The kayak glided across the river’s surface, the silence of the warm summer evening broken only by the splash of the paddle tips slicing into the water.
My daughter sat between my legs, her back against my chest and her arms stretched out horizontally to let her fingertips drag through the water.
Ahead of us an osprey flew from one tree to another. Beside us, birds fluttered among the bushes lining the river’s edge. Behind us, the afternoon sun began its decent toward the horizon.
The first paddle of the season is always the sweetest.
“After you blow up the kayak can we go to the river?” my daughter Alia asked early Monday evening as I dragged a two-man inflatable kayak from the garage.
“Sure,” I said, dusting off the cobwebs and last summer’s sand.
A half-hour later, after an extensive, yet unsuccessful search for the battery powered air pump, I said, “Sorry, we can’t go tonight. It will have to wait.”
Undeterred, my daughter said, “What about using one of the blue ones?” She pointed to the hard plastic one-person kayaks that my wife and I have used for years.
I was convinced she’d grown too big to fit with me in one of those kayaks.
“Come on, Daddy. Let’s try it,” she pleaded.
I flipped the kayak on its bottom and we both stepped into the cockpit. We fit, barely.
We loaded the kayak atop the SUV and off we went. With only a few hours until sunset, we picked the nearby Winchuck River for our first paddle of the summer.
Once there, I carried (and dragged) the kayak down a steep, overgrown trail from the highway to a spot next to the bridge. Alia carried the paddle and life jackets.
Alia insisted on pushing the kayak, with me in it, out into the still of the Winchuck estuary. Then she climbed aboard, finding her spot in the front of the cockpit.
Which way to go?
“That way!” she said, pointing up river.
We glided under the bridge, stopping to listen to the sound of cars driving above, and then paddled on. We gazed down through the clear water at the rocky bottom, floated slowly past a small waterfall on the north bank and stopped to whistle back at a pet cockatiel in its cage on the porch of a riverside home.
Too soon the sun settled behind the crowns of pine trees, casting shadows across the water’s surface. I paddled downriver, under the bridge, and headed for the sunlit river mouth, where we were greeted by a lone seal, or sea puppy, as my daughter likes to call them.
A family of noisy crows settled on the sandy bank, exploring the driftwood piles for tidbits. Seagulls cried out as they flew overhead. No other humans were around.
The incoming tide and swell gently lifted the kayak up and down and I wanted to stay there forever – just the sunset, the water, the wildlife and my daughter.
“Awww,” Alia said as I started paddling back to our launching point.
“Don’t worry, we’ll go kayaking again. We have all summer,” I soothed.
In my heart I knew, though, the first paddle of the season is always the sweetest.