Drifting through the Questions

In early October, good friends invited us to spend a night at their cabin. In the face of uncertainties we did the best we could to work out a protocol for minimizing exposure to the virus, planned meals, and eventually joined them at their place on the east side of the Mission Range. Unsure how to strike the balance, we tried to find a middle way between the safety of isolation and the desire to connect. As we turned into their driveway I realized that I never cease to be moved by that first glimpse of water, the wavy horizontal dabs of blue, yellow and green on the textured surface of the lake.

After peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sharing too few cookies because I ate two of them while driving, we went down to the dock. I helped Joyce get in her boat, watched Glenn work bravely around a knee needing replacement, and Jeanne slip easily into her autumn-colored Swift. We did not feel ambitious. On this paddle we meandered into a shallow bay not far from the cabin and then ventured out into open water. Joyce struggled with a sore shoulder, inflamed perhaps by helping her brother stack firewood for the winter. Seeing Joyce in the distance behind us, Jeanne said she would turn back, join Joyce and spend time with her on the dock. Glenn and I paddled on toward the delta where Herrick Creek flows across a gravelly beach into the lake.

Satisfied with this destination, Glenn and I put our paddles across our decks and let a north wind carry us down the lake. We simply drifted. But as the wind pushed us we talked. Stimulated by a class Glenn was taking, we talked about our own unconscious racism, all the destructive assumptions built into America’s “doctrine of discovery,” where we encountered people of color in Kansas and California as we grew up. Mindful of Breonna Taylor, we asked each other about our own encounters with law enforcement, how even as white men we had experienced the way some officers can flaunt their power to humiliate and control. We shared the sense that If these things could happen to white boys, imagine, we said, what it must be like for people of color. For fifteen minutes or so we drifted through the questions and stories, finding connections between our own lives and the current state of the nation.

After a while, wanting to see our partners again, we picked up our paddles, turned our boats and dug into the wind. In the shade of the opposite shore we saw another paddler in a bright red boat, a striking contrast in relation to larch and Ponderosa. In a deep part of the lake we stroked past fishermen who had caught a nice trout they were beginning to fillet. Still, the effort to make sense of our own histories and that of the nation stayed with us and influenced conversations for the remainder of our time at the lake.

After dinner, despite choppier conditions, I convinced Jeanne and Glenn to join me for a night paddle. I wanted to see a full moon rise over the Swan Range, a pale wall of stone across the valley. Heading west we navigated by looking at Saturn, and heading east toward the cabin, we returned inside a cone of moonlight. Though we might have extended this paddle, we wanted to get back in time for the news, the President in the hospital, questions about our nation and its future ever on our minds.

This fall Joyce and I are taking a class on the poetry of Tony Hoagland. During the second week of class we considered a poem called “Theater Piece.” Here the poet imagines a bunch of well-meaning white people inviting a “black performance artist” into their troupe and a conversation with the playwright who “…won’t give unlimited shoeshines/ to white millionaires with season/ tickets to the Coliseum.” In the awkwardness and difficulty of the conversation and ensuing silence, “tangled in feelings and thoughts from the past,” they all wonder how they are going “to get into the future together.” At the lake with thoughtful friends we, too, are wondering how to get into the future together and what kind of future it will be. We drifted through the questions, shared stories, and lacked answers.