We took the kids canoeing on the Yadkin River in our red
canoe. Rob and Harper Lee have
been out in it several times, but it was the first trip Isaac has ever been on
and the first trip we’ve ever taken as a family. It’s just the right size for all four of us. When Harper Lee asked Rob if anyone
else could go with us, he told her four was probably enough. I told them, “Oh well, I guess that
means we can’t have another baby.”
Isaac heaved a disappointed sigh; Harper Lee cheered, “Yay!”
The logistics of the whole trip were a little sketchy early Sunday
morning. First, I had to be at
Sunday School to teach the elementary school class. We’ve been working on a Pentecost art project for three
weeks, and the messy part was still to come. Then, we had to get back in time for my long run before Rob
had to leave for a meeting at church that he’d forgotten about later that
evening. There was a whirlwind of
activity as Rob tied the canoe to the Jeep, we gathered river clothes and got
dressed for church.
We dropped the truck off under the old bridge in Elkin and
then all four of us drove over to Ronda-Clingman to put the canoe in. I could tell that Isaac wasn’t all that
jazzed about the whole thing, but I couldn’t figure out why. After a while, after he’d had a ton of
fun learning to paddle and kneeling down in the front of the boat to go over
the “rapids,” which were basically a few ripples in the water, he told us that
he had been scared about the trip but just because he didn’t know what to
expect. “This is fun. I love this,” he said over and
over. Come to find out, Isaac had
been envisioning the four of us in our canoe pitching head first over the dam
at the Elkin Public Library, which for those of you who don’t know, is a very
long drop. No wonder he wanted to
go to the carnival instead. But
like most things, Isaac’s fears of what might be were far worse than reality,
and once he saw firsthand what it was like, he was hooked. That poor child is more and more like
me everyday. Bless his heart.
Isaac’s official job yesterday was “rock lookout”, a job he
took to quite nicely. He was to
let us know if we were coming up on any rocks. Harper Lee was the navigator. It was her job to tell Rob which direction to paddle. Rob was the brawn behind this operation
though with me helping to paddle, we made much better time than he usually does
by himself. I, of course, was
“keeper of the dry bag” and “dispenser of the pretzels and Fig Newtons.” I like paddling, but man, I don’t know
if I could do it for hours and days at a time. Kneeling in a canoe is not kind to my legs. And when I wasn’t kneeling, I was
sitting on a thin piece of wood that really did not accommodate my
backside. By the time we got out,
I was feeling a little more than stiff and not particularly stoked to do a two
and a half hour long run. However,
it was nice to use muscles that I don’t work often enough, and the trip itself
was worth the aching tailbone.
For one thing, we saw tons of birds, including geese and
several ducks. We also saw
something that we think was an otter slip down into the water from a tangle of
old roots. And we floated past a
whole herd of cows cooling themselves in the river. They were a pretty placid group until Harper Lee made a low
mooing noise and said, in her best cow voice, “Eat more chicken!” After that, the river echoed with
squeals of laughter and two little kids shouting, “Chicken! Eat more chicken!” The cows, deciding we must be insane or
dangerous or both, turned tail and climbed the bank back out of the river in
one large lump of bawling and stomping.
While we were out, we also saw a couple of small river
houses on stilts built on the bank overlooking the river. I have to admit several things about
those houses appealed to me.
First, there was no lawn and, therefore, no lawn maintenance. Second, the homes were small, which is
very appealing to me since it would be “stuff” prohibitive if we lived in a
place such as that, and third, I love the idea of stepping out on my back deck
and seeing nothing but the river.
It is strangely isolated and peaceful. I know what’s just beyond the trees all along that stretch
of river—houses and trailers and cars and places of business and all the stuff
that goes along with day to day living.
But when we were out on the water, all those things virtually
disappeared. It is deceptively
wild, and although I know it’s basically an illusion, I love the secluded
feeling of it. I won’t say that
time disappears altogether because time is time, and it marches on regardless
of what we are or are not doing, but on the river, time blends into things and
becomes less adversarial.
In her new book, Back
to Abnormal: Surviving with an Old Farm in the New South, my friend Dana
writes about the fact that 80% of Georgians no longer make anything, that they
think, design, and plan, but they don’t really make anything because making
something requires actual labor and is part of a larger process. People have become unable to wait, and
it is the process that they try to avoid.
She talked about visiting a high school and observing the general flurry
of activity among students. They
are up moving and talking and, by all appearances, being rude to the teachers,
but her theory is that we have taught ourselves that we must be moving, very
quickly, from one task to the next; otherwise, we are just wasting time. To take part in a process requires
slowing down and taking the time to work through to the next step. She uses the examples of cleaning out
her creek and pulling up weeds from an old flowerbed, and she says that those
labors are important in that they teach us process and give us time to think
more clearly and creatively. I
agree with her. On Saturday, I
spent a large portion of the afternoon chopping back vines that had gotten
completely out of control along our fence line and had snaked their way up into
the branches of our apple and peach trees. The more I chopped, the more vines I seemed to find so a
quick trip out to the field to chop down a couple of roots turned into an
extensive project, but even as I was working, my mind was at ease. I enjoyed the solitude and quiet of
working alone under the trees. It
gave me time to breathe.
Those are the days that I truly love—the ones where you don’t
really need a watch because you aren’t in a hurry to rush to the next event or
appointment; you are simply wrapped up in a moment of steady work and
thought. In those moments, time
becomes a walking partner rather than an opponent that must always be outrun or
beaten back with a stick. That’s
the way it felt on the river. The
sun continued to climb in the sky, but there was no rush as we floated down the
Yadkin. We could have rushed home
from church that day with fast food bags in hand and sat down to flip
impatiently from one TV channel to the next, grumbling that there’s nothing
good on and checked emails and run a couple loads of laundry and then gone to
bed more exhausted than we were on Friday night only to start it all over again
on Monday morning. But instead we
wasted our time paddling a red canoe down a muddy river for a couple of
hours. Many people believe that
time can be spent in more productive ways. Some people like to sigh heavily and say, “It must be nice
to have the time for that kind of thing”; this kind of thing usually refers to
running, reading a book, playing in the creek with the kids, baking bread,
working in the garden or paddling a canoe. They see those endeavors as luxuries that only the
unscheduled, and therefore slightly unambitious, person has time for, but those
same people can watch 25 hours of television in a week or text message during
their child’s school play or update their Facebook page instead of walking the
Ultimately, we make time for what is important to us. I admit that I sometimes feel
overwhelmed by commitments and appointments and places I have to be and things
I have to do, but I always try to make it back to that quiet place I love so
much because life, especially life with small kids, is too short. In this respect, there isn’t as much
time as you might think. Before I
know it, my children will be off on their own. I don’t want to look back and wonder if I missed something
because I was in a rush to move from one activity to the next. Constant movement almost guarantees
that some things will be missed.
Just think about the difference between driving and walking down the
same street. When you’re in a car,
there are things you cannot see.
Speed prohibits taking it all in.
Walk down that same street on foot, however, and suddenly you notice
things like the smell of fabric softener from someone’s dryer vent, a cat
perched lazily atop a porch post, a tiny gravestone marked “Ginger” under a
tree. You also tend to throw up your hand and wave at kids riding their bikes
and old women watering their flowerbeds.
Slowing down creates the connections that everyone is trying so
desperately to make when they are texting and emailing and talking on their cell
phone in the grocery checkout line.
Time is strange that way.
It seems that when I slow down, I become much more productive. I may not actually do as many things,
go as many places, or participate in as many events, but doing and producing
are two completely different things.
Time to breathe and focus is what makes productivity possible.