I love canoeing. I learned out on Quadra Island when I was sixteen and participating in the counselor-in-training program they had. I learned kayaking too, but for some reason latched onto canoeing—probably because I didn’t have to keep making a underwater exits to pass the course.
Canoes became an essential part of my “escape” in the daily drudgery of being left in camp alone—sometimes only for the day and sometimes for many successive days. I would hop into the canoe and find peace in paddling as hard as I could away from camp. It was also nice because I didn’t have to bushwack when I was canoeing and I could see pretty far, with no trees in the way. Which is always something someone from the prairies looks forward too when they are in the bush—just a little bit of wide-open space!
Paddling a canoe by yourself can be a little tricky. It helps to have a weight at the front. My second summer working east of Atlin, BC, I was left at Rainbow Lake by myself for about a week. My only company was the herd of horses and my big dog, Chevy.
This was Chevy’s first summer in the bush. I had acquired him in early April from a lady in Calgary. She had to get rid of him because her husband was breaking out with bad allergic rashes. She was also re-homing 2 other dogs, Chevy’s size. However she refused to part with her Rottweiler and the three cats that lived with her family of 5 (3 kids under 10) in an apartment with no yard.
Despite this background Chevy took to the bush like a duck to water. He was big and strong, yet quiet and quick to learn. Just an all-round, really good camp dog! He also didn’t like to be very far from me that summer—kind of attached to the hip. He gained the nickname Chevy-Tailgate for a reason.
Well I was bored one day at Rainbow Lake. A day, within a week of being by yourself, can stretch out into one long boring-ness. So I took myself canoeing. (No life jacket, because there was no one to tell me to wear it. No one to pull me out if I did fall in anyways, and I figured I could swim better without it, however also figured the lake would freeze me to death if I did fall in, so it would be better to just not tip the canoe! That was my reasoning at least.)
I paddled out from the dock and canoed down the middle of the lake. Chevy was yelping on the dock, in an absolute dither that I was taking off from him. But eventually he quieted down and only the splash of the paddle and the hum of mosquitoes filled my ears. Actually, mosquitoes themselves filled my ears. They are rather nasty in July.
I heard a snort and whipped my head around and there was Chevy swimming towards me. He wasn’t going to be left behind. I thought about hauling him into the canoe, but figured that would be disastrous. Feeling bad for him I headed closer to shore. He climbed out of the water and chased me along the shoreline.
After that, Chevy rode in my canoe. He would sit in the front, all regal-like. He didn’t move much. He was one proud and very contented dog, being canoed around the lake like he was some prince or something on a visit from some nether land.
We had good success canoeing like this, until one day later that week I was headed down the lake and spotted a black dot on the shoreline about three hundred meters ahead of us. I canoed closer curious to see what it was. I had left my binoculars and camera back at the lodge just in case I did tip the canoe, so I was left with my bare eyes. Well, the black dot disappeared before I got close enough to confirm what it was. Which made me suspect a moose or possibly a bear. I paddled closer to the shoreline and was within 100 meters when there was a smashing and a cracking in the bush and a cow moose leaped into the water with her long legs striding high until they were completely submerged and soon only her head was visible.
It was like instant panic on board. Chevy leaped to all fours, rocking our ship like crazy and for a milli-second I thought we were gonners as I dropped my paddle and lunged the length of the canoe to grab a hold of Chevy’s neck—which was in full bristle. He started growling and was vibrating so bad, I could hardly keep a hold of him.
I only noticed a little calf swimming beside her when she faced the canoe and swam towards us. She wasn’t 10 meters from us when she suddenly realized we were there. Chevy barked and she snorted with her eyes rolling wildly and turned in a hurry for the opposite shoreline. The calf swimming madly beside her making v’s stream out in their wake. They gained the shore, dashed up the bank and floated into the forest.
I hope you can put this all together, because it all happened so fast it’s hard to write down. But while the moose jumped into the lake, a black bear bounced out of the bush right behind them. It was the weirdest bounce, I’ve ever seen a bear do. Best I can say, he was doing what my old dog used to do with gophers—run like mad and then make huge leaping jumps high in the air before plunging her nose down into the hole. Kinda like that, this bear did four huge jumps high in the air and stopped dead at the water’s edge, then he stood up on his hind-legs. He looked only a little miffed that he had missed the calf, and slightly happy-go-lucky—like maybe he was just foolin’ around. Not that mama moose thought that.
The bear just stood on his hind legs watching the moose swim away and then turned and looked at us curiously—like we were the most interesting thing he’d ever seen—which we probably were. We were kinda all frozen in this deadlock of gazes as the canoe vibrated and rocked and slowly drifted towards the shore and the bear. Sixty meters . . . Fifty meters. . . I was trying desperately to reach a foot for my paddle and still hold onto a highly alert Chevy, when the bear nonchalantly dropped back to all fours and waltzed over a few steps before sitting down on a big dead log that stuck out into the lake. He looked at us with a rather bored expression and to prove his disinterest in us, he lifted his back leg and cleaned himself like a cat. Then he just sat back on his log and enjoyed the sun. Obviously we were not a threat to him!
The canoe meanwhile drifted closer and closer. Forty meters . . . Thirty meters . . . I could just barely reach my paddle. Finally I snagged it with my foot and scooted it into my hand and—still holding tightly to a highly charged-up Chevy—I raised it high in the air and whacked the water–well I kind missed making a whacking sound the first time and nearly lost the paddle, but I tried again with success. I wanted to yell too, but that would have sent Chevy into an absolute frenzy. So I whacked water and even that got Chevy a little worked up because he started his deep ferocious alarm bark.
The bear stood up and looked a little grumpy that we were interrupting his suntanning time, before sauntering off into the bush.
It was still a good long time after he disappeared that I finally felt Chevy was calm enough to release and we could regain our canoeing positions. By this time we were only 5 meters from where the bear had been sunning himself. Needless to say, I was kinda vibrating myself.
Can’t say there was really a lesson learned from this experience because I continued to canoe with Chevy in the front and with no life jacket. We ran into a number of moose canoeing together. Every time it was a mad dash for me to reach Chevy before he catapulted us into the water. All I gotta say is if you want to experience wildlife and nature—Get out on the water in a canoe (or kayak, I guess if that’s all you have handy)!