Lessons from a Sunken Sparrow

So there I was, thigh-deep in chill-inducing river water, with my sky blue kayak, my beautiful Ellie Sparrow, staring mournfully back up at me from a foot beneath the surface. My knuckles were white with a death grip on her bow handle, trying to keep a grip on her, but with the combination of the current and the fact that she was swamped with a couple hundred pounds of water, I was far more likely to be drug downstream myself rather than pull her to shore. Slick rocks don’t make good footing, but it was the best I had since the riverbank had eroded such that dry ground was nearly shoulder height on me. Not much chance of pulling my swamped boat up that way.  There was a little rocky beach not too far downstream that I had a chance at getting to, if I could manage to guide the submerged Sparrow to the other side of the river without getting caught in the rapids, losing my grip on the boat, or taking a misstep in river rocks and getting washed away downstream myself.

Let’s back up a little bit here. How did I get myself into such a mess? Simple really. All you have to do is wait for half of your float trip buddies to get far ahead of you and the other half to fall behind you so you’re alone on a stretch of river. Then just steer your kayak out of the center of the river in an attempt to avoid the biggest rapids and come in close to shore. A low overhanging tree branch will presently catch you on the side of your head and knock you out of your boat. As you scramble to get back in, the current will pull the kayak on its side and gently dump a gazillion gallons of water in it, effectively sinking it. Voila!

That was the absolute best weekend of my summer, hands down. The sunken kayak incident was only one of the adventures I had that weekend, and it was most definitely not the most exciting one!

I think maybe I come across as tossing the word “adventure” around a lot. I mean, it’s in the name of my blog. I really do have a fondness for adventure, but if I’m going to talk about it all the time, then it’s probably about time I let you know what I mean by the term.

I’d like you to understand that by calling something an adventure I imply quite a lot about the thing itself. My mind jumps to the passage from C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair, my favorite of the Chronicles of Narnia. Here’s how it goes:

“They set out. It was good, springy ground for walking, and a day of pale winter sunlight. As they got deeper into the moor, the loneliness increased: one could hear peewits and see an occasional hawk. When they halted in the middle of the morning for a rest and a drink in a little hollow by a stream, Jill was beginning to feel that she might enjoy adventures after all, and said so.  ‘We haven’t had any yet,’ said the Marsh-wiggle.”

Good old Puddleglum the Marsh-wiggle, keepin’ it real. I think he and a few others have grasped the idea of what an adventure is. I asked my good friend Meriam to weigh in—Meriam-Webster, that is—and he says an adventure is “an exciting or dangerous experience… (verb form) to proceed despite risk.”

So I’m with Puddleglum and Meriam. In an adventure, there is always some element of the unknown. There’s danger, there’s risk. A mere walk in a wild place is not an adventure, not by default.

Also, I need you to appreciate just how long it took me to find that Narnia quote. I was convinced it was in Peter Pan. You know, along the same lines as the part where Peter asks if they’d like an adventure now or do they wanna have tea first. Google didn’t turn up much, so I read through chapter 4, where I suspected the quote would be. Twice. I read the entirety of chapter 4 twice in search of one measly little quote! After that I was a little befuddled and started wondering where on earth this quote came from. I looked on IMDB to see if it was a movie addition that wasn’t in the book. I switched stories altogether and looked in the Hobbit and LOTR. I googled every possible variation of the quote that I could think of, so much that I thought Google was going to revoke my search privileges.

Side note—did you know Google can refuse to search for things for you? One time in college I was writing a paper on a topic I knew nothing about and was relying pretty heavily on Google for all my quotes, facts, and sources. Apparently I searched too many similar things in too short of a time period that Google thought I was a robot and sent me a message saying I couldn’t search anymore. To be fair, I was searching intensively for information concerning espionage and free speech rights during the Red Scare, so maybe Google didn’t think I was a robot—maybe Google thought I was a Communist spy. Whatever the case, Google locked down and I had to wait like 10 minutes without searching for anything to get back in Google’s good graces, like a little kid who gets in trouble for running at the public pool and has to sit in shame on the grass for 10 minutes before the lifeguard lets him back in.

I must return from this rabbit trail because heaven knows I am never ever going to catch that bunny. Where is my brain today?  (I’m gonna play the ‘I’m jet lagged’ card this time. Give me grace for my rambling mind; I casually crossed the Atlantic a couple days ago.)

Ah yes. I remember. I was defining adventure.

All this to say, there is an element that separates an adventure from a leisure vacation, and that element is the acceptance of risk. Sometimes adventures throw wrenches in our plans, and we find ourselves stranded in the middle of a river current with a sunken kayak, or wind up 4,000 miles away from the person we want to be with most. I’m not saying that you can’t have an adventure unless things are going wrong—the difference lies in the reaction: when your plans go askew (because they probably will) and things surprise you or get hard (also pretty much a guarantee) if you’re in a vacationer mindset, the slightest issue can stress you out and spoil everything. An adventurer mindset looks at an unexpected situation, takes courage, and adapts. Often these setbacks are the very thing that make adventures memorable and valuable, because in overcoming them, an adventurer grows stronger. Would you read a novel where the hero accomplishes their quest with no opposition or hardship along the way? Yeah, me neither.

It’s a complicated adventure, this life. But it’s a grand one, full of twists and turns and journeys that take you where you never dreamed you’d go, and you get the benefit of having grown through it all. It is so worth it.

In case you’re wondering, I did save the kayak. I pulled it to the beach, got all the water drained out of it, relaunched it—and managed to capsize it twice more that same day. Trip ruined, right? Not a chance! It was an adventure worth having.

When my little sister went on an eight-week summer trip to Europe a few months ago, I made her a sketchbook with the words “Adventure is out there!” on the cover. I think what I wrote to her in the front cover sums up this whole “what is an adventure” train of thought pretty well:

“…but the point is, adventure is not a trip, and excitement is not a destination. Adventure is an everyday lifestyle—as long as you choose to be an adventurer.”

Also just for giggles, here’s a hedgehog who needs to read this post.

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