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The Kayak

by Lauren Bowman of Dublin, Virginia,

a senior majoring in wildlife conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment

The sun glistened on the water, creating little diamonds of light that sparkled all around me. I could hear the distant sound of waves crashing on the shore and seagulls cawing over my head. Water lapped at the sides of my kayak as I glided effortlessly through the water. I looked up towards the sky to see a pelican fly past where I was sitting on the water. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. The stress of my daily life suddenly felt so trivial out here. I let my hand fall to the side and started to create little vortexes in the water with my fingers. It hadn’t exactly been easy getting out here…

I was staying at a friend’s vacation home on Amelia Island for the week of spring break. I had never heard of Amelia Island before my friend mentioned it, but based upon my first Internet search I had learned that it was a part of a chain of barrier islands off of Florida’s Atlantic Coast. It was one of the less developed and therefore less crowded beaches in Florida, which was part of the appeal. In fact, the streets had been almost empty when we had walked down to the beach with the kayak. The only sound was our bare feet hitting the pavement as we walked.

When we had reached the beach with the kayak I had started prepping myself for how cold the water was going to be. It was March after all. I had approached the waves hesitantly, but it’s impossible to ease yourself into the ocean. As I had approached the water a huge wave came crashing in, showering me with ice-cold water that felt like a thousand needles stabbing into my arms and legs. I immediately started to rethink the whole kayaking thing…

But I pressed on, hurriedly pushing the kayak out until I was about waist-deep before I hastily jumped into it, trying to escape the stinging cold. The only solace after that were the warm rays of the sun beaming down on me. My friend gave me a push from the shallow water to get me going and I started to paddle fast. The waves were big and unforgiving, threatening to knock me out of the kayak. The first big wave rolled steadily towards me and I kept paddling fast, trying to keep the kayak straight as the wave approached. I managed to steer straight into it and the wave pitched the front of the kayak up into the air. It came back down again with a loud smack as it hit the water, creating a huge splash that drenched me with water. I realized at that point how implausible it had been to think that I could somehow avoid getting that wet once I was in the kayak.

Once I had gotten past the break zone, the water had become flat and calm with only small ripples hitting the sides of the kayak. It was as if I had passed into another universe, far away from the sounds of the beach and the waves. I felt completely alone. The world I had left behind seemed so small now in comparison to the vast ocean that was now spread out before me.

Suddenly, only a few feet away from my kayak I heard a gust of air and I saw something shiny and grey emerge from the water. The curvature of a dolphin’s back slowly emerged out of the water, only to sink a few seconds later, leaving me staring agape at the spot where it had disappeared. I impulsively looked around me to see if it would emerge again, but saw nothing. Did that really just happen? Then it emerged again, this time right in front of my kayak. It was so close I could have reached out my hand and touched it. The dolphin pushed its nose up out of the water as if it was trying to get a good look at this big object floating on the surface of the water and then slowly submerged again. I wondered what it thought I was in this bright yellow kayak.

I continued floating in the same direction, trying not to make a big fuss but my mind was buzzing. The dolphin reappeared a few times, each time slowly coming up and then disappearing underwater again. It no longer seemed interested in me in my kayak and I didn’t get the sense that it was in a hurry. It must have just been meandering along, making its way north along the beach. I suddenly wished the water was clearer so that I could see what was happening below the surface.

I followed the dolphin for a little white longer, not wanting to lose it… and not wanting the moment to end. After a while though, I realized that I was getting really far away from where I had originally pushed off. I looked back at the spot where I had last seen the dolphin emerge and then back towards the beach. I can’t stay out here forever, I thought. I sighed and with much conceded effort, I slowly started to turn the kayak around and paddle back towards the beach. I looked back one more time to see if the dolphin would emerge again, but saw nothing.

As I paddled back, I looked up briefly to see two pelicans flying over the water in the opposite direction. Another bird was flying in circles and suddenly dive-bombed the water. It came back up with a fish in its talons. I smiled to myself.

It was a good day.

Lauren’s essay received honorable mention in the 2015-2016 VOWA/Dominion Resources Collegiate Undergraduate Award for Best Outdoor Essay.

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