In a world filled with uncertainty, nature is a constant. No matter what happens in the world of humans, nature performs its magic, whether it is the river flowing or the birds migrating along the same route that they have flown for centuries or the flowers that magically pop through the snow early every spring.
As we humans experienced lockdown and social distancing, we could go outside and watch the river flowing and we could listen to the bird songs and we could feel the soft wetness of a gentle midsummer rain. And we could hope for better days to come.
One of the better days that came occurred on the last Saturday of July at Beaver Island State Park. It’s an annual event called “Paddles Up Niagara,” and it’s sponsored by the Niagara River Greenway Commission, along with the Grand Island Recreation Department, State Parks, and the Buffalo-Niagara Waterkeeper. This year marked the fifteenth anniversary of the event. Well, it would have been the sixteenth year if it hadn’t been canceled last year. Some people, however, didn’t recognize the cancellation. One lady named Maryann said that she and her friend Mary were determined not to let a year go by without a Paddles Up event. So they called their own event Paddles Up Solo!
And so, the two ladies found their joy in the midst of a pandemic. Out in kayaks, just the two of them. Experiencing the river on their own. Fast forward to this year’s event. For me, it’s new and different. I have gone to several of the events to interview people and to take pictures. One thing that I never did was paddle in the event. I’ve paddled in other places, but never in Paddles Up, except for a brief private kayak lesson that I had a few years ago.
This year, my journalism teammate Karen and I were there to paddle, as well as to collect information for an article for the Island Dispatch.
When we arrived, it was a little before eight o’clock in the morning. The water was still and reflective of the clear sky. I felt the sand going into my sandals. I looked across the water and saw greenery amidst the placid water. All was good, calm, and peaceful. It was the river welcoming me home.
It was the river enticing me to come closer and to look at the stones at the bottom and to look across the water to Canada, where I could see houses and cars and trees. And it felt almost close enough to touch. Almost.
More people came, bringing kayaks and canoes. There were big people, little people, and even a few dogs. Altogether, there were nearly 300 paddlers. All were ready and excited about paddling after a year’s interruption. All felt that pull to the water. There was that nervous energy, which was reflected in the water. It was no longer still and reflective. It was now slow dancing beneath a late morning sky. My energy was focused on the water. And, before long, Karen and I in our tandem kayak that we had rented from Blue Water Marina were pushed off. I watched Karen paddle and I maintained her rhythm and we headed toward the middle of the river, outside of the beach’s swimming area. We were surrounded by kayaks of different colors. So many kayaks coming together, creating, for a brief time, a community of kayaks.
Time moved more slowly in the river. The clouds pranced above us, reflected in the moving water. They reminded me that humans are not the center of the universe but just a part of it. Then the waves came and we rocked from side to side as we entered the lagoon. In the lagoon, everything was green, both on the shore and in the water, which was filled with vegetation. I wondered how much of the vegetation was native and how much of it was invasive. We saw an osprey perched on top of a tall tree, sitting and watching. Ospreys feed on fish so it was probably looking for food.
We circled round, traveled through the waves rocking us from side to side, past the swimming area, and back to the place where we started. We were changed, but the same. We’d experienced a piece of joy, and it felt good. I felt as if I had never been away from the river. It felt like home, and home is the best place.
I asked Karen for her impressions of the experience. She told me that she felt exhilarated by the experience. “I was amazed at the ease with which we could accomplish this kayak trip! People were really friendly and helpful.” She described the kayak as “perfect and comfortable.” She added that the experience was made good by the organizers’ “great planning.” Also, she pointed out that, for her, the adventure had its challenges. “I got a little motion sickness during the return trip on open water, where the wake from boats near the marina began to get to me. Otherwise, smooth sailing.”
Smooth sailing indeed.
I am looking forward to my next kayaking adventure in the Niagara River on August 18th.
We concluded our adventure at Bogey’s, the restaurant on Beaver Island State Park’s golf course, where the paddlers were treated to a free hot dog and beverage. And companionship, which is truly a priceless gift.