2016 has been a 'Year of the Paddle' in our family. River journeys via canoe or kayak have long been an important part of our life....
2016 has been a 'Year of the Paddle' in our family. River journeys via canoe or kayak have long been an important part of our life. However, earlier this year, a chance viewing of 'Have Kids - Will Paddle' prompted a 'family movie night' focus on great canoeing journeys including Bill Mason's classic Song of the Paddle. The approach of my 40th birthday was also a factor (see Part 3: Coming home to the River for that particular story). So with reinvigorated interest, we embarked on some planning and active river journey effort.
And also just because, as the Water Rat said to the Mole in Kenneth Graham's Wind in the Willows...
And to continue in the words of Bill Mason, Song of the Paddle...
Some people hear the song in the quiet mist of a cold morning; others hear it in the middle of a roaring rapid. Sometimes the excitement drowns out the song. The thrills become all that matter as we seek one rapid after another. Sleeping, eating and living outdoors become something we do between rapids. But for other people the song is the loudest in the evening when they are sitting in front of the tent basking in the campfires warmth. This is where they hear it loudest after traveling for many miles to some distant hidden place.
We have just returned from a few weeks of immersion in this paddling life. Here are some of the stories described in three parts...
Part 1) Paddle preparation
Woodsman Dave crafted a families worth of canoe paddles. They are items of art, beauty and impressive function. Each paddle is inscribed with care, love and individual personality. Ten years in the making, Dave rescued the parent paddles from imminent bon-fire incineration as impulsive clean-up me got tired of their unfinished blocky shapes gathering dust in our shed. In solid block wood form, these non-descriptive lumps of timber were moved around the country side until this year they came out of storage and into the caring skilful attention of woods-plane and sandpaper. The nondescript timber now shine sleeky, smooth and glittery.
The kids paddles followed suit - as young attentive eyes watched the creative process of the adult paddles, they requested one of their very own. Our older and getting wiser eyes realised the benefits of fitting the kids out with paddles that are actually sized to their little energetic arms. If the paddles fit - they can actually use them - if they actually use them - us adults get the helping hand effort propelling the boat. This year's canoe journey's are the first where four active paddles propel the canoes forward.
As we dip each stroke of the paddle, we are connected with both our motor and our artwork. The feel of the blade gliding through liquid, sooths the paddler. The blade draws artwork as its lines of travel ripple through the water. You can feel the benefit - functionally the boat moves forward. Deeper within the same motion the body, soul and mind is smoothed and crafted by the gentle repetitive movement.
These paddles connect our little family of four; to each other, to the environment and to the art of messing about in boats.
Part 2) Have Kids, Will Paddle
September is Spring in our part of the world, and this Spring has seen the coming of the rain. Lots and lots of rain. The creeks, rivers and springs are all flowing. Nearby at Wangaratta, two rivers meet and mingle - our King River joins the Ovens River. The timing and river level is perfect for a long-awaited canoe journey: with friends Ben and Kate and dear little Maya (3yo), we set out on a five day journey from Wangaratta to Bundalong - where the Ovens River meets the backwaters of Lake Mulwala, and from there the Murray River.
Mullinmurr (Pangerang for Platypus) bids us farewell as we set out. The signs and iconography of the recently installed Bullawah Cultural Trail set the tone wonderfully for adults and kids alike. Negotiating the swirling, flowing waters brings initial 'getting to know you' apprehension as we push off from our quiet flooded backwater into the bulging and overflowing river bank. Swishing us downstream we settle into the stillness and movement that can sometimes come when you go with the flow.
The kids are very much excited by possibilities and realities of bird, animal and plant life we will encounter on the river. "Karsploosh" echos out in the forest puzzle us for a time, but then we see Kangaroos leaping waist deep in the flood waters, traveling from one dry patch of land to another. The River is full and overflowing. The liquid goodness is being gratefully received by the billabongs, trees, plants and ecosystems of the flood plain country that runs its narrow path adjacent to the river. Throughout the trip we share the dry patches of land with wombats, foxes, kangaroos, wallabies. We see red-belly black snakes curled up in the bark of river surrounded red gums. Above us the bird life is wonderful - nesting Spoonbills, Sulphur Crested Cockatoos singing their noisy song, Kingfisher, Cormorants. Wirra marks off all the birds he sees in the field guide we have brought along. His reading practice for the day is to negotiate the large list for the bird he is looking for - Latin terminology included.
Did I mention it has been raining?
On day 2 the rain comes down. Heavy, and for hours. Clad in our rain jackets the patter of rain makes itself felt on our bodies, but interestingly the spirits stay high - kids included. With our woollen layers we are warm, but soggy and uncomfortable. We paddle on enjoying it - strange to say but true. It is not a day you would venture into if you gazed out from the comfort of the couch. But being out and immersed in the weather - the colours, the textures, the activity draws you in.
We complete our day with a soggy lunch - dripping wet we crouch under a tarp and eat our energy food - yummo rice paper rolls. We decide to camp. As we set up tents and settle in, the water begins rising from the earth - as well as falling from the sky. A wet bog seems to be oozing its way through the slope and thick grass. Adults sigh - the wetness situation just went a tad too far . I've not seen this before, as areas judged as damp but reasonable become flowing surface water streams. Undaunted, our kids begin games of mudpies and merrily stamping pathways of oozing water and mud through the long luxuriant grass around camp.
We feel the impact of humans on the landscape. The narrow ribbon of flood plain forest is fenced in on all sides. .Since there isn't much flood plain not flooded - we are camped at the edge of these paddocks for nights 1 & 2. Wire, cultivated green grass paddocks and cows are our camping companions. Nights 3 & 4 we find little islands of dry in the bushland of the National Park. The wildlife is with us, and the beauty of the landscape makes its positive impact on our wild-seeking souls. The kids run carefree with the canoe - pushing it fast down old 4WD tracks now flooded and flowing off into the bush. Just to soak up more water they leap, splash and slip fully clothed into these novel creeks and water pathways.
The abundant water means that bushland for as far as our eye can see is immersed. We paddle through forests. The country you would usually walk through we can now, feeling magical, glide right over the top. The River bank is deep underwater in places - still able to be sensed and having a slight influence - but posing no particular barrier. The watery landscape is open wide.
We have to be careful to keep our sense of direction, tempting flowing waters beckon us on shortcuts. The map - this human creation that gives picture to landscape and direction - gives good guidance with Dave's attentive eye. We pull up at the novelty of submerged picnic tables - the top a perfect little stage for impromptu song. A bridge top is surrounded - the approach either side is submerged - no sign of the road that leads cars to this area in dryer season. The bridge deck a fun dry run around space for a short time. Lunch on Day 4, no dry ground sees us tie off the canoes to a fallen log. Three wallabies, in sight just upstream, gave us the idea. Their furry bodies sit perched atop a log - the waters swirling by. They sit it out, awaiting the outward tide of rivers flowing to the sea. They watched us paddle by - we get the hint - no dry land in this section - don't think about moving in here with us.
In the afternoon of day 4, we near the finish of the trip - we could paddle out now or camp one last night and have an easy morning paddle the following day. More rain is forecast. We hand the decision over to the kids. Smiles a-plenty - genuine ones - as Wirra and Inanay request to camp. Our last campsite is one of rippling shadows and reflections on a swollen river. Campfire marshmallows and wetland cubby play as kids and adults wade about in our neighbourhood setting up cubbies and creations in the dry nooks of trees stumps.
The whole way along we have been reading stories by Uncle Freddie Dowling - Pangerang elder. Grandpa Milawa's Stories and No More the Valley Rings with Koorie Laughter have been good company on this trip. We soak up the local stories and people of this river and country nearby. The stories lead our imaginings - we see landscape and a culture that loved that landscape. We see our history and the trauma of it (written with a gentle respectful manner so that even 6 year old Inanay can be comfortable in the hearing). We, a little family of 4, feel the challenges and possibilities as we paddle and ponder.
We finish - the manicured lawns of large riverside mansions sweep away the bushland of the rivers edge. Yet we maintain the simplicity as we play downball (with the tennis ball salvaged from the flood drift wood debris) in the carpark, whist the other adult packs the canoes and gear into the car. A roosting Cormorant waves us goodbye as his rain sodden wings are held up to stretch out and dry in the wind. We move quietly and then leave.
Part 3) Coming home to the River
This is a letter of gratitude I wrote after a gathering at the Mitta River, Victoria for my 40th birthday celebrations. I thought I would just include it in full, for you to read.
Coming home - a return to the river...
Dear lovely people,
Kayaking the Mitta Mitta River this September has loomed large. After an initial declaration a year or more ago, that I would be back 'paddling the Gorge for my 40th', it (it = reacquainting myself with Kayaking the Mitta River after a 10year absence) became something that must be done, a step in softening through emotional apprehension and discomfort to the joys to be found in white water River play.
I have always felt at home on river's - loved the dance, the gurgle, the nature-reflection and learning's. Yet apprehension settles in when the water difficulties rise (both real and perceived apply). At 40, it was time to tackle (with inner grace and outer grimace) some long standing shaky territory in the white water world. It was wonderful to 'feel the love' and support of you all. To share common stories, laughter, tears - as well as just getting on with it - heart gentle, inner voice compassionate and give it a go.
Stacey; thankyou for being the catalyst and shiver-on-the-river [from 'nerves' not cold] soul mate. I had pretty much nearly decided to defer my initial declaration - perhaps 40 wasn't enough years of delay - one more season on the sidelines wouldn't hurt! It was your spark and prompt that re-warmed the sense of capacity, possibility and necessary grit and determination to get out there and give it a go.
I begin. The first splash of water across the face brings a refreshing wake-up. Each tiny droplet grabs at the skin, drawing attention small, to the immediate - as clarity and the here and now grows large.
To Sean; thankyou for your soul-caring-on-river-safety. In a white water world of big splashes, ego and yee-ha achievement you have the calming presence, gentle guidance, balanced info and uplifting encouragement. All this often achieved through a simple signal, short word or downriver nod of encouragement. Yours is an important and special offering to the white water world.
Dave G - my soul-mate-on-river-in-life-safety. Sometimes a solo task - you being at times the only one who is granted entry into the vulnerable aspects of my inner landscape. Thankyou for being there for the long haul, for the words of wisdom and perspective that perhaps only a life's partner could impart.
I continue: The artwork of the eddy line swirls and shapes down the river. Sculptured creations draw downwards and ever shifting boil back up towards the surface. I sit on top as a nervous observer - feeling the catch of those eddies, intrigued by this picture being drawn in water.
To my fellow Kayakers: Firstly, Hamish: fellow on river safety with many of the qualities of above. Div & Ben. To my fellow Rafters: Pete, Muzza, Ewey, Brother Mick, Ben. Thankyou all for your generous on-river-safety and support.
To my fellow not-paddling-so-much-at-the-moment-Women-paddlers: your hearts, hugs, smiles and shared inspiration was centre in my minds eye as I paddled.
I consolidate: a fury of frustration floods through me. Yet gentle at heart - allowing me to hear it, to feel the possibilities and engage the necessary effort. Perhaps this gentle heart exists in the supposed fury of white-water whipping by? I see via others relationship with the white water that it must. For myself, I wonder if I am grasping for a comfort level that doesn't exist. That the buzz, the whirl, the thrill - is a special part of this active engaged meditative experience.
To those who don't paddle, and puzzle at the prospect of why one would embark on a day that is likely full of apprehension, jitters, unknowns and emotional discomfort. Thanks for being the silhouettes of support up on the Graveyard Abseil Rock. Waving audience of community at access points along the river, and shuttle pick up ready for a big hug at the end of a big day.
It was wonderful to create shared space to acknowledge and move through many of the apprehensions. [I thought it was just me...yet perhaps aspects are universal]. A shared community of support to both celebrate and release from the limitations. I.e. - The wobbly pull of the eddy line. The 'punch the air' feeling of joy of WaterFall success. The trying-to-be-ego-free immersion in the swirling waters with yet another swim. Gutsy, determined, laughing, grimacing, gentle.
I celebrate: the fun, the splash, the success, the swim. I sit quietly, snuggled into the lee side of a rock. I see sun reflect on water, smell damp moss on rock. I watch the people I paddle with happy and settled in this place - sparkling and vibrantly alive just like the water flowing by.
It was time - simply time, to get back out on the river again. To gaze upon something that loomed large and immerse in it for a while - calm, comfort and learning - even in apprehension, discomfort and agitation.
It was also the right place and people - you were the all the safety net of support that allowed me to step into this uncomfortable - yet so soul-enriching, joyful and life at its best - setting. You were there with me, both through the quiet, peaceful and meditative moments and also as I splashed, crashed and swore through the bumpy, boiling ride.
I am looking forward to next steps in my white water world- and as in life - the future looks rich, strong and full. I'm off to practice a 'roll' - yep tip over upside down in the cool spring waters of the King River and hopefully pop back up - stronger and more confident with each gentle effort to give it a go.
Gratitude to you.
For a visual treat of this little adventure, a friend did up a 'Bound for Glory' slide show - click here.
This blog space is for sporadic sharing...
I enjoy this forum for writing, reflection, sharing. And, at other times I am out bush or in-life and don't venture online. I take guidance from the heart and head in relation to my online connectivity. See you here monthly or so.
The Natural Space to be
Blog: Natural NoticingS