I sometimes ask myself, Why do I do this? Why drive 160 miles round trip to get wet, windblown or sunburned? Why burn about six gallons of gasoline at a time when we are warming the planet faster than it can absorb the carbon dioxide we produce? Why deal with the aggression on the highway of the big-truck crowd? Why do this when so many things demand attention at home, especially in October when we are trying to finish outdoor chores before winter slams the door on light and comfort?
Midway through my paddle out to and around Wild Horse Island I realized a couple of possible answers to my questions. On September 15, I tested positive for the Omicron variant of the Covid 19 virus. My case was relatively mild compared to others whose coughs linger for weeks, who lose taste and smell, who suffer lasting fatigue, or even die. Paddling against a north wind reminded me that I have recovered, that my body has restored itself to health. In the two-hour beat against the wind, without distraction and in the company only of my thoughts, I remembered something else. On a recent visit to see my youngest son and his family I told Kyle that getting older does not necessarily mean things get easier. He looked at me squarely as we hugged one last time at the airport and said, “Stay strong, Dad.” I think he was telling me, “Dad, I need you in the world. Stay active. Don’t leave too soon.” Perhaps I drove north and paddled north for these reasons—to celebrate the recovery of health and as part of the process of staying strong for those who need me in the world.
In my circumnavigation of the island I looked to Osprey Cove as a refuge where I hoped to rest and eat lunch, but the landing did not feel safe; waves had pushed the gravel into a steep and sliding slope. I backed out of the cove and headed south where I hoped to find a more protected place to land. I found such a spot at the East Shore access to the island. I got out of Bluebird without spilling and wedged the boat between two drift logs. Thanks to my beloved I enjoyed a massive and spicy Beach Boy sandwich from Tagliare and Smyrna figs. After lunch I wandered the shoreline, climbed into the dry grasses and yarrow. Along the way I discovered a Big Horn sheep skeleton, bleached and barren. I took time, too, to marvel at the clear water of October, all the sediments and pollen settled out. At this point in the season the water seemed like a pure distillation. Once back in my boat I continued south, avoiding the ramps of stone along the shore because the reflected energy of waves created rougher conditions a few yards off shore. When I saw sheep resting in the shade of a pine tree, however, I could not resist approaching for a photo. I rarely see these animals in the open. This was their time to build reserves before winter makes life more difficult.
At the south end of the island I turned west and enjoyed several miles of assisted paddling as wind and waves nudged me from behind. In the face of things I felt I should do, I left home, but returned feeling as though my body had been washed clean as October gravel near shore. The lake offered an image to the imagination. This is something to celebrate.