Vignette: Paddle Across the Lake

“You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.” – Paulo Coelho

By Dave Hood

It’s 1978, the year Pete Rose got his 3,000th hit. Jimmy Carter is President. The Bee Gees are popular, singing hit songs on the radio, including “How Deep is Your Love” and “Staying Alive.” I am 18, with my girlfriend, taking my first adventure by canoe.

Today, we have the gift of a blue sky, sunshine, warm weather. We have also been blessed with the freedom of leisure time, a break from the hustle and bustle of urban life, a brief interlude from concrete, skyscrapers, and crowds in the city.

We are on a camping trip to a still, peaceful, blissful place, where there are many small and large lakes, connected to each other; endless woods filled with maple, birch, and pine; countless species of wild life, such as bear, moose, beaver, loon; tons of rock of different sizes and shapes. The mood is like a landscape painting by the Group of Seven. We intend to spend the next 7 days relaxing with nature, no booze or steak or milk. Just cans of beans and soup, macaroni and instant potatoes, raisins and nuts, and a large jug of water. We are going to rough it, like the explorers two hundred years ago.

We drive for three hours from Toronto to Algonquin Park, rest the Volkswagen in a gravel lot, journey with the canoe, paddles and backpacks to the lake, paddle a mile to our camp site. After setting up the tent, we decide to take a ride in the birch bark canoe. So, we carry the heavy canoe to the lake and place it on the shoreline. My girlfriend dawns her life jacket and travels to the front of the canoe. I also wear a life jacket, push the canoe out from shore, then hop in.

I dip the wooden paddle, draw a long stroke, then another…The canoe glides  across the peaceful lake as if a fish. I paddle slowly, relaxing, listening, unwinding from the long drive on the highway of speeders and horn honkers. My girlfriend watches, listens, remain still, as though meditating. I paddle for fifteen or twenty minutes, and then stop and watch and listen. There is silence. It feels lie a surreal dream.

In the distance, we see a moose peering back from the shoreline,then disappear into the woods. A bald eagle flies overhead—how majestic.Then I hear the call of a loon. Peace at last, I think to myself, dipping the wooden paddle, drawing another long stroke, the canoe gliding further away from shore.

We travel for an hour. Then, suddenly the wind begins blowing, knocking off my baseball cap, bending the  birches, rustling the leaves along the shoreline. Storm clouds gather. Rain begins falling, soaking our clothing. Choppy waves rock our birch bark canoe, back and forth, almost tipping it.

We’re several miles away from the camp site.What should I do, I think to myself. I paddle and ponder.

Far off, I notice a small island, covered with wind-swept pines and several large rocks, so I steer the canoe in the direction of the island and paddle hard, through the choppy waves and gusting wind.

Thankfully, we arrive safely on the island. We sit and rest, feel a sense of gratitude, share our thoughts: It’s was such a surprise, like slipping on the ice while taking a morning stroll to fetch the newspaper. Unexpected change to our well organized, untroubled lives.

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About Dave Hood

Lover of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Professional photographer and writer. Without the arts, life would be rather mundane, like a walk down the same old path on a dull day.
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