Where We Point Our Bow

I was taking the canoe on a z-shaped path down the river.

I’ve got the stern, I’d told my father while we chose lifejackets. I’ve done this plenty.

But the j-stroke, that paddling skill that directs the canoe, was proving to be a touch more challenging than I had remembered.

My father, who was paddling in the bow, would occasionally call back, “We’re going towards the riverbank.”

“You think I don’t see?” I’d boom from the stern, and hastily switch sides until I had us charging towards the other riverbank.

Eventually, we paused to take in a heron standing in tall grass. I watched our canoe slide through the water. And the simplicity of it all struck me. We go where we point our bow. If you don’t choose where to point yourself, you’re subject to the pressure of the tides and whim of the winds.

We started paddling again. This time, though, I started choosing where to point the canoe. To be sure, we were still doing some bobbing and weaving around the river. My form had a ways to go. But I was actively participating in putting the boat in the direction I wanted to head.

I think about that now. And it’s been a simple, powerful practice to pause amid the hasty charging and all the pressures and whims of the world, and ask myself, Is my bow pointed where I want to go?

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