A few days before my latest canoe trip I visited my mother at her apartment in an assisted living facility. In spite of the pandemic, my siblings and I are allowed in-person visits because mom’s in an end-of-life situation. I told her I planned to go canoeing soon.
“Take me with you,” she said.
“I always do,” I told her.
In her honor, I made it a point to take along a six-pack of Pepsi. Mom’s been a Pepsi drinker all her life. In the ’60s, she’d send us to Huth’s grocery store on West 41st Street to get her a six-pack. We’d take the empties back to get the two-cent deposit. (In those days two cents was roughly the equivalent of $45 in today’s money.)
At the risk of alienating half my readers, I prefer Coca Cola for my mid-day caffeine fix. Its syrupy sweet taste is like a sultry lover, gently awakening you. Pepsi’s sharp, crisp taste slaps you in the face and says, “Wake up, bucko!”
In my last column, I left off at Bill Conrad’s place along the Mohican River near Greer. I’d stopped there for a chat on the second day of a three-day canoe trip. After visiting with Bill, I slid my canoe from the muddy bank into the river and drifted further and further from civilization. That’s what canoe trips are all about.
Come late afternoon, I found a campsite with a great river vista. It was situated on a point that afforded a 190-degree panorama of gently flowing current with trees, meadows, and towering hills in the background. With a view like that, I knew that I wouldn’t need a campfire that night. I placed my folding chair at the best vantage point. From there I could sit for hours, watching day turn into night.
Civilization found me temporarily; a group of kayakers drifted by. They didn’t seem to notice me. The women were lost in conversation and the men were busy sharing a hand-rolled cigarette. I thought to say something to startle them but was content just to sit there and chuckle to myself.
Along the riverbank, butterflies and bees flitted from flower to flower — dame’s rocket mostly. Phoebes, cardinals, and Baltimore orioles darted in and out of the foliage in the trees above. That’s another benefit of sitting quietly with no campfire; the wildlife grows comfortable with your presence.
In the morning, I drank a Pepsi in mom’s honor. I made up a bouquet of wildflowers, put them in the empty can, and set it on the deck of my canoe. I took a photo to share with mom on my next visit.
When I showed her the photo, she smiled. That’s the most we can hope for these days — a smile and an “I love you.”
This originally ran as an outdoors column in the Ashland Times-Gazette, Loudonville Times Shopper and GateHouse Media websites.