Family folklore is that the big green canoe was won in a raffle.

I’m not sure what raffle or for whom but my in-laws, who live on the East Coast, won it, a rare moment of luck.

Whether or not it was tied to my in-laws’ front porch during the endless Maine winters for years after their good luck is a matter of a debate. I distinctly remember first seeing the canoe covered in snow, just feet from the porch. It was chained because you never know who might steal an Old Town canoe. In the winter. In Maine.

But what most agree on is that the canoe was hardly ever used.

So by the time my husband and I got married 15 years ago, we were thrilled when the canoe was freed from its confines next to the porch and given to us as a wedding present. We both love the outdoors and being in nature as much as possible. We couldn’t wait to use it.

Then life got in the way. After my in-laws hauled the canoe all the way from Maine to Michigan atop their Honda Civic one July (without air conditioning), we used it a few times. But it took a lot of coordinating and even more patience.

There’s no question canoeing isn’t for every couple (my husband often jokes that the nickname for a canoe is “the divorce-maker”). If you don’t agree on pace or steering, things can get ugly – and fast. My parents agreed it would be better if they canoed with other people.

After a few tense outings my husband and I came to an agreement. I would sit in the back and steer on our canoe outings and he provided the power paddling from the front. It worked for us. 

But that didn’t mean we used the canoe very much. When we moved from one house to another and didn’t have room for the canoe, some friends tucked it away behind their garage in Ferndale for several years. They used it a few times but for the most part it just sat there. No more chain, but still un-used.

Late last summer, I’d had enough. I wanted our canoe back. I wanted to use it. I wanted our kids to enjoy it. I was determined to make it happen.

By last August, we’d not only made room in our garage for the canoe, we even took it out. We strapped it to the car roof, drove to a local park and then realized we didn’t have enough time to take it out because our babysitter needed to be home so we turned around. It never made it in the water, but it was a step.

This summer, I made a pledge to myself. This would be our summer. This would be our chance to get our canoe out and into the water – as a family. My husband pretended not to hear me.

I found a lake for us just 30 minutes from our house. I knew our first journey out needed to be simple. Our kids were nowhere near ready for a three-hour trek down a river. We needed to be able to jump ship (literally) if necessary.

On Pontiac Lake, on a bright, warm day in July, we gently stepped into the canoe – me in the back, my husband in the front and our two kids in the middle, all in our life jackets with our snacks tucked into a waterproof bag.

We glided along the lake’s perimeter. The sun warmed our faces. Speed boats whizzed by, shaking both the canoe and my confidence. Within minutes my son was begging to get out and swim. 

It wasn’t perfect. We tipped once (luckily I was the only one in the boat at the time) and nearly tipped two more times. We lost my son’s goggles. The kids were happier swimming than in the canoe. My husband complained. More speed boats whizzed by.

After about two hours, I’d had my fill. We’d all had our fill.

But before it was over, I asked some friends who’d come with us in their own canoe to quickly snap a photo of us. We’d done it. It was a simple, silly dream – to use a canoe that had once been chained to a porch in Maine and made the long journey all the way to Michigan – but we did it. And I have the photo to prove it.

Maybe one day my kids will take out the canoe with their own brood. For now, though, it’s tucked safely away in our garage, awaiting its next adventure. 


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