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8.1.19

From the Editor

Sore arms and a sore back are fine things to have. I’m talking here of the slight stiffness and dull ache in biceps, triceps, and whatever those lateral muscles across the lower torso are that move a paddle through the water thirty or forty times a minute, fifty or sixty minutes an hour, for as long a day as it takes to get from where you started to where you are going. I’ll take that feeling any evening or morning after a day on the water.

Several decades ago in what now seems like another lifetime, I paddled a kayak from Chilmark to Provincetown, stopping along the way at Cuttyhunk, Falmouth, Chatham, and somewhere else I can no longer remember. It was the perfect trip in the ideal boat for that moment of my life, even though my then-three-year-old son cried in his mother’s arms on the beach as I paddled away. (It may not have been his mom’s idea of the perfect moment for me to go wandering, I now realize.)

The memory of that long ago trip returned to me when I found myself enjoying the summer afternoon sunshine while sitting on a powerboat moored a few hundred yards off the North Shore. I was not missing my office particularly. Not wishing I was loose from the seafloor and underway. Not even hoping the occasional cavorting terns would gather their comrades and begin to scream and dive over a sudden school of ravenous breaking fish, though that would have been perfectly okay.

I was that luckiest of things: content. Not merely at peace, which implies some kind of battle won, lost, or otherwise avoided. I was content in an August way that for me is invariably connected with boats and with water, when who should pass by but a solo paddler in a respectable oceangoing kayak. The rig was tricked out and riding in the water in a way that suggested a voyage rather than an outing and was bearing away on a vector that suggested a destination across the Sound at an hour of the
afternoon that also suggested a return crossing was not planned for the same day.

It was an apparition of an earlier version of myself. A self on my way somewhere and determined to get there under my own power. A June self, you might say, with regard for neither sore muscles nor damp sleeping bags.

I am happy to report that the apparition did not dampen my enjoyment of the summer afternoon, though it made me wonder if it might be getting along time to check and see if I need to scrape a few barnacles and weeds off the hull. And it made me glad to think that I never sold that old kayak despite many threats to do so.

I thought of the line from Frost: “When stiff and sore and scarred, I take away my hand from leaning on it hard in grass and sand, the hurt is not enough.” And the one from Thoreau: “Everyone must believe in something. I believe I’ll go canoeing.”

Which I will do. But not until September.

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