Canoeing the Big Blue, by the numbers, with Mack and Scout

Canoeing the Big Blue, by the numbers, with Mack and Scout


The first of August! Can it be? Gentle Readers, puhleeeease tell me, no. What? Yes?? Argggh! I stagger through all Kübler-Ross’s (what? I remember a few things from college!) stages of grief at the beginning of August–let’s see, what are they again:

  • Denial!
  • Anger,
  • Bargaining,
  • Depression, and finally . . .
  • Acceptance.

Except I just get stuck in the depression, never really arriving at Acceptance.

Actually, I pussy-foot through Amy’s stages of grief (to wit):

  • Dismay,
  • Despair,
  • Despair,
  • Intense Time Travel Fantasies, and finally;
  • Ennui.

And there–deep in the throes of Ennui–I stay.

The little public school girl that I was feels—oh, so painfully--the end of summer approaching–and that girl desires somehow to hang on, white-knuckled, to Summer and everything that it means: long days at the pool, hanging out with friends and slathering on coconut-scented suntan oil; boisterous dinners with family at the crowded kitchen table, loaded with fresh corn, beets, green beans, and melon from the garden that she helped tend in the empty lot across the street; bike races down the steepest, most loosely-graveled hill in town with her big brother--in–the–dark!–(as fast as we could possibly go!) (we never crashed, not once, amazingly, please don’t read this, Mom); boating and swimming on the Little Blue river with family and friends, making mud slides on the slopes; entire days with a new treasured book in hand, reading the day away; daily visits to the library (just a block away!) and plowing through shelf after shelf of books.

That was summer for me, as a kid. Idyllic, eh? I thought so.


Summer for me, as an adult? It’s still packed. And filled with enough outdoorsy activities and sunshine and beauty and growth that I really, really, really don’t want it to end. Yeah, it’s a lot of work too, as I push and hurry to keep up with all the growing things (and critters) that I surround myself with. It’s not that I don’t thoroughly enjoy crisp fall days and school mornings with the kiddos, spending time with books again and fall projects and piano lessons and drama practices, but I think I was actually made for summer.

I was born in the first week of May. God saw me and said “Now there’s a girl for summer, if I ever created one,” and it stuck. “She is thenceforth to be named ‘Summer,’” He said, but my mom was stubborn enough to insist that I be named Amy, and that stuck.

My mom is a force to be reckoned with. 🙂 I love her.

So last week, as July capitulated to August, I felt that familiar old panic: Summer can’t be over yet! I haven’t done all the summer things that I wanted to do! Plus: my garden is not beautiful! Little Mack is a foot taller! What happened to the time?

I'm not the only one with Ennui. Clearly.

I’m not the only one with Ennui. Clearly.

Mack and I are, of course, kindred spirits. One of the things we always try to do during my birthday week (remember: it’s the first week in May. You can send gifts any time, however.) is to take canoes down the Big Blue river, with as many of the family as we can pull together. We are just around the corner from a place that is easy to slide a canoe into, and then, a morning’s paddle away, there’s a place that is easy to pull a canoe out of and load back onto a trailer. We’ve taken a canoe ride down this route for years, mostly on my birthday. I love it. It’s funny–you really do feel like you are in the middle of nowhere, though many times if you look up from the river, at the top of the bank above you, you’ll see a farm field planted with corn, so you know that you are winding right through farm fields and woods of your neighbors.

Mack has been displaying his own brand of ennui, and I sensed that Something Needed To Be Done, and fast. As our determination to get the kitchen finished (yep, we’re still working on it) reaches a fever pitch, and as my garden grows and needs daily harvesting and tending, a little boy can easily get lost in the shuffle. Even a noisy, temperamental, suddenly-a-foot-taller, little boy. Big sister and big brother are busy with jobs and their own interesting lives.

“Mack,” I blurted out, one evening after dinner, as we were cleaning up. “Would you like to paddle down the Blue tomorrow?” Bryan had a full day of work planned with Reuben, and Amalia had to work. I felt that if he and I didn’t take my birthday canoe trip the next day, we would miss it entirely this year.

Moreover. Mack had thrown a fit about nearly everything I had asked him to do that day. It was getting old.

“Mack,” I had said earlier, for example. “Could you fetch the ice cream from the freezer?” “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!” screaming ensued. Tearing of clothing. Wrenching of joints. Honest. *Siiiigh* Something had to be done. Summer fun needed to be obtained. And fast.

His peaked little face lit up. “Yes! Do you mean it? Please? Could we do it, just us? And could we bring Scout along?” I hadn’t seen his face looking that happy for some time. I was in for it now. No backing out of this. Something grabbed my heart.

It was, no doubt, panic: was I really contemplating doing this, just him and me (and Scout). We’ve always done these trips as a family, so there was always at least one strong male (two was even better) to help hoist a canoe out of the water when a logjam was encountered, (our canoes are heavy, and logjams that completely block the flow of the river are not, sadly, rare in these parts) say, or some strange longing to leaaaan way too far over and gaze into the muddy water capsized a canoe, dumping its contents into a deep patch.

That happens, too. In fact I lost a very nice Nikon camera that way.


It’s not very clear (this is a camera photo) but that grin contains not a wit of ennui. 🙂 Marvelous.

But I had done it. Malachi’s ennui had segued in seconds to an aching void (as my Dad would call it) and nothing, nay, nothing would fill that void but a canoe trip with Mom and his pup. So we got busy. Murmuring back-to-back fervent prayers for help, I sent him to pack us a bag of snacks and to put water bottles into the freezer, also to pack food and snacks for Scout.

We’d go first thing in the morning.

I questioned my sanity as Mack and I tried to move the canoe out of the shed that evening, much less to hoist it into the trailer. It is heavy–at least for a (cough) slightly older farm lady and her skinny little kid. But somehow, through some miracle of effort + determination + ennui-denying forces, we got ‘er in.

Never discount that formula, folks. It’s got power.

And we did it. We had a marvelous time on the water, just Mack and me (and Scout) with very little advance preparation and forethought. Nothing really bad happened. We didn’t capsize the canoe. We didn’t get wet unless we wanted to. We only got a little bit bloody and sunburnt. We didn’t lose Scout. The day was a complete success.


To distill it down into numbers:

Number of days ahead that we planned our trip: 1/2

Number of old cool bottles that we found (and kept): 9

Number of swimming breaks that Mack and Scout took: 4.

Number of times the canoe nearly went over, until Mack figured out the tricky balance thing, while getting in and out to take swimming breaks: 3.

Number of times we wished we had packed more snacks: countless. Paddling constantly takes lots of calories. Apples, peanut butter, mixed nuts, and chocolate bars will be on the to-pack list next time! Iced coffee (for me) would have been like nectar, too.

Number of different wildlife sightings: 8. We were hoping to see 10, but we didn’t quite make it. We spotted:

  1. Songbirds of many varieties
  2. Wood ducks
  3. Frogs
  4. A big soft-shelled turtle
  5. Snakes
  6. Beavers! (An entire family of them)
  7. An owl, and
  8. Clams.


Number of huge irrigation pipes sucking water out of the river: 3.

Number of times we had to carry the canoe around logjams: Only one (mercifully!)

Number of steps we took at a time, while carrying the canoe around the logjam, before setting the canoe down for a rest: 3.

Number of times Mack had to climb out and ease us over a sandbar: 6

Number of times Mack suggested it was my turn: 6 (whatev)

Number of times I kicked myself for not doing this earlier this summer: countless

The moral of the story, gentle reader? It’s an old story and an easily-forgotten moral: it just doesn’t take much time or effort to knit your child’s heart to yours. Take an hour or two to plan something special that will tickle his heart, and then do it together.

All that you accomplish and can show for your busy life just won’t mean much if your child, after all, has end-of-the-summer ennui. Can I hear an Amen, sistuh?

When we told the stories of our day later, over my parents’ lunch table, my mom’s eyes glowed. “Do you think I could go along next time?” she asked. Mack and I enthusiastically agreed that she really must. And of course, Scout agreed, as well. Grandma brings the best snacks.

So stay tuned. Another story awaits the making, and the telling.