Memory is like this: you take it out, fiddle around with it a little, and put it back. Each time you take it out you alter it enough so that in the end your memories are still true to you but they are not accurate. My husband has memories of canoeing in Carbondale that have been fiddled with in a sincerely utopist manner and then put back to be pulled out on occasions such as our maiden voyage in our canoe, which was not at all perfect. Not. At. All. For proof let me offer Exhibit A: The Pitz Family’s Story of Their First Outing In the “New” Canoe.
First, it needs to be known that we purchased our canoe for Ian approximately a year ago for his 41st birthday. We were all excited. We brought it home and made plans to take it out for a family spin. Everywhere we went if a body of water was spotted be it a lake or a retention pond in the grassy area of an off ramp on I-494 Alban would declare, “WE COULD CANOE THERE!!” Which was met with differing levels of enthusiasm given the body of water. Sadly, shortly after we purchased our canoe and before we had a chance to take it out for a swim, Ian participated in the annual Parkcrest Basketball Tournament and promptly broke his arm. He fractured his left arm at his radius thus receiving a weight lifting restriction of ten pounds for the rest of the summer. Our beautiful canoe sat patiently and waited for its family to come and take it somewhere more exciting than the side of the house. Even a retention pond off of the interstate was sounding good.
But the side of our home was where the canoe sat until today. Today we put the green canoe on top of our green mini-van and set off to have an epic adventure. The boys and I planned an adventure for Ian because tomorrow is his birthday. We initially planned on going for a hike out at Devils Lake and then taking Ian to get paddles and off we would all go for a quick cruise of Lake Wingra. Simple. Fun. Active. All good. Due to our inability to rise the birthday boy before a reasonable hour, we combined our canoe ride and our hike into one trip. We were headed for Devils Lake where we would portage and canoe. We had a few things standing in our way first, like a lack of life vests for the adults and paddles, but we handled those drawbacks with skill and a credit card. We were all packed up and ready to go!
Before we made it out of the neighborhood the canoe decided maybe it didn’t want to go in the cold water of early May and it appeared to try to make a break for it. Luckily it only managed to shift approximately 8 inches to the right but it did succeed in scaring the crap out of the novices in the min-van. I decided we needed to enlist the help of a man we both admire for his can-do attitude and ability to maneuver his way through any home improvement project with skill and ease. Jamie is a combination of Norm Abram and Kevin O’Connor. He knows his stuff, he looks good, and he explains everything to you with enthusiasm. We stopped by his home and he patiently checked out our precariously perched canoe, gave us a few pointers, asked if we had sunscreen with us, and sent us on our way.
We arrived at the sporting goods store pleased that the canoe seemed resigned to its fate. We chose some paddles, warded off any and all requests for toys, fishing poles and whatever else the kids thought they could get out of us, purchased some sunscreen and headed back to the van. The canoe was still majestically tethered to our vehicle and we hopped in and drove off.
We made it to the highway without much trouble. Once on the divided highway we were nervous about increasing our speed. Ian decided that 50 mph was enough for him. I made an off-hand comment that we should just get behind the large tractor with the plow attachment plodding along at 20 mph and hope that it was going to Baraboo. Ian must have assumed I was joking because he cursed and struggled his way around the tractor and headed back toward a cruising speed of 50. I started to bunch up in a fetal position telling myself that my anxiety was unreasonable, that I needed to channel my inner carefree and reckless 20-year-old self, and that soon my anxiety would send Ian’s anxiety and foul mood soaring if I didn’t get my shit together. I snuck a peek at Ian and it looked as though the deer had taken over the driving and my husband was off somewhere in the headlights. Here we were, two people with anxiety issues driving a mini-van down a divided highway with a canoe we have never used haphazardly tethered to our luggage rack on a windy day with whining, demanding children in the back. It could only get worse.
About 3 miles later the canoe tried to escape again. I thought I was going to vomit. Ian pulled over and we checked out the straps. The buckles seemed to work. We appeared to have buckled them tightly and correctly. When stopped the canoe was on the van nice and tight. What was its problem? Couldn’t we manage this one family outing without a blanket of dread and impending doom? This was to be the start of a great birthday weekend. Back in the van we went nervously determined to reach our destination. Determined until the canoe once again made its move. I badgered Ian into turning around. I decided we needed to go to the small pub at the side of the road. There we would get something to eat for our very hungry fellow travelers, reassess our goals, and move forward.
Ian acquiesced. I looked into going to a closer, more reasonably located lake, ate a burger, watched some of the Derby coverage with the boys, and managed to clam my frazzled nerves enough to try again. Once on Highway 12 the canoe reared its ugly head and I pulled the plug on staying on any divided anything. We needed city streets, 30 mph, and easy access to alcoholic beverages. We must turn around and go to Lake Wingra. It would be fun. It was small. It was accessible. It was in the city. It was near a bar. I needed to have all of my security blankets close at hand.
The birthday boy was not happy. He agreed that highway was causing us much pain and suffering. But he didn’t know why we would want to go to some crappy lake in the middle of the city. What was the point of having a canoe if we could not go out of the city and into the rough beauty of Devils Lake? I offered that maybe we had over-reached for our first trip out with the canoe. Maybe we fancied ourselves able naturalists but in fact we were city people who could afford REI gear and there it ended. Let’s just go to Wingra and give it a try. Once again the harried and beaten down husband agreed.
We arrived at the small lake in the heart of the city with eager boys and broken hearts. We untied the canoe and managed to get it off the van and onto the ground without injuring ourselves or others. One small victory. Ian parked the van and I rallied the troops. Foot race? Run. Life vests? On. Paddles? In the canoe. We scrambled in the green boat and pushed off. So far so good. The boys were experimenting with buoyancy, canoe stability and water trajectory. Oscar came close to experiencing a variation on Newton’s Third Law by almost smacking me in the back of the head several times with his paddle. We zigged, we zagged, we nagged, we complained. “Why can’t I steer this boat?” “Why can’t I have my paddle?” “Choose a side!!” “Don’t lean over the side of the boat!” “Put those paddles down!” “Oscar is getting me all wet.” “Why did you buy us paddles if you won’t let us use them?” “When can we go home?” “This is boring.”
And then in the midst of our family togetherness we spotted a Sandhill Crane perched on its nest. In that moment it seemed worth it. Our boat grew quiet. I took out the camera. We talked about the bird and how beautiful it was. It looked back at us. I looked into its eyes and it seemed to ask me for parenting advice, it had that nervous “first time parent” look in its eyes. I thought about our trip to the sporting goods store when Alban quietly took my hand to go down on the escalator. It surprised me and I looked at my little boy, so small, so wonderful, perfectly mine. I had squeezed his hand and he smiled up at me and I felt as if my heart would explode. It will all be worth it, I whispered to the Crane.
Sitting in the canoe I looked around and saw the beauty of our small city lake. I looked at my boys and wondered what they would remember of this day. I thought about how soon we would not fit in our green canoe, our boys would be too big, their egos and legs would not stand for a ride with us. All of a sudden we all seemed so small, even our worries and complaints seemed to disappear.
And then the nagging and the complaining and the fighting took over again. We zigged and zagged back to shore. We struggled to get the canoe back on the van. We were smacked down by a master boater about when and where we were to put our canoe on our van. On the way home I asked Alban for his opinion on the boat trip. He responded in the most dejected monotone voice I have ever heard, “Yeah. I liked it.”
I ushered the family into the house and then I went to REI and purchased a Yakima rack for our van. We will take some paddling lessons as a couple, we will have the proper means to transport our canoe without fear or aggression, and we will try again. That’s the great thing about my family, we always try again.
And who knows how we will remember this day? We will each have our own story, a memory that we will take out and mess around with and put back. Much like out canoe.