First, of course, is Canoeing merit badge. Wooden paddles a foot too long and old Grumman aluminum canoes. Struggling with confusing strokes, learning to turn, to paddle a straight line alone without switching sides. Learning to capsize and then right a canoe in the middle of a lake. The names of the parts and the various types of canoes. Safety.Everyone tends to over muscle a canoe at first, fighting it, wearing themselves out. Coming in at the end of a day backsore and tired. The basics elude them. To those who persevere there is a gift. The day comes when the mechanics of the J stroke become second nature. The canoe goes where you intend and you can relax, using your energy without exertion. It becomes a joy.

Of all the outdoor skills I gained from Scouting, canoeing is the thing that I appreciate most. Canoeing can take you further from the beaten path and show you more of the natural world than any other means of transportation, and do it with a fluid grace. A canoe sits lightly in the water and is much at home running a set of rapids as it is gliding across a still lake in the morning mist.

I have taken many river trips, she and I have taken a canoe filled with our camping to a barrier island, I have camped with friends on platforms in black water cypress swamps. I have seen deer coming to drink in the early morning, watched an osprey take a fish out in front of my canoe, swam in a deserted cove on a hot September afternoon. These things, and many more, I owe to some unknown Scout that taught me canoeing in the late summer of 1972.

I have an old canoe now, the bottom scarred by rocks, heavy and broad with a keel riveted down the centerline. It has personality and is part of my history. I would not like a new one any better. Here I am, ten or so years ago, getting ready to launch on the lower Roanoke River. It is a good life, and canoeing has been a part of it.

Anyone who says they like portaging is either a liar or crazy.
–Bill Mason


3 thoughts on “Canoeing

  1. Canoeing was always, always one of my favorite parts of Scouting. All of my friends say “I LOVE KAYAKING” and they won't listen to how damn cool canoeing is.

    Kids these days.

  2. I love the J stroke – it's like an old friend.

    And the height of my scouting career was a week long canoe trip down the west branch of the Penobscot river, up in Maine, in 1972.

  3. One time we were planning a trip down the Colorado in canoes and trying to figure out how much freeze-dried crap we had to buy when my Dad (Eagle w/ oak clusters) pointed out that weight wasn't really a big consideration in a canoe which is why while everyone else ate freeze-dried crap we were having spaghetti and meatballs and ate out of cans the whole trip instead.
    *Thanx Dad!*

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