Friday, November 15, 2013

Leaving a Clean Wake

This picture is not from their trip, but a sad sight that's
all too common everywhere we go.
Kevin Callan and Andy Baxter just completed their five-segment film about paddling around Algonquin Park. They did six rivers and 55 lakes over 16 days, and crossed 350 miles. Included were 93 portages that totaled 68 miles.

As tough as the trip was, all went well until the next-to-the-last day. They were just getting back to “civilization”, and had to portage around the last falls. The people on both shores of the falls refused them access to their property in order to get around the falls. Kevin was truly shocked. People were portaging around falls in Canada before there was a Canada. It is a reality as expected and logical as finding gas at a gas station. How else are you supposed to get around a falls? He finally flexed his diplomatic skills and convinced the land owner that there was no alternative. He couldn’t go back the way he had come. Plus, it was a one-time deal; he had no plans to return and ask the same favor again. The owner finally relented and allowed them to cross her property, but with the admonition that it was this one time only.

Why would anyone be so disagreeable? I seriously doubt anyone would wake up one morning and decide to be obstinate enough to buck the culture and tradition of a nation so closely tied to the canoe, and thus the need for portaging. No, just as we deserve the government we get, we deserve the welcome we get, at least as a group. We are the heirs of the deeds of those who preceded us, just as Kevin and Andy were now being punished for the behavior of paddlers that had portaged the falls before. If the land owner finds strangers filling their water bottles at their home’s outdoor tap without permission, scattering their garbage around the owner’s property, mashing down their fences, or walking through their flowerbeds, no one should be shocked that those who follow will not find the welcome mat out for them.

When sailing, we had the saying that each of us should “leave a clean wake.” Right or wrong, those behind us will be judged by our actions and those who preceded us, and if we wish to go that way again, we will find the opportunities available to us before may now be absent. Each of us is an ambassador for canoeing and kayaking, and we need to protect our collective reputation tenaciously. Just as it takes a lifetime to build a positive reputation, but only one lie or deceptive act to destroy it, absent-minded or careless behavior on our part may never be forgiven nor any privileges restored. Our duty as a paddler is to leave the streams and wilderness unmarred, campsites looking better when we leave than when we arrived, and leave every person along the way a friend and supporter to all that follow. No one likes seeing trash on their property or in the wild, so if you can pack it in, pack it out. You know, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

If you wish to see Kevin and Andy’s five-part series, you may start here.

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