The paddle board offers access to a whole new world, the watery domain of loon, heron, eagle. I try to be a good guest.
Standup paddle board
Carries me to a new realm.
I am humbled, stunned,
Amidst the watery depths,
Heron, loon, eagle
Are fishing, swimming, flying.
I paddle more and
more slowly until I stop.
How can I go on?
Here, in the middle of the lake, suspended between the vast sky above, and the watery depths below, I interrupt the stillness of the lake. I simply cannot move without creating a ripple. Water skimmers dance across the surface of the lake, creating a v-shaped wake behind them. I too am creating a wake.
As I glide silently under the pine tree where a mature bald eagle is roosted, it flies away. I notice an immature eagle and another mature eagle that have remained situated, slightly higher and farther away from the shore. I linger for a moment, staring up to take in their size, their stillness, their majestic stature. Then, worried that I might cause them to fly too, I paddle on.
I spot the sharp, pointed head of a great blue heron rising above a stand of reeds. She is slowly walking through the watery vegetation near the shore. I am in the middle of the lake channel, but studying closely as she stalks her breakfast. Then, suddenly, she flies. Perhaps I’ve come too close. I’ve certainly given her more attention than she cares to carry on her skinny shoulders.
As is often the case, we hear the loons before we see them. Their loud echoing call fills the air with mystery and my heart swells with awe. A loon call is haunting — and promising. Loons are an indicator species and the presence of nesting loons indicates that the water and shore conditions are sufficiently healthy for raising babies. As we approach, I am reminded of Mary Oliver’s poem, “Lead” in which she invokes the loon’s story to invite our hearts to “break open and never close again to the rest of the world.”
As our paths cross, the loons dive, wary of a passing stranger. They are wise. I’d be wary of me too. Despite the ways in which I try to be “one of the good ones”, humans are making a mess. We are not to be trusted. And, sometimes, despite my good intentions, I make a mess too.
I have been paddling slowly, quietly, gently so as not to disrupt the others. And still, my presence has had an impact. I have interrupted breakfasts, mating, and morning meditation. Participating in the human family at this time in this culture creates an impact. I strive to make that impact as positive as possible when I can — and I have a lot to learn.
As we continue to paddle, people who reside in the camps, cabins, and houses along the lakeshore are waking up. There are moms and boys fishing, dads and toddlers building in the sand along the shore, a woman in a rowboat, a family in a fishing boat, elders watching the lake wake up from their lazy boys behind the picture window.
What would be the impact, if we all started from the Hippocratic oath premise of “do no harm” ?
Better yet, what if we all started from the Leave No Trace ethic of “leave it better than you found it”?
What if “it” referred not only to the human family, but also to the heron, the eagle, the loon, the lake?
I am as glad as anyone to have a 3-day weekend but, in the interest of aligning my intent with the positive impact that I hope to have, I am tending an Independence Day that matches my values.
I will work for independence from the systems and beliefs that perpetuate violence and harm to others.
I will honor bodily autonomy for all ~ no matter the gender, skin color, sexual orientation, or species.
I will lean into the interdependence of individuals, species, and ecosystems.
I will celebrate both you and me and the beauty of our connectivity.
What will you celebrate today? And tomorrow? And the day after that?
Together, we are co-creating a new way of being human in the world.