Angus Pratt's Home  >  Creative  >  Writing  >  Storm Rewrite #3


"When do I get to try canoeing?" She sipped her cup of hot tea, gazing at the sun rising across the
tranquil Saskatchewan lake. The pinks and purples painted the low bank of cloud with a pebbly
texture. We had met in an international writers group and she wanted to see if my descriptions of
nature lived up to their billing.

"Relax and watch the sunrise," I said.

It was her first visit to the north. According to her the terra-forming of orange groves and the
manmade environment of southern California were too much. She had jumped at my offer of a
tour. When I rattled the teapot on the mugs, she had come from her bedroom rubbing sleep from
her eyes. Even in her sleepy state she had more questions that a six-year-old. She trailed along as
I went to the water's edge to watch the sunrise.

She rubbed her ears as though amazed at the silence in this place. If it had been southern
California according to her descriptions, the air would have been filled with sounds of traffic and
people. "Does the sky look like this from the water? It's just how you described it in your letters."

I looked at the sky and the tiny waves on the lake, "You want to be out on the water? Have you
heard the old sailor's adage?"

"I have, what does it mean?"

"Pink sky at night, sailor's delight, pink sky in the morning, sailor's warning. That sky would be as
pink as it gets." I thought those clouds were bringing a storm. Patting the rock, I said, "Here sit."

She folded her legs underneath herself and laid a hand on the rock. "This rock feels rough and
very solid. I thought the old Precambrian rock would crumble and be worn smooth with time. In
Disney World they make rocks from concrete. They have rock coloured paint to cover the
graffiti." Her fingers wandered into the crevices as she looked up. "Can we go out to those first
islands there?"

I took a long time to answer, trying to weigh the risks, not wanting her first canoe experience to
be dangerous, but not wanting to dampen her enthusiasm either.

"Well, yes, I suppose we could paddle out there. It would take twenty or thirty minutes." If a
storm came up, I thought we could wait it out on an island. "Grab the paddles and life jackets and
let's go."

I picked up the canoe, sliding it up onto my knees and then rolling it up onto my shoulders. I
settled the canoe with a shrug, crouching to pick up my paddle, balancing the old red fibreglass
canoe with my other hand. I strode down the trail. Winding through the trees was like threading a
needle with the 17-ft canoe. She trailed along behind holding her paddle and the life jackets gazing
at the white of the birch and the green of the spruce.

Reaching the water, I reversed the loading motion, landing the stern of the canoe with a tiny
splash on the water. I ran it out into the water hand over hand. Stepping into the canoe, I looked
at the paddle in her hands. "I suppose you want some idea of how to use that thing?"

She nodded. "Yup that would be wonderful."
"Couple o' parts to a paddle. This is the blade. It does the work. This is the shaft. One hand goes
on the throat here and the other up here on the handle." I looked over at her puzzled smile. "Yup
where the shaft meets the blade is called the throat. Try it."

I watched as she grasped the paddle, arms braced rigidly in front of her. She looked for more
instructions. "OK Now think about stirring a big puddle with it." I showed how the paddle would
draw through the water and then return, the blade parallel to the water surface, to start the stroke
again. "There are a few variations but that's the basic stroke. It'll be easier in the water."

" Step in." I steadied the canoe with one hand on a rock and the other holding my paddle braced
in the water. She stepped in as I balanced the canoe. I pushed off from the rock.

"Ohff," sitting with a thud and a grin she said "I'm canoeing. Did I do good getting in?"

"We're not swimming." I said digging my paddle in, straightening the canoe with a few easy
strokes to head southeast to the islands.

She tentatively put her paddle in, leaning forward and pulling back, arms held stiff.

"Here watch this." I said. "Like this." She turned to watch.

I settled into the paddling rhythm, watching her try to figure it all out.

"Look at that," she called after a few minutes.

"Look at what?"

"Should my paddle be making the little whirlpools?" she asked sounding uncertain.

"Yup" I said to stifle a laugh I saw her motions become free, more fluid. I was amazed at how
quickly she was catching on to something it had taken all my life to learn.

As we approached the islands, a sudden squeal came from the front of the canoe. "Look out for
the rocks!"

I looked and couldn't see anything. Looking down into two feet of water I could see the rocky
bottom. I chuckled "Canoes only need about four inches of water. Reach down with your paddle
and see if you can even touch those."

She shoved her paddle in. "Wow. It's at least five feet deep." The tension went out of her
shoulders. "It's beautiful. The water's so clear."

I relaxed seeing her smile. We were close to the first island when she noticed the dark pine in the
centre of the island, shattered by a lightening bolt. "Can we look closely at that tree? I've never
seen a tree hit by lightening before. The closest I have seen are the cell phone tower hit by
lightening. They disguise the towers as trees?"

I found a place where a rock shelf came down into the water to land the canoe. The smell of mint
mingled with pine. Finding her the glossy leaves with the red tinted stem, I tasted and handed a
sprig to her.

"Is it safe? What is it?" she said. "Doesn't have pesticides, does it?"

"No," I said, picking a bit more of the mint to make tea later on.

When we came back down from the top of the island, the canoe was bouncing on the rocks a little
each time a wave hit. She dipped a toe into the water and shivered. " Should we be getting back?"
She looked at the black line of storm clouds. Her voice rose. " I was a lifeguard. Those waves
have whitecaps. I want to go back."

"Do you really want to go back? Maybe we should just wait out the storm?" I kept my voice
quiet. "It'll pass."

"I want to go back. Now." She started fumbling, trying to untie the canoe and push it into the

"Ok. Ok. We'll be going down wind so it won't be a big deal." I saw that the sheet of stormy rain
far across the lake moving quickly.

I struggled to hold the canoe steady fighting with the waves as she scrambled into the canoe. As
we rounded the point into the main part of the bay, it was rough. I stretched one leg out in front
and tucked one knee underneath settling in for a hard pull.

"We have to cross these waves at an angle. Keep paddling hard to help me steer." I called,
glancing back over my shoulder. There would be no turning back to the safety of the island. We
were committed.

The canoe rode down the face of one wave and began the sharp climb up the next. The waves
were getting bigger and more serious. There was no time for thought or speech as we struggled
to keep the canoe moving at an angle across the waves. The waves were deep. She didn't scream
even when the cold wave broke over the front of the canoe and splashed her.

We crossed wave after wave, climbing and plunging, white foam curling around us. I realized we
were almost across the bay.

"Woohoo," I yelled "this is just like surfing."

"Don't talk to me about surfing, get me back to dry land" came from between gritted teeth. She
dug in and paddled with determination.

"Ok on the next wave I need to turn us and head us into the wind. Ready?"

Seeing her quick nod, I plunged my paddle in and swung the bow up into the wind. Three great
strokes and I slipped over the side into knee-deep water. I waded to shore holding the canoe
steady so that she could step out. She sank down and hugged the rock.

"That was quite a ride," she said. "Have you ever paddled in anything like that before?"

"Yup" there was a long pause. "Only five or six times in thirty years though."

"Next time, can we paddle in something a little calmer?"

I smiled seeing there would be a next time.

Angus Pratt copyright 2001