Wednesday, March 18, 2009
When variable weather and schedules are added to the mix, it becomes obvious that I wouldn’t get out much if I didn’t go alone. Admittedly, I started paddling solo long before I had good self-rescue skills. Maybe I felt impatient when I couldn’t get others to go along, or maybe I just knew I would like it. My job sometimes requires me to chat with people from morning well into the evening, and at times I have become extremely worn-down by it. If I got out for a couple of hours in the morning by myself, pausing occasionally to listen to waves or the drip from my paddle blades, or to just drift and well... look at rocks, I discovered that I carried that calm with me through the day. I hung charts in the bathroom, and found myself lingering there, staring at the places I’d been, evoking them in my mind.
I remember one of those first tentative trips out by myself. I hate to admit that I didn’t even have a chart. Or a compass. It was early on a summer morning, calm and warm. Because it was low tide, the stretches between islands seemed smaller. I paddled along the shore, keeping islands on my left, continually drawn on by the next island. I didn’t know the names of the islands or which ones were privately-owned or public. Maybe the newness and the lack of proper names in my mind added to the elemental feeling, the simplicity of it. I hardly thought about it, didn’t know where I was going; I just enjoyed it.
Then I heard waves breaking on the shore, and felt the lift of a swell beneath me. I had come to the end of the interior islands, and found myself beside a steep granite shore, strewn with glacial erratic boulders. Little stood between me and the bold open ocean. The swell lifted me up again, and I wasn’t sure if I should be nervous. I was nervous, and unsure of myself. The swells broke upon the shore harmlessly, but there was a lot of power in them.
Maybe that was the first time I consciously did what I now do automatically: ask “what if I capsize?” There would be no landing on that steep shore. Looking back, I know I should have turned around, because I didn’t have the skills to be there. But man, I wanted to be out there, paddling in that swell alongside that bold coastline. I went, and of course, it was magic. I returned home knowing that I had a lot to learn.