I could float here forever. I lay back and let the tiny splashing sounds of my kayak cutting through the water lull me into a meditative state. I take a deep breath and let in the warm, piney air, then slowly breathe out. My next breath, however, is a sharp inhale as I jolt awake in response to the particularly loud honk of an 18-wheeler driving by overhead on I-95. Kayaking through the Charles River, I am shockingly unremoved from urban life. While some may argue that the point of getting out in nature is to escape, my inner environmentalist finds a special meaning in the place where wilderness and city collide.
This river has run through my life for as long as I can remember. I come with friends on a summer morning, and we laugh about our lack of coordination while zigzagging down the wide stream. I come alone on a brisk spring afternoon and find peace of mind in the simple task of getting from one place to another. No matter what, though, with each visit to the Charles I am reminded of its fleeting beauty. When I was younger, I focused on the positive, the beauty of the nature surrounding me. Yet, as I aged, I grew a deeper tension. As I paddled, I couldn’t seem to ignore the plastic gatorade bottle floating alongside me. When I gazed at elegant lily pad flowers gently hovering on the glossy water, I couldn’t help but notice the invasive water chestnuts rapidly overpopulating due to chemical runoff.
I now realize that while ideally I would kayak in a river without sewage dumping and pesticide drainage, going to another river does not fix the problems in the Charles. Nature is not some far away destination that we may escape to. Rather, it surrounds us and interacts with our human-made world. We cannot cherry pick our favorite places to preserve while deeming everywhere else unworthy. The Charles has inspired me to truly support the environment by cleaning up my own home rather than isolating my environmentalism to a far away destination.