“Canoes, too, are unobtrusive; they don’t storm the natural world or ride over it, but drift in upon it as a part of its own silence. As you either care about what the land is or not, so do you like or dislike quiet things–sailboats, or rainy green mornings in foreign places, or a grazing herd, or the ruins of old monasteries in the mountains. . . . Chances for being quiet nowadays are limited.”
― John Graves, Goodbye to a River
Into the Wind
There’s this thing about a canoe on a lake in the wind. When you are going into the wind you’re going very slowly and working very hard to push against the resistance. But since the waves are going the other way, opposite you, it seems like you’re flying, rushing along. It’s only when you look over to the shore that you see the glacial progress you’re making.
On the other hand, when you turn around, and go with the wind at your back you will move right along with the waves and appear, when you look at the water, to almost be standing still. It takes some proper point of reference, some object on the shore, to gauge your true rapid speed.
Sam and his two sons rented a canoe. He intended to paddle from one end of Cedar Lake to the other.
They walked to the little park store, which has rentals. They had to wait because the operator who lived by himself in a recreational vehicle beside the store had closed up for an hour and gone into town. He had left a note on the door to the store. When he came back he rented them the boat. He made Sam fill out several pages of paperwork, apologizing, “Please fill this out in case the State audits me.”
Samy asked, “Well, have they ever audited you?”
He said, “Yes, once. They came out a couple years ago but I told them that my wife had passed away that week and I couldn’t deal with it so they went away and haven’t come back.”
They rented the little aluminum canoe for an hour, six dollars an hour. The rental place was in a cove down at one end of the lake and due to the drought the lake levels were way down. It was difficult to get out of the cove because the water was so shallow. The boys peered over the gunwale at the thick water plants rubbing against the canoe while their father used the paddle to pole their way along
Sam wanted to go the length of the lake, all the way to the dam but as they moved out into the center he wasn’t sure they would make it. The stout wind would catch the front of the canoe, where Frank, the older son, sat ineffectually flailing at the water with one paddle, and spin it around so Sam would have to paddle hard and carefully to keep it pointed at the dam. Two other families had rented canoes right after them and they were unable to get out of the cove due to the wind.
After being spun twice Sam decided to move over to the west coastline, as close as possible, and pay close attention to steering the canoe – they were able to make progress that way. It was hard work, pushing against the wind, taking all the strength Sam had in his shoulders.
For Sam it felt good to be paddling a canoe again. He was good at it. When he was a child in Florida he had a canoe of his own. He would haul it down to the canal next to their house and paddle around after school.
Frank and Sam’s youngest son, Luke had never been in a canoe before. Luke was surprised to find out it was made of metal, he thought they were all made of wood. They both said the canoe was more stable than they thought it would be, they thought it would be harder to keep it from tipping over. Sam told them a lot of that was because he was working pretty hard at keeping it straight while they flailed around. Especially Frank at the front trying to paddle.
They made it all the way to the dam. No huge feat, but the kids enjoyed it. It felt like a great victory. They circled the concrete drainage structure, a tall cylinder sticking out of the water with a wrought iron valve wheel on top. The kids asked questions about it, which Sam couldn’t answer. Then they turned and headed back.
Sam was worried they would be late, he had only paid for an hour. He wished that he had shelled out another six bucks so they could relax. But the wind and waves bore them along at a rapid speed on the return. It took them forty minutes to reach the dam and only ten to get back. Poor Luke knelt on his knees in the center of the canoe during the whole trip and could barely stand when they pushed up onto shore. His young legs regained their flexibility quickly enough.
Sam’s shoulders didn’t recover quite so fast. For a week the soreness reminded him of the struggle across the lake in the canoe with his two sons. He would shrug his shoulders against the pain and smile.