Canoeing as a Metaphor for Life

  • December 01, 2014
  • Caroline Nevin

Lessons from the wilderness

This October, my partner and I fulfilled a 19-year-old dream to paddle together amidst full autumn colours in Ontario. We had canoed many summers in Algonquin and Killarney parks with our sons but always, by necessity, during school holidays. This time we were alone, paddling silently in chill air through landscapes with every possible variation of green, yellow, orange and red.

All gadgets, including camera for the most part, were tucked away. Our cells were (blissfully) useless. We experienced everything with our eyes and other senses during the day, and talked about our interpretations and feelings by campfire each night. An explosion of static and falling stars all around us was our “homepage.” The only technologies that really counted were our headlamps and our MSR stove. Our small world consisted of one canoe, one food barrel, two canoe packs and two slightly aging bodies that  we took many new steps to keep in good survival shape.

For the last four of our six days in the wilderness we saw only two sole paddlers the whole time, one at each end of the age spectrum – a keen young University of Windsor student from Kentucky (who we later learned survived a canoe dump in rapids), glad for a little social interaction at a portage, and a serene older “local” who headed quickly upriver with tidy, waterproof gear and a keen eye forward. I got the sense we were each glad to know there were others “out here” in the vast outdoors, but also glad it was big enough for all of us to feel content in our own personal wilderness.

This was a trip of a lifetime, and while I deliberately didn’t think about my work while away, I realized when I came back that I had learned a lot that was applicable. If you have never canoed, don’t worry; the analogy to “real life” is easy to understand. Here are the lessons I took away:

  1. Know your environment. Use everything you can – maps, forecasts and daily/hourly gut feelings about what’s going on. Trust yourself more. Take in as much useful information as you can, and then sit and sift. You will choose the right path.
  2. Be prepared to adapt to quick changes in that environment. Think about the most likely bad case scenarios and have the responses easily at-hand (in our case, that meant top-of-pack). If you have done this advance work, you will not be as easily thrown by new twists.
  3. Equip yourself with the best and lightest supports you can afford. In canoeing, this primarily means good gear. In law, this means good PD, resources and low-maintenance high-value networks. And mentorship – both for older and younger participants.
  4. Be smart about being in fighting shape. The world brings on new challenges every day. What worked when any of us was 20 is no longer true. The trick is being smart (not extreme) about setting yourself up to meet and beat those challenges. What’s truly tiring isn’t the volume of change – it’s the lack of preparation and built-up capacity to deal with it.

Last word: The CBA is not a nameless, faceless entity. We are with you on every paddle stroke of your career in law, in every moment of joy sighting a gorgeous lake at the end of a long portage or a brand new colour of foliage along the way. And we are definitely with you when you encounter rough water. We are your ally and companion on life’s journey. If you are a member: fantastic to have you aboard! If you are reading this and haven’t yet joined: seriously, it’s time. With the new BC Advantage, you get free access to all 78 Branch and 41 National Sections/Forums included in CBABC membership, which is economical, high-end “gear” and a great way to stay in fighting shape for what’s coming next. Paddle on!

Caroline Nevin signature

Caroline Nevin
cnevin@cbabc.org