yummy?!) He excitedly showed us around, pointing out the new solar panels he was going to put up. I mentioned something about us seeing them from the hot tub on our island, to which he responded “Oh I am building a hot tub too! It’s going to be fantastic.” I was pretty impressed by this so asked to see the work in progress. He showed us a hole in the ground and what looked to be a bathtub beside it. “It’s kind of a two-person tub, but good enough for me!” I couldn’t help but smile. It was heartwarming and eye-opening to see someone in this day-and-age, in Canada, living so contentedly in such a self-sustainable manner.

Kind Mr. Gray towing us home

We were getting pretty comfortable in Mr. Gray’s humble abode but we clearly liked him more than he liked us, since as soon as 6 o’clock rolled around he jumped up and said “Alright, time to tow you kids back!” We sadly retreated to his boat. Upon our return to the island, however, I was still plagued with a desire to obtain my beloved clams. I decided to investigate the small beach at the opposite end of our cabin and was ecstatic to find a gold mine of clams. Mauricio watched in amusement as I spent the next two hours amassing clam after clam for our dinner. He came to the conclusion that if I did not become a professor I would likely get equal enjoyment out of becoming a clam digger.

Professional clam digger at work

Quite excited to eat my clams


After what turned out to be an awesome day, we had a wonderful dinner of barbecued clams. And while things turned out OK, I still insist that we could have had a close encounter with death on the dangerous seas if we were not lucky enough that the current was moving toward our saviour Chris Gray. And while I have a wing tattoed to myself now, I am pretty sure I was the anchor that day.


  1. you are an anchor ONCE and write this whole thing about it. I should start a blog and write about the wings of Jane. Btw I'm being asked to copy something to "please show that you are not a robot". I think being a robot is pretty anchor-ish don't ya think?

  2. what's up Doc? No more blogs? Hope its in the name of science xxx, no..running and fun, with science paying bills on the side.