Wednesday, July 12, 2017

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

We wake to ominous grey skies, with rain expected throughout the day, but it hasn't started yet, so I scurry to get the tent packed dry, before the squall arrives.

Note to self: As you make haste, don't forget to appreciate the moment--even if you're paddling, cold and damp, into fierce headwinds.  Pay attention to beauty.  Notice something a little out of the ordinary, and be thankful for it.  Remember that each hour is precious, for at day's end,  we will be halfway through our journey's final week.


Abbreviated davening this morningin the tent, without tallit and tefillin, which I do not wish to risk getting wet.  I am tempted to skip it entirely, but am glad I don't.   Regular morning prayer grounds starts the day right, grounding me in the kind of mindfulness and gratitude that I lacked yesterday and which may not come easily today either.  I want to acknowledge the Holy One as the creator of everything--not just sunshine and joy but all of it: clouds and wind and wet, storm and struggle.  I need the power of ritual routine to push 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.  


We break camp and paddle for two hours. It's tough going with strong gusts blasting us head on, but at least the rain holds off. We push our way downstream tightly hugging the right bank, where the wooded shore acts as a bit of a windbreak.

By 12:30 or so, we spy the first signs of the approaching delta.  The landscape opens up into expansive marshlands, gently sloped banks, wind-scoured grasses.  We snake our way through, then come around a broad bend and enter Minge. It's a unique place, a quaint fishing village turned tourist town, where the only "road" is the river--leading the guide books to describe it as "the Venice of Lithuania."  This is a considerable overstatement (no one looks at Venice and thinks, "That's the Minge of Italy!") but it's lovely, with picture perfect fairy tale inns and vacation cottages lining both sides of the stream.  We tie up the boat and walk along the right bank, passing yachts and guesthouses, then return to the kayak, paddle across the river, and dock again, this time on the left bank, where we find the town's only restaurant/cafe, the Kavine Egzotica.  The lunch menu doesn't offer much vegetarian fare, so we turn to the snack section and ask for fried bread with cheese and garlic, thinking we'll get glorified grilled cheese.  We don't.  Twenty minutes or so after taking our order, the waitress sets down two huge bowls of deep-fried croutons smothered in melted cheese and mayonnaise. It's so ungodly rich and heavy; we can barely make a dent in even one of the bowls, . As Rosa puts it, you know it's not a healthy meal when the french fries on the side are more nutritious than the main course.  

Back on the river, things are sluggish at best.  We're badly bloated from the cheese bowls and buffeted by the wind, which is now whipping upstream even harder than before Minge.  Heavy rain looks imminent, and we consider calling it a day and finding a place to stay in town.  But in our eagerness to reach Vente and the Curonian Lagoon, 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 significant upstream river bends behind us.  On this slate-grey day, the landscape is comprised of just two tones: the verdure of the meadowlands and the gunmetal sky and water.  It's elemental, this world of grey and green, wind and waves, water and marsh grass.  Bleakly beautiful.

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 pushing 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 reach the ocean,  to feel the spacious salt air on our faces.


Delayed gratification.  Again.

This painstaking final leg of our journey keeps pounding that lesson into my thick, recalcitrant skull. Another frustrating day where we do not make it to the sea.  After lunch, we paddle almost an hour, and with every stroke, the going just grows tougher.  The waves get scary, heaving upstream, river-wide, impeding virtually any forward progress.  Rain slaps our cheeks, wind gusts against our upraised paddle blades.  Finally, we throw in the towel.  We pull the boat onto the right bank, thick with weeds, determined to wait out the storm.  An hour passes, then two.  No change, no clearing.  So we 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 the deluge picks up again, we are gratefully ensconced inside.  For the rest of the day and into the night, we chill in the tent, watching Netflix: a photo documentary from the Himalayas followed by a Swedish film, with subtitles, about a rash of witch trials in a seventeenth-century fishing village--essentially a Scandinavian version of "The Crucible."  In between, we boil up some freeze-dried pasta, 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 twilight descends, the storm starts 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 should make it in the morning.

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