As a part of my collaboration with the Water Forum, and also a local non-profit in the near future, I’m exploring the Lower American in greater detail. I lived on the edge of the real bluff, at Fair Oaks and Arden Way for 27 years, raising kids, making art, and spending hours along this river. I know it, but mostly only from the banks, looking with longing at the water. Early in my work with the Sacramento Bee, I wrote “What Lies Beneath,” taking a canoe trip with my indulgent and expert paddler friend, Tom Biglione. That was years ago. One May, he took me down again. I could have driven to LA in the time it took to get from Sailor Bar to Watt Ave. Slowing down time is the only way to understand this river.

Notes from a novice kayaker.

Let me tell you, and don’t laugh at this obvious observation, but kayaking on moving water is a totally different experience than on a lake. First, for someone who has a big imagination and an innate terror of water, there’s the fear factor. Second, and again so very obvious, is the trite saying, “don’t fight the current” or “go with the flow.” I’m here to tell you that on Friday, I had an experience that was in stark contrast to Thursday morning. First, Thursday.

This was Friday.

No wait, there’s no video because when you’re paddling upstream, you can’t stop paddling. Not for water, not for a video, not for anything. Or…you just float back to where you began or farther. I know that sounds a little silly, but if you want to really understand what that means, get in a short kayak with novice skills. Add paddling rules that are counter intuitive, and pow. Panic.

Here’s what it felt like, trying to cross from one side of the river to the other at the end of the day, tired, dehydrated and a bit hungry. It felt like skiing Telluride on a run so steep that I could touch the mountain behind me. I knew I could do it if I took it slow, mogul by mogul, but on a river? There’s no taking it slow.

As hard as I paddled, having no concept of what I was supposed to do, the more powerful the water felt under the boat, pushing me sideways downstream. I had visions of ending up at the Sacramento River. This is clearly a metaphor for life.

Don’t ask me what I was supposed to do, as despite listening to my teacher and watching some videos, I don’t understand. Yet. I will, but not today, because there’s the theory…and then there’s the reality. I was a skier and a serious recreational tennis player, so part of that muscle memory is there, and despite aging, I think I can learn how to do this: ferry a kayak from an eddy on one side to an eddy on the other. In the meantime…

4-14-24 Note: this entry was written before Covid. I never posted it then, so I’m posting it now. The above timeless experience was literally terrifying, a different kind of terror than what followed. And just as terrifying to contemplate what might be next. Be nimble, that’s all I have to advise.