Sunday, May 24, 2015

Canoeing The Great Plains

Canoeing The Great Plains: A Missouri River Summer, by Patrick Dobson (Univ. of Nebraska Press, Lincoln NE, 2015, 193pp.)

This is a very readable and enjoyable book.  It is about the restorative and rehabilitative powers of water and a canoe.  Patrick Dobson reveals he was without direction and pretty much at the end of his rope.  He didn’t know who he was, where he wanted to go in life, or how to meet his responsibilities.  The situation is well explained by the title of the first chapter---  ‘Doomed.’

The story starts in 1995, so he’s had time since then to test how his trip helped him mend and grow.  His journey began as he stepped off his porch in Kansas City and started walking, walking about 1,250 miles to Helena, Montana.  His intention was to return to Kansas City by canoeing down the Missouri River, but as he walked across the plains, the closer he got to Montana, the more apprehensive he became about the fearsomeness and size of the mighty river.   A talk with a fishing guide in Helena didn’t help when she assured him that he would die. 

His canoeing experience amounted to passing out drunk in the bottom of a canoe ten years earlier with no memory of how he got home.  Thinking he might benefit from some paddling instruction, he sought the help of an outfitter, who recommended an instructor.  The instructor took Dobson and his 16-ft. purple canoe to a Helena park lake.  When he tried to teach the author how to J-stroke, Dobson flipped the canoe.  When he tried to teach the author how to sweep, Dobson flipped the canoe.  He finally told his student to always wear his PFD; he was going to need it.  Hoping his instructor would contradict the fishing guide’s doom and gloom, he asked the instructor if he had paddled the river.  The response was basically, “Not me.  Too dangerous.”  Mr. Dobson’s start was as unsteady as his confidence, but the river quickly taught him what he needed to know.  Not only did the author make a go of it, but he became so comfortable with the river life that his apprehension grew about how he would manage when he got ‘home.’  He had learned enough by the time he was within a couple weeks of his destination, that he took another dejected paddler under his wing, who was about to quit, and helped him finish his trip as well.  Along the journey, you will share every emotion and every mosquito between Helena and Kansas City, and by the last page, you also will feel better for the experience.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Big C

I've been asked whether or not I was going to blog about my predicament, being diagnosed with prostate cancer.   I still have mixed thoughts on that.  The main thought is that everyone has health issues in their lives, so you all may not be interested in hearing about mine.  The only reason I bring it up here now is to explain why you'll be exposed to a lot of book reviews in the next couple months.  I'll have surgery in a couple weeks, and will be inactive until the end of July.  Then it becomes an issue of how long it will be before I feel like sitting up in a canoe for 10-12 hours a day.  In the meanwhile, I'll be doing a lot of reading on canoeing, kayaking, and camping.  At least I can give you some insight into a number of titles and authors.

There is, however, another side of the coin as to why you may be interested in all this.  I found it very difficult to find information on this problem.  Without speculating as to why this may be true, I've learned a lot.  Whether for men, or women wanting to take care of the health of their men, I'll share if asked.  Until I can get back on the water, I hope you enjoy the reviews.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Listening Point

Listening Point, by Sigurd F. Olson (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1958, in its 5th printing in 2011,  243 pp, illustrated by Francis Lee Jaques)

Sigurd Olson was one of the greatest conservationists of the 20th century until his passing in 1982.  He was an award-winning activist, best-selling author of nine books, president of the Wilderness Society and the National Parks Association.  His awards include those from the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation for his works.

The cabin at Listening Point
His understanding of nature came from listening to it, observing it, and acquiring a reverence for it.  He was at home and at peace in the wilderness, but it was hard at any given moment to escape to the true wilderness, so he sought an oasis deep enough in nature to be appreciated, yet close enough to escape to when the notion struck.  While paddling, he found a spot on the south arm of Burntside Lake, adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, near Ely, MN, that fit the bill.  He and his wife, Elizabeth, acquired the original 26 acre tract in 1956, and later added another ten acres.  It included alder and willow along the shore, upland second-growth birch and pine, a cove and beach, and huge boulders that have rested there since the last ice age 10,000 years ago.  It was only ten miles from home, but in another world of its own where only the sights and signs of nature could be perceived.  Loving to listen to nature, he called it Listening Point.

The shore at Listening Point

There are two ways for you to get to this special place, either spiritually or physically.  The first is by reading this book.  As I mentioned when reviewing another book of Olson’s, The Singing Wilderness, his writing is so detailed, articulate, and of such depth that the reader can’t help but find himself there listening to the loons and woodpeckers, watching the seasons color the landscape, smelling the wood smoke, and being entertained and enlightened by the mice, deer, beavers, birds and all other wildlife.  You can also visit the Olsons’ cabin with permission of the Listening Point Foundation, which was created to maintain and preserve the site.  It was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 2007.

The Foundation just recently acquired the Olsons’ home in Ely.  Behind it is the garage which Sigurd transformed into his writing shack.  Inside are all of his collections of rocks, books, photographs, and personal items still resting where he left them.  His pipes are in an ash tray by his manual typewriter on which he wrote all his books and papers, and still in the typewriter is a sheet of paper with the last words he typed, “A new adventure is coming up, and I’m sure it will be a good one.”

If you visit the home, where nature programs and classes are held during the year, a member of the Foundation will take you out to Listening Point.  Olson’s other books and related items may be purchased there to benefit the Foundation.  A visit would create a memory of a lifetime, and this book and Singing Wilderness are certainly two that should be on your must-read list.
(Photographs used with permission of Alanna Dore, Executive Director, Listening Point Foundation)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Carpe Diem

Credit: Aaron Gray

This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.  Psalm 118:24

In other words, no matter how bad things look today, we need to put a smile on our faces, have a good time, or make like we’re having a good time, and get on with it.  This is the best day we have.  The Pollyannas will tell us that things will get better.  They lie.  Whiskey and wine are about the only things that improve with age.  Once we reach maturity, it’s a one-way street, and all downhill.  Tarnish doesn’t get shiny, rot doesn’t become solid wood, rust doesn’t become steel, paint doesn’t unpeel, and we don’t get quicker reflexes, run faster, have greater strength, or more endurance.  Our organs get tired and less inclined to do their jobs, and diseases our bodies sloughed off for years and decades are welcomed in and given a home.  If we want joy in our lives, if we want our lives to have meaning, purpose, or fulfillment, if we want to satisfy a dream, learn something new, get a better job, stand-up for ourselves, or find love or happiness, we need to either accomplish it today, or at least set priorities, ignore naysayers, eliminate distractions, and make a serious step in that direction.  And no, 'planning' to do it some time later when we are more ready is not a serious step.  There may be no tomorrow, and even if there is, we’ll be less capable to take advantage of it.  Time is wasting.   Carpe diem! 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Over the Dam

Lake Itasca Dam

They haven't wasted any time.  According to Dale's SPOT Track, they crossed the dam from Lake Itasca into the head of the Mississippi River at about 10:30 this morning.  The trip has started.  Be sure to watch Dale's Facebook page and follow his track.  Both links are in the right margin under Favorite Links.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Anna Goes Down the Mississippi

Credit: Dale Sanders' Facebook page

For any of you that don’t know Dale Sanders’ story, this may be a trip more than worth your while to follow.  First, Dale Sanders is attempting to become the oldest man to solo paddle the full length of the Mississippi River’s 2,340 miles.  He will celebrate his 80th birthday in just a few days.  Second, he is dedicating the trip to his Grand-Niece, Anna, who has Type I diabetes, so his canoe is also named Anna in her honor.  The goal of the trip is to help raise funds for diabetes research in Anna's name..

I have been watching their SPOT tracker all day as they make their way north to Lake Itasca, MN, for the start from the river’s source.  It looks like they should get to Lake Itasca today.  You can follow the entire trip to the Gulf of Mexico by simply clicking the “Follow Anna’s SPOT Tracker” link in the right margin under Favorite Links.  You will also find Dale Sanders’ Facebook page link there as well. 

If you would like to help Dale and Anna, you will find several links on Dale’s Facebook page for making a contribution to their cause.  Thank you.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Idleness, Water, and a Canoe

Illus. Credit:

Idleness, Water, and a Canoe: Reflections on Paddling for Pleasure, by Jamie Benidickson (pub. by University of Toronto Press, Toronto, CA, 1997, 256pp plus test notes)

On seeing the title, I thought the book would be a light, relaxing read.  The title comes from a 1940 quote from the ‘Queen’s Quarterly’ that states that “the ingredients of a holiday in Canada are idleness, water, and a canoe.   Instead of taking the reader on an idyllic drift down a picturesque stream, it launches into a treatise, a quite detailed coverage of paddling from as many perspectives as you can imagine, and probably some you couldn’t have imagined.   The message is that, at least in Canada, canoes and paddling are woven into almost every facet of life, from inclusion in countless forms of advertising and commerce to political cartoons, romance, hunting and fishing, recreation, exploration, youth development, and spiritual, physical and mental health.  We are introduced to the line of personalities that moved the canoe from a tool of survival to a recreational gem, starting with John “Rob Roy” MacGregor in 1859.  This book may tell you more about canoeing than you ever wanted to know, or it may engender a deeper appreciation for this loved and unlikely member of your family.