Titles by Kij Johnson are available for purchase online

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I was with my brother and his family for about a week, staying at a cabin on a lake in northern Wisconsin. There were kayaks, so I went out twice a day, sometimes with my brother or his family, other times alone. (Yes, I wore a lifejacket.) When I was a climber back in Seattle, I kayaked fairly often, either with some combination of Jay, Elizabeth, and Marti on Puget Sound or along the Duwamish, or alone, by renting a kayak on Lake Union and pootling about in the lake or along the Ship Canal. I loved it then, though I didn’t mourn when I got to NC for grad school, the way I did for climbing. And then I forgot how much I had enjoyed it. In NC and then Kansas, I didn’t have a kayak of my own, and I didn’t spend a lot of time in the PNW, where I knew a little more about where I would like to go.

So kayaking was a familiar revelation, if you can imagine such a thing. I avoided it for the first day, telling myself that I didn’t remember enough, but on the second day most of Rich’s family went out, and I joined them, using the cabin’s gear. It was just as awkward to get into the kayak as I had feared — my knees are a wreck, and I was stepping down from stairs into a kayak that wobbled when I dropped into it — but when I dipped the paddle into the water, it was like seeing a room in the first instant after you turn on the lights. Of course…that’s it. That’s what I remember. I took off for the little island in the center of the lake, and then for the rest of the stay I kept going out, kayaking in the early morning or midafternoon, circling all the lake’s little islands, pushing down a tiny tree-overhung river, nosing along the shores to look at the cabins that lined the lake. Bald eagles took off just overhead; loons ignored me; frogs dived from lily pads. My kayaking clothes didn’t have time to dry between paddles. It was perfect. (I did a lot of walking, too. I loved feeling like a physical body again.)

It’s completely unlike climbing, of course, and so much easier for a body damaged by hard use and time; but it reminded me of what I used to be and do and love, and it simultaneously broke my heart and delighted me. Again.

After this, I drove an hour or so to Rice Lake to visit my mom. This was…less perfect, but still absolutely worth doing. And then I found out that the Rice Lake Public Library checks out kayaks for free. I got a library card and finally visited the little island I have always called Duck Island (though it never has ducks, just a lot of Canada geese), and explored every day. Again, perfect.

So now I am back in Lawrence. I don’t own a kayak; I expect I could rent or borrow one, but I don’t have a luggage rack (why didn’t I get the luggage rack?) to add a kayak rack to, and there isn’t much water I am interested in exploring here — Lakes Clinton or Perry? The Kaw? — but it’s good to know that when I settle down to wherever my new life takes me, I will have something physical I want to do. So, let’s add this to the list of my dreams for real retirement: a place worth kayaking nearby, and a kayak.

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