Canoe Musings: Part Two – Co-operation

Tandem canoeing, i.e. canoeing with two in the one boat, is quite a distinctive experience. With one person in the bow and the other in the stern, both facing forwards, they can be paddling for an entire day whilst barely catching a glimpse of one another’s face. Thus, in a sense they are practically anonymous. However, with communication being key and their both being in the same boat there is no lack of contact whatsoever.

Unless they were to paddle along an impossibly long, straight section of river containing no obstacles, by necessity they must relay information to each other regarding the state of the water ahead and how to approach it. With the bow paddler obstructing a great deal of the view in front, they must call out anything that should be avoided. With the stern paddler being the only one able to see the other’s body position, they typically instruct as to what type of stroke to engage and when. The former is an unavoidable consequence of tandem canoeing, though conceivably the latter could be mitigated through a high level of familiarity between the two persons.

There is also a strong physical connection between the two paddlers. Because they are literally in the same boat they are both sensitive to its balance, and thus by extension to the other person’s weight and its subtle effects on the degree of list. What each person is, or is not doing with their paddle also has a noticeably effect. With both people paddling effectively in unison, they should be able to travel in a straight line, or smoothly around a bend. If one begins to paddle with greater or lesser strength then not only is the difficulty of keeping up the pace affected, but also the line that the boat is taking.

These combined make for an activity with a rare combination of qualities. I spent four days in a boat with one person, barely seeing them save for when we were on land, yet always conscious of their presence. Despite the obviously huge difference in strenuousness between the two pasttimes, I can personally relate the base activity closest to playing co-operative video games online. The other participant is invisible, yet communication is essential and the effects of it breaking down or the lack of engagement on behalf of the other become quickly apparent.

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Twentieth Century Sci-Fi Hero

I could sense him considering me with his lingering eyes. He appeared more than confident in his physical attributes, and was in the process of weighing up his social approaches to me.

I went back to my drink, accepting its invitation towards stupor and bliss. At the Navy Clam they knew how to serve a good mixer; chilled enough to soften the burn, but not so much as to inhibit the flavour. They’ve also come into possession of an excellent emulsifier which has allowed them to create my current favourite, a double of light rum with coconut and a perfectly cutting measure of lime juice.

My thoughts are vaguely meandering around ants and learning algorithms when the cock-sure comes sidling up to me.

“You have some information I need,” he tells me, obviously expecting either a teasing conversation ending with him pummelling my purse with abandon, or myself to figuratively jump on his prick with nary a care in the world.

I give him neither. “Fuck off; you’re interrupting my drink.”

To my dismay he takes this as a hint towards the former. “You do know who I’m looking for, don’t you? I can see it in they way your legs shifted.”

Indeed I did shift, but only because his ridiculous erection was at risk of embarrassing itself on my leg. He really was the worst sort of PI; dark haired, dark eyed, heavy browed, barely shaven, obsessively muscled, and with eyes eternally darting everywhere and never focusing. He could hardly have been better described than a late 20th century, futurist author.

“Look pal, I’ve been working all day and don’t have time for your petty familial intrigue or whatever shit it is you’ve gotten yourself into. Just … piss off.” Not particularly eloquent, but surely the message is clear enough.

“I see you’re playing hard to get. Now how abou-” As he edges closer, the bulge in his trousers brushes against my leg, sufficient cause for me to tase him. He drops, pissing himself, and I wave to my friend behind the bar. The soak is dragged out and thrown into a cab to be taken to the sobering cells. I return to my glass and my thoughts.

Thursday Night Paddle

Deftly climbing into the cockpit, I pushed my soles against the footplates and jammed my knees into their braces. With my paddle in both hands I pushed off, fitting the spraydeck into place once some space was between myself and the shore. I made a couple of figure-eights to warm up before finally putting Rosemarkie beach behind me and crossing the firth to Fort George. The evening was perfect for a wee jaunt; clear skies with a dipping sun, the start of the tides turning, and enough of a breeze to whip up the sea to a brisk dance.

My boat’s firm, plastic body encouraged my hips to swing with some energy, to which I obliged. A clear channel meant that the sea ahead would be free of traffic for my return crossing. The occasional spray as I smacked a trough between waves kept me from falling into too hypnotic a pattern.

Off to my right was a gaggle of tourists gawking at the dolphins off Chanonry. I could have gone over to say hello, but I doubt they’d have appreciated it. They were probably engrossed in their dinners and not in the mood for small talk. The rest of the trip there was uneventful. The winds were steady so there were few course corrections to make.

As I approached the other side I saw a small dark head bobbing above the surface. After calling out a quick hello I slowed down and aimed a little closer towards the seal. He dipped beneath the surface then a few seconds later appeared again a few metres behind me. I looked around then back at him and we exchanged a glance. He went below again and I put my hand beneath the surface. I felt a small, soft package being pressed into my hand by a cool flipper. It felt approximately the right size, so I reached into my pack and tossed a few handfuls of lobster meat into the sea. A brief wave of the tail demonstrated his appreciation.

Once I had rolled a wee spliff I lit it up and took a couple of deep draws. It tasted sweet and smooth, and wrapped me in a comfortable haze. I held it just above the water’s surface for him to take a couple of draws. He took them followed by a spell of hacking coughs before heading off home again. I sighed a happy sigh, finished the spliff then headed away home again, stopping by Chanonry to pick up some acid from the dolphins.

You Are Worth …

“[Wh]at [w]ould [y]ou [l]ike to do to-day, Ik-Ard?”

Its halting, awkward voice startled me from my melancholic introspection, and I had little to respond with. The past few days had been bearable due to the carnival atmosphere, but now the holiday was over I had only my thoughts to keep me company.

“I’ll continue tending to my garden Etakekokor.”

“[As y]ou [w]ish, Ik-Ard.”

They had allotted me a good hectare of land to maintain for myself. Whilst I could technically subsist on the foods they provided, it was bitter and left me feeling worse than usual. With my own space I was kept busy, out of the way, and able to produce a slightly more palatable diet.

“The plums are ripe now, if you want one.”

“[Th]ey [m]ake [m]e [s]ick, Ik-Ard. Too [m]uch sugar, Ik-Ard.”

It left. Of course, its lack of a hinged jaw would have made the whole process of consuming a plum ridiculous.

I turned back to my cabbage patch and started to dig.

Canoe Musings: Part One – Bridges

I didn’t really notice it at first, but by the third day of the trip I realised that I was seeing bridges completely differently to how one normally perceives them. When you typically come to think of a bridge, it is as part of a walkway or a road, and a means to pass over a body of water or some other man-made transport route. You see the grey stretch ahead then proceed across. That is a bridge.

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They have a habit of looming into view. It may be the top of a tower peering above the trees, or one end sidling out round a corner. At the speed of a canoe this gives the journey under a bridge more than just a brief moment’s consideration. They are each a drawn out event, from first sighting to passing under to disappearing again. During this time they never fully leave the mind. Consider this in comparison to being on foot or wheel where it will rarely take more than a minute or two to traverse before becoming a bare figment of memory.

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In a canoe they are not a means of crossing something, but rather they are an obstacle that must be navigated around. They do not serve to ease passage, but to obstruct. Often they are of little consequence, merely narrowing the options through a short section of river, but other times they can become dangerous hindrances, barriers and traps. Consider a sturdy stone construction with multiple pillars. A river with significant flow is forced through the gap, creating a turbulent, high speed current with lethal walls to either side.

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Bridges also simply become visible from different angles, and from these angles one can appreciate the engineer’s craft. Whilst they could be constructed with an entirely functional purpose this is rarely the case. There is some degree of aesthetic design and appeal to each.

Conviction and Momentum

This is the easy part. Physically, all it requires is the movement of a pencil over paper. What may come afterwards is that which will require effort and perseverance. If we think life is hard now, it’s leisurely compared to what is to come. We may suffer economic collapse, schisms within families and between friends, and ostracism from those with whom we will now share a meaningful border. We will have to work harder for less. We will not be able to rely on an ocean of wealth.

We will be doing so because we will finally all be in it together. Our choices will hold weight. We will have the opportunity and power to shrug off the leeches holding us down. Should we hold our conviction to heart, and drive through with the momentum of our cross, we can stand taller and be a light in the dark sea of cynicism of the world.