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Summer Obsession

09/26/07 7:55AM By Deborah Luskin
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(HOST) As one who loves winter, Commentator Deborah Luskin had little patience for even Vermont's brief summer until she discovered sculling. Now, she'd like summer to linger just a little bit longer.

(LUSKIN) I used to think of summer as an unavoidable interval between snowstorms, long months of no skiing and tedious hours mowing the lawn. I learned how to tolerate summer by rising early to weed the garden, then work indoors during the heat of the day. Late afternoons, I'd go swimming. I always thought the best things about summer were all the different ways to cool off: dipping into a stream, sipping a long drink in deep shade, indulging in ice cream or simply sitting still. But all my dislike of summer vanished when I learned to row.

My middle daughter had taken up crew her first year in high school and wanted to continue rowing over the summer. I was vaguely aware of a club on the Connecticut where we could learn to scull. I made a deal with my daughter: I'd drive her to the lessons as long as I could take them, too.

For about six weeks, I delighted in having my fifteen-year-old willingly wake up at five-thirty in the morning, eager to go. With her newly laminated learner's permit, she would drive us over the hill. At the river, I became the novice. Then my daughter took a job as a camp counselor, leaving me alone on the water.

I'm a writer. I'm rarely at a loss for words, but sculling leaves me breathless and mute. My actions are best described as obsession.

My second season on the water, I bought my own boat. This was just before I turned fifty, and my husband asked if I was sure that's what I really wanted, instead of a sports car or a trip to some distant city. I drove off to Maine to pick up my second-hand beauty, a Kevlar and mahogany shell over twenty-five feet long, only eleven inches wide and weighing just over thirty pounds. That was three years ago. Since then, I've rowed about a thousand miles, putting my boat in the water before the trees bloom, and not taking it out until after foliage.

There's nothing quite like the river early in the morning, or the exhilaration of becoming a pivotal gear in the simple mechanics between boat and oar. When I get my rhythm, time stops, I go.

I used to get through summer by gardening. I'd dutifully plant peas as soon as the earth could be worked, but honestly, I always welcomed the first autumn frost as a signal to put my trowel away and start waxing my skis. Now that I see the seasons from the river, I have a whole new point of view.

I've witnessed turkeys calling before the trees leaf out, and I've intercepted a flotilla of ducklings with my boat. The heron invariably arrive on the solstice. A bald eagle soars about four miles upriver from the dock. Now, when I see the geese honking southward at the end of September, I'm not always wishing, impatiently, for snow.

Deborah Luskin teaches writing and literature to non-traditional students in hospitals, libraries and prisons throughout Vermont.
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