ON A MAY DAY AT THE CHURCH O’ THE PINES when the mercury topped 80, the Old Canoe, the vintage canvas boat cushion, and the early 1900’s canoe paddle called. And so off to the Church moat we went. In a world of strife and change and uncertainty, a canoe is an ancient and peaceful thing. On this day it brought me within touching distance of a tiny, 2-inch snapping turtle on a log; to rough winged swallows under a bridge, luminous willows along the shoreline; shovelers and teal and mallards. A silent canoe is a doorway to all such things. I did get into a bit of trouble with the DNR, for paddling too fast near a Slow No Wake sign. (Yeah, that’s a joke.) Then it was time to head back to the big pines at the bend in the river, looming behind the sand spit and the quiet bay. Back to the bloodroot, blooming in the church aisles.
In a book entitled ‘Paddle Whispers’ I once wrote: “With a canoe it’s simple. An empty bow always swings with the wind. Lean too far and you tip over. When you don’t paddle, you drift. When you do paddle, keep your bow lined up on the horizon, or you’ll go in circles. Don’t overpack, you have to carry all you bring. Scout a rapids before you run it. When paddling, it sometimes helps to sing a song, but be quiet if you want to see and hear shy things.”
And in the new book, ‘A Wild Path’, I’ve included this passage:
“I have long loved the romance of the canoe. Have loved the quiet of mist-shrouded mornings and golden evenings, the sense of being embraced by the wilderness and the entire natural world, the canoe and its paddler a part of every aspect of the landscape and the waterscape, the wind and the sky and the weather. I have gloried in the freedom of it all, of a craft so simple and light and versatile that it can be carried on the shoulders from one waterway to the next, can be dropped into new, blue waters and in just moments have its bow set and underway to another horizon, another island, another headland, another campsite. I have marveled at how the same craft can be sent hurtling down the snowy froth of a surging rapid, and, with skill and luck, bring the paddler safely through to the eddy pools at the bottom, where with a turn of the head and a look back, one can marvel at what has just been accomplished. And I have gazed with feelings of appreciation—no, deep affection—at a canoe, or two or three, tipped over and resting as if in sleep on some glaciated ledge, smooth bellies ghostly in moon-and-starlight, awaiting the rising of the sun and the promise of a new day’s journey. There is not very much about a canoe, and the waters it is meant to ply, that I am not in love with.”
From the Old Canoe, and from the Church O’ The Pines, Good Sabbath…