The Scott Islands

2 Jan


Thomas Baumann and I arrived at Cape Scott half an hour after launching from the beach at Nel’s Bight. Swell, rips, and fog are the norm at Vancouver Island’s northwest tip, but the latter had lifted, revealing a choppy quilted sea created by the ebb current racing over a shallow reef-dotted shelf that extends a thousand yards off the headland. We headed into turbulent Scott Channel and stroked toward Cox Island—the nearest of the Scott Islands, six miles away—and quickly found a rhythm to our paddling that matched the sea. An hour and forty minutes later, we reached the calm eddy on the east corner of Cox, where an eagle perched high on a limb a hundred feet above the water welcomed us to its island refuge, far from the madding crowd.

The Scott Islands are home to forty percent of Canada’s Pacific nesting sea birds. On January 31st 2016, the government announced plans to establish the islands as the country’s first Marine National Wildlife Area as part of its commitment to protect ten percent of Canada’s coastal areas by 2020. Thomas and I were blessed to have a perfect day to visit such a wild and remote place that belongs not to humankind but to the critters that live there. We were their guests.

We made our way west along the south side of Cox, weaving through rock gardens and surge channels while mingling with the resident seals and sea otters. At the west end of Cox, we made a short crossing to Lanz Island. Thomas whistled. When I turned around, he was making an awkward gesture–hand on his head, fingers pointing straight up toward the sky.











He’d caught a glimpse of something. Seconds later, one, two, three dorsal fins appeared; a pod of orcas was cruising by fifty yards away. It seemed that animals were everywhere in the Scott Islands. Oyster catchers, puffins, murres, eagles, sea lion, seals, otters, and now killer whales. By the time we rounded Lanz Island and landed on a beach on its eastern shore to camp for the night, we had seen over a hundred sea otters that day. A half century ago that would not have been the case.


Canada’s last sea otter had already been slain by the time the International Fur Seal Treaty passed in 1911. For six decades, B.C. fisheries endured thinning kelp beds and the absence of the apex predator that had kept those ocean-forests healthy for millennia prior to the North Pacific fur trade. Between 1969 and 1972, eighty-nine Alaskan otters were introduced to Kyuquot Sound forty miles south of Cape Scott, where shallow reefs provided the perfect habitat. Then in 1981 the Canadian Government designated 90,000 acres of that body of water as Checleset Bay Ecological Reserve to give the otters a chance to establish a stable population. Today nearly 5,000 sea otters live along Vancouver Island’s west coast and the kelp forest as well as the 2000+ species that depend on it flourish. With so little good news coming out about the environment lately, the sea otter’s remarkable recovery from the brink of extinction and its contribution to the stability of the near-shore waters ecosystem gives us hope of global restoration.





Nature’s Riches

16 Apr


They came from east and west. Stricken with fever, fortune seekers rushed to California and flooded the valley called Cullumah by the native Nisenan People, hoping to strike it rich. The greatest human migration in the Western Hemisphere began in 1848 when James Marshall discovered a few flecks of gold in the tailrace of Frank Sutter’s sawmill on the South Fork of the American River. People have been coming ever since.

I live in Coloma, three miles from Sutter’s Mill, in the heart of Gold Country, where ridges and canyons ripple the lower western slope of the Sierra Nevada Range and the earth still holds eighty percent of the Mother Lode in her belly. Reluctant to give up the precious soft metal, she keeps it locked in a quartz matrix that makes extraction prohibitive. But the region possesses another type of gold that’s free for the taking. It doesn’t lie buried at the bottom of a mineshaft or require a pick and a shovel to find.

Ephemeral by nature, it comes and goes each year with the seasons. Once winter’s rains have restored the parched landscape left behind by summer and the days grow longer, golden specs begin to appear on south-facing slopes above the river. Initially, only one or two surface in a sea of green, but each day more poppies show up in the grass. They shrivel at night and on chilly overcast days, shivering against the wind. But when the spring sun climbs high in the sky and nudges them with its warmth, they joyfully open their petals, and the entire hillside explodes in floral splendor.

During the months of March and April, white-water rafters and kayakers running the Chili Bar section of the American River behold a spectacular sight as they round the bend above the first of the Triple Threat rapids; a few hundred yards down stream, a living tapestry, a half-mile wide and a thousand feet high, covers the canyon wall, a brief reminder of nature’s riches.

Retreat to Hawaii

22 Jan

There’s something soothing about being in Hawaii, surrounded by millions of square miles of water, that feels incredibly nurturing. In Ayurveda, the naturopathic health system of yoga, ojas is the vital essence of kapha dosha and the protective element of the body. A fetus in amniotic fluid is a good example, the lymphatic system that identifies and destroys cells that are not the self is another. Ojas is weakened by stress and strengthened by time in nature.Image

As the world speeds up it’s becoming more difficult and perhaps more important to slow down. When we retreat into the quiet rhythms of the planet, finding time to stop and watch the sunset, to feel the trade winds massaging the skin, to smell the salt air, or immerse ourselves in OMO-Our Mother Ocean-to listen to the songs of whales, we are restored.

For some reason my body always feels more pliable in Hawaii. I think its the combination of warm sea breezes and moist tropical air that releases all muscular tension and allows yoga poses to flow effortlessly. Being in the most isolated island group on the planet, far from the outside world, also reinforces the idea of retreat.


In a few weeks Andie and I will be heading to Hawaii to sink into the practices of yoga, art and nature. We’ll hike through the jungle, a lava tube, and a caldera in Hawaiian Volcanoes Nation Park on the Big Island, and swim and dive in the sea. At the end of each day of exploration we’ll retreat to the sanctuary of Huge and Elvie’s lovely Ohana House. We are looking forward to our reunion with our kind hearted hosts, not to mention Elvie’s scrumptious organic cooking. They are two amazing people who nurture everyone who walks through the door.

For more detail on this winters retreat:

To view andie’s amazing art work:

To contact Dennis: email


When the Student is Ready

24 Aug

When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

Gautama Buddha

There are many ways to seek out a teacher. Some devotees travel across the ocean to India to find a guru; others flock to one of the celebrity icons of the American yoga scene; and more and more sadakas are attending programs right in their neighborhood studio. Some teachers sneak up on us. We find them, or perhaps they find us, in places where we might not think to look.

Rob Olsen is not your typical yoga teacher. With his handsome youthful looks, he’d no doubt be a hit at any yoga studio, but you’ll never find his name on a class schedule.  When we first met in 1999, I easily pictured him the star quarterback of a high school football team. But Rob wasn’t born with a body that would allow him to play football, or any other sport for that matter. He was born with Cerebral Palsy.

I had just completed a 320-hour advanced study program at Piedmont Yoga with Rodney Yee, when JoAnn Lyons approached me about assisting her with yoga classes at the Cerebral Palsy Center in Oakland, California. Nearly half the students in the Piedmont training program where already teaching yoga when the course started. I was the least flexible in the group but was fit enough to keep up with the two-to-four-hour asana sessions. By the time I moved to the bay area, I had pushed my body for years in the outdoors, climbing mountains, skiing across ranges, and kayaking desolate coasts. It was predictable that I’d push hard in yoga. I practiced diligently, loved the athleticism of vinyasa, and even learned a few exotic poses.

When everyone arrived in wheel chairs at that first class at the CP Center, I knew i was in the right place to deepen my understanding of yoga. We met every Monday for the next six years. Everything I’d learned about alignment and asana in the studio did not apply. It was all new terrain. There was no map. Rob and the other participants patiently instructed Jo Ann and I how to share yoga with people who have CP who often find a simple thing like closing the eyes to be a supreme challenge.

Rob doesn’t DO yoga, he LIVES it…every minute of his life. His courage and patience are exemplary of a master. He taught me that a perfect body and a beautiful pose were not the hallmarks of a true yogi, but that keeping an open heart and having the courage to live life gracefully in the face of tremendous difficulty are the real tests…lessons that I still struggle to learn.

Now as I face my own physical challenges, I reflect back on those years at the CP Center. I am grateful to Rob and appreciate his subtle technique.  He teaches by example.

Ruin or Rehab

11 Apr

Two recent New York Times articles on yoga by William Broad suggested that yoga is dangerous, especially for men. See the article here. Personally, I think it is good that dialogue is starting to open up around the question of injuries in yoga. Frankly, I’m surprised we haven’t seen more lawsuits in this country where litigation often takes the place of personal responsibility. But those newspaper articles presented a rather biased view of yoga. One would hope that good news reporting would include both sides of a story, but that no longer seem to be the case, even with the country’s most influential newspaper.

What is yoga anyway? Stretching, a sport, a workout, physical therapy, a philosophy, a life style…action, devotion, knowledge, meditation…all of these???? The answer can be yes to any of them. The more important questions are: what’s the essence of yoga and how do we find it amidst all the hype and veneer that has been laid on it?

Yoga Myth #2 (Yoga Myth #1):

Yoga has been around for five thousand years.  Continue reading


Islands Flowing Through Time

20 Mar


Hugh and Elvie’s beautiful retreat center

My wife and I just returned for our first collaborative retreat on the Big Island of Hawaii, a living landscape where everything flows. The trade winds flow from east to west across the sea, driving the North Equatorial Current and the basin-wide circulation of the North Pacific. On land, molten rock seeps and occasionally gushes from the ground before surrendering to the pull of gravity and flowing downhill as rivers of fire and stone. Even the seabed flows; 20,000 feet below the surface, the oceanic crust creeps northwestward three to four inches a year, passing over the hotspot in the earth’s mantle that that has created the Hawaiian Islands. As they slowly drift away from the hotspot, the islands leave a visible trail that marks the path of the Pacific Ocean Plate. We couldn’t have picked a more appropriate place for a week of yoga,art and ecology.


While yoga philosophy and energy anatomy associate each of the five elements with a particular part of the body and a specific chakra, it’s good to remember the energies of nature spin their alchemy amongst each other in the act of creation. With enough heat solid earth become fluid. Add water, it becomes steam. You can clearly see the interplay of the elements on Hawaii, the home of the fire goddess Pele and the god of the rainforest Kamapua’a.



In Hawaiian mythology the two lovers are fire and water. More proof I suppose that opposites really do attract. Their beautiful and volatile relationship has created an amazing ecosystem that inspires everyone fortunate enough to experience Hawaii, to call the place paradise.

With her fiery temperament, “the woman of the pit” continues to give birth to the newest land on the planet.

Standing on the beach at dusk one night, we could see flashes of red in the distance as hot lava flowed into the sea.

Located thousands of miles from the nearest land, the isolated islands might have remained barren if not for the currents of air and water that flow across the Central Pacific and through the archipelago, delivering seeds, birds, insects and other life forms including the first people, the Polynesians. All found nourishment  in the rains of Kamapua’a.


Clearly the forces of nature are at work in Hawaii, but on a more subtle level they also drive the biological processes within each one of us. Cellular metabolism is an expression of fire, combustion; water appears as blood, urine, sweat and several other bodily fluids; air is respiration, not only the breath of the lungs but the gas exchange that takes place in every single cell in the body. These processes build flesh and bone. We are the elements. They flow through us. Isn’t it grand to be a part of them?

Our deepest gratitude to Hugh and Elvie for providing such a wonderful retreat experience.


Wounded Warriors

31 Jan

The New York Times published an article last month “Wounded Warrior Pose”, targeting the higher rate of injury among men in yoga classes. It mentioned men tend to soldier on through pain rather than listen to their bodies as one of the problems. It also suggested that women tend to be more flexible and therefore more suited to yoga. The third gremlin it touched on is the issue of teachers pushing their students to stretch further.  I would add a couple of other concerns. The mass marketing of yoga (mainly its emphasis on flexibility) combined with our cultural “no pain no gain” philosophy has set us all up to bust our chops in yoga.  Continue reading

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