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.