When Paul asked me to come and spend the night on his canoe that had a little frig between his knees, and a roof over his head, I was less than a little interested. Pushing the spoon down into the cold bottom of my canned pasta and sause, while sitting on the front stoop of a dusty store that was older than time, I tried to figure out what Paul meant by saying I was Amish. "I know the Amish, and I'm never wrong. Your Amish. I can always tell. I get this feeling,"said Paul, sounding alot like a man trying to sell a car that he knew could never run.
I was getting a feeling too. Usually I listen to my feelings when they yell, "Nutcase". This would be one of the few times that I'd be glad I didn't listen to the voice within. In a day I'd see Paul again with his hook in my mouth. I would not regret it though.
Paul has a strange sense of humor. Paul would toy with me more than a few times before I realized that not all that Paul said was literal. Bait was put out in front of me. If I struck at what Paul was selling more line was let out. Often alot of line was unreeled. That I didn't always get Paul's jokes was part of the running comedy. Paul had nearly twenty years on me. It showed on his timing on his trip wire snares. Paul was never impatient to set the hook. Each time I was primed by an expert. We were both, reguardless of age, walking a long bridge over dark water. We were learning to live in the now. We knew that a Sumerset houseboat or a canoe, a tent or a mansion did not measure around our hearts with string or record the level of humanity in our brow. We collected people like autumn leaves. Paul's floating home was always covered in his shifting collection of close friends that fell from the surrounding hills. I was introduced to them all. I watched them move in the changing light until they became mine too.
Even when I first arrived at the marina I was thankful. Many signs along the road read, "Bear Reserve". Bears always demand a bit more edge when encountered. My edge was less than sharp. My edge for another bear encounter was blunt. The marina called me in. I pulled Paul's name from my journal.
It took me a while to find the boat named "Precisely". Lake Watauga is a beautiful creature that the mountains stare at all day without uttering a complaint. A day ago I had found a backwoods camp out by Elk Mills that was far east on Watauga Lake, and I had an offer to stay in a crude camp. It was not a pretty picture though. People had been leaving garbage and broken glass there for years, and portions of shanties sat beside the water. Only the cold prevented the foul smell from lifting its head. I physically could not put my feet in the water to rinse them after miles of walking, reguardless of my want. Using the coming storm as an excuse to leave the people I just met, I walked to another waterfront down the coast to camp alone. Broken beer bottles of assorted colors still lined the beach like satanic shells, but it was better. Again I became a ghost of the waterside forest as night moved in to avoid late night visitors. I played my flute by the water that was waking to the night wind. I courted the storm.
A day later, this was the same water at the marina, but nothing else was related to my first night at Watauga Lake. This was beauty. No broken bottle teeth lined the shore. No weather broken rebel flags fluttered over disguarded tires, and tired yellow-white foam board did not lean away from the base of scarred trees on rope with knots melted by the sun. Boats so white they stayed before my closed eyes in the sterile afternoon sun lined before me in formation. Mountains heavy with trees garnished the water without a rash of houses or heavy with signs of man. Past dozens of handsome boats that bobbed on wakes like toys in a tub, I searched for the boat named "Precisely". Being off season, the people were few.
"Precisely" was hard to find because I was looking for a humble float. "Precisely" was not a raft with a tent on top. "Precisely", was a floating dream. Mirrors, beveled glass, birch wood, shag carpet,flat screen televisions via satalite contacts, and all the luxury of the finest new home. Eighty feet by eighteen feet of plush. For three and a half days I made friends, survived Paul's jokes that held a humorous twist, and reclined into the second floor hot tub while watching stars float over in a water twin sky, thinking of all the unpredictables that had already happened under the moving of these feet. I was being being carried, reguardless how many miles I believed I walked alone.
My bedroom on the houseboat was below water level. I stood at night in front of my bedroom window watching the waves splinter into spray against the dock in front of me at waist level. I had come a long way inside and out. Paul had me eat pig parts not meant to be eaten, covered with sardines and mayo. Paul lied about eating it himself as a special treat with a perfect poker face. He could barely watch me eat though, without breaking out into laughter. Paul turning me into a silly younger brother that believed to easily. We played cards until it was late, sharing stories that were easier to swollow. Paul cornered me into singing at the Ice House, a tavern in backwoods TN, in front of a full bar of country folks I had never seen before, and I sang. Paul encouraged me to live for the book. I listened to Paul even after I ate his crazy creations meant to gag because there was a current running deeper. I listened to Paul even after he confessed that he had no intention in singing. I listened to aaPaul because he drew me out.
Paul existed somewhere between a heart-felt depth and a comical brother that played with me mentally because he was enjoying his life just as he saw that I was savoring mine. This journey was larger than me, than him, or this body of water in a bowl of mountains. Fear was something I was learning to walk right up to, and kick the stool out from under it. Carefully.
It was not easy to leave Paul, Jennifer, his girlfriend, and all the lives I had entered. It was not hard either. Visiting Paul reenforced the spectrum of this adventure. If I questioned it before, I knew now that I would dine with royality, and sleep with the poor under bridges before the journey told me that I was done. Paul reminded me to laugh at myself even when I wanted to reach for the comfort of anger. Paul demanded that I become his friend. I'm glad that I sang.
Paul was right about living for the walk by singing in the bar in front of nearly a hundred mountain strangers.I stood at the microphone at the Ice House because I was seriously afraid to. My right knee shook so hard it thumpted against the left, but I stood. I could hear it in my voice as I made my way through Amercia's, Sister Golden Hair Surprise. "You face bears,"I told myself. What is a silly song? No teeth. No claws." I was scared less by bears though. Thanks to Paul, I sharpened my edge with country courage, and then said good-bye.