In the spirit of celebrating our 20th anniversary all year, we're resurrecting an old series, Day in Little Rock, where various central Arkansans reflect on their memories, pastimes and adventures in the capital city. Up this month is Brigette Coleman-Williams. Take it away, Brigette.

 

I started as director of marketing and communications for the Nature Conservancy in Arkansas on Dec. 20, 2021.

With more exposure to the city versus natural areas and to accelerate my learning curve of this new world of nature, I spent the first few weeks meeting with co-workers to learn of the truly amazing and unsung work they passionately perform to conserve and protect nature. One of those meetings was with Devan Schlaudraff.

Her work included introducing students to the cool ways they can explore the great outdoors, from biking, to canoeing, to hiking, etc. I told her it all sounded fun, and — except for bike riding — was new to my experiences.

“We’ll go canoeing before the year is up,” she stated.

I assured her that would be a ‘no,’ primarily because I can’t swim, but also because there are things in the water other than fish. We ended the meeting with her confidently smiling, sure she’d get her wish.

Fast forward to May 2022. Devan’s husband, who serves our country in the U.S. Air Force, is deployed to Germany. I’m now feeling safe with the idea the canoe trip will not happen as she prepares to join him.

“No, we can go tomorrow,” she says. “In the morning. Meet me at North Ranch Woods.”

So, here we are, at what is officially known as the William Kirsch Preserve within Ranch North Woods, a jewel of 234 acres of fields and forests bordered by the Little Maumelle River, nestled in Little Rock right off Highway 10. She unloads her vintage We-no-nah canoe and hands me a set of paddles to demonstrate their use. I model her movements. She explains how I should enter the canoe and the proper way to shift my body for stability. She adjusts my life jacket.

Her instruction is assuring. For whatever reason, I am confident in her belief that I can do this, without tonking us over and one of us drowning. That would be me, of course. I believe her confidence in me.

Devan steps in the muddy bank, pushing the canoe into the Little Maumelle. She remarks that the water is the lowest she’s seen in some time. Of course, I don’t ask “how low is low?” because sometimes not knowing is a good thing. With Devan stabilizing the canoe, I make my ungraceful entrance into it — wobbly, but upright — and then, we’re floating.

I assist, I think, Devan in paddling the canoe around to head on our journey. I have been given authority to say I’ve had enough whenever I want.

It’s 10 a.m. on Friday, May 20, five months to the day of my TNC start. The feel of the moment is amazing. There’s a slight cooling breeze blowing through the trees, a welcomed respite from the excessive heat we were already enduring. Devan compliments my paddling. I feel as if we’re totally in sync. I am completely immersed in the calm of the float when we come upon the cypress grove.

As if in a movie, the grouping of cypress seems to beckon us to enter. When I tell friends it was truly a spiritual sense moving through the grove, it’s an understatement. Was it a compilation of the silence of talk, the rhythm of our paddling, the ripples of the lake, the songs of the birds, the movement of the cypress branches, the smell of the fresh air? I can’t say. But it remains the most zen moment I’ve experienced to date.