Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Canoe, Stuck Between Two Shores

There are surprises and then there are surprises.

Walking down a road in Tanner's Ridge (that's right, yours truly spent three days in the mountains), our objective was a thorough investigation of what appeared to be a church-turned-Air BnB, but we were waylaid by a weathered-looking guy in the house next door.

From him we learned that the church was indeed now a rental property ("A guy from London staying there all week or I'd show it to you," he informs us) and that the property had originally belonged to his father, the Washington D.C. artist Robert Kuhn.

It got better. Directing us behind the church, he explained that there was an entire sculpture garden of his father's work, so naturally we made a bee-line for what turned out to be a series of "garden rooms" of various elevations located on the extensive land back there.

Some influences were obvious - there were several figures that looked a hair's breath away from a Giacometti - but overall, there was definitely a sense of mid to late 20th-century interpretations of the changing nature of American sculpture.

Scattered among the pieces were chairs of all types and colors, agreeably situated to face almost all the art should a more leisurely assessment appeal.

Nature had taken its toll on a few of the pieces with rust or softened edges or, in one case, a piece no longer attached to the larger whole but instead laying on the ground nearby, no doubt a testament to the prohibitive cost of maintaining so much outdoor art.

Of all the things I expected to experience on a mountain getaway weekend, art had not been among them, so time spent wandering the sculpture garden of the churchyard felt like a gift.

On the other hand, I had expected to celebrate Labor Day by spending a lazy afternoon in a canoe on the Shenandoah River. The weather was perfect, the sun was behind us and we were fully stocked with provisions to sustain us.

Even though it had been years since either of us had manned a canoe (and the maiden voyage for the dog), as our guide pointed out, it's like riding a bike and it'll all come back to you.

And it did, as we pulled under arching tree branches to enjoy a little lunch in the shade or as we took a sharp left to investigate a shallow, southern Gothic-looking tributary.

Our limited experience was more than sufficient when we hit the first of ten rapids, although they were class one rapids which don't amount to much more than burbling. Once the James River has gotten you used to class four rapids, anything else looks a little ineffectual, dare I say flaccid?

Let's put it this way: we were three quarters of the way into the trip when I finally took my life jacket off because it was just too hot with it on and the river was so low it seemed unnecessary.

This is when life mocks you.

No, the surprise of the day happened when we were less than a quarter mile from where we were to dismount and leave the boat and the dog suddenly leaned to one side just as a power boat went by sending along a wake in our direction and our holiday mindsets were jarringly forced to re-engage after having fully relaxed and all three of us ended up in the river.

You know that sunny moment when you're gliding along, at peace with the world and not thinking much at all, only to find yourself underwater, then above water, gasping for breath and grasping for oars and supplies?

Yea, neither did I.

The good news is we managed to clamber out (with the only casualty being a couple of rock-induced contusions on my knee), empty our vessel of river water and temporarily go our separate ways, me on foot with the dog and the stuff (singing Small Black's "Canoe" in my head), he in the canoe to return it as originally intended.

Don't get too complacent, life reminds us. Sometimes a good shaking up is just what a person needs.

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