Some would say that a Bucket List is for things that you have not done. We disagree. Going back to a special moment in our lives, something or somewhere (but probably not to someone) of memorable and personal significance deserves a place on the list. For many, one such place would be Algonquin Park, from the stern of a canoe.

Part university, a Cinque Terra of memories, a paradise for boys of all ages, a state of mind that stays with you, the geographic and spiritual freedom of Ontario’s Algonquin Park becomes a part of experience that is hard to forget and great to remember.

“…those secret spots.. To the small lakes and river bends where the fish have been known to jump out onto the shoreline and chase down an unsuspecting raccoon or porcupine.” *

Algonquin Park is well known. A brief look at the Web shows you many sites in German. A doctor in Bermuda goes there for a two-week summer holiday canoe trip trading one form of paradise for another. Many have spent formative years there, and learned some of life’s more important lessons. Many have returned to revisit, explore, expand on and come to better understand the park’s lessons.

The park is easily accessible from both Canada and the northeastern United States. You may not be allowed, any more, to sit out on the flat car with your canoe and packs as the train rumbles up the Canadian Shield to Brent and Cedar Lake, one of the best jumping off points that the Park has to offer.

The big trees are gone but you can see reminders and imagine the drama of them. These were woods. The Algonquin Logging Museum, located near the East Gate presents a great view of what once was and rusted relics of huge logging machines occasionally show up to witness a larger than life past.

Algonquin Park protects the headwaters of the five major rivers which flow from the Park. In 1893 the park was established as a wildlife sanctuary and, by excluding agriculture, to protect the headwaters.

Visits show the rich historic and artistic heritage celebrate the incredible flora, fauna and topography of the area.

Over 3,000 square miles of uniquely preserved lakes and rivers lakes, accessible only by canoe routes and preserved  not as a museum but as an opportunity for a return to the calm of the wild.

The park is a place and occasion for reflection, for the discovery of personal wisdom and for encounters with characters from whom we all have much to learn.

There are different and unique people up there, people who have made the choice to spend their lives in these forests and on these rivers.

Wisdom begins when you respect nature and hold it in awe, like a good, strong, beautiful but unattainable woman.

A man is described thusly: “He can speak fluent French, imitate a loon or Carol Burnett, start a fire in snow with one match after two days of rain, stand up and pole a loaded canoe through rapids, upstream or down. He can patch a gashed canoe with spruce pitch and strips of handkerchief, and produce pancakes as light as a whitecap. He calls the twigs and leaves that rattle down onto a tent at night ‘dry spills,’ and his red stocking cap a ‘bonnet.’ “*

One guide named Sammy Henson — really a combination shrink and priest — writes: “The canoe trip experience has special meaning to the people who can slow down and grab onto that magic tonic that comes from the natural environment. They like the call of the loons in the morning and they determine the success of the day by the warmth of the sun on their faces and the friendships made on trip — instead of just hauling in trout. Whereas some of these young hot shots I guide, with all the latest fancy riggin’ require catching their limit of fish each day and worry about the other guy hooking a bigger one. They don’t feel the pure clean energy at the end of their line or the beauty of each fish as it gets closer to the canoe. I’m convinced that some of them don’t even realize that this graceful creature is actually alive and fighting for its life. It’s tough for me to watch, this lack of respect and appreciation. They miss so much because of the constant need to compete, and it has never ever made any sense to me I suppose the competitive nature might keep them alive in the city.”*

In a canoe, do your share of the work … and pull more than your own weight.

The shared experiences of a canoe trip, occurring in the peace and serenity of the forest, lakes and rivers are a gift. Small things become important and life simplifies. Sensations, sun, heat, the noise of rapids, the warm feeling of muscles much used and the dance of campfire flames erase and replace trivial stresses and the incessant rushing of the city. Life slows down and priorities reshuffle. You find yourself thinking clearly and more slowly and more purposefully. Multi-tasking is a remembered cacophony that, like noisy traffic, you do not miss.

A canoe trip promises so much hard work, potentially tremendous discomfort (especially in bug season), monotony, a profound lack of the kind of stimulation that we normally look for and “enjoy” from day to day. Why do we do go?

“God grant me the serenity to walk the portages I must, the courage
to run the rapids I can
and the wisdom to know the difference.”
— Anonymous

The park offers opportunities. Friendships can be forged, marriages tested and strengthened and offspring converted. Starry nights with northern lights, rapidly moving water or paddling long lakes into the wind provide unparalleled opportunities for reflection. Inevitably everyone recalibrates a little and no one goes home unchanged.

We will be back on the water in the park next summer. Give it a try; you will be pleasantly surprised. If it rains, this might take a little longer than you expect.

*From a wonderful book, Stories From the Bow Seat by Don Standfield and Liz Lundell.