The Inconvenience of a Wood Canvas Canoe

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.


The Relationship Between Nature, Humans and Keewaydin

From the Director: Bruce Ingersoll ‘76

At the prompting of his daughter Amelia ’09, Keewaydin Temagami’s Director was pressed to reflect on the relationship between nature and humans and Keewaydin.

My daughter Amelia is a senior this year so I am enjoying the final days of being able to peer over her shoulder as she completes her homework. Right now, she is reading The Yosemite by John Muir which chronicles his seasons in California’s Yosemite Valley. As an activist, Muir was a pioneer in articulating the cause for preservation of wild places with evocative prose descriptions. Muir insisted the human spirit needs the wilderness and wildness to survive.

Amelia had projects associated with the reading, one of which involved digging a little deeper into the relationship between nature and humans and asking me about Keewaydin and what we thought about it. To be honest, I was a bit stumped at first, swirling around in that place of “isn’t that obvious?” Then I had to answer the question.

My first thought is about the slowing of time. While we joke about “Temagami Time,” it is real and the clock out there just ticks a little slower, opening the door for reflection. Whether it is accompanied by the rhythmic thumping of paddles on the gunwhales of a canoe as you and your boat partner traverse a lake, or just sitting by the shore, the slowness invites reflection and chastises impatience. The forest is redolent with the smell of cycles of birth and rebirth and death; and the spruce and birch and lady slippers busting out of the fertile soil insist you acknowledge it and deeply consider it.

The absence of electronics is crucial. It is mighty liberating to put the cell phone down and walk away from the texts, the Facebook, the Twitter and the Instagram and the judgements attached.

In the wilderness all sorts of sh#%$$# happens. Before a trip you make careful plans that drill down to counting the smallest contour line and the metric distance of portages, but, out there, the wind starts to blow hard and won’t stop for three days. Everything changes. Patience is rewarded, impatience is a risk. So, you deal. You figure out how to live with the new plan and work to discover what this natural force has just taught you.

Finally, there is a divine presence (you can call it what you will) in nature and three, six or seven weeks immersed in nature, reflecting upon it, smelling it and breathing it brings you closer to that presence.

The studies are out there about nature and happiness, I will admit I used my “Googler” to read up. There is lots to discover about trees and urban planning and physical health. Lots to know about how extended time in the wilderness enhances creativity, mental health, and reduces depression. For me, on a canoe trip it seems simple, you are connected to the earth, there is time for reflection/meditation, there are moments that teach and there is a small group of people around you who share your highs and lows and whom you trust absolutely. Out there you remember who you truly are.

This is the magic of a Keewaydin summer. It is right in front of us and I am eager for June, but I will be patient while I wait for it.

Ooohing and Ahhhing My Way Down the Winisk

Ooohing and Ahhhing My Way Down the Winisk River

By: Joe McClean

I first heard about Keewaydin in 2010 when my wife and I were looking for a summer camp for our eldest daughter.  Fast forward to the beginning of this year, my wife and three daughters had accumulated 16 years of Keewaydin canoe trips between them. My three daughters were looking forward to their Keewaydin summers, one as a first-time staff member and the other two their Bay and Section 3 trips.  My wife was also looking forward to a reunion weekend with her section mates that she had been tripping with for the past two summers on the Missinaibi River.  As for me, I was looking forward to another few days at Ojibway at Endseason.  With this and my only real claim to canoeing fame being a trip with my mother-in-law along a portion of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, I always felt left out of the family Keewaydin conversations.  I even felt a bit of a spare wheel at the Keewaydin recruiting events we had hosted over the years at our home.

So it was with this background and the enthusiastic encouragement of my wife and three daughters that I got the last spot on the Men’s Adult Trip of 2016.  Once Bruce gave me the OK I eagerly waited for the trip details to be finalized and very quickly started to bombard my wife and daughters with questions about all things Keewaydin and canoe tripping.  Much to their amusement, it became evident very quickly that all the talk I had heard over the years about tumps, rolling, wannigans, Dickies, trip/dry clothing etc. had gone over my head.

After promising my daughters that I would not embarrass them by questioning the Keewaydin Way (and a wry smile from my wife) I headed to North Bay to meet my section mates. From there we flew to the First Nation Settlement of Webequie where we put in on the Winisk River and paddled for two weeks, covering approximately 250 miles, ending up in Peawanuk, a few miles short of Hudson Bay.

My section mates were a diverse group with ages ranging from the late teens to early 70s.  I was privileged to be with them and experience “the majestic, mysterious, mystical, magical Winisk River.”  Together we all welcomed the outstanding weather, marveled at the array of birds, oooohed and ahhhhhed at the polar bear with her cubs, the list could go on and on. We all jumped in with both feet (metaphorically and literally) and immersed ourselves in the spectacular beauty and wilderness of Ontario.  For two weeks we lived and for the most part loved the Keewaydin Way.  (Some folks had questions about pot black and the wisdom of pot scrubbing after every meal.) Memories of these shared experiences will stay with me for a long time and I hope the friendships I made during these two weeks will last even longer.

Selfishly, I hold my own personal thoughts, memories, and experiences most dear.

Each night I would think about my three daughters who were, like me, at that same moment in time coming to the end of their day of paddling.  It was beautiful to think I was somehow sharing the same moment with them. (Personal note to Anna, Kyra & Sadie: Telepathy works!).

Having completed my first and hopefully not last Keewaydin canoe trip I finally have a sense of why my daughters’ have wanted to do this for weeks on end, (rather than days like me), year in, year out since before they were teenagers.  As a parent, being able to glimpse into my children’s world is a real gift. More precious is the sense of indescribable pride I have for my daughters now that I know what is involved in a Keewaydin wilderness canoe trip.

Thank you Keewaydin.

For more information about Adult Trips, please contact Bruce Ingersoll at [email protected] or 802-352-4247. 

Section A and A New “Bay”

Section A and A New “Bay”

In 2016, John Frazier and Sam Morris teamed up to lead Section A to Ungava Bay, via the Leaf River. John and Sam also teamed up to write about the trip.

Part 1, by John Frazier

This year Section A paddled to Ungava Bay.  While the destination was new for both Section A and Keewaydin Temagami, the spirit of exploration – one of our oldest traditions – goes back to the woods of Maine in the late 19th century and the inception of the camp. The first half of our route took us through the territory in northern Quebec, now familiar to Keewaydin’s Bay trips, up until our re-outfit site on Seal Lake, and then into new territory as we headed north over the height of land into the Ungava watershed.

We paddled 1000 kilometers from our put-in at Lac Des Oeufs to reach Tasiujaq, an Inuit village on Ungava Bay.  The Leaf River was about 350K long, and we wanted to paddle its entirety from the headwaters on Lac Minto to the sea.  The trip required we paddle roughly 350K further in the second half of the trip than Section A has paddled the past several summers, which meant distance-wise, we had traveled as far as the entirety of many of our other favorite bay trip routes before we had even reached the Leaf.

After our re-outfit plane came (a day late), we had our work cut out for us to get up to Lac Minto, heading straight north for several days over the height of land to water that flows east to Ungava, rather than west towards Hudson Bay.  The second “half” of the trip was to be roughly 130k longer than the first, and also required that we move more quickly to budget time appropriately for paddling on the bay.

The trip took the section through some breathtaking scenery, which changed as we moved from the lower reaches of the open forest sub-zone to the northern limits of the forest tundra sub-zone at the northern boundary of the Boreal forest, to the arctic shrub tundra.  As we traveled down the Leaf River, which is apparently only ice free for roughly 60 days per year despite its 556m3/s flow, we paddled along the liminal space between the arctic tundra and boreal forest vegetation zones, which made for dramatic views and cold water!  Despite its length, the fast moving water on the Leaf River was almost all paddle-able, save one portage half way down the river, which made for long multi-kilometer stretches of fun and intense rapids.

Ungava Bay was beautiful and dynamic, with arguably the largest tidal range in the world, the sea level rose and fell so dramatically it left kilometers of dry boulders and mud stretched out where hours before there had been deep water to shore.  The tide created obstacles for us as we paddled from the river to Tasiujaq such as a waterfall that flows different directions or disappears completely, depending on the tidal cycle.  The northern village of Tasiujaq marked the end of our trip, and also the first people we had seen (except the re-outfit pilot) in 1000K of paddling.  Then, we flew from this town of roughly 250 people to Kuujjuaq, with a population of about 2,500, where we got a flight to Montreal, a city of roughly 1.6 million.  It was surreal and jarring to see our trip-worn wannigans and double packs moving along the baggage carousel, to say the least.  Finally, we traveled by bus back to Temagami. The trip was done, the goal won, and many indelible memories made for all.  Thank you to the Section A campers, whose hard work and love of Keewaydin allowed for this spectacular trip to be successful!

Part 2, by Sam Morris

John’s piece should provide a sense of what made the trip special in terms of numbers—distance, days travelled, and so forth. To get an appropriate sense of the scale of this trek, I recommend taking the time to think about those numbers. My impulse is to add to his words with false modesty (“we only portaged three times on the Leaf,” or, “the second half proved a little tricky,” or, “to reach the Ungava watershed required some classic up and over portaging”), but in this case that bravado rings far too obviously untrue.

The truth is, I thought the second half of the summer was dang hard. Maybe I’m getting older and weaker, but I’d list the week-long push across the height-of-land after re-outfit, across Lac Minto, and into the headwind that barreled up the Leaf as the longest sustained effort I’ve done at Keewaydin. Anyone who was kind enough to stop me at paddle-in knows that I arrived on the island somewhat shell-shocked and hesitant to definitively answer that nagging question: “How was the trip?” The physical challenges, the frustration of headwinds and bad camping along the Leaf River (gone were the fields of caribou moss and sparse spruce forest), along with the deeply unmooring event of John’s back blow-out on the last days of the trip, colored the second half of the summer tough.

Still, I hesitate to leave my report there. “How was the trip?” It was hard, yes, but with some perspective, I’ve begun to consider that my answer might require a bit more nuance. Now, a full month and a half since paddle-in, thinking of the height-of-land into the Ungava watershed, I remember cresting the toughest alder-strewn hillside, breath ragged and smelling of wool wet with my own sweat, to behold far below me: shimmering with the gray light of a cloudy afternoon, Lac 222±, the high point above Minto, separated from seemingly endless ponds and lakes by somber swells of Canadian Shield. The challenge is there in the memory, yes, but it’s inextricable from the beauty of the place, and the feeling of chipping away at our goal.

Keewaydin is an unusual community for many reasons, but perhaps most appealing to me is our willingness to value challenge as an aesthetic. We like stories about folks achieving feats of endurance and strength in the woods, and we really like stories about our people overcoming obstacles and growing from the experience. It’s why John and I haven’t abandoned the craggy coasts of Quebec for the sprawling rivers of Ontario; there’s just something fundamentally right about Section A campers facing down steep, brushy portages, and long, thirsty, salty paddles on the ocean to achieve the Bay. For us, a good trip, a beautiful trip, is a trip that offers appropriate challenge through its terrain.

On the last, harrowing day of travel this summer, we raced time to pass a dangerous tidal waterfall and plant ourselves, exhausted but safe, on a shale beach within striking distance of Tasiujaq. Behind the beached canoes, the retreating sea exposed an expanse of boulders and mud. We had a tidal cycle to wait before we could move again, and only the water that remained in our bottles, so we wandered off the beach to find something potable to drink. We walked through fields of purple and pink wildflowers in a light sea breeze until we reached the blinding white of a quartz-strewn mountaintop that yielded views of Leaf Bay, Baie Rouge, and the undulating rises of Canadian Shield. We stood there as the trip ended, thoroughly parched, but drinking in the beauty of it all.

Better Than An Internship

Better Than An Internship:

Takeaways From Being A Songa Staff

By: Jenn Hare, ‘99

In recent years, the pressure on college students to take on summer internships towards a specific career has become stronger and stronger. The prevailing wisdom is that padding a resume and getting one’s foot in an industry door are essential to career success. We who have worked on the Songadeewin staff for multiple summers know better. Summers spent working at Songa are rewarding and fun; moreover, they instill confidence, skills, and strength in young women. We recently surveyed over sixty current and former staff to hear what they had to say about the benefits of working at Songadeewin. The responses we received illuminated the countless ways in which Songa positively impacts the lives of staff.

The ability to stay calm under pressure stands out as a major skill staff acquire from their time at camp. Veteran staff Mel Joyce, who is now an admissions director at an independent school, wrote:

“When I think back to my most challenging moments on Songa trips, it makes navigating normal life seem easy. I literally have a specific moment on a portage that was the most physically and emotionally challenging moment of my life – whenever anything really challenging comes up in my life I reflect back on that moment and remember how tough I can be.”

Other staff echoed this, saying that problem-solving at work now is easy for them because of the training and experience they had leading Songa trips. Successfully organizing a trip and solving problems on the fly clearly give Songa staff the confidence and wherewithal to confront anything they might face in the workplace. As former staff and now medical student Jesse Briggs put it, “There’s nothing quite like running into unexpected issues in the wilderness to teach you how to improvise.”

Staff also find that working at Songa gives them invaluable experience working with a variety of people. Former staff Liz Mott, currently an advertising event manager, wrote about how much she learned to work collaboratively.

“Whether it was working on a more intimate scale with my cabin/trip co-staff or on a large scale with the longhouse group or the staff as a whole, it’s valuable moving forward in a career to have had an experience living and working with people in a variety of different situations.”

At Songa, a huge portion of staff training is devoted to building teams and learning how to work and live in a community successfully. Staff continue to hone these skills throughout the summer as they build partnerships with trip and cabin co-staff and are coached by staff leaders through any communication issues that arise. Additionally, staff learn to mediate conflict between campers as well as how to manage group dynamics. Staff reported that all these experiences made them much more empathetic and flexible when working with others. Ali Hare, a longtime staff who has also worked in child welfare, noted:

“More than anything else, Songa taught me how to work with other people. I’ve found that when working with difficult people or under difficult circumstances, I’m patient and tolerant when others are not.” When staff come back for multiple summers, they build on those skills and become more and more adept at collaboration.”

Why is Songa such a special place to work? The balance of challenge and support that Songa offers makes it a uniquely fertile environment for personal growth. Songa asks a lot of its staff – to work 14 hour days with energy and cheer, to organize and execute weeklong trips into the wilderness, to teach with love and expertise, to pivot and re-adjust plans midstream when situations change. However, at every step, Songa offers the most supportive environment possible for its staff. The culture of Songa is one of encouragement, where effort, determination and personal triumphs are constantly celebrated. This culture fosters growth in staff as well as campers. Furthermore, pre-season staff training creates bonds of friendship which make us feel we are never addressing any problems alone – our friends and mentors are always there to help. Kate Ward worked on staff for many years before becoming an urban planner. She noted that

“Songa is a unique environment where you can push yourself, and grow – but with the safety net of all the other awesome staff to be there to catch you if things don’t work out.”

Longtime staff, current leadership team member and middle school teacher Susannah White mentioned the “trusting relationships and comfort with camp that [she] built over time,” which allowed her to feel safe enough to keep taking risks like public speaking and creative problem-solving.

Indeed, perhaps the most worthwhile thing gained from working at Songa is the fortifying relationships with fellow staff. Fellow staff become your biggest cheerleaders, the first people you call with sad or exciting news, and role models who inspire you to be your best self. As Mel Joyce wrote, “Songa friends have been my roommates, world traveling companions, sounding boards, co-workers, and family.” Another longtime staff, middle school teacher Hazel Stauffer, noted, “I gained the best friends of my life. I also gained a mentor in Ellen who is a wealth of knowledge and insight.” The women of Songadeewin are brilliant, hard-working and strong of heart. What could be more enriching than to spend summer after summer working by their sides?

Jenn Hare, ‘99 was a charter camper at Songa on Dunmore.  She joined the staff in 2005 and earned her ten-year jacket in 2015.  She has been on the Leadership Team since 2011 as Longhouse Leader for Nawaiwan.  At the end of last summer she and Lolo Cappio, co-Longhouse Leader for Willoughby reached out to former staff to gather information in the article.

Testimonials From the Kids

From Keewaydin Kids

Kids say the darnedest things. But they also have the most soulful insights into what makes each of Keewaydin’s camps great. Trying to persuade someone on the fence about a summer at Keewaydin? Looking to remember your own camping days? Look no further, because these kids have hit the nail on the head. Without further ado, words from the kids:

Songadeewin has made me strong of heart and mind in so many ways. I used to be uncomfortable in large groups, always quiet, and I would never introduce myself or make conversations with strangers. I was doubtful about who I was. Today, I am no longer that person. I have learned how to be fearless and speak up. – Seven year Songadeewin Camper, age 15

One thing I especially enjoyed at Keewaydin was the trip I got to go on. My trip was a six-day canoeing adventure on Rangeley Lakes in Maine. I had a great time and I learned things like building fires, setting up camp and how to paddle in three-foot waves!  – Second year Keewaydin Dunmore Camper, age 12 

Trip was beautiful and the lessons I learned were bountiful. I think that being at Keewaydin and spending my summer canoeing has taught me to live with a purpose. At camp everything you do is moving you closer and closer to your goal. Sometimes in life, especially as an adolescent’s, outcomes can be hard to find, decisions about your future can be hard to make. However, my time at Keewaydin has taught me to be more driven and to continue my journey growing up.  – First year  Keewaydin Temagami Camper, age 18

Songa was filled with so many great opportunities. I was excited to try something new and I took advantage of as many as I could. My favorite activity was canoeing, but I really enjoyed “tripping” the most. When I was chosen to go on St. Regis I was nervous because I didn’t have any experience with canoeing, and I didn’t know anybody on my trip. But spending six days with each other really helps people bond, and I became friends with people I never thought I would have weeks before. Even after trip it felt good to have people who you knew you could always go to.  – First year Songadeewin Camper, age 12

Special memories from camp come from the people there. I still remember my first encounter with a Keewaydin camper. It was my first year in Waramaug and I was extremely nervous. I walked into camp, feeling shy and out of place, and then this kid in my tent approached me with a big smile on his face. With his hand out, he shook mine and introduced me to everyone around. I had a really good impression of this person, and today he is one of my closest friends. Because there are new campers every year and because of my experience, I introduce myself to them, being as amiable as I can and welcoming them to a place I think of as my home.  – Fourth year Keewaydin Dunmore camper, age 14

In my mind they have all combined into a huge jumble of memories but there are a few that stand out: getting stuck in quicksand mud called muskeg – yes, really; and portaging a canoe on my head for 1.3 kilometers without any help. The animals and remote locations we saw were truly beautiful. There is something so special about being somewhere pristine and untouched by civilization. We also saw loons, moose, and lots of fish; which we caught, cooked and ate. The stars were so bright and the sky was so big. Keewaydin is such a magical place.  – First year Keewaydin Temagami Camper, age 15

Passing of Abby Fenn ’39

Dear Keewaydineesi,

It is with great sadness that I bring you the news of the passing of Abby Fenn. He died early this morning while asleep at his apartment at Eastview in Middlebury. He was 93 years old.

A memorial service will be held for Abby on Sunday, August 30 at 11:00am at Keewaydin Dunmore. A service at his church, the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society, will take place later this spring.

Another Keewaydin giant has passed. Perhaps Waboos, Abby and Slim are reunited again, making plans for their next summer camp.




CHARITABLE IRA ROLLOVER extended for those 70 ½+ — BUT ONLY THROUGH DEC. 31, 2014!

The Charitable IRA Rollover was signed into law last week. Donors age 70 ½ and older may now transfer up to $100,000 from their IRA to a qualified public charity. This provision is in effect only through December 31, 2014, so if you want to take advantage of this, you will need to act now!

The transfer is not subject to federal income tax and qualifies for the donor’s 2014 required minimum distribution (RMD).

The reauthorization of the IRA charitable rollover is retroactive to January 1, 2014, and effective through December 31, 2014.

A few other details:

  • If your spouse has IRA accounts, you may each make gifts of $100,000 from these accounts.
  • While you cannot claim a charitable deduction for IRA gifts, this distribution from your IRA counts toward your minimum required distribution for the account and does NOT trigger income tax for you. It is a tax free transfer from your account directly to the Keewaydin Foundation.

How to complete this rollover gift:

Contact your IRA Provider to authorize the qualified charitable contribution from your IRA #____. Tell them to authorize a check in the amount of $— payable to KEEWAYDIN FOUNDATION, EIN 04 272 1019. Indicate to your provider that this distribution must occur before December 31, 2014, and all gifts must be postmarked no later than December 31, 2014.

Please contact Lauren Geiger at 802.238.2733 for more information. Thank you!