by Gabriella Fleischman
I remember the first time I stepped into a rowing shell. The boat rocked precariously and the oar felt odd and heavy. Moving through the motions of each stroke was awkward and I felt like an embarrassment; however, it only took a few days for the movement to feel fluid and natural. Rowing soon became my hobby, outlet, and release.
There was one element of going to practice, which didn’t relate to rowing itself, that I fell in love with: the moments after workouts, when my focus broke away from the point straight in front of me; the natural beauty surrounding me was breathtaking. It was a surprise to see that where I last saw the sun now sat the rising moon, where once the sky had been turquoise blue it now was inky black, where once floated wisps of white clouds now twinkled an expanse of stars.
Although I was at first shocked to find beauty in the Petaluma River, the opportunity to spend so many hours in nature soon became a fix I could not live without. The way the breeze softly blew my bangs out of my face, created little ripples on the surface of the water, whistled through the trees and grasses growing along the muddy banks, was cooling and cleansing. Even the windy and rainy days were occasions to experience nature and the humbling disposition of the elements.
I watched the seasons change and the days grow shorter; where once was always a glowing orb in the sky, soon was a fiery sunset, and then darkness. Several nights a week I witnessed brilliant pink and orange sunsets reflected all around me on the sleek boats and still water. It was a shocking moment realizing how rarely I watched and appreciated entire sunsets prior to rowing.
All types of birds found home at the river: loons, geese, egrets, and swans. They flew low, inches from the still water, hidden by the thick and swirling morning fog, and swooped to the side. Reeds and fallen leaves slowly moved through the oar as it created an elegant mushroom-cloud shape.
It is far too easy to spend time indoors. A simple box with a screen, wires, and a remote, is enough to occupy someone for an entire day. Even spending time out of doors often does not equate to being among the natural elements; so much of our surroundings are manmade and do not truly expose us to the intricacies and wonder of the natural world.
Although I am very much a city-lover, am dependent on technology, and am grateful for modern luxuries, my life would feel incomplete without continual contact with nature. Just outside of the sleepy town of Petaluma are rolling hills, staggering mountains, foamy seashores, and expansive valleys. A few hours further are granite cliffs, cascading waterfalls, snowy peaks and lush forests. I feel blessed to live in a place with such variety and beauty of nature such as California and I intend to continue taking advantage of this blessing.