There is nothing more summer than kids jumping off a dock. The splash of water, the laughter, the smiling faces. Joy fills the air, sinks in the blue water, rises to the surface, glistens in the sunlight.
It’s all ice in winter. One big sheet stretching across Lake Champlain. Cold. Hard. Unforgiving. It feels impossible against the blue-green water and trees, against the laughter of kids jumping off the dock, against sunlight glowing down to the lake bottom and turning rocks into sapphires. It’s summer and warm and full of happiness.
The trip gets complicated now. Portages are coming. Dams. Rapids. Tricky rivers. Labyrinths of channels. Cold water. Big lakes. Forgotten paths.
Looking back it feels simple. Follow the border, turn right on Lake Superior, find the Mississippi and stay in the current. From New Orleans on, just keep the land on your left shoulder and the ocean on your right until you see New York. Take the Hudson straight north, go through a few canals, paddle up Lake Champlain. Nothing to worry about.
Of course it wasn’t that simple–portages, rapids, locks, barges, tides, barrier islands, marsh mazes, mangroves tunnels, salt water, tracking the intercoastal, motor boats, ferries, big waves, long crossings–but past uncertainty slips away after it’s done, bleached clean by knowing how the story ends.
The future’s still dirty.
Berney and John never met me before, but they saw right through me when I paddled up to their dock. They saw I needed a quiet moment before jumping into the stream again, a chance to not make decisions for a few days, to sit still, to laugh with new friends and cook dinner on a stove, to ride to town in a motorcycle sidecar and eat ice cream on the way back, to remember summer in the laughter of their grandkids jumping off a dock.