We’re kayaking the Upper Ocoee and as an island separates the river into two channels, we paddle left. We stop in the eddy above the boof, pausing to figure out the best line over the six-foot drop.
Alex points. “Drive the boat straight off the left side of the rock. Don’t go far right or you’ll dry out, too far left there’s a piton rock.”
The boulder blurs into the water, gradations of grey and brown, a confusing muddy swirl. I curse my questionable eyesight, wishing I could see the contour of the rock. If only I could see its edges, my paddling would become more precise.
I’d gone to an eye doctor to see if I was a candidate for laser eye surgery to improve my distance vision, but he’d discouraged me, telling me as a writer I live most of my life up-close. Shaping my eyes to improve my distance vision might result in me having to use reading glasses. I left his office, torn over whether I want to sacrifice the far away for the life that’s right in front of me.
On the river, I squint into the sun as Alex paddles toward the edge with confidence then soars over the lip, disappearing below the horizon line.
When it’s my turn, I take a deep breath and take one last look before I paddle toward the small curl of water that I’ve used to mark the line, my eyes glued to the water spilling upriver. I keep my eyes so focused that I forget to lift my gaze, letting the current have its way with me, pushing me off line to the left.
I catch the eddy below, watching other paddlers perfectly position their kayaks and grab the green water with their blades.
We walk back up to paddle it again. Alex tells me to keep my boat straight and time my stroke.
I sit for a moment in the eddy, studying the line I want my boat to travel. After I peel out, I scan my line, commit to it, and then look further ahead, beyond the edge and push off the flume of clear water.
This time I get air.
I beam, hearing the satisfying thud of my boat smacks down on the churning water.
All that whitewater froths around me and somehow through me. It’s a small thing, taking precisely the right stroke at the right time. It won’t change the world. Nobody else’s day improves because I nailed a boof.
And yet the smallest of actions can change us. They teach us to stay the course despite the surges of water that make us wobble.
Bravery is a muscle and I leave the eddy stronger. I realize that paddling well requires me to lift my focus from what’s immediately in front of me. Even though my eyesight isn’t perfect, I can still look further ahead.
It’s less about seeing every rock and ripple with perfect clarity and more about cultivating a vision hinged on possibility.