Paddling Toward Peace

published in Dreamers Magazine November 2020

Wild waves crash across my kayak as I try to paddle forward, to stay on course. Wind whips up the waves as water drips from behind my head down my back, seeping under my life jacket. I feel the wet sensation against my skin. In no time, I am drenched to the bone as I continue slogging, paddling toward the bay ahead which will be more sheltered from the wind. There is a reason for this trip.  I have business to attend to.

We are eight boats against the elements, a community of strangers including two very experienced young guides. One of them brings up the rear, tossing me encouraging messages across the waves. His cries “Great going,” and “You’ve got this,” help me to persist.  It’s a bit of a marathon performance to cross this channel on our very first day out. The sky is dark now, having shifted quickly from the warm haze that shone when we left shore. We have five days to explore the North Channel together, a part of Lake Huron north of Manitoulin Island in Ontario.

I am making some progress against the blustery wind, should be able to reach the bay in about 20 minutes. I just have to keep moving. Always keep the paddle in the water in waves, in order to steady the kayak. My muscles are flagging, but I keep going. Trying to keep my hands from sliding down the shaft of the paddle, I dip and swing to the other side. It is a constant, rhythmic motion that slowly propels me against the wind and waves toward the opposite shore where the stronger paddlers are already beginning to gather.

I read somewhere that a wave you face is not an obstacle but an opportunity. An opportunity to learn about yourself and prove your strength. An opportunity to develop new skills and come out wiser. Fine words that seem rather high and mighty right now. In the trenches of this journey, I am too focussed on moving forward inch by inch to contemplate their deeper meaning.

I am sweaty but I cannot smell my fear. Rather I rise to the challenge, feel exhilarated and persist. With the guide’s encouragement I give a final push and we move out of the wind and into the bay. What a relief! I am soaked and full of wonder at the waves and wind that challenged us right off the bat. A robust feeling of accomplishment accompanies me as I munch on a power bar, hoping to glean more energy for the paddling still ahead.

As I look around I realize that I am treading on ground that in years gone by was interpreted gloriously by members of the Group of Seven, landscape painters in the 1920’s. They captured in their paintings the undulating pink granite rock that characterizes the land surrounding North Channel. I sense their presence deep in my being as we prepare again to set out. This time our plan is to hug the shore, avoiding the worst of the wind, and to search for a campsite for the night. Our hope is to paddle only for another hour before setting up camp. I feel weary but determined to complete this day’s challenging journey. 

***

Looking up, I notice the sunset has begun. Multiple shades of orange and pink brush the western sky. I clamber down the warm, pink granite rocks to a scraggy point at the shoreline. The rock was a little bit slippery and I’m glad to make it down to the water safely. It is relatively calm in the early evening’s light when we slip away to complete our task, the main reason for this trip to the North Channel.

Thirty-one years ago, almost to the day, my son Jake was conceived on the Benjamin Islands which I can see far across the bay. He would have been thirty years old this year and it feels like an important milestone. Today I will lay him to rest, scattering his ashes in this extraordinarily beautiful setting. He died fifteen years ago and only now am I ready to let him go.

Jake was a beautiful boy with soulful blue eyes that erupted into smiles at the flicker of light in his face. He was unable to sit, stand or speak and received nourishment through a feeding tube to bypass his raspy breathing. And yet, with a voice that sounded like the cooing of a pigeon, he communicated his pleasure and discomfort. Sadly, he was destined to die young. 

His short life bestowed untold richness upon mine. While he was alive and for some time after, I wrote and advocated on behalf of children like him. My life was full as his younger sister joined me in pickets and panels to advance the needs of kids with disabilities. Jake’s passing was not unexpected, but it was still jarring, leaving an indescribable emptiness.

This evening, in this spectacular place, I am carrying a medium size yogurt container filled with his remains. I lean over the water perched precariously on a rock. The ashes sparkle in the light as I take a small handful and toss them into the still water.  Some ash clings to the rock below while the rest creates a translucent, milky soup just below me. Gradually I scatter the contents of the container and watch the water as it flows. A good rain, such as we expect that very night, will fully disperse the ash into the Channel.

I am wrenched by sadness — it is the ultimate letting go. And yet, I also experience a certain feeling of peace. “Swim strong little man,” I think to myself. “You’re free now.”  When Jake died, a First Nations friend told me that Jake was now ‘free to run, the wind in his hair’. This evening I remember those words and they again bring me some solace. 

And yet, in the tent at night I am restless. In that ethereal state between dreamscape and wakefulness, I envisage that milky water again. As I watch, a young spirit boy miraculously emerges and swims away. I can see his strawberry blond hair and lanky frame. It is my Jakey. Again, I am filled with that strange combination of sadness and peace as he swims from me away into the near distance. Quietly, I again say goodbye to my sweet firstborn.

Welcome to my blog

I’m just starting this blog and it’s the dead of winter here in Canada. The air is crisp, the days and nights cold. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you in the coming months and hope that your experience of this pandemic is not too awful. For me, as something of an introvert and as a writer, I’ve been able to survive well over the last year. I do miss having friends and family over for meals and going out to theatre and films. Hey, I miss getting a haircut too! But we’ll get through this and in several months, once we’ve all benefitted from the vaccine, perhaps we’ll get together again. In the meantime, I hope my words offer you some interest and comfort.

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Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.