– Kayaking, fishing, and pondering the fact that Life didn’t come with a manual –

The lack of instructions

* * *

This is the most peaceful time of the season. The weather is gorgeous, day in day out.

In spite of quite some effort to avoid it, we have again settled into a system of routines. If left unchecked we always end up with routines. There is nothing really wrong with that, but routines put you on autopilot, they make it easy to sleepwalk through life and sometimes actually miss the really good stuff.

The slight restlessness of the first months has gradually faded, it gave way to a wide-angle view that doesn’t dwell so much on certain separate experiences any longer but rests in the peaceful awareness of the flow of it all. It reminds me of a time when I was a little boy, probably in my very first year at school. We would sometimes get off between classes, but this recess would not be without agenda. We were asked to deliberately do what we wanted. A time without instructions. I remember how it was a strangely awkward process: At first there was always a burst of crazy activity, yelling, running around, acting out in ways that were otherwise not allowed. Then came a phase of frustration, when we noticed that we didn’t really know what to do without instructions. And then came a phase of peace, when we forgot about rules and instructions altogether, when we lost ourselves in play, and finally actually did what we wanted.

Out kayaking with friends.


 A quick roll, just to cool off.

 This beautiful arch is at the southern end of Danzante.

 The spectacular coast of Danzante.


 * * *

Heading out to get food.

 Trigger Fish.

I catch them, Parvin bleeds them and puts them into a sack.

A bunch of them, ready to be filleted.

 Trigger fish have this funny spike in front of the dorsal fin, which they raise and arrest when they sense danger. It’s a great defense weapon; I have many wounds on my legs from being poked by them. I looked at the bones of this raising mechanism in a skeleton, it is an ingenious, highly efficient system: it only needs muscle power to raise it, once it’s up it internally locks and stays in that position without effort; it actually takes a little force to unlock it again. You can slightly touch the second smaller spike behind the big one – like a trigger –  and easily release the locking mechanism. I like to think that this is why they are called Trigger Fish. They also can bite like crazy! Stay clear of their mouth when you handle them! They feed on shellfish and barnacles and crack them with ease. They bit me many times, even when they had been dead for hours.

*** ** *** ** ***

No Instructions

I clearly remember my surprise, suddenly realizing that I had turned 40. It sure seems not that long ago. But what I remember best are the times when I was still a lot younger and thought: “getting old, that’s not for me, I’m not going to do that.” Without really knowing it I was convinced that old farts were born old. Poor losers or plain idiots who find something like this attractive. The actual concept of aging dawned on me quite a bit later. It must have been quite a shock, but I somehow don’t recall when it was. By now I’ve carried out the reality check, I think. Today, crazy as it may sound, the thing looks reversed: “being young – that’s not for me. All this waste of time chasing illusions! Being young again? No thanks!”

All this is of course complete nonsense. Poor devils are we all who barely become aware of our way too fast journey through life, because, once, when it all began, no one ever gave us instructions. One day we woke up on this stage, all alone, right in the middle of a huge play. All around was relentless running and striving, everybody obsessed with achieving something, following some invisible script. “Go, go, run, do something, hurry, become somebody, accomplish something, hurry, hurry …” We rarely had the courage to ask “why, what for”; it was only much later that we sometimes came across some right to ask.

We fall on this world without ever being asked. We get kicked in the butt: “run, do something, hurry up…” When we actually grab somebody’s arm one day, take him aside, and ask: “Hey, tell me, what’s this all about? Why do you struggle, why do you run, where are you going, for heaven’s sake, what’s the point?” It might actually happen that we occasionally hear: “Well, to be quite honest, I don’t know exactly myself. They all run. No one ever told me why either.” Some may actually claim to know very well why they are running, but I found they only made up such reasons themselves. There never were any instruction, there are no damn instructions for this crazy play! At times we may even stop and resist, decline to participate, refuse to play. But by pretending not to play we already play, don’t we? And over all the trouble we get old, we gradually lose energy, and sometimes lose heart.

Only again much later, we sometimes wake up to the stunning fact that the whole thing is indeed not scripted at all, that life is far from being a plan to be followed, that there ultimately is nothing we could do right or wrong.

Yes, no instructions! Life didn’t come with a manual; in fact, there is no customer support at all. There is the undeniable freedom to make our own rules. Undeniable, incontestable! But freedom is a funny thing: We are free, whether we like it or not. Freedom demands decision, doesn’t it. Freedom can be a curse when you don’t want it. It can be a relief, it can be liberation from restrictions, but it can also be a burden, it can be a threatening, inescapable necessity to make decisions. The lack of instructions: for some it is anarchy, naïveté, and unbearable insecurity, for me this spine-tingling freedom is the essence of life.


 The Journey

 by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice –

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do –

determined to save

the only life you could save.

 * * *

                                                                        Klaus   February 3.    2009

This entry was posted in 2008/2009, Winters and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to February

  1. This is really beautiful, Klaus. The pictures of kayaking in the Baja are very alluring for a fellow kayaker, but it’s what you’ve written that holds my attention the most.

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