I have some dear friends who kayak on weekends, and I sometimes ask if I can go along. They always say yes. Sometimes when we’re gathered together at dinner parties with others, my friends are asked about my coming along so often on their outings. They say I do it for my mental health. I’d prefer they answer that it’s part of our special friendship, or that it’s obvious I have deep feelings for nature, or that we have such broad ranging conversations while on the water. Am I paranoid to see in their customary answer a criticism of my mental health? – Not So Crazy in Katy
Dear Not So Crazy, Based solely on what is quoted above, I’d say you’re just being a little oversensitive. When people ask your friends about this, they’re complimenting your friends’ generosity. When your friends answer, rather than acknowledging their own generosity, they say instead it does you good, provides you inner peace and etc.
As I said, that answer follows judiciously from the above. But the above is edited down from a longer inquiry and it is clear from your other expressions that you are a piece of work. You clearly are talking the entire time you’re on the river except for the moments you go motionless, catatonic, when you see a hawk or buzzard overhead. Quoting parts of your letter: “The only time I don’t hear the squirrel-like voice giving instructions is when I’m wearing a life- preserver.” or “A gull can become a cloud can become a demon can become a giant fire ant.” Be glad your friends always welcome you and that they’re so good-natured about it. If they didn’t want you to be along I’m sure they’d wriggle out of it somehow. And they’re on the river for reasons too, nature-loving ones but also mental health ones, no doubt. Relax! And wear your life-preserver!
Henry and I have been married for 20 years, and for much of that time my husband and I have enjoyed canoeing together. Henry always sits in the stern, taking rudder duties. For some years now I’ve suspected that he is not paddling. Certainly when I stop paddling the boat goes nowhere. But when I turn around, even mid-stroke, he appears to be conscientiously finishing a sort of steering maneuver to help us maintain course. At the end of an outing I am just worn out, and fall asleep at our dinner’s wine course, leaving Henry to finish the bottle and both of our grilled fish filets. Henry has also started winning awards for his photography of wading birds, but there is no way he could be taking those photographs if he were paddling. How might I go about sinking Henry’s subterfuge? - Perhaps Cruelly Deceived in Kemah.
Dear Cruelly Deceived, Every person who’s ever sat in the back of a canoe is a malingerer skilled in subterfuge. There is the feeling in the steering-oar community however, that they’ve earned it. There is almost nothing you can do about it. From their placement in the canoe, they can always see when you are going to turn your head, and be able to swiftly poise their paddle as if they are working hard in tandem. (You are seeing him in the midst of an S-stroke, “S” short for the Old English slæc-stelan, “slack stealth”.) You see, this has been going on a very long time –it predates the Vikings. Today’s technology offers a solution. Wear one of those “Go-Pro” action-cams on your head - backwards. If your husband is not some lowlife who has more secrets than just his slæc-stelan, he will want to avoid being documented, and will step up his game, paddling. In ten years’ time, following this strategy, you may be able to turn off the camera or even forgo wearing it, as he’ll be acclimatized to paddling again. Or alternatively: remodel your marriage! Grab the stern position for yourself!
Where I-59 crosses the Navidad River, the river broadens out, and I take my kids paddling there in the spring. There is a long low island where snowy egrets, cattle herons and even some roseate spoonbills build their nests and raise their young. We coast in real close to take photos and videos. The mature birds - the parents – fly up in the air, while the fledglings climb across the branches supporting their nests in order to escape. There is the most fabulous bird ruckus imaginable, and I get good pictures. My daughter asked if this is somehow cruel. Is it? - Dad on the Navidad.
Dear Navidad-Dad, You are scaring the bejesus out of birds in a rookery - causing the nesting mothers to leave their nests. It may take the family units hours to reassemble. The chaos you are creating probably also causes some of the youngest birds to drop to their death. Your daughter is right. Don’t do that again! Consider yourself paddled.
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