The day is fading as is the year. Late summer afternoons slide toward autumn under the weight of heavy air and ever lower levels of light. Strains from Gram Parson and Dwight Yoakam fill the voids in my office, but my soul has strayed to a small far away stretch of the world known as Graham Creek. A yellow-dog brown serpent of moving hydrogen and oxygen that slithers into Wolf Bay. Like a venomous reptile the creek holds the outside world at a distance. The sounds of natural silence dominate: a few bird calls, the slap of small fish feeding, interrupted by the gurgle of a paddle easing a yellow kayak down the back of the twisting snake of water. I do not own the boat, but I possess the experience.
My wife and I came to sea kayaking some twelve years ago; a relatively late point in life for such an esoteric practice. The attraction was instant. Indeed, paddling in the Alaskan wilderness for a week altered our view of how to spend the last third of our time on the great revolving ball. We now take every opportunity to “go down to the sea”. Most of the time we go together, but on occasion, when she is busy our paddling friend and guide, David, launches with me in her absence. In July David and I made our way toward Wolf Bay reveling in the quiet that made the world seem a better place.
Why? As with many areas of life and culture the meaning may lie with a trinity. First, the boat. To the casual observer kayaks may conjure images of stubby plastic tubs escaping from a child’s toy box on to fast rivers with churning white water. True sea kayaks are at least sixteen feet long and recall more remote places in time and space. http://kayakin.tripod.com/index.html Historically they originated in Greenland, but emotionally and psychologically they echo the Viking longships: long, narrow, fast, and purpose built to venture where other craft could not. Deep, shallow, taciturn, boisterous, salt, fresh, seas or rivers the elegant curves were the conveyance of those who found day to day life too confining. Modern long boats lack only the dragon prow and multiple oars; they lack not the soul of the romantic.
Second, the place. Long boats propel the paddler beyond the confines of our self-inflicted asphalt, HVAC-controlled mini-worlds. Heat, cold, sun, shade, wind, spray, and creatures embrace the quiet energy of the soft moving hull. Thoreau was correct at least once.
“Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them.” —Walden
Graham Creek is one long row of finer fruits harvested only from a long boat.
Third, replacement and redemption . To teach is to give; to teach is to err. It is like a great love affair full of energy, passion, whose enemy is always time. To repair the erosion of high energy passion those who teach (like those who love) need the bliss of solitude. Three bends into Graham Creek’s journey and the trickle of water off the paddle reminds me that replacing lost energy is done best by using quiet energy. Edging the boat around a tight bend while catching a glimpse of a large gar luxuriating in the warm creek water verifies the reality that I am small and insignificant as are my perceived problems. I am of no concern to the gar. (Thank you Stephen Crane) Redemption lies in the recognition that there is much to contemplate in the simplicity of this intersection of my boat and the gar. For a brief time we share a quiet simple world without critics, without demands. A place in time and space found only in a long boat.