Make sure to step in the middle so it doesn't tip'. Comforting words from my partner as I eye the canoe warily. This is it. After a slightly drawn out debate over the buoyancy aid as I was convinced a life-jacket would be safer (I should mention that my partner is an outdoor instructor and has the highest qualification in the country for canoeing, so I was clearly in the wrong) I take a breath and step in.
I've always had a complicated relationship with water. For as long as I remember, I have had a fear of deep water. I'm blaming my brother utterly for this. When we were little, he got into a bit of a situation whilst in a swimming pool as slipped out of his armbands (how?) and was rescued by the lifeguard. All very dramatic (at least, that's how I remember it) so I reckon that had some impact. That, and I am certainly not a natural swimmer. I hated my swimming lessons at school. Even now, the smell of chlorine makes my stomach tighten in dread.
And yet, water fascinates me. More than that, it calms me. Whenever I picture an idyllic scene, there is always water present. I have a particular connection with the sea. Sitting on a rock and gazing out at the ocean's vast expanse is just my favourite place to be. Actually being in the water is where I fall down. But this is something I am determined to overcome. Today, I am taking a step forwards as I agreed to an afternoon canoeing, with the promise that there were only some 'bimbly rapids' (what does bimbly mean?!).
As we push off from the riverside I clutch the sides of the canoe tightly, convinced that this will be my posture for the entire trip. However, within seconds I am passed a paddle and I come to the slightly unwelcome realisation that I was actually supposed to help. Not sure I completely agreed to that.
As we make our way down the river, rather clumsily on my part, my gaze it drawn underwater. I become fascinated by the floating reeds. They darken the river with their mass in places, so the bottom of the river seemed very far away. At first this troubled me. After some time, however, their beauty started to creep over me. How they moved in the water, forever engaged in the river's flow, almost like dancing in unison. I felt bad for perceiving them as menacing when they were really quite stunning.
Once my eyes were alive to beauty, I saw it everywhere. That wasn't difficult. The Highlands have an incomparable beauty that still takes my breath away. I gazed at the sun glinting off the water enjoying how the tree's branches skimmed the water's surface. Then I started to see birds. This is what I was promised of course. How else would my partner have gotten me in a boat? There were so many dippers. I watched as they darted between rocks, bouncing, always moving. Their speedy wing-beat's glancing across the water as they followed us down the river. I couldn't quite believe how calm all the wildlife was. Whenever I encounter creatures out on my walks, I always feel a bit guilty as birds hurriedly fly away. Now, I am in their element. I don't seem to be viewed as a scary human, just some bizarre floating log. The ducks swim lazily by us, barely giving us a second look. I like to think they gave us cursory nod as they passed. We are allowed to be here.
Then, almost out of nowhere, an osprey swoops down in front of us. It's white belly and piercing call unmistakable. Utterly at home in this watery setting. This osprey, at least, seems to have recognised us as humans. We are watched suspiciously for some time as we paddle round a bend and I loose sight of this majestic bird. Such an unmistakably Scottish experience. Just awesome.
After some time, I realise that my body seems to have become comfortable in this new state. I am twisting and turning to fully appreciate all the sights around me. I feel the power of the river beneath me, lending me some strength. I start to feel like Pocahontas, which deserved me an eye-roll when I verbalised this thought. I relished in this strength as my fear ebbed away with the river's current. I allowed my trust in nature to loosen my muscles and calm my breath. I never expected to feel so utterly peaceful. What a joy.
Before today my partner had mentioned going on a four-day canoeing trip. At the time I couldn't think of anything worse. Now though, I think that sounds rather wonderful. What a revelation.