The opening remarks to the class focused on a list of the many varied reasons why other kayakers enjoy their sport: “To see areas of the bay where nature has gone untouched;” “To meet new people;” “To see the Lotus' in bloom;” “To experience the great outdoors;” “To camp on island beaches,” were among the long and seemingly endless list of reasons. Each reason was accompanied by a PowerPoint slide for illustration. The slide set was, I admit, a beautiful collection of photos that many of us have snapped over the years. Gorgeous sunset scenes, islands covered with seaside goldenrod in full bloom, river scenes with tree limbs that overhang the water to form a sort of paddling tunnel, were among the many. I think I said something like “To capture Mother Nature’s beauty in places where others have not ventured”, which of course is ludicrous, because human eyes have seen every part of the Chesapeake. Still, I count kayakers and canoeists as members of a very small and select group that has had occasion to experience the beauty of the Bay close-up. We paddle the Bay’s waters in all kinds of weather; we land on shores that other boaters dare not risk; we camp on beaches and in seaside woods where few others have; and we see fields of water-borne blossoms that others will never see except in photographs. We are indeed lucky to have taken up this unique sport.
At the end of the sessions, all of those who presented stood on stage to field questions. By far the majority of these questions were technical. But one gentleman couched his question in the form of an unanswered statement. “This morning the introduction included a list of reasons why other CPA members paddle. I’d like to hear the reasons why each of you paddle.” Hmmm… Was this a trick question? Was this gentleman testing us? No, he was simply interested in hearing our responses.
Each presenter gave a very personalized and honest description of what motivates their paddling experience. As I stood listening to others, it occurred to me that I had overlooked my original reasons for taking up kayaking. The kayak is a means of personally re-visiting the rich history of the Chesapeake Bay using a similar means of transportation employed by early explorers – personal watercraft.
I tried to state my reason in words. It wasn't completely thought out, but I think some of the points came across because I noted many eyes brighten and smiles forming on faces as heads straightened to listen. I’m pretty sure I struck a note with many who may not have been aware that they too shared similar thoughts. The kayak has allowed me to visit the many towns and fishing villages built up around the perimeter of the Chesapeake by a water route. My view from the water must have been much like that of the early colonists.
This morning, as I sat in my family room reading a copy of Bay Country, I had a déjà vu experience. I’ve been here before, or I remember this scene. Well, it wasn’t technically a déjà ju experience. It was more like a sudden flood of very pleasurable memories, brought back by having shared very similar experiences in a similar setting. This morning’s experience was triggered by Horton’s descriptions of when he used to hunt geese with his father on the eastern shore. As a teenager, I too used to hunt the cornfields of southern Indiana with my father. Our game was rabbit and quail, not geese, but the memories of walking the fields with my father hold special feelings. As I read, I began to consider that paddling triggers similar feelings. Most often they occur when coming back to port after having completed a paddle that began in a village from where watermen work. I will look at the houses along the water, the docks, the curvature of the shoreline, the play of sunlight on the water and sky, and think, “I’ve come home to this port before.” I get a distinctly warm sensation of attachment that is difficult to explain. More importantly, I think it is that feeling of attachment that keeps calling to me from the Bay. Sometimes, I just can’t help but think that I really have paddled into those ports in some other life. Could this be the real reason that I paddle? Because I'm searching for my original home port?