Paddling through Quarantine

by Harding Eville, first place winner in the 2021 Art of Conservation contest

Paddling through Quarantine

Four weeks ago, we went home for the weekend with the understanding that we'd have two weeks off school. Those first two weeks had been the hardest: no school, no friends, a completely open slate every day. But this open slate felt almost impossible to fill. I watched countless good movies, then ran out and moved on to bad movies. About a week in I staged an intervention with myself, saying that I had to do something productive. Then I started baking bread. It was an improvement, but I still wasn’t leaving my house. Scrolling through YouTube one day, I stumbled upon a video of a guy kayaking from Mozambique to Namibia, around the entirety of South Africa. I was inspired. Kayaking was the solution. 

My eyes flutter open. I wake up groggy, bored already. I pull on a ratty bathing suit and old t-shirt and go into the yard to pack my kayak. My dad and I loaded the kayak on the roof of our car and drove off. I spent more time than usual staring straight out the window in silence. Quarantine had begun when the trees were still brown and leafless, but now I was out in the midst of spring, with flowers growing along the side of the road as we sped past. We pulled into the Sepiessa parking lot and I got out of the car. “I’ll text you when I need a pick up,” I yelled back at my dad and turned down the trail, dragging my kayak behind me. 

The kayak was in the water at 11 am and I set off. I slowly navigated the skinny pond that runs parallel to the Sepiessa trail. I passed many houses on the shore and could see people inside, doing the same thing my family was. A man doing a home workout in his yard, a woman reading on her porch, nobody out and about. I wanted to get out into the wide expanse of the main pond and paddled harder. I felt my back growing slightly tired, each pull of the paddle required more effort and I could feel the muscles working as I covered more ground. I steered ashore and took a break on a small strip of land sticking out into the pond. After a few minutes of exploring, I found a patch of water, really a glorified puddle, only a few feet deep. It was warmer than the rest of the pond, warm enough to swim in. Wet and happy I continued my journey. Looking down I saw fish swimming beneath me. Shifting my gaze up I watched a hawk cross the sky. Then I looked around. I had done it. I was in the main pond. Water stretched for what looked like a mile in some directions. I picked an old house far down the pond as my first destination. At this point I was paddling against the current and the passage got rough as the wind picked up and small waves began to form. 

Crunch. I slid onto the rocky patch of beach in front of the house I had been aiming for. My kayak was half full of water and I was worn out. Sitting on the boat, I ate a picnic lunch of triscuits, cheddar cheese, avocado, plenty of water, and took a nap in the sand. I woke up for the second time that day, but this time rested, awake and energized. I scanned the horizon and saw the cut, Quansoo beach’s opening to the ocean. I wanted to go there. Climbing back into my wet boat was uncomfortable at first, but I got used to it by the time I was out in the pond again. This stretch of the journey was ultimately uneventful and I quickly landed ashore on the beach. I immediately sprinted up the path over the dunes and stopped. In front of me was the Atlantic ocean, something I usually take for granted on an island, but it amazed me after weeks of complete isolation, not just from people, but also nature. I would have sat there all day and waited until sunset, but I needed to get the kayak back to the launch. 

To me, the journey back from a destination always goes by faster. The wind being at my back instead of in my face was definitely a factor this time. As I neared the boat launch area I sent a text to my dad. “Be there in 20 minutes,” he texted back. When I neared the launch I paddled around aimlessly in tired silence, satisfied by my day. I heard a rustling in the bushes and looked towards the noise. I was staring face to face with four deer on the shore. We held eye contact for a few minutes, equally curious about the other. Then they moved away to graze along the edge of the pond. I responded in kind, paddling slowly down the shoreline. As the deer walked the edge, I continued at the same pace and we traded suspicious glances. The “I'm here” text came through just as the deer and I parted ways. The lead deer lifted his head from the ground and looked at me as I floated away. He nodded at me approvingly. I nodded back.