“Do less than nothing.”
I am happy to oblige Tom, my rowing coach. I have lowered myself into this cigarette of a rowing shell, 21 feet long and a couple of feet wide at its broadest point, without flopping into icy San Francisco Bay.
Fifteen years ago, I was out walking my dog and saw such a boat glide by on flat water, its white fiberglass hull gleaming in the dawn. I couldn’t see the mechanics of the lone oarswoman’s seat as she flew forward and backward, from bow to stern, but the effortless, meditative quality of her action enchanted me.
“How do I get to do that?” I shouted, yearning to switch places with her, at least for an hour: to slip silently across the bay, without so much as the disruptive splash of a paddle. But I knew that the dawn—the flat-water time of day that’s ideal for rowing—would not be mine for many years to come.
Now that my younger son has left for college, I’ve signed up for lessons. Sliding toward the bow, I bring my knees to my chest, then gently push away. The oars follow.
“You’ve got it,” Tom says. “Faster than most.” I revel in the compliment.
A few feet behind me, I hear a soft pfffft as a sea lion breaks the water’s surface, unsealing its nostrils to suck air into its lungs.
Soon I will be out there, only feet from their curious, whiskered faces, practically at beak level with the cormorants and coots.
Cathryn Jakobson Ramin is the author of Carved in Sand: When Attention Fails and Memory Fades in Midlife. She is at work on a new book about back pain.
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