Photo courtesy of of Lorain Ebbett-Rideout Credits: Photo courtesy of of Lorain Ebbett-Rideout
My siblings, Jeff, Clay, Angie and I had dreamed of you before we ever saw you. To four kids living in Carlow, New Brunswick, a canoe like you meant freedom. Oh, how we wanted to explore the endless streams that flow into the heart of the St. John River, our river. We would be explorers like Radisson and Groseillers. We would trace the old fur trade routes to le fin du pays. Well, at least it seemed we might. But in those days, canoes were heavy fibreglass or works of art sheathed in cedar, and far too expensive for New Brunswick farm kids. For years we could only stand along the Monquart and Shikatehawk waterways and wonder.
Then, one day as we passed Pickles Hardware store in nearby Bristol, my brother shouted, "Look! A canoe!" Four tiny faces pressed against the school bus windows to see you. A red canoe! Have you ever had a moment of clarity when your destiny just beckoned to you? That was the epiphany we had that spring day. Once home, we raced down to the barn where Dad was and eagerly yammered in unison about the red canoe. He too wanted a canoe and, after supper, we headed for Bristol.
Dad's Mercury was barely parked when we spilled out and ran to you. You were a lightweight 15-foot Coleman made of RAM-X with a shiny aluminum frame, and you were perfect in my 10-year-old eyes. But we had to leave without you. As we drove off, our four small tear-streaked faces stared longingly behind.
Several days later, we got home from school and Mom told us to go help Dad in the barn. We marched down and went inside. There on the barn floor was Dad sitting in you! He'd brought you home while we were at school. As we crowded around, he stepped out and told us to lift you up. "Let's take it to the farm pond," said Dad. As you slipped into the pond, my little sister shouted, "It floats like a Javex jug!" Thus, you were christened HMS Javex Jug!
Now, all was possible. No longer prisoners confined to the shore, we explored country that had been only a dream. We paddled the Dyer Branch, explored deep dark misty Murphy Lake and spotted moose and muskrats on Johnville Lake. No water was too shallow, no bottom too rough and no portage too far as the ghosts of voyagers past urged us on. You forgave every childish mistake and safely guided your young charges back to shore each time. Old friend, you drifted lazily as we teased brook trout with worms or conquered narrow rough mountain streams that would have frightened lesser craft. Our journeys were endless and each one was framed in the view over your bow. But no matter the direction the beautiful waters of the St. John River pulled us gently back. So many of our canoe experiences ended spilling out into the river like a child returning to its parent.
These days, I alone dip my paddle in the silence with you. Your scars are many and age has dulled your shine, but you still proudly glide through the swampy lakes and beach yourself on the wooded islands of my beloved St. John River country.
Someone once said to own a canoe is to be truly Canadian. Every time we paddle together I understand this a little better.
Cary Rideout is a writer and computer technician who lives in Carlow, New Brunswick.
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