Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Me Heart Ain't Here...

When I woke up this morning, this was on my mind.

It's only the first week of January but already I'm tired of winter. Longing for those days with paddle in hand, the feel of the water rolling beneath me. Of feeling the paddle stroke begin in my waist, travel up my back and through the shoulders, down the arm, ending in a silent dip of the blade into the sky blue water. Longing for the silent forward glide and the sound of the water sloughing past the banks.

Canoes have been part of my life forever. Paddles and moving water. Backpacks and tents. Sleeping bags and campfire's light and coffee night. Smoke getting in the eyes. Skeeters nibbling at the ears. Love them all. There is a freedom on the water that cannot be felt anywhere else.

Conceived and nurtured in water, we emerge to a world of air, become members of a foreign element to spend the remainder of our days trying to become one with the atmosphere. On the water, we are at the interface of our elements, at the juncture of our lives, at the point our two worlds meet. It is here I feel my best, feel at peace with myself and my world.

Wind creates waves and sometimes they can be huge, violent, dangerous. Yet they can be refreshing, exhilarating.

Clint and I jumped off at Moose Lake Landing on a cool August day. Clear sky, light breeze. In two hours we'd be at the portage to Ensign- 200 yards of easy walk with packs and canoe. Another two hours easy paddle and the portage to Mesabi would be at our feet and we'd finish it in the dark, set up camp not far from the portage. Dinner, maybe a little fishing by moonlight. Walleyes bite best at night, are dark water feeders.

Portage to Ensign behind, we did the short river run to Ensign proper and began our paddle. A light breeze at our backs encouraged us along, pushed the blades deeper and we sang- Clint had the absolutely best voice I've ever heard in a man- and enjoyed the day.

Then the wind came up.

Ensign flows east to west, is about six miles long, a mile or more wide, dotted with islands.

We'd maybe got a mile before we knew we were in for a stormy night. The westerly wind hit hard and sudden, lifting the water to troughs five and six feet deep from the wave crest, a few even deeper.

The Windsong would plummet bow first into the trough, suddenly rise as the pointed end hit the bottom, sweep us upward and we'd paddle furiously to reach the crest as the wave behind pushed us forward. Into the trough again we'd plunge and rise, the thin canoe a knife slicing the water and rising to cut again. Up. Down. Up. Down. A roller coaster ride, our bodies held between the thwarts of a thin piece of aluminum hull.

Wind blown spray wet our bodies, stung in our eyes, washed inside the canoe, wetted packs and feet.

I barely rescued my hat, blown off my head and caught as it whipped just to the end of arm's reach, to be stuffed under the seat beneath me.

Perhaps it was the kindred spirit, the lovers of Adventure, the primal man within us, the pure joy of living. Whatever, Clint and I both cried a "Hallelujah!" together and began to laugh. Lusty, bold laughter that comes from the release of pressures within, the loss of binding ties. Laughter from the depths, the purest form of sound that begins deep in the spirit and builds through every cell of the body, each releasing its joy and comes forth ringing in the ears.

Our paddles dipped fast and deep and we rose upon a wave. Higher. Higher.

And then we were upon it, sitting so perfectly balanced at the crest. Clint turned to look as I called his name, my arm outstretched, fingertips holding my paddle as it reached for the trough bottom. And stopped a foot short.

Above the wave, the wind was fierce, flinging white cap foam everywhere, soaking us more. From the cloudless sky it came, its whine added to the roar of the foaming water, louder than our voices of praise as we surfed the wave, perfect in its form, Clint at one side, I at the other, open air below us, the perfect belly of the Grumman lightly touching its element.

Miles passed beneath us as we were suddenly deposited on the sands at the east end of Ensign, the waves pushing until the pine forest stopped our progress.

We laughed as we stepped ashore, ear-to-ear grins as we eyed each other, dragging the canoe farther into the bush.

"Where's your life jacket?" I asked Clint, standing shirtless in the wind.

He grinned and laughed.

"The same place yours is- under the seat."

"Now we have to get back to the portage," he told me, pointing to the west and south.

Our escape had swept us three-quarters of a mile past our destination.

It would be great to say the paddle against those waves was easy, as much fun as the ride in, but it wasn't. It was hard work and we sweated under the spray, still with no life jackets on, and were several hours paddling to travel the short way. One stroke forward, two strokes back, as the expression is. Only it was reality then. Those waves made us pay in pain for the joy they'd given us, for the pleasure of our souls.

And that is what surviving is like.

Unimaginable in the purity of the joy of living. Painful in the work it can entail. Pleasure in just being 'able'. Not wearing a life jacket, but trusting in skill and One-ness with God in all His elements for He is in control and will bring us to fulfillment of His perfect Will. If we die in the process, so be it. Who are we to question the One Who is Perfect and has the Perfect Understanding?

I am only a man. So be it.

Praise God, rejoice in all things and walk in the Spirit. Be filled with love and hope and faith.

Bless God, God bless.



  1. And for a moment, in my mind, I was at sea. Lord how I love the sea! The sloppier the conditions, the better. There's nothing like the rolling deck of a boat, the rise and fall of the swell, the crash of the bow into the next wave, and the wall of water and spray that washes over you. Thanks Shy......

  2. Shy,

    Your words transported me back to my favorite river. You are a poet. Thanks

  3. Hey Shy, I enjoyed the story alot. I took a 3 day canoe trip in the BWCA with my dad and cousin back in 83 or 84 when I was 14. We went in through Basswood Lake? and ended up in Eagle Lake or around there. Great memories, caught walleyes and pike, found the shell of a huge snapping turtle someone had caught and possibly cooked near our firepit, walked by myself back to a portage to get a pack we couldn't get on the first trip and enjoying the dark woods and stars and imagining I was a voyageur. I have alot of relatives in the Iron Range and hope to someday get back for a reunion. Talk to ya later, Dean.

  4. Great post Shy, you got me wanting to get back on the water. I have a 13 ft Wilderness Systems Kayak and I love to float the water. Where I used to live, my house was right on the river. I would take my kayak to work and then after I got off work I would drive a mile down the road and slip my kayak into the river and enjoy a gentle float home.(about 7 miles) Right up to the back yard man, what a way to end the day. My neighbor worked the night shift and I would catch a ride back to town that night to get my truck. Sweet deal for me. Boy how I miss that. I have a pond here that I float on some but not much. Thanks for this wonderful post, takes me back to the good ole days.

  5. Thank you, Folks- water is our life, as any Prepper knows. I love it more than just for the coffee and beer. (Umm, is Jim Beam included in beer?)
    Mayberry- I should'a been a sailor, also. But I ain't too keen on boats I ain't in charge of ;)
    Rough water seems to be my lot when it comes to boating, too- seldom find it calm, but when I do...MMMMMM, slick.
    Tree- thank you, Fine Lady. You are so welcome.
    Dean- do I know you? You sound familiar. Let me know when you're in the area, around Virginia, we may hook up for a beer and paddle. Glad you enjoyed it. (I have more if you're interested- Clint and I could always find water.)
    Michael- Thank you very much, so glad I could please you.
    Pickdog- a big thank you to you, too- tickles me to make you folks happy and entertained.
    Ahh, yes, Bullseye- the Grumman sits alone much of the time nowadays and I use the 12' Old Towne kayak much more now due to its light weight. Still, the canoe calls to me, especially when my Kid is in it. (He reminds me of me and how crazy he is with it. A few more memories being made on it.) I don't live on a lake, but near many and about two hundred yards from a river that can get me to Hudson Bay (my back yard) without much trouble. I did so enjoy those 'good old days'. Thank you.
    Thank you all.

  6. Aah memories so sweet that nothing like a canoe paddle an that special river that heals one soul!

  7. Wow Shy that's the greatest paddlin story I've read in a long time!
    I know what you mean by water being a place of solace and reconnection. I feel the same way when backpacking too, but there's something special about freshwater lakes, streams and rivers.
    Oh for the time to get out and do what I want!


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