It’s a small thing, but I do it. I share my delight in watching a travelogue that slightly embarrasses me, that I spend any time rapt by the English canal countryside from a narrowboat, narrated by a wholly unfamiliar middle aged traveler with a life perspective simplified down to the bare necessities of maneuvering the locks, mapping his canal progress, planning his supplies, the canal itself, the sound of the engine chugging steadily as a heartbeat; the livestock, the factories, the ancient bridges, the history, the weather, the stars overhead. Thoreau on the inland waterways of Great Britain and Wales.
“It’s a stupid thing,” I say. “I don’t believe I’m so addicted to this narrowboat show, who would have thought it would bring me such joy?” I watch the face of my friend, his smile, his raised eyebrows. What’s a narrowboat? I tell him it’s a very long, very narrow boat dating back to the Industrial Revolution, designed for water transport of goods. I can’t explain why vicariously joining a YouTube celebrity I’d never be friends with on his recreational narrowboat satisfies a hole in my soul. I’m tongue-tied and stumped.
“Time is but the stream I go fishing in,” Thoreau writes in Walden. “I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.” Narrowboats today are not slaves of time. Narrowboat travel at four miles per hour feels nearly timeless, an unending moment, attentive. When I imagine myself on the narrowboat, I can choose, like Thoreau, to participate in the flow of time however I wish. In Walking he writes, “Above all, we cannot afford not to live in the present.”
I am mindful that its attraction, and my delight, remain enigmatic.