As I See It: Kensie Point notwithstanding, going with the flow of life
Updated 11:42 am, Monday, September 7, 2015
I spent four hours of my 68th birthday last month in a kayak on the Long Island Sound. This was not an annual ritual; the idea came this year from out of nowhere.
Thoughts “from out of nowhere,” of course, come from somewhere. Our own brains salvage stuff we thought we forgot, and then make us remember them again, from out of nowhere: a playground injury; Little League heroics; a doo-wop song; a flunked calculus exam. Hey, brain, what’s the point?
Yet, every so often, my frivolous brain gets serious. As my birthday closed in, up popped a Loudon Wainright III song, “Doin’ the Math.” Some of the lyrics go like this:
All of that time, where did it go?
What did you do and what can you show for it
Doin’ the math is kind of a bummer
You best avoid crunchin’ that number!
Ouch. This clever tune on aging and mortality does not sugar-coat the subject matter, and as it replayed in my head, it got me to crunch some numbers: My granddaughter Gracelynn graduates high school in 15 years, which would make me 83. The Social Security Administration has a handy online Life Expectancy Calculator. It grants me 15 more years on the planet, give or take. It’s the “give or take” part that’s, well, kind of a bummer.
Doin’ the math brings no satisfaction
There’s no more addition now, it’s all subtraction.
Which brings me to my birthday kayak outing. Mr. Wainright and the Social Security Administration notwithstanding, I resolved to move past this self-inflicted existential crossroads by honoring those 15 years, give or take, with a life-affirming adventure.
When the elder George Bush turned 90, he jumped out of an airplane. As life-affirming as I am sure that was for Mr. Bush, I was looking for something a little more down to earth. Something, actually, on the earth. A bike ride? A hike? Been there, done that. Then — out of nowhere — I recalled turning down a chance years ago to kayak along the Fairfield coast. That’s perfect! So, on the morning of my birthday, I piloted a rented kayak out of Southport Harbor, with a plan to go east along the coast, slip into Pine Creek, and return to Southport Harbor with a strong sense of renewal.
The sky was cloudless, the tide was out and the calm waters sparkled. I was excited to see what I would learn today. I raced out of the harbor, not taking note of the heat and humidity. As I rounded the jetty, my life jacket felt like a parka. The kayak was becoming a floating sweat lodge. I was in an exhilarated, lightly sautéed mental state.
An osprey perched on the point whistled a warning. “Back off, old-timer, get the heck away from here!”
I would not be intimidated. “Back off yourself! I’m on a life-affirming adventure here. Go catch a fish or something.”
“Oh, sorry, my bad,” said the osprey, and flew off.
I figured this was a good time to stop and drink a bunch of water. My head cleared, but still, I could not quite dismiss the possibility that I had exchanged words with an osprey. Was there a life lesson here? There will always be mysteries; embrace them.
A breeze mercifully kicked up as I passed the Country Club of Fairfield’s golf course and Sasco Beach. As I approached Kensie’s Point (never heard of it until that morning), I looked out toward the Sound and saw people way beyond me walking in waist-deep water. It was a startling demonstration of the tidal nature of our coastline. Always something new to learn, isn’t there? Sure enough, I looked down and saw bottom just before I ran aground, but I was free after a few paddle shoves. I get it: Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Past Kensie’s Point and Round Beach at the end of South Pine Creek Road, the beach house density quickly maxes out. I was taken with the serene tidiness of the beach scene, as if Sandy had never happened. Another lesson: resilience. It’s not how many times you fall, it’s how many times you get up. I was so admiring that I went around Pine Creek Point 20 minutes or so past the entrance to Pine Creek. I paid for that lesson with 40 minutes of extra paddling. It was my turn to be resilient!
Pine Creek, despite the blisters forming on my thumbs, was the highlight. Well-appointed houses crowd in over the creek, most with impressive (to me) power boats parked out front. All of a sudden, civilization ended and I entered the marsh.
All was quiet. The grasses undulated in the breeze. Herons fished patiently along the shore. I was in a scene that could have taken place two centuries ago. I let myself drift. Aha — leave time in life to just be in the moment …
… but the moment I was in was also the moment that the tide turned and poured into the marsh from the creek. I was about to get a lesson in overcoming adversity by paddling back to the Sound against the tide.
I wobbled out of the kayak in Southport Harbor an hour later, exhausted. Was this voyage life-affirming? On balance, I thought so, with lessons learned. Then, out of nowhere I remembered one more life-affirming activity: Get home in time for birthday cake. Not so much for the cake; Gracelynn likes to blow out the candles.
Ron Blumenfeld is a Fairfield writer and retired pediatrician. His "As I See It" column appears periodically. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.