I have documented the attempted restoration of my eroded health in past letters, but while we were putting together this issue, I found new inspiration: In mid-August, I was going on a kayaking tour of the Merrimack River. You can read about the experience after August 31st by clicking here.
It wasn’t my story so much as the story of the others in my company, and of the river itself. Still, I needed to survive. My previous kayaking experience was limited to leisurely, albeit alligator-surrounded, trips on the Hillsborough River when I was teaching at the University of South Florida. Those short forays were meant more for mental than physical health — I was looking for solace and a sound idea or two. Then, I didn’t have to worry that my rhomboids would give out. In short order, I needed to ensure that I would reach journey’s end by boat and not ambulance.
To prepare, I made adjustments to my diet. I also signed up for a membership at a gym, and began going regularly. To achieve the requisite number of pulls, pushes and swings, I woke up earlier than usual. As the great saint of the river, Henry David Thoreau, said: “In each dew-drop of the morning/Lies the promise of a day.”
Added to my routine were unconventional exercises. For example, I practiced grip strength training, figuring that my pale, soft editor’s hands needed a little pumice and fire for toughening. Since the kayakers would reach points where we were required to portage, that meant bulking up my shoulders to support the weight of boat and gear. Enter the kettlebell.
All this was in service of the river. I had to approach with reverence. Here I would be, a leaf floating in the Merrimack’s haunted currents, following travelers who were themselves mere supplicants to the waterway that will outlast us all. I would ride on a path that brought sustenance to lost peoples and brings drinking water to those here now. I would survey deep time on a diet of tea and Clif Bars.
My biggest concern was being away from my family. I’d had the luxury of tucking in my children nightly, and the idea that I wouldn’t be there if they were hungry, scared or just in need of a hug was immensely sad to me. I’ve never been one for homesickness, but how would it feel at night as the stars struggled to drive light through the ambient glow of towns and cities? What fears would clamber on me in those moments and take me by the throat? I struggled, and failed, not to think about it.
Of course, as I wrote this, I didn’t know what lay ahead. I was still a month away from the early morning when I would rise, rub my eyes, and make my way to the water’s edge.