(HOST) Some of the best memories of the summer will continue to warm us through the long, cold days of winter, according to commentator Kristen Laine.
(LAINE) The last Friday before Thanksgiving, I got up at 4:30, as I have on at least two hundred other mornings this year, and drove down to the Connecticut River. It was still dark when eight of us swung a slender rowing shell onto even darker water and slid oars into place, then ourselves.
We pushed off the dock into the liquid night, followed by our coach in the launch. Warming up, we listened to the chunk of oars against oarlocks, balancing the boat by feel.
“Warming” isn’t exactly the word for it. Winter was coming, blow-
ing down the river from the north. I could feel its bite through my fleece and three layers of long sleeves.
Still, none of us would have missed that morning’s row. We’re all members of the Upper Valley rowing club, and it was our last day on the water.
We come from both sides of the Connecticut: from Norwich and Hanover, villages sitting above the river like haughty dowagers;
but also from flinty hill country and old mill towns whose stony tributaries feed the big river.
As rowers, we lack the pedigree and body types of polished clubs further south, but we medaled in every regatta we entered this season, including the masters’ nationals and the legendary Head of the Charles. We call ourselves “scrappy.”
We’ve been on the river in draining heat, drenching rain, and spit- ting snow. Our narrow shells have dodged motorboats, canoes, swimmers, and ducklings.
In the summer, the river lolled fat and lazy. As the weather cooled, we rowed in dense fog and saw it fade, wraithlike, in the morning sun.
After October’s rains, the river bucked, wild and raging. We watched from the edges as huge trees, leaves still on their branches, tumbled down its surging middle. And we kept rowing.
On Friday, our coach called a piece at full pressure, race pace. I drove my weight against my foot stretchers and swung back on my oar, grunting with the effort.
I no longer needed to tape over raw fingers and palms; my hands were tough and callused after six months on the water. Steam rose from our backs; rime ice formed on my shins.
We dismantled the boats the next day, cleaned their hulls, loaded them onto trailers, and trundled them into storage across the river.
I should say that all of us, except our coach, are women. Most of us are in our thirties and forties. We take children to school, we work, we blend into our communities. You’d never know, looking at us, what power lies below the surface.
The ice came in last week on the small pond near my house; snow plows went by in the night, scraping down to frozen ground. It won’t be long now before the Connecticut freezes over.
I’m reminded that life can be scrappy here, especially when the air turns bitter and the roads impassable. I’ll feel that scrappiness running under my winter layers, insistent, like the river under the ice.
I’m Kristen Laine of Orange, NH.
Kristin Laine writes about the environment, women’s issues and education.