The world couldn't seem prettier this morning. Temperatures are cool, but the sun is shining and promising comfort and warmth. Jackson Browne is playing on Pandora, and at Salem Willows the kids and seagulls are starting to scream, signaled no doubt by the opening of the Arcade and Hobbs. This is the weather I love the most- cool mornings and nights, warm enough during the day to shed the hoodie if you want to, but not so much you can't keep it on if you find comfort in that.
One of the things I don't get to do often is enjoy the weather for what it is. My mind is always turned toward how it will affect business, or what will it be like for our customers on the water. Today I'm at our kiosk in Salem, and I'm deciding to enjoy the weather. We have some rentals, but it's quieter. The frantic pace of summer is ebbing with the tide, and it feels as if the next tide will bring in the slower pace of fall. We forget under the hot summer sun that the days have been getting shorter all along, and only remember now as the suns rays track lower in our sky, and the light, though softer, seems to highlight the shadows, the contrast turned all the way up.
Fall is my favorite time to paddle. Maybe that's not true. Maybe the start of each season brings out these feelings, and perhaps in three months I'll be writing again about how Winter is my favorite time to paddle, but it really feels like Fall is my season. Fall feels like the gift of time, a present for the present, when our minds can find comfort in "Now". Winter is cold, and though we find joy in paddling the empty waters, our minds are always turned toward the day we get to shed our wetsuits. Spring is filled with so much excitement, but is lost in anticipation of Summer. Summer is shorter than we ever think it's going to be. By Memorial Day, we've already filled our summer with plans of everything we're going to do, and by the 4th of July we've realized that our calendar fills faster than our imagination.
At the same time, Fall brings a quiet acceptance of time passing. Summer is over, and though some fight to hang on to it, I'm ready to let it go. Summer was great, and we introduced so many new people to paddling. It's one of the things we love most. But Fall is when people fall in love with paddling. It's easy to convince someone that paddling is great during the summer, when stepping onto a board, surrounded by the cooler layer of air above the water, provides relief from the baking sun. In Fall, it's less of a given. The water is still warm, but feels cool as it evaporates from your bare feet into the dry air around it. The sun takes longer to work its warmth through our multiple layers of clothing, but feels so good when it finally does. A thermos of hot coffee or cider on the board feels like perfection. With the majority of boats, and their accompanying wake, gone from the sea, every stroke planted in the now calm water feels like staking a claim for all things human-powered.
During the summer, as we greet people at water's edge at the end of their rental, we ask how they it was, and though always say things like, "Oh it was great!" or "Oh that was so much fun!" It was their expected experience and how we expected them to react. But when we take people off the water in September and October, it's always things like, "I can't believe how peaceful it was out there!" or, "I didn't think I'd be as warm as I was!" or "The trees look so pretty!" There's a surprise, a novel experience. They thought paddling in the fall would be an extension of summer, but in fact it's its own perfect and beautiful thing. It's about the paddling, but it's about more about how it drives an awareness of your surroundings. While the senses of summer all combine into a single mesh of heat and wind and motors, Fall brings attention to each individual experience. A single tree, emblazoned in its fall crimson, stands out against the uniform green behind it. The sharp exhalation of a seal, who has probably been watching you from 30 yards away for the last 10 minutes, cuts sharply through the still air. The smell of guano (yep, that's bird poop) on the island that was avoided all summer because of boat traffic stings your nostrils. (Some experiences are better than others :) ).
I remember vividly one of my first times paddling in the fall. It was November, and I was paddling the Ipswich River through Topsfield. A cold mist, tangible on the exposed skin of my face, collected in large drops on my dry top. I floated quietly in my kayak, little drops of water falling from my paddle as if hovered over the glassy water, creating rings that spread outward through space and time. A tree stretched its branches across the river, and I watched a leaf catch an otherwise imperceptible breeze. It twisted this way and that, showing its bright yellow color against the darkened grey cloud behind it. Finally giving in to the relentless pull of gravity, the leaf fell, spinning only twice in the mostly still air. As it fell toward the river, I watched its mirror float upward until object and reflection (though, who's to say which is which) met at the surface. It was in the slowness of that moment, the contrast turned way up, everything a bit more in focus, that I fell in love with paddling.
I invite you to come paddle with us in the coming weeks. Some days will feel more like summer, some a bit closer to winter, and some those perfect fall days I spend the summer longing for. Some days we'll be set up at the kiosks, and other days we'll offer drop off service, but as long as the weather is reasonable, we're always available, by phone or email. Reach out, and let's get on the water!