Once more to the River

I can't tell you how anxious I was yesterday all day, and the night before, about the prospect of getting back on the water--starting rowing season. Was I afraid I would fall in? No. Was I afraid I would catch a crab, which is the term for getting your oar "stuck"? No. Was I afraid of causing the boat to turn over? No. I had walked off the dock a few years ago, backward, and fallen into the non-salt water equivalent of Davy Jones' locker. Truly, the Chicago River is as dirty and grimy as a seaman's locker could get. Toxic. A guy from the park district told me a couple of years ago they'd found a horse in the water. Which wouldn't be too bad. One horse in all that H2O--no big deal. It's the nastiness from the tanning industry and so many other industries that have dirtied water that was perfectly clear, we imagine, beforehand. Cow parts, pig parts, offal. ("Offal" conjures up puns that are too easy here.) No, it wasn't the water. It wasn't that I wouldn't have the strength to row. Especially because I expected we would do mostly drills and not heavy rowing.

This is the general idea--though these oars look très très long.

 It's a general sense that I don't belong. Belong to what? I'm not sure. Belong to our rowing group? (I know we're a team but it doesn't feel like a team. I've only competed in one regatta.)  It's because I doubt my rowing. When I took piano so many years ago I never memorized the notes. I used the numbers on the staff, which referred to the fingers you would use to play the notes. I keep feeling, after almost nine years, that there's something deep and essential yet ordinary and fundamental that I've missed in rowing instruction. I feel it more with the indoor machines, which we call ergs. I know what it is, in fact. We're supposed to "connect" with our cores. I haven't quite figured out how to visualize that and how to do it and wonder how I've gotten this far (which apparently isn't very) without doing it. In the old days, the first two coaches called me "uncoachable" when they were talking between themselves. The other thing we're supposed to do is push with our feet. I swore, after about five years, that I'd never heard any mention of that. This was at our rowing camp intensive weekend about four years ago in Michigan. OK, so now that I was hearing about the feet for the first time, how did I do it? I couldn't coordinate myself to do it. It may have been because I hadn't discovered the optimal way to adjust the attached boat shoes in the scull (the boats we use). You can move the shoes along a slide to make them closer or further from the seat, which itself rolls back and forth. Moving of the shoes involves unscrewing wingnuts first of all. And it's hard to keep them from hiding after you've unscrewed them. The best thing is to keep them loose and not take them all the way off. Anyway, my arms are long in proportion to my legs and I assumed that was why I didn't know where to set the shoes. Or why when I set the shoes where I thought they should be (and there's a way to measure, depending on what angle you hold the oar, but there's never any time to figure that because you don't pick up the oar until you have your shoes set and anyway, I've forgotten what the angle is) I still couldn't gain enough control of my feet to push down on them against the hull of the boat. It is such a difficult thing. By "it" I mean everything connected to rowing. There are terms like "to be at the catch," which means to be sitting forward as in the photo above, with your knees up and the blade of the oar in the water, ready to sweep through it, and the opposite, "at the finish," when you're laying back with the oar against you. I've been doing this almost a decade and the only way I remember which is which is that the "I" in "finish" is a short "I," as in "rib"; seriously, that's how I remember that "finish" means the oar next to my ribs. When it takes you almost a decade to come up with that mnemonic, and what's more to need that mnemonic, it would be a wonder if I weren't anxious at the notion of getting back in a boat.