Paddling Pathways: Reflections from a Changing Landscape
Book Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
This beautifully-bound anthology of 21 essays written by paddlers and edited by educators—and intrepid canoeists and guides—Bob Henderson (ON) and Sean Blenkinsop (BC) deserves a much longer review than this 500-word assessment. In short: it’s extraordinary.
Paddling Pathways: Reflections from a Changing Landscape contains a wealth of thought-provoking essays on the rivers, lakes, and oceans the diverse contributors have navigated via canoe or kayak—often in groups but sometimes solo—and it examines the paddlers’ interior worlds as they contemplate being present; history; culture; relationships with plants, animals and other creatures; Indigenous Canada (land and territorial acknowledgements and “Settler Responsibilities” are included); ecology; climate change; and, as Bruce Cockburn contributes in his Foreword, the “soul-expanding space” where one can get “a glimpse of the world as it was made.” Maps, black and white photos, and the editors’ numerous “Suggested Reading” lists are superb accompaniments to the layered essays.
Henderson has previously published books on heritage travel and outdoor life, and Blenkinsop, a professor at Simon Fraser University who writes about “wild pedagogies” and “ecologizing education,” agree that as travelers on land and water, they/we need to “shift pathways and create narratives that no longer focus on competing, completing, and conquering” re: our understanding of the natural world and, indeed, human culture. They invited contributors to select a “special paddling place/route” and a “personally significant theme,” and the result is this compendium of erudite, entertaining, often philosophical and political essays that are delightful to sink into.
Several writers discuss the “gifts to be found in slowing down,” ie: the discoveries of cranberries (Anjeanette LeMay) and the “orangish glow of cloudberries” (Beth Foster). Foster writes that wind and rain altered her group’s 9-day paddle plans, but the rewards of “focus[ing] on the present” included “an unclouded blue-sky panoramic vista” and “the profound joy of stillness.”
Greg Scutt ponders Settler history and the connection between river canoeing and fly-fishing in his second-person piece set it Stikine country, “the largest wilderness area in British Columbia.”
Michael Paul Samson recounts his kayak trip around Newfoundland at age 22, a pre-wedding adventure down the Ohio River and into the Mississippi, and “the resilience of the human race.”
Ric Driediger, a guide for Churchill River Canoe Outfitters, was seeking relaxation on his solo trip. He considers that he’s perhaps “so addicted to being busy, [he] can’t just sit,” and he desires to “be lost in time and place and imagination.” Success! At one point he can’t even remember how long he’s been out. This essay’s brilliant surprise ending left me gasping.
Kayaker Fiona Hough speaks honestly of the joys and challenges of taking youth with mental health issues on a two-week trip in Clayoquet Sound, and how one completes the trip “freshly clothed in an ocean skin.”
Gratitude’s braided through these essays. Zabe MacEachren writes: “I also like to kiss the palm of my hand and then place it flat on the ground wherever I have slept.”
This book’s a major achievement. Please read it.
Reprinted with permission of SaskBooks