When we arrive at our put in point on Tuesday afternoon at the White River, we are greeted by a heron delicately balanced on the end of an old tree trunk in the water. As I watch, she gracefully bends her long grey neck to reach the river's surface and takes a long drink before resuming her stance, ever ready to snag a fish with her long beak.
Something catches my eye nearer to shore, something that is bobbing it's head about in and around the rocks in the shallows. I look closer and pick out a small water snake, brownish tan with darker markings on his back. I let out a small shriek and ask Joe if he sees the same thing as I do. He does, and I duck behind his back, scrambling up some rocks to put more distance between the critter and myself. A fisherman watching this scene laughs and proceeds to tell us all the snake stories he could think of, including one that involved a snake crawling up inside a kayak though one of the drainage holes in the bottom of the boat. Not what I needed to hear before floating down the river for 8 miles. The whole time he's regaling us with his stories, he's poking the snake with his fishing pole, claiming that he is just trying to see what kind of snake it is, whether it was just a "regular ol' water snake" or something worse. At this point, I'm nearly on Joe's shoulders, asking the fisherman what is he thinking, prodding the snake in such way?!?!?! He just chuckles. Finally the snake gets fed up with all the attention, and swims away, weaving and bobbing his way to a quieter spot along the bank.
David finally gets dropped off from the shuttle and we begin our journey down the White River. David is testing out his new Father's Day present, an inflatable paddle board that he's been dreaming of since late winter. David stays on his knees for a bit, but is soon on his legs, paddling away like he's been paddle boarding his whole life and making it look easy and graceful.
There is something so magical about being out on the water. I realized that kayaking makes me feel the same way as running and photography. When I'm paddling about in the water, I don't think about my to-do lists or what to make for supper; all worries fade away and I am totally in the here and now. We quietly chit chat, but more often than not, there is silence, the only sounds the paddles dripping water as they clear the surface. There are herons to count and hawks to watch gliding through the air high above the mountains. When we get tired, we stop at a "sand" bar made up of smooth Arkansas rocks, the kind that are perfect for skipping across the water and feel good in your hands. We eat our p.b.j.'s and Joe and I try our hand at David's paddle board. It's a little nerve wracking, but we manage to stay standing. Joe decides that he wants to dunk himself in the cold, cold, clear water of the White. After a few minutes of working up his nerve he takes a big breath and goes under, coming up spluttering and gasping just a few seconds later. But on a hot, hot afternoon that freezing cold water feels really, really good.
We load back up and continue our meander down the river. The sun is hot on our backs and sweat begins to roll down our legs. I stick my foot out over the edge of my kayak, trailing it in the water and am instantly cooled off. David plops down on his board, both feet hanging over the edges and Joe is all kicked back in his boat, with both feet and hands in the river. We are in no hurry to get to the put out point, by now just a couple miles ahead of us. If I could, I would have this day last forever.
I never want my time on the water to end. There is something magical about water for me. It washes away time and all the constraints we put upon it. And it isn't just with my kayak (dubbed Betty); even washing dishes has the same effect. The simple act of sudsing up the pots and pans, the water rinsing off the bubbles and before I know it, I'm off daydreaming. Growing up in the hot Kansas summers meant long afternoons in the city pool, diving underwater where all sound was blocked, breaking the surface to grab a quick lungful of air before diving back under again. And when I was really little, Mom would take me up to our university's indoor natatorium, park me on one of the bleachers with a snack and a small pile of books before diving into the pool where she'd swim enough laps to make up a mile, sometimes a mile-a-half. I never took my eyes off her, becoming miffed at the people in the lanes next to her when they'd beat her to the edge of the pool. Sometimes Dad would come over and swim laps with her, his big butterfly stroke sending waves all over the pool and making me cheer quietly to myself up in the bleachers.
That was always my favorite stroke of his.
The smell of water, of chlorine and sunscreen now mixes with the smell of fish and sunshine and mountain air as some of my favorite smells in the world.
The afternoon begins to draw to a close, the shadows becoming slightly longer. Sadness begins to creep over me as I realize our get out point and car are only a couple miles ahead of us. We are not talking, only gliding downstream, occasionally paddling, but each of us lost in our thoughts. As the boat ramp comes into view, Joe asks if I want to race. I giggle and accept, the two of us madly beating the water with our paddles, David behind us watching (maybe laughing at the two of us?) and gliding his way to the end. Joe arrives at the ramp first, hauling his kayak up out of the water, David is next and I land last.
I finish last on purpose. I never want this day to end.