This has been an amazing year for snowfall. According to a local television weather person, we are in the top four snowfall years since recording began and may just break the all-time record before the season is over. I like snow, but even I have reached a saturation point this year.
Last fall, I was thinking about taking down the fabric gazebo we had set up in the back yard before snow overpowered it. I ended up a day late; an unexpected overnight snowfall of wet, heavy flakes fell here in Big Lake. The gazebo came down under the weight and probably took out the two lawn chairs and folding table that were under the structure. I’ll know for sure after things melt this spring.
That’s not the worst. I have a small storage shed in the backyard to which I had attached two wooden racks, one on either side, to store my canoes. Again, I noticed the buildup of snow both on the canoes themselves and on the shed roof. In previous years, the building and canoes shed the snow during warm periods with no problem, so I wasn’t too concerned. So much for that. After this last warm period, I noticed the snow had slid off the shed roof and took down both racks and canoes. The canoes ended up on the ground.
My Old Town canoe, the “Peaceful Journey,” had been cabled to the shed to prevent theft. The cable ripped the thwart out and tore the canoe body, destroying the craft. The other canoe wasn’t cabled so I think it survived. I needed snowshoes to check on the status of the canoes after they fell.
When I saw that damaged Old Town sticking out of the snow, I started thinking about some of the adventures I’ve had in that watercraft. I bought it new in Georgia in 1972, so it served a long and useful life. I’ve used that canoe to duck hunt and fish in Georgia and moose and bear hunt and fish here in Alaska. While most of the trips have been uneventful, I can think of three where I could have drowned because of circumstances.
My black Lab, Troubles, and I were going fishing one day on a lake in north Georgia. He decided he wanted out, so he jumped on top of the gunwale and pushed off with his hind legs before I even knew what he was doing. That kick-off rolled the canoe out from under me. The Old Town model I had was designed to float, even when full of water, so I just climbed in and began the slow process of paddling for shore. Troubles and I had a discussion about dog-canoe manners when we both got back to dry land.
The second time, a friend, Troubles and I were floating a small river in Georgia looking for ducks. We hit a low, unavoidable sweeper and the canoe rolled, dumping all three of us into the river current. We all survived, although for a while I thought Troubles had drowned because I had tied him into the canoe because of his jumping. I lost a shell vest and a paddle. The paddle was returned about six weeks later when one of the guys I worked with found it while floating the same river.
The third time, Troubles and I were going duck hunting on a semi-remote lake in southwestern Alaska. I had a small outboard motor mounted on the canoe’s factory side-mount near the stern. As we were crossing the lake, the wind came up. I successfully turned the canoe around, but couldn’t outrun the following swell and waves began breaking over the stern of the canoe. I couldn’t bail fast enough to keep up with the inflow of water. The canoe eventually filled enough for the stern to sink, swamping the canoe and causing it to roll over because of the offset outboard. One of the guys at the site noticed the overturned canoe and came out in a boat to investigate. That saved both Troubles’ and my bacon!
Are you noticing a trend here? I did, so I purchased a commercial set of canoe outriggers that I have used faithfully for the past dozen or more years, without further incident.
I’ve also had many fun trips in that canoe as well. When we lived on Afognak Island, I kept the canoe near a remote lake where my wife and I would go fishing or just paddle around to explore the area. After a brown bear chewed holes in the bow, I had to do some repair work. Since moving to the Valley, I’ve used the canoe to fish in our stocked lakes and check a bear bait station one year.
I’ve landed my biggest stocked lake rainbow ever from that canue after hooking it using a four-weight fly rod. On another trip, my wife caught a nice rainbow that was grabbed by a loon. I’ve hunted moose after crossing a remote lake south of Big Lake in the canoe. I have lots of fond memories involving the “Peaceful Journey.”
I hadn’t used the canoe all that much the last few years. Being 40-years-old, the plastic was really beginning to show its age. I’ll salvage parts after the snow melts and make a point of paying closer attention to snowfalls next winter.
Howard Delo is a retired fisheries biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. You can leave him a message by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.