Pete helps steady a new-found friend. Darren Bush photos
Paddling with Darren Bush
“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”
There are two ways for me to rejuvenate; to sleep, or to play. I need the former for sure, but the latter is just as important, considering that for a big chunk of my life, I forgot how to do it.
It was March, but a warm day, I wanted to go paddling. I was joined by a brother from another mother, Pete, and a sister from another mister, Denise. Pete is one interesting dude. The former president of Breedlove Guitars, Pete plays and thinks a lot. I mean, how can you not love a guy who writes his company’s mission statement in crayon? I like spending time with him because of the way we feed off each other’s energy, but mostly I enjoy his company because he is good at playing.
Our destination was Badfish Creek. It’s just a half-hour south of Madison, and we usually put in at Cookesville, an old hamlet with a lovely little general store (ca. 1846) that first installed indoor plumbing in 2011. It was shuttered for winter, otherwise we would have gorged on Amish-made pies and Coke in glass bottles.
Instead, we paddled. The water was low so we scraped here and there, but we didn’t mind as we soaked in the 50-degree warmth and sunshine, the first any of us had felt in ages. Red-tailed hawks, sandhill cranes, a bald eagle, turkeys and countless deer were just some of the treats we experienced as we busted ice shelves along the banks of the creek. I started to get red cheeks from the sun. Awesome. Then we came around the corner and there it was: a snowman, Packer hat and all. Seriously?
After this fickle slushpile of a winter, I was tired of snowpeople, irrespective of gender. Their day was done: Good night sweet slush, and flights of angels sing thee to thy melting puddle of rest. To see a snowman is to be reminded that it’s March, and it snowed five inches last Tuesday. I strongly suggested we sacrifice the snowman to the river gods.
Pete was smarter. “Why don’t we put her in the canoe?” Gender is a fairly flexible concept with homo nixiens as we were fresh out of carrots, and I have no idea why Pete chose the feminine. We slid our canoes up to the bank and began the tedious task of transferring Marge, already suffering from solar leprosy, to the stern seat of the canoe. Plus, we had to make a companion for her. For the record, snowpeople, even small ones, are heavy.
The goal was fun and two snow playmates showed up to help accomplish it.
We tried to slide the canoe into the water for a picture, and of course, the leprous snowpeople lost their heads. Peter was undeterred, so we starting building again, this time standing in the icy water in our boots, building the creatures in place so they wouldn’t collapse. We added counterweights to keep the canoe upright, tied a line to the bow, and shoved the boat out into the river for the photo op.
After a few pictures and a snack, we gave the snowcouple a burial at sea. We did save the hat, squeezed it out and tied it to the canoe’s rear carrying thwart to dry. Pete took the hat home to use in other impromptu sessions of whimsy. All in all, we enjoyed three pleasant hours on the water, just us kids.
As I started loading my boat, Pete, still in play mode, began to drag his canoe up the bank of the river and imitating an otter, sliding down into the water. The ice shelf made a nice transition and he skidded across the surface, only to paddle back and do it again. We were wearing dry suits so there was no risk of anything but humiliation, and Pete was undeterred. Denise just watched and laughed.
After dropping off Denise, Pete and I took the long way home, since we both care for the road less traveled. As we chatted, I thought about how fun it was to be goofy. I tend to do silly things, so it’s nice to be validated once in awhile. My ever-patient wife is used to it by now. I mean, why shouldn’t a guy in his early 50s slide down a handrail at a subway station in D.C.? In places where I could do serious damage to myself or a Congressman, she reins me in to avoid collecting on my life insurance policy and paying lawsuits, but otherwise I get a lot of latitude for my geriatric parkour.
I spent a good chunk of my life worrying too much about what people thought about me. Now I don’t care so much what people think when they see a middle-aged bald guy trying to send himself into orbit on a playground swing. This attitude adjustment allows me, a natural introvert, to do goofy things, to fail spectacularly at some of them, and occasionally succeed just as spectacularly. But to be truthful, that doesn’t really matter so much. To play is to succeed, regardless of road rash and contusions.
Imitating otters is a guaranteed good time.
Play taught me to take risks, something that I didn’t do as a younger man. Play it safe, take the safe line, the safe route, the safe job. The more I learned to play, the more I was comfortable taking risks. Those risks allowed me to buy a struggling business, to try new things, to fail at some of them, but to try new things anyway.
Play is important. Heck, there’s even a National Institute for it. Play teaches you to risk appearing looking like a dork when you dance, to step up to an open mike. Play teaches you to be fearless, to try new things, to make snowpersons in your canoe and take pictures of it, to risk a harmless but humiliating swim. No reason, just because it could be fun.
The benefit of play brings you Potentially Amazing Experiences (PAE). True, the time I joined a jam band on stage in front of 500 or so of my peers at a trade show could have been a Potentially Embarrassing Experience (PEE), but you know, what’s the worst thing that can happen? I’ve had PEEs. They’re not so bad. But because of play, I’ve had even more PAEs.
So this is a big thank you to you, Pete, for a little time in the sandbox.