If a man fails to honor the rivers, he shall not gain the life from them. — Anonymous
I was raised on the Alabama gulf coast. As far back as I can remember, I was sporting on the water. Coastal cultures are different from inland cultures: different values, hobbies, and mannerisms. So, it has always been with a bit of trepidation that I have moved to inland cities and towns, no less so when I moved to West Virginia. Fortunately for me, I met a man named Bob Spangler. Though he claims to be from these parts, I noted a glimmer of the coast in his eye. Did I mention coastal people are a little crazy? Maybe it is all that water seeping into the brain.
Nonetheless, Bob introduced me to another kindred water spirit, Attila, who designs and manufactures inflatable kayaks. I visited his shop, Custom Inflatables, and saw first hand the care and pride his team puts into the best inflatable kayaks on the market today. Anyway, I worked out a deal on a used “ThrillSeeker,” picked up a quality marine pump and was on my way.
While I have enjoyed rafting all my life, hard boating (the graceful swans of our sport) demands a skill set that some people find more difficult to master than others. But a ThrillSeeker! I could suddenly boat in my own craft down the Cheat Canyon. While such excursions are certainly a thrill, “harrowing” is also a word that comes to mind.
I have always enjoyed running the Narrows on my inflatable sofa: feet up, eyes on the sky; watching eagles and hawks watching us. I even invented my own water sport called “Guerilla Kayaking.” With my ThrillSeeker and pump tucked away in the trunk of my car, I can travel anywhere in America, scouting nontraditional put in and take out points. Or, I just put in. The take out takes care of itself. See, water creates community. While in landers may go about their own business, failing to look strangers in the eye, to seize the opportunities of meaningful coincidences, water people are much more sensitive to these nuances of human experience– to our interconnectedness with the natural world and with each other.
Yes, water creates community, and communities create questions: whose water is it? What are my responsibilities for stewardship of this resource? How does my relationship with the water mature?
But surely, the glory of the water is reflected in each of us, each time we choose to enjoy it in our own way. It is more than astonishing sceneries, or the mastery of mad skills. It is a heart-song we sing together: sharing paddles, food and drink, music, and remedies for poison ivy. It is a war cry: sounded and heard from a line run just so; from a friend who overcame a fear; from a drunken commercial raft who hits the rapid sideways.
Our water community is diverse. Answers to pressing questions will reflect that complexity. But we return to the water, time and time again, and each time we find our self.
Walt Turner recently retired from Bethany College where he was an Associate Professor of English.
Tundra swan photo by Derek Courtney.