This past weekend, I paid a visit to my friend Marlena’s farm in the Ottawa Valley.
On a paddle around the property pond, I drew aware of the need to keep the nose of the canoe pointed into the breeze. I’m a fairly confident sternsman, and it didn’t require great effort on my part, but letting the wind get to the side of the boat pushed us off course in a matter of moments.
It drew my memory to a recent conversation I had over brunch. When I said that I believed “life to be a struggle”, Carl jumped at the comment, saying he couldn’t possibly agree, in that he saw life as more of a dance and celebration. When I insisted that ‘struggle’ seemed the right word for me, my girlfriend Zahra sided with Carl, because ‘struggle’ is just too damn negative a word.
On the pond, it made sense that ‘struggle’ does not have to connote the negative, and for me, is in no way synonymous with suffering. The wind is a constant force, sometimes in our face and sometimes from our back, sometimes at a gale and sometimes at a dawdle. It is an ever-present force that must be recognized, honoured, and managed. It is more powerful than me and dismissive of where I’m trying to get to, so I am best served to keep my nose pointed straight ahead and work with what I’m given.
As I make my summer plans, my imagination goes to wilderness experiences that become increasingly remote, in part because the challenge of the elements fills me with a feeling of my life happening. To push myself into the very real force of nature is what it is to be alive. Of course, most of the winds I manage are metaphorical, things like developing client relationships, maintaining intimacy in relationship, and keeping my arteries unclogged, but every once and again it’s invigorating to face the actual winds on an actual lake and see how far I can go.
Last summer, Zahra and I joined another couple for a trip around Killarney. We’d enjoyed four days of sunny conditions and easy paddling, when we came to the end of a portage and big winds blowing in our face. As a first-time canoe tripper, Z was relying on me to be the steady hand that kept us safe. So when we took to the lake, and were unable to make our way forward, Z drew concerned. Winds were gusting right at us, and the tops of waves were splashing into our boat. When she asked how we were going to get across the lake, and I said I didn’t know, her concern turned to panic. What made it worse was that the other couple we were traveling with seemed to move forward without a hitch. “I want to be in their boat,” Zahra cried, but I never lost confidence, knowing that the key was to keep my nose pointed to the wind, a strategy that forced us to the opposite shore. I’ve been delayed by big wind before, being forced to camp and wait for a calmer window through which to pass. But this time, my partner and I weren’t of the same mind. We took a few minutes to restore our commitment to each other, and agreed to move the heaviest cargo to the bow of the boat. Then we returned to the waters, this time cutting the wind with a little more success. The paddling still took a huge effort on our part, and the other boat seemed much better equipped to deal with the conditions, but ultimately, we pushed through and set camp at the end of another terrific day on our journey.