tisdag 3 september 2013

Varför tycker man om paddling...?

Här följer en liten essä om paddling som jag skrev när jag gick en kurs i "creative writing".
Sälar, mareld och stjärnhimlar förekommer såklart. :-)

The Greatest Sense of Freedom

Picture yourself getting out of a car on a snowy parking lot. It is really cold. Now, imagine stripping down to your underwear (yes, you are standing in the snow). Put on your kayaking clothes, carry your kayak from the car across the snow to the waterfront, wade out into water that is full of ice flakes. “Why would I do that? Are you insane?” you may ask. Well, maybe I am, but this is one of the big enjoyments of my life. Here I will try and explain why I love kayaking so much – in most weathers, and in all seasons.

Around 3 am, a starry night is at its most beautiful. One winter night on a small island I had to leave my warm sleeping bag and walk through the freezing wind to the outhouse. The moonlight was so strong that I did not need a flashlight. The sky was a deep, deep blue and I stopped to stare at the stars until my neck started hurting and I got very cold. I saw every single star in the Milky Way. Anywhere I turned, the starry sky went all the way down to the horizon, right next to me. The tiny island seemed like a planet, floating freely among all the other planets.

Another night, in October, there was fluorescent plankton at the beach where I was camping. Anything that you put in the water, such as your feet, or a paddle, or a kayak, was immediately surrounded by an explosion of fireworks. I forgot about time while walking and splashing up and down the beach line with my gumboots in the shallow water, watching the plankton light up around my feet.

The silence on a tiny island is something that I will never forget. The earth was so quiet, it seemed as if I was all alone in the world. A night bird at a far distance, a wave brushing against a stone, were the only sounds I heard, and I almost held my breath so as not to disturb the silence.

Strangely, standing there alone in the dark, I wasn’t scared. Instead, I felt sheltered and secure because I was part of this massive universe, and the universe became part of me. We are so small and weak compared to the rocks and the waves that we encounter, but that night made me trust that Nature will treat me kindly if I try to follow her rules.

Now, this may sound as if kayaking trips are usually pleasant, sunlit and starry? They can change quickly! You might have breakfast on a warm, sunny rock. You might even complain that your long-sleeved t-shirt is too warm – and just then, you might think that this is the day’s worst challenge. On this particular morning I even remember complaining a little about the heat.

Three hours later, in the middle of the ocean, just as I was beginning to get hungry, raindrops started falling. They fell so heavily, it hurt where they hit me. My anorak was soaked through within a few minutes, and my lunch was safely hidden somewhere inside the kayak, out of reach.

By now the raindrops were bouncing off the sea surface, bouncing higher than my head. The wind started to build up, and there was a dark, threatening wall approaching from behind. We met a single sailing boat – it slowed down, and the captain shouted, “Are you insane, what are you doing in these waters in this weather?” He offered to tow us to a safer place, but we declined. It was tough going, for sure, but we decided to pay the price because the reward is just that much bigger afterwards.

You need a lot of determination if the weather is against you. When you are travelling against the wind, stealing every inch of distance from the ocean, you cannot stop even for the shortest break. Why not? Because the wind is going to blow you back to where you came from. You have to keep pushing forward until you reach the next shelter. And the best strategy just then may be to try and focus on the happy things. How good a hot drink will taste, how nicely the clothes will dry in the sun once it comes out, how warm the sleeping bag will be tonight.

Every day in the archipelago we would have to make the big choice: Should we travel on the open ocean, or should we take the sheltered route among the islands?

The outside route is the tougher one. The waves will be bigger, the wind will rise faster, but here you can also get the greatest sense of freedom. On the open ocean, with waves breaking onto rocks right next to you, you can almost feel the ocean breathing underneath you. You will encounter majestic seagulls, perched on a rock in the middle of the water as if it were a throne.

On the other hand, the sheltered route among the islands has its charm, too. This is where you can find bird families in spring, mother and babies swimming so closely together that they look like a gray blob from a distance. Don’t try to get too close, or the mother will leave her children to try and distract you from them. This is also where you can find secret passages between the rocks, and you can play like a child, trying to navigate your kayak through shallow waters into the tiniest cracks.

If I see a black spot at a distance, my heart always start racing in the hope that it is a seal. Seals are curious and playful, and they seem to be attracted to kayaks. Why, I don’t know, maybe because a kayak moves slowly and without making any noise?

Seals enjoy sneaking up on kayakers from behind, and following the boat, so it is a good idea to turn your kayak and start paddling backwards if you are in seal country. They are not really shy, but they sometimes miscalculate how near they want to go. If a seal suddenly changes its mind and wants to get away from you, it will throw itself backwards with a splash that can make your heart stop the first time you hear it. On the other hand, if you are lucky, seals can follow you for quite some distance. I once had a group of twenty or so seals following me quietly for several minutes. It was like that children’s game where one person turns around and the others have to stand perfectly still. I enjoyed the game a lot, and I honestly think the seals did, too.

In autumn you see migratory birds flying overhead. For us humans a few kilometers are hard work, and these birds fly from the north of Sweden to Africa without ever complaining – how can they do it? And how can they beat their wings so fast while constantly chattering to each other? I admire their discipline, the way they keep flying in a perfect V formation, always knowing their place in the group. Imagine humans travelling together, they would want to switch neighbors and start arguing with the group leader about going too fast or too slowly…

Sometimes you see life and death at a close distance. One day in early spring we found several dead swans on an island. It had been a long winter, and they had probably waited and waited for the ice to melt. By the time they realized that the winter was longer than usual, they were too weak to leave the island, and died there. If only they had moved into a park in town, they would have been fed bread crumbs by chubby children every day, but how should they have known that? And would they have wanted that life?

A few months later I was camping within sight of a swan’s nest. Every morning I would see one swan sitting perfectly still on top of the nest, and its partner patrolling patiently nearby. But on the last morning they were moving freely on the water – and on the mother’s back there were three tiny gray heaps of feathers. New life.

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