A bit ago we bought a canoe, having searched casually all summer, and finally found the right one. It’s a plastic Coleman, very old, and quite cheap. Cheap enough that we didn’t feel bad surfing rocks down the Lewis River this past weekend, and old enough that the sun faded tan on the surface was revealed, by the rock scrapes, to have been a deep green in whatever decade it was new. It’s fairly short, especially for how wide and shallow it is, with a curious molded keel inset with an aluminum tube that runs the full flat of the bottom, and is held down by plastic pillars below the front, back and middle seats. Turgid would be one word for the sum of its performance. Predictable would be another. Coming back across a glassy Lewis Lake we ran into the (low) max hull speed, as abrupt and imperturbable as grounding on a log.
The munchkins fit easily amidships, even with the extravagant, by backpacking standards, amount of gear we brought. If backpacking is too much action, canoeing is almost too little, and both of them got a bit bored during the long sit the first day, especially when dragging up the shallow final mile before Shoshone Lake took far longer than I had assumed.
It might be better to say that both canoeing and backpacking ask for focus too sustained for small people, or at least this is what I’ve been telling myself the past year as we’ve done so much in the woods so close to the road. Which is to say, many car camping and cabin trips and day trips, and very little backpacking. It is easy, as a prospective parent, to worry about the logistics of fitting little people into your favored wilderness pursuits. It is another thing altogether to figure out how to best fit their minds, the changing way they apprehend the world, to the places you want them to see.
The last day in Yellowstone was given over to touristing: Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic overlook, playing with rocks in the Gibbon River. Hiking the perhaps 2 miles round trip to the overlook was a success, not because of the sublime view, but because the old road out to the spur trail is runnable for small and occasionally forgetful legs, and because the studied parental eye found huckleberries near the summit. I spend lots of time wondering; at what age does the location of those berries, flowers, and particularly interesting rocks matter? Little Bear, now 5, talks about geology and remembers past visits, so even his worst behavior in the car 90 minutes from home seems worth the struggle. Little Cloud, 2.5, remembers where in the cooler we stashed the cookies he prefers.
The canoe then is both a vehicle for young imaginations, and equally a way for adult visions to suit young legs and, to a lesser extent, attention spans.