Rowing Backwards

It is the first day of summer. I am sitting on a dock on the Rhode Island shore, having my morning coffee, listening to the waves washing the pilings, the birds chattering in the bushes along the shore, and the intermittent clanging of the halyards against the masts of the sailboats moored in the marina. A rowboat is coming into the cove, and I watch as it makes its way toward me, headed for the several docks that line the bank between me and the open ocean.

I have never gone on vacation alone before. My bereavement counselor had advised me last February, when friends were leaving on winter vacations and happy times seemed to be behind me, to make a reservation at a place I could drive to, something to look forward to. Another first to face. Could being in a strange place by myself really be fun?

The first day that I came down to sit on the dock for my morning coffee, I saw a sea turtle, Rosemary’s aumakua, swimming near the grassy shore. I had to look it up when I got in the house. I didn’t realize there were sea turtles along this shore, but there are—and there it was, right beside my dock.[i]

No turtles today, but now I can see that the oarsperson is a man with a hat, and, as he comes closer, I see that he is rowing backwards. The bow of the boat is pointing behind him and the flat stern is fighting against the water as he moves forward. His arms are pushing the oars away from him rather than pulling them toward him. (Click twice on the photo to see the video.) It must be quite a bit harder to row in this way. I wonder if he knows.

I think of my mother saying to me, “If there is a hard way to do something, you will find it.” But I often had a reason for accomplishing a task in a way different than the accustomed one. Perhaps this man has a method in his madness. As he comes closer, I ponder asking him, “Why are you rowing backwards?” But I can’t come up with a way to phrase the question that doesn’t sound challenging, doesn’t seem as if I know a better way.

A cormorant lands near the end of my dock, dives, and then takes off again. The man in the rowboat comes closer. I can’t tell how old he is; his hat shades his face, but he is strong enough to push the oars without appearing to tire. As he passes my dock, he lifts his right hand briefly from its oar and waves, and I wave back.

As he continues deeper into the cove, I sit back in my Adirondack chair and sip my now luke warm coffee, feeling fortunate to be where I am, as I have for all the time I have been here. I hadn’t wanted to vacation so early in the season; I thought it was good to have something to look forward to. But I couldn’t find a suitable and available place to rent in July and I had plans with Shannon in August.

Vacationing in June seems to have been a good choice. My Boston children and grandchildren came for a day and we painted rocks and wood scraps with some special pens I brought along. I have friends who live nearby whom I have seen almost daily, to have breakfast at an outside café or ice cream near the carousel In Watch Hill. Other friends arrived for short stays. We had a barbecue at my friends’ house and one on my broad deck, underneath a large oak tree that offered shade. Later in the summer, many of these visitors would have been on their own summer vacations, or with families who would be visiting, or on trips they have planned, and they would not be as available to be with me as they are now.

Even the time that I have been here without company has been good. I put on cowboy music and two-step myself around the spacious living room, feeling free and grateful that I am finally able to move this way, after months of wrangling with the medical system to get the medication that I need.  When it is warm, I sit on the remarkable screen porch and write. In the evening, I read a book by a favorite author, or I watch a new season of a Netflix series called Borgen, about a Danish feminist politician, a series Rosemary and I had watched years ago, before we went and had our pictures taken in Copenhagen, in front of Borgen, where the Danish parliament meets. The series has unexpectedly returned after a long hiatus, and in one of the texts that I still send to Rosemary’s phone nightly, I tell her about it. The beds are comfortable and I sleep well, an important asset for an aging body. Even the weather has been agreeable. As I said to a friend who asked about the weather, “Here, as in Camelot, it never rains till after sundown.”

Maybe the oarsperson wants to see where he is going, I decide. Sailboats and motor boats are moored throughout the cove, and the man might not want to keep turning around to see if he is about to collide with one of them. Still, his method takes more effort. If you row in the usual way, the weight of your whole body adds power to your stroke. But maybe even that is to his liking. Perhaps he has injuries to his body that I cannot detect at a distance, and rowing in this way is kinder to his discomforts.

I had worried that my first vacation alone would be difficult, but, away from the rooms where, in the past winter, I spent so many weeks alone, I begin to feel that I have a life again,. The fact that it is June rather than high summer has not detracted from my pleasure. I find it difficult to believe that this is the first day of summer. After two weeks here, I feel as though I have already experienced a full and wonderful season. July and August, and whatever they hold, lie ahead.

I find it rather delightful to be rowing backward into summer.


[i] Green Sea Turtles live in coastal lagoons and bays throughout Rhode Island. Incredibly, they rarely come to shore except to lay their eggs, preferring to spend most of their time in the water.                                                     BIRD WATCHING HQ

6 thoughts on “Rowing Backwards

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  1. Brynna, your words are so lovely. Thank you! We were in RI this week but only for an overnight in Providence. The architecture is so pretty and the city is wonderful to look at. We, too, are Borgen watchers and this last season was surprising. The character of the star was so power driven until the end when she faces these issues and moves on.
    Your vacation sounds so perfect, although without Rosemary. Joan

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  2. Hi  Brynna I’m so glad these two weeks have worked out so well for you. You are in such a beautiful physical space. I love the screened in porch. I’m so happy for you. Love and hugsChris ps Thanks for a wonderful event on Mon. What a treat to see buddies from decades ago. You gave all of us such a wonderful gift. Did Dory come down again?

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  3. Loved reading this and thinking about the man rowing backwards. And of course, so happy you came to vacation here.

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