Untitled | Henry Ballentine

    Salted air fills my lungs as the summer sun heaves itself above the horizon. The sky is blue as the water green, and both invite me out into the river. Only a bike ride lies between me and the waterway. I kick my sandals below the cockpit, and I feel the white knackered deck against my feet. Three pulls of the cord make the engine roar to life, as I prepare to unshackle from the shore. I tap a playlist on my phone, and speakers jolt to life. Above, a mother osprey prepares her nest. Her partner searches for their next meal below the green current. Plying through the channel carefully, my hands guide me out to open water.
    I leave the channel and enter the frothing waters. I cut the engine and hoist the main. Then, I cleat off the line when it stands fully raised. I glide up and down the river’s water. Every second feels like spirited debate between the wind and me. My hand steers the tiller along; my eyes search for a puff of fresh breeze to fill my sails and push me faster.
    I find it. The gust rockets me along the river, past a waterman checking his crab pots. The hiking straps dig into my ankles, as I lean out to bring my keel back into the water. Passing by an abandoned lighthouse, I reach the mouth of the river. Beyond me lies the Choptank. I unfurl the jib, then set the sheets in their blocks. The wind sweeps forward, filling both sails with power. Familiar shorelines drop out of sight, as I cruise into the vast waterway in front of me. I slip into autopilot, my movements guided by muscle memory and instinct.
    My mind runs wild. Finally, I am free of responsibilities, the crowd, and the persona I wear. I surge through the tide, chasing the clarity that I might just be able to brush up against. That meditative state is fleeting. I push myself forward just to try and feel it one more time. My eyes are drawn to the faraway shore, a nagging reminder that I can't stay out forever, that I must return to what I’ve left behind.
    The sun’s fading light brings me back to reality, and I make my way back to shore. I slide up beside my dock, lower the sail, tie the lines down, and put my sandals back on. Then, I hop onto dry ground, excited to navigate the world and whatever it throws my way once more.