Skinny Boats

I recently purchased a canoe manufactured by Wenonah. I bought an “ultralight” aramid model (aramid is probably best known by the brand name Kevlar), with the intention of being able to handle it for the rest of my life. This purchase had been planned for a while, since we left an Old Town canoe behind during our last move.

I have spent much my life near water. Around the time I was born, my parents purchased a place on a little lake, bordering Montana’ Scapegoat Wilderness. Growing up, there was always a Grumman or Coleman canoe handy. I think I was still pretty young, when my mom taught me the common canoe paddling strokes, such as the j-stroke and c-stroke. When I grew older, I spent an a a lot of my time on the lake, in the canoe casting flies to rising cutthroat trout.

My father’s extended family also shared a lake-front piece of property in Montana, at Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park. This “inholding” still remains in the family. Sadly, however, as a result of poor choices on my father’s part, my immediate family and I can no longer claim it as out own.

For years, I spent the spring and fall at the Glacier property, staining cabins, painting, and doing other work. These were times when family was not often around and tourists were scarce. For company, I would visit the bar at the Lake McDonald Lodge. Often, I was without a car, and driving after a few drinks was not a great idea anyway. On the other hand, biking or walking at night in the forest–home to so many grizzlies–was also a poor idea. So, I would paddle a canoe to the bar and back

The family had an old Core Craft canoe. It was heavy, but with three keels, it shot across the lake like an arrow. I often took it fishing, casting to trout along the north bank of the lake. I would also take it to the inlet of McDonald Creek There, I would beach it on a sandbar and cast to the huge fish that fed in the depths carved out by the force of the incoming water. Take note, if you are visiting Glacier, that’s a great place to fish (if a bit dangerous; there have been many drownings there).

The bar I would visit is about three quarters of a mile away, as the crow flies, across the lake from our cabins. I would stick to the open water, rather than the shore, since it was safest to avoid the massive flow of McDonald Creek and any animals watering along the shore. In retrospect, the whole venture was foolish; any paddling after a few beers or glasses of Bushmills is. But I still remember those trips fondly.

Of course, Lake McDonald has been traveled by paddlers for many, many generations. It is part of the traditional homeland of the Ktunaxa or Kootenai people (the east side of the park in Niitsitapi or Blackfoot territory), who have long used canoes. In fact, the great western artist Charlie Russell painted a wonderful picture of a Ktunaxa man with his traditional “sturgeon nose” canoe pulled up on the bank of the lake. In the painting, titled “Indian camp on Lake McDonald,” the resting paddler looks toward the north end of the lake, where our family cabins are now located. Russell happened to have a cabin on the lake as well, which still stands across the lake to the west or left of the paddler in the painting.

“Indian Camp at Lake McDonald or “Land of the Kootenai,” by Charles M. Russell, 1901

We still have our property near the Scapegoat Wilderness; my sisters and I were able to hold on to it, despite my fathers’s troubles, and we now share it. At this lake, there is no bar to visit via canoe or otherwise (The closest bar is 13.3 miles away by dirt road. Yes, I checked the distance, when I was younger). When I am there, however, I spend a lot of time fishing from the canoe or just enjoying a trip around a portion of the lake with my wife and daughter (they’re just pretending to look miserable in the following picture). For me, the canoe is just a fundamental part of life there.

Happily, my work often takes me to the water as well. As an academic, I focus upon Native American “research and collaboration.” Here in the Northwest, canoes play a huge role in Native culture. Therefore, our university often offers programming involving them. Indeed, canoeing is a somewhat regular activity for many students. A few times, we have collaborated with Spokane tribal member Shawn Brigman, a PhD and architect.

Shawn has researched and designed a contemporary “Salishan Sturgeon Nose Canoe” (the copyrighted name refers to canoes based on his design). Most of Shawn’s boats are covered in ballistic nylon, but he has also built traditional bark covered versions. He is very knowledgeable about regional Native American canoe culture, and often serves as a teacher for and consultant with other tribes, museums, and so on. Following is a picture of me and colleague Faith Price paddling a canoe graciously made available to students by Shawn (Faith is waving in the foreground; students are in the background).

Photo by Earl Aston

So, I looking forward to getting my new canoe from Wenonah out, as soon as the weather allows. For the near term, however, it looks like snowshoes will be my only form of alternative transportation, aside from walking and driving. By the way, I purchased the canoe from Paddle People in Oregon; owners Jeff and Russ are a couple of fine individuals. I highly recommend them.

8 Responses to “Skinny Boats”

  1. John B Says:

    Great story Ken,I really like it up there also😀

    Like

  2. AJ Morris Says:

    For those of us exposed to them early, canoes have a way of shaping our lives. One of my earliest memories is of sitting in the bottom of a canoe with my parents. I must have been pretty young because I couldn’t see over the gunwales, and I remember getting barked at by mom when I stood up to have a look around…

    The late Bill Mason was possibly the greatest influence shaping my views on conservation and social issues. If anyone is not familiar with him, I suggest they check him out.

    Like

    • Kenov Says:

      Now I wonder if all my time spent in a canoe, as a kid, has anything to do with my quiet nature.

      I’ll check out Mason. It seems like one of his books should be on the list of recommended readings I update periodically, as well.

      Like

  3. Al R Says:

    Your words “…the canoe is just a fundamental part of life…” rings true for many of us. I’m sure you’ll enjoy your Wenonah.

    Like

  4. Kenov Says:

    Thanks, Al. I’m sure I’ll enjoy it too!

    Like

  5. Jasodhara Batabyal Says:

    Loved it. Please visit my blog as well.

    Like

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