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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Take It Easy

Several years ago while on vacation at the Outer Banks of North Carolina, my husband, sons, brother and I decided we would like to try our hands at kayaking. We booked a tour, and on the day of it met our guide, Jimmy, a handsome young man with shoulder-length, wavy brown hair in the parking lot of The Pig Man’s Barbecue. Jimmy emerged from his truck wearing a great big smile, but no shoes. His slow, Southern drawl and genteel demeanor made us all downshift our accelerated pace a bit.

When we booked the tour, I had assumed that we would be plying the placid waters of the marshy Albemarle Sound, but Jimmy informed us that we would be heading about 45 minutes inland to a place called Buffalo City, North Carolina. As we drove, it seemed as if with every passing mile we were heading back further into time as civilization rapidly disappeared. When I saw the “Beware of Bears” sign, I realized this was not going to be simply a new form of canoeing.

Outside of the Wyoming Prairie, I have never been to a more remote place than Buffalo City. Situated in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, Buffalo City was once the largest town in Dare County, with 3,000 residents. It existed from the 1870s to the 1950s. From after the Civil War until 1920, it was a logging community, and after that, it became one of the chief producers of moonshine during Prohibition, exporting its contraband to Speakeasies all over the East Coast. After Prohibition ended, the population dwindled and the town was eventually abandoned. Today, you would be hard pressed to find any evidence that the place had ever been inhabited. The only visible sign of life outside of the few kayakers there were the insects that were the size of predator drones and just as fierce.

We doused ourselves in bug spray and listened to Jimmy’s instructions on how to get into the kayak, how to hold the paddle and how to stroke the water. He stressed that you just put the oar in the water and draw it back toward yourself. Simple enough. Before we embarked, Jimmy also dropped this little tidbit: “Oh, by the way, it’s called the Alligator River because there are alligators in the water.”

How comforting to know.

I probably would have been fine had we been on a large body of water, but we were to head down a series of narrow, bayou-type canals, about 12-feet wide, to a lake. I paddled furiously, but I kept going perpendicular and running into the shore. My husband circled back to see if he could help, but I told him I was OK. Finally, when I was so far behind the group, my brother came back and in true brotherly concern said, “Come on doofus, I’ll tow you.”

When we finally got to the lake, Jimmy taught us how to howl and call the red wolves that inhabit the reserve and how to catch dragonflies and put them on the front of your kayak to ward off mosquitoes. Jimmy also taught me something else out on the lake: I was going at kayaking too hard. Instead of gently, lightly stroking the water, I was paddling like I was a galley slave in Spartacus. He told me to take it easy, and when I did, I began to glide across the water with little effort. And in the right direction!

 I’ve discovered that I often do that—I go at things too hard when easy-does-it would work better. Maybe you do that too. Recently, I got a contact lens to help my vision when reading. I had so much trouble removing the lens, I irritated my eye and made it bloodshot for a whole day. Since then, I’ve discovered that I was going at it to hard and a gentle touch is all it takes to remove it. Many of us want to get in shape and start out on restrictive diets, exercising for considerable lengths of time. Fitness experts are always advocating that little changes can yield great results, but that seems too simple to be true.

Saving more money is also a worthy goal that many of us aspire to, but we often attempt to do it by being too Draconian and taking a hatchet to our budget only to fail. I like to track my spending online through my bank. The program it employs lumps all expenses into categories for me. Often when I look at the totals for expenditures like dining out, entertainment or groceries, a little box appears that says something like: Cut 10 percent and save $1,200 a year. Cutting back that small amount seems doable and would bring great rewards.

Many of us have been conditioned to believe that the only way to do something is with a “go-big-or-go-home” attitude, but I’ve learned that Jimmy’s easy-does-it approach is often all that it takes to achieve the best results.

Published in the March 2012 Issue of Northern Connection magazine

Friday, March 9, 2012

It's Hard to Act Like Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali was a great self-promoter.  Most of us know his little ditty that described his boxing style as "I float like a butterfly; sting like a bee."  Unfortunately, most of us don't take to self-promotion so artfully and entertainingly.

As writers, one of the greatest challenges we face is how to promote our writing.  Most of the writers I know would much rather concentrate on the creative side and leave the business side of marketing and promoting our work alone. 

My friend and fellow writer, Julie Long, has written a funny and insightful take on why it's so difficult for her to self-promote. 

It will give you a good laugh.

Here is the link: