a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature.
PIERRE TRUDEAU, Former Prime Minister of Canada
When I was ten, my cabin group at YMCA Camp St. Croix set out on what ranked then—and may still rank—as the longest canoe trip ever undertaken by the camp's trip program. In eight days we paddled 360 miles from Hudson, Wisconsin down the St. Croix and then the mighty Mississippi to East Dubuque, Illinois.
I'd canoed before—I spent my summers just a few blocks away from a
particularly quiet and beautiful stretch of the St. Croix further north. But the long Mississippi trip was the first time I'd learn the finer points of this, the most serene of water craft.
Those eight days, for a ten-year-old, might as well have been a trans-continental expedition for all I learned about buoyancy, balance, wind, waves, currents and navigation, not to mention the capacity of my own body and spirit.
I feel more comfortable sitting on that cane seat
and paddling than I do walking on dry land.
MY TEACHER AND FRIEND
Since that great adventure, I've been lucky enough to paddle many other rivers
and streams, as well as much of northeastern Minnesota's amazing Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), a mostly wild network of more than 1,000 lakes and rivers, most of them interconnected with portage trails. There,
I've learned still more, handling rapids, beaver dams, knee-deep muskeg and June
I've had my own canoe for 35 years. It's a Mansfield Osprey, a thirteen-foot wood-and-fiberglass fishing model made by the Stowe Canoe Company in Vermont back in the early 1970's. In the thousands of hours and miles I've spent in that sweet craft, much of it paddling solo, we've gotten to know each other very well.
|This newer model of my Osprey has a portage yoke.|
While I'm far from a competitive paddler, that canoe's taught me how to turn on a dime, go forward and backward, even sideways. I can paddle with barely a sound; wild critters walk away from me instead of bolting in terror. I can flip her up onto my shoulders, where her center thwart sits so lightly that I don't even need a yoke.
I can honestly say I feel more comfortable sitting on that cane seat and paddling than I do walking on dry land. The balance, the control, the movements have all become second nature to me.
MY LIAISON WITH NATURE
What other craft can you carry for a mile or more and plop down in waters otherwise inaccessible? Which will let you glide through places barely two inches deep? Does any let you drift silently, close enough to birds, animals and fish to practically touch them?
Is there another transport that offers a more fair and honest exchange of your energy for movement, one which treads more lightly and leaves no trace of your presence when you leave?
Swirly footprints mark her passage, then congeal back into glassy reflection.
If waterways are Nature's arteries, my canoe lets me feel their pulse. Their waves rock me—sometimes a bit too roughly; their upcurrents and eddies lift and turn me; their temperature seeps through the thin ash ribs so I can feel the cold and warm spots on my feet.
And then there's the sheer beauty and grace of a canoe. Those sumptuous curves, converging at the apexes of bow and stern. The way it gently parts the waves, presses them down and then releases them. Swirly footprints mark her passage, then congeal back into glassy reflection.
|Two Men In a Canoe – Winslow Homer, 1895|
WOOD IF I COULD
I've always preferred wooden canoes—or at least partially wooden. Aluminum canoes, though durable, are cold, noisy and heavy. Kevlar canoes are light, but their translucence is unnerving. The material's extremely tough for its weight—but only against impact, not abrasion. It can practically stop a cannon ball, but running it up on a gravel beach a few times will bring it to its knees.
Paddling a wooden canoe is like sitting inside a piece of fine furniture, one that transports you both physically and esthetically. Because much of its material comes from Nature, I always feel like a wooden canoe belongs in Nature.
In touch with the water, open to the sky, quiet as a breeze, I feel my surroundings embrace me—and I them. More than any other thing or place in my life, my little Osprey bonds me with Nature, reminding me not just where I truly belong, but who I really am.