On May 5, 2021

Paddling canoes, memories of flat water and family

By Merisa Sherman

By Merisa Sherman
Canoeing as a family taught us teamwork, resiliency, toughness and passion and we still enjoy the time together on the lake.

We pulled into the boat launch just before sunrise, the darkness just lifting enough so that we could see to undo the tie down straps without any help from our headlamps. You could hear the scraping of fabric as life jackets were pulled from the car. In the predawn silence, the sound of wooden paddles echoed across the lake as they bounded off each other. Bags were grabbed, keys were quietly lost and found and found again as pockets were loaded up with hot drinks to start this chilly morning.

It wasn’t the temperature so much as the fact that the wind had turned on this week after an entire winter of stillness. Lifting the boat from the rooftop of the car was an exercise in wind patterns, while carrying the boat to the shoreline was an exercise in compromise, as the wind blew me around like I was carrying a sail. Some fancy footwork and I was finally able to lower the boat down and out of the wind. With the canoe finally in the water, now came the tricky part: getting in!

When I had asked my mom the previous week what she wanted to do for her birthday this year, I kind of already knew. My family had grown up paddling canoes, racing them and adventuring in them since I can remember. When we were little, my dad would paddle us through tunnels while we sang Disney songs and attempted to match our little paddles with his big power pull strokes. He would take us to a “secret” island where we would have picnics and spend hours inventing stories of canoeists of old. 

It was magical.

As we got older, my mom coached a flatwater canoe race team for over 20 years, where we learned the finer points of technique and an appreciation for long hours spent playing on the water. It was my mom that taught us how to self-rescue in boats, how to work together as a team and about commitment and respect for the other people in our boat. Our team was our family, and my mom was everyone’s aunt. So when my mom moved to Vermont five years ago, she had one adventure request: she wanted to explore each of the lakes in the Killington area, starting with Kent Pond.

So here we were, my sister and I, both somehow awake at 4:30 in the morning because my mom wanted to see the sunrise from the canoe. And, no, it wasn’t a perfect day with the wind hovering around 10 miles per hour as it rolled down the mountainside. But it was perfect because our family was together and paddling. Well, let’s be honest, only Mom was paddling while we tried to take sister selfies from the stern. 

Once she’s in a canoe, it is very difficult to get my mom to either stop paddling or remember that she’s not paddling for time. While she now struggles getting in and out of the canoe, she is an absolute beast with a paddle in her hands.

Once around the pond and the sun was just starting to crest over the mountains. You could see that almost other worldly vertical stripe begin to take shape just as the sun peeped over the mountain range. All of a sudden, the wind paused and the water beneath us began to flatten out until it seemed almost like glass. The reflections of the trees became clearer and the cold was literally pushed away. Headlamps were switched out for sunglasses as we could do nothing but simply sit and soak in the warmth of the newly dawning sun.  

It’s a glorious moment, to catch the sun rising from a seat in a boat. It’s not like a sunset where you might be out there anyways. You have to commit to catching a sunrise, making preparations the night before and be willing to sit in the cold and the dark just waiting for Mother Nature to make her move. But there is always laughter, because how can you not laugh when you’re wearing down booties inside your muck boots and ski pants to keep you warm. This past fall, I even started wearing my snowmobile jacket underneath my life jacket. Now that was toasty!

Life is more fun when you’re wearing a life jacket. Period. It doesn’t matter how old we are or how badly our body parts don’t work from too many years of skiing. Paddling is the great equalizer. We’re probably going again this coming Sunday. There’s a lot more local Vermont lakes to be paddled this summer, so we better get started. 

But we’ll have to bring a picnic brunch this time. It will be Mother’s Day, after all.

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