Canoeing With The Cree | Eric Sevareid

Imagine letting your 17 and 19 year old son and friend, with no experience, paddle a canoe 2,250 miles through two countries to Hudson Bay. That’s exactly what Sevareid chronicles.

The writing is simple and direct. Dialogue is interspersed with narration in just the right proportion to illuminate the team dynamics.

Don’t read this as an instructional guide! Here’s the passage that made me cringe the most:

The stern man, who must assume the greatest responsibility, would rise to his feet as we drifted swiftly toward the leaping white water. He would choose the best route among the rocks, the best line of kicking riffles to follow. He would give his directions and then, paddling with all our might, to get up more speed than the current itself, we would drive the Sans Souci [their canoe] . . . straight at the dashing foam. . . . Your speed must be greater than that of the current, or you will have no leverage to twist and throw the canoe from one angle to another (157-8, 159).

I’ve run rapids under full load—it pays to drop in slower than the current for more control. It’s a wonder these boys made it the whole way! Even thought their inexperience shows through it doesn’t detract from the narrative. In fact, their trial-by-fire reminded me of some of the mistakes I’ve made on earlier trips. I applaud these boys for their effort.

The climax of the book is a juxtaposition of the most difficult and isolated part of the river with the most depressed mental state of two river-weary travelers. Sevareid narrated their “great test” with an endearing honesty.

This is a great book to read while you’re waiting for your own next trip.

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