Friday, January 22, 2010


I've never read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, okay, sue me. This Annie Dillard classic has been bandied about among people I know and admire for a couple of decades. But I felt like I heard a big piece of the book when a friend, Laura C, took from the book that we live at the backwaters—that back and forth at the ocean where the water is headed out to sea and headed inland, always back and forth. She did that kind of motion like when you are icing a cake, big strokes back and forth. I remember using chocolate icing as a child for this purpose and I also remember that I never knew when to stop. It felt like I should go on spreading for eternity. And that's what the ocean does with its' waves and what the river does with the water that meets the sea.

On a Sunday in August, I woke up early in the morning. This was after a wedding that I had officiated, my first. I was not drunk or hungover, but I was drunk with the sense of being "on" all weekend, talking a lot, trying to well you know, behave. Heck, the 41st President and his wife had been present at the wedding. It was a lot to take in and a lot to preside over. But Sunday morning was mine and I was preparing to do what I had been waiting for all weekend. I jogged down to the marina in Kennebunkport, Maine, just a mile or so from our hotel and I rented a kayak and paddled it upstream, up the Kennebunk River.

This was what I had been waiting for all weekend, some time to myself. This was my time to think about Maine and this river, my family and Jesus and how much I enjoyed being priest for those gathered throughout the weekend. I felt like it was just me and the Holy Spirit using the water behind the big yachts as eddies, or small pockets of calm water, to navigate and then ferry across the upstream current and paddle hard forward so that I could slowly and steadily make my way through the town center, under the rickety old wooden bridge and into quieter parts of the river upstream. Once past the bridge I was about a mile and a half away from the ocean and moving farther away. I would move back and forth from river right to river left, wherever the smoothest line of travel seemed to be. I tried to make quiet, subtle, yet powerful strokes, powered by good body rotation where my shoulders twisted and swung forward looking for a smooth place to catch the water and poke the paddle below the surface. I'd make my strokes fairly short as not much power is produced once the paddle has come even with the hips and then I would pull the paddle blade from the water and swing back for another stroke, while the power phase was occurring on the other side of the kayak and my body.

I navigated the small rapid that was present at this particular tide-level, the one near the practice putting green at the golf course where we had played a round two days before. I was really getting the hang of this craft now and having the quietest calmest fun imaginable. Two more miles I paddled up the river, navigating mostly a steady upstream flow of water, but on two occasions some rocks and rapids that took a bit of planning and strategy. I waved to golfers and thought how glad I was to be in the water now rather than on the grassy fairways. Golf had been fun, but this was better.

I dreamed that I would make it to where the river was no longer navigable, but I had no idea where that might be and finally at a left hand bend in the river, and a cabin up on the river left bank, I turned my craft around and began my return. Now I could really move as the downstream steady flow seemed to rocket the kayak forward. There were no waves, only the sense of the people mover at the airport moving underneath the plastic between me and the water. Before I knew it, I was darting under the rickety wooden bridge which marked the town center and I already had a plan that I would go past the marina and out to sea. For all the fun I'd had, here was the best part--the backwaters, where the waves of the ocean met the river. I was flanked by the mounds of boulders that were placed at the inlet to slow down the oceans force so that crafts could calmly navigate the river. I paddled past these boulders and into the open waters. To my right was the beach that we had played at yesterday with hundreds of other tourists. Man, was that water cold, even on a sunny August afternoon. To my left, as I went further over the waves, and mind you these were not breaking waves, but choppy rocking waves that the kayak seemed to roll over as if it were exactly what the plastic had been poured and molded to do. To my left was St. Ann's By the Sea. I'd thought it so beautiful all the times I had gazed on it in the last four days, but no vantage matched my final view, this view from the ocean. The church was on it's own peninsula that jutted out into the Atlantic. The grass in the front yard was as green as the 13th fairway at Augusta National. The stones which shaped this chapel seemed to be placed perfectly and awkwardly, not with precision, but with love in a kind of jumble. Various amounts of concrete and mortar could be seen between the stones and it was as pretty as a gray and brown colored building could ever be. This was the pride of this small New England port town and I could see why. Upon seeing the structure, I remembered all that we had done there the day before. Congregants promised to watch over the fledgling couple. I said a prayer for the newly married and the beauty of this morning, the gift from God to put me right there in the particular moment in the backwaters where time seemed to stand still and the waters stood still not knowing which H2O's belonged to the river and which molecules belonged to the ocean. I turned my kayak 180 degrees and headed back to the marina. My Maine vacation was complete and I could turn to other things.
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