Returning to the world.

Forgive me. It’s been almost three weeks since my last post which is a record. I’ve kind of let myself go on a lot of levels since Cam died, including eating somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen to twenty pounds of chocolate and sugar in various combinations…which I admit I thoroughly enjoyed but in a probably perverse way.  Still, sometimes you need to stop doing everything and just float for a while.  Let the wind blow you around.  Drift. Rest. Think. Remember. Digest.

There’s much to digest here.

But this morning I feel myself returning to the world again, both figuratively and physically.  The hubster and I spent nine days out of the last twelve running away to the wilderness every chance we got and there’s nothing quite like getting out on the water surrounded by snow capped peaks, and paddling for miles and miles and miles to help rebuild a crumbling perspective.

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I think everyone develops their own way of finding a path back to that feeling of home at their center when they’ve become lost…prayer, meditation, service, gardening, cleaning house, work, family, friends, community, etc.

For the me the way back has always involved the silence and deep mystery of the natural world. It’s where I instinctively turned as a child for congregation and confessional and where I’ve returned ever since, especially when a wound needs tending.  The stars and storms, mountains and forests, wind and waters have a way of taking the torn, raggedy edges from any injury and pulling them gently back together again, giving them a chance to meet and knit and eventually scar over.

The hubster loves the wilderness, too, only for slightly different reasons.  He feels the silence, too, and needs it as much as I do, but his nature is more wild than mine, or at least wild in a different way.  Where I crave the wonder and mystery of vast and ancient forces, he’s after all the grand adventures that wilderness provides, and over time he’s taught me a little of that particular joy he finds in throwing himself, over and over, against inclement everything…weather, conditions, terrain, the absence of any kind of safety precautions.

Looking back I have to both laugh and shake my head at some of the stupid, stupid, STUPID things we’ve done over the years. The hubster is naturally fearless and impatient of anything that stinks of planning…which I, on the other hand, tend to be a little obsessive about. (My basic nature exacerbated by the depression.)  But he was always so irresistibly charming and relentlessly persuasive that I followed him anyway, over and over again, into situations that were way over my head.  Often over his head, too, but then he loves that.

But since we were lucky and actually survived it all, I now have a treasure cache inside me of memories when I followed him blindly through the labyrinth of all my clamoring terrors to emerge in breathtaking places of grace that were magical and impossible, as if I’d flown there.

My God. I shudder to think what the darkest years of the depression would have done to me without him there to drag me along behind on his adventures, bumping and pointing out every last, little, innocuous threat along the way. I’m pretty sure I would have ended up as a shut-in. It’s really too bad that the man can’t be bottled.

I owe him much, this beloved husband of mine.

Happy anniversary sweetheart and thanks for our continuing grand adventure together. I do so love you.

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Best laid plans of mice and men.

The hubster and I got an early start on our flatwater kayaking adventures a couple weeks ago…at least that was the plan.  Things seemed to be dry and sunny enough for it when we left the house but it didn’t quite work out.  Here’s why:

Ridiculous but beautiful, no?  That subzero cold snap we had this winter was a little more serious than we realized.  Oh well, soon.

 

When Vacations Turn Hard Left: Kayaks and Snow

We hauled the boats up to our usual haunt…the family cabin next to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area…to paddle the various glacier carved lakes over Memorial Day weekend.  We woke up the first morning to a perfect day for kayaking.

Absurd, no?  We laughed and laughed at this joke on ourselves.  We later learned that out of the last twenty-five Memorial Days in Stanley, Idaho, only two have been warm and sunny.

The morning snowfall turned to spitting rain for most of the day and then, in early evening, we got a surprise window of clear skies.  The air temperature shot up into the low fifties and, after some nervous waffling over warm soup, our impulses got the better of us and we decided to go for it.  We learned we could strap the kayaks on the car, load all of our gear, and suit up in exactly twenty-three minutes.

This was our reward:

Not bad, eh?  That’s the view looking down to the very end of Redfish Lake which is about five miles long.  Here’s one more shot of it with the hubster and Tug:

That was as far as we dared go that day.  The sun had just set behind the mountains and we still had to paddle an hour back to our launch site.  Neither of us were excited about trying to load the boats in the dark.  Nevertheless, we both secretly dreamed of coming back and going all the way to the end of the lake, if for no other reason than to sit at the foot of those gorgeous peaks and gaze up in slack-jawed wonder.

But the next day was a total bust weather-wise.  Rain all day…ALL day…turning to another four inches of snow overnight.  No surprise windows for us, I’m afraid.

Our worry started to shift from a concern that we might not get to paddle again to a fear that we might not be able to drive from the cabin back out to the highway.  The winding, steep dirt road that connects the two can get irritable and uncooperative when saturated.

The last, full day of our vacation dawned to (wait for it…wait for it) more rain and spitting snow.  We watched as the heavy, gray squalls entered the long valley from the north then rolled on down, engulfing the mountain ranges on both sides and dumping everything on us as they passed.  This went on over and over and over again, all day long.

But then, in late afternoon, there was a…well, not a window exactly.  More like a brief pause.  A slightly longer gap.  Hardly noticeable in fact, but we decided to load everything up and go down to the lake to watch and wait anyway.  You know.  Just in case.  The hubster especially wanted to go and it seemed better than giving up for good.

The hubster later confided that he knew if he could just get me down onto the water, my own impulsive side would take over from there.  There’s a little dance we always do in situations like this…when he wants to jump in and take a risk, but I’m not convinced that it’s safe.  He’s really kind of brilliant about it.  Rather than trying to get me to “go for it,” his strategy is to nudge me along in incremental baby steps.

At home:  Come on, sweetheart.  We’ll just drive down to the lake and see.  We can always turn around and come back home.

At the lake:  Come on, sweetheart.  We can just sit here a little bit longer.  And by the way, I really don’t mind if you don’t want to do it.

Rolling down the window:  Look, sweetheart!  It stopped raining.  You want to just walk down to the beach and look around before we go home?  I promisewhatever happens, I’m fine with it.

He eventually got me down to the water’s edge but it was a young family staying at the lake lodge…also waiting hopefully for some kind of break in the weather…that tipped me into the boat.  They were on the dock near the rental station, the kids begging Mom and Dad to go out on the paddle boat…clutching, pulling, pleeeeeeasing…and finally, after three long, sodden days of whining, the battle-weary parents caved.  The current squall passed and the next one hadn’t arrived yet, so they all clambered aboard.

The children were beyond ecstatic and the parents were clearly relieved to give up the fight.  Their happy, joyous voices carried across the water to where we stood and, as I watched them paddle and splash around the small, buoyed area surrounding the dock, a kind of stealth, emotional transfer traveled along on the back of the noise.  It was like a computer virus downloading, installing, and rebooting inside me, without my ever realizing what was going on.  The first I knew of it’s presence was when I suddenly looked at the hubster, grinned, and heard the words coming out of my mouth:

“Okay!  Let’s do it.”

Totally irrational, I know.  The happy family never got farther than twenty feet away from the dock. We, on the other hand, paddled the whole five miles down.  (The hubster was right again…getting me into the yak was the real hurdle.)  We pushed through successive squalls of rain and…once…sleet, and…once…snow, all the way down to the pristine and secret, holy bay of bays that we stumbled upon at the very end of the lake.

It blew our minds.  It was that beautiful.  Even the hubster had never seen it before and he grew up on that lake.  (Evidently, ten miles round trip was just too damn far for his father to paddle a canoe full of wiggling boys.)  We had of course been down to the almost-end a hundred times over the years, to the lonely dock where the shuttle boat from the lodge drops off/picks up backpackers and day hikers every few hours during the summer.  But we’d never continued on around the small and innocuous promontory of land that separates the big lake from the tiny bay.  We couldn’t.  We didn’t have boats.

Until now.

Those far off mountains in the photos above towered over us…rising up from the water for thousands of feet through a layer of steep pine forest…while the melting snow coming off their peaks fell back down again in cascading, musical, multi-tiered waterfalls.  The clouds and mist shifted constantly across the rocky crags and sheer cliffs above, while the silence of the place was so heavy that it eventually stilled our tired arms completely.

We just floated for a while, staring around in wonder while slowly, slowly filling back up again.  We hadn’t known we were that empty.  I think it’s hard to tell sometimes, just how much has been drained out of you into the busy activities of regular life, until you get a chance to sit still in a place like that and feel the outgoing flow reverse again.

I don’t know.  Maybe we were stupid and impulsive to paddle that far in weather that unstable.  I honestly don’t know.  I’m not experienced enough yet.  It was certainly cold and wet but we were prepared for that…wetsuits, wool, and rain jackets…so really, that part was not a problem.

Wind is what can pose a real danger with kayaking but the day’s squalls, for all their blowing around up high, never reached down into the bowl of that lake, never generated more than an occasional mild breeze rippling the water.  In fact, a few times when it stopped raining, it was like we were paddling over crystal clear glass.

I guess all I can really say is this:

If we were stupid to go out in those conditions then, clearly, sometimes luck goes to the idiots.  There wasn’t another boat out on the lake the whole time we were there.  No raucous voices drifting across disturbed waters.  No motoring, crisscrossing wakes to block our wondering view of the submerged, ghostly boulders and tree trunks that litter the entire coastline.  Nothing to scare off the otter that stopped it’s gliding play among the rocks to watch us float past, curious and unafraid.

And neither was there anything to jar the profound and surprising reverence we felt back there in the bay for those rare moments…when all the bad news and angry voices and scary, unfolding events of the world grew small and still and far enough away that we could finally relax and remember again.  That we’re okay.  That we were always okay.  That we will always be…in some hard to define but deeply reassuring way…totally and truly okay.

Yesterday…the day we returned to Boise for a resumption of our other, busier lives…dawned sunny, warm, and clear.  Perfect, perfect, paddling weather.

Of course.

We laughed and laughed at the great joke of it all again, then waved good-bye to the mountains and drove away.  Only the difference was that, this time, we felt like we were in on it.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

The Little Kayak That Could

Did I mention we’ve taken up kayaking?

(Kidding.  That’s not either of us.)

It began as a New Years thing (as in I’m really going to do it this time…) and, as hobbies go, is pretty easy to pick up around here since lake and river-rich Idaho is a major hub for paddling sports of all kinds.  (Except sea kayaking.  Obviously.)

We started by renting a couple of twelve foot yaks to paddle around a pond next to the river (from Idaho River Sports for anyone local and interested.  GREAT store.  GREAT people who work there.  Friendly and laid back.  They all LOVE paddling and LOVE sharing their love of paddling.  All you have to do is walk in the door and you’re their friend.)  We figured we’d rent for the summer, try out a few different kinds of kayaks, raise some money, raise some more money, then raise a wee bit more, until maybe we’d have enough to buy our own boats later in the fall or next spring.

But then we got a call.  They said that a couple of used ones had come up for sale (cheap!!…CHEAP!!) and the next thing you know, we were pulling back into the driveway with a couple of kayaks on the car.

(BTW, that’s not the hubster standing there with my arm around him.  He’s standing behind the cell phone camera.  That’s actually B. Daughter who had just dropped by to say hi.)

And then, abandoning all of our careful plans for gradual safety equipment accumulation (actually that should read “my” plans…the hubster, being a strong advocate for spontaneity and adventure, doesn’t have much use for safety planning,) we grabbed the wetsuits and life vests we’d (I’d) obtained so far and bolted up to Arrowrock reservoir on Sunday for a trial run.

Clearly, we survived, as you must have guessed by now since your’re reading this.  And even though we paddled across a fairly large body of very cold water twice, neither the rising afternoon winds nor the wakes from various power boats overturned us after all, thereafter requiring a long, weakening, futile swim into hypothermia, eventual unconsciousness, and drowning before we could ever reach shore again.  (Again, this type of mental scenario is strictly my territory.  I was made for disaster planning.  The hubster’s mind runs along far more optimistic lines and, indeed, is my saving grace.  Without it, by the time I got through envisioning all the bleak possible futures out there, I’d never leave the fricking house.)

But the indomitable hubster still managed to find an adventure for himself, in spite of all my best efforts to avoid one.  We had just pulled the car down next to the water in order to load the kayaks for departure, when a camping fisherman from the next site over wandered by with his dogs for a chat.  But barely had he arrived when he glanced out across the water to discover his power boat…which he realized with some chagrin he hadn’t moored securely enough…had come loose and was floating away down the lake.  It’s canopy was catching the afternoon wind, moving it along at a fair clip.

Then, to my horror, the fisherman casually mentioned that it looked like he was going for a swim.  A swim?  My disaster radar started beeping.  He was going to swim after his boat??

“You can’t!” I blurted out in alarm.  “You can’t swim that far in water this cold!  You’d never make it.  Hypothermia would set in before you could get there.”

At which point the hubster stepped bravely forward, ripped back his wetsuit revealing the large letter H on his chest, and said in a deep, booming voice, “I can get it for you.”

Well, needless to say the fisherman wasn’t turning down an offer like that.  The hubster quickly zipped up his life vest, grabbed his paddle, and launched his kayak again in the direction of the boat.  At first I thought (in resignation) that I’d just wait at the car since my arms had already fallen halfway off my shoulders from the earlier four hours of paddling.  But it didn’t take long (seconds!) for my mind to generate a surprising variety of different capsizing possibilities so the next thing I knew, I, too, was back in the water, paddling furiously after the love of my life, determined to save him from himself if necessary, or at least drown beside him in the ultimate worst case scenario.

In the end, neither were necessary.  Super H reached the boat, tied the dangling mooring line around his waist, and commenced paddling into the wind to try and cover the approximately quarter mile of water that now lay between the boat and the beach.  The fisherman’s girlfriend, sensing the uniqueness of the moment, wisely grabbed her boyfriend’s cell phone and started taking pictures.  This is what it looked like:

The wind eventually proved too strong for the hubster to return it to the beach.  He had to take it into a less convenient part of the shoreline but, all in all (since neither of us died and the fisherman was grateful to land it anywhere) it was tremendous fun.  A great maiden voyage for our new-used, spunky, little kayaks.  We were wondering what we should name them at the start of the day but the fisherman graciously took care of at least one of them for us.  As a parting gift he christened the hubster’s kayak Tug Boat.  In the future we’ll be calling it Tug for short.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

SOBERING UPDATE:  My sister-in-law in Spokane read this post and then forwarded me a link to an article in the Spokesman Review concerning a novice kayaker who died of hypothermia in early April after his boat capsized in wind-driven waves out on a lake up there.  They were exactly the kind of conditions I worried about for us.  I’ll definitely be picking up a couple of tow ropes and a pump before we go out again.  And I’ll have the hubster watch this excellent video on the effects of cold water immersion, too, just so we’re on the same page. 

Saving Valentina

And finally…on this blog devoted to talking about dying…here’s a story of something that didn’t die.  This big, beautiful girl came very close but was ultimately saved from drowning by a handful of people (who took a huge risk in doing so I might add.)

On Valentine’s Day earlier this year in the Sea of Cortes down in Mexico, Michael Fishbach was in a small boat with his family and a couple of friends when they came upon a young, humpback whale severely entangled in fisherman’s netting.  At first she appeared to be dead.  But then they saw her exhale and realized she was exhausted and frightened but still alive.  Her tail was weighted down about fifteen feet by all the fishing gear, both pectoral fins were pinned to her sides, and the net went up over her back forward of the dorsal fin.  I can only imagine the thrashing and rolling she must have initially executed in her attempts to get clear of the net that led to so severe an entanglement, or the terror she must have experienced as it tightened around her.

At this point they had to decide whether they were going to watch helplessly as she slowly drowned or try and help her.  Amazingly, as you’ll see in the video, Michael slipped on his snorkel, grabbed the one small knife they had in the boat, and swam slowly over to where she was floating to assess the situation.

At this point in the video I heard a weighty, entangling, and suffocating voice in my own head begin it’s droning about how stupid and dangerous it was for him to even try, but then the girl with wild hair inside me who adores the sea slipped past and ran to the edge of the boat, pumping her hand in the air and cheering Michael on.

Because sometimes safety just isn’t the most important thing.

What follows over the next few hours is a series of courageous attempts and lucky accidents that lead to the saving of a gigantic, and unspeakably precious, young life.  There were so many things that could have gone wrong, things that would have made the situation far more tragic than it already was.  But surprisingly, none of those things happened which confirms yet again what my grey and grizzled father–career warrior, survivor of three major wars, and witness to countless weird and miraculous events on the battlefield–has always told me:

Dia, if it’s your time to die then it’s your time to die, and nothing can save you.  But if it’s not your time to die then it’s just not, and nothing…nothing…can kill you.

Clearly, it wasn’t anybody’s time to die in the Sea of Cortez last Valentine’s Day.

Here’s the video, Saving Valentina, if you get the chance.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011