It’s 5:30 in the morning, and I’m trying to figure out if I want to kayak. The conditions are just the way I like them. Calm and foggy. I had just kayaked the morning before, and so many mornings and evenings, not just in summer, but in fall when the ducks return, in winter when I can break through the ice, in spring when the jellyfish bloom.
Today I am asking how motivated I am to paddle the same waters yet again. I get up to walk and feed the dogs, still not sure what my decision will be.
Each fall, after the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a period of reflection and atonement, Jews reach the end of the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, only to start again from the beginning. The sages say that the reason we read the same words year after year is not that the text is different but that we come to it as different people, having grown and changed in some way during the past year.
I don’t kayak for exercise. I do it for the sensation of the glide, of opening myself to an environment different from one on land. So the questions I ask myself on this morning when I return with the dogs and prepare their breakfast is, What about me is new, what might I see that either wasn’t there the day before or that I hadn’t noticed, who will I be upon my return?
It is 6:15 by the time I pick up my paddle and walk down the path to Stonewall Pond, where I keep my kayak. The fog has thinned, but still shrouds the view in a mist that, in a movie, would be accompanied by a tin whistle or bagpipe. Dew has settled on the meadow, turning the tall grasses into bejeweled fronds. Spiderwebs glisten as if painted with fairy dust. Today I am seeing magic.
The tide is on its way out, making for an easy coast under the bridge between Stonewall and Quitsa Pond. The green herons who were so still yesterday are feisty today, perhaps disturbed more by the great blue heron nearby than by me.
When I emerge from under the bridge, the moored boats are all facing me, as if waiting for my command to tell them their mission for the day — or else in respectful greeting, bowing before me. I have become so used to seeing these boats as inanimate, separate entities that exist in relation to nothing else, rather than being connected through the movement of the water and wind. I am surprised that I have imbued them with purpose, like the Disney cartoon characters in “Beauty and the Beast.” They might break into song at any moment.
The fog has thinned. It is getting hot. I used to wear a bathing suit when I kayaked, and would stop and take a swim. When did I stop doing that, and why? I ask the question, but don’t search for an answer. It’s enough right now just to notice.
The fog is still settled in the area around Clam Cove. The boats have become ghost ships. They appear only as hints. Today is about enjoying blurred boundaries.
Out in Menemsha Pond I see a red boat, alone at its mooring, the line between sea and sky indistinguishable. It is clearly asking for its picture to be taken. I oblige and take some snaps.
It’s a Flying Dutchman kind of day. My kayak and I could remain floating in and out of the mist all day and into the night, unseen by everyone except those looking for phantoms. This is a new image for me. The self I am right now is more inclined toward fantasy, a trait I rarely exhibit on land.
Yesterday morning was one filled with anticipation. I was awaiting the arrival of my younger daughter. My older daughter and son were already here, and this would be the first and last time all summer the three would be on-Island together. My strokes on the way back to shore were eager, and made my arms sore.
This day, all three will be leaving, along with my grandson, my son-in-law, and his parents. Out on the water, I was reclaiming my comfort with solitude. I cannot be reminded enough that I exist beyond motherhood, while at the same time thrilling to the vision of my three beauties, marveling at the relationship they have with one another that transcends my presence.
I rest often on the way back. There is no urgency; no reason to rush time. I drift, allowing myself to be pushed back by the tide. The water ahead of me glistens. A cormorant’s head breaks the surface, and I realize I have seen very few of these birds this year. Where is yesterday’s osprey, whose constant cry irritated my ears, but today would offer a fitting soundtrack?
I haul my kayak up to its resting place, farther away from the water’s edge than when I left. It is heavy, but I stay focused on one step at a time. I look down at my bare feet, see the nail scraped of its red polish from tripping yesterday on a rock. Today I am more mindful of where I put my feet.
I turn to face the pond, as I always do before heading back to the house. I feel rooted, solid. My body is different, more accepting of the challenges I am presenting it with.
I am not a different person than I was yesterday. But by asking the question, I changed my intention, which altered my perspective. I am the same person, thinking different thoughts. And, ultimately, having a flexible perspective is what keeps the world fresh for me each day.