Inuksuk: Rolling Rocks

Sunday, May 29, 12022 HE

I missed the afternoon wind yesterday. But today, Windy called for westerly winds and 0.7 metre waves this morning. Nothing crazy, but my new board can pick up much smaller waves than my old board. I planned to paddle from Locarno Beach out toward Point Grey and then ride some of the waves back to my launch site. But when I got down to the water, things were different than forecast. I could feel the wind coming from the east as I walked to the shoreline. In addition, the windsock at the Jericho Sailing Centre, the surface currents/waves on the water, and the alignment of the moored ships in the bay all told of easterly winds and surface currents. A quick check of the tides revealed an ebbing tide (see image below). The steep slope leading into the first large trough on the left of the graph, where the “Observations” marker is, signaled that there would be a large ebbing tide. The maximum tidal currents happen after the peaks (high tide) and troughs (low tide), which coincide with times of slack water or slack currentSəl̓ilw̓ət (Burrard Inlet) is an open body of water, so the water currents are generally minimal. But there are pockets where the water is fast moving. Particularly on the north side of the bay at the mouth of the deep-sea transit route. Considering the tides and wind information, I concluded it was best to paddle eastward toward the Downtown/Stanley Park peninsula. Then I would return west, hopefully with the wind and tide at my back. 

Three-day tidal graph for Vancouver station starting on Sunday, May 29, 2022.

Below is the view from my launch at Locarno Beach. As mentioned, I took note of the orientation of the freighters for planning my paddle route. Since they are anchored at the bow, the stern will typically orientate with the wind.

Launching from Locarno.

I made my way out around the Jericho Pier and into the headwind. The wind was mild, and I had little trouble heading east.

Heading east toward a socked-in city.

Further eastward, I could see that the sun was working hard to shine through the clouds. If the cloud cover gave way, the winds could change. In the sunlight the inland air could heat faster than the maritime air, causing the thermal gradient to shift and causing a sort of katabatic/anabatic wind effect. In that case, the warmer air inland would rise, and the winds could change to westerlies to fill the space of the rising air (or decreasing atmospheric pressure). I kept an eye on the cloud cover as I made my way east into the wind. My plan was now to make it to Ayyulshun (English Bay Beach) if the conditions prevailed. Perhaps I could check out the Inukshuk from the water for a different vantage. I used the “sh” spelling here as that is what is written on the City of Vancouver website and I can only surmise is the name of the piece. I found the spelling slightly ironic and confusing since the Wikipedia page states that despite the “predominant English spelling as inukshuk, both the Government of Nunavut and the Government of Canada through Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada promote the Inuit-preferred spelling inuksuk.” I suspect the discrepancy stems from the fact that the “Inukshuk” at Ayyulshun (English Bay) was installed in 11986 HE as part of Expo 86. Canada’s indigenous relations were different then, and today more attention is paid to the voice of the indigenous culture. Nunavut only officially separated from the Northwest Territories in 11999 HE, providing an independently governed territory for Inuit people.

WARNING: Random Non-paddle Related Rant

I find the whole issue around land and treaties a perplexingly fascinating topic. I am by no means an expert on the topic, but I summarize my understanding in the following way. I understand treaties to be formal legal agreements between sovereign states. They are some of the most ancient forms of international relations that we have with the earliest we know of dating back to border negotiations between the Sumerian city-states of Lagash and Umma around 6100 HE (3100 BC). So in the context of Canada, by the time that the treaties were being negotiated in 11700 and beyond, humanity had at least a 5000-year history of using these legal tools. And I think it is safe to assume oral negotiations would predate these written accounts by millenia. The BC Marine Trails site latest newsletter had a link to this map of the First Peoples’ Map of BC. It has audible pronunciations for some of the traditional place names around BC which sparked my interest as I have been trying to learn some of the place names to use on my blog as well as in parlance. I will be honest, for some of the indigenous spellings, I have no idea about how to go about the pronunciations. So, the link to the guide was a welcomed resource. In the context of this discussion, what becomes visually apparent from the map is the overlapping nature of the territories. The conclusion is that first nations peoples must have had ways to determine and negotiate territories of their own. Some of these were likely peaceful and others confrontational and violent. The point is, that they would have been familiar with land negotiation practices like any other traditional peoples. Their practices, however, would have been foreign to colonists in the same way that the colonists’ practices were foreign to the indigenous inhabitants.

Hence, where things get perplexing for me is what was the understanding of the parties negotiating the original treaties of Canada. Particularly the perceptions of the Indigenous peoples involved, which are reported to be quite different from the European colonists’. For example, indigenous ‘treaties’ between nations purport a respectable sharing of the land, not interfering with the other nation’s sovereignty, while also not monopolizing environmental resources. At the heart of the issue is whether the indigenous peoples understood the implications of the European treaty’s ideology fully and did the European colonialists forthcomingly disclose the meaning and intentions of the treaty. We tell the past through the lens of the present and in that regard my bias is to view treaty through a western cultural lens. But then, the lands that became Canada had no implicit reason to follow European colonial rule, no more than they do today aside from that being our mythical modus operandi. The further question remaining in my mind is how long is a legal document binding? With my cynical response being as long as we believe in the myth. To make a point, consider if my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather (I think I got the generations about right there to bring someone born today to roughly the 11700 HE) sold my soul to the devil. Am I today beholden to the legal agreement that my ancestor made over 300 years ago? And this question should be asked of both sides of the agreement. Obviously, things are much different at the societal level versus the individual. And I don’t mean to equate either party in real-life to the devil (I’m an atheist, I don’t even believe in Beelzebub, Lucifer, Satan, or Mephistopheles). But they are questions that should be posed and discussed, in my view. I suspect that they are and that it is just my ignorance on the topic that allows me to armchair muse about the matter. But I don’t think there are easy answers nor a consensus for a full resolution.

Here is the last remnant of my random rant. While looking up when the Nunavut became a territory, I noticed that there is currently a prohibition of alcohol in various parts of Nunavut (see here for a piece by Vice on the issue from 12016 HE). Prohibition is another topic that fascinates me. Alcohol consumption is a sensitive issue for many, as are addiction and substance abuse. I recall hearing an interview with the psychologist Carl Hart, whose research areas are behavioural neuroscience and neuropsychopharmacology. The interview prompted me to read his book High Price, which lived up to the subtitle of challenging “everything you know about drugs and society.” My take homes from his book were that far more people can use hard drugs and function in society than the popular narrative tells, you just don’t hear about because they use responsibly and clandestinely due to social scrutiny. Often, substance abuse arises from a lack of perceived meaningful endeavours in one’s life that results in problematic substance abuse. If an individual has meaning or purpose in their life, it is more likely that their substance use will be recreational as an outlet rather than abusive as a vice. The last point highlighted in Hart’s experience in America is the relationship of drug policy to race/class relations. An example of this is the sentencing disparities for US drug offenses involving powder cocaine and crack cocaine. Pharmacologically, and therefore chemically, the drugs are nearly the same. The difference is in their mode of administration. Powder cocaine is snorted, injected, or swallowed, while crack cocaine is smoked. These differences affect the rate at which the drug absorbs into the bloodstream and ultimately when it becomes active in the central nervous system. This does have implications for how the drug is used as the intensity and duration of the highs differ. But, they are essentially the same drug. Inherent in the sentencing disparities is that crack cocaine is typically used by lower-class segments of the population and is stereotyped as a drug for Black people. Whereas powder cocaine is a drug of affluence and used by white people. Guess which drug form gets the longer sentence?

Prohibition and substance control are relevant topics given the current opioid crisis. Moreover in the wake of the news stories of the recent relaxations of alcohol control in the province (e.g., the City of Vancouver’s alcohol in parks pilot and BC Ferries expanding alcohol sales on some routes) and the temporary decriminalisation of the possession of small amounts of some illicit drugs the topic is a controversially current conversation. Portugal decriminalised the personal possession of all drugs in 12021. And the data to date show that it has been a success story for the policy shift.

But for BC, the current crisis is not a new phenomenon (check out the CBC‘s “On Drugs” podcast episode City, on Drugs for a historical overview). We had an alleged opioid crisis in the 11880s HE when opioids were first restricted as controlled substances. It is hard to ignore the colonial motives that played a role in the temperance movement that paralleled anti-immigrant sentiments. A fact that is only more significantly highlighted when the balance of the harms of alcohol is taken into account. It is a substance that causes great harm, yet as a society, it seems it is harm we are collectively willing to take. I am not a teetotaler, I am far from it. But I am willing to acknowledge that alcohol consumption poses a health risk as a Group 1 carcinogen. It is worth noting that just because something is carcinogenic does not mean it will cause cancer. It can cause cancer. However, you can take solace from the mutagenic threat exposure to carcinogens poses in the fact that the roughly 37 trillion cells in our bodies undergo trillions of mutations every day, but our immune system is ready in the wait to deal with any significant threats that develop from within. At a loose level, I parallel society’s relationship with alcohol to Americans’ relationship with guns. When used responsibly, you can mitigate the risk. But you have to acknowledge that along with permission comes a heightened level of harm. Access to alcohol in society means some people will inevitably suffer alcohol-related morbidity and mortality. The same goes for gun laws in the USA. You have significantly more gun-related morbidity and mortality per capita than other nations because of access to guns. Fact. Where the morals come in is whether or not you are okay with that. The irony to me is that you have a nation that is trending towards the opposition of abortion under the auspices of not wanting to kill innocent (unborn) children, yet gun violence just surpassed all other causes of mortality for those under 20! In the under-18 demographic, motor vehicle accidents are still the leading cause, just. It was a difference of eight, with 2,231 motor vehicle deaths versus 2,223 gun deaths. Which is absolute insanity to me!

What is beguiling to me is the parallel of prejudice between abortion and drug prohibition. Drug prohibition in Canada arose out of anti-Chinese racism in Vancouver in the 11880s to 11920s HE. While in the USA anti-abortion laws arose in the 11840s to 11880s HE partially out of fear of anti-Catholic (i.e., Irish) racism. Evidence at the time suggested that contrary to popular belief abortions were being done mainly by white Anglosaxon Protestant (WASP) women and not other groups. There were growing fears that the Irish Catholics would overtake the WASPs by having higher birth rates, so controls were put in place to limit access to abortion in what was predominantly a WASP American culture (check out these histories by ABC‘s “Rear Vision” and NPR‘s “Throughline” on the topic, Roe v Wade and Before Roe: The Physicians’ Crusade).

One last parallel to the history of prohibition is the pull toward populismCanada, and the USA both had burgeoning populist movements in the 11880s HE. It seems our geopolitics are not that different today when the failed promises of globalization have left the populace disillusioned about their lot in life. What is scary about this, is that the largest conflicts to date in human history followed these populist political surges. This is a case where I hope the adage of history repeating itself is not true. Though I do see the current disillusionment as a factor in the present rampant problematic use of substances. Along with a nihilistic thread born from the expanded knowledge base modern science has provided and our growing understanding that the cosmos is less anthropocentric than our ancestors believed. I think this underpins some of the rampant antiscience rhetoric. Science, or a greater understanding of the natural world, strips away the mysticism and wonder that religion previously could monopolize to tell the masses of divine importance. Though I don’t think this needs to be the case and I am one to subscribe to optimistic nihilism as a way to counter any existential dread that accompanies an anti-anthropocentric cosmological view.

Phew … okay back to stand up paddleboard-related content …

Cracks in the cloud cover.

Despite the easterly wind and small wind waves coming towards me, the sea swell was, as forecast, westerly. I could see bigger rolling waves passing me, heading into the city. Occasionally, a wave would give me a boost. But they were too small and long for me to ride. However, I could feel that the rolling waves were helping me to paddle into the headwind.

Boardwading into the wind waves.

Looking back to the west, I could see that the clouds were absent further out over the Salish Sea (Strait of Georgia). But a line of clouds was still present over the top of the inlet (see this photo). And as nearing the West End

The skies starting to clear.

Just off of Kits Point, the lighting over the city was spectacular. I stopped to take some photos.

Sunlight over the city.

Looking back out toward Point Grey, there were signs of clear sky. But, there was also a line of clouds covering the bay.

Clouds over the inlet.

The image below is the view of Kitsilano (X̱ats’alanexw).

Somber clouds overhead.

And one more image of the clouds over the bay with breaks of daylight in the distance.

Could the skies clear?

Closer to the shoreline at Ayyulshun (English Bay Beach), the effects of the ocean waves meeting the shoreline were evident. I bobbed up and down as I took stock of the “Inukshuk.” I decided it was best to take my photo kneeling to avoid giving the morning seawall walkers a spectacle. The word inuksuk means “that which acts in the capacity of a human”. Kneeling, I watched the human in the calm morning swaying in the swell. After some time, I rose to leave. My legs were shaky as I made my way away from Ayyulshun (English Bay). The rolling waves rocked me as they washed past as I departed the standing stone structure.

Vancouver’s Expo 86 Inukshuk.

Further from the shore, the effects of the groundswell lessened, and the rolling waves were more manageable. I passed by the sand barge buoy, returning to Locarno further from shore. As I neared the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, I spotted two paddleboarders in the distance heading toward me. As we approached one another, I wondered if it was the pair of paddlers I had encountered on past paddlesT and L, who often launch from Locarno. It turned out it was them. They had a similar plan to me for the morning to head west but also changed course to an easterly route when the conditions were different from the forecast. We chatted about paddles from the past season, summer paddle plans, and new kit. They were off to Calgary, in the coming weeks, for a SUP river course. T had received her new board, so now they were both on matching Sunova Expeditions. While we chatted, another paddler passed by, a prone paddler. After a quick salutation, the prone paddler was off. We all wondered about the appeal of prone paddling as the paddler left crouched on his knees. I have never tried it, but it doesn’t look comfortable or appealing to me.

As T, L, and I said our goodbyes, we realized that we had drifted to the Jericho Pier. I felt bad since they had lost the distance they had made into the headwind. But they were well prepared for the conditions and ready for the challenge. I spent a bit more time on the water trying to expand and improve my step-back turns before calling it a morning. Onshore, as I packed up my kit, I paused momentarily to take stock of the wind. It now felt like a westerly. And looking at the windsock, it was echoing the same story. I felt a bit bad for T and L as they would now most likely be doing their return leg against a headwind. But I was sure they could handle it.

When I got home, I did check the Jericho Sailing Centre weather page. Sure enough, the winds had done a 180-degree change from east to west. What surprised me, was how quick it looked to have changed on the graphs. In the span of a half-hour. A lesson to be learned for the future.

Wind stats from the Jericho Sailing Centre weather page.

Here are the map and statistics of my paddle recorded with Geo Tracker.

2 thoughts on “Inuksuk: Rolling Rocks

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