When I traveled in Europe after I got out of the Army, I was stretching out my money by camping and eating grocery store picnics. It was then that I discovered the oddly opposed set of feelings that establish the rhythm of living close to the ground. Whenever I set up camp, there was always a feeling of relief and belonging, like a little homecoming. Even if it was only for one night, the campsite became my home, my own personal piece of the Earth. For a person traveling far and fast, there was great comfort in falling asleep looking at the same walls every night, even if those walls were blue nylon.
But whenever I broke camp, there was an equally strong feeling of freedom. Once my tent and sleeping bag were stored in the pack, and everything I owned was on my back, there came a transcendent feeling that I was once again unfettered. I could go anywhere.
As I left the hotel the next morning, I had that feeling again. The comfort of well worn pack straps, the snug grip of well worn shoes, the solid weight of the pack, and the beckoning sun filled me with joy. Oddly, not a little of that joy came from leaving Susyn behind. She was delightful, but she was not Raven. And I needed time to be alone. Since Raven was thrown off the cruise ship, I had not had an hour of true solitude, and I was feeling the lack.
I took my time walking down to the steamer dock, enjoying the town. When I reached the lake, I still had an hour to wait. I walked around the marina, admiring the sailboats, then went down through the park to the water’s edge. It was too early for any of the street musicians to be out; Susyn would come by here in the afternoon asking her questions. Now there was only sunlight, deep blue water, green grass, and young lovers strolling about. And swans. Sometimes I think half of the charm of Europe is her swans. Now, in early summer, the cygnets were big and awkward, gray and ugly-cute, just like Hans Christian Andersen described them. I squatted at the edge of the lake, a hundred yards from the steamer pier, and held out my hand. A pair of waddling adolescents came up to beg, found me breadless, pecked at my boots, and wandered off looking for a better handout.
I watched the steamer come in, and went on board with the tourists. The rest of the tourists. When you live close to the ground there is a tendency to forget your real status and believe that you are more a part of the landscape than you actually are.
Most of these lake steamers were built around the turn of the century. Their lines speak of better days, or at least days with greater attention to style. They are long, lean side-wheelers, with massive steam engines on the main deck, huffing and wheezing in plain sight. I leaned on the brass rail to watch. Fine machinery is always fascinating, and this was kept polished and shining. At my elbow, a heavy American tourist with a Texas accent was explaining it all to his wife. She listened with polite disinterest, patting his arm from time to time. You could see that the words meant nothing to her, but she was happy to see him happy. more tomorrow