“[Floating] must have been one of the first ecstasies. The analogy of riding a spirited horse is fairly satisfactory; it is mastery over something resistant--a buoyancy that is not natural and inert like that of a log, but desired and vital and to one’s credit. Once the boat has fully entered the consciousness it becomes an intimate extension of self; one feels as competently amphibious as a duck, whose feet are paddles. And once we feel accustomed and secure in the boat, the day and river began to come clear to us.”
--Wendell Berry, "The Rise"
Floating a first ecstasy? I consider Wendell Berry something of a seer, but as of a few days ago, I was skeptical of this idea. We floated 46 miles on Sunday, and every one of them felt like a new and continuously cruel form of labor. It seemed we were never moving. It seemed the only way to relieve myself was to scream.
Distance, out here, is no measure of difficulty. Our progress depends on the speed of the river, which depends on the amount water flowing down. It depends on the wind's speed and direction. The effort perceived depends, even, on whether my feet feel frigid on an overcast morning because I failed to put on socks.
On Sunday, I sat in the bow of the boat, where I took on the responsibility of counting my strokes, so that I could switch from port to starboard, and keep myself -- and the rest of the boat -- from working too hard on one side. It was a relief today, then, to just sit and paddle and never count at all. It was a relief to have the sun shining. It was a relief to be out early, and to feel the big bends slip along our sides. It was a relief to pay attention not to the numbers, but to the world.
We paddled 62 miles today, and it felt like nothing at all. I could feel at times the water, flowing beneath my feet, beneath the hull, could feel the slight resistance as the water split around the paddle: ah, yes: the river and the day came clear.
The more prosaic update: we've crossed the border now, and both sides of the river are Louisiana: our final state. As if in greeting, we saw an alligator on the banks; and then, further downriver, beneath the Tunica Hills, a rare patch of cypress trees, draped in Spanish Moss. All the romantic enchantments of a Southern river, plus a golden sunset over the Loess bluffs, plus willow-smoked catfish and small splash of whiskey. A fine enough end to a long day.