The Poise in the Boat
Rain or shine, every day for the past few weeks, as soon as the sun rises and again not long before it sets, local college rowers glide by my house in sleek white shells of one, two, four and eight. The simultaneous dip of so many oars into fast moving water creates a rhythmic thump loud enough to wake me at dawn and divert my attention in the twilight. I just love that sight.
Most times there are enough sculls going by to be an armada. That's because women have equal opportunity now, scull for scull, and some days it's hard to tell who's who out there. I can only distinguish their boats from the males' on those not freezing days when guys tend to row bare-chested and all torsos in others boats are covered by tanks or tees or sweats. Because women in my time weren't allowed to row and I love the sport, I have been known to spontaneously shout: "Go Girls!"
That's about it for segregation at sea here, a sensible matter of muscle might. Since everyone's legs are bare, this year I see some are dark and others caramel. An encouraging addition to a very Brahman blueblood sport--like women. But then, sex and skin color don't matter half as much as the guts to get up in the chilly dark of 5 am to be out uncovered on the water by 6, especially when it's raining or so cold I'm inside wrapped in fleece, snuggled in sleep. It amazes me they get out there. The crews have already gone a mile when they pass by me and will glide another mile before they turn back stroke and feathering without letup: four miles with and against a stubborn, powerful tide. stroke feather stroke feather.
Sex and skin color have nothing to do with the energy, stamina and sheer will to go the distance. It's all mind. Mind over matter. Mind is the matter. Rowing is the most grueling sport because there's no pause, no time out, no chance to step aside on the field. Just continual stroke feather stroke feather with everybody dependent on you keeping up keeping on the stroke feather. A mantra.
Even when crew is done, it's not done. The rowers have to lift their shell out of the water and carry it away. There's no locker room to retreat to and relax in. Just a van ride back to campus. And there are no cheerleaders or friends/parents in viewing stands. It's lonely that way. Not an ego trip.
I think I am perpetually mesmerized by the sight of those shells sliding by because sex and skin color, slaps on the back, standpoint and sensibility are all so irrelevant. Rowing is every body literally pulling together. It is the awesome phenomenon of persistence, the miracle of exertion and the dazzling display of diligence--qualities I recognize I don't have enough of every time those boats glide by.
That magnificence was of course the point of that thrilling book, The Boys in The Boat. Those ragtag eight Washington state boys went for the gold and by their merit beat both bad weather and cheating Nazis to it in 1936 because, man to man, they could not bear to disappoint each other. If ever there was a team sport, crew is it.
The single scullers must look over their shoulder all the time to see where they are going. They look lonely out there in the crowd, and uninteresting to me. They get no coxswain to help, no one to to set the pace. Performance is strictly up to each of them with no way to know if it's good enough or not. Going it alone has obstacles and handicaps that go away when the number of rowers in a boat goes up. I think I am mesmerized by the sight of all those sculls sliding by two times a day because they are a memorably picturesque message not only about how much more persistent exertion I need, but more crucially perhaps, how much faster, smoother and friction free we humans can go when we are in the same boat diligently pulling together.
~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
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