My dad taught me how to canoe. His older brother, a master carpenter, built his own canoe many years ago, and I think Dad marveled at it so much Uncle Dave finally just said here, take it. I remember sitting in the bottom of that cedar boat, my 1970’s style orange life vest bumping up around my chin, trailing my fingers in the water. Dad appreciates cold mountain streams and smooth river stones and a bump down the rapids, but he also likes a good lake. On a camping trip up to Lake Santeetlah many years ago we loaded my whole family in the canoe, five of us, and set out on an afternoon expedition across the wide expanse of water. About halfway across, we saw the water start to shimmer and vibrate in a straight line from shoreline to shoreline, as a sudden downpour advanced towards us. We kids screamed and pointed, but it was one of those moments where children glimpse the truth of their parents’ utter helplessness. Dad’s rowing power seemed to know no limits; the man could row for hours just tooling around the lake until my siblings and I started picking at each other and wiggling in the boat for lack of other activities. But Dad couldn’t stop the rain.
No rain on Carters Lake today as the Paddle Georgia brigade made our way across this nine mile stretch. This morning, in line for the yellow school bus with the ex-Nascar driver who shuttles us back and forth (and clearly does not get paid by the hour), a fellow paddler commented that lake miles count like dog years: for every one mile on a lake it feels like you’ve paddled about seven. My shoulders attest to that tonight.
Of course, Husband and I like to stretch our dollars as much as possible and really get our money’s worth out of this trip, so we took off from our launch site going the wrong direction. We paddled an extra two miles or so back towards yesterday’s rapids before he finally caved into the readings on his GPS and turned us around. By that time, the thirty or so other paddlers also drifting upstream like salmon returning to spawn figured out this mistake as well. A sense of misgiving followed by sudden epiphany wrinkled through the group at once. Lots of yelling and whistling ensued. We all eventually found the right channel, thanks also to our very patient Leader Joe. (If you read this blog to keep up with the daily exploits of another paddler on the trip, be warned. If you ask your paddler about the lake day and he or she responds with a shuffle and mutter, he or she probably spent the morning in our same situation. It is not an easy thing to get lost on a big open body of water. It takes special talent.)
Some fathers spent today on the lake, pulling their kids around in circles behind a motor boat and yelling critiques of the kids’ skiing techniques. Some fathers spent today on the lake hiding in a shadowed cove, trying to coax a fish onto a hook. (These fathers appeared most content with their choice of the day’s activities). Husband spent his Father’s Day drifting from island to island, curve to cove, as we took our time just studying the lake from a canoe’s perspective. Just like Dad taught me to do.
As we crawled alongside a red clay bank stacked with layers of jagged shale, I caught a glimpse of one father with a skinny blonde boy who looked to be about ten. They were breaking down a campsite together. As they started to tote the last of their gear up towards the road, the boy turned and gave the lake a last look before trotting to catch up to his dad. It made me miss my boys. It made my breath catch with how much I love my dad, and how much I love theirs.