Friday, November 19, 2010


The bay spreads wide in front of us, its surface reflecting the mercurial silver of the clouds.

A row of toothy cliffs hem the bay, each stretching volcanic claws out into the open water. Our safety-orange kayaks skirt the frothy border of their domain. The seabirds watch us dolefully as they circle overhead, occasionally punctuating the surface with a perfect spearhead dive.

As soft as I'm feeling these days, I'm surprised at the power my arms are putting into each stroke of the paddle. Kayaking quiets the mind in a backwards way: by playing havoc with the idea of accomplishment. Objects that seemed unreachably far appear suddenly close; a beach that seemed imminent drifts unfathomably away. Once you're in the rhythm of it, you necessarily abandon your attachment to the goal. You'll make it there. Just keep paddling.

I hear your paddle catch the water behind me. I turn to see you, and the off-beat strike of the paddle sends up a small splash. The drops that land on my lips taste like blood.

We lie back in our respective boats, cradled in the plastic well, knees resting on either side. Viewed from overhead, we'd look like pinned butterflies, framed in orange on silver satin.

We talk about the sense of responsibility we have to our beloved forms of expression--flying, either with wings or through curvy canyons--and the logistics of constant movement--and our responsibilities to our families and our livelihoods and our continued exploration. We talk about the unrelenting drive to be better, smarter, stronger, cleverer. To learn more languages, dances, airsports, motorcycles, martial arts and authors. We talk about the pace we've set. We strategize.

There's an acrobatic plane overhead. Its occasional loops dig tufts of cloud from the gathering thunderheads and pull them, thread-candylike, into the open air. The storm's coming.

As I watch you dig your paddle into the water as you turn towards shore, I wonder what's beneath the mirrored surface.

we will be victorious

I'm wedged between a bulkhead and a pile of backpacks. Under us, the makeshift bed in the back of this sketchy van conversion rattles between plastic panels.

We're careening through the mountains around the turns of a forest road. I'm alternately holding myself up with a seatbelt mooring and balancing my weight against your knee, depending on which side of the van we're being thrown towards. This has to be the most thrilling, nauseating way to see New Zealand's Coromandel.

As my shins smash against the doorjamb on a particularly sharp right-hander, I have to smile at my good luck.

The driver and passenger speak Israeli in low tones. They adjust the volume of the Muse album that rattles through the van's ancient speakers. The sound comes in waves.

This is the second time in our lives we've hitchhiked. The second time, as a matter of fact, we've hitchhiked this week.

The first time, I made it clear I wanted no part of it. I clearly understood the necessity--the bus had been missed, and our shoulders had been buried in bags and skydiving acoutrements. There were no more busses leaving that day. We had somewhere to be. A taxi was possible, but obscenely expensive. That left one thing on offer: the kindness of strangers. I hate being that vulnerable.

I watched your thumb make several tentative arcs against the horizon before I stretched mine out to join it. It wasn't long before we were loading our bags into a strange trunk, explaining ourselves to a strange couple, and feeling less and less strange about the enterprise.

Now, your hand knitted in mine, we're watching the landscape slide alongside. Focused on the foreground, the fern-dotted forest and rolling fields of grazing sheep become raking brushstrokes in varying shades of green.

In those first jaw-gritting moments, you told me we'd be glad we scored a ride; that we'd tell each other it was a win, after we'd mustered the courage to stick a thumb out and put it to the fates.

You were, of course, right.

You always are.