Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Day 73: Bootless

It was still raining. I unzipped my tent to stick my head out, and the sky was just beginning to lighten in the dark, diffuse way of an overcast morning. I stayed warm inside, reading a gory story about a bullfighter.

There was a fence outside my tent, say six feet away. On the other side of the fence were cattle, still distressed about the presence of my tent. Imagining some farmer beyond the cattle also distressed about the presence of my tent, I could not stay. I believed by now anyone would forgive a tent one night anywhere, but I couldn't be sure about two.

The gloves and socks I had worn the previous day were still soaked and it was pointless to put them on. I made three barefoot trips over logs and mud, and over slippery rocks to the canoe.

I pushed off without breakfast. There was no visible break in the cloud-cover, and the rain was still coming down. I thought about the river adventure books I had read, and their descriptions of the miseries of wind and rain left no impression on me. Was it all there, and I, lying on my comfortable sofa inside, simply unimpressed?

No. I am just such a whiner! Always complaining about the weather, never accepting anything less than perfection. I whined about the Calgary winter each year, although I always knew it was there and that I was part of the bargain in moving up. And now I whine about a bit of wind, a bit of rain. I dreamed of drifting down a warm, sunny river with perhaps a light breeze, and any deviation from this was viewed as calamitous.

I forced my mind to form the thought "This is just the day I'm wanting." What is good to do in a canoe, in a rain that will not let up soon? Perhaps poetry. I couldn't write, but Calvin had impressed upon me that poems are written in the mind; you can write it at your leisure. I had never been good at this, but there I couldn't even hold two rhymes in my head. If my mind is too small, I must expand it.

My friend Cameron had been trying to encourage people to meditate, to hold your mind in a blank state for a period of time as a practice of self-discipline. The only time I tried this with him I laid back on the sofa and kept my mind clear for a second or two before flitting around among all my hopes, worries, and math problems. I finally achieved about twenty minutes -- in slumber.

But sitting on a canoe in the rain may be a good place to try this, to achieve peace with the weather.

It was a spectacular failure.

This won't do at all, I thought. I unfolded my feet; they were cold and numb.

I had had enough of the rain. Spiritual well-being can wait until my physical needs were cared for. I decided I would stop at the first place I could reasonably weather out the day.

The river ran nearly straight east and what wind there was supported this direction. The rain sometimes fell to a sprinkle, sometimes intensified, but averaged a strong drizzle. All that rain fell in the river, in the canoe, on me, and on the mudbanks I was watching. I drifted slowly through 3 1/2 miles of river, and that's 7 miles of mudbanks. The river needed a lake or two to flush out its system.

My hands were cold on the paddle, so I limited my paddling to what was necessary. After drifting for a couple of hours I crossed under a bridge, too high to offer any relief from the rain.

After the bridge my map showed a series of three meanders. I made a prediction about where I might see a rocky bank, on the outside of the first meander, and possibly the second.

The first meander had a good 20 feet or so of stones. Most of it was beside a docked pontoon boat, under a looming camper-van. On the top of the hill a huge house stood sentry, next to a significant warehouse. Pitching a tent there would have been an intrusion.

The second meander had only mud, as did the third. The river made a sharp kink about a mile later. If there was no good camping there, I knew there would be none until the end of the day.

The overcast sky was not static but fooled me with many false hopes of sun and blue skies. It was constructed of many layers. I did not notice when a low, dark cloud came between me and the higher layer of clouds blocking the sun, but when it went past the sky would brighten suddenly, and I would look about in wild expectation, only to see the same gray everywhere.

Just after the kink was a good bank of stones and boulders. I smashed into it, and then stumbled out of the canoe. My bare feet were too numb to feel the ground, so I watched my steps very carefully.

I carried my tent further up. There was a good shelter under the trees, and I pitched my rainfly, stowing the other gear I would need underneath it. I went back to cook my afternoon dinner, and only meal of the day. I needed to do this before warming up in my tent because I knew once comfortable I wouldn't want to leave. But still, I had to eat.

My windproof, waterproof matches were proving fireproof as well. My hands, grubby with rain, wind, and stew, messed up the friction surface of the matchbox, preventing lighting. Finally, I got one lit, and threw it in the stove, which sputtered to life. I put my pot on and waited a bit. It seemed to be taking a while.

I took the pot off and the stove was dead. I guess the fire didn't take. I had to get another match lit, and finally soup was on.

I made myself comfortable in the tent and read more Hemingway -- a prize-fighter who bet against himself.

The tent became quite bright. There was a clear shadow of a leaf on the wall. Clouds don't cast shadows, even if they are very bright. I stuck my head out. "Hello old friend! Sun, you might not have risen on the third day, but I hope you stick around to set!"

I was wrong about the shadow; it was not clear. A lucky coincidence placed a distant bunch of leaves between me and the sun, and the gaps between them formed a natural pinhole camera. As the wind blew, multiple layers of diffracted shadows turned about on my tent fly, like a kaleidoscope.

Day 73 ended: 49*53.622N, 100*14.832W


John said...

Sitting in a canoe in the rain, aside from poetry and meditation, is an excellent vantage point for shaking your fist at the heavens!! I recommend, if the suggestions of your more peaceful friends fail you, to heed the advise of your more riotous and ill-tempered ones!

Kevin Saff said...

"I hate things! I hate all things!"

Place that quote.

LBA said...
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LBA said...
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