Paddle North

I’m in the river paddling north. Guiding my kayak through muddy waters of dead trees and catfish. River otters and furry beavers that slide from shore as I float near. This current flows to Canada. To Hudson Bay. The Atlantic. I’ll stop at the Canadian border and call it good. Let the river finish its long journey alone. But for now I paddle. Paddle as I do each summer. Sometimes sixty miles. Others three or four hundred. This year an easy 135. I look to the water and catch my reflection. Arms swinging a blue blade through north flow current. I repeat this rotation thousands of times per day. Tens of thousands each trip. There’s nowhere to go but north and only one way to get there. I dip my paddle and carry forth.

The days are long but full of sights and wonder. I stare to shore to catch an earth cast shadow of a circling hawk. The reflection of trees mirrored in mud-fucked water. At the moment a family of deer trot the woods across the way from me. Minutes earlier I encountered the mother near shore. She stood in stillness watching my kayak come closer and closer. Frozen in fear. At the final moment she slunk to the thick and camouflaging foliage of the river’s upper bank.

After her I came to a fawn half hid in brush. It peered as I passed then disappeared to grass. It joined its mother and another, this trio determined to put distance between themselves and my craft. Further north another deer stands at water’s edge. Long grass littered with weeds. Its light shaded fur contrasts against green. Painted white ears unfurled in a peace sign. So much life bustles around me. An animal ecosystem unnoticed unless you’re on the water. Earlier in the day I passed yet another eagle’s nest. Their inhabitants soar then take sentry in dead trees to watch me. If lucky I’ll hear coyotes come nighttime. Screeching yips and howls that carry through open prairie. An ancient sound in modern times.

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At dusk I find an inlet with a flat patch to pitch a tent. I paddle up the shallow stream just off the main channel. Erect camp and pull wood from mud to make fire. I snap dry and hollowed stalks for kindling. Pull better wood off the upper reaches of the grassy bank. Let the night sounds creep in and increase volume. Chittering bugs and a slow rolling breeze. Unhappy beavers letting me know they’re there. A tractor working an unseen field. This trip is an easy excuse to enjoy the river. To have a clear and poignant purpose: Paddle my ass to Canada. Nowhere to go but forward. No cheating the miles. No corners to cut. Just an unending series of straights and bends. A forward line that in time hits an ocean. I see no one all day every day. Out here I’m alone.

My fire fights against darkness. I watch its flames through the watered down whiskey I tucked in the cubby of my kayak. Wave the bottle past my face like a hypnotist’s time piece. I wonder whether to sip from it. If I’d stop with a sip or slip to a guzzle. It’s been a near year since something clicked and all of a sudden alcohol felt so less important. I’ve done these long trips before. Hundreds of miles and multiple weeks in the water. I kicked off those times by getting wasted at my first day’s camp. Nights of star gazing in inebriation. Next days of hungover paddling in wretched heat. For some reason I feel no draw this night. Don’t know what it’d add to the moment. Still, the bottle sits in the back of my kayak. An anchor to old times.

I lay on the muddy grass and look to night sky. Few stars but clear. The fire bites my sunburnt legs. That ancient star has sent a proxy to both warm and pester. I lower the waistband of my thermals and stroke my cock. It’s not just for pleasure. Part maintenance, part enjoyment of the moment. When it’s over I walk to my tent and wipe the dead seeds off skin. I throw the cum rag to the crackling flames. I grab the sack of shit rags and burn them too. These wisps of seed and feces curl to the sky then disappear to ether.

The next day dead catfish bob to the surface. Bloated hunks of rotting flesh. I come across a dozen or more. One is missing parts of its body — signs of some animal’s feast. The exposed meat draws flies and goes rotten. Disease or poison has claimed these creatures. I swim this river. Fish it. Paddle for weeks. Towns draw from its murk and drink. Now it’s full of dead catfish. Buoys of death. I come across one on its side still breathing. Its gills move in slow motion. The last moments of life. I lift it with my paddle but it’s heavy and slides away. Sinks to murk then bobs back to surface. I wish I had a knife to end the poor thing. My paddle isn’t enough to cave its brain. I hate to leave it but paddle on. Later I find a dead pelican on shore and it reeks of days old death. Its beak simulates a corpse’s flesh. Discolored and veiny. Nature is nice but at times a killer.

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Come nine at night I steer my kayak to muddy shore. The summer sun lasts long and won’t dip off the horizon ’til after ten. An hour to set up camp. To make this place my own. It looks good for the upper bank is flat and filled with deadfall. Enough downed trees to heat a house. I step to mud at water’s edge and sink to my calf. Warm water laps my legs. I grab the kayak’s lead rope and lug it through muck and mud. With heavy steps I drag it to the weedy area I’ll call home for the next twelve hours. I pull wet clumps of earth off me but a sheen sticks to skin. I’ll dry it with fire. Pull the crust along with leg hair. Nature’s waxing. It’s hard to keep clean out here.

The shore is verdant an overgrown. I mow the thicket of weeds with my heavy kayak, creating a flat path in the foliage. This is my walking strip. My tent spot. A place I’ll strike sulfur to make fire. I strip my wet clothes and erect the tent naked. The air dries my ass but mud clings all over. I peer westward to the flat and open field. The sky mixes orange and pink like smears of paint set free. An explosion of color before giving up the ghost to darkness. I look north to the long straight shot of river. The bend at its far end curves west to sunset. It’s a keeper for the brain bank. I walk naked to the woods. Collect sun bleached logs and branches. Before long the fire roars. I lay bare beside the flame as it crackles and spits spark to sky. The bugs churr a rhythmic chatter. Strings of notes then silence. The ever-present song of summer. One I’ll hear for years to come.