It was the third week of our summer canoe trip.
Eva and I were making our way with eight 13-year-olds and two counselors, aged 16 and 17. We were living among the loons and Canadian lakes with a paper map and tents and red canoes, eating from the cans we carried on our backs during portages from lake to lake. There was no connection with an adult. Some kids didn’t change their clothes. Eva and I cleaned our Jordache jeans with Ivory against a large rock and were mocked for our diligence but our difference from the wilderness gang was never more apparent than when in the canoes.
“EEE-VAH, you’re lily-dipping!” shouted the girl with curly hair, from her canoe up ahead. The wilderness gang paddled on.
(Later that evening at bedtime, in our tent, Eva would call out into the dark night: “EEE-VAH, you’re lily-dipping!” Making us giggle and repeat it back and forth to each other. The campsite would remain silent until someone finally would shout, “Put a lid on it!”)
But right now, we were falling behind again. We were tired. Our sugar rush from the lunch chocolate was gone. The sun was round and strong and we had seen the map over the girl counselor’s shoulder that morning. We had a long ways to go before we found camp (and dinner) in the evening.
My cousin and I were quiet in our canoe, having already played “What would you eat if you were home?”
“C’mon, Eva!” I said, digging in harder.
Eva dug in.
In unison we moved us forward. Swoosh. Swoosh. Catching up was always hard.
I kept my eyes on the wilderness gang as I paddled, steering with my J-stroke so that the canoe was aiming directly at them. I watched their muscular paddling and wondered what they were laughing about. I admired their faded bandanas tied around their foreheads. My bandana was tied around my forehead, too, but the material was bright and crisp and uncomfortable, new. A costume next to their reality.
I stopped paddling and scooped lake water to drink. For a second, my drinking arm caught the edge of the shade coming from where pines leaned over the lake’s edge. I paused like a picture, keeping the cool on me, but Eva was trying hard in the front of the canoe – swoosh – so I had to keep moving, too.
The girl counselor looked over her shoulder at us and made a comment to the boy counselor in his canoe. He shrugged. They kept going.
Then we heard a motor – now that was a surprise! Eva and I shaded our eyes with our hands.
Lo and behold, it was the flannelled camp director! Now this was news!
Like Santa on retirement, with grey beard and stomach, he steered his motorboat over to our dispirited canoe. He said nothing and threw us a pile of rope.
As his twin-engine grumbled, he tied an elaborate knot onto the front of our canoe. Eva and I looked at each other gleefully.
He tested the knot with a tug, dragged his stomach back and shifted up, his engines whirling the quiet black lake. As he raced forward, we watched the pile of rope disappear.
When we lurched forward in delight, we screamed a little and grabbed onto the sides, my bandana falling over my eyebrows but I held on. We came upon the wilderness gang quickly.
Now had this been a movie set, my cousin and I might’ve used this moment as an opportunity, shouting in unison: “LILY—DIP—THIS!” while shaking our oars in the air, in triumph.
But we just smiled as we passed them, the breeze blowing our hair and the tips of our machine-washed bandanas, oars comfortably on our laps.