Beyond Peanut Island – March 28, 2013
“Maybe I’ll see you in Montreal,” Davia said.
I smiled at her, squinting in the sunlight, wishing all signs were pretty blondes in bikinis.
“I should learn French,” I thought.
Nineteen days ago, when I landed a block away from the Southernmost Point, I tried to think of anything but the possibility of returning north. The idea felt too big and reckless, like it would devour the moment, overshadow the end of a nine month journey.
But the question refused to wait and rushed back in my head when two pretty women wanted to take a picture with me. I threw my arms around them, smiled for the camera, and asked where they were from. Portland, said one. Montreal said the other.
“So you know about the voyageurs,” I said.
“Les Voyageurs,” she said. “Of course!”
The French words floated off her tongue and made my voice sound boxy and harsh. I thought of Montreal and the Northwest Company canoes leaving for the interior, of tough Frenchmen with paddles and bales of beaver pelts, of water routes to the Northwest Angle and portages. I wondered what were the chances of meeting a French-Canadian in Key West and thought it was a sign.
“I’ve never been to Montreal,” I said.
“You should go,” she said.
I saw a lot of signs, not just in black bikinis with pretty smiles.
A map of a waterskiing team’s loop around the eastern United States. My aunt’s house waiting on the water in Miami. The Florida Paddling Trail stretching up the coast. Route 1 flipping from end to beginning if you walk across the street.
Canadian paddlers telling me stories about the North Shore of Lake Superior. John Buckley agreeing with them, saying it was like paddling through postcards, saying I should go sometime. A magazine picture of a horse on a barrier island in Virginia. My ex-girlfriend wondering why we never took a trip to Savannah.
The spare room in my friend Emma’s apartment in Brooklyn. The Canadian flag on a sailboat in Key West’s harbor. A guy named Mark who paddled the Hudson. Hitching a ride with someone from Thunder Bay.
An article on the Statue of Liberty opening in July. Knowing Burlington,Vermont, is the home of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. A second route to Lake of the Woods on the Kaministiqua River. The snow on every trip I’ve ever taken except this one. Wanting another chance to see an aurora for the first time. The idea that it might be possible.
Signs, all of them signs.
“But I spend winters in Delray Beach,” Davia said.
“Where is that?” I asked.
“North of Miami,” she said.
A week later I told her I would pass by Delray. She offered a spare room and her dock. It was the only sanctuary I had along the endlessly developed South Florida coast. It was the only reason I spent the last two nights sleeping. It was a sign.
They’re everywhere if you look, everywhere and in every direction. But they aren’t the universe telling you where to go or some higher power moving you with an invisible hand. They’re a Rorschach Test for your heart, a blank slate for your will.
I dropped off the dock and into the boat.
“See you in Montreal,” I said.
The signs say north.