Since moving to the Pacific Northwest, I have come to believe that nothing is better than “messing about in boats”–if those boats are kayaks. I love that first pull away from shore, the transformation of clumsy land mammal to gliding waterbird.
Some months ago, I escaped the busyness of my life for a camp near Mt. Rainier. More than anything, I hungered to be out on the lake alone. I pushed out my kayak, paddled into deep water, and waited. For what? I think I wanted the lake to give me something, though I can’t tell you what it was.
The lake did not fulfill my overly simple quest for “peace and quiet.” The wind stirred the trees, birds cried, my paddle dipped into the water. Inside my head, voices shouted and whispered and cajoled. Still, I waited, as I often do when I enter into a wild place, for some kind of gift, some kind of salvation.
But as the saying goes, wherever you go, you are there. Even in the midst of that expansive beauty on the lake, I felt the margins of myself keenly. Again, I was the self-conscious human, standing outside, looking in. Small, limited, cosmically alone, I waited.
I am–and you likely are, too–the man in Robert Frost’s poem, The Most of It, who stands at the edge of a lake and shouts. What does he hope for? A voice not his own, a voice to startle him out of his weary self. What does he receive, coming back over the water? An echo of his own voice. He thinks he keeps ‘the universe alone,’ and in this echo-chamber, there is no escape.
“Some morning from the boulder-broken beach
He would cry out on life, that what it wants
Is not its own love back in copy speech,
But counter-love, original response.”
What saves him, with sudden, unsettling crash, is a mighty buck that pushes the water and scrambles to shore, “pouring like a waterfall,” then ploughs through the underbrush–and is gone.
What saved me that day out on the lake were the ospreys that circled high, crying, and then plunged down into the water to hook fish in their claws. I pulled my paddle and let myself glide, absorbed in watching the birds dive and call. For just a moment, the multitude of things that clamor for my attention died away in the stunning scene before me.
This world shakes me from myself again and again. Some days, of course, my walls are simply too impenetrable. But I keep calling across the lake, waiting for that encounter with the Other. And all I have to do, most of the time, is show up. Whether it’s pushing out a kayak or simply stepping out on my back porch, this world so often rises up with is own startling presence.
P.S. For a rather humorous behind-the-scenes glimpse of this week’s Consider, please visit The Back Page.