I woke up early the other morning to perfect conditions for kayaking. The brackish water of Stonewall, Quitsa and Menemsha ponds was so still it looked solid until, that is, I made that first push from shore. Below me I could see sidling crabs and the eelgrass yielding to the direction of the outgoing tide. The surface of the water reflected the detail of every wisp of cloud so I felt as if I was floating and flying. The top half of a boat mooring that rose above the water was reflected in an optical illusion suggesting a perfectly round ball sitting on top of the water. A blue heron was frozen on the pond’s edge, waiting for just the right fish to pass by. An immature hawk was the only source of disturbance, rippling the air waves with its unsuccessful attempts at catching prey.
Kayaking is how I meditate — to go inward by connecting outward to the natural world. Years ago, my husband and I had read that kayaking together was good for relationships, so we tested the theory. We laughed as we tried to coordinate our strokes and steering, our efforts thwarted by our warped boat. But when we returned, I had to go out again on my own.
I’ve been working on my stroke recently. I have been using my arms too much, not calling upon the strength of my back and torso. I discovered hidden pockets of power within my body. Sometimes my movements put me into a trance and when I come out of it I have to glide for a bit in fear that I might have missed the bright orange beak and raucous laugh of the oystercatcher that always hangs out on the sandbar.
My meditation the other morning was broken by a group of five paddle- boarders. I haven’t tried this new form of walking on water yet. I’d like to. I’m curious about any new way to experience the water. From a distance, it made for a visual oddity — five standing women moving across the water without any obvious sort of locomotion, a graceful version of the figures in table hockey.
In order to return home I had to pass them. They were down on their boards going through a variety of yoga-type exercises at the prompting of an instructor. “Keep your core tight,” she bellowed. “Now lift your back leg and reach out with your opposite arm. Remember to breathe. Hold it. Hold it. Now relax.” I let out a big exhale as if I had just gone through the exercise myself. Who hasn’t been conditioned to respond to the voice of the trainer?
I began paddling again, trying to figure out what I thought about this group. I admired the ingenuity of this new technique. I’m sure the women had a great workout, but that is not what I seek when I come out onto the water. Still, as I returned to work on my stroke, I couldn’t help thinking how good the twisting was for my waist, how the tightening of my core muscles and the settling of my shoulders would benefit my posture and ease the pain I have in my neck.
I passed the women and went under a bridge through a narrow channel where the flow of the outgoing water was concentrated.
I dragged my kayak onto the shore and up a small bank out of range of high tide. Unbidden, the knowledge arrived that someday the boat will be too heavy for me to haul from the water. I tried to focus on the internal force that braced me at that moment. It was all I could do; that, and return to the pond for a refill tomorrow.