Seeing the Horizon

A few years ago, I realized that standup paddling was a great Cure for Cabin Fever. This year, I finally figured out why: it’s all about seeing the horizon.

Cabin fever is thought to be caused by too much time indoors, by not having enough space around us. For me it’s caused by going too long without getting on the water.

winter morning sunrise dutch harbor rhode island

As soon as I step onto my board, I feel my world expand. Away from the confines of house and office, no longer limited by the speed of my typing fingers, my brain races ahead beyond what is logical and known to the land of “could be.” On my morning paddles, I come up with some of my best ideas for characters, books, songs, and even blog posts. Unlike sailing, my body is active but the tasks are almost automatic: lean into the paddle, feel the bite of water, pull it out again and bring it forward. Repeat. My brain is still sleep-fuzzy and not yet too critical, freeing ideas to flow. Together, mind and body race ahead to make links and jumps and connections that never would’ve occurred sitting at my desk.

Fortunately, my “horizon” doesn’t have to meet the strict definition of where the earth’s surface meets the sky. My eyes ignore any “irregularities and obstructions” automatically, even when I’m close enough to the shore to spot details: a lone seagull dropping a quahog shell, or a seaweed-coated rock showing half tide. As long as there’s a watery expanse ahead, my vision expands. That’s why living close to the water is so important to my creativity.

It seems quite ironic that when pluralized, “horizons” defines our limits: of mental perception, experience, interest, or education. But it also seems perfectly appropriate that astronomy assigns a specific definition for both a rational and a sensible horizon.

When I studied celestial navigation, I learned that you couldn’t get an accurate fix to determine where you were on the earth without being able to see an actual border between sky and sea, without any obstruction or irregularity. Luckily, I don’t need such a strict definition of horizon to figure out my place in the world. I just need a piece of water big enough to paddle across.

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