The Art of Paddling

There’s an African proverb that says, “we make our paths by walking them.” I think this extends to paddling. River Run, shown above was inspired by a canoe trip on the Yukon River. I learn best by doing – by being immersed, in this case literally immersed, whether it’s a wilderness canoe trip or learning to paint.

In retrospect, paddling the Yukon River felt very much like creating an abstract painting. It required showing up, being fully present and surrendering my own agenda. The River Goddess is a seductive and engaging muse – generous in doling out gifts and rites of passage too.

Canoe North Adventures promotes its wilderness trips as geared to novice, intermediate or vintage paddlers. Mom and I were definitely novices but I’d been to the Yukon with the Canoe North team ten years earlier on an Artist’s Expedition so I knew we were in good hands. The opportunity to paint en plein-air in the pristine arctic panoramas was priceless, expansive and more than a little daunting for the aspiring novice painter I was then. Before that, I spent time in White Horse as part of a Canada World Youth Exchange right after high school. The chance to go back was irresistible.

14 women including Mom and I paddled from Pelee Crossing to Dawson City. Mom paddled in the lead canoe with our fearless leader Lin, while I brought up the rear in the last canoe with my paddling partner and respected artist Lucille Webber. Camping under the midnight sun for 10 nights was life-altering. It awakened a deep sense of stewardship in me that has never dimmed.

Rivers, like good paintings, have a life of their own. Paddling with the current, we were able to take in the immaculate vistas as the river carried us ever onward. There were dangerous bogs to steer around and wildlife sightings of moose and bear to keep our senses sharp.

Good paintings often reveal a balance of chaos and order. Challenges like finding favourite campsites washed away, fresh bear tracks during pit stops, an unusual volume of hungry black flies and frantic scrambling to secure gear before a storm were balanced by the daily ritual of raising our very own adventure cups in camaraderie around a fireside critique of the day’s journey. The adventure cups are hand-made by Farm House Pottery owner and artist Al Pace. The tradition has royal roots as it started when Al had the honour of guiding Prince Andrews and Sarah Ferguson on their honeymoon canoe trip in 1987!

Hand-made Adventure cups celebrate the spirit of adventure.

Paddling the Yukon River changed the direction of my path in surprising ways. I now have two Adventure Cups – the start of a collection?

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