It's not that far to the wilderness when you're on the water. Get a little beyond the distance you can easily swim to shore, and you're there. Last weekend I set out with Rick Jackson to paddle around Bainbridge Island. We did the first half of the 25 mile circumnavigation, paddling from Manzanita Bay to Eagle Harbor. We had neep tides for this paddle - halfway between the full and new moons when the tidal currents are modest. And the weather was terrific. Light winds and one of the first really warm, sunny days of spring.
It was a great reminder that I don't do enough paddling when I'm in Puget Sound. I spend so much time in my kayak when I'm leading summer trips in Alaska, that I can let months go by during the winter without feeding the inner aquifers of physical well being and emotional resilience that come so naturally on the paddle. I get caught up in my work, and before I know it, the winter has slipped away. This year I vowed not to let that happen. If there is one thing I've learned as an activist, it is that regular time in the body and in nature are essential to keeping my balance. I've been on my bike a lot more this winter too, for the same reasons. When I'm fully engaged in a physical activity, immersed in the rhythms of the natural world, I find refuge from the temptations of overwhelm and despair. I experience an immediate aliveness, both inside and outside my body, that is always there waiting for me. And I experience the satisfaction - endlessly renewable - of doing something that leans in the direction of my core values.
It's a remarkable thing. Nothing has changed in the grand scheme of things. The world is still burdened with the same problems and vexing challenges. But in these moments of physical refuge, my body remembers what it was put here for, and my mind follows the body's lead into a direct experience of well being that is no longer hostage to the usual intellectual contentions with reality. I emerge with a renewed capacity for hope that is not tied to any specific results.
And in the process, I see, hear and feels things that I would otherwise have completely missed - in this case, the braying of sea lions hauled out on the channel markers in the Sound, the mesmerizing interplay of light and waves on the water that calm nerves and delight the senses, brightly colored star fish and sand dollars in the inter-tidal shallows, the cold salt wind that quickens my heart as I come around into open water. Each sensation anchors me in the aliveness of the moment at hand, because our senses are always only alive in the present moment - this breath, this play of wind on the face, this bark of seal, or call of kingfisher. It is only the human mind that wanders aimlessly off in the dark alleys of past and future imaginings.
When Rick and I pulled into Eagle Harbor we were both bone tired, and completely satisfied. It was the first paddle of significance for me on Puget Sound since I ended my year in circumference. What a great feeling. Even the stiffness in the body that lingered for several days was a reminder of how much had been revealed to me. We will finish our circumnavigation of Bainbridge in a few weeks, and in the meantime I have plans to paddle the estuary sloughs of the Snohomish River with friends next weekend. The path to wildness is everywhere, if we remember to deploy our senses, right where we are.