Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

Two in a Canoe
by Bernadette Noll

With three kiddos under the age of five, dates for my husband and I are few and far between. Finding sitters is one problem, finding time is another and finding energy perhaps the biggest hurdle of all. When all of the above do coincide, the date itself, usually last planned, is oftentimes lacking vision. What to do? Where to go? A show, a concert, or dinner out is the obvious choice: dressing up is fun and dining sans crayons, high chairs and a barrage of distractions is satisfying but we are left feeling there should be more somehow: more imagination, more inspiration.

In late September we aligned all our stars and I vowed that this date be more motivated than our commonplace dates of yore. I racked my brain for something romantic, something unusual, a date that would beguile while simultaneously soothing some of the chaos of our daily world. One afternoon at friendsí, seeing their big, red canoe sitting idle in their backyard, the idea came to me. Water! A brilliant escape from the mundane.

I called Kenny at work, "This Saturday, six oíclock, dress casually, bring your straw hat and donít you worry your pretty little head about anything else."

At 5:00 on the pre-ordained evening I vanished. "Be right back!" I yelled out the truck window. I was dressed already, in a light and long gauzy dress, perfect for this hot night and hopefully steamy outing. At 5:45 I returned and, like clockwork, right behind me arrived the babysitter. At 6:00 we walked out of the house. Kenny spotted his first clue, the canoe, hard to hide in the back of the truck.

We drove to the river and headed east, to a fairly secluded spot I had picked out for docking. Together we unloaded the canoe and the eveningís picnic that I had hand picked and painstakingly packed: fresh bread still warm from the bakerís oven, cheese, big juicy tomatoes, olives to melt in your mouth and Italian prosciutto sliced perfectly paper thin. My husband was impressed and intrigued by the whole dreamy scene and already the stresses of parenthood and of the world were dripping from us as we pushed off from the shore.

We headed east, away from the city and were amazed at the solitude granted by being on the water. The shoreline was thick with green and provided a natural screen against any humans there. The sun was well on its downward path, casting a great light on the water and on Kenny, my date for the past nine years. The birds were starting their evening feed and were announcing it to all around with great squawks and dives into the water. All these wild birds secretly living their city life: green, blue and tri-colored herons, geese, black swans, white egrets, and ducks of many feathers. We drifted for a while, paddling ever so slowly, enjoying the sights and sounds of each other, of the birds and the water, and exhaling for what felt like the first time in weeks.

With a cold Sam Adams we toasted each other and this most amazing of dates. I abandoned my paddle and spread out our feast in the middle of the boat. We drifted and ate and drank in the calm that had overcome. Kenny turned the boat and we headed back towards downtown. We passed a few other small boats; some out for joy, some for exercise, all escaping life on the land and all waving or nodding in a message of "hey, weíre lucky to have this, arenít we? How many times had we driven over these very waters, hurriedly heading here or there, never realizing the world that flowed below these bridges?

At the Congress Avenue Bridge, the bat watchers were gathered and the bats did not fail to appear in great abundance. We drifted under the masses and I felt the queen of the world, now reclined ever so luxuriously, my arms dangling and my big straw hat tipped romantically against the setting sun. My husband held the helm, and steered us up the river.

Night was now upon us and brought with it a silence the opposite of twilightís wildlife frenzy. We could see the lights of the city and the traffic and the general hustle that is Saturday night in Austin, but our position low on the water acted as a natural muffle against the cacophony. The most prevalent sound we heard was that of the paddle breaking the waterís surface and the sound of each otherís voices.

I opened a bottle of port and we toasted again, this time to the water and our discovery of it. Our journey continued around Red Bud Isle and back along the greenbelt, both of which, immersed in darkness, gave the illusion of great wilderness. We talked uninterrupted, a feat nearly impossible at home or even out on the town. We talked of the now, of the past and of future plans for our life and our kids and our home and spoke in fantastical terms about what might be.

Slowly we drifted back to our starting point. The lack of current surprised both of us, but mostly Kenny, who was holding fast to the role of solo paddler. We disembarked five-hours after our initial push-off and already sea legs had set in enhanced by the eveningís spirits. We dawdled on the dock for a while, wrapping up the nightís conversations, taking it all in and not wanting this most enchanting of dates to end. As we headed home in the truck, riding side by side like two country teenagers, we realized the spell would stay with us Ė both for the night we had and the discovery of this most amazing natural resource that sits ready, willing and able for all to utilize and take pleasure in. With a boat, begged, borrowed or bought, we knew it was ours for all time.
Bernadette Noll is an local writer and regular contributor to AustinMama.