I discovered Canadian poet Pauline Johnson when I was a teen and fell in love with the lilting lyrics of her most famous poem, “The Song My Paddle Sings.” Born in 1856, Johnson was the daughter of a hereditary Mohawk chief and his English wife. She identified with her native roots and loved the wilderness, where she traveled by canoe. She made a meager living with her stage performances of the poetry she had written.
When I first read “The Song My Paddle Sings,” I’d never been in a canoe, but I had lived in the Canadian wilderness and seen the same beauty she had found. Here’s a taste:
West wind, blow from your prairie nest
Blow from the mountains, blow from the west.
The sail is idle, the sailor too;
Oh wind of the west, we wait for you…
I stow the sail, unship the mast:
I wooed you long but my wooing’s past;
My paddle will lull you into rest.
Oh drowsy wind of the drowsy west,
By your mountain steep,
Or down where the prairie grasses sweep!
Now fold in slumber your laggard wings,
For soft is the song my paddle sings.
As the poem continues, Johnson describes the quickening river until the moment of descent into a set of rapids:
Be strong, o paddle! Be brave, canoe!
The reckless waves you must plunge into.
On your trembling keel,
But never a fear my craft will feel.
You may read the entire poem here. It’s found in the public domain.
I memorized that poem as a teen, not because it was assigned in school (it wasn’t) but because the words spoke to me, called me to experiencing something similar myself. My husband and I bought our first canoe in about 1989 and, in 1982, traversed the 110-kilometer (70 mile) Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit in central British Columbia, Canada, paddling alongside my sister and brother-in-law for nine days.
I remember the sore muscles, the not-so-drowsy wind, the waves, the pounding rain, the mosquitoes… oh, but I also remember the misty dawns, the peaceful silence, the fishing, the great food, the camaraderie. I remember the long lakes, running The Chute, watching my sister and brother-in-law’s canoe capsize after hitting a submerged log in a swiftly-moving river, and sitting around campfires with fellow canoeists from around the world, hearing their tales.
My sister and I were eager to see a bear or two. They’re common in the BC wilderness, after all, but we didn’t see a one on that particular trip. The other canoeists told us of the bear they’d seen before we arrived, or the one after we’d left, or at a different campsite than we’d stopped at. Toward the end of our trip, we discovered the campsite around the point empty in the morning, and found out later that the residents had witnessed an epic grizzly and moose battle while we slept a quarter mile away!
What does all this have to do with romance, you might ask? These experiences — probably all the way back to “The Song My Paddle Sings” — inspired Sweet Serenade, my summer Riverbend Romance novella, published in 2015.
#GIVEAWAY: Comment and let me know about your most wilderness-type experience. Have you been canoeing? Tent camping in the wilderness? What’s your comfort level with the outdoors? One commenter (anywhere in the world) will win a digital copy of Sweet Serenade, so let me know in the comment if you’ve already read it! The winner will be announced in next week’s Sunday Edition.
About Sweet Serenade:
River guide and canoe builder Reed Daniels stands by as his lifelong friends pair off. After all, he’s waited this long for the right woman… what’s a little longer? But when newcomer Carly shows up at the gang’s bonfire, he’s mesmerized. Could she be the answer to his prayers?
Water-sport enthusiast Carly Thorbergsen is starting over in Riverbend. Hired as a canoeing and hiking guide, she’s ready to focus on work and leave the personal stuff behind. That is until the competition, Reed Daniels, offers her a ride in his cedar-strip canoe. No resisting that!
But no matter how much they have in common, Carly can’t erase her past, and Reed is bound to discover the truth. When a date finds Carly and Reed running rapids on the outside of the canoe, they come face to face with the real reasons their new relationship might capsize.