Excerpted from the Introduction
Canoeing in North America has expanded in recent years to include practically every part of the map. In the United States people of all ages are taking to the rivers in ever-increasing numbers. Rivers that once were considered too dangerous are now canoed regularly as whitewater skills grow. In each state -- southern, prairie, mountain, or coastal -- canoeing has become a means of journeying into wilderness areas and providing the adventure that people are seeking.
In Canada, you can put a canoe into the water at any major city and paddle to the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Arctic, or the Gulf of Mexico. The land is laced with a complex network of waterways; some are large, some are small, but most are navigable by canoe. When you look at the face of Canada and study the geography carefully, you come away with the feeling that God could have designed the canoe first and then set about to conceive a land in which it could flourish.
The waterways are navigable because the canoe can be portaged easily around the difficult stretches of water. Even the portages over the height of land between watersheds are no longer than those around most rapids and falls. In one place the waters flowing to the Atlantic and the waters flowing to the Arctic are separated by no more than a beaver dam.
It was the canoe that made it possible for the Indian to move around before and for several hundred years after the arrival of the white man. As the white man took over their land, the native people would regret the generosity with which they shared their amazing mode of travel. The more I study the birchbark canoe and what it can do, the greater is my admiration for these people who were here long before we arrived.
The birchbark canoe is made entirely from materials found in the forest: birch bark, cedar, spruce roots, ash, and pine gum. When it is damaged, it can be repaired easily from the materials at hand. When it has served its purpose, it returns to the land, part of a never-ending cycle. Once you understand this cycle of growth, manufacture, use, and return to the land you begin to understand why our modern culture is in such trouble. The noncycle of growth, manufacture, use, and garbage is a dead end. This is not to discredit the marvelous things that modern technology brings us; but we need to be more aware of where we are headed and from whence we came. An appreciation of the canoe and acquisition of the necessary skills to utilize it as a way to journey back to what's left of the natural world is a great way to begin this voyage of discovery.
The shrinking landThere was a time when traveling a distance of 5,000 miles (8000 km) in North America would have been regarded as a very long way. Before the railroad. covering that kind of distance meant extreme hardships any way you chose to make the trip. Improving methods of transportation has been a high priority of human beings as far back into recorded history as you care to go. With each improvement the world has grown smaller.
Today you can cover 5,000 miles in about eight hours. All you have to do is go to the airport (which is usually the hardest part), buy a ticket, and select a seat in the smoking or nonsmoking section of the aircraft. About the greatest discomfort you might expect to endure is to end up in the smoking section if you are a nonsmoker or vice versa.
When the choice of travel was limited to horse, canoe. wagon, ox cart, or on foot, this 5,000 miles could have taken a couple of years. Today, the earth is indeed getting very small. However, trying to convince the world of business and commerce that there are places on this earth where distances should remain undiminished is not an easy task.
Such an idea is very difficult to defend in monetary terms. Perhaps the best way to make a case for primitive methods of travel is in the form of a parable. Let's say you are hiking and come upon a beautiful, pristine lake nestled among high hills. You estimate to be a bout ten miles (16 Km) long and with great anticipation look forward to several days of a difficult but exciting journey of discovery around the shoreline. Before long a canoeist comes along and invites you to come aboard to make the journey easier. You gladly accept because the going is tough. Now you can get a better perspective on the shoreline and yet the pace is slow enough so that you do not miss anything. You are aware, however, that in accepting the ride the lake has diminished somewhat in size. You estimate that while hiking would have taken you at least four days, you will now be able to do it in an easy two. After a couple of miles, a motorboat comes along side and you a re offered a ride around the shoreline. The canoeist accepts, and while you are less than enthusiastic, you don't have much choice. As the 100 horsepower (74 600 W) engine roars into action, you slowly become aware that the lake is beginning to feel very small. As the trees and cliffs race by, you realize that what you had hoped to discover in four days is now going to be revealed in a couple of hours. The miles are eaten away as you speed through each bay and inlet and race by most of the islands. When the journey is over and you are dropped off at the point where you first came upon the lake, the mystery is gone. You've seen it all; yet you've seen nothing. The motorboat driver meant well, but he has only succeeded in diminishing the size of the lake.
You set up camp and watch the lengthening shadows. As you look far down the lake, you wish that you did not already Know what lay around that point. You regret that your first view into the hidden bay will not be the reward of a difficult hike tomorrow.
For many people, the case I have just attempted to make would seem pointless. To them scenery is scenery, any way you get to see it. To others, it makes a lot of sense. It's all a matter of perspective. What encourages me to write about the concept of keeping things undiminished by means of primitive travel is the fact that people do change their minds. I enjoy writing for the already converted, but the possibility that other people might awaken to this subtle concept of keeping what's left of the natural world big is why I write this book. There is no shortage of road builders and people who make their living by shrinking distance. They will succeed too well if there are not enough of us around to present a case for the preservation of the natural environment. Some of it is a I ready overcrowded to the detriment of the plants, animals and native people who lived there long before we arrived. They all have a right to exist because all, like us, were created. In our modern, man-made world we tend to forget this. A journey by canoe a long ancient waterways is a good way to rediscover our lost relationship with the natural world and the Creator who put it all together so long ago.
The path of the paddle can be a means of getting things back into their original perspective.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Bill Mason was one of Canada's leading canoeists and conservationists, an artist, and an award-winning film-maker. He is author of the classic canoeing book Path of the Paddle.
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
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