I spent several days on the Wisconsin River last week. I witnessed turtles dozing in the sun and plopping into the water; sandhill cranes croaking out their cries from the beach on the island adjacent to camp; bald eagles soaring and then perching in the branches of dead trees to watch over their riparian realm. And a few other humans synced with me in the rhythm of paddling.
Much of the time, paddling with the flow of the river was sufficient to get us to the milestones we needed to hit on our trip. But one afternoon the wind made for itself a funnel out of the river corridor, and poured in from the southwest to meet us head-on. It whipped up whitecaps and sought to catch an edge of the canoe, to turn us broadside to the waves. In a canoe, broadside is not the preferred way to be oriented to a wave.
From the stern I pulled and pried to keep the bow directed into the waves. At first, for a while, it was like wrestling. My physical fatigue matched my mental fatigue as I tried to calculate and respond to the force of each coming wave.
At some point I ceased wrestling and found a sense of union between my environment and actions. Instead of calculating my next move based on the chop of the water, I felt for the wind on my face.
If I turned my face a few degrees one way the wind pressed past my right cheek. A few degrees the other way and it pressed against my left cheek. I found the place where the wind kissed both cheeks equally and held myself there. The rest of my body responded with the strokes needed to keep the canoe in the sweet spot.
That shift toward communion with the elements was subtle. And my engagement required no less muscle. But when I let the wind take the lead it became less of a struggle and more of a dance; less enmity, more affinity; less grimace, more wonder.