Thursday, May 6, 2010

Swimming with Canoes by John McPhee, Part I

First, let me say this, if you don’t already know John McPhee’s work, then you need to come to know it. McPhee is the winner of a Pulitzer Prize in 1999 and the author of thirty books, including such classics as Levels of the Game, The Survival of the Bark Canoe, and The Control of Nature.

But today I’d like to draw your attention to a short piece that’s posted on the Sierra Club website. Here’s an excerpt:

Now and again, Keewaydin let us take our canoes not so much onto the water as into it, during swim period. We went swimming with our canoes. We jounced. Jouncing is the art of propelling a canoe without a paddle. You stand up on the gunwales near the stern deck and repeatedly flex and unflex your knees. The canoe rocks, slaps the lake, moves forward. Sooner or later, you lose your balance and fall into the water, because the gunwales are slender rails and the stern deck is somewhat smaller than a pennant. From waters deeper than you were tall, you climbed back into your canoe. If you think that's easy, try it.

After three or four splats, and with a belly pink from hauling it over gunwales, you lost interest in jouncing. What next? You sat in your canoe and deliberately overturned it. You leaned hard to one side, grabbed the opposite gunwale, and pulled. Out you went and into the water. This was, after all, swim period. Now you rolled your canoe, an action it resists far less when it is loaded with water. You could make your canoe spiral like a football inside the lake.

You can read the whole essay here:

I hope you will read it, because there are some ideas buried in the essay that I think we could all benefit from thinking about.

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