Thursday, March 20, 2008

Reason #171 for academics staying indoors

As part of our Spring Break festivities (which have thus far consisted of a trip to the local used bookstore, that's all), Miss Goddess and I decided to take the monkeys today to a state park about 45 minutes away. We spent the morning in a light hike, followed by a picnic on a beachy area at the shore of a medium-sized lake. A wonderful time was had by all, especially by the two parents, who were feeling not a little self-satisfied at concocting and successfully pulling off this encounter with nature.

When I replay the day in my head, this is where I wish we had decided to go home. Instead, we agreed that a nice way to cap off our day would be a relaxing canoe ride around the lake. Before I go any further, I should explain that, while not a big fan of boats in general, I've always liked canoes. As a child, I was in YMCA Indian Guides (now more appropriately called Adventure Guides) and spent many pleasant hours ambling around placid lakes (not to be confused with Lake Placid) earning patches of various kinds. Even as an adult, I was (don't laugh) Red Cross certified in Canoeing. I think, in fact, that I blame the Red Cross for what happened today. The thought of that certification card in my wallet made me cocky. The fact that the card expired eight years and two children ago did not cross my mind.

So you've already figured out that the canoeing did not, as we say, go well. Younger Monkey backed out at the last minute, taking Miss Goddess with him. That left me and Older Monkey, who had never seen a canoe before this afternoon. The first few minutes were actually very nice. We decided to head across the lake to the opposite shore and then turn around and come back. We made great time across the lake, mainly, it turns out, because of a deceptively strong wind at our backs. We found out just how strong the wind was when we turned around and headed directly into it. Now here's an important tip for any of you who might one day make the serious mistake of heading into the natural world, away from the comforts of wireless internet and university libraries: don't go canoeing on a windy day. The experience was actually very interesting, from an intellectual perspective. No matter how and how hard I paddled, we either stayed still or, even worse, turned away from the direction of our destination. It felt, actually, like reading Derrida, if you know what I mean.

Apparently, Miss Goddess was observing our situation the whole time and trying to get us some help. Older Monkey and I were not privy to this information, since I had stupidly left my cell phone in the car (where it was doing a lot of good). Things on our end were actually getting worse by the minute. The wind had picked up even more, driving us into the shore (though not the shore we needed) and creating pretty choppy waters that rocked our frail vessel in ways that were beginning to distress the five-year-old on board, whose confidence in her father was eroding by the second, despite his best efforts at reassurance. Eventually, it became clear that we were going precisely nowhere, so I made a snap decision. I steered the canoe (really, just let it go in the direction it wanted) toward the rocky shore. There were no good landing spots, but I found a space near some large rocks. Older Monkey was able to climb out of the canoe without too much difficulty, and I quickly followed. We were both glad, I must say, to be out of the canoe and on dry land, but our situation was still not good. We were standing on the opposite side of the lake from the rest of our family, with no easy way to contact them. I wasn't even sure that they knew we had run into trouble. Plus, we were about to abandon a rented canoe. I stood for a long minute staring down at the canoe in the water, trying to figure out a solution to these various challenges. When I glanced toward my daughter, standing a few feet above me on the hill, I could see the very real fear on her face for the first time. She seemed to know as well as I did that we were screwed.

I took a deep breath and made some decisions. I pulled the canoe as high on the shore as I could, figuring that the same wind that had pushed us so insistently toward this side of the lake would at least discourage the boat from drifting back the other way. OM and I set off up the hillside through some nasty brush that scratched the hell out of me. We had walked no more than fifty feet when I heard voices and ascertained that we were right off a hiking trail that was, in turn, right off the main road in the park. By the time we had walked twenty steps down the road, I saw the lovely grille of our Subaru approaching, with a happy Miss Goddess at the wheel and Younger Monkey asleep in the backseat. All was right with the world. As it turned out, MG had persuaded a nice guy with a motorboat to head across the lake to rescue us, but when she saw us get out of the canoe, she decided to drive around until she found us. One of the many reasons I am crazy about this woman is her knack for knowing just what to do in times of trouble, which, I'm sorry to say, she has more than her share of as a result of being married to me.

I was somewhat pensive as I walked back down the hill a few minutes later to meet the very nice man with the motorboat. He assured me that he had already rescued several other people and that it was "really bad out there," but that didn't lessen the sting of watching him pull away from the shore with my rented canoe safely in tow behind him. I thought I detected a hint of a smirk when I glanced back at him over my shoulder, but possibly it was just my imagination. Nevertheless, as I walked back toward the Subaru, I comforted myself by deciding that, of the two of us, only I knew the differences between the seven classes of strong verbs in Old English. It didn't help much, but at times like these, every little bit helps.

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