Monday, August 18, 2008

Day 26: Distractions are the stuff of life

My goal was to make the lake from Saskatchewan Landing to Douglas Provincial Park in three days. I had made my goal for day 25, but that took concentrated paddling all day, and was not a performance I could repeat the next day. It was quite warm, with little wind, and I had a math problem stuck in my head all morning.

The mind is a cluttered place. People often speak of what they want, or don't want, but this is usually only a window onto the tidier sections of the mind, meant for public view. At the beginning of this trip this was quite clear to me, as the portions of my mind thatcraved adventure and travel grew increasingly excited, and those that yearned for friendship and stability tried to find an allied excuse for not going. The human mind wants a hundred things at once, most of them contradictory.

So here I was, almost a month out of Calgary, and daydreaming about solving math problems, TA'ing for a semester, and running a series of talks on the "Lives and Times of the Mathematicians". My adventurous, quest-driven parts were worn out by the hard day, and I looked back, seeing much that was good. The river is a distraction from life, they said, while my wearied parts said, no, this math is a distraction from the river. I ought to be making distance, not failing, as usual, to solve some of my favorite problems.

I put myself together again, coming up with a scheme to turn the adversarial parts of my mind to one purpose. A light tailwind would help to this end.

Paddling is out of the question, but I can possibly make distance and solve problems simultaneously. How? Sailing!

People make canoe sailing sound easy, but I suppose they usually have four hands to work with. The basic idea is to take a large sheet, such as a tarp or rainfly, wrap it around a couple paddles and let the wind push you along. That's what the bowman does. The stern, however, is as always most responsible for steering and so rudders to keep the craft moving the right way.

Like I said, this requires four hands. But I had often felt the wind tugging on my tent, and I figured that, since the top of my tent is pure mesh, and the bottom a square of nylon, I could hold the tent out in front of me with one hand, using its floor as the sail. Then my other hand could take charge of a paddle, to rudder. It's an interesting problem that all of my mind could agree to try.

But the result was of very limited success. Even in this light wind it was difficult to control the tent with one hand, and not being able to reach back with my "rudder", the canoe tended to drag to whichever side the paddle was on. As a result I had to switch the rudder and sail hands back and forth to maintain travel in the correct direction.

And the rate of travel was not terribly impressive. It did not seem to be a significant improvement over letting the wind drive me, sailless, just using the paddle to correct my direction. So I tried to put the tent away, still sitting on my canoe, and got it hopelessly wet before it was apart.

I had to stop not long afterwards to let my tent dry out and my thoughts refocus. My site for the evening offered a dead cow and a little shack for controlling the power lines.

My subconscious energies came together as I slept. I dreamed the little power shack was a portal to other places and times, and walked through it to my old bedroom, where I grew up. Every thing was there, every toy, every item of clothing, practically every thing I had ever owned, stored there in boxes. And I told the new owner of the room to throw it all out, to give it all to Goodwill.

My mind wants many things, but apparently it does not want much.

Day 26 ended: 50*47.798N, 106*59.884W


Michelle said...

Apparently, being able to cope with opposing thoughts and feelings in one's mind and heart are a hallmark of the emotionally intelligent.

It is in this struggle that we grow.

Kevin Saff said...

It seems likely that much of this trip is due to emotional stupidity, but perhaps I am getting smarter.

I hope you are doing well Michelle!