Adjusting to River Time

By: Patrick Metcalf

Volume 15, Issue 7, July 2020

The journey to the River is a long one, and I am always happy to arrive…
However, I am road-weary, and a little ragged from several days of rushing around and tying up loose ends, both at home and at work, to make time to get away. My thoughts are still captive.  I wonder to myself… “What did I forget to pack?  Did I close the garage door before we left? Maybe I should call into work tomorrow and make sure everything is ok…”

After everything is unloaded, unpacked, and put away, I make an effort to decompress, to trade shoes for bare feet or sandals, and to trade everyday worries for a few deep breaths. I try to shift gears, slow down, relax, and live in the moment.

Photograph by Kathy Brady ©2019

I am glad to be on vacation, but worry and tension aren’t so easily vanquished. My brain won’t stop plotting the course to the next problem to be attacked, dismantled, analyzed, and resolved. I feel like I am still in a hurry to do the next thing and to rush to the next pressing issue. I am here, but my mind is still back there, unwilling to disengage from a set of problems that, fortunately or not, will patiently await my return.

Worry clings onto the back of my mind, anchored with stubborn, barbed tentacles, nagging and corrosive, like the green stuff that grows just beneath the waterline on the boat. It seems so resilient, so difficult to dislodge.  Scrubbing at first seems ineffectual, but on the second and third pass, some progress is made and eventually, to my relief, it starts to come clean. The urge to scrub is visceral and not closely attached to rational thought, and occurs at a level beneath my consciousness. Such menial tasks can be therapeutic. It gives me a place to pour out pent up frustration and anxiety. I can take the residual angst from there, and deal with it here. It allows me to take a few steps in the right direction.

Swimming off the boat, especially on a hot and sunny afternoon, is particularly helpful in focusing my mind on the here and now.  

Photograph by Tim Hodge ©2019

The temporary shock that comes from diving into the cold water provides an immediate psychological realignment. It connects me directly and completely to my environment. It brings relief from the heat of the day, and it is difficult to be distracted or moody after jumping into the River. There’s something inherently joyous about the time spent in our favorite swimming cove, which is often filled with many boats and people enjoying the sunshine and the cool, clear water. Each afternoon spent there is like a relaxed holiday vacation celebrating summer, and the River itself.

Several days into the trip, time on the River begins to feel different, flowing smoothly but without meter, relaxed yet still active. I realize I’m no longer wearing my watch. I feel little pressure to make decisions. All options for how to spend the day seem appealing, especially those out on the water. The River is vast and wide, the scale is almost overwhelming. There are so many favorite places to visit, and so many new ones to discover. There’s no need for a rigid plan. Each activity and adventure will find its proper place amongst the endless maze of forested islands, shorelines dotted with cheerful cottages and dutiful boathouses, granite strewn beaches and cliffs, and sheltered bays holding emerald green marshes full of cattails and water lilies.

Photograph by Jeffrey Cooper ©2019

As it all slows down, I start to measure time in sunrises and sunsets, in breakfasts and lunches and dinners, and in expeditions out onto the water to fish or swim or cruise. I measure it in cat naps on the hammock, hanging over a lawn dappled with sunlight, which cascades down through leafy green treetops. And in pages read in a book, which I picked-up again yesterday, that I started and had forgotten about on the last trip. And in bedtimes followed by deep and peaceful slumber, soothed by a box fan humming in the darkness, pulling in cool, northern, nighttime air.

Other things come to the forefront, moment to moment, and my senses come clearer. I feel the warmth of the sunshine and a slight westerly breeze on my face.  I notice the almost briny smell of the River as I am drawn toward it. I feel the coolness of fresh cut grass beneath my feet as I wander down the usual path to the dock. I notice the deep blue of the sky, contrasting sharply against the intensely bright formations of white clouds, like billowy mountain ranges on isolated islands, all drifting slowly in the same direction. The shimmering water of the bay is littered with boats, some moving decisively with a destination in mind, others slower, some pushed by wind, and some without sail are moored and going nowhere at all. I start down the dock. I notice that its boards are cracked and sun-bleached, seeming almost like neatly assembled pieces of driftwood. I stare out at the wind-driven whitecaps, moving methodically and hypnotically far-out in the middle of the River. There is almost too much for my senses to take in.

As I step onto the boat, it gives way a little, and bobs and tugs against the dock lines. I find a comfortable spot to sit, and I think about the depth and power of the River. I think of the craft I am floating upon as a conduit, gathering and channeling energy from this gigantic, dynamic, flowing body of water. It is an enormous ecosystem bursting with life, exerting tremendous force, perpetually in motion, so powerful and yet so subtle. I am enveloped in and calmed by its presence. I close my eyes and enjoy the gentle rocking of the boat, and I hear the sound of the water lapping at the sides. I hear the soothing drone of a boat motor in the distance, as well as a few seagulls, and maybe an osprey. My mind becomes quiet, peaceful, and still. For the first time in weeks, my entire body relaxes.

Photograph by Richard Noonan ©2019

I vaguely remember work. What was that thing I was so worried about a few days ago?  It’s difficult to say, almost like something from a nearly forgotten dream. When did I get here, and what day of the week is it? I am happy to realize that I am not entirely sure.

It takes a few days to slow down and settle in. It’s difficult to let go and to accept the mindset, pace, and the rhythm that the River provides.  But thankfully and at last, I am in this moment, and I am exactly where I want to be.

By Patrick Metcalf

Patrick Metcalf began vacationing in the Thousand Islands, more than 20 years ago, when his grandmother and her two sisters rented three houses for a week, each summer in Fine View on Wellesley Island, and invited their families from Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida. Patrick spends as much time as he can each summer, on the River, near Clayton, NY. He began writing to entertain his son Lee, who is now eight years old. Patrick resides in Shippensburg, PA, holds a Masters Degree in Public Administration, and is a Marine Corps veteran. See his works here.

Posted in: Volume 15, Issue 7, July 2020, Nature, Essay

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