It was a sunny Saturday, and I needed to get outside. I wanted someplace a little wilder than the walking paths of Wellesley. I needed a place where I could go practically naked — that is to say, mask-free — without judgement. The Brook Path with its current joyless atmosphere was out. These days going mask-less on that stretch will get you as many raised eyebrows as going bra-less while wearing a white t-shirt on a rainy day. Across town, Centennial Park’s lot is filled to capacity the second the temperatures hit 50 degrees. And after the unwashed masses inundated Wellesley College and treated it like a public park, the school closed its property to all but students and staff, including the path that rings Lake Waban, so no to that.
Time to put my kayak into the Charles River, a place where I can just focus on what’s ahead in nature. There’s no need for me to look downriver and formulate a plan about what to do when I see someone approaching. River etiquette is simple. Keep to the right, give a friendly greeting, and enjoy the beauty. There’s plenty of physical room for everybody to socially distance, along with a tradition of riparian chumminess that settles down even the most uptight scold. It’s simply bad form on the Charles to shoot eye darts at those who are out there to literally breathe free. On this lovely and narrow, winding stretch of river, I’m reminded that not everything has been canceled. Spring is not canceled.
Spring is, however, taking its sweet time to warm up. One day the daffodils are in full bloom, the next they’re covered by a blanket of snow. The early morning temperatures stubbornly start out in the low 30s before deigning to rise into the 50s by mid-day, if we’re lucky. It’s going to be one of those years when spring is just plain lazy, barely even bothering to show up before it gives sudden way to summer.
Still, the simple act of floating along on water slows me down, sharpening my rusty observational skills. Emergent greenery is everywhere. The skunk cabbage pokes up in the swampy wooded areas. The birds are chirping their individual arias, poring out their souls to potential mates. Those who have snagged a partner are now perhaps wondering why they did so. Once coupled, there’s no more time for song. There are nests to build for babies that are coming soon.
I’ve been drifting for awhile, and I’m ready to get back to my own nest. Once I glide around the next bend I see it. My 150-year old cottage is just a few more paddles away. I purposely left every light on in the house before I set out. I wanted to see the windows aglow in the dusk as I paddled back home. There’s a chill in the air as the sun sinks lower, but the house is all lit up and I feel warm.
Pulling up slowly to the shore is different than roaring into the driveway. The kayak makes my return home a slower, less preoccupied experience. I always give the old place an appraising look as I make a water approach. The cottage could use a new roof. The grass is a little long, and the gardens look shaggy. I’d better put in an order for mulch and get cracking out there.
But mostly, lately, I see not a structure that needs this or that maintained, or a yard that needs to be tamed. Mostly these days, I see sanctuary. It’s home, ready to take me in and keep me. Now more than ever, I’m grateful.