Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Next Generation Paddlers: Day 28 or so

Housekeeping: Dear Reader, I wanted to give you an entire slide show of pictures but Husband's computer won't let me. Here are a few, a taste, a tease. I'll send more on Saturday morning, from the air-conditioned comfort of my own home!

Here at summer camp for grown-ups, certain times of the day find the residents a bit edgy and irritable, a bit tough and tired, and generally difficult to be around. This time of day usually correlates with our disembarking from the bus, damp, dirty and slightly dehydrated, to find the showers completely full and a line at the coffee guy’s iced mocha station. Only one person in this entire camp seems to hold a permanent smile, an enduring grin and full-faced welcome to any passing paddler. Little Odessa, the youngest camper and the new baby daughter of a Paddle Georgia coordinator, wins the prize for the cutest, smiling-est, cooing-est baby I did not birth. It warms one to the core to see her laughing eyes and fluffy black hair, to see her being passed around and clearly enjoying every lap she happens to grace.

Watching Odessa this afternoon, for the first time I had the thought “I could do this again next year.” Can you believe that, dear reader? What would possess me to live with 300 other people, in June, without decent shower facilities, ever again in my life? Curiosity, I guess. I want to check in with Odessa at a year and four months. She also reminds me of another little girl I’ve watched for a number of years: Ramsey Cook, the vivacious and lithe daughter of our patient Leader Joe. Between the two of them, these young ladies turn my thoughts to the kids of Paddle Georgia. What’s this whole thing like from their eyes?

I miss my boys, so in general, I’ve avoided the children participating here. I am not one of those meet-and-greet-every-child type adults who likes to carry on conversations and find out the favorite ice cream flavor of the boy on the bus next to me. I think kids appreciate me more for not taking up their time, anyway. The kids here seem especially busy and clever at figuring out ways to entertain themselves. For example, today I walked into the gym and found a group of about six of them taking turns spinning each other down the halls in a rolling, commercial sized trash can with a fresh black liner. (When Husband saw that, he said “oh, yeah. That’s what I would have done, too.) They play tag, ducking behind vending machines and crouching below the bleachers. They hula’ed with Hula Girl’s hoops, until they got bored with it.

On the river, the kids play pirates. Sometimes we’ve come upon a canoe of them tucked into a tributary or under an overhanging rock, ready with their pumps to ambush some other boat. We paddled for a while today behind a canoe with three boys in the age range of six to ten. They dipped their paddles in the water here and there, but mostly the conversation tended towards establishing the rules and order of the canoe domain. Farther down river, as the sun burned our skin a light pink and the cows came down the bank to blink their slow eyes and all the paddlers, a boy hollered for his dad. With panic in his voice, he yelled “Dad, Dad! There’s a spider in my boat!” The father responded with a concern as slow and lazy as the river, asking “Is it bigger than your hand?” His son ignored him, claiming “I told you there were bugs in my boat.”

Listening to this, watching the kids find their places and establish a comfortable domain in the midst of all these wacky strangers, one thinks of the next generation of paddlers. What confidence they will have; what comfort with their surroundings and the outside world, as comfortable as little Odessa is now with any fawning adult who springs into her line of vision. They may not remember all of this experience (come to think of it, I hope I don’t remember all of this experience), but it shapes them. I’ll certainly remember one image from the day, even if I don’t know any of the kids’ names. Stopped at a testing site for water monitoring, Husband and I found ourselves alone on the river. From around the bend came a little girl, one of our group, standing on her kayak like a raft. She looked to be about six or seven. Her blonde hair wisped behind her like spider webs; she kept her eyes focused straight ahead, standing with one foot on either side of her blue kayak. Her paddle dipped first on one side, then the other, making tiny whirlpools in the water behind her. We watched her pass us, a tanned sprite, a Huck Finn concentrating on her own private journey. Then she was gone.


  1. Oh, you make my heart ache to see my little girl! Thanks for the insight into the journey... I love the way you see it!

  2. gosh, this was beautifully written.

  3. Dear Chronicler,
    Well, you may have been avoiding the kids but you more than made up for it today! Today's blog was the best so far, and may I say none have been shabby, even if your lodgings were. How about a whole week of no rain on the rivers? It could have been wet and chilly, aren't you fortunate to be in this creation all week!