Castleton-on-Hudson, NY – June 25, 2013
The river is a sheet of moonlit glass at 2 am. It slips backwards and up, flooding the small beach around my boat as I pack and push off into water. I’m the only thing moving beyond the slow inhale of current with the rising tide.
I drift upstream. Miles melt behind me in the dark. Towns pass as collections of yellow-white lights until the stars glow faint overhead and the sun brightens the eastern sky.
The river holds its breath for moment then exhales, shifting backwards, receding toward the ocean a hundred miles away. The boat feels heavy again so I find an island, string a hammock in the shade between two trees and sleep until voices wake me up.
“If you knock us over I will kill you,” one shouts.
A mom and three kids are paddling out. I watch the current slip under their bow and I look at my watch. The thin beach has stretched into a wide crescent as I slept. An hour more and the river will shift back, breathe in again, eat away at the sand, and I will go with it.
The water is barely salt anymore, but the ocean still pushes and pulls at it from the mouth, turning the current four times a day in six hour shifts that give the Hudson it’s native name, Muhheakantuck, the river that flows both ways.
The tide is the last piece of the ocean pulling at my hull, the last thread connecting me to the Atlantic. The waves are gone. The salt, the beaches, gone. Only the tide remains, lingering on that thread, stretched thin, waiting to snap away.
I sleep again on a beach just past an old railroad bridge, drifting off while a thick fog swallows the night. Everything is still when I wake at three, still and low. The water shines black in the moonlight and reflects the sky like a pane of glass.
I reach the lock and dam at noon. A moment on the radio, then the giant doors yawn open as gears groan under the weight. They crash against the wall with a boom, then stand silent, hanging open and waiting.
I slip inside the five-hundred foot long chamber and stare up at the concrete walls rising high above me. I hear the lock grumble to life. I hear metal grind metal. I hear the final clang of doors shutting behind me, of the ocean’s last thread snapping apart like a broken bone.
Then silence as I rise away.