[NOTE: This essay was written and originally published in the online Pekin Daily Times blog, A View of Nature in May 2012.]
As I stood on Quiver Lake’s shoreline, I thought that if I hadn’t already taken the morning off from work, I might not have pursued a canoe trip on such a day. I could see there were whitecaps on the water, and winds were already blowing about 15 miles per hour out of the northwest. Since I had wanted to float southward toward the lake’s connection with the Illinois River, I had to make a choice: either fight the wind and current on the return trip, with possibly higher winds, or fight them now by heading north instead of south, with an easy float back later in the day. I headed north.
As soon as I pushed off the sandy bank, the wind immediately began to turn the canoe around, trying to blow it to the south. And so, I used all of my strength to turn it around back into the wind.
That accomplished, the delicate balance began: keeping the head of the canoe pointed into the wind while also paddling and using the paddle as a rudder, as long as there was enough forward momentum. As soon as I could feel the wind begin taking the canoe in the wrong direction, I would counter with a push in the opposite direction. The situation demanded complete attention. Any lapse in judgment, and the wind would gain the advantage, turning the canoe around, and blowing it back south.
As long as the wind is consistent in strength and direction, with attention focused on some distance object for reference, it is relatively easy to paddle against even a 15 mile per hour blow. But if the wind gusts or changes direction, the delicate balance can be quickly lost.
For much of the length of Quiver Lake, I managed a slow forward progress. But then the wind unpredictably shifted as I adjusted the forward tip of the canoe slightly to the left. And it pushed the canoe further to the left than I had planned, even as I tried as hard as I could to bring it back. Then the canoe itself began to act as a sail, and I had to finally accept the inevitable: the wind would win no matter what I did.
A lesson was there, I was sure: something about going against the grain, or fighting the elements, or rolling with the flow. Or what about the song that said the wind held some kind of an answer? I would figure it out later.
I accepted my fate of being blown into a flooded black willow and silver maple woodland, where I would find shade and sanctuary. Above me, the winds played havoc with the tree canopies, but it was calm in the understory. And so I ate my breakfast and relaxed, glad to have taken the northward track.