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Posts Tagged ‘Canoe’

Have paddle, will travel

In culture, History, life, travel on June 26, 2012 at 12:11 am
Canoe Manned by Voyageurs Passing a Waterfall ...

Canoe Manned by Voyageurs Passing a Waterfall (Canada). Scene showing a large Hudson’s Bay Company freight canoe passing a waterfall, presumably on the French River. The passengers in the canoe may be the artist and her husband, Edward Hopkins, secretary to the Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Canadian is someone who knows how to make love in a canoePierre Berton

Well, kids, I don’t personally know if that’s true. But I do know how much I love being in a canoe.

I rented an aluminum one this week for a big $7 and paddled for 45 minutes on the very edge of Lake Champlain. It was a long way from the 3, 5 and seven-day canoe trips of my adolescence, at summer camp in northern Ontario.

I loved how, still today, it felt automatic and natural to pick up a paddle and carve it smoothly and cleanly into the water with that distinct, delicious gurgling noise of water being pushed behind me only by my own muscle power. The gentle slap of waves against the hull. There’s an intimacy with the water and the land you can’t get any other way.

The last time I canoed, also solo, was in Quebec, on Lake Massawippi, where I crept up on that most elusive and Canadian of sights — two beavers swimming by. (I solo, so far, because my husband Jose does not swim, nor paddle. But since he bought me a tent for my 55th. I see a canoe trip in his future!)

I learned to paddle in 65-pound red wood-and-canvas canoes, learning strokes like the J, feathering, the pry, running pry, C-stroke. We’d set off into Algonquin Provincial Park, (7,630 square kilometres), our packs laden, our eggs packed in oatmeal, our cookpans covered with thick soap to protect them from burns. We got to know these dark, deep, cold lakes as well as our streets at home — Cedar Lake, Biggar, North Tea. We’d start out at the Amable du Fond, which sounds really romantic but was a river winding through a marsh full of mosquitoes, a winding passage deceptively easy compared to what lay ahead.

At night we’d hear the haunting cry of loons. If something crashed a little too loudly in the woods, we pretended it didn’t. We skinny dipped in water lapping against ancient granite, carved millions of years ago by glaciers. The air smelled deliciously of dried pine needles.

We portaged across muddy, rocky paths. Portaging quickly separated the wussies from the trippers — it means carrying all your stuff across a piece of land, no matter how steep or slippery or mucky or thick with black flies. It means hoisting that bloody canoe yourself, up onto your shoulders, solo or with another paddler, while also carrying a heavy pack, no matter how sweaty or miserable you are.

We didn’t freak out when a diabetic camper once took the wrong path — it’s easy to do when all you can see are your own feet and a bit of path beneath the canoe on your weary shoulders. Someone just ran and got her.

This is what you learn on canoe trips — what you, and your companions, are made of. Who whines. Who lily-dips. Who’s willing to scrub out the grimiest pot. Who freaks out over nothing and how deeply annoying drama is.

We paddled in rain, in fog, on chilly mornings. When we were sore and tired and fed up, when the lake seemed endless and the next campsite unimaginably distant, we’d sing, loudly, sometimes in a round with choruses echoing across the waters, a song written by a woman in 1918:

My paddle’s keen and bright
Flashing with silver
Follow the wild goose flight
Dip, dip and swing
Dip, dip and swing her back
Flashing with silver
Swift as the wild goose flies
Dip, dip and swing

One of my favorite museums in the world is the Canadian Canoe Museum, in Peterborough, Ontario. If you are a lover of canoes and kayaks and the world they open up to you, it’s a must-see, with 600 beautiful examples of  both.

As every Canadian knows (or should), the country was opened up by the coureurs de bois and voyageurs often led through the wilderness by Indians along their well-established routes. Only at the Canoe Museum did I finally understand the bravery and organization it took to load up one of these enormous vessels — usually 25 feet in length or 36 feet.

June 26 is National Canoe Day.

Paddle on!

Getting Invited Back For That Country Weekend: Tips

In behavior on May 15, 2010 at 7:27 am
Morris 16' canoe

Image via Wikipedia

This is all so true. If you know anyone with a cottage — Canadians’ version of a country house — listen up!

From The Globe and Mail:

Back in my early 20s, I won the Canadian girlfriend lottery. That is, at the time, I was involved with a woman whose family owned a cottage on what is – or so they said – “the second clearest lake in Ontario.” It was at this rugged setting that I, a cottage newbie, got to know her parents and siblings.

If you’ve managed to land a girlfriend-with-cottage yourself, first of all I want to say, congratulations. Your summers will be infused with cool air, refreshing swims and an endless landscape of trees. Also, you’ll be forced – I mean, have the opportunity – to bond with your girlfriend’s family in an unnaturally intimate setting where they are seasoned natives and you are a visitor with no escape.

In my case, by the end of the first summer I had learned the ways of the North and was able to earn the family’s respect and approval. But there were mistakes made. So that you may learn from those who have trod this prickly path before, here are some things to avoid from myself and a couple other former cottage initiates.

His listof errors includes sucking up too much and misplaced machismo. I’d add, wondering aloud why there is no…anything citified…you miss. Wi-fi,say. Or television. Fresh croissants. Or walls not made of crumbling particle-board.

The Canadian tradition of the cottage, (not to be confused with the social competitiveness of scenes like the Hamptons), means happily and uncomplainingly settling into someone’s family’s long-held traditions, from food to dress. I’ve stayed at friends’ cottages, and loved it, but it does have its own brand of etiquette. Try to have sex, really quietly, in a house with very thin walls, some of which may not even reach the ceiling. (Thus the “bunkie”, a mini-cottage on the same property.)

You’ll need to know, or graciously learn, things like gunwhale-bobbing (pronounced gunnel), which means standing atop the end of a canoe, one foot on each side, and pumping your knees up and down to make it go — of course — quickly forward in a straight line. Or how to water-ski. How to not turn blue or let your teeth chatter audibly when the lake water is icy, but your hosts find it “refreshing.”

Cupping your hands to make an excellent loon’s call? Not bad. But can you drive a motorboat or land a canoe at the dock not with a thud but a graceful J-stroke?

There’s a whole magazine, and a really good one, to prime you, should you ever be lucky enough to get invited to someone’s cottage.

It’s called Cottage Life.

Loons, Lakes and Lily-Dippers: Lessons Learned at Camp

In culture, women on July 22, 2009 at 9:12 am

300px-wooden_canoe_sharbot_lake_ontario1I work every Tuesday night at The North Face, selling tents and sleeping bags and hiking shoes to people sometimes as passionate about the outdoors as I am.

Last night, it was a 12-year-old boy with a blond bowl haircut and his mom. The boy, just back from summer camp in New Hampshire, needed a backpack to replace the one he had shredded hiking 4,000-foot peaks. Total strangers, we chatted like old friends about camp — my memories more than 20 years old, his from last week. We had plenty to talk about: mice, bugs, bears, buying candy from the camp store twice a week, (and making sure it didn’t attract bears), how to use a signaling device when you’re lost.

You learn a lot at camp, as much about yourself as anything. I spent eight summers at sleep-away camp (a redundancy for many Canadians), at three in northern Ontario, beginning the summer I was eight. I went for eight weeks every year, trading boarding school and its bells and shared rooms and meals for a bunk bed, spiders and a fresh batch of kids.

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