Consider the canoe.
I have had personal relationships with:
An aluminum canoe drifting lazily down the Jack’s Fork River in Missouri. Well, not quite lazily. My husband handled the steering while I handled the two 60-pound brown dogs, one who kept scrabbling to launch herself out of the canoe and into the water—a Labrador retriever—and another who kept climbing me like a tree whenever the canoe scraped the rocky riverbed in the frequent shallows. The latter animal was elevated from mutt status—or poi dog in Hawaii parlance—to American Water Spaniel at the adventure’s end when a ranger pointed to her and said, “Why, that’s a rare breed, indeed.”
At the other end of the spectrum:
An outrigger canoe, no wider than my hips, while doggedly paddling 42 ocean miles from Hale o Lono, Molokai to Waikiki, Oahu, in the annual Na Wahine O Ke Kai outrigger canoe race. In doing so, my team of 10 women crossed the 2,300-foot deep Kaiwi Channel on days it was as flat as a pancake and as strenuous as heck, and on other days when an outgoing tide collided with an incoming current and winds hit surf head on and I was a nervous wreck.
And something in between:
A sailing canoe in Hanalei Bay at sunset, taking a rolling swell while wedge-tailed shearwater skimmed the ocean’s surface, fish nibbled at a trailing line, the leading edge of a rain squall teased us, a turtle floated by, and our captain played the ukulele.
But it wasn’t until I sat with my right hip abutted to the gunnels of a 25-foot ocean-going canoe in a British Columbia fjord off Vancouver that I started to make a connection among all these canoes.
My group of a dozen travel bloggers sat two abreast in a canoe, paddling and stroking and listening and imagining as our guide with Takaya Tours
shared traditional songs, stories and drumming from her First Nation’s people, the Tsleil-Waututh.
Before we stepped foot in our canoe, however, Laura Leigh Paul performed a traditional blessing. She, then, handed out paddles with an emblem of her people—the wolf clan—on one side and another icon—the eye of the ancestors—on the reverse.
In the canoe, during breaks from paddling, she recited the creation story of the Tsleil-Waututh that included a symbiotic relationship with the wolf. Her eyes filled with tears when she recounted the recent return of a pair of orcas to the Indian Arm of the Burrard Inlet. Orcas were last seen in these waters escorting a respected leader’s burial canoe out to sea nearly 100 years ago.
Here I was almost three thousand miles away from Hawaii, and I saw Hawaii in the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. The stories. The protocol. The connection with nature. I also recognized similar challenges in their history, including the near annihilation of a culture and its resurrection, the reliance on the sea and the current contamination and depletion of its once pristine and abundant natural resources.
The image of a spider web came to mind—the idea that we are all connected in this great web of life, and perhaps, even related. Could that explain all the similarities between cultures? We think our community and country and tribe and circle are so unique, daresay special. We think we are so different. But we're not.
What’s more, I realized what the canoe represented in all this. The canoe was central to creating the web. The canoe left threads of connections on every journey and voyage it took around this watery world of ours.
It was an idea I returned to time and again on my trip to Vancouver.
When I returned home, I happened across a quote from the artist Wyland: “Water connects all the people and countries of the world.”
But it wasn’t until this weekend when I read something by Carl Safina
that I realized just how vital the canoe really is in this day and age. That is the day and age when we are just beginning to explore the depths of our ocean. To discover the exact loss of our fisheries. The extent climate change will have on coastal communities for humans and wildlife alike. And the amount of plastic in our seas.
It is the canoe—the symbol of the canoe—that can draw us all together again and generate all kinds of good in this world. That is, if we simply acknowledge that, as Carl proffered, “We’re all in this canoe together."