Back from the land of different pollen along Mobile Bay. Over the years I've become an aficionado of many varieties. Up here in the Twin Cities the multitudes of exotic flowering plants and trees tend to dull my head. I stare at sunsets, sunrises, squirrels, grass, dirt and rocks. And they stare back. A communion of spirits though I fear the squirrels. Cute and innocent in appearance but I know what they're thinking. And it ain't pretty. Their patience is deep and long lasting. The little SOB's are plotting the end of civilization. I know that for a fact. They've told me. Many times during the time of high pollen. With smiles on their faces and our bird seed in their mouths.
Up north golden pollen drifts from the pines, spruces, oaks and birches showering the woods, lakes and cabins with fertile pixie dust. It also casts a spell upon me and, like magic, opens up the spigots of my sinuses. Fascinating. At 9:07 each evening I'd begin to sneeze and couldn't stop till I'd soaked a half dozen tissues.
This trip was about the kid. Jake's nine and found himself stuck in the world of men. Much to see, much to learn, mostly in the sense of, "When I grow up I'm sure not gonna do anything like that." 'Snot easy being nine. You really don't know squat but are just beginning to think you do, a dangerous combination. You're a half dozen years down stream from needing diapers and find yourself in a canoe with a geezer who's about the same number of years from needing them again. And your life depends on him not screwing up. Or at least knowing what to do once he does.
The men, on the other hand, found themselves in the world of a nine year old and had to watch their tongues. Not easy. In fact it's almost painful when something truly perverse tries to force its way out. For many years the entire world has been my straight line. I see something, a punch line comes to me and wants out in the worst way. And there, sitting up in the bow seat, is this wisp of innocence, pristine, untainted and unaware. And paddling along in the stern seat, unbridled and heavily wrinkled corruption. The temptation to blurt something out is strong but there's no way this old man is going to face the wrath of his daughter after Jakob says, "That's what Grandpa said, then said other things much worse." No siree, stuff like that's supposed to be learned on the street just like the good Lord intended. Even think one of the Commandments says, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, 'specially in front of your grandson." In short, I did good, kept my trap shut and as a result, my brain still hurts.
Jake did good also. Most of the time he shared a canoe with his dad Ryan. Before the trip I could see trouble brewing. Kids have all kinds of problems when it comes to fishing gear, bottom snags, bird's nests, re-rigging and simply getting fish on or off the hook. In an open boat, dad can spend most of his time keeping his kid's bait in the water and the kid out of it. A canoe's a whole 'nuther world and floats along on the edge of catastrophe. It's a place for a boy to grow up a little and handle most of his own problems. I feared Ryan would spend nearly all his time helping Jake and hoping the canoe would take care of itself. Didn't work out that way. Jake didn't seem to have any more problems than any canoe savvy adult would. It'd been a year since his last trip up north and that year made a big difference. Not that he couldn't have released his own fish or did all his own casting last year. But this year Jake seemed to accept he was on his own and did what was needed to be done. Even caught his share of fish. A little bit of a modern initiation rite I suppose. Maybe next year we'll turn him loose somewhere in the Superior National Forest for a few days with a couple of feet of string and the Bear Scout Handbook, see how he does.
Part of this trip had to do with badge hunting. Jake's a Webelo scout, not sure how to spell that but that's what he is. He and his dad brought along the scout book with intentions he accomplish a few things besides catch fish and gather wood ticks. And he took his role as one who's prepared seriously. Built a fire from scratch, planned and cooked a meal over it and, best of all, the burgers tasted good.
In the canoe he was always ready to lend a hand and paddle. Not easy when the paddle your grandpa gives you is longer than you are and the blade's wider than your waist. But he worked it. Worked it hard. Nine year old, spindle arms reaching for the sky just to be able to dig in for the next stroke. Now I have a new project. Build Jake a paddle that's more his size and weighs less than he does.
In a lifetime a person racks up an album of mental photos. Jakob in the bow seat, one hand mid paddle, the other on the grip of his oversized paddled, reaching for the heavens will stick with me till the end. Never once had to ask him to pick up the paddle, more often I had to ask him to put it down and pick up the rod. For a kid, he was a good man.