Monday, July 12, 2010

Canoe Yoga

My friend, Glenn Blevins, wants to go on a canoe trip. He's never been in a canoe and says we should get some practice before heading out into the wilderness. He knows I've had a canoe for over thirty years but insists that we take lessons together. I don't claim to be an expert, but ownership of the equipment often-times counts for something. Glenn's lack of confidence in my canoeing ability stems from an incident that occurred many years ago involving a collision with a small sailboat in the Skokie Lagoons. To set the record straight, I did not purposely ram the sailboat as those girls stated. It was a navigational maneuver gone awry; an intended effort to meet sailors of the fairer sex. And, besides, it was only my canoe that capsized, and the reason my good friend, Ray "One Toke" Tribble, nearly drowned was because of his heroic attempts to salvage the many bottles of Heineken we had on board. The real loss was my Sansui portable tape player, cranking out Redbone's "Come And Get Your Love" as it sunk to the bottom of the lagoon, where it remains to this very day.

Glenn has heard this story from a number of people who have found it necessary to exaggerate the outcome. He, therefore, finds it difficult to let go of the legacy. (And it's not true that, while standing on the banks of the lagoon at night, the song "Come and Get Your Love" could be heard playing underwater for several days afterwards).

At first, I told him that lessons were not necessary; we'd be just fine, but one night he shows up at my house, holding two official-looking passes touting canoe lessons. The tickets were complimentary and he said if I went along he'd buy a pecan pie afterwards. So off we trudged to the Canoe Headquarters of Greater Chicago. Turns out, the headquarters was a storefront on Clark street. The nearest water was Lake Michigan, six blocks away.

We were met at the door by a serious-looking guy with a shaved head and wearing what looked like one of those white karate outfits. "Please find a mat and a paddle and take your place, and allow at least eight feet between mats," he said while gesturing to the large open room behind him. There were no canoes in sight, only bins of wooden canoe paddles and a stack of yoga mats. After about a dozen people showed up, the bald karate guy clapped his hands and said, "Welcome to Canoe Yoga, I'm Greg, your Paddlemaster. Everyone remove your shoes and take your place on your mat." He stood before the group with his arms crossed, looking like Yule Brenner in "The King and I." Everybody quickly assembled like it was the first day of kindergarten. He guided us through some warm-up moves and had us kneel on our mats. "Grab your paddle and begin paddling downstream. Imagine you're gliding through the great river of life."

After paddling air for two minutes, I turned to Glenn and whispered, "That pecan pie better be the best pecan pie known to man."
The Paddlemaster gave me a look, "No talking, please, while in your canoe."
I couldn't help thinking that I wasn't in my canoe. I was kneeling on a yoga mat on Clark street, paddling nothing but air, and if anyone saw me, they'd have me committed. He gave me another look, "You're paddling in circles. Paddle on both sides. Switch off, first one side, then the other. As in life, your journey should always be ahead of you." It wasn't dizzy that I was feeling, but I let it go, after all, I was gliding through the great river of life where trouble is often, unknowingly, right around the bend.

Then Paddlemaster Greg exclaimed that we were approaching some rapids and we should make every effort to keep our canoe pointing downstream. He began shouting, "Paddle right, paddle left, paddle harder! Dig in, dig in! People, watch out for that rock!"

I couldn't help it, "Watch out for the nut in the water dead ahead." That's all I said, but it made Glenn laugh, and we were instructed to slowly pull our canoes over to the side of the riverbank (which existed only in the transcendental vacation in Greg's mind). Once stopped, the Paddlemaster announced, while looking at Glenn and me, that perhaps our journey was over, and we should be careful not to tip our canoes while exiting. We picked up our mats while the other "canoeists" waited in silence, and tossed our paddles in the bin, making kind of a racket. By Canoe Yoga standards, our exit was a not-so-graceful leap to the riverbank.

On our way out of the Canoe Headquarters, Glenn said, "No pie, man. You got us kicked out of Canoe Yoga." To make it up to him, I handed him an imaginary paddle, addressed him as Paddlemaster Glenn, and we paddled all the way down the block to The House of Pies, singing "Come and Get Your Love," while showing our newly-learned oarsmanship by navigating around the parking meters.
Greg would have been proud of his former students.