The Depths Beneath

On the last warm day of 2012, I rented a kayak and paddled out into Lake Union in Seattle.

Just as I adjusted the rudder, guiding the bow east and across the lake, I was seized with panic. I thought of the depths below me. Fifty feet under my hull, there was only darkness. Not even that deep–but suddenly: What if? What if I flipped over? I’m not the strongest swimmer. So what then?

Would the boat capsize? Would I drown?

Would I die?

My little craft rocked against the wakes of the yachts and sailboats, and I gripped the cockpit rim. I was sure if anyone was watching, they would have laughed at my terror. How absurd I was.

And I was in the middle of the lake. Whether someone rescued me or whether I paddled myself, I would have to continue over the water one way or another.

Then I looked ahead of me, and instead of blackness, the lake mirrored the sky. The city filled the horizon, the highways I had known most of my life, the homes and schools and office buildings I had driven past many times–this is my home. I took up the paddle again and pulled myself forward. One stroke. Then another.

The depths were still there.

The possibility of an accident, however slim, still there.

Always there.

But so was the sky. So were the gulls. The sunlight.

Death is always there. Waiting. But in the meantime, there is life and beauty and light, and I squared my shoulders and paddled through the water, finding a rhythm, the craft gliding light and swift over the small waves.

I knew that now I had thought of them, the depths would be there  every time I kayak.

But I thought, too, of Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things.” It is possible to enter into that world “of wild things / who do not tax their lives with forethought / of grief.” If I let go, if I did not imagine too much, if I looked around at where I was and lived here, on this day, in this life, I could “for a time…rest in the grace of the world, and [be] free.”

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