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  • Writer's pictureThomas Faires

Last Paddle (self-portrait)

We had a great summer with some amazing weather. Unfortunately, it looks like I’m still unable to paddle my kayak; more specifically I’m unable to lift my kayak over my head. In the spring of 2016 when I was moving my snow tires, I twisted incorrectly, and combined with the weight of the tire, I hurt my back. The pain was unbelievable, truly excruciating. It happened again, a week later just getting into bed. After going to my doctor, I found out I somehow compressed my L4 and L5 vertebrae. That put an end to my kayaking for the time being.

I hope I’ll get back on the water eventually. I’ve been exercising my back trying to strengthen it and so far I’ve been pain free. I ride my bike when I can get out. But I’m afraid I’ll never get back into my kayak again. I think I’m afraid of the pain.

With the memory of the pain, and my disappointment, I decided to find a way to compose it as a painting. I thought a lot about how this narrative should represented as a painting. Eventually I found an image from a kayaking morning out onto Lake Ontario. It expresses the loss I feel about not being able to paddle and the joy I felt when I was out on the water.

It was a weekday morning on a very hot summer day. I set out from Bluffers Park and headed straight out from shore as far as I could paddle. It was very sunny and bright with the sun reflecting off the water’s surface. It was hot, but one of those childhood memories of summer heat when the freedom of summer play seemingly made heat irrelevant. There was no wind so Lake Ontario was absolutely flat. It was amazing. It was flat for as far as the eye could see. The horizon of the lake melded with the sky with only a line of white light denoting the curvature of the Earth. It was peaceful. It was pure peace. A sense of calm, joy, and of course, a thrill. When I experience days like this I feel honoured and so thankful, and I thank the Earth for sharing an event like this with me. Too bad I can’t have my full plein air gear out on the water to paint it there and then. I wanted to capture all that in a painting; the beauty of the lake and joy I feel out on the water. The kayak represents an extension of me, as the self-portrait, when I experience the oneness with the event, and at the same time, the event sees me like it sees the kayak, an inanimate object bobbing on the surface. At that point you feel humbled at the majesty of what you’re seeing, and so insignificant in the grandness.

I hope I was able to capture in the painting, a small piece of what I experienced, and of what I going through today. It is also somehow fitting that I finished this painting on January 1st, 2019… a day heralding hope, and of good things to come, in the New Year.

I felt almost ready to paddle again this last summer, but as a good day approached I grew fearful, and phantom pain begins in my lower back. Maybe I’ll try paddling down at the Toronto Harboufront next year. I learned to paddle at Harbourfront Canoe Kayak Centre, and I can rent one from them. I hope we have a nice hot sunny summer.

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