“It’s like everything is wrapped in gold,” Marypat said, when we set our two solo canoes into the lower reaches of the East Gallatin on Sunday morning. It was supposed to rain later. The winds out of the west were going to pick up, so we got to the water early, around the time church-going people cinch their ties and shine the scuffs from their shoes.
For the first hour it was all serenity, beauty and awe. The valley glowed with fall. Three sandhill cranes climbed up the bank and soared off over the fields, calling. White-tailed deer watched us swing past. An owl lifted from a pile of logs on the outside of a bend. A beaver swam under my hull. The river tugged us along, sweet and clear and low.
Then, the sermon of the wind kicked in. Fitful gusts built into full-on headwinds. The river pushed forward, waves kicked up, whitecaps. We both reverted to kayak paddles to keep up momentum, leaned into the weather, found wind eddies to rest in. Near the end, on a long westward reach, the wind became a wall. Marypat, in her light canoe, was finally driven to shore and had to line her boat along. I paddled back up to her, hitched on, and we managed the last mile or two in tow, shoulders aching, trees flailing against the sky.
Off the river by noon, out of church. A dose of beauty, a little fire and brimstone, the pew of canoe seat, a hymnal of air and leaves and bird call. Amen.