Memorial Day Canoe Trip
When you travel close to 300 miles to your destination, it is hard to allow the weather to stand between you and your quest. Thus, cool temperatures and threat of rain, didn’t stop my two brothers, my wife, son, and me from paddling our canoes into another outdoor adventure.
It was Memorial Day weekend, which to many, was the beginning of summer. It is the first three-day weekend since Easter, and for some, since January. For many reasons, thousands of people pack up their vehicles with outdoor equipment and other gear to enjoy the great outdoors.
The 50-degree temperature, wind, and cloudy sky issued a poor offering for a summer canoe trip. We watched the radar sweep our area on the weather channel. It was evident we would get rain on our first day being here. We could also see that once it went through, the rest of the weekend would be
sunny. We waited in the backyard, coolers filled, the canoes loaded and strapped down. A glimpse of sunshine would peer through a cloud and raise our spirits, only to vanish as more dark clouds rolled in.
It was approaching late morning and still no rain. We decided to go for it. We had rain ponchos packed, but felt we would not need them. “The rain must have missed us,” one of us said, and we all agreed as we piled into our vehicles. We were off to the river.
About 15 minutes after we left shore, the rain began. It was a light sprinkle but it was still rain. My wife Cheryl did not paddle that often with my son and I, and it was too bad that it had to rain. She had on a jacket but I gave her my rain poncho to ensure her comfort. I had an extra layer on today, anticipating the rain. I was content with my wide-brimmed hat and my waterproof gloves. There was never any place I’d rather be than on a river. Ever-changing and full of life, with times of peace and times of rage, the river has always had an intoxicating effect on me. Intoxicating, oh yes. But over the decades of my life thus far, I’ve grown to respect her power, understand her changes, and love her beauty. I know when to say when, and walk away from her. Let the girl have her day, she will calm down soon, and then will beckon for a partner. And I will be there ready and waiting.
I shed the occasional grumbling I heard about the rain like a duck sheds water. To me the rain represented the lifeblood of the river. For without it, we would miss the beauty and solitude the river has to give us. In the back of my mind I was glad to see my son paddling in the rain in the front of my canoe. Casey was almost eight years old, he was beginning his third year as my canoeing buddy. There were clear signs that his paddling skills were developing. I no longer had to tell him how to hold the paddle. His eyes were like those of an eagle. Spotting a ripple in the water, he would tell me something was up ahead to watch out for. His love for the river was developing too, for there was no grumbling coming from him. As another cloud opened up on us, I watched the water boil. I glanced behind us to see my brothers approaching. Almost ghostlike, they appear through the downpour.
Everyone was damp enough to declare being officially wet. The rain subsided, and we were able to relax a little and enjoy the river. The number of ducks and geese were countless, and of course there is the Blue Heron Crane that was there as our scout. He would squawk out and fly downstream, as if to lead the way. After rounding a few bends in the river, there he would be again, and with another squawk, off he would go to scout for us. My son made the following comment about the crane. “When he squawks he is telling us that the coast is clear, and it is OK for us to go on.” I told my son that I felt he was right, and that is what the crane was saying. You all don’t know how much it warmed my heart to hear my son make such a comment.
The highlight of the day came when we were nearing a bend in the river and I spotted a newborn fawn on the shoreline. I whispered to my wife and son, and pointed him out. I motioned my brothers who were close behind me. No one paddled, we remained motionless. The fawn took a step forward to hide behind a tree. He acted a little startled as we passed the tree and could see him again. His eyes were huge, and he stood like a statue. It was the second year in a row that my son and I had seen a fawn during a canoe trip. The previous year the fawns were a little older, and more curious. This fawn was two weeks old at the most. My youngest brother Dale swung his canoe a little closer to shore. He drifted, ever so slow creeping in. The fawn remained dead still. Dale commented later that he thought he heard twice the stomping of a hoof back in the trees. About 15 feet was close enough for Dale, and he left the fawn to be at ease. Times like these turn an ordinary canoe trip into a priceless memory.
With about another mile and a half to go, the rain came again. It had sprinkled off and on most of the day, but it was raining harder than it had all day. Dave and Dale pulled their canoes up under some trees. I knew Cheryl was getting tired of sitting, and perhaps a little cold. We paddled on through the rain in search of the bridge that would mark our take out spot. As was the norm for the day, the rain quit once we were freshly “watered”. The final stretch was uneventful. We completed our takeout as Dave and Dale approached about five minutes behind us.
Back on land now, smiles spread far across our faces. All were dampened, but not our spirits. No one had tipped over, no one had got hurt, it was another successful trip. The men loaded the gear and canoes while Cheryl and my son climbed in and fired up the heater. They were all smiles too. And now that I think about it, all that grumbling at the beginning of the first rain drops seemed to have washed away. Happiness was written on the face of each and every one of us.