Never Done: I kayaked in Jamaica Bay
Growing up in New England, I canoed on lots of ponds and rivers. Mostly we kept our canoe under our house, and easily hoisted it onto our orange Volvo station wagon when we wanted to bring it somewhere, but I remember for a period of time we kept it on someone's land (Barba's?) on Bare Hill Pond, so I could go out on the pond without my parents (before I knew how to drive.)
I canoed well into my early adulthood too; I remember once when I was in my twenties and living in Maine, I was canoeing with a friend on one of the Belgrade Lakes (about 1/2 mile from where I lived) when we paddled over a loon swimming below the surface. It was one of the most beautiful and other-worldly things I'd ever seen -- this was before I'd ever gone snorkeling, and understood what it's like to see the usually-hidden underwater dimension of our world.
Later, once I moved to Oregon, I discovered the delights of kayaking when I spent time on Sauvie Island. I remember the first time I paddled into a shallow marsh, where a canoe could never have gotten without getting caught on the bottom -- and I got to glide up to a bittern on the shore, without disturbing it. Since that day, I've rarely been back in a canoe, but I've gone kayaking dozens of times, always when I leave New York City -- usually in Maine or Oregon. Until Abigail and Josh and I went to the Sebago Canoe Club open house, and got to go out kayaking into Jamaica Bay.
Every year on Rosh Hashanah, I try to go somewhere beautiful and outdoors for reflection, and one year I went to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, where I remember gazing out at Jamaica Bay and wondering how I could get out there in a kayak. But I didn't pursue it until my Never Done Year, in which ... Mich brought Abigail into Brooklyn Soup Swap, and Abigail and I became friends, and Abigail invited me to Thanksgiving in April, where I met L, who took me hiking on Staten Island, and told me about Sebago Canoe Club. Voila! Getting out and doing stuff helps you get out and do stuff!
Except that it isn't in my back yard, Sebago feels like a big communal back yard with gardens and BBQ and boat storage and a dock. I tried to picture it on a day when it wasn't full of people (like me) checking it out, and then it felt even more like a communal back yard. And if you're wondering why I'm not talking about being out on the water yet, it's because our experience of being at Sebago was mostly about being on land -- we got there around noon, and signed up to go out on boats, and then hung out for 2 hours before our group was called. We hung out on the dock, we ate grilled meat, we sat on the grass, we met people, and finally we were called to get fit with life jackets and kayaks and get out on the water.
The first thing that happened when I got in my boat is that a man put my boat in the water facing the wrong way. I noticed it, but knew it would be no problem for me to back it out instead of paddle out front-ways. But when I got in, he had a little freak out. "Oh no, that isn't right. No, no, not like that." I reassured him that I would be just fine, that I could back the boat out. But it turned out he was trying to tell me that I hadn't gotten into the boat correctly. When I asked him how to correctly get into the boat, he couldn't actually articulate it, and just told me that I would have capsized if I'd gotten in the way I did (contradicting of course the fact that I just did get in that way and didn't capsize.) I told him I'd never gotten into a kayak from a dock before (true -- I've always gotten in from shore, although I've gotten into lots of canoes from docks) and told him I'd love to learn how. Instead of explaining, he got flustered, and pushed me off.
As soon as I got into the water, I was enveloped in a familiar calm. Maybe it was the negative ions from the water, or maybe just the physical memory of immersion, but I felt at home out there -- almost. It felt wonderful, but it looked and sounded urban. We were within sight of the Belt Parkway, with a steady stream of traffic -- and in fact we ended up paddling right under the Belt, as we entered into Jamaica Bay. When we got out into the Bay (and granted, we didn't get too far in) it felt to wild water as Prospect Park feels to wild woods. Yeah -- it felt like we were in a big, wonderful city park. Which, in fact I think we were.
I'm not sure which mide (middah) would be most appropriate to help me accept that I do actually live in one of the biggest cities in the world, and that it's not in fact a wild natural area, and that if I want to live in a wild natural area, I need to move away from New York City, but that if I want to live in New York City, I should probably stop trying to compare the parks and waterways to New England and Oregon natural forests and waterways. Patience? Equanimity? Truth?
Patience, I think: Do not aggravate a situation with wasted grief. Take in the sense of calm, the negative ions. Look out into the bay, and not over to the littered shore. Get qualified to kayak out to one of the islands and see if maybe the human impact is less obvious out there. Take trips out of the city as often as I can, and let them fill my soul for the times I am here.
I practiced this as best I could out on the water. And I did enjoy myself very much -- and practiced looking past the blemishes for the beauty. And just as I was starting to relax into that groove, it was time to turn around and go back.
When I reached the dock and was ready to get out of the kayak, I watched the people in front of me do it, so I could learn if there's anything special about getting out onto a dock. The woman who was helping me could not articulate what she wanted me to do, and kept saying "No, you go like this. No, like this." But she couldn't show me what part of my body she was trying to adjust. Finally, I did what I thought she was telling me, and easily got out onto the dock, but she was not happy with my dismount. I decided to practice Calmness: Words of the wise are gently stated, and Humility: Seek wisdom from everyone, and sat on the dock and asked her to show me what she had tried to show me. She did try, but she still couldn't articulate what she was trying to, so I did not in fact end up learning what she was trying to teach. But at least I didn't get unsettled about it; I just figured that I did something unorthodox, and the sun was out, a breeze was blowing, I had just kayaked in New York City, and I was safely on the dock.