On May 4, 2014, I flew from Minneapolis to Hartford, Connecticut, for a week of school author visits in Newington. The teachers selected a hotel for me that turned out to be steps from the Farmington River. On my arrival day I swooned from the bridge so I immediately looked up the nearest outfitter to see if I could get ON this lovely stretch of water. Turned out, an outfitter was only a short drive up river.
At the Collinsville Canoe & Kayak shop (gorgeous place: my idea of happy shopping), I introduced myself to MaryEllen. Once again, I was saved by a book as Mary Beth had read On the Day You Were Born to her children! I described the 50 Rivers Project and she set to work calling all her friends and colleagues, looking for someone who might want to take a Wednesday paddle with me. By Tuesday afternoon she had hooked me up with Sue SWIFT Warner, the outfitter’s co-owner, (with her husband). (Note: this would be SWIFT as in SWIFT BOATS—I was astonished!) She would loan me a boat and a shuttle, if we could manage it from 10 to 1pm, but I would be paddling solo. Deal is set.
I admit to being somewhat nervous to paddle alone, but wanting to do it just to be back on the river after so much time off-water. I asked Sue: Would you do this alone? “Yes!” she answered, and so I borrowed some of her courage and experience on this stretch of river.
At 10 am on Wednesday, May 7th, 2014, Sue pulled into the riverside parking lot with a RED solo SWIFT boat tied to her car! We introduced ourselves and I felt like I was meeting an old friend. I wished we were paddling together…
The river was running very high from the deluges of spring. Even the picnic benches were submerged. But five days of no rain had slowed the current and as we set the astonishingly light boat riverside, I was confident I could do it alone. Sue and I parted, but not before giving her an emergency phone number, just in case. We agreed to meet near one o’clock at the first bridge, or the second bridge if I was going swiftly.
Every boat is different and my little Bell Solo back in MN (Yellowstone, 14 ft) is a tough-playground-sort-of-boat: made of plastic Royalex, she bounces off rocks. This Swift Solo boat was light, delicate, gorgeous, sleek, 15 ft, and within three paddle strokes I felt myself on the back of a bright red water snake: silky and responsive, glorious!
A Canada Goose immediately escorted me, honking loudly and continuously. Eventually he peeled off. I watched a forsythia bush explode into yellow on the riverbank while a leaping tree branch loomed to the left. It is a later-early spring here, and I paddled past a golf course just unbuttoning from the long winter.
My life on the road as an author is very stressful: travel, directions, tight school schedules, very high expectations for a much-anticipated day that has been funded at great effort by Parents Organizations—And Monday and Tuesday were extraordinarily fine visits with hundreds and hundreds of children dressed as Vocabulary Words for the activity accompanying Miss Alaineus, A Vocabulary Disaster. At the end of these AMAZING and INSPIRING days I am exhausted and to be paddling on a river mid-week of four such visits was to step between two different planets.
A sampling of vocabulary costumes for: Disguise, Weather, Cross, Mighty, Distracted, Palm Tree, Meadow, Labor
Suddenly I was alone and quiet enough to hear the birds singing with brightness to match the forsythia. I started laughing out loud at the sudden remembering of a girl’s costume in the parade yesterday: For the word COLLABORATION, she had softly drawn a little trail of ants, working together. There I was laughing, all alone, in the middle of the singing river. This is what Water Happiness does to me—it bubbles up. How in the world do I build more of these peaceful (Oh, PEACEFUL! Another Vocabulary Parade costume word) stretches into my life! How do I weed out the distractions (Oh, DISTRACTIONS, the teacher’s word costume)?
The sound of water falling pulled me over to the side of the river where I found a Tolkien vision of a spot. This is where, in the 1800’s, a stone and wooden aqueduct spanned the Farmington River. I looked back at the SWIFT boat, pulled ashore and could not help but snap a picture…If it is possible to fall in love with a fiberglass object, I was over the edge!
Paddling views: A rope swing, bridge ahead, spring tree blossoms, the Writer’s Dream Riverside Cottage…
Lunch was a landless occasion, eaten holding onto a twig in front of these three buttoned-up tiny cabins. (No beaches, only mud edges due to a full river.) Lunch included the last bite of the magnificent carrot cake from the baker/Kindergarten teacher in yesterday’s school! Unbelievably delicious.
I knew my time was running out and I was close to the first bridge. Before I knew it a voice was calling from the shore, “DEBRA,” and there was Sue, waving. I swung the boat over, but the usual take-out steps were several feet underwater. All around the flooded riverbank the mud was jet black and slick as ice! We nearly tumbled over ourselves, nearly lost the canoe in the slippery pull onto land, both of us holding onto trees to keep upright. But we made it, of course, muddy, of course.
The light-as-a-feather canoe was on top of the car in a blink and we were driving back down the road of distraction and traffic and complications and expectations…
The river tamps down all that density and lets me hear the songbirds sing—and myself laughing about a young girl drawing ants-in-collaboration, while paddling alone on a river. Tiny adventure makes a big space in my life. I am so grateful for all the people who helped give me the courage to do this: a life’s collaboration.