You've Got to Paddle

After the smoke cleared away, my husband and I went on a canoe trip to northern Canada for our honeymoon. "Of course," my man said, "I'll do the paddling. You can paddle when you feel like it, but I will do most of the work."

The paddling did not worry me too much, but the snakes did. "What if a snake would crawl into my sleeping bag?" I asked timidly. He found me a map that showed the northern limit for snakes and pointed out that our proposed trip was far above this boundary. Reassured, I happily joined in the planning, and off we went to the north country, ready for the great adventure.

The outfitter was dubious as we showed him the map of where we planned to go. "That's a rough trip without a guide," he warned, "but if you are careful, I suppose you'll be alright."

He marked the danger areas - large, shallow lakes that blew up rough in the wind - and told us what to do if we got in to trouble. "The area is patrolled by planes for fire protection," he explained. "These planes are fitted with pontoons so they can land on the lakes. The bush is too dense to travel through unless you have a trail cut through it. So if something happens to your canoe or if one of you gets hurt, your only chance of survival is to flag down one of these planes."

We looked with trepidation at each other, but we had gone too far to back out now. "We'll be careful," we assured him, and continued the business of renting what necessary equipment we had not brought along. We loaded it in the baggage car of a little trunk railroad line that ran north to the Canadian Pacific. We soon found the best place to ride was with our equipment where George, the baggage car man, told us much of the lore of the forests and lakes When the train unloaded us at the starting point for the canoe trip, a small lumber town on the edge of a lake, we gathered our meager equipment at our feet and looked wistfully down the track as the train and our friend, George, disappeared.

A group of silent Canuke Indians gathered to watch us as we loaded our canoe. We were such greenhorns we didn't even know how to load it properly, but we finally got everything in, including ourselves, and pushed confidently away from shore. We paddled strong and fast long enough to get out of the stare of the uncommunicative eyes of the Indians, and then we stopped to look at our map to see where we were. We couldn't tell! Because we had no sense of scale, the dips and jutting of the shore line we observed seemed to bear no relation to the lines on the map.

"Well, let's just go down the lake," my husband said, "and when we get to the bottom of it, perhaps we can find the portage trail that leads to the next one."

"O.K.", I agreed, and we settled down for some serious paddling. Loons laughed hauntingly from across the lake. Gulls dipped and swooped, curious at our invasion, and already we could hear the background chorus of the wolves howling in the distance. The wind became stronger, and the lake, wide and shallow, soon rebelled in angry waves. We quartered them with the bow of our canoe, but we had loaded the bow heavy, and the waves lashed over the gunnels, soaking our equipment. Paddling was heavy work, and I soon settled back on my heels to rest my already sore knees. I carefully shipped my paddle to relax my arms.

"Paddle!" my husband commanded firmly from the stern.

And paddle I did in spite of all the aches and pains and weary muscles. I paddled without protest, not even reminding my husband of his foolish promise. I knocked my hands against the gunnels of the canoe and bruised them painfully but continued to plant the paddle and push against the water with melancholy rhythm until we finally made the shore of an island in the middle of the lake. This was for real, not an idyllic, dream of romance, and so was my marriage. In one way or another, I've been paddling ever since.

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