The Joy of Kayaking
Literary Reflections on the Joys of Kayaking
I took up kayaking a few years ago on a trip to Door County, Wisconsin. The bay was shallow, the kayak was a recreational model upon which the paddler was seated as opposed to being submerged in the vessel itself. The weather that week was gorgeous, mid-seventies, slight breeze, brilliant sun; the perfect set of circumstances under which to learn. As I paddled with a new friend, I felt exhilarated and alive. Being on or in the water had long been a favorite past time of mine, so the only surprise on this particular day was that it took me 40 years to get into a kayak. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was for me to paddle both forward and back, stop, and turn the kayak in either direction. I learned quickly to point the nose of the kayak into the oncoming wakes of passing motorboats to avoid capsizing. The kayak and I, it seemed, were destined to be natural companions.
I never bought my own kayak. Not that I didn’t want to. I simply lack the space to store one. My home is an older ranch style house with a one-car garage; not terribly practical for today’s multi-driver families, but I’m sure it was fine in the 1970’s when it was built. Fortunately for me, there is a paddle shop not far from my home. They not only sell a colorful array of fiberglass kayaks, but also rent several as well. I opt for the twelve foot recreational model as opposed to the more precarious sixteen foot touring model. Best of all, they are located on the banks of a channel which leads directly out into a bay that flows into Lake Monona. The shores of this lake branch off into thin channels that are much like the tentacles of a great octopus. Many of these small channels are interconnected and are my favorite areas through which to paddle. I can escape the more hectic allure of the greater lake, with its countless motorboats and jet skis, and enjoy the serenity and stillness of a place that seems a million miles away, instead of only a few. I can enjoy the sights and sounds of nature, the feel of the hot sun beating down on my skin, and the smell of the mossy banks. I can slip out of my PFD and reveal a topless, tanned torso to only the blue cloudless sky…or not. The choice is mine. The privacy assures that there is no wrong choice.
Most days I bring along my i-Pod and lose myself in romantic fantasies of far away places and youthful follies as I glide through the green waters. I dream of paddling in ever more remote places, ripe with intrigue and the allure of foreign languages and cultures. I dream of new lovers, bonfires under the stars, bottles of red wine and smoky kisses. I dream of sitting on my upper-story, wrap around porch naked and drinking coffee while furiously penning the next great American novel. Still other times, I dream of nothing at all. I merely sit and watch the turtles baking on rotted out trees that have stretched across the channels, fallen by one of our many windstorms. I watch families of geese glide by, marveling at one of the few other species that has made monogamy a lifestyle choice. If I’m lucky, I spot turkeys or deer along the deserted banks and come upon the great blue heron or snowy egret, tucked motionless amongst the reeds, as if camouflaging themselves while praying that I’ll simply paddle by and leave them in peace.
Sometimes I bring a blanket, a favorite book and small pillow, neatly tucked into a large plastic bag, and find a secluded bank on which to stretch out. I can imagine myself there, unclothed, reclined into the lap of a handsome, Victorian lover, who reads to me from the book of poetry, as if the words were written solely for me. The sun beats against me with a ferocious intensity that forces my stomach into strangely pleasurable knots. When the heat becomes overwhelming, I splash my skin in shallows, running the cool water through my hair and massaging it into my scalp. One of the best feelings in the world is the feel of fresh water droplets evaporating against steaming skin under that radiating ball of fire.
On days of great joy and serenity, I revel in the beauty of the natural world. On more somber, melancholy days, I dream of sliding from seat, seamlessly into the dark waters, without a sound, without a ripple, and disappearing forever. Ironically, even the latter somehow brings me comfort and peace, as if the choice is truly mine. I always make the right choice…and return to my life, with all of its uncertainty and responsibilities. I return to the hugs and kisses of those that love me. This love is both a silent yet deafening force that always draws me back. It is a force that I become reacquainted with during my reflective hours on the water. Because of the time that I’ve spent in my sometimes pensive solitude, lost in private thoughts, music and the stillness that surrounds me, I return reinvigorated. The darkness is gone, and only peace remains. I can fill my lungs with clean air, and my heart and mind with hope. And when the world again becomes too much to bear, I’ll return to the paddle shop, rent my twelve foot recreational kayak and paddle out once again in search of my personal refuge.
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