On floating

From the moment the boat is on the rack, hefted on top of the car, poised on its side and strapped in with strained precision, tied down and steadied for the movement of the road, I’m at peace. I know where I’m going. Once the formalities have been parted with – the strain of lifting and the gleam of the sun in my eyes as I slowly twist the straps into place – I’m ready to float.

Lifting anchor is as simple as putting both legs in the kayak, straightening them out and letting arms – warm from the unusually warm spring – control the work. The water spreads out ahead, a horizon of motion captured only by the river’s banks. One paddle breaks the tension – gently plopping, straining against the force of the current and passing through the weight of so many hydrogen atoms. Oxygen atoms, strung together, turned from air into fluid. From one necessity of life to another.

The science that causes surface tension helps keep us afloat, with help from physics, our hollowed out shell of molded green plastic beginning to move with the water, giving in to nature and slowly becoming part of it. The paddles are swiftly made worthless, useful for steering and sudden movement but completely arbitrary to the relaxation of being sent for a ride, kayaking in style, one in front, one in back, my field of vision widened to 180 degrees – both sides of the river, meeting in the middle where Kerrie’s head bisects my sight and serves as a center of attention.

It’s warm; warmer than on dry land. But the water is cool – cold to the touch, picked up in the wind and deposited on our slowly roasting skin. The ability to sunburn is heightened when the sun’s rays are bounced back off of the water, unable to break the surface, forbidden from floating along with us and cursing us as it makes this discovery, sentencing us to a few days of dry, taut epidermal pain.

My sandals are wet. We paddle for something to do – to make our actions seem more human. Less divine. My legs start to bead up with the water falling off of the paddles, dropping onto my water bottle and reminding me to drink. The water rushes by, as does a forest that’s usually hidden from us. On this river that encircles our city, surrounded by asphalt and buildings and commerce and life that breezes by too fast, a secret wildlife exists. No one else is on the river. Aside from the handful of people that jog by, we could be floating down any river in the quickly disappearing wilderness.

It’s quiet enough to hear centuries of use, to witness early settlers coming across the river and relocating camp, deciding that here, where the river splits and creates a city-wide island of sorts, is where life should go on. It’s amazingly silent at times. Other times, we’re brought back to the present. We’re floating down a thin line. One side forces us to remember our place, to remember we’re in a city and that this water is not ours. The other tells us to just let go. The river will show us where to go.

Floating down the river is a sensation more different than anything. Unlike a lake, which is self-contained and close-minded, a river flows continuously, fully conscious of its direction but unceasingly moving, always searching out for the ending – the peace that comes from completion. You’re able to let go, so feel weightless, moving along and becoming part of the motion, altering it to your needs but never affecting the overall symbiotic relationship between water and weight – between the need to flow and the ability to move.

And then, in no time, we’re getting out, setting the anchor again with a foot full of mud, traveling around the city to get the boat back on the car, straining into the sun. We’re suddenly aware of all we’d left behind – the streets, the smells, the stifling closeness of everything. We want back on the river, but we know it’s not where we belong. We’re stuck here, on dry land, forever.

Or, at least, until next weekend, when the anchor comes up and both feet are free again.

This was lovingly handwritten on April 29th, 2007