Saturday, June 27, 2015

Paddle Back

There is something about paddling: the quiet rhythm of the blade sliding in and out of the water, the feel of my body's movement and tempo as I lean into the stroke and pull the paddle toward me. Relaxed, glide, I stroke again. Needing each other to cross the lake, my body and my kayak have become one. My feet, knees and thighs unseen under the bow sway back and forth holding steady to the course while my arms and torso, operating like a turbine, charge us forward. In each motion of the paddle, the horizon inches forward and the rest of the world slips further behind.

The world is at peace except for hurried ripples made by the bow slicing through the stillness of the lake. Behind me, the water surface is now scratched and broken into millions of tiny undulations drifting into the calm of the lake. Ahead of me lies the illusion of a priceless mirror laying flat against the earth and reflecting images of the trees and hills cradling this canyon lake. The sky is jet blue, the shore is dark and water is an upside down copy sharper than any photograph could ever produce. 
Environmentalist and wilderness guide Sigurd Olson was more poetic in his description, while paddling the lakes and forest of Northern Minnesota and Ontario, Canada. "If it is calm," he wrote in Open Horizons, "The canoes drifting through reflections with nothing to break the vast silence but the hypnotic swish of paddles, there are moments when one seems suspended between heaven and earth."

Not far ahead, a turkey vulture soars overhead with its wings tilted upward.  With it's ugly red-head and diet of the dead, its not as majestic as the eagle or hawk . The bird is looked at with disdain to most. It circles and spirals on prevailing wind currents with little change to its large out stretched wings. It looms over the lake and canyon, holding me in a trance while I paddle below.
It has been a bad week and the vulture knows it. There are problems at work, troubles at home and doctors with test results. Life is not as tranquil as this peaceful lake. Tribulations dwell outside these canyon walls and that vulture wants to devour us. 
I pass the outcropping of the tower rock formations that the vultures call home and whisper to myself
"Not today my friend. I maybe trampled, but I'm far from extinguished." I paddle on as the vulture slips out of sight.

"The first thing you must learn about canoeing is that the canoe is not a lifeless, inanimate object; it feels very much alive, alive with the life of the river," said film maker and canoeist Bill Mason in Path of the Paddle, "Life is transmitted to the canoe by the currents of the air and the water upon which it rides."
There is energy and healing in the water. It has power that Mason said instilled life into my kayak and now transfuses into me. Water has been revered throughout the ages for inspiring the human spirit with hope and tranquility.
 In Psalm 23, one of most quoted Bible verses of all time, David is led down beside quiet water and his soul is restored.
 This trip to the lake has rejuvenated my vitality in the same way, as it has done countless times before. A friend once told when kayaking she hardly can remember what day it is. The lake was her portal of escape and a place to rekindle her mind.
The sun is falling behind the ridge. Along the highest points, the sun still hits the glimmering peaks while the valley is turning shadow.  It is time to turn around and paddle back to the access. It is a drug. A temporary high that always leaves me wanting more and more. This why I return to the lake every chance I can, so I can feel the paddle, it's rhythm and the sensation of the water. My consciousness is cleared and refocused.
"Penetrations into the unknown, " wrote Olson in Open Horizon, "All give meaning to what has gone before, and courage for what is to come. More than physical features, they are horizons of mind and spirit, and when one looks backward, we find they have blended into the whole panorama of our lives."
In a few short hours on the lake, I have undergone a recharge. My mind is at ease and my burdens have lifted. I paddle back restored.