I have determination.

I got it from God I think.

It's been there all along.

I was born determined.

I was determined to take the huge Alumacraft canoe out by myself as a young girl and to do that I had to carry the thing down a flight of about twenty irregular stone steps that were dangerous to traverse with no canoe. There was one step that had shifted so drastically that it was only wide enough for you to turn your foot sideways to land on ti, then cross your other foot over and down to land properly on the next wide step. With a very long and heavy aluminum canoe on your hip and both hands clutching it for dear life, you could easily fall, you could easily let the canoe drop and potentially damage the wooden dock jutting out onto the water below. You could break a limb or crack your head open at the cement base of the long stone staircase.

But I was determined so I did it. I did it all the time.

Plus, my mom didn't allow me to leave the canoe tied to the dock because it might get damaged or damage the dock if there was a sudden storm. She didn't allow me to pull it up on top of the dock and lean it against the wooden posts either because it made the dock too narrow for her sunbathing routine.

So every time I brought it down the harrowing steps, I had to bring it up. Bringing it up was sheer strength, not as hard to navigate the tricky steps, you could just hit the narrow step with the toe of your boot and skip right over it no problem. 

But the canoe was heavy as hell so the trip up was no picnic either.

Obviously, the time I spent in the canoe in between the taking it down and bringing it back up made it all worthwhile.

If it was early Spring, I would bundle up and also bring my little quilt that usually lay at the foot of my bed in the cabin. I would bring the quilt plus my notebook and a pen and my guitar. I usually brought an apple in case I got hungry.

I would paddle out into the early morning mist, that was my favorite time of day to go out, before any other people came out on the lake. Once the fisherman got their motors revved the silence of Nature was already broken, so I had to beat the fishermen to the water.

I would paddle down along the shoreline leaving my grandfather's property behind me tracing the shoreline of the peninsula to it's base on the mainland where there was an old resort that sprawled with many small rustic cabins, a natural sand beach, and a big lodge that was the scene of many of my best memories of socializing during those years.

Once I was out past the lodge and the resort, there was open water for a stretch. Open water on Lake Vermilion meant you were vulnerable to changing wind patterns that could swing the bow of your canoe around if you weren't strong and careful in your paddling. Traversing open water also meant that an early morning fisherman in a big high speed bass boat coming out of the morning fog and maybe half asleep or hung over..probably both..might not even see you. I was low down to the water, dressed in muted colors. I wouldn't be easy to spot. More than once I found myself with my paddle up over my head waving it frantically as a big fast boat swung around the back of the island ahead and appeared instantly only feet from my canoe, heading straight towards me unseeing until they caught sight of my paddle in the air and suddenly swerved.

But the island ahead made the dangerous passage worth the effort. 

Strawberry Island only had one cabin on it and I don't think I ever saw anyone there, not even once in all my days on that lake. But the cabin was beautiful, rustic, self contained, self sufficient, a symbol of what I thought life should be. Silent and reserved. Still and contemplative. In harmony with the surroundings almost to the point of being original to the world like the glacier formed lake itself.

I would paddle all the way around to the back side of this island where there was a shallow sandbar covered with only a few inches of water. If it was early in the year the water was icy cold and very clear, I could cup it in my hand and drink that water, do you understand this? I could scoop up the water in my hand and drink it and it's crisp cold clarity was without doubt without fear. I trusted Nature and I was with Nature. I would stop paddling, take up my guitar, sing songs, float, watch the herons, watch the ducks. I would think. 

If it was summer, I would be in a t shirt and a bikini and I would scramble up and out of the canoe placing my bare feet out onto the sand in just an inch or two of water, not on the island itself but out a ways from the island on this sandbar that was not evident from a distance but that was the most lovely thing for a person in a canoe. I could stand up in the shallow water and tow my canoe behind me by the rope tied to it's bow. I had ridden horses with my mother as a child and the canoe then became like a horse I was walking in a paddock and to my imagination the canoe became like a pet, like an animal companion. I loved my canoe then; it wasn't heavy or cumbersome, it floated, it followed me, it obeyed willingly. Me and my canoe, out walking the sandbar on Lake Vermilion. No human in sight in any direction for miles. I'm so glad I have this memory.

In the Fall, or at the end of the summer before my mother and I would return to Chicago, I would again be bundled, my quilt wrapped around my legs, maybe bare legs still in cut off denim shorts in anticipation of the afternoon reaching eighty degrees. The chill in the mornings would be signaling frost, not steamy fog like in the dog days of August, but crisp rising steam from the lake water being now warmer than the new Canadian air coming down to greet us from the North heralding the onset of a new winter.

I could see a change in the colors of the leaves each and every morning, Autumn setting in fast as September arrived. By the end of that month every leaf would be down. It happened fast in the Great North. Winter was serious and unrelenting. 

My determination to live life at this level of freedom and beauty prevails. 

I know that my determination to succeed in the world has it's underpinnings in this desire to free myself of the burdens of the world.

If you really want to know what drives my determination it is the desire to have some feet of shoreline of my very own where the canoe rests comfortably on a grassy edge that turns gradually to soft sand, that slips gently right into crisp clean fresh water. No stone staircase, no burden, just me and my canoe, into my eighties into my old age. A place where I can teach grandchildren how to traverse open water alone in a big canoe without letting the wind get the best of you and swing your bow around in the opposite direction of where you were wanting to go.



Courtney October 10, 2018 @09:09 am
Thank you to Josephine and to Sally for supportive comments and your engagement with my morning writings. I think this was an especially good post because I was so inspired by the canoe memories.
Josephine Ann Hajek October 07, 2018 @10:59 am
It does take determination to canoe alone especially in the wind. I will have to try again.
Sally October 07, 2018 @08:39 am
Luv your blog, Courtney - especially today. Your writing is so visual, all the feels, i was right there with you...
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