Welcome to my Kitemare

On Thursday I plugged away for most of the day at my WIP. I’d missed the morning surf session due to the morning groggies and the wind came up by 8AM sealing my fate to remain in front of my computer. By 4PM I was ready for a break. The wind was averaging 18.4 mph on the hill our house sits on, the exactitude of which I was able to ascertain using my handheld Kestrel wind meter. In pretty short order I got my nine meter kite and other gear together and transported it down to the beach.
 
It had been a while since I’d assembled my kite so the first time I launched it the lines were crossed and on the next attempt I forgot to insert the “donkey dick” (yes, that’s really what it’s called) into the chicken loop, which caused the kite to unhook from the waist harness, shoot skyward and fly a ways down the beach. After two false starts, I finally had the kite flying acceptably well, my helmet on and my board in hand strapped to its leash, ready to head into the water.
 
The next challenge was the eight to ten-foot shore break that was pounding between me and the open sea. I had to get through it without crashing the kite or getting bashed on the rocks (did I mention that this coast is really rocky?). I’m still learning, so I said a little prayer (yeah, I really do that kinda stuff), asking to be kept safe, waited until it looked like there was a lull between sets and headed into the water. In my panic to get outside quickly I forgot a bunch of basic technique and got pounded pretty good a couple of times. Somehow I miraculously managed to get outside without losing “too much” ground.
 
I had several successful runs out and back and was marveling at how I hadn’t crashed the kite yet and that I was only about 50 m downwind of where I’d started. This was a first. Somehow my pock-holed brain had managed to retain most of what I’d learned during sporadic forays made over the past two years. This day I was concentrating on the instructions I got from Mike Doyle the last time I kited.
Mike is a legendary surfer, surf equipment innovator and all-round expert waterman who took up kiting shortly after it appeared on the scene in the late 90s. A couple of months ago, I was driving North down the road on my ATV loaded up with kiting gear when he pulled up alongside in his SUV and asked me where I was headed. He invited me to join him saying,“It’s more fun to kite with someone.” I warned him I was a total beginner, but that didn’t phase him. He helped me rig my kite and then as I struggled to keep it in the air, I watched in awe as he zoomed out to sea and back with ease. Each time I returned to the beach to start over because I was getting too far down the coast, there he was on my ATV waiting to give me a ride back to the take-off spot. This gave me a lot more time in the water and instead of expending energy on long hikes back up the beach I reserved it for kiting. To top it off, at the end of our session Mike gave me a bunch of pointers. I was grateful to receive his insight and committed his instructions to memory. “Keep the kite out of the water. Park it between 11 and 10 o’clock and keep it there. Get your hips pushed forward and lean back.”  Check, check and check.
 
I’m at the stage in kiting where I’m still using what is called a bidirectional board. It’s just what it sounds like – it goes both ways. It has foot straps and a handle for pulling the board snugly onto your feet while your kite is behaving like a leashed, coked-out orangutan overhead. At some point I hope to move upward and onward to a unidirectional board like Mike uses. My dream is to kite in big waves like he does (well, big to me anyway).
 
I’m also still learning how to go upwind. This is a key skill. Until you master tacking upwind you are doomed to make the Walk of Shame every time you go out. It’s just what it sounds like – a long walk back down the beach to where you left your car, ATV, dogs, drinking water, spouse or all of the above.
 
So this last session, I’d been out for a while and was slowly losing ground, but I was doing so much better than usual that I didn’t want to come back in. I just kept riding, kept trying to regain ground. Before I knew it I was a mile and a half down the coast. There’s a gentle bay lined by a beautiful sandy beach just a little further North, so I decided I’d head there to land and avoid dealing with the rocks that lined the beaches where I was when I decided it was time to go in.
 
I’d been out for two hours without a break and was getting tired. I bobbed up and down in the water and planned my attack to go in, the kite flying overhead. I laughed in spite of myself when I took in the scene around me – three to four-foot wind swell, white caps and tiny people that looked like ants on the beach. “They must think I’m crazy,” I thought, “but this is so much fun!” I thanked God for what was my most successful session yet. Then I realized I’d said it in the past tense. “Shoot!” I thought, “I meant is, the session that still IS my most successful yet.” Call me superstitious, but I got the distinct feeling that I’d jinxed my session. Now I just wanted to get to the beach. I still had a long walk home.
 
I looked in the direction I wanted to go and then started the power stroke, a maneuver with the kite that gives it more acceleration to get you up and going. Before I knew what happened the kite did a rapid nose dive, WHAM! hitting the water hard. Mike’s words came to me again, “Keep the kite out of the water. And if you do crash it, get it up fast. Don’t let it stay in the water.” I pulled on one of the lines to relaunch and it shot overhead. The right tip flapped in the wind. “That’s not right,” I thought. I tried to steer the kite to my left, towards the beach, but it wasn’t responding normally. Down it crashed again. I got it up fast and tried to assess what the trouble was. I could see that one of the struts that give the kite shape and rigidity was deflated. Now the left tip was flapping in the wind. My heart jumped and I thought, “Shit! I better get this thing to the beach pronto!” I tried to fly it to the left, but it just wouldn’t go. Slowly it became less rigid, crumpled and fell out of the sky.
 
My heart sank. I was still a good quarter mile out to sea. There was three- and four-foot wind swell bashing me around and now my kite was useless. When the kite is still inflated you can lie on one side of it and hold it open to catch the wind so it drags you to the beach with a minimum of effort. I’d used this self-rescue technique many times when my lines had become tangled or once when my kite ripped. Now it was a big awkward piece of formless ballast. I looked at the sun and figured I had an hour before sunset. Resigned to my fate, I started reeling the kite lines in and wrapping them around the steering bar. A bidirectional board is too small to paddle like a surfboard, so I took one of the safety straps and connected one end to the board and the other end to the kite, making a train of equipment. The board was still attached to me by its leash.
 
In the time that it took to organize all the gear, I’d been pushed another eighth of a mile down the coast. I looked at the people on the beach. There were a couple of pangas (fiberglass outboard motor boats) there too and I wondered if the fishermen were among the crowd and aware that I was out there hoping to be rescued. I pushed that thought out of my head. “You got yourself into this, you have to get yourself out of it.”
 
The impact vest I was wearing gave me a little added buoyancy, but the helmet and harness impaired my ability to swim. But the worst thing was the drag the kite produced. The wind swell pulled on it and in turn it pulled on me. I started to wonder if I was making any headway at all. I did the front crawl, then the breast stroke, interchanging between the two while trying to avoid sucking any water in as the wind swell rolled over me.
 
I swam with my eyes closed at first and then when I started to drift off course made the mistake of opening them underwater. Looking down into the bottomless blue depths spooked me. I tried not to think about what might be hanging out down there.
 
The drag of the kite kept working against me. Just as my frustration threatened to unhinge me, it occurred to me that in my fervor to get to the beach where all the people were, I was swimming into the wind swell, and spending a lot of energy working against it. If I turned ninety degrees, I’d get to the beach a lot faster and not have to deal with the drag of the kite nearly as much. I cursed at myself for not figuring it out sooner.
 
Turning to orient myself in the other direction, I caught a flash of white in the water beneath me. I sucked in my breath, my stomach clenched and my heart raced. “Great White,” flashed across my mind. I reminded myself that white sharks are actually grey on top and I was just being paranoid. I thought how sharks are hungry at sunset. I was getting pretty spooked.
 
That’s when the cavalry, I mean firefighter arrived. Out of nowhere Andy, a firefighter from Washington, appeared, paddling his white longboard. It occurred to me then that the flash of white I’d just seen must have been a reflection off his board. “Andy!” I yelled over the howling wind, “You have no idea how happy I am to see you!”
 
It turned out that Andy and his wife Lisa, who were renting my casita, watched much of my session through binoculars. They saw how far down the coast I’d gone and kindly drove their rental car down to pick me up. They’d witnessed the kite crash and my struggle to swim to shore. That’s when Andy decided to paddle out to see if I was okay and would signal Lisa if I needed a panga to come pick me up.
 
“So how are you doing?” he asked. 

“Mostly, I was getting lonely,” I said. And then added, “I got a little spooked. It’s nice to have company out here.”

Rather than signal the panga,we attached the kite to Andy’s longboard. Released from its drag and going with the wind swell, I could finally make good progress.
 
The sun was just ducking behind the western hills and turning the sky to shades of coral and pink as I hauled my waterlogged body out of the water. I expressed my gratitude to Andy and Lisa for being there and for bringing the car that was waiting a short walk down the beach to take me home. As I trudged down the beach, waterlogged kite heavy under my arm, I made another note in my mental kitesurfing instruction book: Issue prayers of thanks only after successfully reaching dry land.
 
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Stood Up

The first tropical storm of theseason has come and gone. Hurricane Adrian rallied southwest of Acapulco tobecome a Category 4 hurricane in what seemed like record time. I watched thesatellite imagery as she metamorphosed from a loose gathering of fluffy,innocuous-looking clouds into a perfectly round, spinning mass of moisture witha foreboding, nuclear Cyclops eye.

Surfers all over the west coast ofMexico rubbed their hands together in anticipation of the swell that Adrian wasgenerating. Her proximity meant it would arrive quickly. Prayers were said thatshe would not send winds with the waves and remain peaceably out at sea. Ilooked at the surf report for the East Cape and felt excitement rising in mychest – it looked like I’d be traveling from Maui to Baja before her biggestwaves arrived. They were predicting waves as big as 18 feet  and the swell to last a good week.After six weeks of tiny wind swell on Maui, I was ready for some clean overheadwaves.

I left Maui on Thursday, arrived inLos Cabos on Friday to happy dogs and news that a copper pipe had broken loseand we’d been losing water for over 24 hours. I pointed to the shut off valveand asked Felipe why he hadn’t turned it off. He responded with what we call“the thousand-mile stare.”

I looked yearningly at 10 footwaves breaking in front of the house, frowned and began trying to contact aplumber using our limited communications – Skype and email. I managed to gethold of Carlos, a hard-working stocky man who regularly works for one of myneighbors. When he said he would come on Sunday, I considered not having waterfor the next 36 odd hours and begged him to come sooner. “I’ll make it worthyour while,” I told him. He agreed to come the next day.

Saturday the swell was even bigger,but a light wind had joined it. I tried not to notice the trucks withsurfboards piled high on top driving by the house to a special spot that onlybreaks on a hurricane swell. My heart ached like I was pining for mylover.  I returned to my otherpressing task – getting the guest house ready for a couple who were arriving fromWashington that day. By eleven o’clock I had the interior done and a South windwas lashing the water and waves into a mess of white caps and mushburgers. Itcooled my skin and my longing as I slaved away.

Carlos turned up right on time andquickly had the leak fixed and a huge amount of air purged from the pump andlines (it’s a long way from the house to the cistern on top of the hill). Thenhe and his wife Irma helped me clean the house and carry the patio furniturefrom the garage. By the time we were done sweeping, mopping, and washingwindows I was exhausted. It was 7:00PM. Carlos and Irma left with smiles ontheir faces and a wad of cash in their pockets. As they pulled out of thedriveway, I waved and then watched as two trucks drove back past the housereturning from the secret hurricane swell-catching spot. Tomorrow, first thing, I thought.

The next morning I woke up excited,ready to hop on my ATV and go play with the waves. As I lay there rubbing the sleep out ofmy eyes Inoticed something was amiss – it was quiet. Too quiet. Must be between sets. I sat up in bed to survey the scene in front of the house. I watched and waited, but the only waves tocome through were miniscule by hurricane swell standards. I hauled myself outof bed and went to the computer. There it was, NOAA had posted her obituary – Friday nightHurricane Adrian fizzled into a remnant low, disappearing off the radar as fastas she appeared. And the bitch took the waves with her when she left.

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Gil Scott-Heron & Me

Gil Scott-Heron died May 27th at the much too tender age of 62. Though he was referred to often as the “Godfather of Rap,” he rejected that and the many other labels flung his way. He wasn’t fond of labels, nor of being pigeon-holed into a specific musical genre. He argued that he had been influenced by those who came before him and in turn influenced those who followed. Semantics and humility aside, he touched a whole generation of musicians and altered the course of musical history. He was a key figure in the evolution of Hip Hop, Neo Soul, Acid Jazz and Rap. Those who are familiar with him know him as a poet and musician, but many are unaware that he was also an author who published the first of two novels at the age of nineteen!

I first heard The Revolution Will Not Be Televised in 1987. I was in first year university, surrounded by my boyfriend’s black beret, combat boot-wearing friends from the Fine Art Department. They were my source for cool music: Coltrane, Davis, Holiday, Monk, Zappa, Tom Waits and Scott-Heron.

I was delighted by his lyrics. He was a master of irony, humor and poetically relating the shocking realities of American inner city life, a life I knew little about then and know only slightly more about now. I was a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Canadian woman living as far from the ghettos of America as one could metaphorically get, but he still spoke to me. He spoke to people of all colors, socio-economic status and geography because so many of his lyrics are full of Truth, universal truths that are applicable to anyone, living anywhere, in anytime.

He believed in Peace, the brotherhood of man and respect.

I met Gil Scott-Heron once.

I’d been working in the forests of northwestern Connecticut, living over the garage of one of those established white American families that has managed through a combination of good luck and good management to do very well. When the snows started to fall, making field work impossible, I returned to the science institute in Millbrook, New York just in time to join a couple of fellow research assistants to see Gil Scott-Heron live at nearby Bearsville Theater in Woodstock, NY. We were all under 25, white and mutually surprised to learn of the others’ familiarity with the musician.

The theater in Woodstock was tiny then. I have no idea what it’s like now. Constructed of milled wood timbers, the interior had walls of heavily varnished yellow wood that gave it the look and feel of a large lakefront lodge. The front, near the entrance, consisted of a long narrow lobby backed by an equally long, modern bar. Behind the bar was a line of windows beyond which rows of brown seats fell away to the stage below. It couldn’t have held more than 250 people. We took our seats on the far left side near the top and still had a perfect view of the stage below.

Scott-Heron sat at the front of the stage behind his electric keyboard, grey pork-pie hat covering his graying curly hair, face thin and ragged, punctuated by his large, deep eyes, the lower half of his face covered in a scraggly black and grey beard. He started the show solo, just he and the keyboard, and his voice. His voice as always captivated me. It’s a voice that reaches in and grabs you by the heart, pulls you in. <!– /* Font Definitions */@font-face {font-family:Arial; panose-1:2 11 6 4 2 2 2 2 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;}@font-face {font-family:Cambria; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} /* Style Definitions */p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-fareast-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";}span.postinner {mso-style-name:post_inner;}@page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;}div.Section1 {page:Section1;Hebegan with characteristic humor, “Recently, I don’tremember when, someone, though I don’t remember who, asked me to go on a tour,but I can’t remember where. This evening I’ll be joined on stage by somefantastic musicians who call themselves the Amnesia Express, but to tell youthe truth I don’t remember why.” 

 

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At intermission, I found myself in front of the bar, alone, when I heard a male voice beside me ask a couple of women what they thought of the show so far. I looked over my right shoulder to see a tall, handsome black man whom I recognized from onstage – it was the bassist from Amnesia Express. He smiled as he listened to them singing the band’s praises. In the pause that followed, I spoke up (I am embarrassed now to think of my audacity) to give him honest feedback, “I thought you might want to know, we can barely hear the piano. You might want to get the sound man to check the levels.”
  
He turned to me with surprise and said, “You must be a musician.”
   
Next thing I knew I was following him downstairs, through a long narrow hallway, harshly lit with florescent lights, past a line of people, all waiting to meet Scott-Heron. They protested as we walked past, but the bouncers did nothing and we passed through a doorway. It was the backup band’s dressing room and the three other members sat spread out among a mess of clothing and equipment, sipping water, smoking cigarettes. I was introduced to the pianist, a lovely black woman with her hair loosely tied into a bun on the top of her head, wearing flowing black and rust-colored robes. She regarded me somewhat suspiciously, but politely offered me her hand. The bassist asked me what I wanted to drink and disappeared. The pianist and I chatted and she introduced me to the rest of the band. Next thing the bassist was pushing a gin and tonic in my hand, with an explanation, “I made it a double,” and was leading me back out into the hall. I followed him to the next door over where a large man stood partially blocking the door, his arms crossed over his expansive chest. He nodded his approval as we approached and stepped to one side. I felt like I was on some kind of magic carpet ride. 
 
The bassist held the door for me. The room was stark, white concrete walls with bright white tile on the floor and more fluorescent lights overhead. If there was any furniture, I don’t remember it. Seated on the floor, his back against the wall with his long legs sticking straight out was Gil Scott-Heron. He was hauling on a cigarette listening to a teenaged, blond kid reading bad poetry from wrinkled sheets of lined paper pulled from a spiral-bound notebook. Did I say it was bad? Correction, it was really bad, even to my untrained ear. I winced as I listened, looking from the young man to Gil Scott-Heron, wondering when he would holler, “Uncle!” Instead, he listened attentively and offered encouragement to the wannabe artist. The young man left smiling, thanking him profusely. I could imagine how his experience would be replayed over in his mind and retold in the days to come. 
 
And then we were introduced. “Gil this is Dawn. She’s got a good ear. Told me about a problem with the sound.” Gil smiled and shook my extended hand, said with that mellow baritone voice, “Nice to meet you.” I was speechless. He turned and asked the bassist, “What’s goin’ on with the sound?” I looked around to see two other men standing to one side of the him like guardians. After they got the sound discussion cleared up, Gil asked one of them a question in a low voice that I couldn’t hear. The man pulled something out of the large pockets of his over sized pants and started to roll a joint. There should be another name for joints of this type. It was bigger than any I’d ever seen. Gil turned to me and asked, “Will you join us?” I nodded my assent. 
 
It was powerful shit and, in combination with the double gin and tonic, after a couple of hits my head soon started to buzz. The men laughed appreciatively, seeing I was getting high. Gil just stayed quiet, observing, taking a long toke now and then. I have no idea how long I sat there, but soon Gil stood up, took my hand and said he hoped I’d enjoy the second half of the show. Somehow I managed to get up off the floor and followed everyone out of the dressing room. I watched as they filed onto the stage, turned and realized I was alone with the bassist there in that long hallway. He put his hand on the wall above my head, leaned in and kissed me (a kiss I will never forget) and made me promise to join them after the show. He kissed me again and then one of the other band members yelled from the stage, “hurry the fuck up and get on stage!”  
 
He smiled at me, then took my hand and led me to the wings where he said I could stay and watch. I stood there for a long time, so stoned it felt like my feet grew roots through the wooden floor. My body buzzed with the kiss and his proposition, the reverberation of the music floating across the stage enveloping me in some kind of erotic embrace. 
 
Somehow I wound my way back to my seat where I watched the rest of the concert as though under a spell. The music now had palpable texture and the bassist seemed to play with four hands. Each stroke of the strings he was stroking me, the energy rising to an ecstasy I wondered if I could contain.
 
Then the concert was finishing, the band was bowing its goodbye. And suddenly I was overcome by wave of paranoia. 
 
I grabbed my cohorts and ran for the exit. “Come on, let’s go, let’s go!” I begged them. They looked at me like I was losing my mind, “What’s the hurry? What’s going on? Where did you disappear to for so long?” All I could think was, I can’t sleep with a musician. I gotta get outta here before he convinces me otherwise!  What I said was, “I’ll tell you when we get in the car, but for now, just do me a favor and let’s go. Please!” 
 
Not much of a story I suppose, and addled by my fucked up state, but something that sticks with me nevertheless. I might not remember the bassist’s name, but Scott-Heron’s humility and compassion left an indelible impression. There was no “star” in that room, just a man. His humility is apparent in responses he’s given in interviews and in notes that accompany several albums. There is an echo of artistic genius in the liner notes from his 1993 album Spirits in which he describes where his inspiration came from:
 
In truth, I call what I have been granted ‘gifts.’ I would like to personally claim to be the source of the material and ideas that have come through me, but that is just the point. Many of the shapes of sound and concepts have come upon me from no place I can trace, notes and chords I’d never learned, thoughts and pictures I’d never seen – and all as clear as a sky untouched by cloud or smog or smoke or haze.  Suddenly. Magically. As though transferred to me without effort. 
 
I met Gil Scott-Heron in 1991. He was the same age then as I am now. Even then he looked ancient, weathered, abused. It seems a miracle he managed to live another twenty years. Perhaps more miraculous is that he released another album in 2010, sixteen years after his last. His voice, noticeably affected by age and illness, is still unmistakable and full of soul. The lyrics contain much of the power of earlier work, but something’s different. The hope is missing and many songs examine themes of death and dying. Words from the song  “Me and the Devil” are eerily prophetic:  

You may bury my body

Down by the highway side

So my old evil spirit

Can greyhound

Bus that ride

God’s speed Gil Scott-Heron…takethat Greyhound express.
 
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GSH video full of his beauty  
 
Other clips of GSH doing his thing: