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Mason Smith
June 23, 1975
The voice of the wild—and a summons to adventure—was in the haunting lines of the wonderful old canoes
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June 23, 1975

You Hear Loons Calling

The voice of the wild—and a summons to adventure—was in the haunting lines of the wonderful old canoes

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We pass its mouth, a simple delta with an island in the middle. I sink to the calves in mud, but the surprise is not that. It is the pain.

"Feel that."

"Ho, ho, ho, ho."

This is ice water. The spring must be right here. We fish toward the mouth with dry flies, carefully. Nothing. We fish up as far as we can from the bar. Nothing. We go back and get the boat and enter the tributary, bowman casting ahead. It widens into a basin with another island. Then a narrow channel, alders on the right, grass on the left. Another basin, strangely round, black and still. Nothing, not even rises. Out on the river little fish had been cartwheeling everywhere, most of them shiners, I suspected. Here, a stillness.

No, a fair fish splashed, up a still-narrower channel. Behind that, a swirl. I liked the sound of that swirl. I had on some kind of Ausable River special, new. I let it descend on that place, almost among the alder branches that grew from under the surface. It was sucked in with another shoveling of water.

The fish did not reveal its strength at first. It seemed to think that this fly could not be serious, and simply tossed about in deprecation. But then it gave up mere hope. It was hooked, and it just knew it and became very mad. It wore itself out completely, so that when I took it in my hand it was as safely handled as a two-pound bag of gold. In the gathering dark we looked and looked at it.

The boat isn't a replica of anything, though the methods and features are like Rushton's. The profile approximates a lovely centerboard sailing canoe called Stella Maris shown in Atwood Manley's Rushton and His Times in American Canoeing. It is 14 feet long by 30 inches wide and 10 inches deep amidships, 15 inches at the ends. As Harry Rushton might say, if you chew gum you need two sticks, one in either cheek. Though we have it loaded pretty heavily it is very fast through the water and very quiet. Beginner's luck, Everett says.

Later in the summer we took the boat to the annual regatta of the American Canoe Association in the Thousand Islands. For the fun of it we entered the boat in a paddling race against 16-footers, mostly fiber-glass Sawyers that are knifelike, long rhombuses designed to fit barely within the formula for canoes (30 inches width, 4 inches above the keel amidships), mostly paddled by enthusiasts of punishment who use the wide-bladed racing paddles and cadence their strokes and switch sides at a yell from the stern paddler. We lined up in the middle of a field of eight.

At the gun we sprang forward as quickly as the rest. Then some madman paddled too long on one side, and suddenly all eight boats were converging. Those crude coal shovels dug at our hand-carved black cherry paddles, people yelled, "Look out for the cedar, look out for the cedar!" and proceeded to bump into it. We quit paddling, shook our heads.

There was a strong wind, high choppy waves combined with the wakes of inconsiderate powerboaters. Down at the first mark the two leaders were broadside to us, struggling to turn. One boat had already capsized. The others were heading out wide to start their turns early. It occurred to us that we were still in the race. We made right for the buoy, nipped it, turned easily because of our shorter keel and curved stems and came out of the turn in third, which we held down the long leg and back to the finish, even though we shipped water over the bow all the way.

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