Where to put my feet

Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River, with its bars and its flats, it sounds like a musical score, a place where songs ring out and dancers enact balletic performances. Yet its Sheepeaters and its Jackasses conjure other images, as do Pistol, Fire, and Broken Oar. Nonetheless, ballet happens from camp to camp, from rapid to rapid, from jumping rock to jumping rock.

Light plays on the water.

Boaters in rafts push and pull the oars within their locks, feathering the blades as needed, allowing them to acquaint themselves with the ever-changing hydrology.

Smaller craft – kayaks, inflatable duckies, stand-up paddleboards – slalom down the river, their progress more graceful and precise.

In the riverside camps, meat bees hover. Bats swoop. Chipmunks scurry.

One day, our second on the river, I must repeatedly bound out of the front of the raft into the shallows on which the heavily weighted rubber raft stalls. Between hangups on rocks, I clutch a T-grip paddle, relishing the rhythm of the forward strokes.

Another day in a ducky, I grip a borrowed kayak paddle – a stranger to me, with its clunky weight and 0-degree offset. But my hands know how to hold a kayak paddle. I am more confused about where to put my feet, since the inflatable kayak has no bulkhead or slots in which to brace. Finally I choose to kneel, as in vajrasana, wedging my knees into the sides of the kayak, allowing myself a better view of coming rapids and better leverage. When I thrust the right paddle blade into the water near the nose of the kayak, I can weight my right knee and add power from my core to the stroke, repeating the technique on the left. I don’t have to depend on arm strength alone. Watch me twist my hips a little to access that core strength. Watch me sashay a little through each rapid, eddying behind a rock at the bottom, turning to watch the parade of boats behind me dancing their way downstream.

[Posted in response to Literary Lion’s “dance” prompt]


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