Saturday, June 20, 2015

Kids & Kayaks

We sat on the bank and the river went by. As always, it was making sounds to itself, and now it made sounds to us. It would be hard to find three men sitting side by side who knew better what a river was saying.  Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It.

This Father's Day weekend I will enjoy the company of my oldest son visiting from Omaha. We will try to fit many things into his week-long visit, including reminiscing about our previous kayak and camping trips we have enjoyed together.

The other day, my wife asked me when I had developed such a keen interest in water sports and if I had kayaked growing up.  In Nebraska, we really didn't have access to water outside the public swimming pool where I learned to swim. My dad was a hunter. He took my brother and I hunting almost every fall weekend for upland game birds and fishing only a couple of times.  He would pack up the family station wagon every summer with camping gear and take us on cross-country trips to central Nebraska, the Black Hills and even to California. He would often pick scenic state parks to visit that included a lake or river for swimming. It was those summer camp outs and hunting trips that offered my first taste of exploring the outdoors.

My junior high school offered canoes trips along the Missouri and Niobrara rivers which were my first paddling experiences. Those great trips that I took with friends and classmates planted a seed in me that would later grow into a passion.

However through college, building a career and raising a young family those canoe trips turned into someday-dreams. In Fargo where the lakes are 45 minutes away, I didn't have the time and I didn't make the time. There was always a something else to do such as a work assignment, a doctor visit or another bill to pay. The water might as well have been a million miles away.
But then something great happened. My kids transformed from babies to creatures of action and adventure.
They wanted to camp. They wanted to canoe. They wanted to explore.
My kids were attending and working at summer camps offered through Boy Scouts and Campfire. Adults were needed to supervise and insure safety. That is what I told myself, but I came because it was fun. It opened a whole new world for me that I had forgotten. I was hooked again.

Before long I was attending the camps with them and taking them along on our own family adventures. Back on the water for at least a few days a year, my enthusiasm was just beginning. A couple of years later I bought three kayaks, some PFDs and paddles. I wasn't a real live kayaker yet, but I was getting there. The next season we added some whitewater boats and a tandem kayak to the fleet. The tandem meant we did not have to leave the dog behind.

On our paddling and camping trips into Minnesota, we stayed at scenic state parks with water access. After setting up the tents and exploring the lake or river, we remembered the day's journey fondly that night by the campfire. Some of my best fatherhood memories have taken place fireside with my kids. Laughter and reminiscing circled like the smoke from the fire.

"Remember the time at camp?" Taylor, my oldest would start.

"You mean the time that kid's swimsuit was hung on the flag pole?" added Cole, my youngest while roasting marshmallows.

Along with a collection of others, I had heard that story a dozen times before. I'm sure the trees that surround the campsite have heard thousands more like it.  I listened to the telling and retelling of their tales again like it was the first time. The jumble of camper's hi jinx and mischief have turned into family fables. Taylor has a way of stretching one story to another and another providing nostalgic entertainment. I have often said there is no one better around a campfire than Taylor. Even the trip we were on would later be a story at some distant campsite to come.

The next day brought more paddling, exploring and spending time together. The trip would end too quickly with a stop for ice cream or pizza or both on the way home.
So on this Father's Day weekend, may all dads and their kids build classic tales of their time together along the water. Those adventures will live in their memories and will be told over and over again as long there kayaks, canoes and campfires.