This is not the average place from which to consider feeling uplifted and engaged:  I’m back in Georgian Bay.  It’s so damned beautiful.  Windblown, hardscrabble trees; changeable blue water; that magnificent smooth rock of the Canadian Shield, worn down from millions of years of glaciers and storms.  Samuel Johnson said that if you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life, but I think those words are even better said about Georgian Bay.

Besides the beauty though, the thing that really moves me is being in, on, and close to the water.  The signature picture of this blog says it all:  as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t get much better than diving off a dock.

Although, then again, maybe kayaking comes close.  Today I took a fiberglass kayak out for a paddle around some of the little rocks and islands that surround the cottage.  I hadn’t been in a kayak since I was fifteen, so I started by clinging to the shoreline, but as I got used to the boat – its feminine roll under my hips, the way the water dripped back in if I raised the paddle too high, the slap of the water against the hull – my confidence came back.  Soon I was scooting out across the small expanses of water between the little islets, watching the depth carefully so I didn’t accidentally run aground.

It felt incredible.  Here’s what I saw:  a dozy cormorant, as surprised by me as I was by it, took off from the water right beside me; a monarch butterfly kept me company at my furthest point from land; a mysterious, glinting shape in the water turned out to be a leaf – one’s of fall’s first casualties.  And beneath me and the sparkling water, I watched the submerged round rocks of the bay, now deep and dark, now just inches from my paddle.

This was more than fun – this was joy.  Which made me wonder:  is water almost universally engaging?  Think of the ways we express our love of water!  Houses with ocean or lake views always sell at a premium (“buy waterfront,” my mother used to say, “they’re not making any more of it”).  We love holidaying by water, be it on beaches or cruises.  We love to play in and on water:  we swim, Sea-Doo, water ski, snorkel, scuba dive, play water polo, fish, do synchronized swimming, surf, wake board, use myriad kinds of boats and generally frolic.  And we even bring water into our dwelling spaces…we love fountains, swimming pools, ponds and fish tanks.  We even buy CDs that play the sounds of the surf.

Being by and in water seems to soothe and uplift us, to make us feel alive.  Perhaps it’s because water itself often seems alive, moving and flowing like a life force.  Perhaps it’s because we carry a palpable sense of the hidden life in water, the fish, squid, clams, corals, sharks, whales, and strange deep water things that glide about, unseen by us but nonetheless teeming and vibrant.  Perhaps it’s because it’s really that water keeps us close to nature.  Or perhaps it’s a question of scale…that being by water is like contemplating the night sky, in that it reminds us that we’re really quite small in the scheme of things, a thought that is actually rather comforting?

And, of course, many of us have personal memories and attachments to water that are rekindled when we are near it.  Perhaps water holds them so well because, like land, it is an elemental force and has a capacity for multiple meanings.  In my case, it starts with the sense that I am from a family that is almost mystically connected to water.  My great-grandparents met at sea;  my great-grandfather was a ship’s pilot in Singapore; my mother was a long-distance swimmer, my grandmother always lived in homes that looked over water, as indeed did I until I was ten and we finally moved to the city.  Now when I’m by water, I feel like I’m somehow being true to a deeply embedded sense of identity, and that feels good, even uplifting.  It is one of the paradoxical properties of fun that we can experience it both by rule-breaking and setting ourselves free, and by feeling that we are being fully consistent with our deepest sense of self.

But beyond this familial connection, I’ve spent many days on water that produced the experiences and memories that tell me who I am.  There were the days that my brother and I used traps lined with bacon to catch Dungeness crab off the pier at Crescent Beach;  afternoons diving off the dock at the cottage with my cousins when I was eleven; moonlight walks on the beach with sweethearts in my teens and twenties; watching sunrise on the beach in Thailand one Christmas Day; bobbing like a cork in the Dead Sea; sitting in a rock pool with friends, eating oranges and letting the juice run all over us because we were already in water; swimming in the Sooke potholes the day of my friend Sarah’s wedding; floating my daughter in the water with her safe in my arms…the list goes on, and now I have today’s kayak to add to it.

I think there are two things that I will take away from today’s adventure.  The first is that water itself is a powerful source of fun, joy and life and finding ways to connect to it can be a great way to switch-on.  The second is that is that we are a sum of memories, and as much as these are memories of engagement and fun, then so we will feel buoyed and rich with the strength to make more.

Kayaking point of departure

The water beckons

Just add water

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