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Canoe

07/09/02 12:00AM By David Moats
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(Host) Commentator David Moats, who recently bought his first canoe, reflects on the joys of paddling.

(Moats) When I was growing up, I spent quite a bit of time in the outdoors. We hiked and camped and fished in the Sawtooths of Idaho and in the Sierra Nevada. And I spent a lot of time looking at rivers and thinking about the water and wishing I had a canoe.

As it happens, things sometimes get deferred, and so it's taken me all these years finally to get a canoe. It's not a fancy canoe meant for white water or long expeditions. It's just a good canoe with wooden gunwales and cane seats, and it gets me out on the water.

And it's an amazing thing - getting out on the water. You can put the canoe in the water any number of places along Otter Creek, near where I live, and in three seconds you're in another world. People can't go there by car. People usually don't hike there. The river is lined by trees, leaning in from the banks. The water is slow-moving, and the canoe glides in silence. It's as if the water itself communicates a kind of serenity up into the canoe.

This is no revelation to people who have spent time in canoes, but it was a great discovery for me. When one gets out on the water or into the mountains of this country, one's mind inevitably travels back to those who came here first and what kind of world it was they encountered. That means imagining the way that Indians and early pioneers silently moved along the rivers. It puts you in mind of Lewis and Clark who paddled upstream for hundreds and hundreds of miles.

I haven't done anything too daring in my canoe so far. But even on a quiet paddle along Otter Creek, there are discoveries to be made. On one short stretch five or six beavers slapped their tails with great ferocity as I approached. On another, I found a bunch of delicate yellow irises growing at the edge of the water. The herons were plentiful at one spot. We saw a deer staring at us from the bank at another.

All of this amounts to a reminder of something I learned as a child along the banks of the Payette River in Idaho, and which nature-lovers in Vermont already know: That putting yourself in touch with the elemental realities of the outdoors helps to put in perspective the flux of everyday life. It's not that flux is unknown to nature. In fact, flux is the nature of nature. But you can return to the river and it's the same river, even though you know it's never really the same. It's almost a form of meditation to get on the water. You see it's possible to leave the rapid current of your daily worries for the serene slow current of something larger.

Maybe I appreciate what my canoe does for me more because I waited so many years finally to buy one. I like its simplicity. I like its silence. I like thinking of Lewis and Clark.

This is David Moats from Middlebury.

David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.
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