Two bald eagles, one green heron, a blue heron and an egret, a flock of geese, several jumping fish of indeterminate type. This was the visual haul of a two-hour paddle down the Delaware River on a perfectly beautiful Labor Day, the result of a chance encounter between friends at the farmers’ market in Callicoon the day before. “Paddle tomorrow?” she challenged. “Sure,” I countered.
I had not been out on the river all summer. June became July became the first day of September before I knew it. There was weather, there was business, there was family. All good reasons for ignoring the overarching draw of the river valley—the river. Then there was Labor Day and two friends with a free morning and similar drives. To the river!
Tracy brought almonds to snack on and binoculars. I brought sun block, which I had not needed all summer. We both had water. The river was high enough at four feet that we hardly needed to paddle at all except around the largest rocks and one eel weir that was not where we remembered it.
Along the river I hailed the riverfront houses of friends: Bernie and Carol, Sue and Jim, Heidi, Patty, Mary and Iris, Vera gone but not gone. On the PA side I looked in vain for Deborah and Joan’s place. Without their flag waving, I could not identify their landing.
The weather was glorious. The first bald eagle we spotted was settled on a branch as if on a flagpole with those signature shoulders prominently on display. The little green heron, hard to identify at first, flew straight at us until veering off into the tangled grasses at the water’s edge. Tracy confirmed its identity with her binoculars. Its yellow legs were the giveaway.
The flock of geese we disturbed flew straight downriver ahead of us, wing-to-wing, blue sky above reflected perfectly in the fulsome water. A virtual parade for our eyes only. When we encountered them later, they ignored us.
We talked of the day—beautiful we agreed; of the river and its life and the perspective that can only be enjoyed from floating on it; of floods and other tragedies (9/11, damn that date); of business and bars and theater; of our strengths and our tender spots. We wondered if the bridge would be returned to its signature green (or if that color still exists!).
Tracy remembered a time she spent meditating on her favorite rock and a circus train rumbled by on its once-yearly trip upriver. I told her it sounded like a dream, or a poem.
Only other kayakers were on the river; the rafting crowd had moved on.
I had waved to my husband as we passed our house, not knowing if he saw me. In my mind, he was sitting on the deck watching as my purple kayak slid downriver with me in my standard-issue orange life vest. In truth, however, he was unexpectedly cleaning out the shed in 90°degree heat on Labor Day, when he could have been lazing in bed or doing any number of inside chores still undone. When I finally arrived home, he was beet red, on the ragged edge of heatstroke and had to be driven inside by my alter-ego, the harangutan.
Maybe it was his way of saying he wanted to be on the river too.