Paddling around Lake Harris, part of the headwaters of the Hudson River (see the small stream that becomes the mighty Hudson above top, and a sign along the way pointing to Mt. Marcy just about 10 miles away and NY City about 200 miles away), I reflected on the restorative effects of spending a whole day on the water, and the ways in which it’s much better continuing education for my day job than any conference or self-help book. Don’t believe me? Well, here are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned when kayaking that seem pretty relevant to the rest of my life.
1. No matter how pretty the day and calm the lake when you launch, invariably you will hit strong headwinds and waves as you try to get back to shore. I can’t recall a paddle that was smooth water start to finish. I have learned to go out anticipating winds and waves even when the water looks very flat. I’ve learned to stop being annoyed by the sudden changes in weather, instead greeting them as challenges that I’ve learned to use to my advantage. Paddling in a headwind is hard work but very exhilarating and great exercise! And just like real work! Who among us has a placid day from start to finish?
2. There’s a thin line between a good risk and a stupid move! It’s one thing to anticipate some wind and waves… quite another to launch with thunderclouds overhead. Knowing how to read the weather is essential, along with learning how to read the water — what’s just under that apparently smooth surface, like rocks and logs, can ruin a beautiful day. Being able to recognize risks and paddle around them is a good life skill for a college president!
3. Speaking of risk management — wear a lifevest! It’s not for sissies. See #1 and #2 …. weather and paddling conditions can change rapidly, and being prepared is the best defense against disaster. Anticipating risk, planning effective strategies to cope with risk while still enjoying the journey…. isn’t that what effective administrators do all day long?
4. Pause frequently to enjoy the abundant wildlife. Appreciating the mysterious rhythms and calls and colors of the ducks and birds and furry things around the lake is an essential ethic of wilderness life. Learning to listen, observe and appreciate all of the life around us is an essential part of effective teaching and leadership, too.
5. To keep up your paddling skills and muscles, you have to do it regularly. Ouch. Getting out there for the first long trip this season is memorable if for no other reason that a few sore spots! Resolved: to keep up this most pleasurable pastime back home on the great waterways around Washington.
PS — got some great comments on my blog on the hatchlings, many more on every lake, see another photo above.
Tomorrow: Loons and more Loons!!