Edging Toward Here and Now
As Karen and I paddled up the WallKill near New Paltz, NY and the Catskills, we watched a mother doe and her tentative fawn in front from us cross from one bank to another. Then only moments later a nearby flock of bathing geese suddenly took flight from their rocky roost in almost instant V-formation. Then only a few paddle strokes further ahead, we caught glimpses of 4 startled bass as they skirted underneath us into their shady grassy-patched protection.
For centuries the Wallkill River had obviously not only cut and created a meandering path through northern New Jersey and southern Orange County, New York, but it had also created two shore embankments and numerous boundaries. While depositing silt and soil, it carved out a 83-miles of bedrock that divided fertile farmlands and properties. Like many the influence of rivers, the Wallkill has undoubtedly impacted the character and culture of this idyllic rural region. While its banks may have separated and divided land, the Wallkill created a home for Nature's creatures, a watershed for nearby homes and farms and an attractive recreational spot for humans. It felt like place that embraced the diversity of life rather than divided it.
On the second of two consecutive days on the Wallkill, I accompany
he had sailed almost three quarters of the way
around the world - alone. He had negotiated the sea's shallows and the sheer multitude and sharpness of the coral reefs. And when th
met met, then challenged Slocum's assertion the world was indeed round, the divergent
mindsets of world suddenly came into focus.
An walled worldview mindset attempted to scuttle and sink an otherwise amazing human feat and accomplishment. A closed mind was not open to a real world.
But today this is not news. Human history is chockful of mankind's dark and blind mentalities. Of course, where and when individuals either accept or deny reality, their worldviews will be exposed and clashed. To his credit Joshua did not confront or challenge the absurd assertion, but he let his exploits speak for themselves.
In 1900 President Kruger of South Africa professed the world was flat.
Nature has no attitude or edge unless humans assign one to it. An edgy world is only humanly conceived.
When I sailed the Bahamas alone for 51 days in the early summer of 2016, I tested my edges.
I'm not referring to my catamaran's keels or my galley knives. I don't mean I sharpened my sword collection or my hockey skates. Even though I was basically off the grid and out of cell range, I did not have to test the edge and scope of my phone's coverage. And I had no inclination to creep anywhere near a mountain cliff to contemplate a final leap. Actually the only edges I approached were inside me. My practice challenged mostly my personal thresholds.
Whether I was navigating on the open sea or within the confines of some closely-grouped inlets and cuts between islands and reefs, I rediscovered my sea legs as well rescaled my psychological equilibrium. For the better part of those three months, I turned myself around enough to what was important in life. And most of my transformation seemed to lead me to clarifying my perspective and sense of responsibility. In the process I smoothed out many of my rough spots and washed away much of my edginess.
Yet, while new and fresh, this placid and peaceful Wallkill simply reminded me. So different from the recent oceanic tidal currents of the Exumian islands, this lazy, languid body of water flowed always and only in one direction - moving downstream, but steadily north and east towards the Hudson River. And unlike the open sea expanse, this meandering mass sloping embankment bordered and directed its movement across land. It reminded me of how free, flexible and fortunate the sea helped me be. The sea freed me from the confining nature of borders and embankments.
The daylight and temperature could not have been any more de
ful. A comfortable 75 degrees, a mostly clear sky, a tranquil, almost serene setting with water way and floating vessels to carry and transporting witnesses and wonders. These two different days reminded me of change. Both water worlds unfolded like blooming flowers, like some variable streaming NBC Olympic coverage, like a Bahamian island and like my stream of consciousness.
What is here?
Where is here?
How am I here?
Why am I here?
Who am I here?
What is now?
Different place and time. Different circumstances and situation. Different craft.
All, in fact, all differed from my recent aquatic adventures. Amazing how t
ime often reveals false perspectives, ideas and worldviews. Time on a river exposes edges and rigid borders. While human constructs and edgy attitudes do not exist within nature, it is nature's reality that contrasts, clashes and clarifies human purblindness and unconsciousness.
I am so grateful to have had experienced and emerged from a "sea-ing place" where I communed with nature. Because there I learned to listen and respect her subtle messages and meanings. And because I read, wrote and practiced presence of mind and heart during that time and place, I reconnected to nature's world. While I felt her peacefulness as well as her fury, I experienced Nature's absolute independence and acceptance. I related to her more than I ever had before. She helped me heal much of my woundedness. She helped turn the light back on.
In Robert Frost's famous poem below I am reminded of how nature and humanity clash, not only in ideology, but in actions ...
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbours."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbours? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbours.
As any tly-aware adult knows, sooner or later faulty
". But like Nature's evolution, meaningful and mutual change trumps walls. Walls only feed fears. Walls only kill spirits. The walls inside us delay the inevitable, eventual triumph of opening minds, hearts and souls. So paddling the Wallkill both days reminded me of how far I had come to wash away my personal walls, renew my perspective and open up my essence.