The Aesthetics of Paddling

To me, paddling is all about aesthetics.

All paddling: flatwater, whitewater, freshwater, saltwater.

Everything about paddling is about an aesthetic experience – the boat, the paddle, the strokes, the water, the shore, the beyond.

How they all look, how they feel, how they sound.

Sometimes the aesthetics are mediated by adrenalin, sometimes by endorphins. Sometimes by muscle feelings, sometimes by mind feelings.

If paddling is aesthetic to you, I invite you here to give specific examples of why.

It could be something as grand as the aurora borealis in the wilderness sky on a midnight cruise, or as simple as your skimming paddle planing up shavings of crystal spray.

I could go on any on…

– Last Updated: Nov-23-09 2:52 AM EST –

My sleep schedule is all screwed up right now, so I'll be the first to post here.

I could write about all sorts of different things, but here's one recent example of what you call "aesthetics". Saturday I launched my guide-boat at 4:30 in the morning so I'd have time to go upriver and then schlep my tree stand and a load of gear into a thick swamp of black ash, and to reach a pre-chosen tree and be ready for deer hunting by about 6:30. The water was like glass, and it was SO foggy! I've been up and down that section of river so many times, as often in the dark as not, that I figured it would be an easy trip, but the fog was so thick in places that there were times I couldn't see anything at all. It was SO quiet too, except for a rooster way up the hill on the far side of the river, and with the first trace of dawn being two hours away I kept thinking of that stupid sleeping-pill commercial on TV.

When the fog was at it's thickest, I had to look straight up at the stars to stay on course, since at those times, not only could I not see shore, but I couldn't see any stars lower down toward the horizon either (the fog was low, so trying to see stars at a lower angle meant looking through a greater thickness of the stuff). At one point I knew I had to look out for the first obstacles, two groups of stakes and brush in the water, and as I tried to see if I was going to hit one of them, THERE IT WAS drifting past me not far away. Later there were a couple of times I strayed too close to the left shore, a place I wanted to stay away from due to a couple of rows of "planters" designed to keep restored vegetation safe from carp, and again, THERE IT WAS, the shore appearing out of nowhere right next to me. Easing my way between broken-down, barely visible planters in the fog wasn't bad once I was among them, but waiting to first see them was strangely spooky. It's bad enough to be looking very hard to see what's out there somewhere in the fog, but when rowing and only getting brief glimpses ahead, I'm all the more "on edge" when trying to make progress yet not run into objects that WILL turn up at some point. It's a hard feeling to describe - a little spooky - but I wouldn't trade it for anything afterward. Same goes for the way my bow and stern lines were stiff and frozen after becoming soaked with dew by the time I got to my stopping point, or the way the narrow part of the river farther upstream was like a winding black corridor through white, fog-enshrouded and frost-covered marsh grass. Another neat thing was that since the water is very clear this time of year, and shallow, that even in such dark conditions I could see the mottled pattern of river bottom passing beneath my boat. The noteworthy thing about this trip upstream was "atmosphere" - the kind of mood or setting that Hollywood movies sometimes try to duplicate but usually can't because nothing matches the real thing.

Kinetic Aesthetic
Well there certainly is a visual appeal that is purely aesthetic.

But the thing that keeps bringing me back is the motion.

The feel of the turn, surf, swell, acceleration.

Words will never describe it. You gotta feel it to know.

Kinetic Aesthetic Ecstacy.

Aesthetic transcendence
I love words, but when they’re about something that isn’t about words, they will inevitably fall short. For me, paddling, like instrumental music, isn’t about words, but I’m still ridiculous enough to now and then try, futile as it is, to share my experience of paddling with others…through words. Clumsy words trying to capture the sublime grace of a paddle shaping movement through water, as a bow shapes musical phrases on strings. As always, my words falling well short of their noble, yet impossible aspirations.

Every paddler reading these words doesn’t need them to know what paddling means to me, or to themselves. You only need to paddle. Still though, here are some clumsy words for you to trip over as they trip over themselves…

[Note: The words below are old, and I’ve posted them here before, so if you ignore them, I won’t mind. The more I paddle, the less I write about it, so I haven’t written anything for a while. I paddle, and that’s enough]

Random thoughts in search of a navigator

slender wood slips into the water

silently…yet with gentle purpose

my world slips by in silent contemplation

of nothing in particular

seal pup calls from somewhere

foghorn answers with its own plaintive call

i, however, am silent

incognito in the misty wonder

visibility: hardly

vision: infinite

i am a paddler

and this is my world today

if i smile in the mist

will no one see?

i am a paddler

so i smile anyway

and dip my paddle once again

into the deep mercurial mystery

Sings My Heart

dark purple sea

dreams in the light

of magic and moon

watersprite, awake!

it’s time to dance

give me your hand

i’ll take you where

gravity floats

and light sings her song

of uncharted depth

sings my heart

this silent song

sings my spirit

these waves of joy

give me your wonder

it’s time to float

i recognize this

my waterborne life

this undeserved gift

this dance of tides

bring me ever home

my sea of moonlit dreaming

to where nothing has a name

I went paddling today, and looked around at the familiar scenery. Each

time something came into view, my mind presented me with a word.

Driftwood; jellyfish; wave; seal; current; eagle; cat’s paw, and so

on. Then there was the bird that I didn’t know the name of, and I

thought about all the words in my mind, and about the missing word. I

liked the missing word best of all. Once again I remember…it’s time

to forget.

Even the loveliest of words can only dance around the truth of

something…or at best, walk us to the door and let us go. The irony

of me writing these very words does not escape me as I dance around

the truth of even this moment. Here I am, trying to write about how I

love it when the words fall away, and perception once again joins

breathing as an unspoken act of nature.

I went paddling today, and it took me, like so many times before, to

where nothing has a name.

Paddling good!


Man of Few Words

Yesterday a friend and I were having a conversation about the beauty of rough water and the how connected a sea kayak is to the water itself. We were dawdling in some rowdy spots among the rocks along shore as the other half of our group made their way in deeper water (and usually a good bit ahead of us).

I’ve done a fair amount of boating in keel sailboats in the past, and was noting yesterday that in a 30’ boat rough water is really nothing but a hinderance. It slows you down, makes the ride less comfortable, tips your drink, etc. It’s an inconvenience. The same waves toss a kayak even more, but the sensation is one of dancing, not of being bucked. When a kayak starts jumping around it feels purposeful and adventuresome - and fun! I’m not sure if the difference is a matter of physics or mindset.

That same on/in-water perspective of a kayak makes the scenary even more spectacular. Yesterday was a crisp-clear fall day. Temps in the 40s, and soft fall sun from dawn to sunset. In seven hours we saw a total of 3 other boats on the water - all working boats. The ocean and islands we plied, and the mountains which overlooked us, felt like ours alone.

Hard to beat, and I don’t know of any way I would rather spend a day.

Been out on Jocassee all day with the wind in your face.90 deg.Get to the main pool and the wind kicks up. It looks like the Atlantic.By the time you get to the ramp, you are physically and mentally cooked.

Stop at the BK for a Whopper and mega sweet tea.

That’s aesthetic.

Go west
"The same waves toss a kayak even more, but the sensation is one of dancing, not of being bucked. When a kayak starts jumping around it feels purposeful and adventuresome - and fun! I’m not sure if the difference is a matter of physics or mindset."

It’s the mis-match of boat and water. You can get the same “purposeful” sensation if you take your 30’ sail boat to the west coast when the wave is bigger than 6"!

Having learn to sea kayak in the west coast, I found the wave on the east more along the line of “inconvinience” you feel about your sail boat. I miss the “elevator ride” of the BIG water…

if a picture is worth a thousand words

– Last Updated: Nov-23-09 11:50 AM EST –

...... a day out paddling is worth a thousand pictures .

They say certain things we've seen/experienced get stuck (imprinted) in the minds eye , (a mind picture ??) . At some point or other something in the present , be it a thought , a cue of sorts , brings these mind pictures right up to the forefront again and for a brief time we relive as it were .

In another way to say it , my sweetheart has said on occassion , "you never know what memories you're creating" .

Aesthethics yes I'll agree , but more ... some things reach deeper into the soul , they dance with the spirit , they are and have become intergrated and woven into ... "your life" .

me on sailboats
I love sailing, and I’ve sailed 30-40 footers in up to 12’seas. I’ve had downwind sled-races in 8’ foot swell where we got a 10 ton 38-footer (a ponderously heavy boat by any measure) going 13 knots down the wave faces.

It’s true that can be fun, but more often on a sailboat I’m wishing the seas were flat and the wind was up. (and in a kayak I’m hoping for the exact opposite.) It’s probably my mindset as much as boat design. I usually sail with kids aboard, and I kayak with a couple rough-water nuts. That certainly affects the priorities for a day on the water.

It’s more mindset than physics.


Paddlers Place Discussion forum topic
where it will last longer on the first page.

Beauty is in many places
I’ve heard many complaints about there being “no good places to paddle” where I live. True that this is no paddling mecca; venues are limited.

But “limited” is not the same as “none.”

You asked for examples of where we find beauty in paddling. Here is just ONE of mine, and in the season I dislike intensely (winter):

The sun has been out long enough to beam away any remnants of frosty breath. In a lull between the forewarning day of chinook blasts and the arrival of the next cold front, we hustle out to sneak in possibly the last paddle of the season.

On this calm-before-the-storm interval day, there is no wind at all. The water lies absolutely still, its danger quietly tucked below. The only hint of its threat shows in the translucent skin of ice that has begun to stretch over the surface.

We bash that intruder! Bows spear the icy edge, rippling the water and shattering the newly-hatched layer into hundreds of tinkling sparkles. I laugh at these few moments of sun-drenched percussion, my kayak my xylophone. I know all too well that I will not laugh last, nor longest. Winter is here.

Someone said the creek or river is like
… a moving magic carpet. I think that’s true.

sound and motion
this picture Erik took of me is where I get spiritual on the water. Sucked into a hole, able to kneel and contemplate Gods nature, water turning to foam, fluid making sharp sounds,a set pattern of sound full of variation repeated. Watching the water undulate, seperate and reform, starting life calm, ending the same. Wishing I could do this forever, but unlike the river, realizing my time is limited.

my opinion …
after spending many yrs hunting and fishing, and the past few yrs hiking, plus having owned power boats before, I’ve found there’s a level of peace, tranquility, and serenity that can only be found in 2 places in this world…in the woods and on water. Paddling quietly down a creek or river or over a lake has got to be one of the most peaceful, serene things to do. It’s about the only time my mind is at peace, not worrying, or thinking of the political/economic bullshit in this country or world or the job or anything else.

It would have taken a 19th century New England poet to describe the perfect November melancholy on the lake yesterday. Everything in view was a shade of grey–the sky, water, trees, rocks. But then I spotted a rich brown color threading its way between the rocks on shore–a mink. It stopped so I let the canoe drift toward it as we stared at each other, motionless. The mink darted into its den, so I pulled broadside along the shoreline, six feet from the hole. I made a squeeking sound, and his head appeared from the hole, and we had another good look at each other.

I counted the day a success, and then on the other side of the lake saw something swimming rapidly toward shore ten feet in front of my canoe. My first thought was a muskrat, but then it climbed onto a downed tree trunk–another mink with a small fish in its mouth. Again, I drifted closer, and stopped ten feet from the mink and watched him smack down the fish. He wiped his chin and cheeks on the rough willow bark, preened a bit, and then I left him to await in his own way, as I will in mine, the coming of winter.

Good Stuff

– Last Updated: Nov-23-09 9:01 PM EST –

Mink are among my favorite animals often seen while paddling. Yes it's fun to "squeak" them out of hiding. However, it was three words, "perfect November melancholy", absolutely meaningless to someone not in-the-know, and more to-the-point than multiple pages of accurate descriptive writing to someone who DOES know what you mean, that made this post "click" for me.

I like
farting in my boat.

…and wondering if the fish hear it.