I recently took up rowing. There's a boathouse on the bay near me, and they offer a Learn To Row program. I've never rowed before, but I grew up on and around the water, and I was curious, and it was too tempting to pass up. I'm in love. It's hard and fun and hard and surprisingly complicated and there's something so primally satisfying about being on the water so early in the morning. Was this the time of day our ancestors used to hunt? I don't know. All I know is the early bedtime, the 4am wake ups, the lugging boats and oars and equipment up and down the beach, the two hour sessions you spend almost an hour of getting and carting and cleaning and putting away gear, are all worth it for the soft *swish thwoop* of your oars through the water while you watch the sunrise.
(Well, on days you're rowing with a small group in small boats, anyway. Other mornings it's big boats full of lots of people rowing in sync in the dark and doing drills while coaches and coxswains yell through megaphone and you (me) worry that as the new person you're going to let your 7 boat-mates down.)
There's also the fun and thrill of experiencing nature close up. The three ducks - brown, black, and white - that are always marching around together, hanging on the beach by the boathouse (I've named them Harry, Mary, and Larry). The feeling when you near a group of birds, bobbing peacefully on the water, and they start taking off as you (*swish thwoop*) get closer. The first time a pelican flies a foot off the water and parallel to the boat for a few long moments, and you (I) have to close your mouth before something flies in it.
This morning it was so quiet that when a bird flew low over the water near me I could hear its wings beating. And I thought that was stunning and surreal.
Then a giant pelican perched on a nearby buoy and let me paddle close enough to see the detail in his gorgeously colorful bill. And I thought that was stunning and surreal.
And then a seal ate a stingray.
Let's back up.
There's a lot to remember when you're rowing. So this morning as I worked on my sculling technique in a single boat in a calm area of the bay, the coach (who is possibly the nicest and most knowledgeable person in the world) followed me in the launch boat yelling through a cone helpful (truly) things like "Back straight! Push down on those pins, slow on recovery! I want your triceps to hurt! Just shy of 90 degrees on the release! RELAX those shoulders! Power on the drive! USE those legs!" and as I focused on all this, and keeping the boat steady and the oars in the right position, and remembering exactly where each finger goes - and did I mention that you row facing backward, so that as you're doing all this you have to figure out how to watch where you're going and keep an eye out for buoys? - and it was time to start making my way back to the boathouse, the coach suddenly said "Hey! A seal just caught a fish over there!".
I've lived in San Diego 8 months and until this morning had never seen a seal, even though I'd wanted to. So my attention was immediately rapt. The seal disappeared for a minute, and then came back up, playing and splashing. Except it turns out it wasn't playing and splashing, and it hadn't caught a fish. It had caught and was eating a stingray.
I think the stingray was giving him the what-for, hence the splashing and diving.
The seal won, obviously, in the end.
Things I checked off my San Diego bucket list today: Seeing a seal. Seeing a stingray. Seeing a seal eat a stingray. That last one was added and crossed off at the same time.
As a bonus, it reminded me of this video, which I secretly hope will happen every time I'm out in a boat.
Oh, and as I paddled back to the boathouse with a giant grin on my face, I worked my way toward and around a buoy, which turned out to be not a buoy but that enormous pelican again, bobbing on the water and giving me the hairy eyeball. I got even closer this time. (And I wanted to shout DID YOU SEE THAT?!)
It was a good morning.