Paddling Through the Opera

Copyright by Karen Hancock

I can't resist looking. From the windows I see my new kayak gleaming in the sun. Ready to go, set in the saddles on top the car. Sunny out, yet cool; perfect weather for paddling.

I'm out the door, heading for the river.

I leave my kayak in the water at the Cook Park launch while I park my car. A young girl proudly tends it till I return. I thank her for her help and give her a big smile. Her eyes sparkle. I hope I've planted a seed that bears the fruit of her own Adventures.

The Tualatin isn't much of a river now. I call it placid. I'm told sometimes it rages - once the rain starts. But today the water's surface is like glass, glossy as the shiny yellow deck of the Merlin. I dip the paddle in and glide upstream. Merlin's bow slices the water, leaves and dust part. Every movement is effortless.

I'm heading into the sun. Its glare off the water blinds me. Damn! Sunglasses are in the car. I squint and paddle in the shade. A kingfisher ahead! Before I can raise the binoculars it flies off chattering it's warning call.

I'm enjoying the movement of the boat, the soft thunk of the paddle blade dipping into water. In the distance I hear music, a voice. I glide closer. The voice grows louder, its passion rising. Soon the voice engulfs me. Sun warms my bare arms but blinds me with its glare. I'm drowning in the music. I recognize the voice. There is no mistaking that rich tenor. I wish I knew my operas better, but who cares? Who cares! With that voice Pavarotti could be singing from a Chinese menu and I would still be moved to tears....

Up the bank in the trees I see a deck and someone waving from a lounge chair. I wave back. Wonderful music! Thank you. I slow my strokes to make the moment last as long as possible. I'm approaching snags. A Great Blue Heron perches on one in the sunlight, preening. It has found the best seat at this opera. I dip my paddle silently into the water and quietly glide to the opposite side of the river.

The opera fades. I watch the water wrinkle at Merlin's bow then turn to ripples as I pass. Under a bridge, cars roar overhead. I'm down here and no one sees me. I'm invisible. But now I can see in the structure's shade.

I paddle past the spot last trip I saw a green backed heron. Not this time though. Not today. Someone on the bank ahead wears a white tee shirt. Three boys are fishing. No poles, just hooks on line. They think maybe they're fishing for trout. I caught trout that way in the Sierras many years ago. You have to be patient. No, I can't give rides in this kayak, it holds only one.

Around the bend, a soft high pitch call captures my attention. It's familiar, but I can't place it. I see only leaves above. Wait! There's an odd bump at the top of a tree. Where are the binoculars? A waxwing! Pale yellow belly makes it a Cedar Waxwing. No wonder its call was familiar, yet not. only Bohemians are found in my old home territory, so I have a new bird to claim today.

I've been an hour on the water. If I turn back now I can rinse Merlin, feed the animals, pick up the kayak cart at the store and still have time to walk Sam before dark. Back I go, past the fishing kids. No luck yet? Don't give up. Fish are starting to jump now.

Under the bridge, powerful strokes to move me fast, away from the roaring cars, back to the opera. There is the voice. I slow again. No heron on the snag. I scan the banks. There! Standing in the water, hard to see in the shade of the overhanging trees. Up go the binoculars. I'm looking into its eyes. It's looking at me. Last trip a curious heron circled twice above me, just beyond my reach. Maybe this one?

Paddle on, through the opera. No need to look up this time. No need to wave. The voice is everything. I am suspended in sound. I smile.

It happens then. One of those fleeting moments of perfection when I lose track of Me and am aware of being All, then soon as I am aware of this awareness I am back to Me, but that fleeting moment is sublime.

I paddle on, sun at my back. No squinting now. The river becomes a dark mirror reflecting sky and greenery. Merlin's bow soars above the trees. Am I paddling or flying? Maybe both.

I'm back before I know it, loading kayak onto car, getting on with other things.