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Canoe Girls

Posted by Kate Westphal on 5/8/2020 to Thoughts & Thank Yous
I’ve never been to Disneyworld. Or Disneyland. As a child of the ’90s that was the epitome of vacations. The golden ticket. However, I never got the chance to go to either. Instead, my Mom and I always took our summer vacations at the family cabin in the Northwoods. It was an economical choice. It has always been my mom and me since I can remember. My parents divorced when I was young and my Dad’s work took him around the world. He was still in my life, but not like my Mom. Not doing the hard stuff. Like figuring out how to even take a vacation as a single parent making next to nothing. But like many Moms out there on their own, she always found a way. 

The cabin is a special place. It has been in my family for decades. It was on those trips to the cabin that my mom and I started canoeing together. It was the perfect activity for two nature lovers who loved being around water. If you ask my mom she probably would add that it was perfect because we were together. We surfed the wakes of motorboats, visited with turtles and frogs, and checked in on the fish cribs. We just had fun!

A lot of my favorite memories involve the loons. We have always had a pair on our lake. I love it when they pop up close to the boat unexpectedly, or when you hear their haunting calls from across the water. Last summer while watching the loons fish, I had one swim right under the canoe! Seeing it move under the boat so clearly with its black-and-white speckled form was magical. 

I think my favorite memory actually involves motherhood in a way. Once, I was out paddling alone and saw a loon laying out in the open on the shore. I was worried that something was wrong, as I had never seen a scene like this before. It wasn’t really moving and was so exposed, that it just seemed weird. So I went home and told my mom. I asked her to come out in the canoe with me to check it out. 

When we got back out, the loon was still on the shore just as it was. As we slowly paddled closer to investigate, the loon burst out of its lethargic state and let us know that we were waaaaay too close for comfort! The loon flapped its wings with such force and made noises I had never heard before while dashing to the water to chase us away. At this moment, we were so close to the crazed bird that I could see it’s red eye locked on to me, which was both beautiful and frightening! It then rose from the water with its large and powerful wings not only propelling it forward but acting as a signal for us to GO AWAY! 

Well, we took the hint and got the heck out of there! “Paddle! Paddle!” we both yelled. Because we all know that if you yell, “PADDLE,” you will, in fact, paddle harder and faster than you ever have before. Once we got far enough away, the loon calmed down. I think I said something along the lines of, “Well, I don't think it’s hurt!” We had always speculated that the loons nested somewhere in the brush on that part of the lake. After our encounter, we were convinced that the pair did have their nest there and we had just gotten closer than any human should. We recall that story often, and I will never forget it. 


For many years my mom paddled the tandem canoe by herself when she wanted to go out. It was not an easy task and I always admired how she never let something difficult get in the way of doing something she loved. So I was beyond excited to eventually give her a solo canoe to make her paddles easier and more enjoyable. Canoeing is still one of our favorite activities and is very much a part of our relationship. Looking back, I am so grateful for our summer vacations up to the cabin. Those trips impacted me more than a million trips to Disneyworld could have. My mom actually now lives at the cabin up north and paddles often on our beloved lake. As she gets older and our hikes and snowshoe adventures become shorter and less frequent, I am so grateful to have canoeing. We will always be canoe girls.

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