Friday, May 21, 2010

stern your own canoe

"Take time to accept responsibility. Your life is exactly that - It's your life. It is created by you. You are constantly making choices, constantly creating new experiences. And although we can be affected by circumstances which can seem to be completely out of our control, essentially, we decide the direction in which we walk."
Nicolas Watkins

If ever there was an activity that automatically brings me peace, its canoeing.  Even if I'm in rough currents, I still have a sense of the divine resonating inside me.  Though I RARELY get out for a real paddle, and by GOD I'm going to this summer, even the visualization of paddling can soothe the savages that rage inside me. The pictures, the stories, the memories are real and at my mind fingertips whenever I need to "go there."  I think living by the Saint John river and being able to see it every single day has been the source of keeping the internal pictures alive and fresh.

I remember times when I floated along the shores, through the lily pads and lake grass enjoying the water spiders and little fish quietly living their lives. I have found the strength to take deep plunges with my paddle, to fight off the north winds as I cascaded over white caps trying to make it across the lake to a calmer locale. 

I have laid back against the thwarts and looked up into the sky allowing the canoe to drift along the currents. I have sat in wonder under a midnight blue canvas shimmering in starlights without any city lights to tarnish its splendour.  Using my own body strength I have tramped through mosquito ridden woods portaging while leading a group of teens to do the same......... to get to another lake beyond the roads. It was always, always worth the pain and sweat of the portage to get that first glimpse of a pristine lake void of any cottages or motor boats.

For many summers, I taught children how to find their own way using a paddle and a chestnut canoe.  I still smile broadly when I think of it of those times.   One spring, it was my job to teach a bunch of city kid neophytes, who had never set foot outside of their concrete neighbourhoods let alone slept in cabins, or seen a pristine lake surrounded by pine and the beautiful rock of the Canadian Shield all the basics of canoeing.  I would have the group for the morning...........on the docks, close to the beach........ practising.  Just before lunch, we'd pack the canoes and set OFF across the lake to an island where we would set up camp for lunch.  

There, I showed them how to make a good campfire. We'd cook our lunch together and then I'd show them how to use a reflector oven and we'd bake a cake for dessert.  They thought that was magical.  In the afternoons, we'd go exploring........... all around the lake.  And as we went, we'd sing songs, share stories and get to know one another.  Most importantly, we'd make sure that the strength of the group carried us all, even if there was someone with us who struggled to keep up.

The look of fatigue AND accomplishment on these kids faces at the end of the day was brilliant!  I'll never forget it.  These little anklebiter city kids had done something FAR beyond their own reality horizons and it shifted them. To be able to say.... "I did that" can stretch into "I can do that......."  and beyond to "I will try that........."  It was a beautiful lesson in the creating choices and making them.  For yourself.  By yourself.

My canoe now is more or less a metaphor.  I don't own one. I want one, and maybe it will happen soon.

Across the water......... dip, dip and swing.

My days sterning a canoe used to mostly be in familiar waters.  Every now and then, I'd branch I did when I flew across the big blue pond to attend the Greenbelt Festival on my own last year.  Even with that, I had a pretty good inkling of what to expect (though definitely not the whole picture.... much of it was a mystery) and I had familiar friendly faces to greet me..... 

When I look at the paddling I've been doing, some of which feels like going upriver WITHOUT a paddle, I see how I am still sterning.  It's just takes a little more energy, a little more intensity.  On the other hand, I have also learned that sometimes its a good thing to surrender that spot in the canoe to allow another to stern, while kneel in the bow to look out for those standing waves and dead heads.  I've done both this spring........ with the help of friends and family.  With the help of God.

Usually, I know which inlet I'm visiting. I am aware of the weather up ahead. I can find the right harbour, the best shore, the sturdy dock. Familiarity allows for this. Familiarity allows for us to have the feeling that we can paddle solo......that we can do it alone. But, I'm wondering if familiarity also generates doubt which perpetuates desire to tackle something new? We get settled in the same canoe, on the same lake, looking at the same inlets. The seasons come and go, the winds come and go........ all predictably familiar. Which is nice, if you're completely and utterly content.

And if you are.........completely and utterly content...............go with it........more power to you.....rock on.......... just watch out for those nasty snapping turtles, oh and the driftwood.....oh, and watch out for the changing water levels, where all of a sudden, the familiar lake alters it's vista and you're left grounded on a new sandbar with a stick puncturing your beloved canoe.

Yeah, familiarity...............a facade, isn't it, with contentment as a trap?

Today, I headed over to what looks like an inlet from afar, but as you get closer, you can see it's really the beginning of a tributary feeding into another lake. It's the other lake where I have heard has a couple of beautiful campgrounds to check out. It is where my next destination lies. I know this lake, but not as well, so have decided to ask for directions, to ask for help with the navigating.

Help, I pray ........ will you please help me? I asked.......... these are not words I often spout because I'm normally comfortable soloing. I'm normally the navigator for others. But, today I asked someone whom I know clearly has a big picture of the lay of the land and lake..........

His answer?

"Yes, I would love to help you. But, I don't want you to settle for something you're not completely excited about. I want you to be picky about your destination. And while I'm helping you, I want you to plant as many seeds as you can along the way........."

Our lives are created by us, as noted in the quote........but we should never be afraid to check out new vistas, to pass up familiarity and more importantly to ask for help in the paddling to a new destination.

Think I've just pushed off from the may be a longer paddle than I anticipate because, well I'm not going to settle for the first campground I check takes time.......but I have help. We all do. I don't have to navigate alone.  And for that reason, when I look up into the blue heavens above, my prayer will always and forever be....

"Thank you........"


Twain12 said...

how beautiful...i would love to get a canoe, living so close to water and loving water and nature i think it would be a great experience. I wish you wonderful travels in your canoe

awareness said...

Twain..... I DO want to get my hands on one this summer. I promised my son I would teach him a little more about the different paddle strokes too. He went on his first canoe trip last weekend and really liked it and now wants to learn. My daughter has been learning at the camp she works at and did her first trip down the St. Croix too last year.
Fredericton is where the old Chestnut canoes were originally made. I want one of those old beauts!

Susan Deborah said...


Reading this has given me a great feeling of joy. By reading your experiences, I derive the urge to fight and learn the art of life. Now just before reading this, a million thoughts from the past made it's way into the NOW and was completely drowning my senses. Thank God, I stumbled here. Everything has a purpose, you see.

Dana, with you in this journey. Not quite visible but in thoughts and prayers.

Canoes, literally and metaphorically will be by your side :)

Courage and passion,

awareness said...

Susan... I think the key is to let down the urge to fight and just let life unfold like a river. If we try too hard, we only set ourselves up for disappointment because our expectations get in the way. I believe we have to have clear pictures in our heads of what we want.... and this is what I am attempting to do with a little help from a few good friends and some spiritual guidance from a person in my life who is open to "mentoring" little old me....... but I believe once the pictures are clear, then the opportunity to paddle towards it is much more possible.
Personally, I have been in floating/survival mode for a long time..... this was where the energy turns into the struggle to live life. It got me to where I find myself right now...... If I look at things philosophically however, it is also the source of a new lake to paddle on.

btw? I got an invite to go for a paddle on Monday with a friend. We're going to shoot some rapids!!! Can't wait.