Canoedling and Nature Music

Ben Cosgrove and Norman Sims (left to right) share a passion for the natural world.

Last Thursday, Norman Sims discussed his book Canoes: A Natural History in North America, at The Jones Library in Amherst, Ma. The book is written by both Sims and Mark Neuzil. Sims pointed to images with a wooden canoe paddle and told us about dugout canoes, birch bark canoes, aluminum canoes, and carbon fiber canoes, and there were a few cultural morsels that are worth noting here.

The courting canoe, which was created during the 1880s or ’90s, was a place where couples could go to be alone, since there wasn’t much room for a chaperone. Sims says this is where the term “canoedling” began. The most interesting part of this, I think, is the change in time: in 1917 the canoe was for romance; in 1919, as WWI loomed closer, women were in canoes together, paddling in teams; and by 1923 they were completely on their own.

Sims had a couple of reasons for writing this book (aside from his obsession with canoes and his master’s in colonial history, added by his ex-wife). His first was the Dominica Island, where dugout canoes are still made from scratch, and it seems that it’s this reason that the island continues to do well through hurricanes, whereas places like Puerto Rico are floundering.

He also told us about Amy and Dave Freeman, two canoers who paddled 2,000 miles and got people to sign their boat to petition against the building of sulphur mines in the Boundary Waters of Quetico. They brought this boat to the white house with the signatures squirming along its sides. They then spent a year (September 2015 – 2016) to draw further attention to their petition. They lived in their canoes throughout the year, bathing, keeping warm, and eating in the boat. When the water froze over, according to Sims, they took out dog sleds and cross-country skis.

In 2016, the EPA or Obama Administration prohibited the development of copper and nickel mines in the Boundary Waters. So it sounds like their year on the water worked. Until the current administration. We’ll see what happens next.

Following Sims’s lecture, Ben Cosgrove, Artist-in-Residence for the New England Trail played a set of songs for us, many of which have to do with nature. The second song he played was from his time spent in the White Mountains, where he listened to wind and saw mist: he painted the picture for us, and the song really did sound like it matched, even without lyrics, as the music is completely piano-based. He said that his album SALT consists of ten songs, all about estuaries and salt flats, and “land between ground and not ground.” I couldn’t stop thinking about Amy and Dave Freeman living in their boat throughout the year, and getting onto skis when it froze over. Talk about ground and not ground. Talk about gritting your teeth and making a real stance for what you believe in.

This is only part of one of Cosgrove’s songs. This one was about nature in New Hampshire.

What do you do to nurture your creative spirit? Does nature inspire you, or is it something else?

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