By CEAN BURGESON
Canoeing. The word doesn’t look right. It totally breaks that rule about dropping the “e” before adding “ing.”
Or maybe the word just looks strange because it’s been so long since I’ve actually done it. That’s why I jumped on the chance to take part of the Forest Festival canoe tour of the Big Manistee River on Tuesday.
I figured I already had a canoe that wasn’t being used, so why not?
You see, I’ve had a canoe for almost 13 years, and I can count on one hand the number of times I have actually put paddle to water while sitting in it. We received it as a wedding gift from one of my wife Tiana’s dads (long story). At the time, we were kind of land-locked, living in an apartment in Lansing. So the canoe lived at my mother-in-law’s house for a while.
Then we moved to Washington D.C. The canoe stayed behind. A few years later, we moved to Los Angeles. The canoe stayed behind. Somehow — and I don’t recollect how — the canoe moved around on its own. I think it was at my other father-in-law’s house for a while, and then somehow ended up at my parent’s little piece of land on Little Platte Lake in Honor. There wasn’t even a house there back then, just land. I think we had it with us when we rented a house on Little Platte, too, but its all fuzzy now. For at least the last eight years, it has sat overturned on the bank of Little Platte Lake, awaiting some action.
What I’m trying to impart is that the canoe moved around a lot, and saw very little paddle time. Which is odd, because I used to take a canoe trip every June with my father and some other father/son duo’s as a kid. We canoed rivers all over the state — even the U.P. We would research which rivers were the fastest, or most challenging, and off we’d go the first weekend of June each summer to tackle ‘em.
We would always camp out, and spend a whole day on selected waterways, racing each other, tipping each other over, and generally doing that male bonding thing that we guys do. We even canoed a river with all of our camping gear once, camped overnight in the middle of nowhere just at the river’s edge, and then got up the next day and did it all over again.
That ritual of canoeing went on for years, until we reached college age. I don’t think I’ve been in a canoe with dad since. My wife and I went a couple of times while we were dating, and that was the last canoe trip for me. And as I recall, they were all good times.
So it really surprises me that I went so long without hitting the river again. I guess jobs, kids, and the other time restrictions imposed by a 21st century existence sometimes crowd out simple, enjoyable activities like a good float down a lazy stream.
Fast forward to Tuesday, when I convinced sports editor Matt Wenzel to come with me for a paddle session. I tried to practice canoeing by myself on the lake once a few weeks ago, and the front of the canoe tilted up at an alarming angle, making it difficult to either steer or see. So I needed some weight in the front.
That’s where Matt came in.
He made better conversation than a bucket full of rocks, and could pass back treats from the cooler to me. Plus I found out he makes a darn good spotter/steerer.
I’m proud to say we had zero collisions, and not even a single close call. Pretty good, considering we were out of practice. I suppose canoeing is like riding a bike. Once you’ve got it, you never lose it.
For two city boys, who weren’t even sure where the boat launch was initially, it was nice to just float, make simple course corrections once in a while, and enjoy the trip. We saw a couple of big birds, fish, what looked like some sort of river mammal who swam right in front of the boat, and some fishermen and other assorted gawkers along the shore (see Matt’s column.)
The trip was quiet, serene, and un-cluttered with the auditory graffitti of daily life. No television, radio, traffic noise, or telephones ringing. For a few hours, we unplugged from the world, and reset our brains.
Seems like everyone could stand to do that once in a while.
Cean Burgeson can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org