On this last day
The morning dawn of December 25th broke coldly over the southeastern horizon just as it should. It is winter after all! I know the days are getting longer now, but that doesn’t provide much comfort… or heat for that matter. Still, the forecast was calling for a nice sunny day, near 40f. If it hadn’t been Christmas I’d have been tempted to complete my hundred miles around Devil’s Lake in the warmth of the afternoon sun. As it was, I needed to get back home before the family started arriving to open those packages.
I often find myself trying to explain why I set goals, even arbitrary ones such as paddling a hundred miles around a local lake, then set about completing them. For me it’s often not about the completion of a thing that matters, but the day to day act of staying on course. I find it useful to keep reminding myself that I actually am in charge of the direction my body goes, even if the synapse don’t always agree. It’s just so easy to not to do a thing. It’s just as easy to put on mental flab as it is physical flab. Without the practice, I think our will and determination also get weak. Our ability to visualize success, then to apply a regular regimen achieve it becomes nearly impossible if we don’t have regular experiences to draw from. We need constant reminders that a lot of little steps can cover great distances. Even if we can’t travel round the world, small, local adventures can help to keep the mind on track for those moments when we really need it.
Before I slipped out into the lake for my last 3 miles, I spent a bit of time talking to one local resident who was out walking her dog. There are only 4 private homes still on the lake. We shared thoughts and a common bond where the lake is concerned. From November when the tourists have all gone until January when the ice fisherman fill the frozen surface with noise, this is our lake. Just us, and the few other folks who brave the water and the trails during this “low” season. Well, ours and the geese anyway. On this last day, she said she’d miss meeting me on these cold, quiet mornings. I said the same.
The other downside of “victory” is that when you “win”, when your goal is complete and it’s time to break open the bottle.., there is often a nagging sense of loss. You can’t help but hear that voice in your head that asks, “Now What?” The celebration lasts for seconds really, (At least internally.) Then once again the world opens up before you, undefined and out of focus unless of course.. you’ve already settled on your next goal.
On this last day I took my time tracing the edges of the growing ice sheet. Over the last few days it seemed as if the ice were breathing, expanding and contracting day by day. On Christmas morning the ice had again expanded. A sharp wind out of the northwest was kicking up the surface of the lake and threatening to push me into the dragon scale ice that was being pressed against the sheet. Each scale, under pressure of the waves, seemed to lock tight into the next like a giant jigsaw. At one moment I took my kayak into the scales and quickly realized how quickly they threatened to lock me in with them. With a little work, I was able to wiggle free. I decided not to try that again.. at least not, downwind.
I circled the lake one last time. I needed to be mindful of floating ice chunks, pushed by the wind and waves invisibly just on the surface, transparent and lost in the commotion. These thick little islands had enough buoyancy to lift and tip my kayak if I slipped onto them unaware. I didn’t want to swim on my last day! Once I reached the opposite shore, the water again became calm and soon I was out of the shadow of the bluffs and back into a warm, morning sun. Less than a half mile from the beach, I realized I’d come in about a tenth of a mile short of my goal. I turned and raced to the center of the lake, then back to the shoreline just to be sure that when I slid up onto the snow I would be over the 3 mile mark I needed for the day.
I’m content to have completed my goal to mark the Devil’s Lake State Park Centennial year by paddling 100 miles around the lake. There were a few days in there where I worried that the ice would close in too quickly, that I had waited too long to wrap it up. Honestly though, I probably put in at least 100 miles around my local lake each and every year, I’ve just never really measured it before. I am looking forward to going back through the photos to put together a short presentation of the changing seasons. It was a fun side project to photograph so many changes in the weather at one location, right on the water.
Another thing this little adventure has been for me is a bit of a meditation on paddling itself. Time spent mulling strokes, boat control, gear.. I’ll have more on that later of course.. .but for the moment, I’m happy to just sit here and enjoy having warm toes for once… while I ponder another quixotic quest…