Zen Kayaking

The perfect water therapy — kayaking in the mangroves in Palmetto, Florida. Photo by Sue Blanton

Every winter, when I write an article for the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy from my Florida home, I feel a little guilty. Here I sit, gazing outside at clear blue skies while enjoying a pleasant 75 degree breeze through the screens in my porch. Then, I log onto the weather for Jamestown, N.Y. Hmmm, today it looks like you have a winter storm warning, with 2-4 inches of snow expected, temperatures around 26 degrees, with winds out of the northwest at 15-20 mph making it feel like 16 degrees. All I can say is I’m sorry. So, let me ease your pain by describing one of my favorite winter activities. It’s our new “water therapy” program which my sister-in-law has nicknamed “Zen Kayaking.”

For the past two years, a group of residents from Tropic Isles, which is my 55-plus mobile home park in Palmetto, Florida, have worked tirelessly to plan and oversee the building of a state-of-the-art, user-friendly kayak launch. Now that the work is done, we celebrate every Wednesday morning with an outing. Currently, we are averaging a dozen or so willing participants. We launch our little boats and head out en masse for some water therapy.

Fortunately, we have a beautiful system of canals and basins in our park which lead directly into Terra Ceia Bay, located near the southernmost tip of Tampa Bay on the Gulf Coast of Florida. When we leave our park and travel south, there is a lovely area where you can paddle through the mangroves. You can actually feel your worries and cares slip away as you meander through the small channels and into the secluded coves.

As with any group outing, there seems to be a lot of chatter and yacking when we first start out, but upon entering the mangroves, it seems to disappear. As the raw beauty of nature surrounds each paddler, embracing their souls with peace and contentment, the need to speak evaporates and the Zen Kayaking begins.

The soft, rhythmic lapping sounds of the paddles add to the spiritualism of our surroundings. The kayaks slide effortlessly over the calm waters allowing each of us to drink in the silence and count our blessings. Often, a mullet will jump creating a loud splash, or a great blue heron will screech its primitive caw as it takes flight, jolting us back to reality. We smile and start yacking to each other again, enjoying our lives and the ride.

I love to share kayaking in the mangroves with my family and friends. I feel like I have the key to a gift from God. This year has been especially sweet. My brother, Jerry, and his wife, Gretchen, rented the house across the street from me for a month. Gretch and I have gone on several outings with the “therapy group” and on several adventures of our own with Jerry. Gretchen’s brother, Den, from New York City, recently came for a visit, and kayaking was on his list of things to do. Unfortunately, the weather hadn’t been cooperating, but we are Northerners and imperfect weather is something we are used to. So, when there is a knock on the door and I hear, “Susie! The sun is shining! Want to go kayaking?,” I’m delighted. It warms my heart and tickles my soul.

On our most recent adventure, Gretchen, Den and I launched at my house, paddled down the canal and into the bay. It had been windy and rainy all night and most of the morning. Although still a bit chilly, the water was calm, and our window of opportunity opened. We kayaked into the mangroves, and the magic took over.

Mullet were jumping. A great blue heron let us get close enough to appreciate his size and agility. Snow-white egrets roosted in the lower branches of the bushes, and several majestic ospreys kept their calm vigil of surveillance from the uppermost perches in the pines. On our way back home, we enjoyed a special treat. Several dolphins emerged just a short distance away from us, gracefully swimming towards the river. It was the perfect end to a perfect paddle.

Enjoy the rest of winter, and I will try to do the same. See you on the trails and in the water in the spring!

Susan M. Songster Weaver is retired teacher, nature lover and longtime CWC volunteer and supporter. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region.  For more information, call 664-2166 or visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or www.facebook.com/chautauquawatershed.