Friday, February 26, 2010

Together Again

Maybe I am a just a Bible Geek and hardly anyone else really cares, but I find this exciting news.

The Associated Press is reporting that “two parts of an ancient biblical manuscript separated for centuries are going on display together for the first time.” “The pieces of the 1,300-year-old manuscript include the text of the Song of the Sea from the Book of Exodus.” The particular passage is Exodus 15:1-8.

I love the Biblical songs, especially the really, really old ones like the Song of the Sea. They remind me of the songs in Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and I am almost certain in part inspired Tolkien. Reading and especially singing text over 1,300 years old sends shivers up my spine and causes the hair on my arms to stand on end.

The accidental discovery that these two previously separated parts of a single biblical manuscript actually belonged together is evidence that our biblical resources and ties to ancient biblical texts is constantly growing and improving. This can in no way be compared to the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls but I do think it shows that there are still ancient biblical manuscripts waiting to be discovered, manuscripts once tucked away in dusty libraries and later forgotten about or stored in clay jars and buried beneath feet of earth or hidden in caves, or maybe inserted into other folios that have not been opened in ages.

Maybe someday we might discover a copy of a letter Christians in Corinth wrote to Paul.

Snow in Ridgewood, Queens, New York City

It was snowing yesterday morning when I walked Myrrhlyn. It was snowing this morning when I walked him. It will probably be snowing tomorrow morning when we take our morning walk, though by tomorrow I might be wearing snowshoes.

This is only the third winter I have lived in New York City and it is without a doubt the snowiest. Even before this most recent storm dumped a foot of snow on us I asked an older lifelong New Yorker what he thought about this winter, how it compared to previous winters. He said we have received more snow this season than we have received in many years and he had to reach all the way back to his childhood memories to recall a winter with this much snow.

Yesterday the temperature was slightly above freezing and the snow, often falling as down like flakes, was very wet and quickly turned to slush after it fell. Three or four times I shoveled what looked and felt like a giant 7-Eleven Slurpee. Overnight the temperature dropped below freezing, the snow changed consistency, and this morning I woke up to about ten inches of snow on top of an inch or two of slush, with some drifts nearly up to my knees. The gusty winds forced me to squint as Myrrhlyn and I made our morning rounds.

As we circumnavigated the block we saw buried cars (photo top right), local residents cleaning snow off their cars and in some cases digging their cars our from snow drifts or after having been plowed in. Many of the cars already on the road, unable to handle the slush on the streets, were slipping and sliding, unable to gain good traction. I even saw a NYPD Patrol Car, emergency lights flashing, driving by at about 10 mph. I am certain response times are up this morning.

One sight that surprised me my first winter here but that I am now growing accustomed with is seeing pedestrians walking through a snow storm holding an open umbrella over their head. It seems to make sense when the snow is really wet, but when the snow is cold, well, I just don’t get it.

I saw one umbrella yielding pedestrian walking through the middle of the intersection of 70th Ave. and 60th St. in Ridgewood (photo to the right, second from top) probably because she thought the slush on the streets, an inch or two deep, would be easier to negotiate than the eight to ten inches on most sidewalks. I think she was right.

We are predicted to receive another 3-5 inches of snow today, another 1-2 inches of wet snow tonight, and up to an inch of slush tomorrow before the storm winds down and moves out of the area. At least we have power and can easily walk to a store.

I have posted some of this morning’s photos on Picasa so that you can see for yourself what a snow storm looks like in an urban environment.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

NOLS NYC Alumni Service Project

Six alumni of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) observed NOLS Leadership Week by volunteering to help clean and paint Concrete Safaris’ new environs. Concrete Safaris, founded by New York City native and NOLS grad Mac Levine (photo to the right), “empowers youth to become healthy leaders through green exercise programs that enrich the mind, body, community, & environment.” It recently acquired new indoor office and storage space for its gardening and camping gear and is gearing up for spring activities and needed our help.

Gathering on a cold and rainy Tuesday evening, February 23rd at the home of Concrete Safaris in the Washington Community Center near the intersection of 3rd Avenue and 98th Street in New York City, we quickly mixed and poured paint, rolling and brushing it on bathroom and storage space walls. We cleaned light fixtures, countertops, and swept floors. The muscle job of the evening that required at least four to complete was removing an old air conditioner from high between two walls. All work was donated as we gave our time to this local service project.
In addition to Concrete Safaris founder Mac Levine, other NOLS Alumni helping out and in the photo to the left, appearing left to right, were Scott, Amanda, Gint, Toby and (kneeling) me.
After a couple hours of painting and cleaning we called it a night by relocating to El Paso Restaurante Mexicano for a late evening dinner and socializing. When it came time to ante up for the bill, five of us raised enough money to treat Mac, our evening’s host and supervisor.
More photos from the evening’s service project can be seen at my picassa album.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Presbyterian Voices for Justice is Born

Last Wednesday, the website of the former Witherspoon Society announced that it has a new name. It is now the website of Presbyterian Voices for Justice, a union of the Witherspoon Society and Voices of Sophia. According to the announcement:

We have a new name!

We are delighted to announce the new name of the merged organization of Witherspoon Society and Voices of Sophia: Presbyterian Voices for Justice. We offer our thanks and congratulations to Anne Barstow for offering the winning entry in our contest to find a new name -- and our thanks to all the others who have offered very good ideas as well.

We believe it is clear about who we are as a merged organization, maintaining both the “Voices” aspect of the former Voices of Sophia and the broad-reaching “Justice” concerns of the former Witherspoon Society. And it makes clear that we are Presbyterian in membership and outlook. Also, it has a short and easy acronym! We look forward to continuing our discernment of God’s “voice” for justice in church and society.
The union of these two progressive grass root Presbyterian voluntary associations has been in the making since the 218th General Assembly (2008) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in San Jose when it was first publicly announced that the two organizations would be merging. The Boards of the two groups met in a combined meeting last May in Minneapolis to begin massaging the union. The photo of notes on newsprint, to the right, is a small sample of their joint work.

As Eugene TeSelle has noted in his A Network of the Concerned, a brief history of the Witherspoon Society published in 2003, “The Witherspoon Society, organized in 1973, is often called the ‘liberal caucus’ or the ‘Common Cause’ of the Presbyterian Church. While there are a number of special-purpose organizations in the progressive wing of the church, the Witherspoon Society has tried to deal with all the issues and relate to all these kindred organizations.”

I have thought of the Witherspoon Society as a gadfly, calling the PC(USA) and its leaders to account when they back away from the Social Gospel. With a small but passionate membership, the Witherspoon Society has provided theological reflection and community organization for many progressive causes, sometimes acting as a mediator or peacemaker among other progressive organizations whose more focused agendas sometimes find their strategies conflicting.

According to a post on the Voices of Sophia blog, “VOS was organized in 1995 in response to the backlash against the 1993 feminist theological event known as “Re-Imagining.” It was felt by many who were active in the PCUSA at the time that those who advocated feminist values, particularly women staff, were under siege and needed a critical mass of support outside the structures of the church.” Voices of Sophia was intended to be that critical mass and ever since has been “a community of women and men in the larger community of the Presbyterian Church (USA) being reformed by God through the Spirit of the living Christ, and working toward the transformation of the church into a discipleship of equals.”

If both former organizations bring their strengths to this union, progressive peace loving, justice minded, creation affirming, feminist, proponents of the full inclusion of LGBT Presbyterians will have the opportunity of associating with a group that is neither single issue focused or dominated by Pastors of tall steeple large churches. On the other hand, if both partners to this union contribute their weaknesses it will be only a matter of time before its combined membership dwindles and the organization becomes irrelevant. I hope and pray for the former.

Disclaimer: My wife has been a member of Voices of Sophia and both she and I have been members of the Witherspoon Society, both of us having served at separate times on Board of the Society. The opinions expressed above, however, are my own and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of the former Witherspoon Society, Voices of Sophia, or the current Presbyterian Voices for Justice or any other former or current Board Members of the previous or current organizations. Anne Barstow, who suggested name was selected from numerous entrys as the best, is a member of the Rutgers Presbyterian Church in New York City and was a member of the New York City Commission which installed me as Designated Pastor of North Church Queens.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Here are the Nieubhrs

Michael Jinkins, dean and professor of pastoral theology at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas, recently asked on the blog of the Presbyterian Outlook, “Where are our Reinhold Niebuhrs today?"

Perhaps the Reinhold Niebuhrs of tomorrow are today serving small congregations of seventy, fifty or thirty members, preaching the Word day in and day out, doing their best to meet the spiritual needs of the church's members and the social-political needs of the church's neighborhood, town or city. They are speaking out against the growing economic disparity between the rich and poor in our country and between the overdeveloped and underdeveloped world. They are confronting racism, sexism, classism, ageism, and homophobia. And they are risking their pulpits and pocketbooks as they do so.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Another NOLS Night Out

Over a dozen alumni of the National Outdoor Leadership School, spouses, friends and at least one canine companion gathered at the Brooklyn Brewery last night for a bimonthly social. In addition to enjoying conversation with my NOLS friends I enjoyed the Brown Ale while my wife Vicki enjoyed the Pilsner. I think Michael enjoyed several of BB’s offerings. Gint stuck to his Lenten discipline, having given up alcohol. Karen provided a bag of munchies. Gint and Toby can be seen enjoying conversation in the photo to the right.

The Brewery was pretty crowded and so we never were able to claim our own NOLS table and had to stand. The crowd also raised the volume level, making it hard to hear the conversation unless you were six inches to a foot away from the person you were talking with.
Afterward some of us trekked south to the Relish Restaurant for dinner, dessert, and more conversation in a quieter setting where tables and chairs were available. Low light levels at both locations limited photo-ops, nevertheless, some NOLS Alumni can be seen at table in the photo to the left.
For the record, a trail map was unfolded at the Brewery and a trails guidebook was seen on the table at the Relish. Trips past and present were discussed,as well as an upcoming service project. The NOLS tradition thus continues.
If any NOLS alums in New York City have not yet discovered it, there is a NOLS Alumni – New York City Group page on Facebook. More photos can be seen at my Picassa page.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mountain Anamnesis

I am still meandering through John Muir’s The Mountain’s of California. His description of the forests of the Sierra has been a little slow going, but out of the blue, in the midst of his description of the “Magnificent Silver Fir, or Red Fir,” I stumbled upon the following description of a campsite upon his waking in the morning. Muir’s prose transported me in my mind’s eye to a mountain environment, from which I have been away far too long, and served as one more reminder of Muir’s awareness of and ability to communicate the sublime. Muir writes:
In the morning everything is joyous and bright, the delicious purple of the dawn changes softly to daffodil yellow and white; while the sunbeams pouring through the passes between the peaks give a margin of gold to each of them. Then the spires of the firs in the hollows of the middle region catch the glow, and your camp grove is filled with light. The birds begin to stir, seeking sunny branches on the edge of the meadow for sun-baths after the cold night, and looking for their breakfasts, every one of them as fresh as a lily and as charmingly arrayed. Innumerable insects begin to dance, the deer withdraw from the open glades and ridge tops to their leafy hiding-places in the chaparral, the flowers open and straighten their petals as he dew vanishes, every pulse beats high, every life-cell rejoices, the very rocks seem to tingle with life, and God is felt brooding over everything great and small.

My heart began to race and my breath quickened as I read the above passage. By the time I finished I was nearly in awe. After several pages of documenting careful scientific observation which left me a little cold, Muir served up a description of a campsite in the morning that stirred my soul.

It has been a long time since I have been in the mountains and even longer since I have had the opportunity to spend a night in a tent, rising in the morning to experience sun, warmth, and signs of life returning. Reading Muir has reminded me of the Mountains’ beauty and ability to reawaken my spiritual sensibilities. It is time for anamnesis.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Who’s My Daddy?

My name is Myrrhlyn. I am a dog. I am not just a dog, I am an adopted dog. I am a rescue. My human caretakers adopted me August 7, 2009. My first vet estimated that I was born March 24, 2009, but I remember very little about my biological family. My adoptive human “parents” know even less.

When my new human family picked me up at Wilma’s Orphans, a canine orphanage on Long Island, they were told that I was a Labrador Retriever mix, perhaps mostly Chocolate Lab. They knew I was not a pure bred but had no idea what breed, other than Retriever, might be in my blood line. When people look at me they sometimes see a little Doberman, Boxer, Bull Terrier and Rottweiler mixed in. I have no idea who or what my daddy was, nor do I know anything about my mother.
My human companions recently purchased a DNA Breed Identification kit from BioPet Vet Lab. Using two cotton swabs they collected DNA from the inside of my cheeks and mailed the sample away for analysis. Very soon we should receive the results and then we will all know more about my breed background.
When we receive the results of the DNA analysis, I will let you know what we learn. Until then, my humans know a few things about me for certain. They know that I am still a growing puppy who makes his fair share of mistakes and that sometimes I can be a demanding pest as much as a loving pet. But look at this picture of me lying on a futon. Do I look like I could get into any mischief?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Writing Trek

Sondra B. Willobee’s The Write Stuff: Crafting Sermons That Capture and Convince could perhaps transform the way I approach sermons and preaching. I used to view preparing a sermon manuscript as a chore which precedes preaching. Writing a sermon was a burden, something I did in an attempt to invite the Holy Spirit to inspire me when it wanted to rather than confining its work to a fifteen minute window on Sunday morning. Sermon writing was a feeble attempt to organize my thoughts and find the right word or turn of a phrase in order to better inspire, inform, or motivate. Thanks to Willobee I am now beginning to think of preaching as the natural extension of writing sermons, and sermon writing as a spiritual discipline as well as an art form and something I actually enjoy.

For some yet undiscovered reason I have recently become more interested in the craft of writing and am even beginning to think of myself as a writer — not necessarily a good writer — but a writer nevertheless, and a writer of more than just sermons. This is surprising since I have often been challenged by spelling and grammar and am not the world’s best proofreader. I sometimes half jokingly, half seriously, say that I am a preacher because no one knows how I am spelling the words I use in the sermons I preach.

My average sermon contains about eighteen hundred words. Over the past twenty-four years I have written or revised nearly two million words intended to be preached. In the past year I have written over forty thousand words in my journal. I have not yet calculated how many words I have posted to this blog since I started writing for it a little over a year ago. Perhaps I have been a writer for some time and I did not realize it.

My recent journey exploring the craft of writing began the day I walked into a Theological Seminary’s bookstore and chanced upon William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. A Syllable of Water: Twenty Writers of Faith Reflect on their Art, which I in part imbibed in one of my favorite New York City restaurants in what turned out to be a micro-retreat, became my next waypoint along this text trek. Sondra B. Willobee’s The Write Stuff, which I discovered thanks to various catalogs and reviews, is now the third stop along my pilgrimage.

Willobee’s title, alluding to Thomas Wolfe’s bestselling novel and award winning film by the same name, was the hook that caught my attention. The cover graphic, seventeen sharpened colored pencils of varying heights lined up in a row, not unlike seven Mercury astronauts lined up for a photo op, and a forward by one of my former Professors, Thomas G. Long, was enough to get me to bite.

Many of Willobee’s suggestions and exercises are not new. Much of what I read in the Write Stuff echoed Zinsser’s On Writing Well, which I point out as a compliment and not a criticism, but Willobee goes the extra step of applying time tested ideas and concepts from the craft of writing to the crafting of sermons. Willobee’s book is thus one I will need to go back to and live with for awhile, as it is not the sort of book I can read once never to return to.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Like a bird flying south for winter, which is a direction I would really like to head right now considering we have close to a foot of snow on the ground here in New York City, I am migrating, one day a week, over to Presbyterian Bloggers, where I will be posting Lectionary Ruminations every Thursday. This means I probably will not be posting very often on Thursdays to Summit to Shore.

I also occasionally post, and cross post, to the Sebago Canoe Club blog, but not habitually. Thus, Lectionary Ruminations on Presbyterian Bloggers is my first regularly scheduled blog column on a blog other than my own.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


It is snowing today in New York City, as it is all across the Mid-Atlantic States. The Big Apple dodged the last big storm of a few days ago, the one that buried Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, but we are not going to miss this one. It started snowing Tuesday evening before 11:00 PM. This morning I woke up to an inch or two of very wet snow—more like an inch of snow on top of an inch of slush. This morning, when I walked our dog Myrrhlyn, the snowflakes were larger than unbroken cornflakes. They were simply huge. The air temperature is just below freezing. The photo to the right is the view of the street from one of our front, second floor windows, shot through the glass and screen.

We are predicted to receive 9-15 inches of total accumulation before the storm moves out to sea Thursday morning around 6:00 AM. With the heaviest accumulation expected this afternoon, and winds gusting to up to 40 mph, we are expecting blizzard like conditions.

Mayor Bloomberg made the decision yesterday to cancel school today. Today is only the second time in eight years that New York City Schools have been closed due to snowfall. I think it was a prudent and wise decision.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Will the Real Lady Liberty Not Dance

It is income tax season, and that means, in my neighborhood, multiple Lady Liberty sightings. There is an income tax service in the neighborhood with “Liberty” in its name. During tax season they deploy men and women, dressed as the Statue of Liberty, to hand out promotional flyers. On cold, yucky days, I really feel for these folks, standing on street corners, trying to stay warm, most pedestrians ignoring and avoiding them. Today, as I walked back and forth from my home to the bank, I saw no less than three Statue of Liberty imposters, one of them dancing wildly. At least Lady Liberty’s boogie made the walk interesting.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A le Pain Quotidien Micro-Retreat

As I have noted before, I have been searching for a retreat center in the midst of New York City and have not yet found one. Awhile back, however, I stopped in the Central Park le Pain Quotidien at the corner of 7th Avenue and 58th Street. I was looking for a light meal before a concert at Carnegie Hall and le Pain Quotidien, one of my favorite restaurant chains, was nearby. It had been awhile, however, since I had last eaten at one.

This particular evening, as I sat alone at the simple wooden table, the tomato soup with a side of organic bread, glass of the Red Cabernet/Syrah RN 13, and Organic Rooibos Chai Tea took on a sacramental quality. No doubt the catalyst for this nearly sacred moment was reading silently, while I waited and ate, A Syllable of Water, a collection of twenty writers of faith reflecting on the art of writing and another step on my journey of exploring the craft of writing. As I read I wondered if I was one—not one of the twenty—but rather a writer of faith.

The unexpected moment became a micro-retreat. Though I was surrounded by conversing patrons, spoons clinking against bowls, kitchen noises filtering into the dining area, and the sound of sirens blaring outside, I was alone with my thoughts as I reflected on the written word.

During this unexpected and unplanned micro-retreat I consumed two chapters, Jeanne Murray Walkers' “Steep and Exhilarating Mountains of Playwriting (On Drama)” and Scott Cairns' “A Troubled and Troubling Mirror (On Poetry)”. I have since finished this wonderful little paperback and recommend it for anyone desiring to imbibe a written word from a spiritual perspective. I also recommend the cuisine at le Pain Quotidien and give thanks for a few unexpected moments of retreat.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Why Wasn’t I Taught To Write?

I managed to get through high school, college and seminary without really learning how to write. Most of my teachers and professors were more concerned with my properly formatting footnotes in research papers than submitting a well written paper. I remember them correcting my misuse of colons or semi-colons and parenthesis when footnoting a citation rather than whether or not I could spell, construct a coherent sentence, and write a flowing paragraph. I even managed to win a Senior English award in high school, graduated third in my college class, and comfortably finished in the top half of my seminary class, without ever having a “writing” course other than a required bone-head “composition” class in college which I tested out of before the end of the first semester of my freshman year.

While working on my Doctor of Ministry Paper I finally started to to think about how I wrote. My two readers emphasized editing not only for theological content but also for style. They noted every misspelling, split-infinitive, and use of the passive. They emphasized brevity and economy of words, teaching me that writing less was more difficult than writing more.

Now I find myself on what appears to be a road leading toward learning more about the craft of writing. Less than a year ago, while on its campus for a colloquy, I walked into the Cokesbury/Campus bookstore at Union Theological Seminary and the Presbyterian School of Christian Education (before the institution changed its name) and saw a text that started me on my trek. While browsing the shelves, I noticed William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. It was a required text for a Doctor of Ministry seminar.

Writing my Doctor of Ministry project paper was the most difficult part of my own Doctor of Ministry Program at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. By the time I was writing my project paper I had not taken an English Composition Course since that first semester of my freshman year of college, over twenty-five years before. I was not used to the exacting requirements of my two readers and could have used some help. Since my own D.Min. program had not included any required texts on witting, I eventually bought and read a copy of Zinsser’s classic as a way of filling what I considered to be a gap in my education.

Not long after I started reading On Writing Well I began asking myself “Why was I not required to read this book in college, or in seminary?” I found Zinsser’s advice, examples, and suggestions extremely helpful. When I finished On Writing Well I wanted to read more about the craft of writing because I had started to think of myself as a writer, not a good writer, but a writer nevertheless.

I have taken a few more steps on my journey of exploring the craft of writing since that day when I walked into the bookstore, each step represented by a different book or experience. While my trek is only beginning, I hope to reflect on some of those steps here in Summit to Shore.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Paddling on the Proxigean Tide

Climbing out of bed around 5:45 AM was much too early for such a cold Saturday morning in late January. After walking the dog an hour earlier than usual, I grabbed my gear bag and headed for the car. The starter struggled in the cold to turn the engine over, sort of like my current mental state without my usual morning coffee, especially since it was not yet 6:30 AM

Half an hour later I pulled into the parking lot of the Sebago Canoe Club, parking near the club house. A car pulled out as I was parking, leaving but one other car in the lot. Entering the club house, I saw Pete building a fire in the double fifty-five gallon drum wood stove and Phil making coffee. The three of us were the only ones that had yet arrived.

Others started arriving not long after. Eventually there were at least fifteen of us assembled in the club house. The occasion was the proxigean tide, the highest tide of the year, and reason enough for kayakers to gather, eat breakfast, and maybe paddle. (My photo to the right is of our breakfast before the paddle. Phil is standing at the table in his dry suit.)

The plan was to gather at 7 AM to prepare coffee and breakfast with an ongoing serving throughout the morning. With the high tide at 7:53 AM, Stevie was planning to lead a paddle with an estimated launch at 7:30 AM in an attempt to make the elusive marsh crossing of Ruffle Bar, a small island in Jamaica Bay about a four miles paddle south of the club’s dock. The marsh crossing had eluded all previous attempts. With a little luck, seals might also be sighted. The only problem was that Stevie had forgotten his dry suit at home and therefore was not able paddle. He still gave great trip support.

The gathering crowd at the club house brought various breakfast items. Most did not plan to paddle. They came for the fellowship and to see what the highest tide of the year looked like around the clubhouse, which is located on Paerdegat Basin, at the foot of Avenue N in Brooklyn, NY, and just a few yards from the water’s edge. In previous years the proxigean tide had crested high enough to not only reach the club house but to cover it with a few inches of water, but not this year’s. According to folks that had been around awhile, this year’s proxigean tide was mild. It was even a little disappointing for newcomers like me who had not only never seen one before but had never heard of it until recently. I had lived in the mountains until two and a half years ago, and in the mountains we did not pay much attention to tides.

Not forgetting their dry suits and wanting to paddle, even in the 15°f temperature, were Bonnie, Elizabeth, Pete, Phil, me and Minh. (The photo to the right is of the six paddlers, suited up and ready to go. Photo by Stevie) I had paddled with each of them before but cannot remember if I had ever paddled with all of them in a single group. They were all seasoned paddlers. I was probably the one with the least experience.

After coffee, eggs in the hole, assorted danish, and a pancake, I, along with the five others, suited up for the paddle. I was glad to be suiting up in the wood stove heated club house, even though I could still see my breath as I put on my dry suit.

Under my Kokatat dry suit I wore a base layer of Patagonia Capilene on top and bottom. For my upper body I put a SmartWool zip neck on top of the Capilene base layer, and on top of that a heavier weight Patagonia Capilene zip neck. Before zipping up my dry suit I activated an EZ Heat packet and placed it between the outer Capilene and SmartWool to help keep my core warm. Over my dry suit I of course wore my PFD, which added even more upper body insulation. For my feet I wore SmartWool liner socks inside NRS neoprene Paddle Shoes. I wore NRS neoprene mittens on my hands and an Xcel titanium neoprene skull cap on my head with a wool Himalayan beanie over the skull cap. Before heading out of the club house I also put on a neoprene spray skirt.

Down at the dock I easily slipped into the club’s blue Necky Chatham 16. I have paddled this boat several times and it is one of my favorite kayaks. I like it for both its stability and maneuverability, enhanced by its skeg, but today the skeg cable was frozen solid with ice and would not budge. I was glad I was able to put my spray skirt around the cockpit coming without having to take of my mitts; otherwise my hands would have chilled. Once away from the dock I realized that I was the first one on the water. I estimate that the put in time was around 8:00 AM, a little later than the float plan called for, but not by much. (That's me sitting in the kayak in the photo to the right. Photo by Bonnie)

At first my toes and fingers were a little cold but after paddling for awhile my toes warmed up and my fingers were bearable. My nose and face felt warm. My core, thanks to breakfast and the activated EZ Heat, was toasty.

With the wind at our back the six of us paddled a straight course for Ruffle Bar. Crossing Jamaica Bay was an easy paddle but at the north-eastern tip of Ruffle Bar we encountered some small standing waves in the shallows just north of the island, forcing us to paddled back away from shore in order to clear the waves and the shallows. As we passed some small standing waves at the beginning of the shallows, the first real waves we had yet encountered, I found myself thinking “this would not be a good time to flip.” I didn’t.

As we passed the eastern end of Ruffle Bar we eagerly looked for the entrance to the salt marsh. After passing a couple of imposters we finally found the entrance but the channel into the marsh did not look as large as I remembered it. I had paddled into the marsh once before but it was on a summer paddle and everything was green. Today, everything is brown and white.

Even though I was the lead paddler at the time, after looking at the channel I passed it by, convinced that it would not be possible to negotiate through it all the way to the western side of the island and back out into the bay. Nevertheless, my five paddling companions took a brief look. Bonnie and Pete paddled further into it while the rest of us continued along to the southern end of Ruffle Bar, planning to meet up with Pete and Bonnie at the western end of the island just in case they were able to make it through.

Paddling along the southern shore, Ruffle Bar served as a wind break and we enjoyed very calm water and a chance to warm a little, so we paddled a little more slowly. Slush and chunks of ice floated nearby. I could have imagined I was in the Artic.

Turning northward at the eastern end of Ruffle Bar we encountered some wind and waves. Bonnie and Pete were nowhere to be seen. We would later learn that not far into the salt marsh they encountered thick slush and ice blocking the channel and did not want to turn their kayaks into icebreakers, so they paddled back out of the marsh they same way they had entered it. They eventually caught up with us. (The first photo to the right is of Pete as he first encounters ice in the Marsh channel. The second photo to the right illustrates what Bonnie and Pete would have faced if they continued through the channel. Photos by Bonnie)

Further out into the bay the wind and waves intensified. I found paddling back northward across Jamaica Bay, with the wind in our face and standing waves in places a foot high, a daunting paddle. While I was comfortable and warm on the protected southern shore of Ruffle Bar, my fingers were now starting to chill and eventually became numb, especially on my right “grip” hand. The wind was now not only blowing in my face but also occasionally blowing icy cold spray onto my face. Whereas there had previously been a thin layer of ice on the bow deck of my kayak, the constant wash over, combined with the hull occasionally pounding the surf after dropping off a wave, cleared the deck of all ice. But ice was now clinging to my dry suit and the fiberglass shaft of my Warner paddle.

Because my right grip hand held tight, even though my fingers were numb, I was able to maintain a tight controlling grip with it. But my left hand, which released any grip it had when I feathered, was starting to slip and slide up and down the paddle shaft because of ice on the paddle shaft as well as my neoprene mitt. I feared I might hit a standing wave, attempt a brace, and have my paddle slip away or turn out of the brace, leaving me in the icy bay. Somehow I managed to maintain control on the icy shaft and remained upright. But I was paddling hard and steady, wanting to stay perpendicular to the waves and give the wind less time to abuse me. Once again I found myself thinking “this would not be a good time, or place, to flip.” Once again, I didn’t.

Somehow I had managed to be the lead boat through the first half of the wind driven icy chop but eventually Pete overtook me on my port and pulled ahead. I was kind of glad not to be the lead boat anymore and with Pete in sight I knew I was not alone, as I had not looked back since we entered the chop.

Eventually we paddled out of the chop and the wind seemed to die down just a bit, but my right fingers were pretty numb and I needed to warm them. I caught up with Pete when he stopped to take a break and asked him if I could raft up with him for a couple minutes while I warmed my hands. He offered me a spare pare of mitts from his deck but they were encrusted in solid Ice, so I thought they would not help much. Rafted up with Pete, I set my paddle down on the deck, wedged it under a deck line, and put both hands, still in mitts, under the opposite armpit, wiggling my fingers inside my mitts. After just a few minutes I could sense feeling and warmth returning. Not long after, I picked up my paddle, pushed away from Pete, and started paddling again.

Pete paddled ahead. Phil and Minh also eventually overtook me and paddled with Pete. But Bonnie and Elizabeth were still behind me. When I reached the ice encrusted green buoy marking the channel leading into Mill Basin I paused, turned my boat around, and waited a moment or two until I could see Bonnie and Elizabeth in the distance paddling toward me. Then I turned north and started paddling once again, but at a more leisurely pace than I had paddled in the stiffer wind and standing waves.

As I paddled, Pete, Phil and Minh were at least fifty yards ahead of me. Elizabeth and Bonnie were seventy yards or more behind me. In the windy chop I would have felt abandoned, but now, paddling in these less windy and calmer waters so close to shore and home, I appreciated, even valued, being somewhat alone.

I don’t know when I entered it, but eventually I found myself in a Zen-like paddling state where I was paddling without thinking about what I was doing. Earlier, out in the windy chop, I was intensely focused as I concentrated on paddling, occasionally bracing with a small hip flick, thinking about what I would do if I lost it. Now I and the kayak were working as one without me thinking about it, smoothly cutting through the smoother water. It was hard to tell where my hand stopped and the paddle shaft began. The boat became an extension of my body. After awhile my paddling and my surroundings came back into focus and I realized that for awhile all had been well with the world.

Now aware of what was going on around me I noticed flocks of water fowl occasionally passing nearby. In retrospect I realize that I had not seen a jet all day, even though the control tower at Kennedy International Airport was in clear view, a few miles off to the east. Had it not been for the receding Manhattan skyline and the approaching bridge over the Belt Parkway, I would not have known I was paddling in an urban environment. Jamaica Bay is, after all, a National Wildlife Refuge, and for me an occasional refuge and retreat from more urban and concrete life.

Further out in Jamaica Bay, from whence I had paddled, I could clearly see Lower and Upper Manhattan. (The photo to the right is of Pete, paddling through the wind driven chop, heading north toward Manhattan. Photo by Bonnie) But as I paddled northward and closer to Paerdegat Basin and the Belt Parkway bridge over the basin, the New York City skyline kept receding below the horizon ahead. Eventually, as I approached Buoy 13, all I could see was the top of the Empire State Building. Eventually, it too, slipped out of sight, hidden by trees along the parkway.

When I reached Buoy 13, its lower parts covered with ice, I stopped paddling. Turning around, I looked for my two paddling companions behind me. Once I saw them I headed for home.

Whenever I reach buoy 13 I always feel like I am almost home. Buoy 13 is the first buoy you encounter paddling out of the basin heading south. That means it is also the last buoy you encounter as you head back into the basin from the south. At that now familiar green buoy, which I have paddled past countless times, I know that after another 15 to 30 minutes paddling I will back at the Sebago dock. Sometimes 13 is a lucky number.

After paddling under the Belt Parkway and up Paerdegat Basin, I approach the new Sebago dock, not yet a year old. I see that Minh, Phil and Pete are already out of their boats, their kayaks out of the water. Stevie is the only person I see, standing by, ready to lend assistance as I approach. What a helpful trip leader that was not even on the trip!

With the dock just a few yards away I turn around one last time to make shore Bonnie and Elizabeth are behind me. I see them passing under the Belt Parkway and so I turn toward home and paddle the last few yards. Making contact with the carpet covered aluminum, I appreciate Stevie's offer to help me but don't need. I break the ice off my spray skirt’s webbing and pull the nearly frozen spray skirt off the cockpit coaming. With the paddle shaft behind me, pressing down on both boat and dock, I lift myself out of the cockpit and up and onto the platform.

Rolling onto the dock, my left calf, finally liberated from the cold and cramped cockpit after having been wedged most of the day against a foot peg, cramps tight. Stevie can tell I have a leg cramp and volunteers that he often experiences the same after a paddle. Thanks Stevie, now I do not feel so old.

I knead and rub my lower left leg through my dry suit and try to relax the cramp. Once the cramp eases I kneel next to my kayak and lift it up on the dock. Prying off the rear hatch cover with the blade of my paddle, I grab my two dry bags out of the rear hatch. Leaving the kayak on the dock, I carry my paddle and two dry bags up the ramp of the dock and walk into the clubhouse. It feels good to be home.

Standing next to the wood stove for a few minutes, I warm up. So I won’t drip all over the floor I soon head back outside to break and scrape the ice off my spray skirt, PFD and dry suit. (The photo to the right illustrates the ice buildup on Bonnie's dry suit at the end of our trip. Photo by Stevie)

Returning inside I stand close to the fire for a few more minutes and pour a cup of hot Russian tea from my thermos. I can feel the warm liquid going down my throat and entering my stomach, the warmth radiating throughout my body. Eventually I take off my PFD and spray skirt. A few minutes later I unzip my dry suit and slip my head out through the gasket. Then I slip the wrist gaskets over my hands and slide my arms out of the sleeves. Next to the stove with my dry suit half way off, I am really starting to thaw out.

Further warmed by another cup of tea and some munchies I take off my boots and dry suit, exchanging them for cotton pants, a fleece lined wind jacket, and fleece lined Crocks. I am starting to feel semi-normal.

I go back to the wood stove, drink yet another cup of tea, and eat a cup of Mary’s hot soup and eat a sandwich of ham and Swiss between a sliced bagel, the bagel having been warmed on top of the wood stove. I pull my phone out of my pocket and see that it is nearly noon and that the air temperature has risen from 15°f to a warm and balmy 18°f.

Feeling fully warmed and recharged, I collect my scattered gear, stuff it into my nylon mesh gear bag, and head home, making sure I sign out, and saying goodbye to my paddling companions and others around the club house table as I leave. But I’ll be back, someday, for another paddle.

This 8 to 8.5 mile paddle was not my longest paddle, but with a 15°f air temperature at put in and an 18°f air temperature at take out, it was certainly my coldest. Last year I paddled 7.2 miles at Jones Beach on January 10th but the air temperature was 31°f that day. I paddled again at Jones Beach, doing 4.5 miles on February 21st and 3 miles on February 28th, but on both trips either failed to measure or record the air temperature. I doubt it was below 25°f if even that cold. Besides, both were relatively short paddles. Today’s cold air temperature, head wind upon returning, and total distance paddled, combined to make this one of my most demanding, and perhaps best, paddles to date.

Because I knew the cold would quickly drain my camera’s batteries, I did not take any pictures on the trip even though I had my camera in my dry bag. Thanks to Bonnie and Stevie, who both granted me permission to use their photos, I am able to include a few of their shots with my post. I also thank Bonnie, Elizabeth, Minh, Pete and Phil for the pleasure of their paddling company. Thanks to Stevie for planning the trip and his dockside assistance. Thanks to all the members of the Sebago Canoe Club who came out, brought food, made breakfast and lunch, and offered support and encouragement. You are great!

I posted a much shorter trip report on the Sebago Blog, where Bonnie has also posted a trip report along with a link to more of her photos.

Monday, February 1, 2010

About the February 2010 Header Photo

It seems that I have been spending a lot more time around the ocean than I have in the mountains. Thus my “summit” photo stock is slim to nil while I have an overabundance of new and recent “shore” photos waiting to be featured. So for this month I have reched far back into the archives and selected a scanned image from what was probably a Kodak Instamatic color print. That is why it is so grainy.

That’s me on top of the Gendarme, a twenty-five foot pinnacle that used to stand guard in the Gunsight notch of Seneca Rocks, West Virginia. It was a classic Seneca climb until it came crashing to the ground in the late 1980’s.

The Gendarme was only a 5.4 climb, but the protection was a couple of old rusty pitons along the short pitch and two or three bolts on top. The first move involved stepping off solid rock over what seemed like a hundred feet of thin air in order to gain the face. While the route was easy to lead, with good holds, the climber still looked down between their legs and saw nothing but a hundred feet of air between them and the rock ledge below until the small summit was gained.

The photo was taken with my camera by my climbing partner at the time, Paul Estler, on the occasion of my first ascent (I would climb it a few more times over the next few years), March 6, 1977. Those were the days!