Jul 09 2015

Confessions of a Turtle Taxi

Sittin in the Morning Sun

At first glance, the turtle’s world is very different from ours. Any creature that can spend half the year entombed in frigid mud, only to swim free as soon as the sun warms the waters above its temporary sarcophagus, doesn’t have much in common with you and me. Or so it seems. But appearances often deceive, and the apparent gulf between our lives and theirs is an illusion. We share the same earth. Breathe the same air. And we are equally dependent on the availability of abundant, clean water.

Water. It’s the turtle’s home.* And it’s also the paddler’s summer refuge. But our brief holidays from the daily grind are just that: holidays. However long we’ve been at the paddling game, no canoeist or kayaker is at home — truly at home — on the water. We’re visitors. Guests. Blow‑ins. Strangers in a strange land. Here today and gone tomorrow.

Yet this doesn’t prevent us from participating, however distantly, in the pageant of life in and around wild waters, even if our role is that of the onlooker. We are benign voyeurs. We do our thing. They do theirs. And then each of us goes his or her own way — they to attend to the serious business of raising their families and getting a living, we to continue our essentially passive (but always pleasurable) looking‑on.

Success in this watching game is mostly a matter of stealth. Splashing about and shouting back and forth between boats pretty much guarantees that we’ll see nothing. That said, even the quietest paddler will be hard‑pressed to take turtles by surprise. I seldom do. It makes no difference if they’re basking on a log, their backs toward me, seemingly lost in whatever species of reverie turtles experience. Long before I drift close enough to get a good look at them, they’ve sensed the presence of an unwelcome intruder and plopped into the water, leaving only a spreading web of ripples and an occasional bubble to mark their passage.

This preternatural alertness is easy to understand. Turtles are survivors. They even shrugged off the cataclysmic Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event that put paid to the dinosaurs. But we’re now in the midst of another great die‑off — one largely of our own contriving — and this time around, the turtle clan may not be so fortunate. The threats to their future include all of the usual suspects. Habitat destruction, commercial harvesting, the pet trade, introduced predators… Each of these takes its toll. Yet the greatest danger of all is one that dares not speak its name (not in the US Congress, at any rate): global warming.

Of course, there’s very little that I, as one person among seven billion, can do to check humankind’s pell‑mell rush toward the Exit, taking many of our fellow travelers on planet Earth along with us as we go. Nevertheless, I’m occasionally able to do something for individuals in danger of immediate harm, and whenever the opportunity presents itself, I do just that. Often the individual in question is a turtle in peril on the highway, spotted as I travel to or from a favorite backcountry destination by car or bike.

Which immediately raises a seldom‑heard question: Why does the turtle cross the road? … Read more…

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Jul 02 2015

Comfort Is King

Comfort Kitchen

When you dream of the perfect backcountry campsite, what pictures greet your inward eye? For some paddlers, the ideal camp is a sort of home from home, with many of the same comforts that they enjoy in the house they left behind them, up to and including the kitchen sink and the home theater. But even if your vision of perfection en plein air isn’t quite as lavish as this, chances are that you really don’t enjoy roughing it. After all, cold food, wet clothes, stony beds, and caked‑on grime quickly pall. Which is why Tamia wrote a series on the subject of comfort camping last summer — links to the articles can be found below — and also why those columns struck a sympathetic chord with many readers. So now, as northern hemisphere canoeists and kayakers once again paddle into the summer season, we’re dedicating this edition of “Our Readers Write” to the pursuit of happiness in camp, as outlined in letters drawn from our virtual mailbag.

Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then let’s begin… Read more…

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Jun 25 2015

Tanks for the Memories! Readers Weigh In on Aluminum Canoes

The Fleet in Readiness

Plastic is forever, at least when measured against the scale of human life. Scraps of lawn chairs, shreds of shopping bags, and fragments of soft drink bottles will be circulating around the world’s seas — and poisoning marine life — long after our cities go the way of the fabled Ozymandias’ “sneer of cold command.” But while plastic itself is almost eternal, the things that we make from it — including lawn chairs, shopping bags, and soft drink bottles — have a much shorter life expectancy. They are, in fact, almost ephemeral. This is true of plastic canoes, as well. Farwell’s and my veteran Old Town Tripper is a case in point. It grew progressively more brittle as the decades passed, succumbing at last to the combined assaults of sunlight and subzero temperatures. We then had no choice but to pension it off.

The result? There’s an opening for a tandem canoe in our fleet. And when we’ve put enough cash aside to go shopping, we’ll probably fill the vacancy with a “tin tank.” It will be like going home again. I was thinking about this — and about the place of the aluminum canoe in history, as well as its prospects in the years ahead — when I wrote “Requiem or Renaissance?” That column was part eulogy and part paean, the sort of tribute that might have been paid to an elder statesman, suddenly recalled from retirement to meet a looming existential threat: Churchill, for instance, brought out of the political wilderness at the age of 65 to lead his country into war. And like Churchill, the tin tank elicits strong emotions. Some paddlers loathe aluminum boats. Others love them. Curiously, though, almost all the e‑mail around the column came from tin tank lovers. The loathers apparently contented themselves with one‑line put‑downs on Facebook. A sociologist could make something out of this, I suppose. I can’t.

 

But I don’t need to. The letters that found their way to my virtual mailbag were uniformly interesting, and since the writers have been good enough to allow me to reprint their e‑mails, I thought I’d pass along a representative sample of their observations and insights. And I’ll begin with an astral connection … Read more…

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

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