March 29, 2015 a new record for kayaking on the prairies, as my sister, Barbara, and I celebrated the early spring melt with a kayak down the Swift Current creek. Open water! Surreal for Saskatchewan in March.
Lifting down kayaks left hanging for five months gives me a thrill. Out come the paddles, and pumps, the PFLs and dry bags. Using the special rack my husband, Den, designed for the back of our truck, we loaded the kayaks side-by-side, stuffed the equipment into the back seat and headed for Swift Current and the creek I’d listed as a must paddle several years earlier. For once I was ready and able as the last of the snows filtered in a wild rush through its curving body. Earlier in the week, the creek’s open water grabbed and held my attention and intentions. I would paddle this water. That my sister Barbara could share the experience was a tremendous bonus. She paddled my 12’ red Pongo, while I took the 14.5’ blue Perception. (see photos)
Arriving in the city, we mapped out the course of the creek and began reading the water, driving from one approach to another. We checked out bridges and weirs, highs spots with fast running water, and low ones, where rocks were visible. With each interesting set of rapids, boils, eddies or hard flowing currents, our desire to ride the water grew.
Finally, we chose our launch site, just north of the large weir on the south side of the city. Here a park hosting tennis courts and parking lots gave us ready access along a bank waving high grasses and muddy flats. With Den helping, we lined our kayaks bow to stern along a piece of the bank, and launched in turn. Barbara paddled backwards into an eddy and held her place, while I launched, so we could stick together. Fresh from its victory over the weir, the creek ran fast and full of itself. We moved at a good pace without paddling. High banks rose protectively on either side, but a 50 k wind from the southwest breathed its interest over the proceedings whenever we hit a long stretch of creek running northeast.
The many loops in the river offered up every variety of water, from glassy smooth, to light ripples under a cross-wind, high waves, and rapids. So we moved through our repertoire of paddling for this first of the year experience. We drift, paddle strongly into wind, and fought to stay upright in the rapids formed by stones and weirs. At one point I tackled a stretch of rapids on the outer bank side, and found myself pushed hard at the shore. The force of the current was so strong I battled to keep the creek from pinning me to the bank like a bug on a bulletin board. Lesson learned. Another time I avoided a large rock at the top of a vigorous rapid by leaning away at the last second, and had to fight hard to get my weight and kayak back in balance before tipping over in the opposite direction. I quickly deduced running the rapids was fifty percent luck, fifty percent coordination.
Though we’d put in the advance time reading the river, of course it looked different once we were on the water. At times, Den, who continually drove ahead of us to the next access, would stand on the bank and point out the better track. Often what appeared a good channel would end up being clogged with long grasses reaching up from just below the surface, and he could warn us away. At other’s we would back-ferry. By paddling backward at an angle into a current, we could crab sideways across the current without being swept downstream. This allowed us a chance to pause and choose our down-current course. Mostly we took the perpendicular line through the roughest water, combatting the current’s bullying attempts, with our own show of aggression. In minutes we would feel its fury replaced by sulky stillness and the soft whisper of wind in dry grasses would replace the loud catcalls of rough water.
Passing under the many bridges Swift Current has erected to enable both commerce and community was an edifying part of the experience. We tallied old metal railroad bridges, cement overpasses for the highways, and dainty walking bridges joining the many pathways build for the enjoyment of all. In all we saw the underside of eight bridges, and know we missed two on the south end and one on the north end of the city. Surely, Swift Current should challenge Saskatoon for the title City of Bridges.
Though current rips warned of rocks beneath the surface, that within days would obstruct a kayak, we traversed the creek just a few days off high flood, making it a safe and effortless endeavour.
The feel of a paddle rotating in my hands, of shoulder and back muscles warming and moving like slick silk, of feet braced, and the vibration of the kayak around me, has little competition in my mind. However, add in the grumbling of Canada Geese as we came up on their nests, the quacking of ducks in the reeds, the brilliance of sunlight dancing on water, and warming my face, and I attain the ultimate high. Like the wild rice and redwood, the prairie wool and sage growing along the bank, my blood sang through my veins, quickening with the call of spring.
In I Sit Listening to the Wind, Judith Duerk wrote:
“A woman must be very clear, here, in her ongoing task. As she negotiates the voyage from the societal towards the Self her entire experience is transformed. She can begin to reject the inner patriarchal decrees from the past that judged her so mercilessly … that made her see her own anguish as simply another indication of her inadequacy and shame.”
After reading this, I reached great clarity about my long struggle for autonomy. Particularly the concept exposed the source of my inner anger. I had spent years accusing them of influencing me toward what I knew, deep inside was wrong for me, while I continued doing the very thing. I never truly identified them. At times I would put a face or name on them – my ambitious father, duty driven mother, my co-author or husband, depending on the circumstances. But always the accusation came full circle, until I held the blame again. Now I realize them is my animus – the strong yang side driving against the inner ying that cries to be freed. Duerk continues:
“With this transformation, a woman can accept feelings inside herself that were forbidden to her before. She can accept, now, her failures, her lacks, her obsessions … even her occasional craziness … as she holds in her awareness all the ways she has suffered in striving to fulfill values that were not her own”.
I have experienced the freedom of my inner feminine and loved myself best at that time – but liberty was short lived; again that louder, fiercer voice drove me off course and into the wilderness of confusion.
“At last a woman cradles in her arms the woundedness of being herself. No longer casting it out as the impediment that prevents her growth, she can embrace her woundedness as the essence, the soul of her uniqueness … that which has enabled her to become herself.
With the final acceptance of her woundedness a woman’s perception of her own suffering undergoes a profound healing. What had been the source of the greatest shame, that most loathed in herself, slowly reveals itself to be the seed of her truest gift … her pearl of greatest price, grown from her gravest flaw. She is released into her wholeness.” J.D.
I searched long for my truths, learning them through pain and illness, compromise and motherhood, failure and triumph. Each learned value, I added to my inventory, building one on the other, interlocking them in a complex puzzle whose solution was known onlyby me. My wounds became the source of all lessons, and, in turn, the lessons pointed out my woundedness. With each value added, as with each block supporting the whole, I grew stronger, more sure. Living my values, my truth gave me focus, simplicity, calm.
“Finally, as a woman matures, she gives up the expectation of reaching a point of bare adequacy and moving on from there. At last, she understands that her task is simply to accept her woundedness … and to walk ahead with courage and compassion … keeping faith with her own life. This her individuation.”
As I read this page and particularly the second last paragraph I felt a great flood of release and spontaneously broke into tears. I experienced redemption and approved myself. My source of greatest shame is the fear with which I approach all new things. My greatest strength – moving through the fear with courage. All the challenges and all the times I found the courage and triumphed unwound like film across the screen of my mind. I felt validated by the best, deepest part of me … the part that could weep in relief. My tears washed away the anger. Those precious droplets thanked my creator for finally reaching me with this message.
What does this have to do with writing you ask? This is an excellent example of the development of character through life experience. Expansion of values, of psyche of awareness of self. Building the edifice from which you will make all choices, interpret other’s actions, and measure your own.
Character development in a story decides the success or failure of the whole. If a reader cannot find merit in your character, isn’t allowed a below the surface look at morals and motives – at the greatest weakness and strength guiding this person’s life, then the reader turns away. The best pacing and most loaded plot in the world can’t salvage a story if one dimensional characters tell the tale. We do not look deeply into an object whose surface reflects nothing back.
When developing your characters apply your hard won experience. Introduce the weaknesses and strengths you discover in those around you. By examining the turning points in your life, the moments when your truths became clear, you can transfer these lessons to your characters, allowing them to learn at the appropriate time and place in the plot. Your truth adds credibility to their actions and attitudes. The reader believes.