I slide the kayak off the roof racks and balance it on my left shoulder—it weighs less than the double stroller I heaved in and out of the back of my car for three years—and ease the boat into the water near the culvert. Bullfrogs thrum in the wetland across the road, and green frogs twang on the edges of the pond. A small painted turtle hovering in the shallows dives away at my approach, and I hope I've frightened it away from any ideas of crossing the road.
I bought this boat on a whim a few weeks ago. I was mad because I'd been made to work on the Sunday of Memorial Weekend, and the sporting goods store was having a sale. So I decided to treat my ill humor with a little retail therapy on my lunch break. Only it wasn't a whim, because for years I've thought how nice it would be to have a little kayak for exploring the ponds and bogs and swamps near my home. But I thought that if I had one kayak, I would need five, plus some enormous vehicle in which to tote both boats and family.
The boat glides through the tall rushes of the outlet channel and out into open water. Usually I like to paddle along the northern shore, nosing among the pickerel weed and lily pads and watching whirligig beetles twirl, but today I've been staring down a threatening thunderstorm, and now that the dark bank of cumulonimbus clouds has passed on, I have only half an hour before I need to hurry home, cook dinner, and drive kids to their soccer game. So I paddle straight across the pond, heading for the northern shore.
It's easy to forget, when you're a mom, that you can do things by yourself. By "can" I mean both "are cabable of" and "are allowed to." The latter makes some sense; after years in which peeing alone is a triumph, you tend consider the people you gave birth to extensions of your own body. "Whither thou goest" and all that. But the former is crazy. Motherhood is a job that requires the knowlege of a complete set of encyclopedias, the organizational skills of a NASA ground crew, the control of a drill seargant, and the patience of Mother Theresa. Yet somehow raising children makes us feel unequal to other tasks. How much of that feeling is inherent, I wonder, and how much dictated by society?
I paddle northward, into a wind that rumples the dark surface of the water, calling gelatinous core muscles into duty. This pond is only two miles from my house, and it's small, only about 22 acres in area and 18 feet at its deepest point. But there are only five houses on its shore, all on the southwest corner. With the road and the houses at my back, I might be paddling into the wilderness. The eastern shore is edged in hemlocks and, beyond, a wooded hillside. To the north stand the spindly forms of larch trees, rising from a sphagnum bog. Tree swallows perch on the bare upper branches of the larches, chittering and making forways over the pond to snap up bugs.
Sheep laurel grows dense along the boggy shore, bright with magenta blooms. Turqoise pond damsels dance along the edge between water and land. I nose my boat between two hummocks to get a closer look at a pair of alien-shaped pitcher plant flowers and notice a small pink blossom, then another and another and another. Calopogon orchids have come into bloom in the last two days.
I take photos and make a few quick sketches, but all too soon duty calls me back across the pond. I paddle straight and steady, the breeze now at my back, my abdominal muscles remembering that they once had structure. I lift the boat out of the water and onto the car, cinching it down tight, and drive home with the wind blowing through my hair.
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