Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Upstream 29: The Waiting (Tuesday, June 13, Minija River, between Minge and Vente)

I wake at 2:30 and 6:30 am, but manage to go back to sleep until 8:00.  It's grey and stormy, with rain expected throughout the day, but the squall hasn't started yet, so I scurry to get the tent packed dry, before the downpour.

Note to self: Hurry if you must, but don't forget to appreciate the moment--even if you're cold and damp and the headwind is doubling the paddling effort.  Pay attention to beauty.  Find and give thanks for something a little out of the ordinary.  Make the most of your time.   Because after today, we will be halfway through our journey's final week.


Abbreviated davening, in the tent, without tallit and tefillin, which I do not wish to risk getting wet.  I was tempted to skip it entirely, but am glad I didn't.  Tefillah, my morning prayer, grounds me and starts the day right, with the kind of mindfulness and gratitude that I lacked yesterday and which may be a struggle today, too.  I want to remember that the Holy One is the creator of everything.  Not just light and joy but all of it: clouds and wind and wet, storm and struggle.  I need my ritual routine to jar me out of my small, anthropocentric, self-centered perspective.  Why should the weather give a damn about me, really?  What kind of world would it be if it did?  I want to love the Creation as it is, the Holy One's handiwork.  All of it.  


Two hours of paddling to start the morning.  Tough going, with fierce headwinds but no rain.  We try to hug the right bank, where the wooded shore acts as a bit of a windbreak.

By 12:30 or so, we see the first signs of the approaching delta.  The landscape opens up into flat marshes, gently sloped banks, wind-scoured grasses.  Then we come around a bend and enter Minge. It's a unique place, a quaint fishing village turned tourist spot, where the only "road" is the river--leading the guide books to describe it as "the Venice of Lithuania."  That's a bit of an overstatement (no one looks at Venice and thinks, "That's the Minge of Italy!") but it's lovely, with trim, upscale cottages and bed and breakfasts lining the stream on both sides.  We tie the boat to a dock and walk along the right bank, passing yachts and guesthouses, then go back to the kayak, paddle across the stream, and dock again, this time on the left bank, where we find the town's only restaurant/cafe, the Kavine Egzotica.  There's not much vegetarian fare, so we each order fried bread with cheese and garlic off the "snack" menu, thinking that we'll getting glorified grilled cheese.  We don't.  Instead, the waitress sets down two huge bowls of deep-fried croutons smothered in melted cheese and mayonnaise. We can barely make a dent in even one of the bowls, it's so rich and heavy.  You know it's not exactly a healthy meal when the french fries on the side are more nutritious than the main course.  

When we finish our lunch and head back to the boat, we're bloated from the cheese bowls and buffeted by the wind, which is now blowing even harder than it was before the break.  Heavy rain looks imminent, and we consider staying in the village for the night.  But we're eager to reach Vente and the Curonian Lagoon, so we press on.

Before long, we realize we've made a mistake.  Progress is painful as we paddle into the squall, but there's no turning back here, with Minge now several river bends behind our backs.  On this slate-grey day, there are only two tones in the landscape: the verdure of the meadowlands and the gunmetal sky and water.  It's elemental, this world of grey and green, all wind and waves upon waves of water and marsh grass.  Beautiful.

And also a little scary.  We don't have as much control as we'd like in our battle with the elements; every few feet gained on the river is hard-earned.  We're heading for Vente, for the lighthouse at the cape that marks land's end, where we will enter the bay.  Caution is in order, for we have a river kayak with no spray skirt.  It has served us well for the last three and a half weeks, but it is not built for the open sea.  Still, it will be so nice to see the ocean, to move into its spaciousness, to feel the salt air on our faces.


Delayed gratification.  

This last leg of our trip is pounding that lesson into my thick, recalcitrant skull.  Once again, we do not make it to the sea.  After lunch, we paddle almost an hour, and with every stroke, the going just gets tougher.  The waves whipping upstream, all across the river, are getting scary and impeding virtually any forward progress.  Rain slaps our cheeks, wind blows against our upraised paddle blades.  Finally, we give up.  We pull the boat onto the right bank, thick with weeds, and decide to wait out the storm.  An hour passes, then two.  No change, no clearing.  So we decide to call it a day, even though it's still early afternoon.  When the rain eases for a few minutes, we hastily pitch and pack the tent with our sleeping gear; by the time it starts to fall again, in relentless, windblown sheets, we are gratefully ensconced inside.  For the rest of the day and into the night, we chill in the tent, watching Netflix: a show about a photographer doing a shoot in the Himalayas and then a Swedish film, with subtitles, about a rash of 17th century witch trials in a fishing village--essentially a Scandinavian version of "The Crucible."  In between, we cook up some freeze-dried pasta and talk and laugh and play a lot of gin rummy.  We're happy to be warm and dry and comfortable.  Today, the waiting isn't too bad.


Luckily, as the late night sunset falls, the storm seems to clear.  We go to sleep with the rainfly doors open, hoping for smoother waters tomorrow.  Vente and the Curonian Lagoon lie just a couple miles ahead.  Weather-permitting, we'll make it in the morning.

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