To the Pond: The Secret Canoe

the secret canoe & blue kayak

Today I water the ducks and pick up apples before I depart. It’s late afternoon, the kids are at soccer with Josh. It’s hot for the second to last day of summer. The sky, a stunning blue, feels like a portal of joy. The leaves look dry, some curling, more changed already since yesterday. I carry my phone and take photos of exploded milkweed, tiny green apples hanging from leafless trees, the expanse of the field. I find a stick as I walk and tap it lightly on the ground. Up the little hill, passing the overgrown yard of the old cabin where George’s daughter once lived, I walk at a quick pace, my mind wandering.

I go to the woods alone, writes Mary Oliver, without a single friend. And I understand this need. To be alone in this slant of light between lush August and barren November is a kind of magic. The veil between worlds seems to lift this time of year — autumn, day of the Harvest Moon. Later, this moon will rise through the trees and I will go out into the wet grass to spy it. All night I will wake intermittently to see the streaky light out my window. I will roll from side to side and reposition the pillow I rest a leg on and feel the light of the world swaddling me.

in the field

Today I reach the pond with a sense of beginning. I take out the blue kayak I bought Josh for our tenth anniversary, but mostly use myself, and paddle around the pond. A slight breeze skims the surface, a bird hovers over the shallow waters near the mouth of the small stream that leaves the pond to eventually join Lake Champlain. I cut across the middle and marvel at the depths, the dark silence beneath me, and then I follow the shoreline to where the secret canoe is hidden.

I found the secret canoe a week ago. It’s well hidden if you’re not looking for it, but once you’ve noticed it, it’s not. Someone has also pounded two nails into a tree and hung the canoe paddles. Along the east edge of the pond, the property only extends inland enough to create a border along the water. But other properties stretch out behind this, into a wooded terrain that has felt vast to me in my wanderings.

I go out today along the well groomed trail, wide enough for a car to pass, much like the pond road. With my phone I track my location against an arial photograph of the property lines. It’s hard to follow exactly. The trees grow tall and thick creating a canopy that blocks out the light and keeps the underbrush sparse. I love the cedar and pine, the old oaks whose branches long ago twisted to reach the sun. I feel the deep comfort of breathing forest air, smelling the scent of this place, touching the bark of its trees.

Last fall, I got lost running on trails like these; stuck in a field, I couldn’t find my way out as the light fell and the owls began to bark. I was hardly clothed. It was a similar warm fall day, but the coming night brought a chill. I’d been running all summer. My body strong and muscled. Finally, I figured out how to backtrack. Only the smallest part of me grew fearful that I would not find my way out, that I could somehow be lost in these acres of wood between two parallel roads not quite miles apart. I wondered what it felt like to be truly lost. liberating. Even if I fell and couldn’t move, I’d likely survive the autumn evening. Josh would somehow find me. Right?

I made it out last year, just as Josh and the boys were headed in on the neighbor’s ATV. I laughed at the idea that they could have found me, so intertwined and unnavigable were those woods to me. So many paths and roads and fields that didn’t lead out. But that is what I want from the woods. The delicious aloneness of these trails where the changing light of the seasons and the coming and going of foliage offers an ever-changing perspective. It is here I find a sense of my own smallness; a smallness that reveals my connectedness to all things. It is here the aura of the living world surrounds me in its richness.

Back in the blue kayak I cross the pond to our little dock. I walk back home along the familiar path, filled with wonder and hope and gratitude.

growing towards the light

Published by

emilyarna

Writer, teacher, essayist, author of the essay collection Made Holy from the University of Georgia Press (2019). Mother of two boys, runner, and activist. Wife and partner to Kindergarten teacher and singer songwriter, Mr. Martin.

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