After Paddling Up River
by Audrey Leinweber

Like light glinting off the water, impressions are sharp. Sometimes they hurt my eyes and sometimes they make my heart ache, but like the trip itself (which was short and sweet) they are invaluable.

Life is short. The trip is short. An hour, hour and a half. Brief as the day is long: time stands still as we float along, a soft silence hums all about us, but the second hand on my watch marches resolutely forward. We are but miniscule parts of a greater trip. 

The less luggage, the better. The boat is light. Two of us unstrap the rowboat from the back of the pickup and lift it right out. We carry it to the water, laughing and joshing as we go. There is always time for frivolity when the load is light. We have cushions to sit on, and a camera to capture the sights. (Socrates was against writing and would probably be against photography as well; he said it ruined the memory… Perhaps, but writers and photographers know that sometimes the memory is recreated as an entirely separate phenomenon through the translation.)

The light is magical. These are the last days of summer. Sundown comes faster with each passing day. The sun glints maddingly off the water. We squint into the glare but we cannot see ahead. With laughter we lean back and relax. Whatever comes, will come whether we see it or not. Sometimes, a glare obscures the future; we have no key to the fourth dimension. Something is there: a rock, a fish, a surprise, an obstacle. We’ll know soon enough. Meanwhile, we bob gently.

When there is no wind, we row. Apt in our case. We are patient, waiting for the future, staring at the clouds. We risk losing our way, but who’s to say the lost way isn’t our way? But after a while, we choose a destination and put our backs into the effort.

The boat keeps going in circles. We can see all around us. He who has lost the capacity for awe and amazement is as good as dead.

Just because no-one else sees it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Two silent fish flash by. I see them out of the corner of one eye. There are things we know to be true, things we’ve seen out of the corner of one eye, things that we cannot prove. How do we fish with no bait, rod, net or fishing expertise?

A boat with no skeg is more likely to go in circles. It has a flat bottom. It has no incentive to go straight. The essential bit is this: there is nothing inherently wrong with going in circles. After all, we get to see the sights all around us. Even after we get in sync, the boat still doesn’t want to go straight. So we jump ship and wade, make plans to add a makeshift skeg… And go in circles when we must.

When we hit bottom, we get out and walk. Toes squish in the mud. We get wet. Doctors sometimes send the sick for a change of scene. “A vacation abroad is just what you need,” is the not the common prescription it once was, but valid nonetheless. Stepping into the river is as much a change of scene as getting into the boat in the first place. In both cases, we are going places we couldn’t go had we not changed our mode of transportation. 

The planet holds a lot of people. Seems a bit crowded sometimes. Our little boat holds the three of us comfortably, even when the rowdy one starts rocking the boat… literally. The hike upriver drains the leftover tension away. Life is stressful, but we bring a little river magic back with us. 

The next time you take a short trip up your river, are you going to act like nothing happened? Like your planetary companions aren’t more beautiful in the fading twlight? Like you aren’t thankful they are making the trip with you? Be gentle when you step in a boat with someone else. If the seat of your pants get wet, be quiet about it. Life is no time for whining. 

As much as you loved hearing yourself think in the eery unsilence of tumbling river water, aren’t you glad to have your friends floating along with you as your J stroke sends you spinning in circles? 


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