Paddle Me to Your Heart

“You have probably noticed that the canoe is a central motif for Celia and
Blake, and I think for good reason. Although you often hear the advice to
“paddle your own canoe”, or “Paddle solo, sleep tandem”; perhaps Celia
and Blake already understand that paddling a canoe together is an
evocative metaphor for marriage.”

Lake Joseph, September 29th, 2012
When Blake and I got married on a rainy day in September 2012, my mom’s speech was one of the greatest gifts that we received. She spoke eloquently about the parallels between paddling smoothly together and our soon-to-be journey as a married couple, words that I will share throughout this blog as they are so fitting to my relationship with Blake. 

“If you have ever tried to paddle a two-person canoe, you know how
challenging it is. When done correctly, it can look easy, but it takes practice
and excellent teamwork. Do not expect to master the art of paddling your
first trip out; this is just one of those activities that takes a bit of time to fully
Lake Joseph, September 29th, 2012
Re-reading these words now, I cannot express how deeply they ring true. Blake and I recently celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary by heading out into the wilderness of Quetico Provincial Park for a week-long, kid-free canoe trip. A chance to reconnect, to remember why we fell in love in the first place and to simply be with each other – no distractions. The differences between our first canoe trip together and most our recent paddling adventure are striking. Indeed, it has been a journey that has taken time and an incredible amount of work, patience, and understanding. 
Quetico, May 2010
Of course, as in life, our first canoe trip as a couple didn’t go as smoothly as planned. Back in the spring of 2010, just a few months after we had gotten together, Blake and I had decided to head out to Quetico Provincial Park for a long weekend of wilderness paddling. We were living in Thunder Bay at the time – Blake studying Engineering at Lakehead University, and I in medical school at NOSM. We were new in our relationship, still in the ‘over the moon’ phase, with lots to learn about each other.   
I had grown up with a paddle in hand and had had much experience leading canoe trips from numerous summers as a tripper at Camp Hollyburn. I was used to organizing, packing, navigating and leading trips and, well, generally being bossy. This worked just fine with 14-year old kids from Toronto, but tripping with Blake, an also stubborn bossy pants himself, was a different ball of wax. 
Leading a canoe trip circa 2000
From the get-go, we argued. We fought over who would stern (i.e. control the direction of the canoe), who would navigate and be in charge of the map, who would cook, who would set up the tent, etc. etc. Looking back now, the real problem was that I wanted to do ALL of these things all on my own. I was so used to being completely independent and I didn’t want Blake to mess up my perfectly packed food barrel or set up my tent incorrectly. In short, I was having a little trouble letting go. 
At one point early on in our trip, we reached a point where we literally had to pull off to the shore to fight over where we were going and who was reading the map. I remember this so vividly because during this fight, Blake threw the map in the water (which is not a great idea when you’re literally in the middle of a massive wilderness park) and I had to jump to rescue it. 
Needless to say, that first canoe trip was a huge learning experience for both of us. 
Quetico with our beloved dog, Stella, May 2010
Quetico, 2010
“First off, both paddlers must agree on their destination and their route
before beginning their journey. They should know each other’s attributes
and skills in order to plan for the perfect ratio of challenge and pleasure.

Second, the canoeing partners must balance each other, and must work
together. Each has a particular role – each is equally important.

If the two paddlers intend to canoe long distances, both paddlers should
become skilled in the stern and the bow so they can spell each other off
when fatigue, injury or just plain boredom requires a switch. Likewise in
marriage – partners need to be flexible in their roles.

To move forward, the paddlers stroke with their paddles on opposite sides
of the canoe at the same time. Opposites provide balance. Synchronicity
provides momentum. So too in marriage.

When the canoe seems to turn off course, turning one way or the other, the
paddlers needs to adjust their technique and force to match each other’s
strength. One paddler should not overwhelm the other. Canoeing together,
like living together harmoniously, is collaboration, not a powerplay.”
Wabakimi Provincial Park,  August 2010
Wabakimi Provincial Park, August 2010
I hope I’m not alone in saying this, but being married is hard, hard work. I personally have struggled with balance and allowing myself to let go of the reins. We have also struggled greatly in finding our individual identities and roles within the complex nature of a relationship. 
Although a deep love threads through the challenging times, there have been many instances, I have to admit, when Blake and I have fallen into ‘co-existing mode’. We exist together, but on a minimally functional level, conversing only when necessary, spending time in the same space only when the kids are around. Co-parenting at the most basic level. We hide behind closed doors, laptops and work, with little energy devoted to making our relationship thrive. We’ve fallen into these patterns in the past so easily, especially over the last two years. With two little ones, crazy work schedules and minimal time to spare, it seems that sometimes, the most important things are always the first to become lost. 
The sunny, June afternoon in 2011 when Blake proposed by gifting me my gorgeous cedar canoe. He had painstakingly built it over the course of his 4th year of Engineering and had planned out an elaborate post-call day paddle day for me. I had no idea. I was so shocked, of course I couldn’t say no! 

“Paddle me to your heart”

Hazelwood Lake, Thunder Bay, June 2011

“Of course you will encounter difficulties. There will be occasions where the
backstroke is required to slow or stop the canoe to avoid danger.

If the wind comes up, what do you do? Keep paddling- strong and together.

The waves get higher. What do you do? Face the challenge. Turn into the
waves and keep paddling. Use the smooth, co-ordinated paddle strokes
you used before the turbulence arose.

If one stops paddling or comments on how the other is paddling, the canoe
will turn sideways into the wave and probably flip over. However, if both
people keep paddling just as they did when the lake was placid, but with the
added effort needed because of the wind and the wave, they will keep the
canoe afloat and probably stay dry.”
Quetico, August 2011
Quetico, August 2011

Quetico, August 2011

Quetico, August 2011

Quetico, August 2011
Since Alice has been born, we have worked hard on our relationship. I’m not shy to say that we’ve needed help to strengthen our marriage. Like most things, it’s taken a lot of time, commitment and intentional focus to rebuild the way that we communicate and work together as parents. The biggest challenge (which is still ongoing) has also been to relearn how to enjoy each other again. For all of you parents out there, I don’t have to tell you what having two kids in 16 months will do to a marriage! Half the time you can’t even hear your partner over the yelling and screaming, let alone remember why you married them in the first place 🙂 
Engagement photos, Balmoral Lake, Thunder Bay, October 2011

Balmoral Lake, Thunder Bay, October 2011
Balmoral Lake, Thunder Bay, October 2011
I’ll end this by saying that if the thought of being in the wilderness (or even away from home in general, for that matter) with your partner for a whole week, without email, texts, social media, kids, jobs, phone calls, etc. induces palpitations, then it’s probably time for you to take the leap. We all get so dragged down by the day-to-day tasks that it’s easy to disconnect with your partner and let your relationship slide. 
So, beg or bribe family or friends to take your kids. Even for a night. Get away with your partner and turn off your phones. Simply be together and relearn who your partner is, why you love them and rekindle that spark. Trust me, it will be worth it!
Lake Louise, October 2012

Lake Louise, October 2012

Moraine Lake, October 2012

Moraine Lake, October 2012
Haida Gwaii, July 2013
Quetico, July 2014

Quetico, July 2014 – our last trip before kids. I was 6 months pregnant with Henry on this trip. 

“The lesson of these instructions is simple, and I suspect Celia and Blake
already understand:

Paddle together with balanced harmony, each fully aware of the other.
Remain your full and independent selves, but respect and appreciate the
contribution of your partner.

Ride the tail wind and surf the swells. Enjoy the good times, and try to
remember them so that when you encounter the head winds, you will be
ready to face them.

Keep your paddles pulling together, stroking strongly in unison until you
reach calmer waters.

I will end with a blessing in the words written by Pierre Elliott Trudeau in the
foreword to Bill Mason’s Path of the Paddle:

May every dip of your paddle lead you towards a rediscovery of yourself, of
your canoeing companion, of the wonders of nature, and of the unmatched
physical and spiritual rapture made possible by the humble canoe.”
Wabakimi Provincial Park, August 2010
Thanks Mom for these words. And a HUGE thank you for taking care of our kiddos with Dad so that we could venture out together this summer. Here are a few pictures from our latest paddling trip. Hoping for many more years of smooth paddling to come!
Day 1: Starting off at Beaverhouse Lake, Quetico Provincial Park, August 2017
At our first campsite – a beautiful sandy beach
Ada – feeling right at home in the water
Ahhh, silence!
Trying to get a good picture of Blake!
Classic sunset pic 🙂

Day 2: On the water bright and early!
Morning coffee break
Some curious otters
At the first portage from Beaverhouse Lake into Quetico Lake. Sitting at the bottom of the rapids – here is my view as I drank my coffee, listened to the water while waiting for Blake to catch us some lunch
Blake’s catch
Trying his luck at the other end of the portage
An amazing shore lunch – fresh bass that Blake had caught an hour ago. It was super windy on Quetico Lake and we hard day of paddling after lunch to get up to where there were pictographs that we were trying to see. Unfortunately, as it was a long weekend, there were lots of other paddlers out and we had a tough time finding a campsite. We finally got out of the wind past a narrows and found a quiet, calm spot to camp. 
Finally some calm water
We waited until the wind calmed down to paddle along the shore of Quetico Lake to take a peek at these amazing pictographs. 

Being captivated by the pictos
Day 3: Morning mist on Quetico Lake
Ada and I basking in the sun, reading while Blake fishes in the river nearby on Cirrus Lake
Our fisherman
Fish fry for lunch! We found a BEAUTIFUL campsite on Cirrus Lake. There was nobody around on this lake. The site was up high on a gorgeous chunk of granite and offered some pretty spectacular views
Ada enjoying some shade
A lazy afternoon playing cribbage and eating trailmix 
Our view as we jigged for steelhead just off the point of our campsite
Multitasking Blake – cooking dinner while still fishing!
Day 4: Fishing again in Cirrus Lake. That’s a keeper!
Fish wraps for lunch back on Quetico Lake. Again, wind-bound on this pretty amazing island. 
A calm bay in the lee of the wind
Pad-thai with fresh bass – yum!
Day 5: We paddled back through Quetico Lake onto Beaverhouse Lake. It was super windy again and we had a rough time getting to our site. This is the view from our campsite which was thankfully protected from the wind by a number of small islands
Fishing again… ( in the distance) while I chill out by the fire
Trying out his ‘chair’ (aka his Thermarest folded up). Doesn’t look too comfy!
Sitting in silence – the best part of camping
White pines
Fishing again after dinner!
The world’s tiniest fish
That one is a better size!
Sunset paddles with vino in my mug!
Staying up late to finish up all of our wine!
Day 6: Ready to paddle back to the car and back home to our kiddos!
A remnant of the past – an old logging bridge
Trip complete!
The northwest corner of the park where we paddled
Quetico Provincial Park – from Sioux Lookout to Atikokan, the closest town to the park. That whole green chunk of the map is Quetico Provincial Park. It’s a HUGE wilderness class park, with the best paddling in Canada. Well worth the trip if you’re considering coming up to our neck of the woods in Northwestern Ontario!

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