Recently I finished reading “The Old Ways” by Robert MacFarlane. It is a beautifully written book about journeys on foot, illuminating his love for paths and landscape. He also talks about the paths of the sea. At the end of the book is a glossary of some of the more esoteric terms that he uses in the book. It is an amazing list. Many words are nouns – landscape features – and a few are unusual adjectives, many specific to describing the land.
It seems that our water vocabulary is not very rich, considering how much time we spend on it and by it. Conditions might be described as flat, calm, a millpond or perhaps rough, choppy, wavy, lumpy. Rather pragmatic descriptions, although we defini tely know what the rowing will feel like for each one. We might discuss puddles and ripples, being on the water, and how the bow dips or does not in relation to the surface.
There is some rowing poetry, and some wonderful, evocative descriptions of the act and movement of rowing. But what about the water itself, this impossible to contain medium essential to our sport?
Rebecca Solnit. Like MacFarlane, she writes superbly and widely, including about walking, getting lost to find yourself in the unknown. Solnit is also a rower. I would like to know how she writes about water. I will keep reading her and other writers, not only for the topics that they explore but also to find descriptions that expand our vocabulary of water. I think that it can be richer. Something to ponder on your next long row as you look at the water.