The Inconvenience of a Wood Canvas Canoe by Ben Jacoff ’96
Wood canvas canoes are not convenient. Drag one across a small stone and that sacred green paint and fabric will offer little resistance to the stone’s sharp edges. There is no forgiveness in their planks, no second chance in a cracked rib.
Paddle a wood canvas canoe and you may notice that with each stroke, should you not correct with a well honed “k,” your boat will start to slip off on its own secret path. Travel by canoe is not efficient. There are quicker, easier ways to get from one region to another, or even from one lake to another. A canoe trip is an exercise in persistence, repetition, and planning. But not convenience. And yet, year after year, generation after generation, we load our wood canvas canoes onto iron trees, tie them down with synthetic ropes, and drag them behind gas powered behemoths to waters beyond the reach of our cell phone networks and the shadows of our apartment buildings. We carry those wood canvas canoes with tender hands and careful steps and, when we finally slide them from the safety of our arms into a cool, flat pond or a rippling clear river, we delight in the way the weight transfers from our arms to the water. Wood canvas canoes are not convenient, but they are a way of life. And like everything worth anything in life, they take time, patience, and thought to truly understand. We choose to trip in wood canvas canoes precisely because they are made of wood and canvas – because they are inconvenient. Doing so offers us a model for dealing with the challenges we encounter. Bowman so heavy that your bow keeps flooding when you go down rapids? Just turn around in your seats and take the next set backwards – in a wood canvas canoe, like in life, there is no forwards or backwards. There is only the direction that you are going and the experiences you’ve had. Worried that running a rapid will harm your boat? Take the time to do the hard thing. The hard thing is almost always the right thing to do anyway. Wood canvas canoes teach us lessons about patience, and being mindful. They remind us to take care with our hands, with our feet, and with our choices. That if you truly care about something, you treat it with respect and reverence. They remind us too that we campers and staff, like our wood canvas brothers, need to be treated carefully at times. That we can easily be hurt by an errant stone, or a moment of inattention.
Imagine a trip in a tin canoe, or an evening at boats out in a motorboat. Where would we be without our wood canvas canoes? On screens? On a couch? Waiting for a video to load or a commercial to end? Our lives are so full of convenience, of easy ways out, of distractions, of anything to make our lives a little more smooth, a little more convenient. But when we choose to come to this place, to Keewaydin, to paddle and trip in wood canvas canoes, we say to ourselves that there is something to be gained in experiencing a challenge. That we live for that moment when we slip away from shore, our knees resting between the ribs below us, our hands sliding a paddle along the side of our boat. That wooden hulk that we laid gently against a tree at each campsite, protected from rocks and branches, lugged over beaver dams and sandbars, carried on our shoulders around waterfalls and through forests. We say to ourselves that we welcome the inconvenience of a wood canvas canoe.