Years ago someone posted a photo of herself sitting in her new inflatable kayak in her living room. She was so excited to have finally taken the plunge. “I want one,” I said. “Do it,” she replied. And so for years I imagined the day I would have my own kayak, or stand-up paddle board, no kayak. No wait, maybe I won’t use it. Who am I kidding? I don’t have time to kayak. Where would I even go? Maybe someday we’ll move somewhere very near water where kayaking will be a thing I could do every morning … Until late one evening this past spring, I took the plunge and bought my own inflatable kayak.
At first I saw it as a tool of adventure. I would explore all of the waterways in the Bay Area. I would go on day-long adventures across Northern California. Or at least I would learn how to navigate the tides and currents of the San Francisco Bay, the most difficult body of water that is also nearest to me. I studied the Bay Water Trail and the tide charts. I obsessed about timing. And I had good/bad kayak adventures, easy and hard, and a little bit harrowing, beautiful and ugly and almost always surprising. It was fun and challenging.
Until one day I just wanted to kayak without the study and the drama and the most-of-the-day commitment, so I turned to Lake Chabot, one of our local reservoirs, which promised to be boring but easy. And just like that kayaking changed for me. It became a spiritual practice.
I go early in the morning, when the waters are their most still. As I inflate my kayak in the parking lot, I am warmly greeted by the walkers and runners who use the path around the lake. On the water there are just a few boats, folks who are fishing, sometimes another kayaker. I know now to paddle to the fork on the right where it gets reedy. That’s where the birds hang out, egrets and great blue herons, cormorants and ducks. Last week I came upon a flock of white pelicans (not common in NorCal). Another time I followed a group of otters across the lake. There are songbirds in the trees on the shore and one morning a stag passed by on his way up the trail.
The adventure it turns out is in the quiet stillness. It’s in the mist rising from the water, the sun peeking over the hills, the way the lake changes as you go, rippling here, bubbling there, and over here smooth like glass. It’s the hush and the chirruping. It’s watching the way a bird takes off from the water when you’ve come too close, the sound of their wings in the air. It’s the revelation in that first stroke away from shore that you are not going to sink because you are being held by the cosmos in this eternal moment.