Archive: Year 3 - Saturday, June 21, 2008 #22: "Solstice"

I like solstices because they do not mark the height of a season, but the beginning.  I think it is why, for thousands of years, the solstice was marked with celebrations and feasts and sacrifices and a certain amount of panic.  A time for the whole population of a given geography to collectively agree -  ‘okay, good or bad, here we go.’  

I recall on December 21st - the last solstice - I was rearranging my life in preparation for the coming of the worst of Winter.  On the threshold of something, with tools and hope under each arm – ready for the kinks… which always come.  Similarly, now, I’m girdled with new tools and ready to take The Road on the River to stretch her legs.  I’m a little nervous about my Starboard Engine, which was replaced last summer – a casualty of that Winter.  She starts up and runs in the harbor just fine, but to know her cruising condition, I have to go for a cruise… Seems logical.  The crew has concurred, chosen a date, and the voyage is planned.  I’ve already dusted off my captain’s hat; and given a heads-up to the rescue and retrieve team in the Marina.  What’s the worst that could happen?  

The water is still really high, but has gone down noticeably over the past few days.  I’m confident the main channel is clear and have seen a lot of river traffic – more even, than usual.  This is not the case down river of us.  In Missouri and Iowa, the levees are still threatened from the floods.  Barge traffic is stopped, locks are closed and bridges are out. Unfairly, things couldn’t be more pleasant on our stretch of river.  So pleasant, in fact, Gracie and I finally got our chance to go out on the river properly in the kayak.

Buying a kayak (still deciding on her name) was for me, but buying this specific kayak was really for Gracie.  We had taken a handful of successful trips around the marina and on short spurts on the river.  I had tried a few days earlier to make it to the dogpark – about two miles up river - and was forced back; but Gracie handled it all like a pro.  

One of my favorite kayak trips has been around the island across from the marina.  It’s about a five-mile trip, and while some is  heavy pulling up river, the bulk of it, is smooth and fast and incredibly cool.  Gracie laid down and fell asleep for most of it – seemed almost grateful for the constant dripping on her back from my paddle.  Occasionally a crane or duck would get within spitting distance of us and she would watch it very closely, but – seeming to understand the nature of the gig – stayed still and returned her focus to her nap.  

Once we got around the island and were back in the main channel of the river, we hit some giant wakes from barges and pleasure boats and had to stick close to shore and, occasionally, just stop paddling and hold on until it was past.  I wasn’t ever really afraid we were going to flip, but water was coming in and it the sleeping dog could no-longer lie – which, as we all know, is never a good thing.  The last 200 yards or so were harder than the rest of the trip combined – against a current and a headwind, river traffic, and fallen trees…  The whole trip took just under two hours and I came home totally spent… Marvelous.  

Gracie has also earned a new status as “Capt’n”.  Not Captain, that’s always mine, but every single person who encountered us on the river made the same joke – which was some variation of: “I see the Capt’n is letting you paddle today”, “ Capt’n always get’s the best seat”, and “Quiet, don’t wake the Capt’n”…  Truth in comedy. 

Such trips are, however, the best backdrop in which to digest bad news.  I recently found out that my 92 year-old grandmother, Gert, is in failing health and the situation seems to have reached the end of it’s encore.  She has had some major knocks in the past couple of years including heart surgery, and a stroke, and yet had come back strongly enough that – until this week – she was living comfortably alone.  We recently heard that her persistent “tummy ache” is, in fact, cancer.  

She is a light in the lives of everyone she meets – and as cliché as that sounds – there is no better description.  She’ll hug before she’ll shake hands, and she loves you the instant she meets you.  Even when she finds herself confused – in a room full of seeming-strangers – she smiles wide and says, “hello!”  Nurses who attend her have always said she’s their favorite because she is never angry or paranoid – she just lets them do what they need to with trust, and then says ‘thank you’ when they’re done.  At the same time, when she is clear, she is present.  She has been forceful when she wants something (or doesn’t want something); and has told her children that she knows what’s happening and it’s okay. I’m still relatively convinced that this is will pass and she will be strong and sassy for another hundred years… But I also have a bag packed. 

And through all this, as always, the river keeps running.  Some things, gratefully, do outlive all of us.  

Next Post: June 25, 2008 #23: "Aye, Aye"

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