By Cecil Hoge
As the end of this year approaches I am on the cusp of a new rowing record for December. This year I have managed 12 outings as of December 23. Going rowing is easy for me since I live on the water and my dock is only a 100 from my back door. So, provided weather and tide permit, I go rowing as many as I can, no matter the season. Last December, I managed to go rowing 13 times. That was my previous record for December. But I am confident that I can eek a few more rowing sessions, bringing me to a new personal all-time rowing record for December.
That prediction is no shoe-in – at the moment a winter storm is raging. And as you can see from the picture above weather and tide are not permitting. So far it is raining with 20 to 30 mile per hour winds. And since my front lawn and the walkway to my dock are presently flooded, it is not presently practical to go rowing today.
The weather forecast for the next few days is not encouraging either since later this afternoon the rain is supposed to change to snow and the air temperature, presently in the low 50s, is supposed to go in the low teens. The prognosis for wind and temp is also not encouraging – the wind is forecast to continue blowing a 20 to 30 mph and the temperature is forecast stay below 23 degrees Fahrenheit / -5 Celsius. Besides I have some family obligations in 2 days…it seems Christmas is upon us.
Some will say rowing in December is truly crazy, but these days I treasure the opportunity to get out on the water, no matter the season.
And yes, as you may guess, it can be quite chilly on Long Island this time of year. And if the old Northwest wind happens to be blowing at 20 to 30 mph, as is its want in December, January, February and March, that can up the chill factor further. But I am never cold because I dress appropriately. I wear a Mustang Catalyst Survival Coat. It’s a beauty…made with heavy duty rip stop, waterproof nylon with foam flotation sections in the arms, the chest and the back. As such, it almost impervious to frigid winds and, best of all, the foam sections provide US Coast Guard Approved flotation. November through April, the Coast Guard requires you to wear a Coast Guard approved PFD (personal floatation device). So I is warm and legal when I go rowing.
But the flotation coat is not my only preparation for winter rowing. I wear flannel lined pants for extra leg warmth, a Filson wool hat and a pair of $9 Wild Wear gloves. I got the gloves at truck stop along the New Jersey Turnpike and with the large fluorescent yellow patches on the gloves, they stand out in a crowd and keep my digits warm and toasty.
I have other gloves that you would think are better suited to my use. Some cost $50, some cost $90, some cost over $100, they come from NRS, Duluth Trading, LL Bean, but no matter what the brand or how waterproof or how well-lined the other gloves are, none compare to my $9 Wild Wear gloves.
When I go rowing at this time of year, I get a special sense of peace and calm that comes from being out on the water. And while the air is colder in winter, it is also fresher, with the generally Northwest winds bringing fresh, clean air down from Canada. And when it is not raining or snowing, the skies can be a clear baby blue and the clouds giant puffy white cotton candy balls floating across the horizon. Everything is cleaner and fresher in the winter. The waters of our bays, which in the summer are a brown muddy color and have large globs of algae floating on the surface, clean up their act in the winter and the brown silty color disappears and you can even see the blades of your oars clearly in the water. Best of all, the great globs of algae are chilled out and migrate to the bottom of the bay for winter.
At that time of year, one can almost believe that our waterways are pure and clean, loaded with sea life, but that would be going a stretch too far. In truth, there is little sea life in these bays…be it spring, summer, fall or winter. But in the fall and winter, as the boats get hauled off of their buoys and transported off to their winter homes, the waters become calm and clear because boats are no longer motoring back and forth. In fact, in the winter I can often see the bottom of the bay as I row by.
I like rowing because it transports me to a place outside of what is considered the real world. In fact, it transports me to a place that many folks rarely get to see…the natural world. And while the natural world has been significantly altered by us humans, it is still there. I would argue that the natural world, the outside world, is in fact the true real world. Whenever I go rowing on the waters that lead from my house, I always feel I get away from the enclosed life of houses and offices and come upon a calmer, cleaner, fresher and more peaceful place.
Now in the winter, there are plenty of days that because of tide or weather or both, it is impractical to go. On those days, I either walk our quiet streets or use the elliptical up in our bedroom. And while walking or exercising on an elliptical can provide fair and good exercise, it is not nearly as fun or as peaceful or as calm as rowing. For one thing, when you row you a clear open view of the water and the land beyond and there are no obstacles directly in your way. Walking on the street with trees and houses on either side or using the elliptical in our bedroom, I feel enclosed by comparison.
Now I get the same open feeling about kayaking, but the exercise is not the same because in kayaking you are using just your upper body and arms.
Kayaking and rowing are really two different activities. Both are enjoyable and both provide true exercise. In kayaking, there is always the temptation to pause for a moment and take the view in. I call that “lallygagging”. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it is downright pleasurable. In rowing, it is different and, yes, you might pause from time to time. There is no law against that, but rowing also has tendency to create “rhythm”. You get into this very repetitive, hypnotic motion of your arms and legs moving in repetitive cycles that is its own pleasure and addiction. So, with rowing, there this tendency to continue and not stop. Best of all, in winter, because you are using both your arms and legs, it is a much warmer form of exercise and your legs do not get chilly.
So, in my trips I generally row a little over 2 miles. Usually, I bring a beverage. In the summer, a seltzer or a water. In the winter, a cup of coffee or a seltzer or a water. I know that it is not a very wide selection, but it is what I drink these days.
Speaking of these days, we all have enough to worry about. With a sly Pandemic that keeps creeping back with new and different mutations, with high inflation and high gas prices, with logistic bottlenecks, with shortages of various products, with a war in Europe, our plate is full.
But when I go rowing, I forget the problems of the world, the problems of my business, the problems of everyday life. On the water, the world looks different. With a 15 to 20 mph wind blowing down from Canada, the sky is often a baby blue, the water a deeper darker azure blue and the temperature a refreshing 35 degrees Fahrenheit. That temp and wind velocity may not sound inviting, but it is. Out on the water, there is only me and the swans at this time of year. In the sky, I will see an occasional hawk or osprey or eagle circling around, checking the bay below for hapless fish ready for the plucking. On nearby docks or the shore, I will see Great White and Great Blue Herons, Canada Geese and various varieties of ducks, terns, sandpipers and seagulls. It is another world.
So when I go rowing, I am not considering the problems of China. I am out on the water getting whole body exercise, breathing in clean fresh air, basking in the sun and wind, happy that I am alive and lucky enough to be out on the water. For me, this is the real world and I like it.
I do feel sorry for Emperor Xi. He is having a tough time. China is trying to deal with new variants of the Coronavirus raging there and their “No Covid” policy has now been completely abandoned, but that nasty Coronavirus keeps giving our poor Emperor Xi more problems. They are experiencing a new surge of the dread virus and in spite of “opening up” they are still suffering from periodic shutdowns of factories and cities in China. This must be disappointing and downright embarrassing for Xi. He had a good run for over 2 years and could proclaim his “No Covid” policy a true success. But the tables have turned. Bloomberg and the The Financial Times have just reported that China has had over 250,000,000 cases of Covid in just the first 20 days of December.
I am guessing this is no exaggeration. While we do not use China for products as much as in the past, I still have 4 Chinese suppliers and they all report confusion and chaos and surprise about the “opening up” of the country. Previously, they had expressed some doubts about the “No Covid” Policy, but now that it has been abandoned, they seem even more confused. My Weihai supplier of inflatable boats is still required to test every employee every 2 days and that has been going on for the last 2 years. Imagine having a small stick with some white gauze on it, stuck up your nose every 2 days you go to work for the last two years.
My Dongguan supplier called me on Christmas Eve to wish me a Merry Christmas. I thanked him for that and wished him Happy Chinese New Year even though that does not happen until January 22nd. In talking, I asked him how things were going in China. He told me he had caught Covid 3 days earlier and 90% of his employees have gotten Covid in the last 10 days. That did not sound good to me.
But Xi is not the only guy on this planet with some problems. Vladimir Putin also has his plate full. He thought that NATO would be weakened and the invasion of Ukraine would result in a glorious victory in 3 days. Alas, the days passed and the war in Ukraine continued, like so many other wars, which once started, did not go as foreseen. And now almost 11 months into the effort, it seems victory remains out of reach for Czar Putin and Nato, instead of being weakened, has been strengthened. Another case of the best laid plans of Mice and Men.
I think something should be said about the terrible brutality of this war and terrible hardships it must impose on the Ukrainians. It is well known that Putin claims that Ukraine was always the property of Russia, but Mr. Putin does not tell the truth about that. Yes, Ukraine was many times in its history a vassal state of some larger power, but the larger powers were different in different times.
The Vikings had early go with Ukraine, Poland occupied it on various occasions, The Austrian Hungarian Empire also controlled Ukraine for some time. And let’s not forget Adolf Hitler, who armies occupied Ukraine during World War II. And of course, there is the fact that Ukraine became an independent country in 1991 and there was something called the Orange Revolution in 2004 when Russia tried sneak back into Ukraine and Ukrainians overthrew that effort.
Yes, Ukraine has had a long and sad history, but the fact is it is an independent country by the choice of the people there. And, if Putin did not figure that out before he went into Ukraine, he should know that by now. Ukraine does not want him there. The truth of the matter is that this war is a sad and tragic development effecting the peace and stability of the world. At moment, it is hard to see what Mr. Putin can do. He does not seem capable of winning, but he does not seem capable of ending the war. And so it goes on, jeopardizing the whole world.
This brings us to predicament of President Biden. The good President had wanted to save the planet when he came into office, so among his first steps was cancelling oil pipeline construction and restricting drilling of oil and gas. Joe just wanted to encourage people to use electric cars. And while all these things will no doubt be helpful in the future, it did not occur to our President that if you decide to send all sorts of arms to Ukraine, Czar Putin might get angry and try to use oil as a weapon. I would call that a blind spot.
It should be obvious that Russia produces about 30% of the world’s oil and gas and that Russia might want to use that fact to help with its Ukrainian goals. And it probably should have occurred to President Biden, his advisors and the leaders of the EU and UK that when you institute sanctions in response to the invasion of Ukraine, that Russia might not be happy about that.
And perhaps, another consideration should have dawned on the leaderships of the U.S., UK and EU. That is that they are not the only countries in this world buying gas and oil and that maybe, just maybe, Russia might have some other customers quite delighted to buy their oil and gas.
Then there might have been some review of the populations of the world to gain a bit of insight. Yes, the U.S., EU and UK are prosperous areas of the world, but in fact, altogether they only represent about 12% of the world’s population. And so, some consideration of what the other 88% of the world’s population might think about the war in Ukraine and the new conflict zone between the West and the East.
So the question arises whether the countries imposing sanctions on Russia wondered where the other 88% of the world stood? The attitude of Russia was probably pretty easy to see. And yes, there are some other countries that presently seem to be on our side. Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Australia, but it seems that no one realized that China and India might want to use this unfortunate situation as a buying opportunity to get oil and gas at a bargain. Surprise, surprise, that is exactly what they did.
So much for some of the world’s problems effecting 2022 and posing giant questions for 2023.
I have some problems of my own. This year my wife and I faced some major milestones and records. And that in itself was troubling enough.
Consider the various milestones or records that we faced this last year. The first one that occurred earlier in 2022 and that was our 50th Anniversary of being married. That is generally thought to be a good thing, but I am having a hard time digesting that single fact. Married for 50 years…yes, that is good thing…I truly love my wife and I am proud we made it this far. And yes, it was a great achievement. Not many couple can claim that.
That said, I think I would prefer to have just passed my 20th Anniversary. After all, that is pretty good record…a lot marriages these days do not last 20 months…some do not last 20 days. And if it was my 20th Anniversary, then I would be a whole lot younger and I am sure I would feel better about that. And I am pretty sure wife would also prefer we just passed her 20th anniversary.
And that brings up another milestone, or record you might say. As of September, I turned 80 years old. OMG might be a newer generation’s remark about that. I might say Holy Manure myself. Perhaps, I might augment that phrase. And yes, I am mighty happy that I am still alive. And yes, as I already mentioned, I am mighty happy to still be able to go rowing at my age at this time of year…or at any other time year. But 80 years old seems like a pretty big number to me and I am definitely not happy about that. 50 would be better.
And that is still not the only milestone or record. On January 1, 2023 our son turned 50 years old. Considering the fact that he is autistic and was not expected to live that long, turning 50 was also a mighty big milestone and record.
Now, you may say I am cheating a little bit here by including my son’s 50th birthday as a milestone or record of 2022, but I feel it is completely fair since I distinctly remember my wife going into labor before midnight, December 31st, 1972. So, the fact that it took my son a few hours to get out is not the deciding factor in my mind. The fact was he was on the way at the end of 1972 and that makes his 50th birthday a 2022 record.
I will also mention that my wife began planning his birthday party at least four months ago, so this milestone or record has been hanging over us for a long time. And if I think about the 3 events…50 years married, 80 years old and and my son’s 50th birthday, I have to say this has been a very trying year.
By the way, I do want report that I did break my old rowing record. Not by much to be sure. I chalked up 14 rowing sessions, one over my previous record. But a win is win. Now I do not count rowing in December as one of the 3 stressful events or milestones of this year. In truth, rowing is stress reliever.
Now, I can report that we are already in 2023 and, despite the stress and turmoil caused by world events and these 3 major records or milestones, we did manage to get through 2022 and celebrate all 3 events successfully. Our wedding anniversary was celebrated at North Fork restaurant with family and friends, my birthday was celebrated in September at another restaurant with some close family and friends and our son’s birthday was celebrated at home yesterday with more than 30 family and friends.
So, in spite of high inflation, a looming recession, a war in Ukraine, an endlessly determined Coronavirus, product and food shortages, predictions of gloom, doom and World War III, we got through all 3 major milestones to 2023 and while the looming problems of world have not been solved, they have not yet spun completely out of control. And certainly, I hope and wish these problems reach a peaceful and calm solution.
So, now that it is 2023, what did I do?
I went for my first row in 2023.
I launched my rowing SUP off my floating dock this morning. I noticed that the mirror at the back of my rowing frame was loaded with heavy dew drops making it impossible to see through the mirror. I did not bother to reach forward and wipe the water away. Today, I am going to row the old-fashioned way, blind to what is in front of me. Of course, after thousands of rowing trips from my house, I pretty much know my way.
The weather was favorable for rowing as you might be able see from the above picture…a flat low bank of clouds hung over the dark water of the bay, the sun was trying unsuccessfully to break through, the temperature was a comfortable 48, the wind had laid down and was almost non-existent.
I rowed out on to Little Bay, set up my little Bluetooth speaker and start streaming music from WFUV, my favorite NY station. As I rowed out around the old washed-out bridge that used to lead into Strong’s Neck, The War on Drugs started their song, “I Don’t Live Here Anymore”.
In Setauket Bay I rowed past 50 to 60 swans off to my left. I did not disturb them and they did not disturb me. Off to my right, high up in 2 tall trees, I saw 2 hawks hanging out on the Strong’s Neck side of the the bay. No doubt they were scanning the water and the land for edible fish or mammals.
I rowed further to the mouth of Port Jefferson Bay, my bluetooth speaker playing Joni Mitchel, The Rolling Stones, Gorillaz and Billy Idol along the way.
On the shore ahead of me, I hear 2 loud shotgun blasts. My view was still obscured by dew drops on my mirror, so I could not see who was shooting. I presumed it was a couple of duck hunters trying to blow away some ducks. I swung my rowing SUP around to see first hand what I could see. It did not help. I saw no duck hunters and no ducks. Those guys must be well camouflaged on the shore.
This seemed like a good opportunity to row back away from that shore and those duck hunters, wherever they were. I know buckshot cannot go too far, but I feel it was better to put some distance beteeen me and the duck hunters. I rowed back home with more music on the bluetooth, sliding quietly over the water, my blades barely making splash sounds. On the way back, the sun began to peek under clouds as I approached the old washed out bridge.
Going along, I thought about this little rowing trip of 2023 – my journey today was a little over 2 miles there and back.
That made me think of what it must have been like for Caleb Brewster, the young American spy in Colonial Days who used to row a small whaleboat from Strong’s Neck to Fairfield, Connecticutt. That’s a good 12 to 14 miles one way, depending on which secret spot he started out from and which secret spot he landed at. It was an essential job, since George Washington needed information on where the British Army and British warships were located. It was different time, but Caleb must have been pretty tired after rowing 24 to 28 miles on just one of those trips. So, my little trip was pretty puny by comparison.
I continued home. By the time I got into my cove, all of the dew drops had evaporated off of my mirror and I could see my dock perfectly as I approached it. I don’t think Caleb had a mirror when he made his spy rowing trips. It might have been very useful.
As I pulled my rowing SUP up on to my floating dock, it occurred to me that this was not a bad way for an 80 year old to start a new year.