Can you Canoe

Two people in a canoe (stop me I you’ve heard this one) paddling upstream…

Even if you grew up on a lake, you may be unfamiliar with some of the finer points of canoeing, so I’m going to explain some things you may already know, but — this is my analogy, so move your eyes along — these specific points are important to the getting-to-my-point part of the gisty overall nut.

The person in the back of the canoe (I’ll defer from going too far, but realize I do know my aft from a port in the ground) steers as well as paddles. The person in the front paddles and navigates. (Because the front has the best view of submerged dangers.) The person in the back — the driver — can easily see on which side the person in the front is paddling; important for steering, because when both paddle on the same side the canoe turns in that direction, and when each paddle with the same strength on opposite sides: it travels relatively straight.

A J-stroke (turning the blade of the paddle away from the canoe at the end of the stroke) can correct the slight turn of the canoe caused by the initial power of the stroke.

Feathering the paddle (at the end of each stroke, turning the wrist so the blade is parallel with the water surface) insures less air resistance as the paddle is brought forward and, more importantly, if the paddle accidentally strikes the water, it smoothly slices through and doesn’t alter the canoe's course of travel.

The front person — the navigator — can’t see how the driver is paddling or feathering. The navigator also can’t see if the driver is using a proper J-stroke, or even if the driver is no longer paddling but is using the paddle as a rudder. The driver, on the other hand, can always tell when the navigator is not feathering, using a J-stroke, or paying attention for submerged objects.

An easy canoe trip is spent drifting downstream. This permits both people to do very little paddling. The driver can steer without much effort. The navigator doesn't have to paddle and can just look out for underwater obstacles. A marriage (eventually I get to it) of downstream drifting consists of: a downstream-navigator, watching the scenery float by, enjoying the knowledge that the driver will steer the canoe without much besides an occasional word of direction, and a downstream-driver, steering haphazardly, paddling only when absolutely necessary, and rarely asking his navigator for guidance.

The upstream marriage is very different. Each person knows they have a hard river ahead and must decide who is best capable of steering and who is going to provide direction. Trust is needed, even before getting in the canoe. A knowledgeable navigator is aware a lazy driver may go unnoticed until the navigator feels the canoe losing distance. A wary driver knows an inattentive navigator may cause damage to the canoe.

It’s always easy at first. No one’s tired. It’s a new experience! The new-navigator doesn’t get distracted by the passing scenery (too much) and routinely calls back, amid strong strokes, “we need to go left here” and “I think we need to stay waaay right of that rock”. At the same time, the new-driver — with strength and proficiency — constantly feathers, and, when the new-navigator paddles on the right, switches to the left; when the new-navigator gets tired and switches back, the attentive new-driver is ready to switch too.

After a while, depending on the canoe, the couple, and their individual stretch of river, each person gets tired (even if they take vacations). It’s a long upstream haul and it never stops flowing.

When the navigator gets tired and stops paddling: A wise driver knows how to paddle and steer alone, asking if the navigator is OK; an incompetent driver criticizes and complains about doing all the work and at times may even go so far as to gripe, “watching for hidden logs is the simple and easy job”.

When the driver gets tired and stops paddling or just steers: A conscientious navigator knows it’s time to kick in some extra effort and J-stroke for two; a selfish navigator looks back and complains about doing all the work.

When the canoe hits an underwater log: An experienced driver knows the sun on the water can blind even the most attentive navigator and begins back paddling; a foolish driver places blame and hollers directions. This incident is further aggravated — with an untrusting couple — if the log was hit when the navigator was looking back at the driver to criticize about a lack of effort. It then becomes a, “see-what-you-did, not-my-fault-you-weren’t-paddling,” back and forth.

When paddling a marriage upstream, both the driver and the navigator must work together. Both must communicate: “I need a break, can you paddle alone for a while?”

If you are presently the navigator and know your driver will see when you stop paddling, so think it's redundant to mention it, you're wrong: tell your driver anyway.

If you are currently the driver and suspect your navigator won't know if you just take a quick rest, you're wrong: tell your navigator first.

Although there are rarely any guarantees on the river of life, there are some certainties: the logs and rocks just under the surface are always going to be there. Canoe partners can't see each other's face, so talking is mandatory...don’t add to the submerged dangers by failing to communicate.

To help ensure your canoe-partner doesn’t notice your canoe trip is no longer what was envisioned at the beginning (when fresh, dry, and still on the bank of the river) a few canoe-rules:

Never take your canoe-partner for granted or treat them disrespectfully. Many canoer’s have the (vastly mistaken) impression that they'll be sharing their canoe with their partner — and will always remain in the same seat position — for their entire life! (All that, ’til death do us part, shite.) It shouldn’t be, but it is, an absolute shock to many canoer’s when they discover their partner wants to stop their canoe trip.

Never act like you have attained a tenured position. The length of time spent in the canoe seems to have a bearing on the ease (or lack thereof) of getting out of it. The more time both canoer's invest in paddling the less willing they become, to get out. This can be the impetus for a ridiculous belief (in one or both) that the invested time itself, somehow guarantees the canoe trip's longevity. As one mistaken idea becomes a boatload — a careless canoer then treats their partner with disdain and acts selfishly, without regard for their responsibilities as driver or navigator.

This eventually comes to an end when someone bravely plunges into the cold water to swim to the riverbank or to another canoe.

I’ve successfully paddled canoes with a handful of significant others (usually as the driver, but I've navigated as well). I steered or navigated those canoes to shore when the trips were over (at times reluctantly, usually enthusiastically). Occasionally I got my feet a little damp. If I had to jump in to get the canoe on the bank, I got my legs soaking wet. I say this because, I’ve done it enough to know the water is not so cold that one can’t take it for a short period.

I’m no longer looking for someone to help me paddle a canoe. I currently share a rowboat with the perfect person to share it with.

Be careful! Not everyone can manage a rowboat. It takes agility, trust, and strong communication. One rows facing the stern, while the other navigates facing the rower and the bow. When switching rowers, after one gets tired, be extremely careful to prevent capsizing. And when the tough spots arrive (as they always do) both people have to row side-by-side, each with an oar gripped in their hands, only able to gauge where they are headed by watching where they've been.

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