Take a Moonlit Paddle to Cure Nature Deficit Disorder

Commentary by Cindy Ross

The nesting Canada geese are vocal, protesting our kayaks’ close proximity. Mallard ducks slap their webbed feet against the lake’s surface, to take a running start. In the pink twilight, the dark skeletal trees are mirrored in the inky waters. Tonight the moon is full, and we are celebrating by paddling across the lake and up the River, using only the light from above.

The sounds over the water are amplified at night, making up for our limited vision. The wind blows across the lake, hitting us head on. I can feel my new friend, Kenny Ballentine, tensing as he strokes and leans into the wind. He hasn’t been on the water in eight years, and never in a kayak, certainly not at night. But I know, even with the exciting little rollers and our struggle to make headway, we will be fine. If we should tip, the lake is warm and shallow, and it will be quite a ride back by the full moon.

Kenny just flew in from California. He’s a documentary filmmaker who is creating a piece titled Nature Kids that looks at the consequences of growing up detached from the natural world and what can be done about it. His work complements Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods, which discusses “nature deficit disorder,” a term that refers to the concern that children are spending less time outdoors, resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems. Kenny is here to shoot our family as part of his film.

September is still warm enough to get out on the water and rivers are often higher with the fall rains. The Chesapeake Bay watershed is blessed with thousands of miles of navigable waterways as well as countless lakes and ponds. Familiar, calm water with no strainers is best. If not, a lake is safer. We combine the two — paddle across the lake behind the dam, travel up the backed-up river a mile before there is current, then turn around.

We invite our two dairy farmer friends along. After a long day of milking more than 100 cows and spreading silage, they arrive in their stained cotton jeans, insulated Carhart jackets and work boots, not bothering to change. “If you go in, you’ll sink in those paddling duds,” I tease them. They smell of silage molasses, pungent cow manure and sweet milk. They are happy for the diversion and escape from farm work.

It is difficult to paddle by the light of the full moon and not feel like you are escaping the reality of your hurried life. If I don’t orchestrate this type of night from time to time, the workdays just run together and all we are left with in the end is a worn out body, but very little fun and memories. We will all need something to think about when we retire in that rocking chair and it better not be regretting the life we did not live. Adults are not immune from nature deficit disorder.

As I dip my paddle, I think about a conversation I recently had with a young man with whom I recently traveled to Africa. He was relaxing next to me on the plane, deeply involved in a video game, and asked, “Don’t you want to just watch TV or play a video game sometime?”

“Never,” I replied. I hate TV. Everyone in our family does. What they do know how to do, is come home after work, load up the boats, grab a quick dinner and get out for a kayak run.

The wind is swift on our return ride. It pushes against our backs and if we raise our paddles above our heads in the moonlight, the narrow blades act as a sail and shoot us across the lake. We let out a whoop! The sensation of scraping ceilings, squeezing teats and typing keys is long gone.

Loading up boats after a day’s work might seem like a hassle until you are on the water, and hanging out in front of the tube might be easier, but we would be missing out on a simple yet deeply pleasurable experience. What we are really doing out on this river tonight by the light of the full moon is enjoying a deviation from everyday life, grabbing a chance to become charged with energy and life force. These little doses of moonlight help us stay happy and function in that “other” world and remind us that there is much magic in the natural world and most of it is free. When we are old, and incapacitated, we can chill on the sofa.

Cindy Ross writes from Pennsylvania. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.

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