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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

The Best of Seasons Our Readers Write

The Best of Seasons

August 31, 2010

Summer's almost over — in Canoe Country at any rate — and the signs are everywhere to be seen. The little college towns have suddenly swollen to twice their summer size, and the back‑to‑school sales are in full swing. But why spend your weekends cruising the malls or hanging in the halls? Go outside, instead. The geese are flying. The leaves are tinged with color. And the blackflies have buzzed away. The sweet of the year is at hand. There's no better time to wet a blade.

But don't rush off to the put‑in just yet. The mail bag has been getting heavier since the last time "Our Readers Write" aired, and there's a lot to catch up on. Wildlife watching tips? Check. Capturing the passing scene without a camera? Check. Gear? Check. And food. What about food? Well, there's always something about food. What paddler isn't hungry?

So dig right in. And then let us know what's on your mind. After all, it's a reader's right, isn't it? You bet it is!

 — Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat

Putting the "Old Woman" to Work

Hi, Tamia — 

I never miss your column! Keep up the good work. Have you ever done one about constructing a sailing rig — mast, boom, leeboard, etcetera — for a canoe? I have an aluminum canoe which has the mast step already in place, and I would love to make a sail kit. If you haven't done a column can you point me in the right direction?

David W. Palmer

• • •

Tamia replies:

I'm glad to hear that you like what we write, David, though in this instance I'm afraid we don't have what you're looking for. While I've dabbled with a variety of ad hoc sail rigs on long trips, Farwell's your man for sailing. He's done a fair bit of messing about in dinghies and sailing canoes, and he began a series of articles on that very subject for awhile back. You'll find them in the Archives under the subhead "Putting the 'Old Woman' to Work." But that series is a work in progress, and Farwell doesn't plan to complete it till sometime next year.

In the meantime, I'd suggest you check out "Canoe Sailing Resources." There's a wealth of material there, and you'll find the article "Sticks and Strings" of particular interest.

You might also want to keep a lookout for the 1954 edition of Canoeing by the American National Red Cross. It has detailed discussions of rigging canoes for sail, along with a lot of other interesting things, like sequence photos showing how to roll a wood‑canvas canoe. A good library can probably turn up a copy, or you can find one through a used‑book seller.

When Push Comes to Shove

An article that Tamia wrote way back in 2002, "When It's Time to Punt," recently caught the eye of one reader, and she dropped Tamia a line to suggest a timely update. Read on…

Dear Tamia,

You may want to update this article. I found that in America, punting poles are called "push poles," and they are generally sold to duck hunters [and fishermen, too –Editor]. They're telescoping aluminum poles ranging from 5'6" to 11‑ or 12‑footers. Once I knew this, searching for them online was easy. I can't wait to get one.

Joyce Godsey
Methuen Rail Trail Alliance

• • •

Tamia replies:

Great idea, Joyce. Thanks for the tip. A word of warning, though: Many "push poles" are intended solely for use in still, sheltered waters. They're often a bit wobbly for tackling rapids — even easy rapids. That said, if you find one that's up to the job, there's no better tool for two‑way travel on moving water.

… But then Joyce had an even better idea:

I ended up making [my own] push pole. My materials and instructions are described in "How to make a Push Pole for Punting" at

The upshot? If you're a paddler who sometimes likes to go against the flow, and if you're not happy with the readymade poles you've seen for sale, check out Joyce's DIY guide. Remember to get the feel for your new pole in protected waters first, though! Things happen fast on a river.

A Reader's Tale of Two Tails

Tamia's article on IDing beavers and muskrats, "A Tale of Two Tails," has attracted a steady stream of letters in the weeks since it was published, back in June. Here are two…

Hi, Tamia — 

I just had to write you and thank you for the "Is It a Beaver or a Muskrat?" article. I had my first taste of kayaking about a year and a half ago, and finally last month I went out and bought my own, a Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 sit‑on‑top. I live just north of Atlanta, where I have good access to Lake Lanier on the weekends and the Chattahoochee River during the week. Usually during the week I'll get home from work, quickly load the boat, and get on the river in about 15 minutes. I head upstream for an hour and then turn around for a more leisurely drift back to the ramp.

OK. Enough of the background and back to the article. Even though I've lived in the area for 20 or more years, I never knew that the Chattahoochee had so much wildlife. I have seen blue herons, dozens of ducks, turtles, and then just last week I saw a couple of little heads swimming through the water about 50 or 60 feet away. This was on my upstream leg of the trip, so I couldn't take a break from paddling against the current. Later in the same trip I saw another "something" scurrying around on the shoreline, but still too far away to see details. Then I read your article and watched the video. I still wasn't sure what I saw, but I knew what to look for now.

Today I got home from work, loaded the kayak, hit the river about 4:30, and an hour later turned around to head back. As I was gently paddling I saw something moving across the river about 75 feet ahead. I stopped paddling and drifted. He ducked underwater and I thought he was gone. But then he popped up no more than eight feet away, right next to me! There's the head, body and long skinny tail. MUSKRAT! You have no idea how excited I was to see him (her?) and be able to identify it correctly.

Thanks again and keep those wonderful articles coming.

Brad Beach

• • •

Tamia replies:

Will do, Brad. I'm delighted that "Tale of Two Tails" has helped you get to know your wild neighbors better. By the way, if you missed the June edition of "Our Readers Write," you might want to check it out now, because it includes a link to Worth a Dam's short YouTube video showing a yearling beaver and a muskrat head‑to‑head. You won't find a better illustration of the size difference.

… Later, Brad wrote back:

As an addendum I'd like to add that just this past week I saw a colony of four or five beavers in and out of the water. It was approaching dusk, and I was closing in on my take‑out point, [when] I heard a huge splash off to the side of the river. I looked over to see two beavers on a downed tree and two or three others swimming around them. I was headed downstream so I was able to quietly drift by without disturbing them. What a thrill! Now I've seen both beavers AND muskrats up close.

Sounds like you caught a glimpse of a family outing, Brad. A happy discovery, indeed!

Oh, Dam!

Hi, Tamia — 

I love your article on the differences between beavers and muskrats. People do mix them up, especially in their enthusiasm to see beavers. I have a question about the first picture in your article, though. In it you describe a beaver dam in the foreground and a beaver lodge in the background. To my eye the construction in the foreground is a lodge, and the one in the pond is an old lodge. I have never seen a dam that did not span a waterway. Perhaps there are details not seen in that view. I know you know your stuff, but perhaps you clicked on the wrong picture for the article? I don't want to complain, your articles are the best on this site.

Rob Roe, Curator
Woodside National Historic Site of Canada
Kitchener, Ontario

• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks for the props, Rob — and thanks, too, for pointing out that the photo I used to illustrate my article was less than crystal clear. Not all pictures are worth a thousand words, and in my wish to show as much of the scene as possible I ended up giving short shrift to the outlet stream.

In any case, that is a dam in the foreground. The outlet was little more than a trickle when I took the shot in early April, though the stream is spanned by a plank footbridge. (You can just glimpse the bridge in the pool of shadow in the lower right corner.) I've been coming to the site for some 20 years now, and the lodge you can see in the picture was already there on my first visit. There are newer lodges elsewhere on the pond, as well as a satellite lodge on a second pond formed by damming the outlet. An esker divides the two ponds, and from its summit you can see several underwater food caches. Some of the cached limbs are freshly peeled, so it's a pretty good bet that the beavers haven't upped sticks and moved away. (Trapping isn't permitted.)

Now let's see if I can do a better job of evoking the scene. Here's my original photo:

Lonesome Pond

And here's the same scene from a slightly different perspective, with the plank footbridge giving the scale (click on any of the following three photos to open a larger image in a new window):

Bridge Over Untroubled Waters

Now here's a close‑up of the dam's face:

By a Dam Site

And another photo showing the outlet stream as it passes under the bridge. I told you it was trickle!


Thanks again for the heads‑up, Rob. I hope I've dispelled some of the mystery.

The Art of Paddling

Tamia's "Backcountry Photography" and "Eye and Hand" series seem to have struck a chord with readers. Which isn't all that surprising, really, since photography, sketching, and paddling are natural complements.

Hi, Tamia — 

I have recently taken up and fallen in love with kayaking. In searching for kayaking information I discovered and all its wonderful sources. I especially love your "Backcountry Photography" series.

I always go out paddling with my camera and I have astonished myself with the wonderful photo opportunities I find while paddling along. As I usually go kayaking alone, I sometimes drive friends and family to distraction with my enthusiasm and plethora of photos.

I use my photos as reference guides for my pastel work and also for my mosaics. [But] I never before thought about bringing along a journal to record my thoughts about the beauty that I am witnessing.

Thank you for your great stories and photography advice! You have inspired me to continue to find the amazing gifts that are out there for us all to discover and reflect on. I look forward to your continuing journals!

Sharon Lefebvre

• • •

Tamia replies:

I'm very glad you've discovered the many pleasures of paddling, Sharon, and I'm delighted that your search for information has led you to It's a resource like no other on the Web, with something for every no‑octane boater, whatever her interest or experience.

Your mosaics [see photos below –Editor] are lovely. I, too, often use photos as aides‑memoires for later sketches. Greatest thing since the camera obscura!

Now here are a few of Sharon's mosaics, beginning with a birdbath:

Water Birds

That combines two of my interests — birds and water, utility and beauty in one. And here's a bowl with a nautical theme:


Something tells me that this wasn't done from a photo! Of course, there's no missing the seafaring connection, is there? But in skilled hands, even a flower pot can tell a story. This one evokes the salty ambiance of the smallest of the fifty states, Rhode Island:

Memories of Rhode Island

Beautiful, aren't they? And our thanks to Sharon for letting us reproduce photos of her work.

The Emulsion of Memory

Great stuff, Tamia! ["Depth and Definition" –Editor]! This certainly adds another dimension to paddling, and I like the way you mentioned how the goal was to imprint the feeling on the emulsion of your memory. Wonderful stuff. Inspiring, especially to a "monograph digital illustrator" longing for simpler, more tactile tools! Where can I see more of your articles and your illustrations? Thank you!

Guy Vieira
Oak Harbor, Washington

• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks, Guy! I can't take credit for the "emulsion of memory," though — Colin Fletcher coined that wonderfully apt phrase. Where can you see more of my work? Well, a lot of it has found its way into our articles for They're collected in the In the Same Boat archives, and I'll be adding to the "Practical Art for Paddlers" series in the months to come. More of my photos can be seen on the pages of Tamia's Outside, along with work by other photographers from several continents. Then there's the juried Pentax Photo Gallery, not to mention my (unapologetically commercial) Zenfolio gallery. Plus I've got a book or three in the works. (More on this later.)

And now I've got a question for you: I'm mightily intrigued by the phrase "monograph digital illustrator." Can you shed some light on this, Guy?

… Of course he could, and he did:

Ha ha! Monograph digital illustrations. Yeah, that sounds like technical or scientific illustration. And that's what I do for a living — illustration for life‑science companies. Things that require a lot of precision. So naturally, to relax, I need to loosen up and work quickly to capture the essence of a moment rather than detail.

Here's a watercolor painting I did of the famous Boulder Drop on the Skykomish River in Washington state. It was juried out when I entered it at a exhibition, but it brings back fond memories on the river. A really magical place.

Boulder Drop

The exhibition jurors missed a bet with that one, Guy. But at least readers can enjoy it now. And we paddlers will appreciate the painstaking delineation of this muscular river's currents and eddies. Many thanks! (Click on the image to open an enlargement in a new window.)

From Eye to Hand

Dear Tamia,

Nice article. ["Practical Art for Paddlers — First Strokes" –Editor] I intend to print it to keep. I always take a small art bag along on trips. I have two bags. One holds a larger array of supplies and the other holds less, including a postcard‑sized pad of watercolor paper. One thing I keep in my art bags is a pair of wool, fingerless gloves. I don't remember if you mentioned that or not. Another thing I like to do is carry two little bottles of water just in case I am not near a source. Of course, we always have drinking water.

One year when we kayaked on Lake Superior, I did a small watercolour of our camp spot and traded it for a set of photos someone took with a waterproof camera. I sent it to her after I made a copy on my copy machine.

I have always contended that there is nothing as intense as on‑site painting. I think photos are great to help you remember, but they lie, as you mentioned. If a person is not really a trained artist, then they can just paint a leaf or trace around one and paint it. It's a rewarding experience.

Loretta Byrne

• • •

Tamia replies:

It's good to hear from you again, Loretta. The fingerless gloves are a great idea, too — as is the tracing tip. Keep in touch!

Cookies — and Cake — in Camp!

Dear Tamia,

[Re: "Skillet Chocolate‑Chip Cookies" –Editor.] I also am a longtime camper and canoer with a sweet tooth. A "camper cookie" recipe that I learned 30 years ago from a scout master (Paul Bagg of South Hadley, Massachusetts) simply uses commercial cake mix or sweet bread mix, enough liquid (water and oil) to approximate pancake batter, and a mildly hot frying pan or griddle (cooler than for pancakes). One needs patience to cook them for several minutes, but they will be hot, tasty, and hold together.

Another method, of my own invention, is to use commercial sweet bread mix, oil, and water (who has an egg on a canoe trip? [Tamia, that's who! At least some of the time –Editor]), a greased small Bundt or angel food cake pan, and either a stove or gas lantern for heat. On the stove I place a heat diffuser and elevator (folding camping toaster), cover the pan with foil (tightly sealed and the center punched out), set it on the toaster, wrap a blanket of foil loosely around the whole contraption (toaster and pan) so that the foil extends an inch or two above the top of the pan, and finally lay a piece of foil loosely across the top (to retain heat in the stack). Adjusting the heat takes some practice, but I can bake a cake (bread) in 20 minutes or so. My nose usually tells me when it is done. Removing the foil and flipping the cake upside down on foil or a plate will usually neatly remove the cake from the pan.

To bake the cake on a lantern, set the foil‑covered cake on the top of the lantern, wrap the top of the lantern and cake pan with foil, and put a piece of foil loosely on top. A coat hanger wire crosspiece can be fashioned to support the cake, putting a pigtail in the center of each coat hanger to go over the screw at the top of the lantern, held in place with the nut. I found a cheap pan that perfectly fit the top of my lantern. I have used both a double‑mantle lantern and a Peak 1 lantern. I found the right size pan by carrying my lantern (Peak 1) around Walmart's kitchen department, and checking the pans until I found one that was just right.

Keep experimenting and sharing.

Scott Clark

Cake? In camp? Yes, please! So Scott gets the last word. We couldn't ask for a sweeter note on which to end this edition of "Our Readers Write."

Have you written to us? And are you still waiting to hear back? Don't give up on us yet — please! We've been out and about, but we'll be back at our desks from time to time throughout this best of seasons. And when we are, we'll do our best to catch up on our mail. In the meantime, if you've got something to say, just send us a note. We won't know what you're thinking if you don't tell us. And it is "Our Readers Write," after all!

A little fine print: Although we often ask, just to be sure, we assume that it's OK to reprint any letter you send us, unless you tell us otherwise. (Just put "Not for Publication" at the head of your letter. That's all it takes.) We will never put your e‑mail address online unless you specifically ask us to, however. We also edit letters occasionally for length or clarity, and we add links to articles or other resources wherever and whenever appropriate.

Copyright © 2010 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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