Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Canoe You

I'm going camping next week, so my life has been reduced to a series of lists. Things to do before I go. Things to bring. Stuff to buy. Stuff to make sure I put in the freezer lest I come home to a sludgy mass of what used to be bananas on my kitchen counter. Stuff like that.

I've never really done the whole camping thing; I like activities that allow me to sleep on a mattress at the end of the day. Two summers ago, we did a bike trip to Guelph which, while challenging, started in the 416 and ended in the 519 a few hours later. This is an 8-day canoe trip - which means we're canoeing from site to site nearly every day. No convenient stops at a Best Buy or a Bulk Barn along the way for more water and Freezie Pops. Most people on the trip are bringing one change of clothes. I'm, of course, bringing a dress.

When I was a kid, I used to pore over nature-survival guides, fantasizing about being a pioneer and living off the land. I think this carried over into my young adulthood, where I've spent hours debating various urban siege tactics and zombie survival methods. (The recent realization that, even if I survived hand-to-hand combat with the undead, I would be dead within a month because I have no gardening skills, was demoralizing.) I don't have a lot of experience with that whole "living off the land" thing because, like I said: I read about it. I didn't actually put any of those knot-tying, fruit-drying and bird-call-identifying tips to any use.

I like the idea of the wilderness living. Something about that level of self-sufficiency is so attractive to me, where someone - not me, obviously, but some virile young man or bonneted young woman - could construct a shelter, catch their dinner, and birth a litter of babies all before the crops come in. Margaret Atwood has had a field day with the Canadian fascination with the wilderness; in her eyes, it's a thing we're usually cowed by. Canadians! Such victims! Snooze. The wilderness can be a scary place, I'll give her that much (begrudgingly, but still), but I doubt that most Canadians have had a really meaningful interaction with the Great Forest Spirit. We're an urban nation now, struggling to move past our white settler roots into a more cosmopolitan existence. This is my chance to reconnect with what would have been my Canadian roots if, 70 years ago, my grandparents weren't going AWOL from the Russian Army and being indentured servants on Ontario farms. As it is, it'll just be a trip into the wild. Just.

This is my chance. I've got my list of stuff to bring (on which I've written the word "book," not an actual title), and one of those enormous European camping backpacks with more straps that I have hairs on my head. I now own things like a headlamp, and a carabiner looped with cutlery, and a drybag. I've never owned these things before, because frankly my idea of wilderness is a horrible bog filled with spiders, man-eating coyotes and tents that collapse in the middle of the night and give their inhabitants a coronary. But 2011 is the year of trying new things, being brave, being on my own side, and getting past what I - or Margaret Atwood - assume about a thing before I actually do it. Plus, as a Canadian, I'm obligated to tip a canoe at some point in my life, so it might as well be soon, right?

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