John sits as low as he can in the canoe. He is on his haunches, his thighs tucked in tightly under the center thwart. The weight of his body on his calves is certain. His feet have already started to bark loudly with pain. Tranzi coaches him in a steady voice. “Paddle hard John. We’re just getting into the main channel now … Get her angled more to port.”
Everything is in confusion. There’s no room think. He wants to shift his weight, but he can’t. There’s no time.
“I want you to turn that rock on the starboard side,” Tranzi says firmly. “There’s a pool around the back of it where we can rest a moment.”
John is losing his bearing. His muscles work like big ropes on a pulley. He shifts his weight and the canoe tips wildly. Tranzi turns her head to look at him. She doesn’t say anything but rolls her eyes. They are just about to hit the rock. John digs in deep and turns the canoe around the rock. They get into the pool on the other side and find fingering enough to hold on.
John senses the cold more now. He hangs his head to stretch his neck muscles. He’s breathing hard. “I can’t believe that you’ve done this four times already Tranzi,” John says between breaths.
“Try to use less of your own energy and let the river do more work, John.”
“That sounds like rocket science to me right now, Tranzi,” looking up at her.
“Put your sight out in front of the canoe. Pick your spot and paddle toward it. Dividing your attention will actually use less energy overall.”
John nods and tries to understand what’s she’s saying.
“Do you see the smoke from the fire there?”
John nods yes.
“Pick a rock, or a tree, or whatever on the shore.”
John sees a birch, its white skin standing out from among the cedars. “Okay, I got something.”
Stefan is starting dinner. Chickpea curry and rice. As things simmer, he reads over some lines he wrote in his journal a little while back.
I heard the shadows say, “You cannot know the depth of my darkness.”
I closed my eyes and the night inside spoke in wisdom tones.
I heard the rocks say, “You cannot know the gathering of my substance.”
I sensed down through this flesh and entered into these bones.
I heard the sunset say, “You cannot know the poise of my moment.”
With the inner tongue I tasted the livingness of the air’s unseen zones.
Baeth watches as John and Tranzi skirt in behind the rock. She can’t see them. It’s as if they’ve disappeared. Something’s wrong. Then she laughs to herself thinking about the child who imagines she’s disappeared just by covering her eyes. She watches and relaxes her gaze. She imagines them behind the rock resting.
“I’m ready to go,” John says. Tranzi nods, and they push off the rock. John paddles and tries to be aware of the tension in his muscles. After a while, he notices his breathing has fallen into sync with his paddling. He keeps his eye on the birch he has chosen. His paddling is becoming more even, and with this the paddle moves more water. He tries to identify just those muscles that need to move in order to paddle. In a flash he sees that he was tensing everything earlier, even his face. He has a line between the tip of the canoe and the birch. Tranzi turns smiling and nods. He has time now to notice the river. It is so beautiful in the evening sun.
Stefan has put things to simmer off to the side of the fire and has come down to the river. He catches the canoe as they glide in. “Nice work John. I was watching you. Wow,” Stefan says. Stefan was admiring the grace of John’s large frame moving with purpose, Tranzi like a carved figurehead on the prow. In seeing this Stefan also sees something floating up from the depths of the moment. He used to tease John when they were younger. All of the words said with jests and nudges that were really veiled insults and taunts. Tankboy. Turtle. Goo. Cabbage.
These two impressions, one of appreciation the other of insult, held so closely together brings to Stefan an opening of what he can only call remorse. It’s a painful humiliation to see himself, but there is something joyful in being reconciled to the truth.
Stefan reaches out his hand to John in the canoe. Stefan realizes that he has tears in his eyes. “How are your dogs? Are they barking?” Stefan says indicating John’s legs tucked in under the thwart.
“Those dogs, sir, are sleeping, but I can’t let them just lie,” answers John. Stefan laughs at the witty turn wiping his tears. With some groaning and a few swear words, Stefan helps John out of the canoe.
“Dude, you’re totally soggy,” Stefan observes.
“He took a dip before casting off,” Tranzi says chuckling.
“Come by the fire and get changed,” Stefan offers.
“That’s sounds good,” John replies.
“I’m going to head back right away,” Tranzi says. “Stefan can you push me off?”
Out on the river Tranzi senses that her energy is quite low. She still hasn’t seen why she has come here. She’s waited patiently. She’s put herself way out on a limb. She’s exposed herself and her friends to a good deal of uncertainty. What if it all is for nothing? She feels the weight of the responsibility. It is a private and intimate thing. How could she explain this to the others? It is not an action, or a feeling or a thought in itself. Who am I?
Tranzi glides into a landing. Baeth is nowhere to be seen. She calls out. A few minutes later Tranzi has hefted the canoe up on her shoulders and is portaging through the bush. Canoe head.
She hears Baeth crashing down the path in front of her coming toward her. Breathlessly Baeth approaches and peeks in under the canoe, “Tranzi, I found something that you have to see.”