Yesterday morning, while I was in the busiest part of putting this issue together, I got an alert on my iMac telling me that my average daily screen time had increased. My computer had never expressed any concern for my wellbeing, so I couldn’t dismiss it as a worrywart. To be sure, in the past two weeks I had been spending a lot of time in my study and of late hadn’t been feeling myself but logy and more forgetful than usual. I logged off, loaded my coracle and a bit of gear into the truck, and headed for the nearest body of water, less than a mile to the east of home.

With my paddle, umbrella, and camera tripod bungeed to the thwart and the rest of my gear in a sling tote, I made the 100-yard portage in a single carry. The coracle goes overhead, upside down, with the thwart resting across my back and shoulders.

I hadn’t paddled my coracle since I’d tested it with a temporary skin two-and-a-half years ago and now its hull, as rounded as a walnut shell half, slipped away from me every time I stepped in it with the least bit of weight. When I did get myself planted on the thwart, it felt like sitting on an exercise ball, and my hips were in constant motion maintaining balance. There was a bit of a breeze, barely enough to quiver the slender leaves of the willows lining the shore, and the ripples on the lake were too smooth to darken the zinc-gray water.

A light rain was falling as I sculled away from shore and, where the drops fell, the rings made by their impact expanded and wove themselves into the rings of other drops, covering the surface with an ever-changing chainmail pattern. The island I was headed for, the only one on the lake, was only 150 yards from the beach, but I took a meandering course to its shore, an overhang of burnt-umber mud and exposed ebon-hued roots.

The crossing to the island was a short one, just 150 yards from the launch site on the lakeshore visible in the distance.

I’d brought lunch and backed away from the island to float in its lee while I ate. Putting up the umbrella and taking my sou’wester off changed the sound of the rain. The muffled pattering on the hat’s soft waxed canvas was replaced by a staccato tapping as sharp as fingertip snaps of static electricity. The curve of the umbrella surrounded me with rain’s music, a sound that can capture my full attention and push aside thinking as surely as gazing into the flickering flames of a campfire.

Drifting in the lee of the island, I had a quick indulgent lunch: a deli sandwich, a can of ginger ale, and a chocolate truffle.

My iMac was right to caution me about accumulating screen time. Sitting in one place focused on the same thing for hours on end day after day dulls the senses and the connection they create to whatever is around us. In psychology, that’s referred to as sensory adaptation, the process by which we become less sensitive to constant stimuli. It is not without benefit. To get constructive work done, it helps to insulate ourselves from distractions. And it happens without our knowing it. My refrigerator makes a humming noise while it’s running. I’m often unaware of it until the instant it stops. What I hear is the absence of the noise. I have tinnitus and, fortunately, that unending whine slips from my consciousness most of the time. Similarly, I’m unaware of the taste of my own mouth or the scent of my own breath. It’s not so easy to experience vision lost to sensory adaptation, but I’ve done it a few times by lying in bed motionless and staring at the light fixture on the ceiling. If I can keep from shifting my eyes, I can make it disappear into gray.

The screen time isn’t just about the time looking at computer-generated images. It’s what happens to the other senses and the potential of their growing dull with disuse. Boating, especially in a small open boat, can be an effective remedy. The five senses, six when you include the proprioceptive sense, are all heightened by surroundings that are never the same from one moment to the next.

The umbrella made a surprisingly effective downwind sail and could pull the coracle faster than I could paddle it. (Time lapse photo)

When I left the island to head back to the launch site, I paddled out of the lee into the wind and lowered my open umbrella. As it caught the wind, I held the paddle over the starboard side to serve as a skeg and point the coracle in the right direction. As I approached the shore, a gust diverted by the trees and brush spun the coracle around like a teacup ride in an amusement park. I was ready to face the screen again.