One of the fondest memories of my youth was at scout camp and enjoying the liberating adventure of canoeing. There were many woodcrafts to participate in as well as many games and other outdoor activities, be they hiking, carving, soccer and such, but it was canoeing that was always the subject of my deepest desires. It was the independence of course; the absolute freedom to slip the bonds that tied me both to land and to adult supervision. I always had a partner with me, but that was an irrelevance to the idea that I was alone in the world, for at that time alone was purely the absence of adults. My partner and I, whomever he may be, would paddle around the flat calm of Okanagan Lake as it baked beneath the beaming of a summer sun, happy in the dulcet warmth that seeped into our young bones. There might be a sunburn or two, but that meant nothing; a minimal price to pay for our freedom.
I didn’t have many options to canoe as I grew older. A momentary chance in the early years of my marriage when my wife and I rented a canoe for a few hours while camping in Manning Park in British Columbia’s wild interior. For me, it was an opportunity to reminisce and pine for my dimming youth, for my wife, who has a curious fear of submerged logs, it was an uncomfortable experience and not one to be repeated any time soon. So, my childhood and its pleasures faded until one day while haunting a local Canadian Tire store, I spotted a red canoe for sale and was instantly transfixed with the thought of reliving my youth with a son who had achieved the age where I had first learned the joy. So I bought it, and the family, though more my son and I, have enjoyed it ever since. Fishing or canoe camping, or just relaxing on a pleasant summer afternoon. That wondrous feeling of liberation never faded, and that first wobbly trip on the water near brought tears to my eyes.
I sorely missed it.
When writing the short story, A Canuck and a Canoe, as part of the anthology, The Scarlet Bastards – A Company Soldier, I reflected long on the simple joy that paddling my red canoe brought me, a joy that could sweep away the trials of a day and replace them with innocent joys of youth. My character, Alexander ‘Sikunder’ Armstrong, a young Okanagan lad who had joined the United Nations Off World Legion and found himself on Samsāra 20 light years from Earth and surrounded by all manner of hostile people who looked upon him as at best, a joke, and at worst, an easy target, found solace in the simple act of paddling a canoe on a nearby stream close to his home in the fort, Ophir Castrum. As I wrote it, with the canoe arriving on the back of a cloned wooly mammoth, it was hard to fight the smile as once again I was that young boy, paddling a canoe on Okanagan Lake and alone in a wide world that lay before me.
A Canuck and a Canoe:
“During my first summer in Samsāra, when the scant warmth of Delta Pavonis wrenched the colony from its long winter somnolence, MacShaka made another desperate attempt to introduce a new form of leisure to the decuria. I remember it well, for I was on latrine duty with Usman Khan hauling barrels of mephitic waste to a composter and cursing our plebeian place in the Legion hierarchy when a caravan of lumbering mammoths – that corporate genetic experiment that provided for much of the colony’s transport needs in the trackless wastes of Samsāra – arrived in camp with backs bent with supplies, and of all things, a bright red canoe.
“Aye, ye cannae tell me ye would hae thought o’ this?” MacShaka boasted proudly to our decuria’s jemadar and second in command, Er-hong Kim. She was a Manchu Messalina of extraordinary temper who looked upon the conveyance with a mixture of amazement and contempt.
“You right, I did not,” she replied with icy disinterest before walking away.
Usman and I gave thanks for the diversion and abandoned our latrine cleaning efforts to join the growing throng of jawans in various states of undress as they stared with all of the cautious curiosity of two dogs meeting in a park. I will even say, with no small exaggeration, that I observed one or two who sniffed and touched the diminutive vessel, while at least one bearded grandee dressed in his scarlet salwars and long kurta shirt, poked the conveyance with his Khyber knife. This all may sound fantastic, but recall that these jawans were mostly poor uneducated refugees from various camps in Afghanistan and Turkistan. They had no more seen a canoe than an Oregon pinot noir or a Toronto film festival. So their confusion was understandable if not predictable. After a few minutes of listening to the bewildering cacophony of Pashtu, Mandarin, Tajik, and Russian, I was about to leave when MacShaka’s booming bass called out, “Sikunder! Stand fast, lad!”
“Huzūra!” I replied as I jogged over and stood before a man who reminded me of a buffalo in rut.
“Sikunder, ye’re a Canuck. Ye ken how tae use one o’ these boats. Show the lads.”
As scandalous as his dialect was, I understood quick enough that he wanted a demonstration. And with the jawans beginning to jeer like Maple Leafs fans in May, I figured he wanted it done quickly.”