In times of stress and uncertainty, we look for sources of comfort and connection. During the pandemic, that came in the form of two inflatable kayaks for Mixee Vang of Sun Prairie and her family.
When the impacts of COVID-19 isolation really sank in, how did you pass your time? Did you bake your own bread, pretend the floor was lava, grow your own vegetables or adopt a pet?
I confess I did partake in some — okay, admittedly all — of these ventures. What my family and I also did was rediscover the natural beauty Wisconsin has to offer. We have always committed to filling our days with adventure, and had a hard time staying put indoors. So as the world closed down, we opened our eyes to appreciating the beauty Wisconsin offers outdoors, often within just a few minutes’ drive from home or a few minutes from the state’s borders.
To discover beyond what we could from a drive or even on foot, my family and I took to the waters with a pair of inflatable double kayaks. My husband and I would keep the rolled-up kayaks in the car, stop by any suitable body of water, inflate them, plop our girls in with us and go for a nice, quiet paddle. This immediately transformed the hustle and bustle of land life into a quiet, peaceful experience on the water.
Wisconsin waterways are special. Just about all navigable waters allow for public access, unlike some of our neighboring states. Wisconsin is home to over 12,600 rivers and streams, creating more than 84,000 miles of flowing waters.
While we may not be ready for a gradient beyond that of a lazy river, even the calm and stillness of gentle streams can offer physical challenge, excitement or adventure. Gently paddling through, you notice scenery, animals and sounds that you typically would not. There is something about quietly flowing through the water that makes you a part of the surroundings, not just a visitor.
When I walk through instead, I feel I’m imposing with my heavy footsteps, leaving my footprint trail and evidence of my presence. In the water, we can paddle closely up to turtles on a log, herons and cranes in a marsh and even share a shallow stream with fish swimming alongside you.
Family dynamics are a bit different, too. I usually share my kayak with my younger daughter. I know better than to think that she would help paddle. In fact, I don’t even bother giving her a paddle. It’s just one more unused item to keep track of.
The most memorable quote from all our kayaking is made by that younger daughter of mine, “You do all the paddling, Mama. I’ll enjoy the view.”
What’s also interesting, and psychologists will attest to this, is that when you’re not face-to-face with your child, sometimes they speak more freely with you. It’s like having a deep conversation while going for a drive, magnified times 10 when you’re together in a kayak out in nature. Kids speak more easily of their most recent dreams, tussles on the playground or conversations with their best friend. They sing out loud and also make up lyrics of their own. They use parts of their brain that are oftentimes turned off during long stints with their tablets and other electronics.
The pace of the world is starting to pick up again, and we’re starting to find ourselves once again busy with daily responsibilities. While the journey through a pandemic will have its ups and downs before we fully recover, my family and I plan to continue on our winding journey through the waters of Wisconsin, to slow things down a little and really take in how much Wisconsin has to offer.