“Boats Out”

The following speech was delivered at Keewaydin Dunmore’s Sunday Circle during the summer of 2013 by Wiantinaug Director, Johnny Clore.

I have but one piece of advice for you: Go to “Boats Out.” After dinner, after store, head down to the waterfront and get in a canoe. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Almost every day that I’m at camp, I get into a canoe at least three times. Once, in the morning, before the gong, once at activity period, and once during boats out. Each time, I walk down to the racks and walk among the canoes, trying to decide which one feels right for that day and that time. Then it’s off the racks, onto my shoulders and down to the lake. I slide the boat into the water, pull it alongside the Wiantinaug dock, and take my place, kneeling on the cedar of the ribs. I grip my paddle and dig into the water, driving quiet whirlpools towards the stern. But, although each paddle begins in the same way, they are not at all the same.

That morning paddle is a workout. I hope for still waters as I drive the boat through the mist on my way towards the island. My stopwatch is running, and I keep a record of how long it takes me to get there and back. I take 100 strokes on my right side and then switch to my left. I keep a record of my average strokes per minute. I love this time of day, alone on the lake, arms pumping, the water fanning out behind my boat as I break the early morning glass. I arrive back at the dock just in time to hear the gong. I check my time and hope for something under 34 minutes.

A few hours later, I’m back on the water again, this time for activity period. Activity period is goal-oriented also, but the goals are different. It is an assignment, scheduled in advance with the specific purpose of helping campers achieve skill mastery. This is a time for me to teach and for campers to learn. It is a time to pass on the skill of a K-stroke to a camper and then to pass him on his coups. This paddle is about achievement, it is about helping a camper to gain the credentials he needs for his trip or for his coup K.  When the OD calls “boats in!” I am always eager to fill out a coup slip and celebrate the tangible progress that this paddle brought.

Then, after dinner, comes my final, and favorite, paddle of the day: “Boats Out.” I love “Boats Out” because it is different from the other two, a departure from goals, schedules, and deadlines. It exists not for the advancement of some certain skill or the achievement of some coup. “Boats Out” exists solely as a time to be content, to enjoy the boat, the water, the mountain. It does not demand the same focus or determination.  Sometimes I do a few dock landings, not so much for practice, but instead as a way to affirm my connection to the canoe. And sometimes I just glide, paddle resting on the gunwales, water smooth beneath the canvas.

We live in a fast-paced world. It is a world of schedules and appointments. It is a world that values promptness and sets deadlines. It is a world focused on achievements, skills, and credentials.  And in many ways, there’s nothing wrong with these values. Indeed, a boy who is motivated to earn his first coup in canoeing will gain a valuable skill as the fruit of his labor. However, we must often remind ourselves that time outside of such focused, goal-oriented pursuit is not at all wasted.

Too often, we are reminded that there are 24 usable hours in every day and we are told to fill them up with worthy pursuits. In the few moments of down time that we manage, we fear boredom.

But there is also value in peaceful quiet. There is value in those precious moments after dinner and before the frolics, those moments spent not in the pursuit of anything. Cognitive psychologists would tell you that in these moments, your cognition broadens, allowing creativity and synthesis. But even without their science, we know that there is value in these moments spent fully engaged in the present, content in the world, in a wood canvas canoe, on a lake in Vermont, listening to the water, looking at the mountain, and feeling the breeze on your face. There is value in “Boats Out.”

I may not be the first to remind you of the value of these moments. Indeed, such a reminder has become almost cliché: stop and smell the roses. But to me, that’s not quite it; we shouldn’t need to interrupt our lives to enjoy the simple stillness and goodness of the world we live in. Live with the scent of the roses ever in your nose. Live in the moment and be in the place you are. Seek contented stillness in the moments filled with nothing at all. Go to “Boats Out.”

All too soon, we will head home from Keewaydin, back to Boston or Philly or New York. And as we leave we lose that time after dinner on the lake. But the value of “Boats Out” is only greater in a world more hectic and intense. So make “Boats Out” a part of your life throughout the year. It may not be in a canoe. You may find “Boats Out” in a quiet walk or in sitting on the porch alone. Wherever it is, let your mind go to that contented place, unbothered by credentials and to-do lists. And when you’re there, let yourself glide like a canoe on a calm lake on a warm August evening.

Wherever you are, go to “Boats out.”

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