Sensual Kayaking

Tonight as I write this I am glad to be sitting here in a warm little house. Last night’s snowstorm just buried us in a blanket of white.

Our small cinder block home is anchored in the middle of a large farm field. From here you can never tell how much snow actually fell as the wind drives drifts across the yard in long, wrinkled ridges resembling the Himalayas in miniature. When I get around to turning on the TV, I’m sure the weather guy will tell me how many inches we actually received. I will have to trust him to be right. I have no other point of reference.

Occasionally my wife and I stay up late into the night chatting about life, the universe, and the price of peaches in Norway. Often our conversations turn to kayaking. No big surprise there. At some point during our latest midnight ramble I found myself digging into my addiction to sensual kayaking.

Sensual kayaking is a label I threw on the days when I have to fight the wind and rain to load my boat on the car. These are the days when the wind is trying to turn my kayak into a kite as I lift it off the ground and rain is falling so hard I can only occasionally sneak a glance between the drops to secure the boat to the car. On these days I know I am going to have a wonderful experience. And I am exhilarated with the thought of launching out into the sensual world. (a term I borrowed from Kate Bush, checks in the mail…)

My wife by now is very familiar with my addiction to the tactile experience of weather. Early on in our relationship I would often stop her while we were walking into some store on mindless errands just to take a moment to look up at the sky. I would want her to soak it in. Share in my world. It’s easy to miss the blazing red sunset just beyond the Wal-mart facade especially when you want to just “get in and get out”. But it’s often worth the look. Just don’t get run over by the other shoppers who may not understand why you would be standing in the parking lot staring up at the sky.

I have always been attracted to fowl weather. Many years ago when I didn’t have “2 pennies to rub together” as my grandmother says, I found my escape in walking. I would walk everywhere in any weather. In fact the more harrowing the weather, the more I walked. I always relished in the odd faces I would receive from people in the cars passing by as I strolled down the sidewalk. I know they thought I was daft as a brush, but I was having a great time! On occasion an acquaintance would pull over to offer me a ride. I would tell them that I really wanted to walk. I’m sure they thought it was false pride. But I did love it. REALLY! Sometimes I would just stop and put my face up into the storm and relish the sting of the sleet and the tickle of rain rivulets running from the back of my ears, down my neck and soaking into my shirt.

When my two oldest children were young I would often take them out to lay in the yard during a heavy summer rain. Their mom would stare with concern and disdain from the dining room window. This was one obvious sign that in the end she would be my “former” wife.

Today I don’t have to walk as much as I did back then. But many times I still do and usually it’s on days when the weather is foul. So it’s no surprise I am often tearing out of the house and loading up the kayak while the wind and rain are screaming down from churning clouds above. I can’t wait to get out there.

I truly love the wind when I am in my boat. Not when I want to get anywhere mind you, but when I am out for the experience. In harsh winds when my boat leaps over the waves I sometimes feel like a dolphin in the wake of a fishing boat. Just leaping and diving for the pure joy of it. And though I barely make any real headway, I feel like I’m flying across the water at incredible speed. A day playing in the wind can leave me physically and psychologically exhausted. I barley have enough energy load the boat and go home. But even then there is joy in exhaustion. Even coming out of the wind is in-of-itself a unique experience. I don’t know that there is such dominating silence as in the first few seconds when you come out of a screaming wind. There are only a few moments before the sound of your surroundings begin to creep into your mind, then it’s gone.

On a day without wind, when the rain is pouring down in rivers, I often feel as if I am living in an Akira Kurosawa film-scape. On these occasions I am lost in the sound of rain impacting the surface of the lake. Rising just above that midrange drone, a melody line is written by multi-pitched pings and taps as the rain strikes against the various gear assembled on my deck. A bass line is created by the beat of my rubber hatch covers. It’s truly amazing to listen to!

In early spring when the surface ice just begins to recede from the edges lake I love to paddle out to where the water is still solid. There, if you’re lucky, you can listen to a million small crystals of ice ring against the still frozen center of the lake. The sound resembles the ringing of glass crystal chimes. Often you only get a day or two before the water opens up and the music is gone. If you can catch it, it’s wonderful. It’s a truly sensual experience.

Then there are the special few days in just after the ice leaves the lake and summer is still distant. You can pinpoint the days when the air feels like a wet blanket pressed against your face. On days like these when the water is still very cold, our lake is often covered in a deep shroud of fog that rises just a few feet from the surface. In a kayak you slip into the clouds and ride the currents on glassy silence. I know no other time so peaceful.

We all paddle for many reasons. I think for many of us the common ground is the need to escape the stress of daily survival. The noise of our modern existence can drown out even thought itself. It’s downright scary if you ask me. I think Bono of U2 was onto something when he wrote that “you miss too much these days if you stop to think…” It’s a modern malady. Stillness often makes people feel like they should be doing something. If we are not moving we are falling behind. If the television is not on, we must be missing something. It goes on and on. As for me, when I am busy with life that’s the time I feel I am missing something. For quite awhile I could not pin that feeling down. But today I have defined it just a bit. I need my connection with the earth and my momentary life on this wonderful planet. I want to take it in, to really FEEL it. Kayaking is a natural extension of that need. Kayaking has opened up a world of experiences. A wet and wild sensual world.

And hey, how great is that?????

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