40 years. It’s a long time to feel the magic. But I can still feel it. It was a soft summer evening during my 14th summer that the magic was originally felt. Tangibly felt.
My family was camped on Lac Vieux Desert, the large boundary lake between our native Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan. We drove four and a half hours from home to arrive there. As we first entered the Nicolet National Forest campsite, we noted ironically that our neighbors from back home were camped there also. Four and a half hours away and the neighbors didn’t change.
Once the tents were pitched I wanted to enjoy the quiet of the Northwoods. “Hey, do you want to take the canoe out? We can paddle over to the dam” our neighbor asked. “Sure, Bob. Sounds good.” I could not remember paddling one since Boy Scout camp, a few years back. I didn’t really enjoy canoes then. They didn’t go straight unless you were trying to turn and they did not want to stop once they were going. But it was fun to swamp one and mess around with it on a hot day when you wanted to get wet to cool off. It was a boyhood pastime. But now it was time to put away the things of boyhood. It was time to feel the magic. I just didn’t realize it yet.
I had been out on the lake at dusk many times before, feeling the large body of water begin to settle in for the night, allowing sounds to be amplified so that conversations a hundred yards away sounded like they were very near. Seeing a mysterious swirl on the calm surface, wondering if it was a bass? A pike? A muskie? The stillness on a lake can be seen and heard and felt as the sun drops and the light turns golden. Somehow, the canoe heightened this sensation. We traveled soundlessly, I in the bow and Bob in the stern. If we had to talk to each other, it was in hushed whispers but mostly we were silent. It would have been inappropriate to talk, we did not want to contribute any sound to the sacred silence.
In the waning light, the water turned inky. We passed over weed-beds through which you could never run an outboard. The thick weeds served to mark our progress as we slid by. Our rate of speed surprised me, but still more surprising was that we moved in stark silence. Suddenly only five feet off our bow a large fish rolled when the canoe spooked it. My heart skipped a beat as its splash interrupted the hushed evening. We could never get that close to a large fish with an outboard running.
I read once that the canoe is a craft of exploration. This is true. I had been to the dam before, but always propelled by gas and noisy machinery. Now we approached under our own silent and stealthy power. My father’s runabout would have needed to be staged thirty feet offshore to protect its expensive propeller but this slender craft allowed us to gracefully proceed where engine-driven boats were unable to go.
On that night many years ago a 14-year old promised himself that he would own a canoe. A craft which explored waters the runabout could not run about in. He would own a craft that could make magic.