Figure in a small craft, drifting

I hope to God this is a metaphor.
I hope to God this is a metaphor.

I took a canoe out after breakfast, anticipating a peaceful meander across the quiet lake. Maybe drift over to BooHoo, a dune that rises from the small lake and spills over on the other side into Lake Michigan. I wore my suit, in case I felt like a swim. I packed a bottle of water. I went down to the shore and surveyed my craft of choice, a charmingly dented metal canoe. I pulled it into the water, got in, and began.

From the outset, it was more work than I’d thought. The further out I got, the more work it became. The canoe was stubborn. It wouldn’t go in the direction I wanted. I had to paddle hard and fast on the right side only, just to avoid hitting a fishing boat. I got a little closer than seemed polite but avoided looking over. My original thought of getting to BooHoo, over to the left, was a joke.

I’d forgotten a hat so I tied my shirt around my head. I tried a couple of stints of letting the pretty water take me where it might, but it quite definitely kept taking me into the shore. So I kept paddling, hard, on the right side only.

Finally I made it to opposite shore. I pulled the canoe to a shallow spot against the grasses, then had a quick wade in the water. I didn’t go all the way in because I didn’t want my sunscreen to wash off. I was beginning to realize what a job it might be to get back. The wind that had pushed me so rudely away from BooHoo had also pretty much pushed me to this side of the lake.

I aimed the canoe where I wanted to go, climbed in the back, and started paddling. I paddled and paddled, on one side and then the other, and the canoe blithely turned 180 degrees back toward the grasses. “Come on,” I said out loud.

The canoe began making a screeching sound, like the bottom was scraping over rocks, when by now we were afloat on clear water. “Just come on.” I tried thrusting my paddle down to the sandy lake floor, to push myself in a mighty burst of direction, but the paddle never hit bottom. So I kept paddling.

I was alone on that side of the lake, no one to hear the screeching that was louder the harder I paddled, and we started making progress, skimming instead of circling. I realized I should have tried harder to tip the canoe over before I’d even started, to empty out the water that was now sloshing around my feet and probably making the boat heavier, but it had been too heavy.

When the canoe suddenly did another 180-degree turn I said “No way” and climbed forward onto the middle rail. This new position gave me better leverage, or at least felt like it did. I shoved the lifesaver seat cushion under my butt to make the rail more comfy. “Why isn’t there a seat here?”

From this position I paddled hard but mostly directly all the way back. I felt like I’d learned something about when to paddle deep and fast and when to just skim the surface. I made peace with the fact at any moment the canoe could forget this new understanding we’d forged and ram me right toward the wrong shore and a line of moored boats and a great deal of embarrassment. I kept paddling.

About halfway back, I saw a kayaker paddling approaching, his kayak forming the other half of a V I did not want to make. First I tried to out-paddle him, to get so far ahead there’d be no danger of meeting up. Then I realized again that I had no control over speed. Maintaining direction was my full-time job. As he got closer, I thought of various friendly things to say, two paddlers out on the water. “Now I know why everyone uses the kayaks ha ha!” or “Heh heh now I know why all the kayaks were taken!” though they weren’t. But that might sound more complimentary.

The kayaker was burly, silent, paddling steadily and seriously. I drifted a little and let, “let” him pass me before any of my words might be necessary. If he had paddled to the middle of nowhere, likely he wasn’t looking for conversation either.

After he passed, I paddled on toward Duncan’s boathouse, and when I got close enough, to Duncan’s floating dock, and then past it to the bit of beach beside the pier, where I pulled the canoe up as far as the resting kayaks, hung my seat cushion on the cabinet door, went up to my room, and had a nap.

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