I have volumes of writings from canoe trips gone by — years’ worth of crinkled packing lists, to-do lists and to-remember-for-next-time lists, detailed journal entries and scores of abstract poems smudged with squashed mosquitoes. I cherish these relics. They help me remember the various states of mind we tap into on long journeys in the backcountry; the depth of connectedness we can achieve with our fellow travellers, with ourselves and with our environment.
They also, and very importantly, encourage me to get out there again. They are fingers pointing me away from town and back to the bush, reminding me that part of my soul waits for me to return. A great spirit, a great love of the wild rejoices with me as soon as I pick my next canoe trip dates.
Planning a route, preparing the food, packing the truck, making the drive: even these initial activities are sacred acts. Taking the time to consider the group that will be paddling together — skill levels, dietary needs, interpersonal dynamics; taking the time to consider what influence the season, the weather, the terrain and the nature of the waterways will have on the pace of our progress: these are early yet experience-defining considerations. They are part of the ritual of preparation.
Every journey to the edge, be it a physical edge like a faraway place or a social edge like taking on a new job, is a visit to the margin or threshold of what we often consider normal. These liminal, betwixt-and-between experiences can give us a fresh perspective. As we shift gears, we find the psychological space to question what’s going on, to try something new, to shed our usual expectations of ourselves. We get the bird’s-eye view. Canoe trips always provide an opportunity for this kind of exploration.
I am so convinced of the value of having these experiences that my family and I began a guiding company with the most accessible canoe we could get our hands on: a 29-foot-long Langley voyageur. This canoe can seat 13 paddlers at once, most people sitting two abreast with the person in the bow having the option to sit up high and face backwards, setting the paddling pace. The bow seat is a treat, as it is such a pleasure to look out and see everyone’s smiling faces.
From the moment we leave the shore, we’re all literally in the same boat. Everybody’s in: all skill levels, all ages, all states of health. When someone needs to rest, to gaze, to take a sip of water, they can and the boat moves on. New paddlers can progress though gusty waters that may otherwise have left them windbound on the shore. When the boat moves, everyone moves.
This summer will be another season blessed and charmed on the water. We’ll paddle together and we’ll be strong. We’ll sing together and we’ll be merry. We’ll drift together and we’ll be beautiful. We’ll clamber onto shore and we’ll be curious. We’ll pitch our tents and we’ll be at home. We’ll light a fire and we’ll be warm. We’ll eat together and we’ll be content. We’ll talk under the stars and we’ll be mesmerized.
Through canoe tripping, I have discovered my most direct route to reverence and stewardship. For this, I am so grateful.
Kim Sedore is a glass artist, musician and canoe trip guide (www.sameboatadventures.com). She also works with youth at Emmanuel-Howard Park United in Toronto.
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