An Awakening in Canoes-Part IV

My trip continued. I hiked up Mt. Finlayson in Goldstream


Park on

Vancouver Island, and along the steep trail I befriended the Bergmans. We danced around the specifics of our lives, sharing general notions and descriptions of what we do when we’re not scaling mountains.

If not for their conversation along the tree-covered paths, I would surely have turned back for the altitude strained my intake of air. And then, as we stepped delicately along the one-foot-wide trail between sheer rock faces just under the summit, it was the gentle voices of people I had come to know in short order that coached me down from the precarious top.

At the mountain’s base, as we exchanged contact information, I learned their surname and acknowledged our shared Jewish heritage. In my hybrid rental car, I careened toward Butchart Gardens and afternoon tea on the patio as my lunch, a hummingbird fluttering its beak into a basket of bright pink flowers.

 That night, someone suggested I dine at Canoe, a restaurant on Swift Street. I didn’t– I was too tired from the day’s activities – but I recognized the metaphor. Back at the B&B, Binners and Edward regaled me with tales of their Jewish brethren in Detroit – prominent leaders in my home community and synagogue members as well – and I recalled the trail of conversation with the Bergmans, how our lives were marked by milestones and the rituals we assign to them. Everywhere I turned, there were Jews in

British Columbia. Lisa called and emailed – did I want to meet for dinner, would I like to take a day trip together?

I begged off. I had come this far to hear the silence and know my own voice, but the fates were forcing me to focus on my Jewish identity. Why? What did I need to see?

The following day, I stumbled upon a used book store tucked down an alleyway in Victoria. Just in the door, a bell ringing as it shut slowly, I came upon a vivid shelf display of five books, all about canoes. “I have to buy these,” I told the proprietor. I fingered the smooth covers of Fire in the Bones: Bill Mason and the Canadian Canoeing Tradition and The Canoe: An Illustrated History.

On vacation, it is easy to lose sight of simple directives like budget and patience. I didn’t need additional books, certainly not tomes bestowing the virtue of a pastime and a method of travel I had no intention of adopting. Still. I bought three and arranged for shipping across borders.

 The movement of a canoe is like a reed in the wind. Silence is part of it, and the sounds of lapping water, bird songs, and wind in the trees. It is part of the medium through which it floats, the sky, the water, the shores …The way of a canoe is the way of the wilderness, and of a freedom almost forgotten. It is an antidote to insecurity, the open door to waterways of ages past and a way of life with profound and abiding satisfaction. When a man is part of his canoe, he is part of all that canoes have ever known. (Sigurd F. Olson, The Singing Wilderness)

I was becoming more clear as to why the fates were putting canoes in my path so virulently. One year prior, I had divorced my husband and jumped full-force into a new business. My life was dotted with change and framed by freedom. Add to that the fact that I’d spent ten years prior trying to live as an Orthodox Jew in a rigid, closed community. I was coming out of other people’s expectations and into my own and now it was time for me to claim my own freedom and listen to the lessons in the reeds.

The history in the imprint of nature. The possibilities ahead. And give in to the notion that it didn’t matter what was around the next bend of the river – I was here in this capacity, in this moment, in this setting and I’d better soak it up if I were going to succeed in progressing to the next spot.

But along the path, every sign was pointing to the importance of not losing my treasured identity. Just figure out what being Jewish means to you, the air whispered almost as a kiss into my ear. It’s yours for the discovery; don’t abandon what matters.

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