These are the people I aspire to be. The good people. The doing-everything-right people, living life to the fullest while others are still asleep. Morning people.
I’ve never been one of those people, but every once in a while – in a burst of motivation – I give it a try.
Twice this week, I got up at 5 a.m. and was out of the door a few minutes later. It gets light long before the sun comes up in this part of the world, the sun below the horizon offering a cool, grey light for the runners and the guy standing outside my building turning on his Map My Ride app before he got on his bike. The line of commuters driving across the Government Bridge still had their headlights on as I crossed into Illinois and headed for Moline.
After six months of living in the Quad-Cities, I’m still discovering the places everyone else already knows about and the other night after taking my dad to the Bass Street Chop House, I stumbled upon the YMCA Rowing Center dock on a quiet piece of water behind the Kone building and decided to come back in the morning.
Before the sunrise, it was already warm on the water. The only sound on the water was the humming of John Deere and the sound of the small wake behind my boat. This was the first time I’d seen the back of the iWireless Center or the Mark or whatever we’re going to call it come July 2017 when that sign comes down and another one goes up. “We’ll always call it the Mark.”
This part of the river is shallow. My paddle touched the mud and something slapped against the bottom of my boat. I saw the spiny back of a frantic and oblivious carp, shaking and spawning. A blue heron spread its wings and took off over a gathering of pelicans sitting on a sunken tree trunk. A thin fog hung over the water and I felt the heat of the first rays of direct sunlight.
Reveille sounded from the Arsenal and the world, it seemed, began to stir.
I remember, years ago, sitting on a surfboard in Maine, looking back at the beach from beyond the swells. In that moment, I felt like I knew something no one else know, alone out there seeing land from the water in the early morning. I felt that way again, paddling up this urban inlet in Moline, Illinois.
The I-74 bridge looks different down from the water. Down there, you don’t feel the oppressive heat of sitting still in traffic – a mile of cars ahead and behind and no way out but to wait for your turn to crawl another few feet. Down there, you don’t see the snowstorm of mayflies, leaving drifts of wings and bodies on the top of your windshield wiper. Down there, the green-gated bridge actually looks beautiful, and the only hint of the horrible experience above is the steady whine of tires.
Down river, I saw the flash of white from the broad side of oars as rowers glided by, perfectly timed. Compared to them, my kayak was wide and slow, rolling across the water like a flat tire.
But I didn’t care. It felt so good to have found a calm patch of water. Living so close to the Mississippi River, I’ve been surprised how hard it has been to find that spot where the water is slow and you aren’t fighting waves and wing dams. “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”
As I carried the boat out of the water, a group of rowers sat enjoying some coffee and conversation after their early morning workout. We talked about the carp and the water as I hosed off my boat.
“Come back again,” one man said. “We’re here every morning.”
Yes. Keep going back, a friend said later that day. “You haven’t seen anything yet,” she said, “just wait until the lotus bloom.”