Monday, February 11, 2013

Caught by Surprise by the Tides

The final weeks of winter is a great time to ponder death and rebirth.  The season of Lent is a few days away and I think we've probably had our last big snow of the season -- another big storm like the one last fall, except this time we were just on the edge of it.  We were fortunate -- woke up Saturday morning to a beautiful white landscape, plowed roads, crystal clear blue skies, and the feeling that the old energies had been completely cleared and something new was coming in.  It feels ironic in the deep winter -- the time just before spring begins to green and bring forth flowers on the earth.  It feels like the time between the final exhale and the first inbreath of rebirth.

Like everyone else, I have my cycles of death and rebirth.  I'm in a pretty big one right now. Lots of change. Lots of loss. I sit by the river every day and think about what's left.  And I think this may be a problem.  Thinking about what's left.  Watching the waters flow beyond my ability to see is definitely teaching me something about allowing things just to go. It's starting to feel pretty clear to me these days that when everything goes, it's time to stop fighting it and discover something new.

I like to kayak on rivers.  I love dynamic water. This was something new I discovered eight years ago after my father died.  I'm not one of those paddlers that hugs the shoreline and looks for herons and turtles.  The first time I was on a river, the Hudson, near Rhinebeck, NY, while most of our group of first-time paddlers kept close to shore, intimidated by the fast-flowing waters that were so different from the quiet lake we'd learned on, I waited for the big boats to come by -- like bullets shot down the middle of the river and leaving turbulent waters in their wake.  Sending waves out on three sides and disturbing the comparatively quiet waters, they sent most of the group back to the shoreline the few times they ventured father out.

I loved it, though -- turning my small craft into the wake and paddling my heart out to get to the middle of the wide river, thrilled by the motion that sent me flying above the water's surface as I paddled over the waves to get to where the action of the water was even more choppy and precarious. 

You can't sit still in water like that.  You can't look around and ponder the beauty and wonder of nature.  If you do, you'll find yourself in the water instead of on it.  What you have to do is paddle as if your life depends on it with a strong power stroke.  And what I had to do while doing that was to laugh my heart out at the top of my lungs.  Just because it was so thrilling.

Sometimes on the river, though, you can forget how powerful dynamic water is.  And when you paddle long enough, you may even become so comfortable that you don't remember to plan for what you might not expect to happen.

I was on a river near Ft. Meyer's Beach, FL, paddling across the shipping lanes and into a bay that would lead me into a mangrove forest where I looked forward to a peaceful search for manatees.  And it was wonderful.  Especially crossing the shipping lanes where there is plenty of wake. The only problem was, I hadn't planned on the tides. 

Most of my paddling experience had been on freshwater rivers and I didn't even think about it.  Probably should have.  Coming out of the mangrove forest, I barely recognized the peaceful bay I'd paddled across a few hours before.  The tide was coming in so powerfully, it took all my strength to paddle within yards of the mouth of the small bay that opened onto the tidal river and shipping lanes.  I could not get across it.  I could barely keep my position.  When I stopped paddling even for a second, the power of the water pushed me away, losing ground (so to speak) in seconds that had taken so long to gain.  And once I'd lost the ground, I didn't have the strength to regain it. It's a hard lesson to learn -- that some things are just more powerful than we are.  I could not get back across the bay and into the peace and safety of the mangrove forest either. The way was closed in the current conditions and I was stuck in the middle of a bay paddling for my life to keep from getting pushed into a terrain made of trees that were mostly gigantic roots somehow anchored in the water.      

I knew the real danger would be panic.  I could somehow manage the water, and the boat, but not my own panic.  Whenever you watch those "how did people survive that?" shows, they always tell you that it is panic that kills.  Like when you drive your car off a bridge or a cougar jumps on an unsuspecting you while mountain-biking.  I looked around quickly to assess the situation and saw a trail marker.  It was the only solid ground in the middle of all that turbulence -- a slender metal pole anchored in chaos.  I paddled over to it, looped my arm around it, and held on until the tide turned.  Fortunately, I'd brought a picnic lunch. I must have been a sight -- one arm hooked around the trail marker and a ham and cheese sandwich in my other hand.

A trail marker in a bay is easy to spot.  Not so, the trail markers in life.  Still, they are there.  And when we're in the middle of the unexpected, or the unplanned for, sometimes we get through by hanging on and relaxing until a way through is clear.   

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful post! Thank you Katherine <3 And such great advice! I'll be holding on and relaxing :)