Every year we drive from Texas to Ontario, Canada to try out Starr’s newly finished canoes. We spend ten to fifteen days making the wilderness our home, canoeing and fishing to our heart’s content.
Early in the morning, the outfitter drops us into the environment we came to see, and we start paddling into the midst of peace and serenity. The day is early, but a few of us have already dipped our freshly baited hooks in the cold water, looking for a lucky bite, hoping to catch a grand old Northern Pike before anyone else.
There are some of us for whom fishing is not the first priority. We spend our time taking in everything nature has to offer. The smell of the fresh air, the sound of the birds chirping and the fish jumping appeals to our inner being, and we slowly paddle around, enjoying the moment.
There are others of us still, for whom exploring and adventuring is our preference, and capturing the beauty of the scene is our challenge. We investigate streams, beaver dams and marshes, in search of the perfect composition for a picture.
The dipping of the perfectly formed paddle is heard intermittently as each of us paddle alone with our thoughts, engulfed in the scenery, a mosquito in a vast land. We are lucky to see any other paddlers along the way, and if we do, we exchange cordial greetings almost resentfully. This is our lake, our adventure away from civilization, and we want to believe that we are completely alone out here, surviving in the wilderness, exploring the unexplored. The bank approaches, the inevitable portage waits. It is a rude awakening to hit land, having so peacefully floated along the water. Yet, what lies at the other end of that gruelling trail excites us, and we begin unloading our canoes, carrying packs, rods, tackle, life jackets, paddles, and finally canoes, through the narrow path and into the woods. Another lake of exquisite beauty emerges through the thick brush, and we arrive, panting. We set off once more into the lake, doing as we did on the previous one, paddling until sunset, where we make our way to camp.
We set up our simple camp – a tent between two trees and a central fire. We huddle around the fire, although maybe one of us is casting off a rock, reeling in one more Smallmouth Bass in the dusk light. Fully satisfied with an excellent supper of fresh fish, our small group gaze into the remains of the fire, sipping a small dram of whisky and enjoying the fresh night air. The stars stare down at us, clear as day, and hints of the Aurora Borealis flitter in the night sky.
It is not always so wonderful. There are days when it is cold and blustery, and the wind does nothing but blow against you. There are days when we have miles and miles to cover, and several portages lie ahead. And all you want to do is curl up inside your sleeping bag in the safety of your tent and hide from nature. Yet you go on, packing up the tent and loading the canoe while the wind and rain gather their strength. White tops appear on the lake, and you know that the chances of your tipping in the cold, violent water are high. But therein lies the challenge – you against nature. Are you prepared and equipped enough to outsmart and out-paddle that force?
You skirt along the banks slowly, trying not to get carried by the waves to the jagged rocks that are so close. Thunder strikes, and lightning is not far away. Only gloom appears on the horizon. Yet you continue, there is something within you that tells you to keep on going, that you can make it to the other side of the lake, that this is actually fun! You soar across the rising waves, powerfully cutting the water with your paddle. A WHOA! escapes from somewhere within you, and you enjoy every rushing moment!
Soaked through and exhausted, you reach the embankment in one piece. It is not much, but it is shelter enough to recuperate. Perhaps while youâ€™re resting the weather will calm a little, and by the time you finish the portage, the next lake will be bright and sunny, a rainbow illuminating the water and sky. The storm does calm down, but the portage is hell. You find yourself knee deep in mud, and you are being followed by hundreds of bloodthirsty mosquitoes. Yet you soldier on, carrying pack after pack through the muddy maze, and you reach the other side to find that the water is tranquil, and the clouds are being blown away. Relieved, you step into the canoe, and gently push off. sailing through the cold, clear water. Peace has been restored, and you survived Natureâ€™s attack.
Thus you spend the next few days, drifting along and fishing, or paddling for your life in order to reach camp before dark. It is a happy, peaceful time, and you are reminded of all the good things in life. The canoe you sit in has passed the test: it is a piece of art, an excellent example of expert craftsmanship. It is the vessel that kept you safe in the midst of danger. It becomes a part of you as you battle the water together, or cruise down the riverâ€™s current as one. It held you as you reeled in that enormous Pike. Its wood reminds you that it was once part of the scenery that is before you, and it has been adapted to show you how truly wonderful and magical nature is. There is a pristine world that exists without any of those commodities, where you can escape to and challenge yourself as a real human being, living off the land and water, travelling silently in a beautifully made wooden canoe, listening to natureâ€™s call.