Look where you want to go!

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It’s winter in Wisconsin, and I’ve been playing a bit with my new toys from Santa: a secondhand pair of cross-country skate skis. I’ve been a trail runner my whole life, and paddling long enough that my boat feels like another limb, but skis are an unfamiliar tool. As I flail and careen up and down the trails, I sometimes get frustrated with my inefficiency and lack of control. Exhausted and exasperated, I once admitted to Daniel—him all calm, balance and smiles—that I’m just not used to doing things I’m not good at. Then I smiled, realizing that it has been awhile since I’ve truly tried to learn something new. Sure, I push myself regularly in kayaking and academics, but this means building upon some facet of the field that I’ve already “mastered.” Starting something from scratch can be hard; it can be a big deal! Learning to skate ski has caused me to slow down and be gentle with myself. It has prompted me to reminisce on my very first days in a kayak, on how the basics that are now engrained into my being once felt so foreign.

A good friend shared a little pep talk with me about how the best way to ski up a hill is to look ahead, not at your feet. “That’s just like kayaking!” I exclaimed. “You have to look where you want to go!” Even though I learned this in a paddling context nearly six years ago, sometimes I still hit rocks or get snagged in nasty holes when I let them steal my line of sight. When this happens, I have to check myself and reset my sights on where I want to end up. The eddy. The tongue. The boof. My body will never get there if I don’t have the courage to look first.

I’m grateful to my beat-up old skis (and my patient boyfriend) for giving me the opportunity to reconnect with the essence of being a beginner. Even in kayaking, I’m just as much a beginner as I was six years ago. Each new rapid is a chance to start over, with new positive places to fix my gaze upon. In the poem I’m sharing this month, I reflect upon the experience of teaching the look-where-you-want-to-go command to new paddlers…and applying it to a larger life goal, of seeking out places containing new growth and discovery. Enjoy!

Vision

I preach,

look where you want to go.

I see eyes down, unfocused.

Boats spin and crash.

Cusses, tears, grumbles tumble.

I repeat,

look where you want to go.

Once, a strainer snagged me,

scrambled me to a pretty pulp.

God, why?

His voice, torrential:

look where you want to go.

I dreamed I was a fish,

gulping frigid Nantahala,

grasping at isotonicity.

I dreamed I was an osprey,

cavorting in currents

cooling Carolina mountains.

I glimpsed myself

from above and below,

a wet spirit

with wide, anticipating eyes.

God said, look where you want to go.