Persons, places and things: The kayak behind me


By Barb Arland-Fye

My brother Tim asked his three siblings whether we wanted to go kayaking during our family reunion last week in the Twin Cities. We responded yes, even me, who had never been kayaking (at least in recent memory). I wanted bonding time with my brothers.

Brian Arland
Barb Arland-Fye and her brothers Tim, Pat and Brian Arland kayak in Minnesota.

We arrived at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis on a golden Wednes­day evening before the sun set. I felt a little apprehensive after realizing that each of us would paddle in a one-person kayak. While swimming is part of my weekly exercise routine, paddling in a lightweight boat in the middle of a deep, expansive lake is not. Wouldn’t it be safer to watch them from the shoreline? I said a prayer, paid for the rental kayak and carefully entered my slim boat.

Tim, Pat and Brian had already pushed off from shore while I struggled to maneuver the kayak into the lake. An empathetic young worker got into the water, assured me that kayaking is easy, gave me a couple of instructions and sent me on my way. My brothers waited as I paddled toward them and we headed out on our adventure to explore the lake and its fascinating passageways.


With each paddle stroke, I became more confident and began to enjoy the rhythm of kayaking and the company of brothers who mean the world to me. We live separate lives, miles apart, but these reunions reinforce our family ties, our connectedness in a world so fixated on division rather than communion.

Brian snapped photos and one of the brothers recorded a few seconds of video. I kept my iPhone safely around my waist, still a little leery that any slight movement would rock my boat and send me into the lake. As we paddled against the wind, I noticed that my shoulders felt somewhat fatigued.

The boys wanted to make one more passage but I worried about having enough stamina to make it back to shore by dusk. They encouraged me to turn around and go back. They’d catch up with me. “Just head back the same way,” Pat said. “You won’t get lost.” But I get lost finding my way out of the doctor’s office!

After some awkward movements turning the kayak around, I headed toward the familiar passageways we had already cleared. With the wind at my back, the kayaking seemed more natural and enjoyable. I picked up some speed. Still, I worried about paddling through a wrong passageway. At one, I heard some daredevil swimmers shout to a friend on top of a rather tall bridge, “Wait!”

Approaching a cluster of tethered sail boats in the lake, I thought I had missed the passageway to shore. Then I heard my brother Pat call out, “I’m right behind you.” He had caught up with me at the last bridge.“It took a while to catch you, but I was right behind Pat so we had you covered in case you went the wrong way but you were moving pretty good in that kayak,” Tim told me later. Brian lagged behind, taking photos for posterity and to post on social media.

Knowing that my brothers had my back caused a lump to form in my throat. Last year, Tim and Pat had my back on RAGBRAI, fulfilling a promise to bicycle across Iowa with me after my bout with cancer. Brian would have been there, too, if possible. Earlier in the week, the four of us bicycled together with friends.

It takes effort and sometimes courage to build bonds, whether with family, friends or foes. That evening of kayaking and God’s grace provided the glue.

(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at

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