Sunday, July 31, 2011

There by the grace of God go I…

"I’m from Pittsburgh,” the man said, “and I’m celebrating my eightieth birthday.” He sat on the ground, in the shade under a big hemlock tree. I had placed him in his sixties when I first saw him paddling his canoe up to the carry, a younger woman in the stern. As I watched him exit the canoe and begin to walk his gear up the trail, I modified my estimate upward. He moved with the careful, deliberate gait of someone old enough to have the worry of falling as a constant companion. He wore the rumpled hat of an experienced woodsman, a heavy raincoat and rainpants that seemed too warm for the day, and a thick lifejacket that looked to be brand new. He was softspoken and friendly as we exchanged passing hellos, and my friends and I offered to take his canoe over the carry. Later, we all sat at the other end chatting with the couple. We were working up the energy to haul our last kayak to the final lake on our way out of the woods, and this man and woman - his daughter, we learned - were making ready to put in to the second lake of their trip. They were heading deeper in. He asked where we were from and we told him, going on to exchange the usual information exchanged by campers at canoe carries: the weather, wildlife sightings, the frequency of biting fish, and then he told us where he was from and how old he was. We congratulated him and talked for a few minutes more before wishing them luck. Then, we picked up our kayak and moved on, most likely never to see either of them again, but as we maneuvered our boat over the rocks, roots, and fallen logs, we were all thinking about him. I know this to be true because once out of earshot, all of us voiced our admiration for the man, along with the shared hopes that we would be lucky enough to reach a similar age, that we would be physically able to make such a trip, and that each of us would have a child willing to make the trip with us.

252 days old

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