"A lake is a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature."
- Henry David Thoreau
The breeze was the perfect kind of nippy. The kind of circular air that spins the hairs on your back up straight like little keratin needles. It tugged on the water ever so slightly, rippling millions of miniature chasms into the once still lake. I too left my own interruptions on the lake that day.
Two months ago, I received an email from a family friend: “Free Kayaks”. For a teenage boy who has been locked up in his home for the past two months, being able to get out and kayak seemed like the liberating opportunity of a lifetime. On an impulse, I replied yes. So this year, I got two kayaks.
My kayaks, or “the ‘yaks ”
“Haha.. did you know that kayak backwards is kayak…” Being able to kayak actually required a lot more work than my preliminary analysis determined. I had to buy equipment for my car to haul the kayaks along with the paddles and the life jackets. All of the equipment ended up costing more than the kayaks themselves were worth. Getting the kayaks for free required me to get equipment, but getting the equipment cost the same as getting the kayaks. I think that is the real palindrome.
Growing up in nature, living and just being outside is instinctive to me. As a cub scout, I would go on camping trips and kayaking journeys with my friends and family. I grew up going to the Drumlin Farms summer camp every summer, coming home lathered in dirt and dust, smelling like your neighbor’s mulch. One of the greatest experiences of my young life is that I had the opportunity to go on an overnight kayaking trip. A few years back, my friends and I packed everything we needed into waterproof bags and stuffed them into kayaks as we headed to wherever the river took us. For four nights we paddled, docked, and camped, and I was the happiest a kid could ever be. For the first trip out with my own new kayaks, I knew exactly where my destination was: Horn Pond. Every weekend when I was younger, I used to walk around the pond with my family and my dog Petey. Now every Sunday morning, I get up at 7am and head down to count herring running up the spillway of the pond connecting it with the upper Mystic river. Not much has changed from my old memories of Horn Pond. Much like its water, the pond has stayed still throughout the years. It is a place that is surrounded by busy commercial streets and crowded sidewalks, yet on the inside it remains untouched. It is the single place where my dog Petey does not bark. I think he is also too busy reminiscing on the eternal nature of this place.
My dog Petey at Horn Pond.
There is something so charming about breaking the stillness that covered the lake like a sheet, splashing the clear water into a flurry of bubbles and mud. It is acting out the will of motion to create a disturbance and progress entropy. The ripples of water bouncing off my paddle with such purpose and vitality. Andante con moto. Watching it all even back it is inevitable, the soft chirps of birds return and the water is flat. Watching the natural equilibrium ultimately pull what motion I create to rest, everything settles. It is a calm sense of conclusion, a finale that repeats the past.
Sitting out there on the lake by myself, I began to feel very introspective. I began to feel what Thoreau meant when he said, to “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams,” or when London said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” In the beginning of this year, we discussed “Into the Wild” together in class, and at the time, I thought McCandless was a crazy man, that his goals are reckless and idealist. To quote my summer reading essay, I said the “motivations and the actions he [McCandless] pursued in achieving them were neither noble nor cautious.” And yes, his actions were extreme, but now I understand that his goals are far from being so.
This year has been a hecticly productive year for me. I have reached a vast majority of goals that I set for myself and have even accomplished things that I would have never thought possible. Awards, recognition, sports, companies, clubs — I have been so caught up in work, and as cliche as it may sound, I really lost track of who I am working for. Being alone, paddling myself forward for the sole task of moving me where I wanted to go in a body of water is all I needed to do, to clear my head and to ponder things I truly want to accomplish with the actions and the ripples I create in this world.
"When we understand string theory, we will know how the universe began. It won’t have much effect on how we live, but it is important to understand where we come from and what we can expect to find as we explore." - Stephen Hawking
In 1867, Sir William Thomson proposed that all matter was fundamentally made up of vortex rings. He claimed that strings broke down our molecular model of particulate matter. I enjoy the idea of a rubber band, full of potential energy. The thing about potential is that it is a really precarious state of existence. If you pull on a rubber band too hard it snaps. If you pull and let it go, it shimmers and echoes and resolves, much like any other waves.
Could we just be breaking waves upon an unknown plane? There is rippling occurring all around us, waves of matter and light and gravity and sound. Pluck at them. Create the music of the universe. Andante con moto.
I am proud and grateful to have accomplished a lot this year. But, I think that the biggest accomplishment I took away this year outweighs any award, any outer recognition. Through this covid-19 crisis, through these social pressures, through getting a kayak, I found myself. I learned that my purpose in life is not to keep dwelling over finding a purpose. It is to sometimes be the log carried downstream, and to sometimes be herring pushing upstream. It is to reach for fulfillment and settle for peace. But all in all, it is to never forget that the only person sitting in the kayak is you, and no matter where you want to go, you are the only one that can paddle it forward.
This year, I have tested out the waters. I have broken the plane and created waves larger than myself, a tsunami from a mere kayak. I have played the strings around me and torqued them and spun them. Created sound — some resonated and some were hollow. But most importantly, I have sat and watched the ripples form and even out, slowly but evenly, with movement and with life. The Concord River.