In the Same Boat
Part 2: Nice Boat! Whaddaya Call It?
by Farwell Forrest
Tamia Nelson and I are going to write about canoes and
canoeingand kayaking, too, of course. It's a subject close to
our hearts. We met in a canoe, after all. Before we begin, though,
perhaps we ought to decide exactly what we mean by "canoe." That makes
sense, doesn't it?
Hmmm.... You know, this may not be as easy as it seems. Suppose you
had to explain what a "canoe" is to someone who'd never seen
oneto a man from Mars, say. He has no idea what you're talking
about. What do you tell him?
No problem, you say? How about "A canoe is a small open boat,
pointed on both ends, and propelled by paddles"? You'll find this
definition or something similar in most dictionaries. Seems like a
pretty good start, don't you agree?
But is it? "Small"? The canots du maître of the North
American fur trade were 36 feet long. That's not small. Not in my
book, anyway. And the aboriginal log-canoes of the Pacific Northwest
coast were even bigger. Some of them stretched over 50 feet.
"Open"? Now that's obviously wrong, isn't it? What about the C-1s
and C-2s of the whitewater racers? What about our cousins "across the
Pond"? When a Brit takes you round to his back garden to show you his
canoe, he's just as likely to pull the tarp off something that we
Americans would call a "kayak"a decked boat with a center
cockpit, propelled by a double-bladed paddle.
"Pointed on both ends"? Here, surely, we're on safe ground. But,
then again, what about the big, square-stern canoes? The Grand Lakers
of Maine, and the even bigger Rupert House canoes of James Bay.
They're obviously canoes, aren't they? And they're not pointed
on both ends.
Things aren't going very well, are they? The man from Mars is
getting pretty confused. What's left? Oh, yes"propelled by
paddles." Seems pretty safe. Wait a minute, though. The fur trade
canoes were sailed on the lakes whenever the wind allowed, and the
Beothuk and Micmac each rigged their big sea-going canoes with sails
for coastal passages. Come to think of it, a lot of people have
dropped rowing rigs into their canoes at one time or other. An oar
isn't a paddle, and rowing isn't paddling. And let's not forget those
Grand Lakers and Rupert House canoes. Each one has a big outboard
motor hanging off its broad square stern.
OK. What have we learned? A canoe can be small or large. It can be
open or decked. It can have a pointed stern or a square one. You can
paddle, sail, or row itor you can put a motor on it. You can
even lie back in it and let it drift with the current. I'm afraid this
hasn't been much help to the man from Mars, though. He's given up
trying to understand. He's already walking away, shaking both his
heads. But you're still with me, I hopeand I hope you see my
point. It isn't possible to define "canoe" in a way that doesn't
include a great many boats that don't look anything at all like the
canoes in my backyard and yours.
We don't need to worry about this. When the learned Justice Potter
Stewart was sitting on the bench of the United States Supreme Court,
he was asked to define "obscenity." He took his time. He sifted whole
libraries of books. He consulted experts and academics by the score.
He even asked his clerks. In the end, however, all he could say about
obscenity was that he knew it when he saw it.
Fair enough, I guess. I know a canoe when I see one. So do you. And
some of these canoes are nothing like the ones you'll see in the
outfitters' catalogs. They're all canoes, though, and each one
has something to teach us. In the months to come, Tamia and I are
going to tell you their storiesand a lot more besides.
Canoes come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They serve every
purpose imaginable. But all of them are canoes. Canoeists come in all
shapes and sizes, too, and we all have different interests. What do we
have in common? We're all out on the water. We're all following life's
river toward the sea. And, when everything is said and done, we're all
in the same boat.
That's what's really important, isn't it?
© Verloren Hoop Productions 1999
That's it for now. Tamia will be here next week. In the
meantime, we'd like to hear from you. Send your comments and questions
to us at email@example.com. (No attachments, audio clips or family snaps, please!) I won't promise that we'll answer each letter, but I
can promise that we'll read every oneand we will. 'Nuff said.