Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Mannahatta by John Keene

“Canoes, too, are unobtrusive; they don’t storm the natural world or ride over it, but drift in upon it as a part of its own silence. As you either care about what the land is or not, so do you like or dislike quiet things–sailboats, or rainy green mornings in foreign places, or a grazing herd, or the ruins of old monasteries in the mountains. . . . Chances for being quiet nowadays are limited.”

― John Graves

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Monday, March 13, 20008.

Into the wind

There’s this thing about being in a canoe, or a small sailboat even, on a lake in the wind. When you are going into the wind you’re going very slowly and in the case of a canoe you’re working very hard to push against the resistance. But since the waves are going the other way, opposite you, it seems like you’re moving very quickly, rushing along. It’s only when you watch the shore that you see the glacial progress you’re making.

On the other hand, when you turn around, and go with the wind at your back you, hopefully, will move right along with the waves and appear, when you look at the water, to almost be standing still. Again, it takes some proper point of reference, some object on the shore, to gauge your true rapid speed.

Nick, Lee, and I rented a canoe today, and went from one end of Cedar Lake to the other.

We started at the little park store, which has rentals. We had to wait because the operator who lives in a recreational vehicle beside the store and lives by himself had to close up for an hour and go into town. When he came back he could rent us the boat. He made us fill out all the paperwork, apologizing, “Please fill this out in case the State audits me.”

Candy asked, “Well, have they ever audited you?”

He said, “Yes, once. They came out a couple years ago but I told them that my wife had passed away that week and I couldn’t deal with it so they went away and haven’t come back.”

So we rented the little aluminum canoe for an hour, six dollars an hour, and we went out in it while Candy waited on the shore with the giant killer dog. The rental place is in a cove down at one end of the lake and due to the drought we’ve been in for the last couple years the lake levels are way down. It was difficult to get out of the cove because the water was so shallow.

I wanted to go the length of the lake, all the way to the dam but as we moved out into the center I wasn’t sure we would make it. The stout wind would catch the front of the canoe, where Nicholas sat ineffectually flailing at the water with one paddle, and spin it around so I would have to paddle hard and carefully to keep us pointed at the dam. Two other families had rented canoes right after us and they were unable to get out of the cove due to the wind.

After being spun twice I decided to move over to the west coastline, as close as possible, and pay close attention to steering the canoe – we were able to make progress that way. It was work, pushing against the wind, taking all the strength I had in my shoulders. It felt good to be paddling a canoe again; I’m really pretty good at it. I had a canoe of my own once, for a little while when I lived in Panama – a hollowed out log really – that I could take down to the lake and paddle around with. I guess that’s when I learned how to handle a paddle with some dexterity. In college sometimes in the spring we would go down to the Ozarks, rent canoes and shoot some easy rapids. Over the years Candy and I have gone to Caddo lake or some other camping place by the water and rented a boat.

Nicholas and Lee had never been in a canoe before. Lee was surprised to find out it was made of metal, he thought they were all made of wood. They both said the canoe was more stable than they thought it would be, they thought it would be harder to keep it from tipping over. I told them a lot of that was because I was working pretty hard at keeping it straight while they flailed around. Especially Nick at the front trying to paddle.

Today we made it all the way to the dam. No big deal, no great feat, but the kids seemed to enjoy it. We circled the concrete drainage structure, a tall cylinder sticking out of the water with a wrought iron valve wheel on top. Then we turned and headed back.

The wind and waves bore us along at a rapid speed on the return. It took us maybe forty minutes to reach the dam and only ten to get back. Poor Lee knelt on his knees in the center of the canoe during the whole trip and could barely stand when we pushed up onto shore. His young legs recovered their flexibility quickly enough.

I’m afraid my shoulders didn’t recover quite so fast.

And a piece of flash fiction for today:

Mannahatta by John Keene

from TriQuarterly

John Keene Webpage

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