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Published on August 3, 2021

Canoeing down the river of life

By Janice R. Edwards
The Bulletin

Roy and I met on a canoe trip.

When we were dating, and after we got married, we went on a lot of canoe trips: from day trips, to base camping trips, to the premier white-water trip in Texas, the lower canyons of the Rio Grande.

It occurred to me that maybe couples who intend to paddle the River of Life together should learn to paddle the still waters and moving waters of Texas first – together.

Learning to paddle a tandem canoe can be compared to plotting a life together. First, like canoeing, you should define what position in this arrangement you will fill.

The bowman sees what’s coming up first, keeps the rhythm of the forward motion and makes corrective strokes to continue on the path chosen by the man in the stern. The bowman determines the path and steers the craft in that direction.

People on both ends of the canoe need to communicate what they see in order to navigate - especially on tricky water. Each going off in their own direction is a sure-fire recipe for getting wet and not making it through the rapid.

When you paddle together, partners need to know each others’ strengths and weaknesses.

You need to tell your partner if you do not feel comfortable attempting a certain section of the river and find a way to portage that problem area if necessary. Don’t just run it and hope for the best. No matter how good a swimmer you are, wear your life jacket. It will lift you when you cannot do it yourself.

Flat water is good to paddle to test your strengths and weaknesses. The water doesn’t push you somewhere you don’t want to go. These sections of the river of life are pleasant and make good memories, like paddling in the light of a full moon, just to surprise a beaver working on its dam, who gives you a cold shower for disturbing his work.

Usually, the man in the stern steers the canoe, but there is one move the bowman can make that can save the boat from a strainer (an obstruction in the water that only allows a small amount of water to pass through) across the river.

By planting the paddle in the eddy line once you cross it, and holding the paddle in place, the bowman can swing the canoe 90 degrees, violently turning the bow parallel to the strainer. This allows the stern man to find a hole around the end of it.

Instead of crashing and burning, you work together to save your boat and perhaps your lives. You can practice that move all day and not know you have it down, until you need it. Working together is the magic that makes it work.

Then there are the monster rapids, remote location, very limited access. For those trips, you learn how to pack everything you need to survive for several days in the wilderness.

It’s not a trip you take if you do not trust your partner. You learn to think as your partner does, and you react in situations to take care of each other.

You learn which freeze-dried foods are edible and which ones you never want to see again. You learn cold water at the end of the paddle is the best drink in the world.

I’m glad Roy and I have had the opportunity to paddle together, both in canoes and in life. Married life is like paddling a tandem canoe in differing waters, some still and some rough.

We learn something from each other every day as the river carries us on to more adventures.

(Write Janice in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)