By Merisa Sherman
With great care, the BF lowered our favorite canoe into the water. With the new influx of cold weather, the water was perfectly see-through and you could see the sun shining on the rocks below the surface. The light even shone through the canoe, highlighting the handmade seams and creating even more sparkles along the waterline.
I stepped out of my shoes and tried to pass him his paddle without taking my eyes off the mountain range in the distance. It didn’t work after three failed attempts and finally he grabbed his paddle. His paddle is beautiful, the black carbon shaft setting off the multiple colors of the wooden blade and handle. I get jealous sometimes, but then I prefer to paddle with my simple straight paddle, believing I can maneuver the canoe better with my fancy blade work.
Setting our dry-bag backpacks gently into the boat, we checked the balance for settling in ourselves. The ankle deep water was a bit chilly, but not cold enough to merit switching to our muck boots — yet. We know it’s coming because on this stunningly beautiful afternoon we are the only car in the parking lot and the only ones on the water.
It’s like our own private lake as we begin our paddle out into the great wide open. The heaviness of the summer water is lifting and our blades are lighter and more free. It’s so much smoother to paddle through the fall waters, everything seems sharper and more brisk. It’s the BF’s favorite time of year to paddle and I can feel him smiling in the stern as a brightly colored leaf floats by us.
I cannot see him, but I know he’s there. I can feel his arms lift as he puts the paddle through the water and his blade as it pulls through. It’s a neat thing, tandem canoeing. To sit in the bow of the canoe, staring out at the world and looking forward into the future but at the same time trusting the person behind you to direct that future. I don’t get to choose where we go. Obviously, we choose the destination together — but how we end up getting there is totally up to the paddler in the stern.
This has been known to cause a few disagreements over the years and quite a bit of anxiety in certain situations. One would assume the person in the front with the best view of the world gets to choose, but it is the stern paddler that has control over the journey. My job is simple: to feel the connection of the blade in the water and match our rhythm to that of the earth. My job is to feel the boat as it glides along and listen to the water surrounding us. My job is to notice the world around us and to work with nature to make the canoe the smoothest and most efficient.
When we first started paddling together 20 years ago, I hated being in the bow. I felt uncomfortable giving up the control of our direction and being unable to boss those in the boat. I love that feeling of having command of every small detail. While there are times we need to control every facet of our lives, every breath we take and make sure all the details of the contract are immaculate — we need balance, we need flow and we need peace. Sometimes, we need to sit in the bow.
My job as we paddle is to absorb nature and transfer that balance and flow and peace into our canoe. Instead of this clumsy thing floating along and fighting the waves, the rhythm must be set to match the world around us. We use the wind to push the boat along. The wind becomes an extra paddler or a silent motor. We lower our voices so as not to interfere with the sounds of nature surrounding us, the late-season cries of the loons paired with the rustling of the drying leaves on the trees.
We paddle to be part of nature, not to drown it out or dominate it. We go out to observe, to see how the world works when human beings allow it to progress on its own, without our interference. And so we paddle in silence, the only noise the slight pop as our blades slice through the water. We notice the popping of the reds and the yellows that are hinting at their future vibrance. We notice the thinning of the canopy as the leaves begin their seasonal sprinkling of the ground below. We notice each other, at opposite ends of the canoe, working together with only our spirits to guide us. We notice the beauty all around us, the fall colors painting the mountainside. We notice Vermont. And we are at peace.