Although I had been planning to row after work on Wednesday with my husband and my teammate Deb, the weather did not cooperate. What had been forecast as a small chance of rain turned into a downpour that went on, and on, and on. We stood in the boathouse for a long time, just watching it come down.

Deb and I got into a conversation about how nice and cozy it would be to sit at home drinking hot tea while watching the rain. After a while the sun came out, and we saw a rainbow. By then we had given up on trying to row. The river surely would have been full of dead branches and other debris after so much rain. The parking lot had gigantic puddles. I was wearing my water shoes, but there was no way I could step carefully enough to avoid getting my socks wet.

Watching me try to pick my way through the puddles, Deb just grinned and said “Squoosh! Squoosh!”

“We can always pretend to be kids and jump in the puddles,” I answered, now feeling more cheerful.

Word-art that says, "Rain is not only drops of water. It's the love of sky for earth. Happy Rainy Day."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to encourage self-nurturing and to “give the planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.”

All parts of this story are consolidated on one page here.

The old stone classroom felt hot and stifling on this sunny May morning, although it had been built into the earth of the hillside and had three spacious windows just above ground level. The still air almost had Ina dozing off where she sat, trying her best to look interested during another of Petra’s interminable lectures on the ethics of witchcraft. Leaves outside the nearest window swayed slightly in the faintest of breezes. A common yellow butterfly rested on the tip of a branch, fanning its wings. Ina would have liked a fan, too…

Common yellow butterfly on a leaf.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

“Pay attention!” Petra thundered, pounding the podium.

Ina flinched, wondering if she had gotten herself in trouble for letting the butterfly distract her. After a moment, however, it became clear that the exhortation was simply part of the lecture and was not directed to anyone in particular.

“We must always be vigilant—always!—lest we stray from the path of service. We face many choices every day. Some are trivial, some consequential—but in all of them, we must ask ourselves: Are we serving with love or reacting in fear? If we are honest, the answer can be found quickly. The greater challenge is to recognize the need to make a decision soon enough to ask the question.”

Petra paused to wipe her face with a plain homespun handkerchief before she brought the morning’s lecture to its long-awaited conclusion.

“Very soon, your apprenticeship year will come to an end. Then, you will go forth into the world as journeywomen. You must cultivate the habit of asking, in all that you do: Love or fear? Remember, at any time, you may suddenly be put to the test.”

With class dismissed (mercifully, in Ina’s view), it was time for lunch, followed by midday chores. After eating her bread and cheese, Ina walked with Daphne and Phoenix to pick up empty baskets from the storehouse beside the kitchen. They would be gathering dandelion greens and wild strawberries, both of which grew in abundance at the Wild Forest’s edge.

A light wind had started blowing, and the shade under the trees felt comfortable as the girls walked along the path. After a while they came to a meadow dotted brightly with dandelions, which Phoenix began to gather. Ina and Daphne continued walking toward the strawberry patch, not far ahead.

“Do you think Petra meant it seriously when she told us that we’d be put to the test?” That unwelcome idea had just come into Ina’s mind, although she couldn’t have said why. She elaborated on it further as she and Daphne walked around a gentle curve in the path. “And what happens if we fail whatever has been planned for us? Do we get sent away as unworthy?”

Daphne took a few steps into a clearing to the right, where she set down her basket next to a large clump of ripe strawberries. “No, of course not. You’re being much too dramatic, Ina. She meant only what we knew already: unexpected events often happen, and we must be prepared to make decisions wisely.”

When Daphne knelt down and started humming, Ina’s first thought was that she had been dismissed. Almost at once it became clear, however, that the melodic sound had nothing to do with Ina and was directed toward the strawberry plants. The leaves closest to Daphne’s hand lifted up, swinging their plump berries into her palm and gently releasing them. The pitch of the humming changed, as if to express thanks. Daphne put her berries into the basket and moved on to the next plant.

Lacking any such ability to converse with vegetation, Ina started picking berries the old-fashioned way. Pinching the stems between her fingers, she found herself wondering whether harvesting a crop hurt the plant. As she picked the next strawberry, she could almost imagine that she heard the broken stem shouting in agitation.

No, she had in fact heard a shout, not far away—soon followed by another one. The voices came from the path where she and Daphne had been walking earlier. The sound of running feet came from that direction, also. A wild-eyed Phoenix came tearing around the curve at full speed, breathing hard, with her long skirts bunched up in both hands to allow more freedom to run.

The voices were distinct now, very close by.

“The witch went that way! She’s heading for the river!”

A rock came whizzing along the path, narrowly missing Phoenix, and a crowd of villagers burst into view. Ina and Daphne, holding their baskets, crouched behind a stand of low shrubs. Phoenix ran past them, taking a steep descent toward the river at what looked like a very unsafe speed.

“There she is! Kill her now!”

Nellie, the farmwife who had given Ina shelter after her arrival in the Wild Forest, charged to the front of the mob while brandishing a large stick.

Putting a foot wrong on the narrow, stony path, Phoenix stumbled and fell headlong toward the river. She landed with a muffled shriek, and even at this distance Ina could see the unnatural angle of her left leg. Howling in triumph, the villagers rushed forward, waving their sticks—and then there was a gleam of metal as one of them held up a hunting knife.

Overcome by fury, Ina half-rose from her hiding place behind the bushes. Fiery anger pulsed within her. Like a lightning bolt, it was ready to strike. It would char those ignorant villagers to ashes…

“Na, na, na. Ooh, na, na, na.”

Daphne crooned softly beside her, swaying with arms clasped together as if cradling a baby. One elbow brushed Ina’s hand—ever so slightly, but it was enough to ground the roiling power within her nonetheless. A tiny crackle ran along Daphne’s sleeve and dissipated.

Tendrils of moss reached up from the river, wrapping Phoenix in a tight grasp and turning the bright orange fabric of her dress to the same muddy green as the bank where she had fallen. Branches reached down from nearby trees. Ina thought she saw a flicker of motion as the branches lifted Phoenix from the ground, passing her from one tree to another. By the time the villagers reached the riverbank, there was nothing more to be seen.

“She was here! Right here!” Nellie shrieked in frustration, beating the bushes with her stick. A startled rabbit leaped away, and a few small birds took wing.

“She must have used her magic to disappear.” The man who held the hunting knife sheathed it again. “We’ll never find her now.”

Nellie flung her stick at the nearest tree. It bounced into the river, landing with a solid splash.

“I hate those witches worse than anything! They lurk in the forest, working their evil spells and stealing children. Next time I see one sneaking around, I’m going to make sure it’s the last thing she does!”

With shouts of agreement, the villagers began walking back the way they had come. Ina and Daphne stayed motionless behind the bushes until the forest fell silent again.

As they stepped onto the path leading toward the river, a huddled shape came into view under the low branches of a spruce tree. The murky outline slowly regained its original bright colors as the moss that had hidden Phoenix released its grasp.

Ina stopped suddenly, all at once feeling unable to take another step.

“I failed.”

“Whatever do you mean by that?” Daphne glanced back over her shoulder.

“The love or fear test that Petra told us about. I wanted to set those villagers on fire and kill them all. If you hadn’t stopped me, I would have done it.”

“I did nothing, Ina. Your thoughts and choices were your own. I had no way of knowing what was in your mind. When you withheld your power, it was because you made the right decision—without any help from me. Condemning yourself for a stray thought makes no sense, and I don’t want to hear another word of it. Now, let’s go and help Phoenix to get home.”

After delivering this rebuke in an even tone, Daphne turned away and started making her way carefully down the stony slope. Just past her, on the riverbank, the birds that had flown up in alarm only a few minutes earlier were settling back into the bushes. They chirped calmly, as if nothing worth remembering had disturbed their peace.

Ina didn’t find it as easy to forgive herself.

Click here to continue to Part 14.

Some days I wonder where my time has been going. Today didn’t seem particularly busy—just my usual work, doing some laundry, going to get groceries, and a workout on the rowing machine. Even so, it didn’t seem as if I’d had much quiet time to relax.

Sitting down to write my Nurturing Thursday entry, I decided to go with this word-art image, which caught my attention recently:

Word-art that says, "In each moment you are nurturing or damaging your relationship with yourself."

I’m not entirely sure that I agree with the idea of categorizing each moment as either positive or negative. Life is much more nuanced than that, and some moments feel as if they are neutral—just drifting along, without much impact one way or another.

Still, it’s a good reminder that even when we don’t seem to be doing much, there may be patterns going on beneath the surface that need to be examined. As for wondering where time has been going, it would be a good idea to change the “never enough time” subconscious narrative to a more self-nurturing perspective, such as having plenty of time to do whatever I want—and then make sure to follow up on it by taking the time to do something fun.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to encourage self-nurturing and to “give the planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.”

My husband enjoys being a rowing referee, and last weekend he drove to Chicago to work at a regatta there. He took some photos, which he shared with me, and said that it would be a great place for our team to go next year. The course does indeed look beautiful:

Photo of Chicago Sprints rowing regatta.

Although he asked me whether I’d like to come along, I declined. Our trip to Philadelphia over Independence Day weekend was a fun adventure, but I just can’t be on the go all the time. Instead, I spent a quiet weekend reading on my Kindle and puttering around in the yard.

I am still trying to find that elusive balance between drawing energy from new activities and giving myself enough time to relax so that the energy doesn’t all drain away. It probably will feel much easier once I develop a better sense of it.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to encourage self-nurturing and to “give the planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.”

Sometimes, at the end of a workday, right after I shut down the computer and get up from the desk chair, my first thought is, “Now what do I have to do next?” It’s not because I really have tons of obligations. Rather, it seems to happen mainly on days when I don’t actually have much to do. Because modern society is so busy, a quiet evening without much to do feels a bit ominous, as if something must have been forgotten.

When that happened to me after work today, I considered whether there might really be something I needed to do, but very little came to mind other than writing this post and doing some gentle exercises with a soft foam roller. I had already worked out on the rowing machine during my midday break (16 intervals of 200 meters, which was plenty). I decided that just letting myself be aware of these feelings, and just breathing, would be enough entries on the to-do list for now.

Word-art that says, "and breathe."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to encourage self-nurturing and to “give the planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.”

July 7, 2022 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags:

When I rowed in the Independence Day regatta last weekend in Philadelphia, my single scull race turned into much more of an adventure than I had anticipated. On Saturday, my husband and I were struggling with the mixed double because it was our first time rowing on the Schuylkill River. There was some wind, the waves felt unpredictable, and we kept putting our oars wrong and just couldn’t get into a good rhythm.

We still had fun on Saturday, though, walking past the Art Museum where people run up and down the steps pretending to be Rocky, and seeing the old boathouses on what is called Boathouse Row. They were built in the 1870s or thereabouts and are beautifully maintained.

Photo of Boathouse Row in Philadelphia.

On Sunday morning the river looked calmer, and we went out for our lightweight single races hoping to do better. The men raced their singles before the women, so they were already on the course when Deb (my women’s double partner) and I carried our singles down to the dock where we would launch them.

The dock belonged to Temple University, and it was high above the water, built for large crew boats. As soon as my teeny-tiny single went into the water, it became obvious that I was going to have a major problem just getting off the dock. My boat was so far below the level of the dock that there was no clearance whatsoever between my riggers (which hold the oars) and the dock, which had a strip of soft rubber along the edge.

When I got into my boat, the rigger on the dock side sank down into the rubber strip, and I was completely stuck. I tried pushing my boat out farther than usual before stepping into it, but that did not help because my riggers, although not totally flat, have less of an upward angle than on most sculling boats. I couldn’t lean away far enough to get unstuck, either.

Meanwhile, Deb’s boat, which has higher riggers and is somewhat too big for her, looked like it would be able to get off the dock without any problems. Other women already had launched. I had the smallest boat and was the only one who got stuck. Although it was early enough that there would be plenty of time to row over to the starting line, I first had to find a way to get off the dock.

“Deb, help!” I called, while she was still getting ready to launch. This didn’t look like something I could manage by myself. Deb’s race was before mine, but we had allowed enough time that she wasn’t in a hurry. I finally managed to get off the dock by pushing my boat just past the end, halfway off the dock, with both riggers out over the water. Deb held the boat in this precarious position while I carefully climbed into it.

Then I rowed around to the middle of the river and into my lane, along with Deb, heading toward the starting line. This would be a floating start, meaning that there was no platform for everyone to line up. Instead, the competitors would sit next to each other in the lanes, floating there while waiting for the starting official to say “Go!” and drop the flag.

We had to go through a bridge before starting the race. Because I was early, I waited before the bridge for a few minutes. The water was calm, and there was little wind. I thought I’d be okay rowing through the bridge and waiting on the other side until it was time to line up for my race. As soon as I did, however, it proved to be a mistake when a strong tailwind started blowing fiercely.

I stopped rowing, but my little boat was still getting blown down toward the starting line. People were yelling at me to back up, which was quite a struggle in that wind. Thankfully, by the time my race was called, the wind had died down for the moment. The referee in charge of getting the boats properly aligned in the lanes did a good job, and we got started quickly.

I managed to row more evenly than in the previous day’s mixed double, but I still had trouble judging the waves and couldn’t get going fast enough to stay near the frontrunners. Afterward, when I was rowing back to the shore after an unimpressive finish, a gust blew my hat off. The hat fell in the water next to the boat, and I had to back up and retrieve it before it sank too far. When I arrived at the recovery dock where my husband was waiting to help me take my boat out, I threw the soaked hat on the dock, grumbling about how that was the sort of race it had been.

My husband was cheerful, although he hadn’t rowed a fast race either. He told me that I should count it as a victory to have rescued the hat. Also, he said, now that I’d had a floating start in my single race, I would feel more comfortable doing it again in the future.

“This was my first floating start in the single?” Until he mentioned it, the thought hadn’t even occurred to me. “It didn’t bother me at all. Actually, it felt like the only thing that went right.”

After we got all the singles ready for transport and strapped them back on the boat trailer, I had one more race—the women’s double with Deb. We rowed pretty well against strong competition and finished third, mainly due to her efforts rather than mine. She had a better sense of how to deal with those funky waves. Still, it was a fun vacation over a long weekend, and I am feeling pretty good about it.