My wife and I bought inflatable stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) this summer, and instantly fell in love with this newish sport. They’re a bit slower than canoes or kayaks, and the balance is trickier. But once you figure them out, SUPs are a great way to get out on the water. At the risk of a cringe-worthy pun, the SUP experience is more fluid than other paddle-propelled boats: they’re more immediate, immersive and elemental than canoes or kayaks because you feel more connected to the water and you will get wet. SUPs are also incredibly easy to get off and on, and to move around on while afloat. Need to cool down? Just jump in the water. Need a break? Paddle on your knees for awhile, or simply sit or lie down and float.
One of the highlights of my summer was taking an hour or so to paddle the 3.5 km stretch from Lighthouse Point to Beaver Dams at Killbear Provincial Park in Ontario. Alone on the clear, aquamarine water of Georgian Bay and surrounded by breathtaking vistas of windswept pine and gently rounded Canadian Shield granite and gneiss, I felt peaceful, calm and whole. Inspired by the landscape and lulled by the patterned repetition of paddling and the bodily pleasure of exertion, I quickly fell into the state of focussed clarity that I’m more accustomed to experiencing on a long run, a sort of freeing stillness where thoughts flow and languidly develop without the annoyance of distraction.
Space to think
During this pleasant hour on the water, I found my mind circling around two major ideas or themes. The first is a bit of a cultural and literary commonplace, the idea that nature is renewing, restorative, and generally good for the soul. It’s almost a banal cliché at this point, but I find it to be profoundly true: being out in creation makes me feel naturally closer to the Creator. Surrounded by rocks, trees, water and sky I feel simply healthy and whole. At least several times a year we should get out our hiking boots on Sunday morning and hold church in the woods.
In the Cantos, Ezra Pound suggests that we should “learn of the green world what can be thy place.” Nature has a way of grounding us, of helping to realize that our lives are very small and that we fit into a larger ecosystem of interconnected forces and organisms. It instills humility and awe, and points implicitly to God’s power and omnipotence. The gently sloping rocks which curve lazily down to the water at Killbear were smoothed out and polished by retreating glaciers around 10,000 years ago. Two million years ago they were buried under a mile-high sheet of ice. What an incredible God we serve, the Alpha and Omega who so patiently and painstakingly brought forth this immense and intricate beauty.
Perhaps contemplating the divine long view is what brought me to the other major insight of my paddleboard pondering: a sharpened sense of sadness and urgency that what God perfected patiently over eons we humans are rushing headlong to destroy in a matter of centuries. It is no longer a question for legitimate debate that we are facing a climate emergency, that we reckless and insatiable creatures are failing miserably in our God-given role as stewards of creation. And, somewhat late to the party I’m afraid, I’ve come to believe that it is no longer enough for us to try to solve this problem by consumer and market-driven choices – making sure we turn the lights off when leaving the room, trying to avoid single-use plastic bags and straws, saving up for that electric car and so on.
Too big to fail
In 2008 the American government found $700 billion to bail out the big banks and another $80.7 to shore up the big three auto manufacturers over the next six years. Surely our home, the planet on which we live and depend for our very existence, must also be considered “too big to fail.” I can’t take credit for the suggestion that if we could save the banks, we can save the planet; this idea comes from Greta Thunberg and probably the environmental activist movement in general. But I actually think the first principles here are this simple. Governments need to act, drastically and immediately, and the details of what exactly must be done are well on the way to being worked out by the progressive politicians and scientists who are putting forward ideas for a so-called Green New Deal.
“Learn of the green world what can be thy place.” I’d like to encourage everyone to get outside, marvel at the beauty of the natural world, and maybe try paddleboarding if you have the opportunity and disposition. Ezra Pound’s friend and contemporary, T.S. Eliot, wrote that “we must be still and still moving.” God’s magnificent creation can give us something that we particularly need at this historical moment – a sense of stillness, peace, groundedness, humility and awe. Beautifully, mysteriously and paradoxically, creation can also inspire us toward the sense of holy urgency that we need to fulfill our calling as care-takers and stewards of this sacred trust.
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