Clippings: Rowing and growing on the water
When I was four, my dad made me a small, wooden rowboat. It was simply but sturdily built, with a varnished seat and two slender oars. When it came time to paint it, I insisted that it be orange. I named it Terrific, inspired by the words written by the spider in “Charlotte’s Web,” which was being read to me at home.
I became a master rower, or so I thought — agile and quick in my little ship. I learned how to row before I learned how to write, and much as a writer wields a pen, I rowed around in Terrific wielding my oars in a quest for discovery.
I spent many lazy afternoons at Kingsland Bay in Ferrisburgh, a baseball cap pulled low over my braids and a life jacket carefully buckled over my frame. I’d row into a thicket of reeds and crouch stealthily in my vessel, peering out at the world through toilet paper tube binoculars. I watched as people lay on shore tanning. I looked up at the birds that floated high above me, postulating that they were probably pterodactyls, and that I was making a shocking scientific discovery at that very moment.
I floated around the bay with an unstoppable imagination and a foil-wrapped peanut butter sandwich, cut diagonally just the way I liked them. I pretended I was an Indian, stalking along the beach with a pointed stick in pursuit of elusive, venomous, wild beasts. Every shard of broken glass or oblong stone was a treasure and I filled and refilled my pockets with the loot.
My parents, to their credit, probably kept these treasures just long enough for me to forget them before they returned them to the shore, where I’d likely discover them again with the same, unknowingly recycled excitement.
The afternoon would draw on and I’d see my father beckoning me back toward the beach. Unbeknownst to the intrepid explorer, he of course had been watching my adventures carefully all along. My dad would put Terrific on top of the car and we’d drive home, music crackling faintly through the speakers of our rusty blue Ford Escort. I’d chatter and laugh and relate my glorious adventures to my mother, enhancing details and adding intriguing plot twists for effect. My mother would endorse my reports of seeing pterodactyls; I had inherited her tendency to make claims of impossible animal sightings.
Terrific has been in the basement for 10 years now. The orange paint has lost its luster and the radiant varnish is blistered in spots. The oars are worn; they’re tired from the abuse and misuse I subjected them to in my childhood. I’ve outgrown Terrific. She is too small, too fragile for my full-grown self, who eats her peanut butter sandwiches even when they aren’t even cut right and looks at the world through binoculars with tangible lenses now.
However, I hope to never outgrow an appreciation for lazy August afternoons, the drone of cicadas, or the creak of a rowboat’s oarlock. Even if I’m rowing a “grownup boat” now, I will always strive to row slowly, look for beauty in beach debris, and forever keep an eye out for pterodactyls.
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