Cabin Fever

yoga mat

Most people practice most yoga indoors, the weather being what it is in North America. Yoga studios are almost always inside buildings, anyway. That is a good thing if it’s the middle of winter in Vermont or the armpit of summer in Mississippi, or fall winter spring on Prince Edward Island on the south side of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Almost 120 inches of snow falls during the long winter season on PEI. Skiers going to Vermont are happy if 80 inches have fallen during the season. The wind off the ocean makes everything feel colder than it is on the island. Sometimes harbors are still frozen well into May.

Practicing indoors means being able to practice in the middle of a blizzard or a thunderstorm, or even a light sprinkle. It means practicing in a space set aside for exercise and breathwork, or just meditation, without interruption. It means being able to be consistent in one’s practice, a habit thought to be fundamental to gaining ground.

No rain checks are ever needed when unrolling a mat at your local studio or your basement recreation room. They are private spaces, spaces in which the environment is controlled. Lightning might strike, but it won’t be literal lightning.

Some practices, like Bikram Yoga, are performed indoors only, in sealed-up steam-filled rooms,, like heat-ravaged parts of the world in the grip of a post-modern climate change event, when you might as well be outside. Even then it probably doesn’t measure up to what Bikram Choudhury, the mastermind of hot yoga, calls his “torture chambers.”

Pattabhi Jois, the man who inspired and developed Ashtanga Yoga, on which most yoga exercise of the last half-century is based, recommended that it be practiced indoors.

“Outside don’t take,” he said. “First floor is a good place. Don’t go upstairs, don’t go downstairs.”

When asked about renegade yogis in India practicing in the forest, he simply said, “That is very bad.”

Although there are problems associated with practicing outdoors – including that it will inevitably defy the weather forecast and rain the one day you try it – people do it all the time, especially in places like southern California, where there are many classes like ‘Beach Yoga with Brad’.

“Ditch the confines of the indoors!” recommended CBS-TV Los Angeles, reporting from the great outdoors.

“If you’re doing yoga indoors then you’re cheating yourself,” said Sarah Stevenson, a Certified Yoga Instructor in Orange County. “The sun’s rays and fresh air provide not only improved physical health, but also spiritual and emotional wellbeing.”

It isn’t just sunny climes, either, that roll out the mat regardless of rocks and roots and biting bugs. From Missoula to Minneapolis, any place where the winters are long and dark, the sun-starved come out in droves in the summer.

Some don’t wait for the solstice.

Members of ‘Y-8’ routinely practice their Alsteryoga on the thick ice of the frozen-over Lake Alster outside the northern German town of Hamburg. They make sure to pull the hoods of their insulated sweatshirts over their heads when in headstand.

Whether it’s ice or sand or grass, the instability of ground outdoors makes for a challenging experience. Some people practice on paddleboards when the hard water of rivers and lakes has gone defrosted. “When you’re not on a solid wood floor surface, you end up using different parts of your body,” said Jennifer Walker, an instructor in Maine. “Outside, you end up engaging your core much more to stabilize your whole body.”

Although I oftentimes get out into our backyard in the summer, I still roll out my mat indoors because I’ve carved out a space I like at home, and because the weather in Lakewood, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland, is unpredictable, while the midges and mosquitoes that fly up out of the Rocky River valley are predictable.

Sometimes, though, I jump the traces.

The three mostly sunny weeks my wife and I spent in North Rustico, on the north coast of Prince Edward Island, at the Coastline Cottages on the National Park road, I moved my mat and me outside. Sometimes in the morning, but more often in the afternoon, when the crab apple tree at the back of our cottage cast a convenient shadow, I unspooled on the grass and set about doing yoga exercises, warming up with sun salutations.

“When I practice outdoors, there is this amazing energy,” said Angela Jackson, an instructor in Oakville, Ontario. “I feel more connected to the earth, the birds, the animals, the sky, and to myself.”

I practiced almost every day, because we were on vacation with plenty of time, and because the days were warm and it was fair and breezy where we were on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. I was bitten every one of those days, sometimes more than less, by flying bugs, as well occasionally by black flies from the scrubby conifer woods beside the fifty acres of soybeans behind the cottages.

Prince Edward Island is predominately a farming and fishing province. There are croplands and cattle and fishing boats everywhere. A few years earlier we had stayed in a cottage next to a field and a barn full of cows. Every room in the cottage came equipped with a fly swatter. We made sure all the screens were safe and sound and in place.

The reason we feel more connected to the earth when we practice outdoors is because we are standing directly on the earth, on the soil and grass of it. PEI is made of soft sandstone and its soil is an iron oxide red. The contrast of bright green grass to the red land beneath a high blue sky on a summer day is often striking.

I saw lots of sky doing things on my back on my mat behind our cottage. Creeping crawling insects took shortcuts under me, the long way over me, or just bumped into me and zigzagged away. Seaside birds flew overhead. Most of them were cormorants, an easy to spot coastal bird with short wings and a long neck. There were plenty of wood warblers and a couple of yellow-bellied sapsuckers, darting in and out of the crab apple tree.

One afternoon behind our cottage a week-and-a-half into our early summer stay on the island, a grown-up red fox hunkered down and watched me for a long time. The fox surprised me, even though I knew they were all over the north shore. We had seen plenty of them, on the shoulders of roads, or the edge of woods, always looking for handouts.

From 1900 until the 1930s black silver fox farming – the silver fox is a mutation of the island’s ubiquitous red fox – was a cash crop on Prince Edward farms. Fox pelts were in high style, but cost an arm and a leg because they could only be got from trappers. No one knew how to raise them until in the 1890s two men, a PEI druggist and a farmer, perfected a way to domesticate and breed them.

It made many of the natives rich. The price for a bred fox pelt, never mind a trapped pelt, in 1910 was a jaw-dropping $1200.00. To put that into perspective, farm laborers on the island in 1910 averaged a dollar a day in pay for ten and twelve hour days.

The Great Depression and changing fashion crippled the market and by the 1950s fox farming was finished on Prince Edward Island. Most farmers simply let their animals loose. The foxes were probably glad to go, glad to be back on their own, glad to not have to be a fashion statement anymore.

“My grandfather raised horses, and kept foxes for their pelts,” said Kelly Doyle, a North Rustico lobsterman whose Coastline Cottages we were staying at. “But, then they weren’t cool anymore, so he let all the foxes out, and my father who couldn’t make a living at that became a farmer.”

Rubbing eyeballs with a fox in woods or fields used to be out of the ordinary, but sightings nowadays are commonplace.

“Whereas foxes once avoided human contact, they now venture up to parked cars, presumably looking for food,” said Ryan O’Connor, who grew up on PEI and is a historian of Canada’s environmental movement.

Although some of the issues with sun salutations in the great outdoors are bugs and bad weather or sometimes too much sunshine, rarely is the issue a wild animal. The foxes are wild, but not so wild, too. They live in woodlots and sand dunes, are intelligent and adaptable, and have no trouble living in close association with human beings.

One moonless night, sitting on the deck of our cottage overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, we heard a god awful noise somewhere out on the long dark sloping lawn. The next morning Kelly Doyle had to clean up the remains of a dismembered rabbit. Every fox hunts every night for mice voles rabbits.

I don’t know when the red fox slipped behind the adjacent cottage to ours. I saw him midway through my yoga series for the day, when I lengthened into plank from down dog and transitioned into up dog, and there he was, about fifty feet away from me.

There is a rule at the Coastline Cottages. “Don’t Feed the Animals.” The rule is to discourage foxes from loitering, looking for food for their kits. I hadn’t seen anyone breaking the rule, because who wants a fox at their door cadging for a handout? But there was the red fox, plain as day, behind the cottage next to ours, giving me the once over.

“They won’t bother you, or bite you,” Kelly had told us.

I had no reason to doubt him, so I continued what I was doing, sneaking a peek at the animal now and then. The fox wasn’t overly large, maybe 20 or 25 pounds, with a reddish-brown coat, white under belly, and a black-tipped nose. One of his eyes was cloudy, as though the animal had a cataract or been hurt.

He lounged and moved more like a cat than a dog, although foxes are a part of the dog family. His ears were triangular. When he cocked his head and his ears went up erect he resembled a Maine Coon cat with his muzzle in mousing position.

All during the rest of my yoga practice that afternoon the fox never made a sound, and even seemed to doze off for a few minutes. He stretched and yawned. When he left, moving away into the soybean field, he walked on his toes, heels off the ground, agile canny swift. No amount of yoga I ever did was ever going to get me to be able to move like that.

I didn’t see him again the rest of our stay.

Living north of the Mason-Dixon Line I am by necessity forced to do yoga indoors most of the time. But, moving one’s mat outdoors isn’t necessarily for the birds, if only because that’s where the energy is. The fountainhead is under the arching sky in the wide blue yonder.

In the world of yoga the word prana means energy or life force and pranayama means breathwork, or breathing exercises. To practice outdoors is to be immersed in the source of prana, whether you mean it as the source of life or simply as the air we breathe.

Bringing a breath of out in the country air into your body mind spirit is refreshing. Great wafts of it are even better. It’s no holds barred refreshing breathing in the old-school air of the island. There’s more air in the air on the edge of the ocean than there is in most other places.

There was more than enough of it for both the red fox and me the sunny day we shared it, both of us dwarfed by a sweeping horizon and puffy white clouds blowing out to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, behind a small cottage next to a soybean field.

“How was it?” my wife asked when I stepped back into the cottage.

“It was a breath of fresh air in my brain,’ I said.

Originally posted on http://www.paperbackyoga.com.

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Road Map

IMG_3893There are more than six thousand kilometers of two-lane roads on the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island. About two thousand of those kilometers are unpaved. All of the unpaved tracks are red clay dirt roads. Many of the paved roads are reddish, too.

“At one time there was island stone and beach sand that was used in concrete,” explained Jamie Reid, the PEI operations manager for USCO Concrete.

The pastoral landscape of Prince Edward Island is layered over sandstone bedrock. Sandstone can be dug up by backhoes and is still sometimes used for local and seasonal roads. Wet weather transforms unpaved tracks into what some islanders call baby poop.

The sandstone is leavened with iron oxide, or rust, giving the landscape its distinctive red color beneath wide blue skies overlooking green fields. The Indians who lived on the island before European colonization called it Epekwitk. They thought their god Glooscap, after he finished making the rest of the world, with a final flourish mixed his colors and made their island.

“When I was a kid most of the roads around here were dirt,” said Kelly Doyle. “Sometimes after a bad winter storm you couldn’t go anywhere for a day-or-two.”

The first roads were built in the late 1760s. At the turn of the 20th century cars were banned on most roads most of the time, especially on market days. A Red Flag law was passed ordering there be a man at the front of every car with a red flag, ready to wave it just in case. By 1919 cars could go anywhere and the red flags were put away.

Kelly Doyle has lived in North Rustico, a small town on a natural harbor on the north side of Prince Edward Island along the Gulf of St. Lawrence, most of his life. He owns the Coastline Cottages on the eponymous Doyle’s Cove on the National Seashore, operates PEI Select Tours, and has been a lobster fisherman, on-and-off, for more than twenty seasons.

“I grew up on a mixed farm. It wasn’t anything elaborate, basically turnips, which is a rutabaga, and we grew grain, barley, and wheat. My father was the farmer.”

Mixed farms are for families who need a farmer three times a day, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Tom and Doris “Dottie” Doyle farmed 100 acres, although at one time the family had almost 400 acres. “Most of our land is rented,” said Kelly Doyle. ”We used to have seven fields on our 100 acres, but now it’s three fields.”

By the early 1900s PEI’s thick forests had been largely cleared and ninety percent of the island’s land was being farmed. There were more than 12,000 farms, almost all of them between fifty to one hundred acres. The land was sub-divided by dykes, which are walls built of rocks dug up from the fields.

“Those dykes were full of berries,” said Kelly. “Our mom used to send us back in the fields with buckets. We’d come back with them full of wild raspberries and blueberries.”

After World War II province-wide development plans, tractors, and technology led to modernization, bigger farms, and one-crop planting. By 2006 there were only 1,700 working farms on Prince Edward Island and more than half of them were growing potatoes. PEI is sometimes called Spud Island.

“Fields were smaller fifty years ago,” said Kelly. “Maybe it should have stayed that way. Now they’ve ripped out all the dykes and sprays kill all the wild berries. It’s a shame to see it.”

Tom Doyle, however, was the only Doyle who ever farmed.

“They were boat people from Ireland in 1847,” said Kelly Doyle. “It was on his third sailing here that my great-great-grandfather landed and stayed. He did something so that the Queen, or somebody, granted him land, and two shore lots.”

By 1850 a quarter of the people on Prince Edward Island were Irish. The last wave of immigrants was called the Monaghan settlers because they came from County Monaghan. They often paid their own way to PEI and made their own way once on the island, rather than tenant farming.

Most freeholders farmed and controlled livestock. By the mid-1800s PEI was already exporting surplus foodstuff to neighboring provinces and Great Britain. The Doyle’s, however, raised horses and propagated thoroughbreds. The family later took advantage of fashion and bred black silver foxes for their pelts.

The secret of breeding foxes for their pelts was solved in the late 19th century on Prince Edward Island. Twenty years later single pelts sold for as much as $2000.00, at a time when farm laborers made a dollar a day. In 1913 the provincial government estimated foxes were worth twice as much as “all of the cattle, horses, sheep, swine, and poultry” on the island.

But, by the 1950s the fox industry was finished. “When they went out of style my dad let all their foxes out and he became a farmer.”

Kelly Doyle grew up on the family farm and went to the nearby Stella Maris School, across the street from the Church of Stella Maris. The school was built in 1940 and burned to the ground in 1954. “We stood looking utterly helpless in our misery,” a nun at the nearby Stella Maris Convent wrote in her diary. A year later, a year before Kelly Doyle’s birth, the village re-built their school. “It is the most modern fourteen room school in the province,” noted the Guardian newspaper in its feature article.

“I went grades one through nine. Almost everybody my age quit in grade nine. It was the 70s. There was no need of education around here. Fathers would tell their kids, you’re not going to do anything in school, get to work in the boat. We all said we’ve got better things to do and banged out of there.”

As a young man he wasn’t ready for boat work, roaming in Lower Canada instead, living in Montreal and sowing a bushel full of wild oats, until returning to North Rustico. He built a cottage on family land on a hillside overlooking Doyle’s Cove, but couldn’t find work.

“Back in the 70s and 80s, she was pretty lean here. There was no money around for years.” In the 1980s the gross domestic product of Prince Edward Island was the lowest in Canada, only 56% of the national average. Next to Newfoundland, the province had the lowest per capita income in the country. When Kelly Doyle was offered work on a fishing boat sailing out of the North Rustico harbor, he took it.

“When I first started fishing everyone had a gasoline engine in an old wooden boat. Everything was done manually, except for hydraulics to haul gear off the bottom. The steering was even done by chains. Now everything is fiberglas, everything is diesel, and everything is hydraulics.”

Fish men going door-to-door selling cod was a way of life until the 1980s, when a ban on the taking of ground fish was enacted. Fish stocks had been over-exploited up and down Atlantic Canada and were severely depleted. “When I started people were baiting hooks and hauling trawls for halibut, haddock, and cod. Then the moratorium came in. All we were allowed was lobster.”

Kelly Doyle has been fishing for lobster ever since then.

“Lobster traps were invented a while ago and they’re as simple as mousetraps,” he said.

Except, unlike mousetraps, lobster traps are remarkably inefficient, although they almost always get the job done. Invented just more than one hundred years ago, they have changed little in the interim. Even though entrances to the traps are one-way, any lobster that tries to escape can get away, if it has a mind to.

“My theory is there are two ways lobsters get caught,” said Kelly. “One way is what I call simple minded.” Since lobster brains are about the size of the tip of a fountain pen, he might be right.

“Lobsters won’t usually back out the same way they’ve come in. They crawl up the net, there’s a flap on it, and once they’re in that they can’t go back. The other way they get caught is they just stay too long in the trap eating bait, and when we jerk it out of the water they get tossed into the back, by the sheer momentum of us pulling it up with the hauler.”

Since lobsters spend most of their time racking their brains about where their next meal is coming from, crawling on their walking legs to get to it, and finally eating all the crabs, mollusks, fish, and even other lobsters they can get, it adds weight to Mr. Doyle’s second theory, too.

Kelly Doyle’s brothers, John, Mike, and Kenny, all fished. “We weren’t farmers, but we weren’t fishermen, either, although I think it was naturally in our blood, since every one of us was at ease on the water.”

John Doyle fished for several years before marrying and moving to Ontario to raise a family. “Mike had rubber boots and oil gear and he went out, too, but then he got into TV’s.” Mike Doyle was one of the first satellite television providers on PEI. Later he transitioned from catching lobsters to serving them at his Blue Mussel Café, a seasonal seafood restaurant, at the far end of the North Rustico harbor.

Kenny Doyle spent fifteen years fishing on local boats, and the next ten years fishing commercially with his brother, Kelly. “He’s captained deep-sea fishing boats out of Rustico for fifteen years, too. Kenny’s an able man behind the wheel.”

Cathy and Elaine, the Doyle sisters, stayed on dry land. They did so for good reason. In North America fishing boats sink to the bottom of the sea at the rate of one every three days. Imperfect storms can roil the ocean. “You get black and bruised,” said Kelly. “During those seas, you do everything slower. You have to be a lot more careful with your gear, your traps, and the rope under your feet. You always have to watch your P’s and Q’s.”

Kelly Doyle fishes with his partner, Paul Doiron, a man he’s known since they were youngsters, although nine years separates them. “Paul, that’s my buddy, that’s my partner in crime.” Their boat is the Flying Spray, a modern, high-bowed fiberglas craft built in nearby Kensington. “Paul’s roundish, built a bit like a buoy. He lives right here in the crick.”

North Rustico has been known as the crick for many years. “There was a creek that ran right through the village,” said Kelly. “The people from Charlottetown didn’t know what a creek was, or misunderstood, and ended up calling it the crick, so we ended up being nicknamed that.”

There are only three houses on the shore lots to one side of Doyle’s Cove. One of them is a newer house built by Kenny Doyle, the other is the old Doyle family house, and the house nearest the cove is Andy’s Surfside Inn. Andy Doyle is Kelly Doyle’s uncle. “Andy turns 90 this year and he’s still over there.”

Kelly Doyle’s all-year cottage, large sliding glass doors fronting the ocean, is on the other side of Gulf Shore Parkway, the National Park road between Cavendish and North Rustico. Since the late-80s he has built five seasonal cottages adjacent to his, which are the Coastline Cottages, on the crest of the hill overlooking Doyle’s Cove. In 2000 he added a kidney-shaped seawater pool.

“People thought, I’m turning it into a tourist trap,” he laughed.

“Most of my friends ended up getting married. I ended up having cottages and getting in debt. There was no money around here for years. We’re all making a living now, but there still isn’t any amount of it.”

Kelly Doyle owned and operated Amanda’s, a fresh seafood diner, in North Rustico for many years. In the 1960s his parents had a small restaurant in nearby Cavendish. “It was 7 cents for pop, 30 cents for a hamburger, and 17 cents for fries back then. That was the kind of money you made in 1964. There were six kids in our family. Some of those French Acadian families had twenty births. It was no different for anyone.”

Besides his cottages and sailing for lobster the months of May and June, like many men and women on Prince Edward Island he has another job to keep his head above water. Mr. Doyle operates PEI Select, a tour guide service catering to Japanese tourists visiting Anne’s Land, the imaginary home of ‘Anne of Green Gables’. The series of books by Lucy Maud Montgomery, about a plucky red-haired girl, are big in Japan. In 2014 a Japanese-language version of the ‘Anne of Green Gables’ musical wrapped up a sold-out nationwide tour by playing in Tokyo.

In the spring Kelly Doyle rents his farmland to neighboring farmers for hay, grain, and soybeans. “They grow food that uses the least herbicides and pesticides,” he explained.

Coastline Cottages, the Doyle houses, and the cove are in the National Park, but are not the National Park. The park was established in 1937 and encompasses more than 5000 acres of coastal headlands, sand dunes, and beaches. The Doyle’s didn’t sell their land when the park was being formed on the central north shore of Prince Edward Island.

“But, they have the patience to wait everybody out,” said Kelly Doyle. “That’s the beauty of the National Park. You don’t want to sell right now? That’s fine. Your son will want to sell, and if he doesn’t want to, his son will. If it takes two hundred years we will get you out of this park.”

Only change is unchanging, even though when it does it sometimes seems like not much is different. “There’ve been a lot of changes around the island, but it’s nice to go home and say it hasn’t changed much right here. That’s another beauty of the National Park. Since it’s a national park, it stays the same.”

About 285 million years ago Prince Edward Island was a mountain range. Over time it evolved into a low-lying basin as glaciers advanced and retreated. Most of the ice was gone by 10,000 years ago and the island slowly took shape.

Living in a traditional farming and fishing community, looking past the sandstone cliffs of Doyle’s Cove and out over the wide Atlantic Ocean, from the vantage point of Kelly Doyle’s deck it can seem like little has changed in a long time.

“Only the rabbits and trees get bigger,” he said.

But, before the recently rebuilt Gulf Shore Parkway, which features a new all-purpose trail as it winds down a long highland past the cove, was the old Gulf Shore Parkway, it wasn’t a road, at all.

“When the road came in sometime in the 1950s it cut our farm in half, ” said Kelly. Before it was a road it was a hillside. When it rained in early spring or late fall, and especially when it rained all day, the slope that is now the road turned into a red clay slippery slope of Prince Edward Island sandstone.

The Doyle’s still got to where they had to go. Sometimes any road, or even no road at all, will get you where you want to go.

Originally posted on http://www.147stanleystreet.com.