My local watering holes include Torch Lake and River, the Grass River and Lake Bellaire, and the small emerald water lake just down the hill.
There’s a trail around back here, where you can walk out to the pond to watch the moon rise and look for owls, so long as you’re conscious of the possibility of black bear.
I can’t think of any time I’ve been so invested in a spring— the glass clear water, the flick of fish beneath the surface. I am invested in the otter hunting them, the foxes skulking in and out of the woods, the bald eagles circling the lake before returning to their nest in the largest pine.
Woodpeckers drum on trees, and there’s a rush in seeing the first Baltimore Oriole return. To me, the call of loons that has always been synonymous with summer.
Painted turtles sun themselves on logs. Pileated Woodpeckers the size of my forearm cackle around sunset. In the mornings I watch the gang of goldfinches at the feeder.
It’s hard to feel aloneness watching all this life wake up from such close proximity. Even as it spits spring snow, and wind burns your face, I can see the eagles fishing below.
This summer in Armenia felt lonely. It was hot, real hot, and the group of American friends I had made in Pre Service Training were all at their own new sites, and I didn’t yet really know my host family. I had 10 hours of English Club a week, which didn’t feel like enough at the time because I knew the previous volunteer had been able to do more.
There were long hot days, too hot to go out and explore the town, and at that point the town didn’t really feel safe or comfortable to me anyhow. I was linguistically and culturally isolated, twenty three years old, and remarkably foreign, and didn’t know how to stop feeling so strange and out of place.
I lesson planned, and taught my clubs, and studied Armenian, and had coffee with my Host Mom, and tried to force myself out of my comfort zone. Meanwhile my comfort zone felt like it was shrinking every day. When the heat finally dipped below 100 degrees (F) at night, I would go for a long run up through the apricot groves to the ridge overlooking the whole of the Ararat Valley, and stay there until the light started to fade.
And eventually my language improved, and it started to feel like home, but in the meantime I got better at being alone, and comfortable with the feeling of it.
I’m incredibly lucky that one of the things still allowed and encouraged in my state is outdoor recreation, including kayaking, and that I have a soft spot for cold water and gear and experience to make that possible.
Sea kayaking is markedly different than recreational paddling— different types of boats, gear and know how. In a sea kayak your boat can feel like an extension of you, responding to your whole body rather than just a paddle stroke.
The boat has sealed off bulkheads, with pockets of air in the bow in stern. If you flip, the boat won’t sink. That’s pretty key on open water. They’re usually over 16ft long and handle rough water much better than a recreational boat.
I used to dream about the water when I was in the desert, a long long way from it. Here, you can’t go five miles without hitting a lake or river. Lake Bellaire drains to the Grass River, which flows into Clam Lake, which in turn flows into Torch Lake, which empties down the Torch River to Lake Skegmog, which connects to Elk Lake, all eventually emptying into Lake Michigan.
I used to think about these lakes, and Lake Superior, when I couldn’t sleep because of the heat—planning out routes and thinking of cold water.
I can still remember every twist and turn of my running route in shocking detail. I remember the dry red hills to the south, the outline of the Khosorov Forest to the east with it’s distinct cliffs and gorges. I still remember the purple outline of Ararat in the winter outside my window, and how the snow looked clear and pink in the morning and you could see every river and valley. I still remember my class schedule, which ones I dreaded and which I loved, and what I had planned on doing this week had we not been evacuated.
My life looks so dramatically different from two months ago that sometimes it’s hard to feel like my life in Armenia was real and the person I was there wasn’t someone else entirely.
The strangest part of it all is enjoying things here. There are things about America that I missed all the time. Some of those things are restaurants and my friends, or places I can’t visit due to the stay at home order, but others were sea kayaking, and familiar hiking trails, and avocados, and my sisters and brother. Those are all things I can and have been able to enjoy, but I feel guilty enjoying them.
Part of me feels like I should be sad to not be in Armenia forever. Part of me still is sad— sad my language skills are dropping off so quickly, sad that the clubs I had planned for the summer won’t pan out, sad that I’m not with people I said I’d be with for the full two years, and sad that my volunteer friends are all going our separate ways so suddenly.
The other part of me gets up in the morning and has a cup of coffee, watches the birds at the feeder out the window. Then I work on my TEFL certificate, and study Russian or Armenian, have a second cup of coffee. Then I’ll go for a walk, or hike, or paddle.
The other part of me enjoys the silence, and the aloneness, and the company of the birds and the woods. That part of me pulls on a wetsuit and a spray skirt, and pulls a boat out into the water. I’ll paddle near the shore line, quickly and quietly, appreciating the tug in my core and the feeling of moving forward across water. Think look at this cool thing my body can do.
I’ll look down through the shimmering green water, and think that it’s like a whole different world down there. I’ll slide past the turtles, past the loons and ducks, and I’ll feel completely separate from the rest of the world, but not at all alone.
Sometimes it feels like Armenia me and Michigan me are two different people— like the me who ran at night in the heat and the me who paddles in the cold are separate.
But in the desert I would would run towards the mountains, and hear the crickets sing and the sun catch in the dust, watch the starlings flock and feel my own muscles tense and release, feel strong and a part of something. That’s not so different from what I feel here, in this different aloneness.