Every so often, it’s good to let yourself drift, to just follow the current and see where it takes you; to leave an hour, a morning, a day unplanned; to enter open space and time and invite its effects. The artist Paul Klee spoke of drawing as “taking a line out for a walk.” We can see his art as exploration, inquiry, following a random thought, or drifting — and look what comes of it: something fresh and new.
This is what summer is for.
It’s not always easy to do. I used to call time and space “boredom” when I was a kid, as in “Mom, I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.” Now I long for the chance to say, “There’s nothing to do (i.e. nothing I have to do) … thank goodness.” Boredom has gotten such a bad rap. Kids are so conditioned to think that they must always be doing something, going somewhere, entertained, active. But a little boredom can be a terrific vessel for a good drift, following a line of thoughts and just seeing what pictures appear.
It helps to have a raft in your summer — literally or figuratively. There were countless days when my boyhood gang, bored with the possibilities at home, gathered around Hurley's pond to throw planks together for epic raft voyages along its great grey-green greasy banks. Kids of a certain age have an instinctual urge to mess around on things that float, with mud, and with sticks. Combine the three and you have an empire of imaginary possibilities. We could be Ulysses, Captain Hook, or Viking swashbucklers. Who needs Playstation when you have a raft and a stick?
Later on, when I read about Huck Finn, I learned that a raft is a moment on the Big River when the bravest adventure occurs: a true connection with another human being. For instance, Jim comes alive to Huck as a person, not just a slave, when they share the raft. A raft can be a collection of planks on the Mississippi, a moment of inspiration, or a yielding to a current that brings you 'round the bend to a new view of a person, place or thing. One shouldn’t gloss over the perils and cruelties encountered on Huck’s trip down river. But we can safely say that it’s good to have had a raft, to have drifted, been a swashbuckler, made brave connections.
From our vantage point here on the middle of summer, I like to listen to Huck’s own words. Dip your toes with me in the current and eddies of his syntax, as Huck throws us an idyllic line:
“You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft. . . Two or three days and nights went by; I reckon I might say they swum by, they slid along so quiet and smooth and lovely. Here is the way we put in the time. It was a monstrous big river down there—sometimes a mile and a half wide; we run nights, and laid up and hid day-times; soon as night was most gone, we stopped navigating and tied up—nearly always in the dead water under a towhead; and then cut young cotton-woods and willows and hid the raft with them. Then we set out the lines. Next we slid into the river and had a swim, so as to freshen up and cool off; then we set down on the sandy bottom where the water was about knee deep, and watched the daylight come. Not a sound, anywheres—perfectly still—just like the whole world was asleep, only sometimes the bull-frogs a-cluttering, maybe.”
May the bullfrogs a-clutter to you, as you tend your lines, swim, cool off, and listen to the sound of “not a sound, anywheres.” May you find this free and easy feeling, and a respite from navigating, through the end of July and into August.
Happy rafting. See you around the bend, downstream a ways.