"We feel like boat widows," a dear friend told me last week. At least that's what her text said. I could hardly read it out on the lake.
That lake is a mirror filled with bleached white clouds. At dusk, the little red boat cleaves through them like a plow. Behind us, two shoulders of waves form a "V" and spill off to the left and right. One tumbles toward shore, the other rolls fat toward the middle of the lake. Then, slowly, like all of life's sweetest things, they're gone forever. The Japanese call it mono no aware, "the tender sadness you feel when you see beauty that is passing."
This is the tender sadness parents feel when they watch childhood replaced on the faces of their children by the features of young adulthood. It can be arresting. It's more than some can handle. I advise them to get a boat.
There's more testosterone at a boat launch than at a NASCAR reunion. Marine machismo. An environment of virility where mouthfuls of two-stroke motor smoke hang in the humid air. Men stand on the dock, as taut as the rope in their gasoline-slicked hands.
They speak in one-word sentences. An offer of help can sound more confrontational than concerned. "Problem?" asks a dude in a muscle shirt as we fumble with our hitch release. It was the tone of the word. A two-syllable menace. A hundred miles away from, "May I lend you a hand?"
Why are things that provide pleasure called escape? The stiffness at the boat launch melts away out on the water. People wave boat-to-boat, as though they're saying "You made it!" So maybe it is an escape. The motor purrs beneath our conversation. Canoeists and kayakers stay close to the shore. That used to be us. Suckers! All in one motion I hit the kill button and roll off into the middle of the lake. In the summer of drought we're surrounded by water.
The fishing licenses are framed through the transparent orange lid of the tackle box. Like a Smithsonian exhibit. The ice chest rattles with freezing cold cans of beer. Summer's maraca. Oars chatter across the flanks. Big bomber boats with throaty inboards roar past us. We sit in 14 feet of floating hillbilly heaven. The Appalachian Yacht Club.
She's Honey Badger. She don't care. Push her electric start button and she comes alive. Hurricanes now have male names. That'll never happen with boats. No man is as agile in the face of quickly changing conditions. No man does his job only to ask little in return. Men don't recognize the right speed in life at which to plane. Men need a compass to take you wherever emotions call.
Monona is Mendota's slutty sister. We love her. She's our home lake. We wave to the jetliners swooping close overhead on their way in from Denver. The Yahara River is our journey into the Heart of Darkness. Only instead of being met at river's end by the apocalyptic grin of Dennis Hopper, we're greeted by a kindly man in jorts, the Tenney Lock Master. Is there a better-sounding job than Lock Master?
Transom. Choke. Tiller. Running lights. Tilt lock. No ethanol, run it lean. Have you seen your lover back up a trailer? Oh baby, when she buries that trailer in the water up to the hitch lights. Unbuckle, unsnap, unlock. Her hands mingle with mine until it's done.
Then the tat-tat-tat-tat of the bow wench. Honey Badger is free and floating. The car lunges up the ramp. The empty trailer drips water like a thousand melting popsicles.
And ropes. Ropes and knots and cleaves and tie offs. Rope placed from one hand to another. Secure. Nice catch. If one cannot give and take instruction one should stay off a boat. Marriage counselors should sentence couples in trouble to two weeks on a boat.
Once ashore, those counselors would hear from their clients that quiet is as good as talking. The water demands silence of some sort along your way. Voices carry out on the flats, but so, too, does a golden hush. If the fish are biting, even just a little, we dampen down. Minutes overtake moments and there's nothing to talk about, but everything is spoken to. I would bolt a boat motor onto our sofa to have this at home.
The new motor gulped up most of our youngest son's sophomore-year college tuition. Oh well. Where there's a will there's not always an inheritance. I mean a way. His mother and I are coming to know Honey Badger as an investment of a different sort.